Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Admin and work

After a few days off, my re-entry to study is relatively low key. Sorting through piles of printed articles, trying to make some order of the large number of PDF files that I have downloaded. These were sorted by broad theme, but it is already apparent that I am having trouble finding a particular article when I think of it. So I am slowly indexing the files in the various folders, working up a more extensive "working bibliography". I am amazed by how many articles from the "sociology of science" or "history and theory" I have.

The working bibliography is now up to 75 pages!

I'm not sure that this counts as real work though. It would if I were a PhD student doing a "literature review" though. I have continued to read bits of the PhD books I have acquired over the last month or so. I am surprised by just how hard they seem to say that a PhD actually is. Apparently, the average time period for a full time student is about 3 1/2 years. I have been working pretty hard on my course since August. Even though the amount of work I could do is enormous, I do think I have made very significant progress on the past 5 months. Indeed I am amazed at just what I have covered in the period.

And of course the biggest eye-opener has been the online availability of journal articles - what an experience that has been!

Christopher Hibbert's death

Sad to see that the historian Christopher Hibbert has died. Much of his life now reflects what I would like to achieve. He was a "gentleman scholar" in the classic sense. He had been an estate Agent but had written in his spare time - eventually he quit to write full time, anticipating a difficult life as a result. Yet it seems that his wife was very supportive and this enabled him to make his name.

We have a few books by him - his "biography" of Florence and his book about the Medici family stand out. I had been planning to examine these closely on matters of style of writing. Perhaps his death will inspire me to do this sooner rather than later.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Current Reading

I seem to have a huge amount of on-going reading at the moment.

Firstly, there is the Rowland biography of Giordano Bruno that I am reading to get a flavour for how I might seek to describe Bruno if I get selected to give the talk in the US. This is not a particularly scholarly biography, but it does have good colour. This will then be followed by biographies/more-scholarly works related to Clavius and Tycho

Then there is Marjorie Jones's Frances Yates and the Hermetic Tradition. Again, not a very scholarly book, but the only avaliable biography of Yates. Also Jones returned to college aged 45 after twenty-odd years working in finance and this book is the result. So there are precedents for what I'd like to do.

Several "Very Short Introductions" are currently on the go. The one on History I read a few weeks ago but am now taking notes from, other current reads include Foucault (whose approach to history I am exploring a little), Poststructuralism (about which I know very little), Science and Religion (which is a topic for next term) and The Renaissance (which I feel I know very little about)

From the online Stanford philosophical encyclopaedia, articles on Duhem & Erasmus

A new book for Christmas - The Worst Enemy of Science - Essays in memory of Paul Feyerabend - mainly the personal, rather than academic, chapters at the moment

Finally, my "light-hearted" reading is Sokal & Bricmont's Intellectual Impostures - always good fun.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Post Christmas review - what next?

A couple of days off and I feel quite refreshed and ready to really get going again. Christmas day was really nice, as was Boxing Day though this did involve 6 hours driving as well as time spent in the company of one of Linda's stranger relatives.

I should be able to do a moderate amount of study over the next few days, but on Tuesday Linda and Emma are having a Spa day away together and I am hoping to get 12 hours work done that day. I am really looking forward to that day as my focus is going to be on writing and thinking - not reading. The next month or so I have to get most of my notes done. My very remote chances of going on to do a PhD depend on me getting a new job by March or so that can last 18 months. So I need my notes to be well advanced and then most of my MSc work post-new-job would be related to producing essay plans for the subjects I intend to be examined in six months time

I have ended up with about 2,000 pages of articles printed off and this will form the backbone of my work over the next couple of months. I figure I can do about 50 pages a day, so I should be able to make it through all this. I also have a couple of dozen books that I'd like to get through as well. But by March, I should be in good shape.

But I do need to ensure that the work is balanced in the sense of covering both P of S and H of S. So much of it is dissertation related and only impinges on the precise topics of the other syllabuses to a small degree. Staying relevant to the exams could be a real problem

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Last working day before Christmas

Our last bit of Christmas related shopping this morning and my last bit of work before a break of a few days.

After a couple of weeks where I have spent quite a lot of time organising and sorting out my work for the coming months, the last couple of days have been mainly spent writing stuff. My note taking is hugely compressed compared to previous cases, and then I am trying to find ways to summarise material down to just a few sentences. So my notes on, say, a 20 pages article might be 3 or 4 sides long. These will consist of some quotes with comments from me, together with outlines of chains or agument and the various references used. Then I will try to summarize it down again to maybe 10 lines, which will form the entry into the "working bibliography". I hjave been very pleased with this process - the main downside is that there is so much material to read!

So for the last couple of days I have worked through an article by Jan Golinski entitled The Theory of Practice and the Practice of Theory: Sociological Approaches in the History of Science, Ernst Mayr's When is Historiography Whiggish?, James McAllister's Theory Assessment in the Historiography of Science and Shapere's long review essay of Blemenberg's The Genesis of the Copernican World.

I am increasingly intrigued by the latter book. The main downside is that it is so long (700 pages +). But I am wondering if it could feature prominantly in my dissertation and therefore would be worth buying. Maybe I should go and have another detailed look at it in the Bodleian?

