Saturday, 29 November 2008

Progress on Conference Plan & lots of book purchases

I am inching closer to having a completed conference proposal. At least I actually have something now that could be submitted and I still have a couple of days in which to review it and edit it further. My only issues at the moment are that it is slightly too long at just over 1,000 words and that it isn't yet punchy enough in respect of the thesis that I wish to propose.

Oddly enough, Linda seemed keen to read it. I had some reluctance to do this as I have tried to keep the MSc and the details of what I am doing seperate from other parts of life. When she did finally read it, she didn't really have any substantive points other than that one sentence was a little long. It "sounded technical", she thought. Reading one of my books on doing a PhD, I was surprised to read a section saying that the chances are very high that family and friends will not be supportive of what you are doing and that you need to be thick skinned about this. It would be fair to say that my enthusiasm for my MSc is not shared elsewhere in the household - indeed it is frequently dismissed. But it important to me, and I am enjoying it. I see little reason to talk to anyone about it though - except the other people on the course

Over the last couple of weeks I have been on something of a book buying binge. I had a rapid series of book sales that have raised about £150 and still had a couple of hundred left in my marketplace surplus. Over the last week or two, I have bought about £200 worth of books - all related to my course. And an excellent selection they are. For Christmas, I would hope to get nothing other than more books!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

HoPoS paper, Rerum Causae and admin

Some progress on the HoPoS conference paper. My idea is now to contrast Bruno, Clavius and Brahe using something like the following plan. Bruno is the most enthusiastic Copernican on the 1500s. He leaps from Copernicanism to a whole series of speculative ideas, many of which are, in some sense, correct (at least in the sense of beings models which gel with our modern view) - for instance, that all the stars are sun, could have planets of their own, etc, and particularly that we have no privileged position in the universe.

Clavius and Tycho are clearly the most authoritative (and probably most read) astronomers of the late 16th Century. Their failure to accept Copernicanism is an interesting contrast to Bruno. Yet Clavius retains Ptolemaic astronomy, while Tycho rejects this. So there are plenty of contrasts - three systems are being contrasted, all in the pre-telescope period.

This all sounds like a possible good paper. But I still have to actually get a good, rhetorically suitable piece ready by the weekend - still a tall order.

What I did do today was edit my P of S essay on Lakatos's famous quote into a form where I could submit it to Rerum Causae, the journal of the LSE philosophy Society. This is published once each year and I was quite impressed with the standard of the two issues I have seen from the last couple of years. Caroline is involved in the production of this and gave me a "call for papers" document the other day. I will definitely submit something to this in the next week or so.

And also some admin - mainly creating a sensible filing system on my PC for all the articles I am downloading. I can't believe that it didn't occur to me to just download the articles I want rather than print them all off. So much better this way. Still updating my "working bibliography" for the papers that most interest me - something of the "literature review" you get as part of a PhD in this process.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Tuesday at LSE - Emma things

An incredibly busy day today. One of those days when I look back and find it hard to believe that everything happened on this one day.

Down at LSE a bit earlier than necessary and time to do an hours work in the library. I am not that keen on working in the library - not like I was when I attending LSE in the early 1980s when I was virtually encamped in section 3C. I think it is too noisy. I think some of this is due to the ludicrous staircase that takes up most of the middle of the building. Surely the aim should have been to maximise setting, not waste so much space on this feature. I'm sure this also funnels sound from the basement all the way to the top of the building. But it was ok to work there for an hour or so this morning before switching to the Garrick Cafe for a muffin and drink. Reading Feyerabend's article on Lakatos from 1975 - sort of an obituary, but not really. They were such good friends, yet he is hardly mentioned in F's Killing Time - the more I think about this book, the odder it seems
The appalling waste of space - the central staircase that funnels sound throughout the building - no wonder so many people use ipods to drown out the sound of people. This was never the case in my day . . . .

Shooting off quickly after the H of S seminar - which was a small improvement of previous weeks - to meet Emma again at Liverpool St station. This weeks interview is JP Morgan. Emma is pretty relaxed as you would expect given her Barclays offer. We have lunch at Pizza Express near Finsbury Circus. She looks quite the part in her new suit. I, by contrast, look rather like a student among the city folks.

After getting her to the right place - BP's old Brittanic House - it was back to LSE for a couple of hours of work. Then back to meet Emma at 5:00 or so to hear how she got on. She didn't think it went hugely well but she seems to have had a good time doing it all and certainly would have impressed them with her social skills!

