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Blog hiatus explanation

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I do not post here very much, do I? In my defense, I have been posting:

So I’ve not been slacking. Oh I’ve also had that whole “thesis” thing I’m supposed to be working on. I’ve nearly finished working on a paper about imprecise probabilities and decision making. It still needs some work, but once it’s out of the way, I hope to spend a little time working on the disagreement thing I mentioned in my last post…


Written by Seamus

August 22, 2011 at 12:13 pm

RIP I.J. Good

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I was sad to read that I.J. Good died recently. I only heard about him a couple of weeks ago. Even from the fairly academic work of his I was reading you got a sense that he was a really interesting character with a unique sense of humour. His obituary confirms that impression.

In other news, I’m desperately trying to finish various papers and so on that need doing and I’m not really progressing particularly fast. Not that that is really news. That seems to be my default status. In the coming weeks I have to finish up short papers on the following topics:

  • Frege on the definition of numbers
  • Why probability is not always the best way to represent uncertainty
  • Quantum Mechanics and Structural Realism
  • Similarity relations and the theory-world link

Interesting topics all (apart from the first one), but it’s frustrating to have all these little bits and pieces to get done when what I really want to do is get down to a Big Project like my literature review… Although the second and fourth topics at least have some bearing on the topic of the lit rev, so that’s a bonus.

Two upcoming conferences that I will be attending:

Exciting stuff, no?

Written by Seamus

April 24, 2009 at 11:41 am

Posted in philosophy, university

Journal availability woes and dissertation meandering worries

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Since Bristol University philosophy department lists, as one of its principal research areas, the philosophy of science, you would expect the unviersity to have access to the journal entitled “Philosophy of Science.” Not so. I have spent some time trying to get at two articles from that journal with no luck. They are listed on Jstor, but the actual article isn’t on there and it directs me back to the Chicago Journals website, which asks me to log on. All in all rather frustrating. In desperation I just tried searching Google for “Psillos structure” and lo! I was directed to the PhilSci Archive which contained a version of the paper I wanted. In fact, the other article I wanted was also available through that archive. So God bless you Pittsburgh! I can’t believe I haven’t come across this resource before. The papers I got were from conference proceedings, but there are also some articles that are forthcoming in various journals. It would be nice to see the PhilSci archive grow into a repository of preprints, much like arXiv has for physics papers.

Rather than actually working on the fundamentals of my dissertation, I have been borrowing books and downloading papers tangentially related to my topic. I have a core idea for my dissertation, and then many sattelite projects. Hopefully I can somehow glue it all into a cohesive whole. More for my benefit than anyone else’s I shall summarise the myriad directions my current project is taking. The main nexus of the dissertation is about geometry and structuralism. So a detailed look at Shapiro’s and Resnik’s accounts of ontology and epistemology in the context of geometry. Often when they are discussing the struturalist’s stock example “the natural number structure” they say things which are supposed to be true of all mathematical structures. In the case of geometry, it isn’t apparent that this is as straightforward as they imagine. My main aim is to look at whether structural interpretations of geometry will work. Some of the intellectual meanderings that I might also write about are:

  • The history of geometry, particularly 19th century. Interpreted as a move toward structuralism? (Shapiro argues as much in his 1997 book)
  • Bourbaki-type set theoretic structure and Klein’s Erlangen Programme as kinds of structuralism
  • Genetic Epistemology. Can how we learn geometry be interpreted structurally? (Piaget wrote a book on the child’s conception of geometry which would be my main source for this.)
  • Structural realism about spacetime. How this squares with structuralism about mathematical/axiomatic geometry.
  • Shapiro talks of “linguistic resources” limiting what we can do. In the case of geometry, it might be better to discuss “conceptual or imaginative resources” instead.
  • Our limits as a benefit. Why it is good for structuralism that we aren’t aware that any circle isn’t perfect and that any line we draw actually has a thickness. These defects in our perception make pattern recognition and abstraction easier.

So that should keep me going. All I need to do now is read all this stuff and then write loads. Pff. Easy.

Written by Seamus

July 8, 2008 at 12:59 pm

We are all going to explode tomorrow.

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Today’s Guardian had a cool little special section about CERN. It is available here. I now have a false colour bubble chamber image as my desktop background. So the LHC hasn’t blown us all up yet, which is nice. If it ever does, I might feel the tiniest bit responsible, since I’m signed up to the LHC BOINC project

In other news, the nine-point circle is my favourite fact about triangles. I will try and mention it and its relation to incircles and excircles in my dissertation. Hopefully with gratuitous use of diagrams drawn in Kig. If I can be bothered to learn how to get pictures to work in LaTeX… Another thing I’d like to do is learn how to write chapters as separate files and include them in some master file. For 15,000 words it’s hardly worth it, but it’ll be useful for next year. I’d also like to change the default font to Gentium, for no other reason than to make a move away from default LaTeX formatting…

Written by Seamus

June 30, 2008 at 1:19 pm

How do you find the centre of the circle? And some miscellaneous ponderings.