So at 5:00 today I have downed tools and am having 3 days off - though I will possible read something relevant when we are all at Andrew and Julie's on Boxing Day.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Journal for the History of Astronomy & Work plans

I am surprised by just how many articles I have referenced out of the Journal for the History of Astronomy - 12 pages of my "working bibliography". I am currently estimating that I have maybe collected around 750 articles over the past few months. Clearly a large proportion of these will not get read in the near future. So I do need to spend some time prioritizing my study.

How to turn the working bibligraphies into a coherant plan? Basically, I have four or five goals at the moment, and it is unclear how they fit together.

Firstly, I need to do enough work to enable me to pass the exams I choose to take in May. But I do have flexibility in this and can defer those that I'm not prepared for. However, the only really possible PhD model that I have in my mind at the moment relies on me doing two of the MSc exams this year - to bolster a January 2010 application to start in October 2010.

Secondly, there is the question of the possible conference in March. I will hear in mid-January whether my paper has been accepted. Though that still gives me two months to produce it, I do feel that some of my current work should be focused at least a little on this possibility.

Thirdly, I need to keep progressing my dissertation, though I could do this on the same topic I was planning to speak on at the Conference.

Fourthly, my PhD dream relies on showing that I really do have something to contribute and that, for me, suggests that I need to publish a couple of articles in proper journals (prior to applying)

Fifth, I obviously want to enjoy the day-to-day work I am doing

And finally, I have to consider the impact of going back to work. This has tended to mean that I currently work as hard as I can, on the basis that I won't be able to do much when I am working again. This has resulted in my fitness levels suffering and my weight increasing. So I need to do something about this as well.

Problems, problems . . . .

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Morning at the Bodleian

Last trip into Oxford before Christmas. Without any real evidence, it does seem to be quieter than we might have expected. As befits my background in economics and financial markets, I have been following the story of the economic downturn with at least some degree of "academic" interest. My key interest is in the explanation of the unfolding story - how do "participants" explain what is happening? Yet I can't help thinking that some of the responses are overblown - for instance, the Robert Sidelsky article in the current issue of Prospect magazine. Is this really the end of free-market economics? Afterall, even a 3% drop just takes us back to the end of 2006. Surely not that big a deal?

And my response? To get very interested in the idea of buying a house in Oxford as a buy-to-let invetsment! Research continues actively on this.

While Linda has her haircut, I have an hour in the Radcliffe Science library completing my bibliography of the Journal for the History of Astronomy. There are so many interesting articles and I am greatly puzzled by how academics generate research ideas. Surely so much has been said already - how can you contribute something new?

I am continue to try to follow a "PhD reading model". I have now read several books aimed at PhD students and have largely adopted a bibilographical ("literature review") approach to my studies. But my "working bibliography" is now over 80 pages long, and even then it is fairly incomplete. Books and articles are missing from it, especially the many articles I printed off before I decided it was better to simply save the PDF files and it will take days to bring everything into agreement. I don't really want ot spend too much time on this, but maybe can do a little every few days.

I keep getting distracted by new journal sources. Some of these come from the notes attached to articles I am reading, some from general searches of the LSE e-journal lists. So I have recently stumbled across the Archive for History of Exact Science, Renaissance Quarterly, and Journal for the General Philosophy of Science. All with excellent articles of course.

One plan I am also still pondering on is that of trying to produce a journal article. The Aristotle/Galileo/Newton thought experiment still seems the most promising and I have earmarked Studies in History and Philosophy of Science as the possible journal to submit it to. I have continued to collect relevant articles to incorporate references to, but it would need a few days to do the next draft. Until I hear from the US History of Science Conference, I don't think I have time to look at this further.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Time at the Bodleian, Analemmas & Conjuctions

Lunch out in Oxford with Emma and Linda and then, while they travel to Bicester shopping village, I had some time at the Bodleian. A week or two ago I had emailed Richard Westman about an article from a book of his published in the mid-1970s. He didn't have a PDF file he could send me, but I was able to track down a copy of his book in the Radcliffe Science Library and could copy a couple of articles I wanted - Westman's Three Responses to the Copernican Theory: Johannes Praetorius, Tycho Brahe, and Michael Maestlin, together with Donahue's The Solid Spheres in Post-Copernican Natural Philosophy. I also worked through the first 12 volumes of the Journal for the History of Astronomy, preparing some entries for my working bibliography. All in all, a good afternoon's work

While travelling home on the bus from Oxford, I was reading an article in Astronomy Now about analemmas. These are multi-photo pictures, usually showing the view of the sun's position taken at the same time each day from a spot on the earth. The resulting picture shows a "figure of 8" curve. These curves have all sorts of interesting features. The narrower loop occurs during June each year (the peak of the curve being June 21st), while the wider loop cocurs in the Northern Hemisphere winter. That the two loops are not symmetrical is due to the earth's orbit around the sun not being circular but an ellipse. The earth's axial tilt results in the difference between the two extremes of the figure - the size of this difference being 46.5 degrees (which is 2 x the axial tilt).

It used to be the sign of an extraordinary camera operator is an analemma could be produced on one piece of film - indeed this was virtually impossible. Now, digital cameras and stacking software, make the task much easier. The internet has loads of really beautiful analemma pictures of course.

A rather nice variation, showing the sun's actual path on three days - it might be tempting to thick that the middle one is the equinox, but actually in occurs around early September and mid April. The equinoxes are half-way between the two extremes, and cross the bigger loop.