Then back to LSE for the evening lecture and seminar on Bayesian conformation theory. Much to my surprise, given that it rather dominates P of S these days, no one really seemed eager to defend bayesianism. Is this because people simply haven't digested the material sufficiently to have an opinion? If I had known this I might have been prepared to defend Bayesianism, instead of being ready with lots of negative thoughts. It would be good fun to defend something vigorously that I don't actually believe in!

I must be desperate for pictures for the blog if I am willing to put a picture of Thomas Bayes here!

Monday, 24 November 2008

More positive about conference plan and dissertation

After a day or so reflecting on the conference pitch plan, I am feeling a little more positive. In addition to Miklos's comments, I have also been able to find a website for the previous conference on the same theme from October 2007. This includes the 1000 word extracts for the papers that were accepted to this conference so now I have something better to work from - ideas on the sort of rhetorical style used for such things. A new draft of my proposal - a complete re-write really of the previous one. Not much time left though - and Miklos is away so no more feedback available.

I am thinking that I might do this topic for my dissertation. One new thing I am trying to include is something on Christoph Clavius. My plan is therefore to contrast Bruno, Clavius and Brahe, rather than just Bruno and Brahe. I have a few articles on Clavius, but not much. He figures in many histories, but there seems to be little about his defence of Ptolemaic astronomy. Can I find something before the weekend to pad out my conference pitch?

The most common picture of Clavius

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Comments on conference proposal - Bruno and Tycho

My course supervisor and P of S / dissertation tutor, Miklos emailed me with respect to a draft of my proposed Conference pitch that I sent him on Friday. He is very critical of the draft, but mainly due to me not having really made clear that I actually have something interesting to say!But he does think that the idea of comparing Bruno and Tycho in response to Copernicanism might be a good topic. So should focus on this, this being just a part of the proposal I sent him. I have located some examples of the conference abstracts that were produced for the last conference on this subject last year - so at least I now have a better idea about the rhetorical style involved.

So I have been preparing a bibliography from the sources I have on Tycho and Bruno and I can see the outline of some sort of idea here. But do I have enough time to turn it into a proposal by end of next weekend? This could be quite tight. I have various papers and books to review as a first step - for instance, papers by McMullin on Bruno and Copernicus, and Blair on Tycho's criticism of Copernicus. After this, maybe I will have a better idea of whether I have enough time. But it will still have the same theme of showing how difficult a rational reconstruction of the History of Science is

This does highlight an interesting question - what now is my goal on the MSc? Maybe it is to test whether I could do a PhD? Therefore I should be even less concerned with the day-to-day course work and more concerned with creating a knowledge of the literature in areas that interest me and developing writing methodologies. This is quite a challenging new idea about my course and will require a lot of thought

What I would ideally like to do is produce a really good book on Kepler. Perhaps based on the recent book by Rowland on Bruno or the Lattis book on Clavius. Scholarly, maybe 450 pages inc footnotes. There are so many articles on Kepler that I could try to use by blending together. Once or twice I have thought that I am a much better expositional writer than a writer of original material - but perhaps everyone thinks that as they start an MSc. Maybe originality comes later?

Or perhaps the time is now ripe for an update of Kuhn's Copernican Revolution. I am working on the idea of a piece about Kuhn's book for the H of S seminar, but this is a very complex theme for me to deal with. Nonetheless, a good piece on Kuhn's book would enable me to assess better whether a new book on this subject is possible.

Exciting stuff to think about . . . .

Finocchiaro contact, journal articles, Einstein and Eddington

After a short search on the internet, I sent an email to Maurice Finocchiaro with a question about why his History of Science as Explanation does not mention Lakatos. Much to my surprise, he replied overnight, saying that it was mainly an issue of timing for the completion of his manuscript but also that he had published an extended review article on Lakatos in 1973 as well.

I would have liked to get this article straight way but had run out of ink. But then the thought hits me - why not just save articles to disc and print when I need them? What a great idea, if I can organise my PC filing system adequately. And what a shame I thought of it only after printing about 3,000 pages of articles and having ordered 8 new b/w cartridges for what I expected to print going forward! I am so poor at thinking these sorts of things through in a sensible manner.

So today I worked through the back issues of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science on this new basis and it could work ok, but I do need to think about how to organise them. They are not titled in any useful way, which is also a pain

There was a programme called Einstein and Eddington on BBC 2 over the weekend. A drama staring the current actor who plays Dr Who. Not the greatest show ever, but it did have one or two interesting things in it.
The BBC version

The real Einstein and Eddington

Friday, 21 November 2008

Successful essay writing - unsuccessful conference paper

Mainly working on two things at the moment - an extended essay for P of S on the famous Lakatos quote and the HoPoS conference pitch. I am actually very pleased with the former - a real uplift in the standard of my writing I think. Good use of sources and quotes - well reasoned. In my view, one of my best essays ever.