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Given a circle, what’s the best way to find it’s centre? Is it true that the midpoint of every chord of a circle goes through the centre of that circle? How would you prove that? I’m sure it would only take a minute to show if I could be bothered (and if it is true, obviously).

I’m glad to see that none of the restrictive amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill got through the free votes over the past few days.

I just found a great way to end my essay on Galileo. It’s a shame I still need to write another 1000 words, because coming up with such a great conclusion makes me feel I’ve finished. I really am running low on stuff to say now. Essay fatigue has really set in.

Also I am physically exhausted because I went to the gym yesterday and foolishly agreed to go through my friend’s gym routine. It was a bit much for me. However, it was good to do some exercise.

8 days to go until essay deadline frees me from this niggling feeling I should be working harder. At least for a while. Until I begin to feel I should start working on my dissertation.

Written by Seamus

May 22, 2008 at 2:46 pm

Posted in maths, me me me, university

More philosophy ramblings

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Writing down my thoughts about my research proposal was such a good idea that I’ve decided to write a little something about all the other things I’m up to at the moment. If nothing else, it will help me work out what I’m doing. First things first: I’m writing three essays for the three courses I’m taking this term. I shall say a little about each in turn.

History of Science. The course is focussed on the Copernican revolution, so I thought I’d look at the influence of progress in mathematics on the progress in astronomy. I’m aware that Ptolemy and Aristotle probably had a better knowledge of conics than did anyone afterwards in Europe up until the Eighteeth century. The works of Apollonius were translated from Arabic into Latin only in the 1700s. So Copernicus and Galileo didn’t have that stuff available. This might go some way to explaining why it took so long to get over the idea of orbits being circles… So that’s what I want to look at there.

Philosophy of Biology. This is the one I am least sure about. I don’t really know what I want to do. Possibly something about levels of explanation and abuses of language. I feel strongly that people use the idea of “fitness” where they really shouldn’t. As a statistical tool to assess differential population growth based on certain traits or genes, it’s fine. But when people start talking about a gene or trait “conferring a selective advantage” or “increasing fitness” then I start to feel uncomfortable. They seem to be creating an extra level of explanation that is vacuous and possibly misleading. I don’t know if this vague unease can be stretched out to five thousand words, though…

Scientific Epistemology and Methodology. This course is really very broad, and I have managed to pick an essay topic that is kind of outside of the scope of the course. I’m writing about robot scientists and what they can teach us about science. There isn’t really much written on this so I’m sort of a bit all over the place at the moment. I’m looking at robot science from lots of different philosophical perspectives.

The other thing I have going on at the moment is much more on the back-burner until I get these essays out of the way. That is my dissertation topic. I’m looking at structuralism and geometry. A lot of talk about structuralism in philosophy of maths is centred on discussing the natural number structure. I want to look at to what extent can we think of geometry as being structural. I’d also like to look at the relationship between structuralism and axiomatics.

So… that is what I’m currently pondering. That was useful to get it all written down at least in a cursory way…

Written by Seamus

March 4, 2008 at 6:41 pm

Epic man-flu battles the robot scientists…

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I have spent the last few days being kicked repeatedly in the nuts by a really bad cold. Figuratively. I’ve missed a few lectures which will take some catching up on… And my plan to have one of my essays pretty much written up has been put on the back burner. But today thanks to Beechams (which I think is made out of magic) or my partial convalescence, I managed to plan out my essay about Robot Scientists. It’s going to be awesome. I hope I can write something in the next week and get some feedback. I also have to catch up on a lot of reading and whatnot.

Fun fact: seventeen of the twenty-nine delegates at the fifth Solvay conference were, or later became Nobel prize winners… Yikes.

I managed to get as far as Boots to buy some paracetamol and ibuprofen and (for reasons unrelated to my illness) mouthwash and shower gel. On the way past Borders I popped in and snapped up two seasons of Red Dwarf for £7 each! So this week I have spent most of my time coughing my lungs up, feeling sorry for myself and watching Red Dwarf on DVD. But now I don’t have any more episodes to watch. Thankfully I have also got over the worst of my cold as well.

I watched Run Fat Boy Run, which is quite funny. Cheesy in the extreme, but just about silly enough that it doesn’t turn into a soppy chick-flick. It did kind of make me want to go and watch Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, though. In fact I might watch Hot Fuzz this evening… I do like Stephen Merchant’s cameos. In RFBR, in HF and in Green Wing. He went to Warwick, don’t you know…

Written by Seamus

February 27, 2008 at 6:04 pm