I always think to myself that I don't manage to take as many astronomical photos as I might like, but I was inspired by the above to process up the best pictures I took in early December of the Moon-Venus-Jupiter conjunction. Best two below.

The moon, Venus and Jupiter above the house - evening on December 1st

Not a very clear picture of the conjunction!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Work on Bibliography, History and Bruno

After reading more of The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research, I have had my ideas about the use of "working bibliographies" reinforced. My current task is to create a complete bibliography of the many articles I have downloaded, or printed out. Currently, this work covers articles from the journal Social Studies of Science.

Three large piles of papers to read have built up, covering pretty much all the subjects that form part of my MSc - interpreted extremely widely. By the end of this year, the bibliography should be complete and I should be moving on to more writing-based work, as I create notes and essay plans.

One new book I came across today was Blumenberg's The Genesis of the Copernican World. The review I read of this pointed out that it was a huge and complex book, but it does try to tackle the question of what was required for Copernicus to think as he did and to have caused others to think likewise in the future. This sort of question is one that I suspect is very tricky to get any kind of answer to, but the review suggested that Blumenberg's attempt was very worthy. I was briefly tempted by this, but don't have time to study a book as big as this (800 pages) and also wasn't keen to pay £35 for it. But they do have a copy at the Radcliffe Science Library which I hope to have a good look at tomorrow.

My "light" reading for the Christmas period is going to be Rowland's Bruno biography. This is a moderately scholarly work, with a decent enough bibliography. But it is aimed at the general public, offering perhaps a certain level of seriousness over and above Michael White's The Pope and the Heretic - which most definitely isn't a scholarly read.

Emma and I spent much of the evening next door baby sitting Peta for John and Justine who had to go to hospital to get John's head seen to - he had hit it on a cupboard and had a deep gash. Peta slept through the entire time we were there. Emma watched an episode of Doctor Who which quite frightened her and she now wants me to download series two to four.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

More reading on Historiography

My reading continues to be mostly based on historiography - for the first time I feel i am beginning to get a flavour for the "history of history" I have been struck by the comparisions between the history theory that I am reading and the Lakatos meta-methodology arguments that I was studying back in October. Persumably, when one writes a history of ideas on history, one is using an idea of what history is in order to write the history of history. So different theories of history produce different histories of histories. But does this meta-history result in a vindication of any particular theory of history? Can they be tested in the way Lakatos suggests philosophies of science can be? Might there be "exemplars" in history that all methodologies of history must, in some sense, "get right" e.g. the Holocaust.

Latest journal being reviewed is Archive of History of the Exact Sciences - this has some very interesting stuff in it but only goes back to 1997 via the LSE link. I wonder if I can request a widening. I have a fairly full working day today with Linda and Emma up in London. However I am reading too much and not writing enough. I assume that when my mini-literature review is finished that this will change.

As part of my detailed review on spending money, I have decided to stop using emusic.com each month. I was annoyed to discover that my unused allowance from previous months does not carry forward. Most of my last downloads were Japanese Koto music and some final Pete Namlook.
A real find late afternoon - an article called Oxford - 1990: A case-study of contemporary British Philosophers by Illia Kassavine. This is a "king of sociological review" in which various types of Oxford Don are distinguished according to various factors. This fits in beautifully with my current reading on academia.

One of my best photos of Oxford, taken three or four years ago

Monday, 15 December 2008

Focusing on "History and Theory"

Have just about finished reading Spalding and Parker's book, Historiography - not a very long book and one I could race through fairly quickly. I feel I am beginning to get the broadest outlines of the way history has developed as an academic discipline, and something of the challenge it has faced from Postmodernism. A little bit more reading and then I shall return to Evan's Defence of History for an antidote

I have also discovered the journal History and Theory. LSE has a complete set of this going back to the early 1960s. I wonder if I will be able to detect the postmodernist challenge as I skim the journal downloading articles?

Other reading includes The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research which I bought a week or so ago and which is quite a good read - as the title suggest, it purports to be a less formal guide, covering all the sorts of things that regular guides might not. It isn't quite this, and does lack the many anecdotes that I had assumed it would have. But it is interesting stuff

For music today I am focusing on two of Beethoven's symphonies -the 3rd and 9th. Makes a change from speed metal.

Late evening I had a new idea for a dissertation or thesis - "The Changing View of Kepler - 1900 to the present day". As a thesis topic, that would enable me to read everything I want on Kepler, and could be the basis for a book.
And it provides another excuse for some pictures on the blog
Kepler - my hero
Kepler's spheres - the five inscribed polyhedra. Surprisingly accurate for setting the spacings of the planets

A first edition of Kepler's book on the comet of 1602

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The low continues . . . admin helps

It is now nearly 30 years ago that I applied to University. Looking back, this was a process that I made a real mess of. Our school had a room full of college prospectuses and we were encouraged to sit and read these. But I can't remember there being any particular process by which this was guided. I often think it was more luck than judgment that I applied to LSE.

Neither of my parents went to University and my school - the local comprehensive - did usually manage to get to handful of students in Oxbridge each year, but it had never had a student win a place at the LSE. Indeed, the school knew next to nothing about economics as a University subject. So I was very much on my own in this process.

And of course I changed subjects in my first term, switching out of a standard economics degree into Philosophy - one of my finest decisions, but it would have been so much better had I applied to do this initially. Forcing the LSE bureaucracy to agree my switch was no easy matter.