But the HoPoS conference porposal is not so good. It is due with them by Nov 30th. So far my thesis is not clear at all. I am beginning to feel somewhat out of my depth on this. At the very least, I am trying to get something together that I could send to Miklos for comments - but I definitely don't feel very confident at all. However, the remote possibility of doing something useful academically rests on getting accepted for such things. The slenderest thread of hope . . . . to make it sound very heroic.

The problem of course is how to say something original - within the context of such a vast amount of material - e.g. the 2,000 pages of articles printed off today. These are on all sorts of subjects - How am I ever going to use these?

News from Emma

More news from Emma about her internship. We have some approximate dates for when it is next summer, and the news that Barclays will be trying to book all their interns into University halls of residence for their entire 10 weeks. Also very few of Emma's friends have even started their internship applications - so another good reason why Emma was right to spend time on this project after we got back from Italy. This might be considered one silver lining from the cloud of the way the summer turned out for Emma.

We are intending to travel across to Cambridge this Saturday for what now takes on something of a celebratory event. Then next week I am meeting her on Tuesday for her JP Morgan interviews - no longer of much importance, but still worth doing if only for the practice of being interviewed.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Tuesday / Wednesday at LSE

Tuesday November 18th

At the LSE Library earlier than usual this morning and two important finds - Agassi Towards an Historiography of Science from 1963 and Finocchiaro History of Science as Explanation. Both were in the Lakatos collection - the former mis-stacked. Both are essential reads for me at the moment

There is a fire alarm ringing pre-lecture at the New Academic Building. I stood outside chatting to Anne Marie about her dissertation plans. Unfortunately, her presentation is this Friday and I can't really justify going down to London to see it. A shame really as her theme - which seems to be something from the philosophy of mathematics - would have been good to hear about. John Worrall continues his lecturing on Copernicus, but at least it is getting a bit more philosophical.

At our H of S seminar, George wastes ten minutes talking obout the heuristic argument for realism, which had just been covered by JW, which annoys Victor. We then have a paper by Ian on Galileo's telescopic observations and various associated articles by Hanson, Feyerabend and Kitcher on these observations. I have 6-8 points I would have liked to have asked Ian about, but George introduces what he believes is a "logical contradiction" argument by Galileo against Aristotle. His argument is nonsense, but he gets very annoyed as we dispute this. So then he launches into a long 20 mins speech - and I never get to ask my questions to Ian. Not how a seminar should be in my view. Lunch follows with Victor and Leonardo - grumbling about George mostly. Perhaps I should send him an email.

At 2:00pm, it is my next Hedge Fund Society talk - this one being a broad talk on approaches to trading. I llustrated the technical parts via the Yahoo finance website, which I thought was quite effective.

Off then to the hotel. This week I have a back room (which is very quiet) plus a regular bed, rather than the bunk bed I had last week - the best room I have had so far

The P of S lecture is on "Interpretations of Probability". I had a short talk to Caroline before the lecture who seems quite anti-Victor/pro-George, which rather surprises me. She told me that JW was actually really cross with the points Victor had made at the meeting the other week. I also sat next to one of the PhD people - a girl who was at the student-staff forum the other week. I would really like to know how she is getting on - I have recently been having some thoughts on doing a PhD myself.

At the P of S seminar, some of us get essays back - for me this was my Bayesian essay that I did with no advance preparation for. I was fairly pleased with the comments, though the paper wasn't very good. Femke did her essay on the History of Science quote from Lakatos. I had a quick read of it - it was certainly not what I would have expected of a post-grad essay!

Long chat with Vicenzo and Leonardo at Holborn tube station - life, the universe and everything.

Wednesday November 19th

Reading Finocchiaro first thing this morning at the hotel - this could be a very important book for me. I wonder if it is still available to buy anywhere. The book seeks to criticise and develop Agassi's argument from Historiography. Oddly, it doesn't mention Lakatos, though it was published a few years after the relevant Lakatos paper. Wonder why?

Today's dissertation seminar is by Caroline - her thoughts are very loose at this stage. I made some comments, but nothing too serious. This might be the last of these seminar that I attend this year. For what I get out of them compared to what I could do if I stayed home, it is perhaps not worth staying up just for.

