Plenary talks

Alison Gopnik (University of California, Berkeley)
Sandra Mitchell (University of Pittsburgh)
Huw Price (University of Cambridge)
Alison Wylie (University of Washington)

Contributed talks

View the abstracts for the contributed papers.


Thursday 4 July

9.10 - 10.00 Registration

10.00 - 11.30 Plenary Session: Alison Wylie

"Collateral evidence: Ethnographic analogy revisited"

Reliance on analogy, especially ethnographic analogy, is as contentious in archaeology as it is ubiquitous, and it is once again at the center of sharp controversy about disciplinary ambitions, epistemic identity, and norms of credible practice. What basis can there be, ask contemporary critics, for projecting the cultural meanings of Malagasy standing stones onto Stonehenge, or Big Man models of colonial era leadership in Melanesia onto the European Neolithic? Examples such as these figure in the current debate as negative object lessons that demonstrate the inescapable “vulnerability of analogy,” raising anew the question of whether archaeologists should work to avoid any reliance on analogy. I argue that analogical reasoning is inescapable but do not see this as a counsel of epistemic despair. The recent critiques suggest a number of strategies for making judicious use of analogical inference that converge, at key points, on philosophical analyses of productive analogical reasoning in fields as diverse physics and chemistry, evolutionary biology and genetics. I offer a constructive account of social/cognitive norms of practice by which archaeologists can (and often do) circumscribe, the empirical and inferential vulnerability of analogical reasoning about the cultural past.

11.30 - 12.00 Coffee

12.00 - 1.00 Contributed talks

1.00 - 2.00 Lunch

2.00 - 3.30 Contributed talks

3.30 - 4.00 Tea:

4.00 - 5.30 Contributed talks 

5.45 -7.15 Plenary Session: Alison Gopnik

"Why children actually might be better scientists than scientists are"

Over the past 10 years a large and productive research program uniting philosophy and developmental psychology has explored whether children’s learning can be understood as the construction and testing of probabilistic models. A large body of evidence shows that children can use statistical evidence to choose accurately among alternative hypotheses. However, this work raises the question of how this can be done at the algorithmic level.  It also raises the question of whether there are developmental changes in the ways that this learning takes place. I will report several empirical studies from our lab suggesting that children may be using an algorithmic  process of hypothesis sampling, similar to sampling techniques in machine learning. I will also suggest that children may be performing “higher-temperature” searches than adults do, and will report on studies showing that four-year-olds are actually better at learning low-probability hypotheses than adults and older children are.

8.00 Conference Dinner: Reed Hall

Friday 5 July

9.00 - 10.30 Contributed talks

10.30 - 11.00 Coffee

11.00 - 12.30 Plenary Session: Huw Price

"Retrocausality – what would it take?"

Some writers argue that retrocausality offers an attractive loophole in Bell's Theorem in QM, allowing an explanation of EPR-Bell correlations without Einstein's "spooky action-at-a-distance." This idea originated more than a decade before Bell's famous result, when de Broglie's student, Olivier Costa de Beauregard, first proposed that retrocausality plays a role in EPR contexts. The proposal is difficult to assess, because there has been little work on the general question of what a world with retrocausality would "look like" -- what kinds of considerations, if any, would properly lead to the conclusion that we do live in such a world. In this talk I discuss these general issues, with the aim of bringing the more specific question as to whether quantum theory implies retrocausality into sharper focus than has hitherto been possible. The core of the talk is a simple argument, apparently previously unnoticed, that shows that retrocausality is actually necessitated by assumptions that would have seemed uncontroversial to many physicists, in the two decades between Einstein's discovery of the quantisation of light and the development of quantum theory. It is interesting to speculate about whether the reception of EPR-Bell might have been different, if retrocausality had already been a familiar option, for these reasons.

12.30 - 1.15 BSPS Annual General Meeting

1.15 - 2.15 Lunch

2.15 - 3.15 Contributed talks

3.30 - 5.00 Plenary Session: Sandra Mitchell

"Representation, partiality and pragmatism"

I will explore the consequences of two features of representation for the relationships among scientific explanations.  Most philosophical accounts of representation have focused on the connection between the sign and the entity, property or behavior for which it stands.  My concern is how the partiality of representation leads to both the necessity for pluralism and integration of alternative representations directed by pragmatic goals.  I will illustrate and substantiate the arguments with examples from contemporary protein science.

5.00 Close