I can remember so clearly the Saturday when I got my results. I was down in London for the day with my friend Huw. We had been to see the John Soanes museum in Lincoln Inn Fields and we called in LSE so I could show Huw around. A porter asked me if we were there for the results as they had just been posted on the notice boards by the Old Theatre. Not only could I see my own result, but I could also see everyone elses. Perhaps 35 Firsts were awarded that year out of about 650 students.

A week or so later, I received a letter from the School's Director, Ralph Dahrendorf, suggesting I seriously consider doing an MSc. Several further letters followed on this subject, but neither me, nor my parents, not anyone else I knew were capable of seeing into this process and taking it seriously. As far as my parents were concerned, getting a degree was itself a jump on what they had achieved. They had got me through this and enabled me to get a good job - that was great on its own. None of us could make the imaginative leap required to consider the alternative.

It took me the best part of the next ten years to begin to appreciate what I had let slip through my fingers at this point. The various difficulties that I seemed to face in building a career began to make more sense. true, I did extremely well at my chosen career but the sense of loss from missing the opportunity I had has continued to grow.

Doing the MSc now was aimed at filling this gap. But at my increasingly frequent low points, it just highlights what I failed to do earlier. I am not usually a person to spend too long on past regrets. Afterall, if I had done the MSc then, I would not have met Linda and we wouldn't have had Emma, and life would have been totally different. I wouldn't want to suggest that this actual outocme is being regretted. No, it is more the realisation of just how "at home" I would have been in an academic environment, compared with the places I have spent my time.

When Linda and I first met, one of the things that most attracted me to her was that she was planning to do a PhD at University College. That passed us by, swept up in other events in our lives. This is also a source of regret for me.

At times I wonder whether it really is impossible for me to build any sort of academic career at my age - generally I believe it is. At my lows, I feel desperately sad about this. Once or twice, Linda has also asked me whether it is really impossible. I'm sure it is.

I continue to work very hard - to the exclusion of most other things. My health is poor - I have stopped doing any exercise and my diet is really bad. At my low points, I do feel very low.

So at these times I do admin, and so feel at least some progress at the end of each period of work.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Full Moon at Perigee

Tonight's full moon coincided with its perigee (closest point to the earth) which makes the full moon brighter and bigger than normal. Some cloud about, but a few breaks that enable me to take some photos - 1/300th of a second at f:5.6

Taken at 5:30pm on December 12th - the "fullest" full moon till 2016

This is one of Galileo's drawings of the Moon from Sidereus Nuncius - clearly looks nothing like the real thing! The large crater below the centre does not exist but is "artistic license" - or "propaganda" as Feyerabend would say.

View from my desk - 5:40pm

One of my favourite photos from the Nasa site - the earth and moon together, taken from the Galileo spacecraft on its way to Jupiter. The moon is actually in the foreground!

Another glum day . . . .

The hint yesterday that I might be developing a cold was correct. The usual things this morning - headache, blocked nose, etc. The day is being spent drinking hot ribena and taking various cold remedies.

I had intended that I would be spending most of today writing notes and essay ideas. But I rather ground to a halt after barely an hour and have spent most of the day on "easy" work - journal reviews, preparation of bibliographical entries, photocopying some bits from the books I brought home for Christmas from LSE, some reading (mainly journal articles - finished Westman's article on Kuhn's Copernican Revolution, started an article on Jesuit mathematical science in the early 17th Century, read some of a book on historiography that I acquired the other day), etc.

I am feeling depressed again about things going forward. Is this just caused by the cold? The main problem is that I keep coming across fantastic articles that are well beyond my own level of skill and I don't really feel that I will ever get to these levels - though some of this was caused by reading about Alexandre Koyre who was rather an extreme example of the "perfect scholar". As I was saying to Vicenzo the other day at LSE, there is always the feeling of being swamped by the material that is already out there - how can one really make a mark? Yet good new work keeps appearing, so there are still good problems to be working on. I just don't seem to see them so easily - or perhaps once I have looked at them I just see them as obvious - another point that Vicenzo and I discussed the other day.

Perhaps it is also just a little hangover from the funeral yesterday. I would like to feel that it is still possible to make a mark academically, but I am feeling old!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Conversations with Robert Westman & recent music downloads

Recent reading has been adding considerably to my "working bibliography" - the articles I consider most relevant to the topics I might cover in my dissertation and beyond. Included in these have been a stack of articles by Robert Westman, all of them very good indeed. Highlights have included his paper on Kuhn's The Copernican Revolution, "The Melanchthon Circle, Rheticus and the Wittenberg Interpretation of the Copernican Theory" from Isis, and "The Astronomer's Role in the Sixteenth Century: A preliminary Study" from BJHS. But one book that I have been able to find yet is The Copernican Achievement, which he edited You would think LSE would have a copy as it is where the Lakatos and Zahar paper on Copernicus first appeared. It also contains a paper by Westman called "Three Responses to the Copernican Theory: Johannes Praetorius, Tycho Brahe and Michael Maestlin". This is essential reading it seems to me.

So having failed to find it at LSE and Senate House, I tracked down Professor Westman at the University of California in San Diego - the same place we share Nancy Cartwright with. I sent him an email asking if he happened to have a PDF file of this he could send me and was rather surprised to get a reply about 15 minutes later. This was actually quite a long and detailed reply and pointed me in the direction of some other articles that he thought might be relevant to my task.