A quick getaway at the end of the seminar to meet Emma at Liverpool St. We have some lunch and do a little bit of prep for her Barclays assessment centre this afternoon. This takes place at a hotel in Canary Wharf. My sole aim is to try to keep her as calm as possible before hand. This seems to go ok

From Canary Wharf, I make my way home - reading Goldstein's Incompleteness on the coach.
Then a quiet couple of hours downloading and printing articles off the various journal sites via the LSE library website - this is such a change from when I was a student, and could form the basis for much of the work that I do over the remainder of the course - so much more effective than reading entire books.

Mid-evening, Emma calls to say she has been offered an internship position at Barclays for next summer - another brilliant achievement by young Riley. Given the deteriorating economic situation, I think internships will be at a premium, so she has done really well to get one with her first attempt - and this is actually the one she most wanted to get as well. So a pretty perfect outcome.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Slight dip after best day's work

Spent the first couple of hours working today on a first draft of my "HoPoS" conference pitch - a bit of a brainstorm, followed then by a tidy up. This is due by Dec 1st, so I do have plenty of time to finalise it. I don't really know what such a document should look like, but did find some 1,000 word summaries from the previous conference - so am using one of these as my template. Don't really know what I am doing in this area though and too late to get help from, say, Miklos.

Suffered a bit of a dip after yesterday, when I worked for about 15 hours. It is a grey and gloomy day - perhaps I should have a go with Linda's SAD light?

Another Hedge fund Soc presentation to draft, this one on technical versus fundamental approaches to trading. This involved reviewing some old RA documents which was pretty strange. I am working on the assumption that most of my audience is really only interesting in the theme of making money. So I planning to spend most of the lecture discussing technical trading systems. I have found a few good websites that hopefully I will be able to access from the LSE system and can use for this part.

Spent some of the afternoon reading James Broderick's book on Robert Bellarmine. He is a Jesuit and it would be far to say that his treatment of the issues that interest me about Bellarmine are not handled in the most unbiased manner that I have ever read. Bruno is dismissed in one footnote that mainly dismisses the view that he was burned as a heretic for anything to do with Copernicanism. The chapter on Galileo is quite extraordinary!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Some of my best work so far

A relatively quiet Saturday. Into Oxford for breakfast at the newly-refurbished French cafe, then for a long walk down to the Cherwell through University park. Most of the rest of the day spent quietly. But late on Saturday night after Linda had decided on an early night, I settled down for a few hours work and made a good start on a few things that would then develop well throughout Sunday - so lots of history reading, and working on my dissertation bibliography and the papers I had downloaded from the BJPS over the last few days.

First thing Sunday and more work on the "history of history" and articles from the BJPS. I have started taking a few notes and making the very high level summary comments. Today this included article by Grunbaum, Porter, and Williams. The bibliography is coming along very well and should form a really good basis for my later writing. And I have run out of ink so printing is currently suspended - after doing close to 2000 pages

I have now starting on my next Philosophy of Science essay (on my main theme of the relation between philosophy and history of science). And also rising slowly into a bit more prominence is the plan for the conference proposal I need to submit before the end of November. Earlier today, Linda mentioned that the "ideal" would be if I could do a PhD and then get an academic job. I consider this to have really no probability of coming to pass, but if it does, it will be because of getting accepted on to something like this conference. So I do have to take it seriously

And I am firming up my plan to work on just what I want to and ignore syllabuses for each subject! I do need to ensure that I cover some important themes, but may do this via essay writing rather than doing the course reading. This is a brave move but will be the best move if I do have to curtail my study at some point soon.

Is there any chance that the "perfect" outcome could happen?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

More work on background to dissertation

I have decided that my current work on my dissertation will be in the form of a Bibliographical essay. I am starting to type up a list of all the works I might use and then will be trying to come up with the main points I have from each work cited. This plan came about from reading Simon Shapin's The Scientific Revolution, which contains exactly this sort of essay at the back.

I have also found out how to access online all the articles in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, the British Journal for the History of Science, and loads of other relevant things. Today I printed off well over 1,000 pages of articles covering 35 years of the BJPS.

And I have a new approach to the main work for my MSc. I have decided to just work on what I want to rather than keep to syllabus, with the hope that I will cover enough to get through the exams ok. But since I have little idea how long I have left before work rears it ugly head, I need to make the best of it now.

