Seminars

  • Founded
    1973
  • Seminar Number
    533

This seminar is devoted to exploring substantive as well as methodological issues in the history and philosophy of science. Science is construed broadly and the issues considered range from epistemic and historiographic questions to issues of relevance and accountability. Topics include the presuppositions and practice of a range of life sciences, earth sciences, and social sciences as well as the physical sciences and mathematics. In the physical sciences, its interests range from antiquity to contemporary quantum theory. In the life sciences and social sciences, the fields considered include various forms of historical, evolutionary inquiry (in biology, geology, and the historical social sciences), biotechnology and ecology, economics, psychology, and cognitive science, and interpretive social inquiry. The membership of this seminar includes scientists, philosophers, and historians. Most sessions take place in conjunction with the New York City History of Science Working Group.


Chair
Professor Matthew L. Jones
mj340@columbia.edu

Rapporteur
Celine Camps
cc4304@columbia.edu


Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.


Meeting Schedule

09/18/2019 Fayerweather Hall, Room 513
6:00 PM
Into the Forger’s Library: The Genesis of a Pseudo-Paracelsian Treatise in Publication History
Hiro Hirai, Columbia University
Abstract

Abstract

A strange treatise, On the Nature of Things (De natura rerum), was one of the most popular writings ascribed to the Swiss physician Paracelsus (ca. 1493–1541). It was first presented to readers when the movement of forgery production reached its climax in 1572, through the multiple editions of Paracelsus’s genuine treatise Archidoxis. In this talk, Hirai will place the genesis of De natura rerum in the context of publication history. He will first reconstruct a “library” by surveying the works ascribed to Paracelsus which could serve as instruments for the “author” of De natura rerum. Then he will analyze the evolution of this forgery production by focusing on the divergent editions of Archidoxis from 1569 to 1572.





10/09/2019 Fayerweather Hall, Room 513)
6:00 PM
Disalienation: Politics, Philosophy, and Radical Psychiatry in France
Camille Robcis, Columbia University
Abstract

Abstract

This talk explores the intersections of politics, philosophy, and radical psychiatry in 20th century France. It focuses on a psychiatric reform movement called “institutional psychotherapy” which had an important influence on many intellectuals and activists, including François Tosquelles, Jean Oury, Felix Guattari, Frantz Fanon, Georges Canguilhem, and Michel Foucault. Anchored in Marxism and in Lacanian psychoanalysis, institutional psychotherapy advocated a fundamental restructuring of the asylum in order to transform the theory and practice of psychiatric care. More broadly, for many of these thinkers, the psychiatric offered a lens to rethink the political in the particular context of postwar France.





11/20/2019 NYU-Gallatin, Room 801, 1 Washington Place
6:00 PM
The ‘best-kept secret of the war’?: The Successes and Failures of the Manhattan Project’s Secrecy Regime
Alex Wellerstein, Stevens Institute of Technology
Abstract

Abstract

In the wake of the bombing of Hiroshima, the Manhattan Project was lauded by the press as the “best-kept secret of the war.” In some ways, this is accurate: despite a workforce of some half a million Americans, the first use of the atomic bomb was largely kept secret and achieved the shocking effect that was intended. In some ways, this is inaccurate: by 1950, it had become clear that the project had been penetrated by multiple Soviet spies. In this talk, the Manhattan Project’s security regime will be deconstructed and analyzed as to its multiple goals (which included far more than simply keeping information about the project from the Germans, Japanese, or Soviet Union), and why it was “successful” at achieving some of these goals, and why it utterly failed at others. Ultimately this approach realigns our understanding of what secrecy regimes are, how they work (and why they sometimes don’t), and the key differences between the secrecy of World War II and the Cold War that followed.