I sent him back a reply of thanks, noting one or two other things, answering a couple of questions he asked me, and got a second reply later on. Are all US academics so helpful (following on from my emails to Maurice Finnochiaro a few weeks back)? For instance, he has asked me to keep in touch and let me know how I am getting on with my topic. Is this just politeness? Who knows? But I probably will be in touch again with him - maybe in the new year, perhaps after I hear from the &HPS conference people.

Some more pondering on PhDs this afternoon. I have been reading the material on the Cambridge University History of Science department website. Nicholas Jardine is professor there and I have just got his book on Kepler's Reply to Ursus out of the LSE library. Maybe he would agree to be my advisor if I do follow my plan to work on the early Copernicans. In my idle moments, I dream of writing a 400 page book on Kepler's science and philosophy and another 400 page book updating Kuhn's Copernican Revolution - maybe called "The Copernican Revolution - 1500 to 1635" (perhaps followed by a second volume, covering 1535 - 1750) Idle dreams, eh? It is really impossible to say this could happen?

After a spell of a few months when I haven't downloaded any "recordings of independent origin" I did spend a short time this afternoon running through the things that have appeared on my usual site for such things over the past month or so. So I now have loads of new live shows to listen to including an extraordinary recent recording of Klaus Schulze and Lisa Gerrard which I can barely wait to hear, recent Carcass, a recent show by The Fall, a 1987 show by Big Black, recent Calexico and Kristin Hersh, something I might already have by Labradford, a recent, and not very good recording of Mogwai (where there do play "Scotland's Shame" though), some Morbid Angel, a recent Nick Cave show, Pink Floyd from the early 1970s playing "Dark Side of the Moon", Ravi and Anoushka Shankar (think I have this already), two Swans shows from 1984 and 1987 respectively, recent Sigur Ros, and what could be a really excellent show by Terry Riley and Charlemaine Palestine. A suitable variety to make up for some things I downloaded for Linda the other day, which I would hate to have known that I had downloaded

Finally, I seem to be getting a cold. I am feeling a bit under the weather and found it hard to work today. My throat is sore and nose a bit blocked. So I am consuming vast quantitites of "All in One" left over from my last cold. Not much word done today - mainly copying some sections of the books I borrowed (which I can best do when I don't feel well) and reading some of the books on academia I have recently acquired. Hopefully get more done tomorrow, when I plan to mainly write up some essay notes. Maybe I caught this from Caroline who had been ill for most of the last week or so.

"Right to Die" and a neighbour's funeral

With the usual objections from certain elements of the press / lobby groups etc, Sky Real Lives screened a programme last night on assisted suicide. A surprisingly long programme, nearly two hours, perhaps to enable a slow progression, rather than a soundbite approach, what this definitely wasn't was some sort of sensationalist production. Indeed I would say it was a beautifully crafted piece of work - excellent use of silence, of lingering shots showing normal everyday activities, and so on.

Clearly the programme was helped enormously by the lead figure - Craig Ewert. His thoughtful discussion of the issues involved made his decision all the more difficult to argue against. His willingness to confront the religious arguments of "playing god", for instance, was calm, methodical and highly convincing.

One point that I was particularly moved by was a comment from his daughter that she had cried when she last saw him because "I didn't want him to think I was not sad".

As one might expect, the show brought back loads of memories of 2006 and the death of my father. These days I perhaps only think about him two or three days a week, not every day as it was not so long ago. These things change people irrevocably.

This afternoon was the funeral of Liddy Mansel, our neighbour. She was a very old lady when we moved her 15 years ago and I have been frequently amazed that she has lived as long as she has. I was always on hand to help her sister-in-law, Mary, who lived with Liddy and was her full time carer. A few times a year, Mary would ring and need help as Liddy had fallen over and Mary was not able to lift her back up. Mary has also had a very tough few years. Maybe now things will improve a little for her.

The funeral is at our little village church - the one that our cottage is named after. As always, a moving experience - particularly so in the light of last night's programme. Dignity to the end of live is often illusive, but is well worth trying to achieve.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

First day of the Christmas break

My term has finished at LSE and I am now officially on my Christmas break. The new term starts January 12th so I basically have a month off. During the period I have to review what I have accomplished so far and sort out a number of different plans for next year based on various different scenarios - for instance, relaed to possible work, and to issues like what if my conference paper was accepted. And, of course, there is a lot of reading I'd like to do.

It is another bitterly cold morning - but a nice sunrise behind Didcot power station, 12 miles away.
The view from my study window towards Didcot Power Station this morning around 7:15
A flurry of emails first thing. I did one further redraft of my "thought experiment" paper and sent copies to Leonardo (who is ill at the moment - hence his absence yesterday) and Vicenzo. The paper is now 4,500 words which is basically half a dissertation. If I wrote another 5,000 words of philosophy it could easily be a dissertation. Indeed I think that I will try and boost the philosophical component and then maybe submit it to a journal! I am thinking perhaps Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science would be a good one to aim for. But it does need quite a lot of extra work if this was my plan. Maybe this will be something else I can do over the Christmas Break.
I also sent an email to Miklos enclosing a final essay for PH400. I have really enjoyed his course and am actually quite disappointed that we are switching teachers next term. I have also broached very tentatively, the question of whether he feels that I would be a suitable PhD candidate. In his reply, he suggests we discuss this next term. By then I would hope to have read some more about PhDs and academia generally.
But how that would work out is difficult to see clearly. I sent off a job application today and it is clear that my best outcome might well be to find something by March and then do it for 18 months or so, finishing my MSc as best I can, with a view of starting a PhD in October 2010 at about the time I should be able to quit working - possibly for good. But can that actually come to pass?
Work today was based on taking notes from the papers of the last fews days and setting out my associated essay plans, with my main reading being more of Tony Becher's Academic Tribes and Territories and an article on Butterfield's The Origins of Modern Science. The book pile on my desk is now enormous, containing about 45 books. Not sure I can read all of them by the end of the course. And that doesn't include the 8 I brought back from LSE yesterday.