I have also decided to upgrade my mobile phone to one with a camera - so I can take photos of lectures and seminars at LSE to add to this blog - so few pictures it seems at the moment.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Thoughts on buying books, CMR article edits, Emma in London

I am thinking lots about the Agassi book that costs £75. It is an update of his book on the Historiography of Science that he published in the early 1960s. I am still regularly selling books - this week I have sold two for about £25 each. But I have never paid more than £40 for a book ever (this was a Spinoza book bought 15 years ago). There are also lots of other study books I could buy that cost £20-30 and I'm not keen on paying that much for them either. I suppose I could buy them, copy the bits I need and re-sell. But the markets for such books are very illiquid. Perhaps this is a way to get over my reluctance.

I have been skimming through the Gatti book on Bruno - this has a number of very exciting themes which I think I could use in my dissertation- and it only cost £14. I did discover that the Bodliean has the 1964 version of Agassi's. I also might be able to see if other libraries in London have the new version of Agassi which they could get to me at LSE

Spent another hour or two editing my Clare Market Review article. This has had a fairly fierce edit by someone on the CMR team - more than expected. Also they used an early version for this edit, not the current one. I always react badly to being editing. But I was happy with the main change they had made and only put back in some of the other stuff they had removed. Deadline is Friday, so hopefully they won't have other editorial points and it will be out before X'mas

Emma rang to discuss plans for trips to London over next few weeks - Weds, Tues, Tues over the next three weeks. I have to work these around my LSE times in some way. Hopefully one of these visits will result in Emma being offered an internship job for next summer. With the economic situation so bad, getting something she is happy with is even more important than it would usually have been.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Tuesday / Wednesday at LSE

Tuesday November 11th

Two very busy days planned down at LSE. A 9:00a.m. arrival for time in Library - and beginning to work through the list of nearly 20 books I wanted to find. Highlights so far include Agassi's book on his time as a student of Karl Popper, though his Towards an Historiography of Science was not in. Also Bruno's Ash Wednesday Supper, Porter's book on Revolutions in History, a collection of essays on Feyerabend, a book on sociology of departments in universities (!), and a real find - Kragh's book on the Historiography of Science, and so on.

No History of Science lecture today as John Worrall is away in the USA at a conference. Today's seminar is on, with Caroline speaking on Tycho Brahe. My main contribution is to have remembered to bring down the internet link to the astronomical model site. Leonardo makes a few contributions, mainly against mine and Victor's view that Tycho's system is progressive versus Ptolemy and (perhaps) Copernicus.

I had lunch with most of the seminar group - Victor, Leonardo, Anne Marie and Caroline. Part of this was a discussion of history in general (Caroline did history and Philosophy at College). I feel that some of my work over the coming weeks should be on ideas of history - I'm am really out of touch with anything like current thinking on history.

My talk to the Hedge Fund group seems to go ok. I spoke for an hour from just a few notes and then took a further hour of questions (but most of the audience left at 3:00). Most people wanted to talk about trading systems. One person in the audience was an options trader and knew of Victor Neiderhoffer. There was also a very old lady in the audience who came up afterwards to congratulate me on a very clear talk. And a third year finance student said that it was a real shame that his course teachers didn't share my enthusiasm for their subjects - apparently I should be a professor

I just have time to check into my hotel this afternoon. This week I have a noisy front room with bunkbeds. But at least it is not smokey. Then back to LSE for the evening

Today's Philosophy of Science lecture was on introductory probability - not one of my favourite areas. I had thought that maybe the Seminar might drag, but actually it was fine. I made one or two ok points, for instance on the basis for assigning equal probs in absense of any evidence. But I spent most of the seminar jotting down ideas on bayesianism confirmation e.g. that prior prob of H = x means anything implied by H must have a prob of greater than x, less than one. The lower the amount above x, the more impact on P(H) - but this means that as x rises, very few surprises can remain - not sure if this is a correct for science though. e.g. once P(Newton) = 0.6, no implication can have P(E) < 0.6.

Quite tired this evening - a quick Pizza on way to hotel and probably asleep by 10:30

Wednesday November 12

Awake early - lots of traffic noise outside. Time for an hours reading, then down to LSE for the 8:00 am library opening. Agassi has a new book on History of Science that was published in March 2008, but is not yet in library. I really want to read this but it is £75 to buy. Spent an hour or so reading a Very Short Introduction to History, and spent some time on LSE PCs looking at how to access BJPS articles - I have found actual hard copies but online journal access is something I've not looked at before. I could print off hundreds of articles!!

10:00 Dissertation seminar by Femke. She has three possible ideas but they are very general and difficult to pin down at this stage. It must be very hard for someone so early in their Philosophy and History of Science study to come up with a good topic. I can think of hundreds that I could do, but that just reflects my greater time of study. On the way out, Miklos's comments from that I seem to be doing very well so far on the course.

