Saturday, June 4, 2011

Talking and Walking in Sydney

The Quad
Last week started my first week properly at the Centre for the Foundations of Science at the University of Sydney (rather than merely a resident of Sydney). We got right to business with a reading-group session in Paul Griffiths’ office on a very interesting paper by John Wilkins on whether species should be considered as theoretical objects of biology (objects necessary for biological explanation) or rather as targets of explanation. This was warm-up for his seminar on the 15th to which I’m looking forward. After that, I started getting situated in the Centre office, in the front of the amazing Quad building. Because there aren’t a lot of other visitors to the Centre at the moment, and the administrator is on leave, I’ve so far had this huge office to myself (I’ll post interior photos soon).

On Wednesday, I gave my own talk in the seminar series. Again, it was on material drawn from my paper on stable property cluster kinds — this time on the heart of the concept of stability I think makes for a more general account of natural kinds, developing some of the ideas I started working out in the UK last fall. I was, I admit, a little reticent about this since the paper straddles the fence between criticism and friendly amendment to the Homeostatic Property Cluster (HPC) account of kinds — an account that one of my hosts (and the chair of the session) Paul Griffiths has done much to articulate and promote. Couple that with the fact that the audience was sprinkled with philosophical heavyweights (e.g., Huw Price, shortly to take up the Bertrand Russell chair at Cambridge), wicked-smart metaphysicians (Rachel Briggs, David Braddon-Mitchell, Kristie Miller, &c.) and a host of philosopher of biology (Wilkins, Dominic MurphyMark Colyvan, and walking-biological-encyclopedia Maureen O’Malley) and the Q&A session was ripe for devastating objections. Fortunately, though, the audience was ideal: challenges were offered in a friendly and productive spirit and suggestions for clarification and extension were unusually helpful. Whew! Thanks everyone!

Once again, though, I have another talk to prepare before I’m able to really process the questions and suggestions that came up. Fortunately, it’s a “Work-in-Progress” seminar in a room without slideshow capabilities (lest I get tempted): so there’s no demand to present something “polished”. The plan is to start working out a reply to a paper William Goodwin recently published in Biology & Philosophy criticizing papers by me and Emma Tobin about protein classification. Emma and I are talking about co-writing the response. But first I need to sort out what I want to say. . . .

Meanwhile, Maureen took me walking in Balmain (basically across the bay from Glebe), a former factory district, now turned site of rather expensive cottages, with lovely views back east onto the inner harbors. Photos from that (and around Glebe) here. Tomorrow I head out into the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney for a long walk (aka “hike”) with Paul, Maureen, and Kristie. Hopefully the weather will hold enough for some nice shots of the many vistas we’re supposed to enjoy.


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