International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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THURSDAY, JULY 9  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-1525
Individual papers
Evolution and Philosphy

An improved relational semantics of biological modalities

Maximilian Huber (Université de Genève, Switzerland)

Biological modalities are ubiquitous in all domains of biological research and hence seem to play an important epistemic role. For example, in ecology, the competitive exclusion principle states that for a given habitat, the stable coexistence of two species occupying the same niche is biologically impossible. However, there is no systematic theory of biological modalities. This is both surprising and problematic. It is surprising because modalities have been one of the most important topics in mathematical logic in the last decades; and it is problematic because the exact truth-conditions of claims involving biological modalities remain in the dark. The aim of this paper is to remedy this situation. In a first step, I will improve upon Dennett's (1995) relational semantics for biological possibility. These semantics are based on the Library of Mendel which is stipulated to contain 1. every logically possible genome, and 2. for each genome, a reader-constructor capable of producing the corresponding phenotype. Then, for some genome G1, x is is biologically possible if and only if x is an instance of a genome G2 or a feature of G2's phenotypic products, and G2 is accessible from G1. There are two main challenges: First, a salient interpretation of the accessibility relation must be provided since it is left undefined by Dennett. I will argue that the notion of an edit script from bioinformatics can be put to use. Second, it must be shown how the reader-constructor can be modeled and white-boxed. Here I will propose a solution in the spirit of dynamic modal logic. In a second step, I will discuss the adequacy of my improved relational semantics with respect to a range of case studies.

Disciplinology: Or what Wikipedia thinks of philosophy and the natural science

Tyler Brunet (Dalhousie University, Canada)

Using a computational approach, we investigated the conceptual structure of disciplines from the natural sciences and philosophy. We used Wikipedia and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as sources of predefined discourses, taking them to represent the collective understanding of a large community of contributing authors. We contrasted the resulting structural patterns with prevailing conceptions of the structure of academic disciplines. The hierarchy of science (HOS) model (Fanelli and Glänzel 2013), and branching tree models were examined in greatest detail. We argue for an unrooted reticulated tree (network)—in opposition to linear and hierarchical structures—in both natural science and philosophical discourses. We constructed networks using inter-discipline distance metrics derived from extracted keywords and whole text sources. Our methods allowed network construction even between distantly related natural science fields, and showed no immediate evidence for a strong continental-analytic divide in philosophy. We used hyperlinks to construct a graph (a connection of nodes and edges), and determine the major modular groups therein, as well as to examine the global domain architecture of the reticulated tree of disciplines. Our method allowed construction of networks based on contextual information beyond direct page hyper-linkage—such as sentence structure and common syntactical features. We see this exercise in computational "folk-disciplinology" as a useful adjunct to more traditional academic, educational, and scholarly approaches to the study of human knowledge.