Spent a hour having a drink and a chat with Vicenzo. He is the other part time student on my course but is on year 2. We talked about his part-time experiences and about the various seminars and different contributions. Having read a bit of Agassi's book I can confirm that none of them are like the old Popper seminars!

As a result of my library time, I have so many books with me for the journey home - it turns out I selected 12 in all.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

My Previous Blog

Prior to this blog, I published 85 blog entries related to the period from June 2007 to July 2008. This mainly covered the experience of working on my wife and mine holiday company and included an extensive period of the study of yoga. For some time I have been trying to find a way to blend that older blog together with this one but haven't solved the issue yet.

So the other blog still exists on its own and is located at

Lots more photos there than on the current blog - something I will do something about when I upgrade my phone quite soon.

Lauden, Bruno, my hedge fund talk & speed metal

Current reading is mainly Laudan's Progress and its Problems - the basic idea of which is to replace theory appraisal with the appraisal of what he calls "research traditions". This is a very wide framework, much wider than that of Lakatos's MSRP for instance. I always thought that a good goal for philosophy of science would be to make the unit of appraisal as small as possible thus avoiding any form of Quinean holism. Laudan's second main idea is to appraise via "progress" rather than verificationism or falsificationism. His book contains two chapters that seek to apply this methodology to the History of Science and the History of Ideas. Even if his main proposals aren't accepted, these two chapters should be worth examining closely

I have also been reading more about Giodarno Bruno, from the point of view of his early and very enthusiastic Copernicanism. This raises the question of why he believed this at this time. I have been skimming through one of my oldest books - Frances Yates's Giodarno Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition - for some clues. I am also about to start on Gatti's Giodarno Bruno and Renaissance Science which does cover his Copernicanism in some detail. I am pondering on whether to include Bruno in my dissertation - how to explain both his and Kepler's reactions to Copernicus?

Over the weekend I have been compiling a huge list of books that I want to look for in the library on Tuesday. Maybe 20 books in total - mostly books I had not been aware of before this course - so already it has achieved one of my MSc aims, which was to widen my reading base.

I am giving a talk to the LSE Hedge Fund Society on Tuesday afternoon on the theme of the Credit Crunch and Sept 11th - similarities and differences. I am planning to use my draft Clare Market Review article as the basis for this - and so have not bother to actually prepare a presentation. This is supposed to be the first of many lectures - perhaps 10. This society is one of LSE's most popular societies and is mainly dominated by very studious asian students.

Listening to lots of speed metal music today - mainly Carcass, Napalm Death, and Morbid Angel. All good stuff.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Philosophy of Science, History of Science work, reading etc

After reading Victor's rather excellent paper that is intended to be his MSc thesis, I have felt it important to put in a couple of days work on my own dissertation - mainly to begin the process of fining down ideas. I had an email from Vicenzo (friend number 10 on facebook) who suggested that my presentation was such a mish-mash of ideas, that it might be hard to focus on just a few. So with both these points in mind, I have been looking to focus a bit more my initial ideas.

One idea is to look at the period from about 1500 to 1630 and examine the reasons why, in their different ways, Copernicus, Bruno and Kepler accepted the heliocentric model - I want to try to support the claim that this produces important issues for philosophy of science via the difficulty in accounting for working on a theory that has severe difficulties versus the established rival in some sense. I will try to site Copernicus's own "conversion" to heliocentricism in some of the anti-Ptolemaic work that he came into contact with in the very early 1500s. Then Bruno and Kepler are two possible reactions to contact with Copernicanism - a good source of contrast. All the while, the aim is to flesh out Burtt's answers related to metaphysical ideas in science.

And spending a few days on this topic should provide whatever basis I might be able to develop for submitting a proposal to the History of Science conference next year that Miklos told me about. This is due at the end of November so if I am going to send something in I need to get working on it very soon.

One book that I am finding very interesting in respect of some of this is Larry Lauden's Progress and its Problems. His main theme is a response to Lakatos and Kuhn and often seems very close to one or other of these. But there are some good ideas in the book - though maybe the idea of "research traditions" is not one of them.

My other reading that is not directly related to my MSc is Ted Honderich's Philosopher A Kind of Life. I have very mixed views on this. It is clearly a very interesting look at the inside of a philosophy department (UCL's). But I find his brand of Philosophy of Mind to be rather boring. I also think he is a quite appalling person (or maybe a very honest autobiographer). Only about 20 pages to go in this one.