12/11/2019 NYU-Gallatin, Room 801, 1 Washington Place
6:00 PM
The Study of Ignorance and Macroanalysis: Drilling for Arctic Oil in the 1970s
Andrew Stuhl, Bucknell University
Abstract

Abstract

What don’t we know? Why don’t we know it? These questions have guided histories of science since Robert Proctor and Londa Schiebinger placed them at the heart of their 2008 volume Agntology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance. Here, ignorance is not simply a lack of knowledge, but the product of social relations. While a particularly useful analytical lens in studies of regulated industries in the 20th century (think lead and tobacco), ignorance is notoriously challenging to identify in primary sources: after all, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. A relatively new method of data interpretation, macroanalysis, can address this issue, supporting the development of agnotology as a line of historical inquiry. Macroanalysis combines “close” reading of documents with a computer-assisted or “distant” reading of those same materials. By toggling between these perspectives, scholars can better isolate ignorance in space and time, identifying who knew what when and through what channels of information. In this talk, I tease out the implications of this concept and methodology through the case of drilling for Arctic oil in the 1970s. Drawing on recently declassified sources from the Canadian federal government and the oil and gas industry, this talk explores how studies of ignorance help explain the shape of corporate social responsibility campaigns, research agendas in the natural sciences, environmental movements, and energy politics in North America at the end of the 1900s.





01/22/2020 New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 5th Avenue
6:00 PM
Dying of Whiteness
Jonathan Metzl, Vanderbilt University
Abstract

Abstract

With the rise of the Tea Party and the election of Donald Trump, many middle- and lower-income white Americans threw their support behind conservative politicians who pledged to make life great again for people like them. As Jonathan Metzl shows, the right-wing policies that resulted from this white backlash put these voters’ very health at risk—and in the end, threaten everyone’s well-being. Having interviewed a range of Americans, he uncovers how racial anxieties led to the repeal of gun control laws in Missouri, stymied the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee, and fueled massive cuts to schools and social services in Kansas. Although such measures promised to restore greatness to white America, Metzl’s systematic analysis of health data dramatically reveals they did just the opposite: these policies made life sicker, harder, and shorter in the very populations they purported to aid. Thus, white gun suicides soared, life expectancies fell, and school dropout rates rose. Based on his new book of the same title, Metzl’s talk demonstrates just how much white America would benefit by emphasizing cooperation, rather than by chasing false promises of supremacy.





02/19/2020 NYU-Gallatin, Room 801, 1 Washington Place
6:00 PM
What Nostalgia Was: The History of a Deadly Emotion
Thomas Dodman, Columbia University
Abstract

Abstract

People once died of nostalgia. While we all recognize nostalgia when we see it, and know that it “ain’t what it used to be,” few of us are familiar with what it once was. This talk uncovers the forgotten medical history of nostalgia from the term's invention in Switzerland in 1688 to the disease's demise in colonial north Africa in the late nineteenth century. By tracing the scientific and social conditions of possibility of this deadly form of nostalgia, Thomas Dodman seeks to grasp it as a specifically modern psychological condition and thus show the historicity of our emotions.





03/18/2020 Fayerweather Hall, Room 513
6:00 PM
The Triumph of the Scientific Imagination 1760-1900
Rob Illife, Oxford University
Abstract

Abstract

Much has been written about the contexts surrounding the exaltation of the creative imagination in literature at the end of the eighteenth century. The notion was crafted in the light of new conceptions of authorship and in opposition to what were perceived to be democratizing, secularizing and materialist tendencies in society. In this talk, Rob Illife discusses the reasons behind the dramatic elevation of the imagination in Enlightenment science, and examine the key role attributed to the imagination in a variety of accounts of creative scientists and inventors. The appreciation of the imagination as a necessary attribute of the creative individual existed alongside a continuing recognition that those with powerful imaginations often dealt with, or at least courted fiction and error. In an age of increasing globalization and industrialization, and despite continuing suspicion of their ideas and projects, the imaginative power of scientific and inventive geniuses came to be held up as the defining characteristic of Western rationality.





04/15/2020 NYU-Gallatin, Room 801, 1 Washington Place
6:00 PM
Science and the History of Non-Existent Things
Jimena Canales, Massachusetts Institute of Technology