The videos for our Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Newton, Kant and the Newtonianism of the Eighteenth Century held at IASH are now online. Four excellent talks—from Thomas Ahnert, John Henry, Michela Massimi and Eric Schliesser—on two of the most important thinkers of their era. The workshop looked at the impact of Newton’s natural philosophy on Kant’s own thought. You can find the videos here. Enjoy!
Our last public lecture for this year’s series on Biological Complexity at the Royal Institution was delivered by Karl Friston, Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging, UCL. Karl has done seminal work in theoretical neuroscience and he is currently working on Bayesian models for the brain. He took us through a fascinating journey on what it means to be alive, and what conditions have to be satisfied for defining a living thing. Then Markov blanket was introduced and explained very clearly with an eye to defining what counts as a dynamical system able to generate recursive patterns over a period of time. From the statistical techniques, the discussion soon moved to the brain and the principle of minimising prediction-error as a key mechanism through which our brain builds a representation of the outside world, anticipates problems and challenges and adjusts sensory and action to respond to those problems. Simulated bird songs ended the talk as an illustration of the basic mechanism of prediction-error minimisation, with an enchanted audience that was reminded of entropy, Plato’s cave, and Helmholtz’s work on acoustics. Integration of philosophy and the sciences at its best, with a clear Kantian underlying tone in the idea that the world does not come to us as given but our brain builds it via feed-forward mechanisms of prediction and error.
Lovely evening at the Ri with Sandra Mitchell’s talk on Unsimple Truths and how biological complexity changes our ideas about emergency and explanation. From the Newtonian rules of reasoning to honey bees and flocks of starlings, Sandra pointed out the need to rethink downward causation and predictability. Mario Capecchi’s work on knockout mice provided the blueprint for a discussion on robustness and plasticity of biological systems. Sold out event, and a wonderful summer evening in central London.
As part of our public outreach, we are looking forward to our second Royal Institution lecture this Tuesday, the 10th June, in which Prof. Sandra Mitchell of the University of Pittsburgh will deliver a talk entitled ‘Unsimple Truths: How Biological Complexity Changes our view of Nature and Science’. This promises to be another fascinating talk.
What an evening we had at the Royal Institution in London tonight. A sold-out event — room packed, and UCL Provost (Prof. Michael Arthur) present too. The first of this year’s public lectures kicked off in great style with Prof. John O’Keefe, Director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour at UCL. Last Friday the Norwegian Academy of Science announced that John is the recipient of the 2014 Kavli Prize, given to pioneer neuroscientists. This most prestigious award for John’s work on the neurosciences comes after last year’s Horwitz Prize. Both prizes acknowledge the importance of John’s work for understanding how the hippocampus works and the role it plays in our representation of space. Most interestingly for our story, John’s research on the hippocampus and its role for spatial representation and memory is directly inspired by Kant’s view of space and his reaction against the British empiricists. John’s thirty years of research on the hippocampus show how mammals acquire from very early days after birth the ability to discern directions in space and spatial location. The research has also shown the division of labour among the cells of the hippocampus designated to take care of different spatial tasks. Kant might have been delighted to hear that his view about space — outmoded as it might appear to our eyes in a post-Euclidean world –seems after all corroborated by neuroscientific evidence. The universal and necessary nature of Euclidean space may well just be the limit of what the hippocampus cells can possibly represent. We live in a Euclidean world, as Kant believed, because that is how spatial representation works in mammals like us. More to the point, research on the neuroscientific basis of spatial representation has far-reaching implications for understanding spatial memory, and loss thereof in diseases such as Alzheimer’s. We can well say that unwittingly Kant was a pioneer neuroscientist! Audio of the lecture available in a few weeks time on the Kant and Laws AV gallery.
As part of our public outreach, the first 2014 Royal Institution lecture from the Kant and the Laws of Nature project is today. Professor John O’Keefe (recent recipient of the prestigious Kavli Prize in Neuroscience) is giving a talk entitled ‘Immanuel Kant: Pioneer Neuroscientist’.
As part of the Summer 2014 seminars the Edinburgh-St Andrews Kant Reading Group read the First Critique, B823–847 and Jens Timmermann’s ‘Kantian Dilemmas? Moral Conflict in Kant’s Ethical Theory‘.