And I have been reading The Pope and the Heretic , a book on Giordano Bruno by Michael White - not perhaps the most scholarly work, but quite good fun and it has produced one or two leads to other reading.

My second PC has now attracted a Virus infection of some sort. The first PC is not fixed properly either. So I am rapidly running out of properly working PCs!

Late on today I received an email in respect of my Clare Market Review article. This contains an editing offer. Historically I have not enjoyed the experience of being edited. So I am planning one more edit myself this weekend and then send it in on Monday with a note that I would rather it not be too heavily copy edited (as I'll get annoyed by this - just like Feyerabend and the edit of Against Method)

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Michael Crichton

I was really shocked today by the announcement of the death of Michael Crichton from cancer at the age of just 66. I have actually only read one book of his - Travels. The points for me were his age and that it was cancer that killed him.

Cancer has always been a big part of my life. From when my brother died from a brain tumour when I was 10, to the death of my father two years ago from bowel cancer. How much cancer is hereditary is something of a mystery to me. But it seems to me that there must be a reasonable chance that I, too, will succumb to this eventually.

But 66? I am in my mid-forties now. I would like to live to be 90, so I am exactly at a mid-point now. But what if there was just 20 years to go?

For the last day or two I have been slipping back into a bit of a depression. Every part of my life seems to have huge problems associated with it and I am feeling overwhelmed again by it all. The news today just pushes me down just a little bit more.

And Jimmy Carl Black also died a few days ago, aged 70 - which also seems young to me.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The US Election, astronomy journals and animated models

There was no Dissertation seminar this week as Miklos was attending a conference - so I returned home late on Tuesday evening and rather surprised myself by deciding to stay up and watch some of the US Election coverage. Flitting between BBC News and Fox News was somewhat eye-opening! I have rarely watched Fox News, but it is an extremely odd experience, far beyond anything the UK is really used to in partisan broadcasting.

I stayed up till around 1:00am, just long enough to have about 12 state ballots close with 10 of them too close to call. This suggested that Obama was well on track to win as McCain really need to win these states by a good margin to have any chance nationally.

And so, after a few hours sleep, it proved to me. The electoral college delivers a resounding victory to Obama. I am very pleased about this, as I'm sure most people outside the USA are. The thought of McCain suffering some mishap and Sarah Palin being in charge is quite horrifying. But also I am hopeful that the Democrats will be more pro-environmental than the Republicans.

The thought also occurs to me as it is reported than Gordon Brown has sent his best wishes: Surely Obama is more of a novice than David Cameron and that GB's argument of a few weeks ago now looks even more foolish. Change overwhelms experience.

I spent the morning in Oxford doing a few odd jobs before settling in the Radcliffe Science Library for a couple of hours copying articles from the Journal for the History of Science. These included pieces on Copernicus and anti-Ptolemaic thought in the early 1500s (via Averroes) and a piece by Gingerich and Voelkel on what they call Tycho Brahe's "Copernican campaign".

They also had a short feature on animations of Ptolemaic and Copernican systems. I couldn't find the actual models referred to in the article, but it was pretty easy to find others on the internet. I have been watching the Ptolemaic Mars model on my PC throughout the afternoon. Not sure if I will mention it to the History of Science seminar, as this might lead George off into another long digression. But we are doing Tycho next week, and there were some Tycho models on the site as well. So maybe I should bring it up. The website is

So I now have another couple of hundred pages of articles to have a look at - the danger is always being swamped with possible things to study.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Usual Tuesday lectures and Seminars

Numbers seem down again to me for John Worrall's lecture on "Scientific Revolutions". I am not surprised really. The focus on Kuhn's account in The Copernican Revolution seems totally misplaced to me. Considering our MSc course is titled "History of Science", it is clear that our lecture course is nowhere near satisfactory for this title. I have been looking at comparable courses at UCL - here there are some excellent H of S courses. In fact, I have been printing out some lecture notes from these. I have to admit, this a real disappointment.

Victor was speaking on the Copernican Revolution at the seminar this morning. He had a one page handout and spoke from his chair rather than go up to the front and speak. It is clear that he holds this seminar in some contempt too. But actually, for the first time, I did feel that things went a little better. True, George remains a pain and talks far too much. But we did have some good discussion this week.

Saw Jacob briefly as I was leaving the NAB - he said he'd liked the proposed Clare Market review paper and would email me about it soon. But we didn't have time to talk now.

I had lunch with Victor afterwards and I asked him how his talk to the dissertation seminar had gone last Friday (I choose not to travel to London for just this). he surprised me by producing a detailed paper. He had been working on this for a year or two apparently. It was full of Kepler related stuff - no wonder he was a bit dismayed by my presentation the previous week. I reckon that I own about 90% of the books in his references list.

