Annual Lecture Series (in-person)
Lunchtime Talks (in-person)
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FFF: Janella Baxter
October 25, 2022 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm EDT
Abstract: The work of synthetic biologists strikes some as strange and foreign (Keller 2009). Synthetic biologists are in the business of exploring a range of biological possibilities rarely sampled by the nature world – or the world outside the lab (Malaterre 2013). In this talk, I’ll argue that a common logical structure characterizes the mode of discovery adopted by many research programs in synthetic biology. This talk will focus on areas of synthetic biology that seek to synthesize and study novel biomolecules such as alternative backbone structures for information-bearing molecules. I’ll argue that discovery in this area of research is achieved by weakening and revising what most biologists treat as causal constraint variables (Dretske 1988; Haslanger 2016; Ross in progress). I’ll argue further that this mode of inquiry is not captured by other competing accounts of discovery – notably, Lindley Darden and Nancy Maull’s (1977) concept of interfield theory. While interfield theories attempt to make explicit and explain connections between fields, the strategy of weakening causal constraint variables involves redefining disciplinary boundaries.
A lesson to draw from synthetic biology is that disciplinary boundaries are neither settled nor neutral affairs. Large amounts of funding and labor have been (and continue to be) invested in the pursuit of alternative backbone structures despite systematic failure (Benner and Hutter 2002; Benner 2004). While this has led to some progress in medicine and origin of life research, one might ask whether the payoff is worth the investment. Philosophers of science commonly appeal to disciplinary boundaries to describe the norms of a science (Weber 2013; Mitchell 2008; Waters 2007); however, when it comes to revising a community’s causal constraint variables philosophers of science should also take up the project of doing what Pradeu et al. (2021) call philosophy in science. We have a role to play in asking what the boundaries of a discipline should be.
This is an online talk, to register for this talk please visit this Zoom link: https://pitt.zoom.us/j/99653152389
- October 25, 2022
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm EDT
- Event Category:
- Featured Former Fellow LTT
- Online Lecture