An alternative view of my study, taken from the far end and only taken as the end of the room is currently fairly clear - usually it is piled up with boxes.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Tuesday at LSE

A slightly earlier start and a run across the car park got me on the 6:30 "Express" coach, into Marble Arch at 7:40. If I do get a job based in the West End, this might be a possible route to work after all - not that much different to aiming for the 6:45 train from Didcot.

So I am at the LSE Library by 8:00 just as ot opens, armed with a long list of books I was after for the Christmas break. First priority was Agassi's Science and History - the book I had agonised about buying a few weeks back. Glad I didn't as it has finally appeared through binding, etc. Then Nicholas Jardine's The Birth of History and Philosophy of Science - his book about Kepler's Defence of Tycho. A couple of fringe Kepler books - Kepler's Dream, and Conversation with the Sidereal Messenger. And Rhythms of Academic Life, another book on the theme of academia. Plus one or two others.

Met Caroline outside the NAB. She has been ill for the last week - actually bedridden for some of it. She didn't sound at all well. Today's lecture was on John Worrall's own paper on Newton's "deduction from the phenomena" - the paper I read in Italy in August. Then George's seminar was on the same theme. No speaker this week, so George set out his thoughts. Things progressed to a degree until he made a really daft comment at the end which really annoyed Caroline. His claim was that we should be focusing on learning how to appraise other views, not critique them with our own views. Yet we all feel that as post grads, this is exactly what we should be doing. Caroline was very unhappy with his suggestion.

So there is a small argument after the seminar with George, during which I was amazed to discover that he has been teaching 10 years (mostly undergraduates, which doesn't surprise me). Afterwards I had lunch with Caroline in the downstairs of the Garrick Bar. She has a really interesting background having studied theology with the Jesuits and then Philosophy and History for her 4 year degree in the USA. We had a wide ranging discussion about the course. On the way to the library, we met Femke, who also has a cold. Must be that time of term.

I actually spent a few hours in the library this afternoon reading an essay review on Kuhn's Essential Tension and Lakatos's Philosophical Papers Vol 1. and a review of Stephenson's Kepler's Physical Astronomy. The longest time I have yet managed in the library.

By 4:30 I was ready for a break and settled in the common room where Vicenzo was in residence. We had a chat for a couple of hours on all sorts of things. He is still very unsure on doing a PhD, but did have some interesting points about how the LSE chooses people for PhDs. And apparently George has been working on his PhD for about 10 years - I could well imagine this being the case.

I ended up missing Miklos's last P of S lecture but I did make the seminar. Despite having not seen the lecture or done the reading I was able to make quite a few good points I thought. The topic was "Inductive Statistical Explanation" and I was surprised by how much I could remember from when I had studied this topic at LSE 25 years ago. I defended my previous views on one of Miklos's own research interests - the common causal thesis from Reichenbach. And I was against the idea of statistical relevance arguing against calling these "explanations".

Overall a nice end to this run of seminars - next term someone else is doing the lectures and seminars. I have really enjoyed this course so far - much more than I had thought I would. I had always thought it would be History of Science that was my favourite course but actually I've been quite disappointed by that.

Walked part of the way back to Holborn with Jacob who will send me a copy of Clare Market Review in the post next week - it has been delayed at the printers and isn't now scheduled for distribution at LSE till the start of next term. I always feel quite sad on the journey home from LSE. Most other people are there most of the week, I just do one day. I would like to be more involved with what everyone is doing. This week I will miss the departmental party - wonder how many will be going to that?

Coach reading is The History Man - the third time I have read it and still just as much fun.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Weekend work - planning next term

No much work done this weekend. I didn't arrive back until late on Friday and only unpacked the most valueable things from the car. So I spent the first few hours of Saturday unloading the rest of the stuff on a bitterly cold morning that resulted in very numb hands.

Much of my work is still focused on collecting interesting articles, organising them into something like a useable database, and even reading the odd one. My current journal is Social Studies of Science. After this I plan to finish with the US journal Philosophy of Science and then that will be it for a while. Next year will be about reading everything I've found and as many of the newest books as I can do.

As part of my increasing interest in academia, I have started to re-read The History Man. I was alos able to find a download of it on the internet. I have been looking at the question of journal publication with a view of maybe doing something with my Aristotle, Galileo and Newton "thought experiment" paper. There are some short sections in one or two of the PhD books that I have, but really nothing like the level of info I really need. Another book that I have been enjoying recently, which contains quite a lot on the general background to these themes is Tony Becher's Academic Tribes and Territories. I plan to read more of this over Christmas as well as re-reading Marjorie Garber's Academic Instincts. I wonder what other books there might be on these sorts of themes?