But that said, Victor has made superb use of the material and the things he has said are a level above where I am. This has really set me pondering on my own proposed dissertation. I plan to study Victor's paper in some detail soon.

(I was also very impressed with the format of the paper and have realised that I need to do some work on my knowledge of Word)

Checked into the County hotel early afternoon and spent most of the afternoon reading. The room was an ex-smoking room and it smelt awful. I had to have the window wide open. Late afternoon walk back to LSE via Charing Cross road.

And back at LSE I discovered that there was no Dissertation seminar tomorrow so I needn't have booked a hotel at all. I really do need to do a better job at staying up to date via Moodle.

Philosophy of Science lecture tonight was on Hempel's confirmation theories. Not a topic I know in detail. No one presented to the seminar and we had a general chat instead. I made a number of points, some very controversial I would say (such as P of S being a degenerating style of philosophy as shown by the British Journal for P of S)! I am slowly developing my thoughts more on the realtion between P of S and H of S. That may form more of my dissertation topic than I had originally thought.

So back home late tonight - no point staying in the smoky hotel room. I am planning a trip to Oxford tomorrow. A few jobs to do and then some time at the Bodliean going through some volumes of the Journal for the History of Science

Monday, 3 November 2008

Article and my First Essay of term

There is quite a bit of time before my prospective Clare Market Review article is due, but I figured it might be better to get started on it quickly. Two days ago I had produced about one side of brainstorming ideas. Two days thinking about it, and some time at my mum's house where many of my financial books are kept, and I have a decent first draft. The outline of the main argument is complete - my next tasks is to incorporate some additional material - mainly such sources as Mandelbrot's early work on non-Guassian distributions in finance and so ideas from Soros.

I have gone for the more controversial manner of presentation. The first section appears to dismiss the thesis that econometrics and finance theory are worthless but then introduces the problem they face in a more general way via Humean induction and links it to Taleb's turkeys in Black Swan. The second section discusses Knight and Keynes as economists who understood the distinctions between "risk" and "uncertainty". This enables me to suggests as a first position that econometrics and finance inhabit a domain that is "uncertain" in the technical sense. It links this to Mandelbrot's work in the 1960s but then notes how the dominant paradigm of econometrics and finance reject this insight. A contrast with Soros's views in the late 1980s onwards is provided (and gets another link to philosophy as the LSE into the paper).

The third section delves deeply into Taleb's argument about the non-observability of "generators" in respect of the domain in which social science investigates. The hidden generator is the link to "uncertainty" as defined. I also link this back to the Taleb LSE lecture and the "Four Quadrants" model that he presented there. This allows the basic argument against econometrics and finance to be stated clearly.

From there I move on to consider the current "Credit Crunch". This is presented as a "Black Swan" event caused by incorrect models of risk based on Gaussian distributions. Taleb's predictions about Fannie Mae are included here.

Finally I cover the very bare outline of what Taleb argues one can do about these kinds of events and finish with some aggressive quotes from the LSE lecture.

Hopefully I have produced something with the right combination of controversy and rigor. I plan another day's editing and then this can go off for comments. It is just over 4,000 words, which is the longest piece I have written on any subject for years.

By way of a change, I then rattled out a 1,000 word essay on Bayesianism for PH400. We haven't actually got this far yet in the lecture course, but I figured it would be interesting to see what I remembered from the reading I was doing over the summer. The paper is ok, but is due in on Tuesday, so it will just have to go in as it is. No time for re-drafts on this paper.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Hole digging and medical developments

Our village envirnomental society is involved in an interesting project close to our house. The owner of the manor has decided she would like a new piece of woodland to be planted on the edge of one of her fields. Our next door neighbour, Bob, lectured in forestry at Oxford University and is in charge of the project, including the acquisition of 800 baby trees from wherever one acquires baby trees from.

My role, along with about 20 others, is to dig 800 holes for the trees exactly where stakes have been hammered into the ground. So in the drizzle and cold this afternoon, that is what we all do. By the time the rain starts falling heavily, we have dug about 500 holes. This is surprisingly back-breaking work, though it gets batter as you warm up.

Other developments could be very positive. It is possible that some of the recent issues at home have a medical aspect. We will know in a few weeks time. Hard to imagine that this is all it is, but there is definitely a possibility that this is the main issue. Two or three years of difficulties could therefore be on the verge of being fixed.

This has certainly cheered me up a bit after a few days down in the dumps