Wednesday September 18, 2013

Hi everyone and welcome to the start of fall term, always a time of intense activity. Before we get to the news-news, we’d like to take a moment to remember Ardeth Wood. Our chair Dave DeVidi writes:

It has been a decade since one of the most traumatic events in the history of the department. Those who were here at the time will remember the shock and grief that gripped the department when Ardeth Wood disappeared on August 6, 2003. For those of you who never had a chance to meet Ardeth: She was a PhD student—making good headway in the early stages of the program, well liked and with many close friends in the department, collegial, involved, active, and full of promise—when she went home to Ottawa for a short vacation with her family. Here is a link to one story about the anniversary.”  Ardeth’s memory is honored in the life of our Department by the Ardeth Wood Memorial Bursary; as Dave says, “None of us who knew her will forget her.”

The main happening around our department recently was, of course, our welcome party. Our current Associate Chair for grad studies, Doreen Fraser, writes: “the first week of September we welcomed 16 new graduate students to the Department–9 MA students and 7 PhD students. Their interests are distributed across the full range of research areas in the Department; some are continuing their education with us at uWaterloo, and others have come from universities across the country.  The day of departmental orientation sessions was capped off by a welcome party in Dave DeVidi’s back yard.” A lovely event — and we are thrilled to be welcoming so many great new students!

Current graduate student Peter Blouw reports on various recent research travels: “In August, I presented a poster on evaluations of rule-breaking and the pragmatics of indirect speech at the 6th Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress in Boulder, Colorado. The poster was based on some experimental philosophy work I’ve been doing with John Turri, and it was really interesting to present this material in a setting where there’s naturally a bit more of a focus on the aspects of the research related to ethics rather than cognitive science. I got some good feedback and ideas about project, and I really enjoyed taking in the other talks and posters at the conference. I also went to Berlin in August for the annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. I presented a poster based on some work I’ve been doing in Chris Eliasmith’s lab on distributional models of lexical semantics, and it was good chance to meet other people who are also interested in this topic. Over 1000 people attended the conference, so there were a lot of opportunities to learn about recent developments in cognitive science research.” Great work, Peter!

Brian Orend says the second edition of his book is out! Check out the cover, then read all about it at Broadview press!

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Heather Douglas spoke on Monday at the Stand Up for Science Rally in Kitchener about the state of Canadian public science.  A news clip on the rally can be seen here. Heather says, “it was good to come out and meet with others concerned about Canadian science in the public interest.” The discussion continued Tuesday with a panel discussion including Dave DeVidi, at an event called called Get Science R!ght on Tuesday, September 16 at the Waterloo Public Library. Dave says, “This event was organized by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, and is the first in a nationwide series of events to ‘discuss the public impact of the crisis in science and research policy in Canada.’ It was hosted by Craig Norris of the local CBC radio morning show, and the other panelists were Melanie Campbell of Waterloo’s Physics and Astronomy department and Jeffrey Jones, a neuroscientist from Wilfrid Laurier.” Since this was just as our blog was going to press, we’ll have more details from Dave next week.

Doreen Fraser just got back from a workshop on the applicability of mathematics in physics at Simon Fraser University.  Doreen says, “The other speakers were Nic Fillion (SFU) and Bob Batterman (Pittsburgh); the participants came from philosophy and applied mathematics departments at SFU and UBC.  One of the issues addressed was how to explain why mathematics is applicable in the ways in which it is in contemporary physics.  The starting point for providing such an explanation is to respond to physicist Eugene Wigner’s infamous skeptical assessment that ‘[t]he miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.’ A common thread running through the talks was that applied mathematics represents reality in only very minimal respects.  This feature of the examples analyzed had diverse causes: the need to engineer a problem that is tractable using methods available to applied mathematicians (Fillion), the introduction of idealizations (Batterman), and that the applicability of a common mathematical formalism across a wide range of domains reflects the fact that the physical conditions for applicability of the formalism are very minimal (Fraser). One strand of the discussion that I will be following up on is whether the identification of causal structures (as characterized by some account of causation) could play any role in my case studies.”

Tim also just presented a talk: on Friday September 13, to the  Department of Philosophy colloquium at McMaster University, titled “Oral history and the epistemology of testimony.”

Steve Weinstein is back after recording an album, set for release in early December. Steve adds, “in my absence, I entered an FQXI (Foundational Questions Institute) essay contest on “Questioning the Foundations: Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?” and tied for second with Hawking collaborator, cosmologist George Ellis. Essay is here.” Welcome back, Steve!

Carla is enjoying her first time teaching Intro (Phil 110A) at Waterloo.  She says, “I am really excited about this class. What struck me right away was the incredible diversity of students in the room.  I love the idea of people of so many different races and ethnicities coming together to explore philosophy. I am looking forward to the rest of the semester.” I second that: I always enjoy teaching Intro classes, and I especially enjoy them at Waterloo where the students bring such an interesting mix of perspectives.

The Philosophy Graduate Student Association (PGSA) welcomed the incoming grad students and celebrated the return of our continuing grad students after orientation with a visit to the Grad House. The grad students had a great time getting to know each other and sharing in the tradition of spending time at the Grad House on Fridays! Here are a couple of excellent pictures:

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Our outgoing PGSA president, Rosalind Abdool, says: “It is with great pleasure that I would like to present the Philosophy Graduate Student Association executive for the 2013-2014 academic year:

President: Nathan Haydon
Administrator: Ashley Keefner
Treasurer: Sara Weaver
PhD Representative:  Jay Michaud
MA Representative:   Nicholas Ferenz
GSA Representative:  Cristina Balaita

Ben Nelson, Ayo Ogunshola, Dylon McChesney have been appointed as our 2014 UWaterloo Graduate Conference organizers, and Peter Blouw will continue in the role of graduate colloquium series coordinator.

Rosalind adds, “I would like to thank all those who made this past year such a wonderful one – especially the former exec, including Sara, Lindsey, Ashley, Nathan and Ben, as well as the conference organizers, Nathan and Ben, and our colloquium series organizer, Peter. A huge thank you to Jim for all of his advice, expertise and contributions to the PGSA. Lastly, thank you to all department members as well for all of your continued support of the grad students!”

Finally, while this is generally a blog about what-has-happened, we’re going to add listings of activities outside the department that we’re involved in, in case any one wants to join in:

Paul Thagard says that on Sept. 20, he will be giving the Killam Lecture at Dalhousie, and on Oct 11, he’ll be speaking at a conference in Delft, Netherlands, on cognition, complexity, and urban planning.

Rosalind Abdool and I will be presenting our co-authored paper “Utilitarianism, Intuitions, Rationality and Neuroscience,” this upcoming Saturday at the Pittsburgh Area Philosophy Colloquium.

Recent Faculty Publications

Matt writes, “Recent Waterloo Philosophy graduate Dr. Rachel McKinnon– now a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary– and I have just published a paper in Philosophical Psychology together called “This paper took too long to write: A puzzle about overcoming weakness of will.”

My paper “Moral Coherence and Value Pluralism just came out in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy. Here’s a link to the open access version.

Don’t forget you can see more news and check out upcoming events at our Department website. Our Facebook group is now for anyone who wants to keep in touch — just send a request to join. As always, I hope everyone is having a great fall, and thanks for reading!

— Patricia Marino

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