Music today is a bit gentler that recently. I have finished REM on my ipod and am now onto Rachel's - one of the oddest band names I know. Currently album playing is Selenography to be followed by Systems/Layers, before I reach Radiohead. It should be time for a new Rachel's album by now - not that they were ever very prolific.

No developments on my plan to sell off a couple of hundred unwanted cds. Maybe another Christmas project.

So this is my last week at LSE for this term. Progress has been enormous and I have learned a huge amount. It has been all I wanted, and has opened my eyes to many other possibilities. Lots to think about. One downside just discovered is that next term's timetable is nowhere near as good as this terms for me. In other words, the really efficient plan of going down for just one day (and occasionally two) doesn't work next term. So I will be missing alot if I stay home - but that is definitely the best plan I think.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Leonardo's Underdeterminism paper and reviewing "Social Studies of Science"

Leonardo sent me his paper on underdeterminism (the Duhem-Quine thesis) on Tuesday after our long chat on Monday lunchtime. My response was two-fold.

Firstly, on Thursday, I quickly wrote up an essay of my own on this subject. I could remember quite a bit about this from my undergraduate studies where I had read Can Theories be Refuted?, a collection of papers on the D-Q thesis. After a quick exposition using primary quotes from D and Q, my essay had a very brief discussion of Kuhn & Lakatos as including D-Q in their philosophies and Popper & Grunbaum against D-Q. I decided to focus my latter attention on the Eddington "crucial experiment" for General Relativity. Overall I think it is a pretty good essay considering I only spent two hours on it.

Secondly, I decided to critically review Leonardo's paper and send him some comments. His paper was very dense with points and I did have trouble following his line of argument. But I also thought that he could usefully have some thoughts on the structure of his paper, so instead of commenting on the whole paper, I just looked in detail at the first two pages, sending him some layout points, and so on.

He seemed very pleased with the response. I have mixed views on doing this sort of thing. On the one hand, Leonardo is Italian and therefore has to manage the language issue. Vicenzo thinks Italians are too verbose and don't get their points across well. I have no view on that idea, but maybe my comments help that point. But I am also a bit concerned about some thoughts that arose in discussions over the summer in which it was pointed out that my main manner of interacting with people is by doing things for them (rather than some sort of deeper, more emotional connection). There could well be some truth in this, but I'm not sure I'm that bothered if there is. I am too old to seek to change something like that.

But I am making an impact on the people on the course it seems to me - just like my goal had been on the Yoga Course I did last year. It is also quite clear - as I knew it would be - that I am best suited to an academic environment where the things I care most about do not result in me being considered particularly odd or unusual. Would that I could remain in this environment going forward.

My latest journal review is Social Studies of Science. This is at the heart of the "sociology of scientific knowledge" and therefore tends to be very much looked down on by philosophers and historians of science. I have actually found all sorts of interesting articles in the journal covering all sorts of interesting issues. True, some of it is a bit odd, but I don't see that there is necessarily a total conflict between the disciplines. That said, an article called "The Social Construction of Mountain Bikes: Technology and Postmodernity in the Cycle Industry" is pretty unusual. But one set of articles I probably will try and study is a symposium based around Andrew Pickering's Constructing Quarks. If I am going to read a few such articles, then these might be a good theme to look at. That or Bruno Latour's "A Relativistic Account of Einstein's Relativity" - wasn't this one mentioned in one of the Sokal books?

Friday was mainly spent collecting Emma's things from Cambridge. Today has been mainly spent unpacking this same stuff. Emma meanwhile has gone skiing for a week. My two Christmas books that Linda ordered from Amazon has arrived and I am quite tempted to open and read the one on Feyerabend - "Enemy of Science?", the one that I failed to get out of the LSE library as an academic keeps renewing it.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Tycho in the Times

The banner headline on the front cover of the Times is about Tycho Brahe - now that must be a first! The headline reads "Tycho Brahe: Superstar of 1572" and there is a large article on page 4. This relates to the supernova of that year and the recent discovery of light echoes from the 1572 blast. The article features the famous picture on Tycho in his observatory with the huge graduated scale and it gave the paper the chance to write about Tycho's golden nose - it even mentions Kepler.

This does give me another good excuse to put lots of pictures up on this blog!
There are loads of portraits of Tycho - he was, afterall, a rich nobleman
The Times uses a colour picture of this scene for its story today
Statue of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler (my hero) - presumably in Prague?
Rather nice illustration of Tycho's model of the universe - for one small period, the most believed model of the heavens (maybe 30-50 years?)

This was described as being a photo of the "Tycho pavement mosaic" - I have no idea what it is

After reading Leonardo's paper on the Duhem-Quine thesis, I was inspired to write my own, thus getting rid of the last PH400 essay due this term. Mine is based more on a book I read years ago from the mid-1970s, Can Theories be Refuted? I re-titled the essay to make it more about science and argued that the D-Q thesis can be avoided by appraising conjunctions of theories. It is not a very good idea as such, but it does explain why scientists do not labour over devising auxiliary hypotheses to explain away falsifications, and why "crucial experiments" do sometimes seem to occur in the history of science.

Wednesday work

The cats are due at the vets this morning so I miss a day in London this week.

