Fudan PSI Yan Fu Lectures  #3:

Data, Phenomena, and Observations Reconsidered       

Speaker: Michael Weisberg (University of Pennsylvania)

Chair: Qiu Wang 

(Fudan University)


Wei Wang 

(Tsinghua University)

Qiaoying Lu 

(Peking University)

Wei Fang 

(Shanxi University)

Mingjun Zhang 

(Fudan University)

Time: Monday, 18th October, 2021, 7:30 PM—9:30 PM (UTC+8)

Online Platform: Zoom

Meeting ID: 489 550 5875

Passcode: 6666

Language: English


Most contemporary philosophers ofscience are committed to scientific empiricism, which is the idea thatscientific knowledge is ultimately grounded in observable or measurablefeatures of the world. Even though this rules out pure thought as a source of scientificknowledge, it leaves a lot of room for interpretation and further development.How strictly should observation be interpreted? Is unaided, human observationthe only thing that matters, or can observations include the use ofinstruments? Are we licensed to make inferences to the world beyond ourobservations—whole populations, instead of samples? Electrons instead of theeffects of electrons? And what is the extent of this grounding in measurementsand observations? Is it the beginning? Or the entirety of what we can know?

This lecture develops the idea that ourknowledge about the natural world is ultimately grounded on observations thatwe make both directly with our senses, and with instruments that extend thereach of our senses. Such observation is not the passive reception of a flow ofexperiences, but rather an active interrogation of the world. At the simplestlevel, this involves our nervous systems integrating impulses from our sensorymodalities with each other, with our prior knowledge, and perhaps with built-inperceptual biases. More broadly, this involves using measuring devices,computers, and community knowledge to make sophisticated and activeobservations of the empirical world. This entire process—including causal chainsrunning from the world to the scientific community and back again—is the groundfor scientific knowledge.

OrganizerThe Philosophy and Science of Intelligence Center(PSI), Fudan University


Michael Weisberg is Professor and Chair of Philosophy, as well as Senior Faculty Fellow and Director of Post-Graduate Programs at Perry World House. He serves as Editor-in-Chief of Biology and Philosophy, advisor to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Nairobi Work Programme, and directs Penn’s campus-wide transdisciplinary research in Galápagos. He is the author of Simulation and Similarity: Using Models to Understand the World and Galápagos: Life in Motion, as well as a contributing author to the IPCC's 6th Assessment Report. Much of Professor Weisberg’s research is focused on how highly idealized models and simulations can be used to understand complex systems. He also leads efforts to better understand the interface between humans and wildlife, between humans and the climate system, and how scientific issues are understood by communities in the Americas and in East Asia. Professor Weisberg received a B.S. in Chemistry and a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of California, San Diego in 1999, and continued graduate study in Philosophy and Evolutionary Biology at Stanford University, earning a 2003 Ph.D. in Philosophy.

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