My main morning theme is to knock out a paper on a "thought experiment" I had yesterday in order to illustrate the notion of free fall in the physics of Aristotle, Galileo and Newton. This was something that I had been talking to Leonardo about when we had lunch together yesterday and concerns the accounts that each would give related to the dropping of a cannonball down a shaft that passes through the centre of the earth to the other side. I remember that we studied this for physics A-level, but I did have to look up on the internet the precise derivation of the formula for the time of oscillation.

My essay was mainly on the science of each - I only put a short philosophical addendum on the end in reference to the idea of those philosophers of science who believed that Newtonian mechanics could, in some sense, be derived from Galilean (combined with Kepler). I think this view arises because their accounts at the earth's surface are not dissimilar. But the thought experiment shows their accounts to be extremely dissimilar when it comes to what happens in the centre of the earth as the ball passes.

It occurred to me that maybe this is publishable. I would have to beef up the philosophical part. But you never know. For anyone who has never seen the Newtonian explanation of this, it is quite eye-opening. What would need to chance to make it fit for publication? Probably just a better philosophical overview? This might be a Christmas exercise. I have just bought a book on publishing academic work. Maybe this would have some clues for what I would have to do. And which journal? Maybe Isis, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, History of Science, or something similar?

The afternoon, pre cat-collection, was spent article reading - Jardine on Kepler and realism, Larvor on Kuhn and the fuss made of Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Late afternoon I engaged in my first ever bit of facebook "wall to wall" discussions prompted by Vicenzo and him asking me why I hadn't been at the dissertation seminar of earlier today to see him speak. A copy of his presentation is already on "Moodle" and I will be reviewing it soon. A real shame to have missed this and he is a very interesting participant on the course I think.

Also had facebook discussions with Leonardo. He has been working on an essay on the Duhem-Quine thesis and has been feeling rather bogged down in (it having passed 4,000 words which is almost half a thesis). He sent me a copy this afternoon. Considering he is writing in a foreign language, it was actually pretty good. But it was poorly structured and edited. Not far from being a good essay though.

Today's music was mostly really early R.E.M. Things like "Life's Rich Pageant" and their eponymous record. Tracks like "swan swan H", "Oddfellows Local 151", "fall on me" - I had forgotten how good these are.

More reading in the evening of my current PhD book - I have just bought a couple more and do want to consider this theme in some detail over the coming weeks. I still can't really see a straightforward way in which this can be done - but some more radical circumstances could change things.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Tuesday at LSE

Lots of books to return to the library today - the lasting effects of the splurge in book borrowing a few weeks ago. One that was due back was a book on Feyerabend. I had been hoping to borrow "Enemy of Science" about Feyerabend but an LSE academic has it at the moment till late February - maybe that was the person who requested the book I had to return. I have read quite a bit of Feyerabend these last few months and continue to be very favourably disposed towards him. Linda has agreed to buy me "Enemy of Science" for Christmas - I had baulked at the £34 price tag.
So in keeping with my plan to have more pictures on this blog, here are two of Paul Feyerabend - what a guy!
John Worrall's lectures on the History of Science were down to about 6 people from the 20 we started with and I am seriously considering giving it a miss. Today we were going the contradictions between Kepler and Galileo's law with respect to Newton. Anne Marie was then given the H of S seminar on the same theme - with a Popper Aim of Science Slant. Anne Marie is definitely the quietest on our course - I'm note sure if she has ever made a point in one of the seminars. Her "facebook" page does seem to talk about how much work she is doing. I missed her dissertation seminar last week as it was on Friday - a shame as I would have liked to hear what she is planning.
Lunch with Leonardo which was good fun. I was pushing my thesis that we should all be reading very widely and not the actual course readings. Not sure if he really bought the idea. We spent an hour in the Philosophy Dept common room looking at a "Thought experiment" that I thought of during the seminar this morning.
A quiet afternoon reading articles and having a walk to Charing Cross Road for a break. Had a quick chat with Femke before tonight's lecture. She said she had been mainly working on her dissertation over the last few weeks. She is going with some variation on her Kant idea. P of S tonight was on the D-N model of explanation - not one of my favorite topics. I had hoped Jacob would have been around tonight as he'd said the Clare Market Review magazine had gone to print and was due back this week. I am very keen to see what I look like in print.
Reading a book on PhDs tonight - the one I bought last weekend. I do have a couple of other books on this theme and would like to read a bit of those too. Too tired on the coach to read anything tonight - and a late night stop at Tescos for cat litter. Our cats have to stay in tonight as they are off to the vets tomorrow.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Conference pitch finished, PhD book

After about 15 redrafts, my pitch to the "Second Conference on the Integration of History and Philosophy of Science" has been sent off. This takes place in March 2009 at the University of Notre Dame in Illinois. I do not expect there to be a high probability that my paper will be accepted, but what if it was?

On the practical side, I would hear about Jan 13th, just before the new term starts at LSE. I would then have less than 2 months to produce my actual paper. Would that be do-able? Very possibly, and I would then almost certainly base my dissertation on this same theme - thus killing two birds with one stone. But I have given little thought to actually going to the USA to the conference - I would have to ask Miklos for some thoughts on what this entails. But that is really getting too far ahead at the moment. The fact is, I don't believe there is a high chance it will be accepted.

That said, I was quite pleased with the final version of my plan. In the end, I chose to argue that Bruno, Clavius and Brahe each produce problems for the philosophical part of the integration thesis. Clavius was a very late addition to my thinking and was caused by reading a couple of articles on him from the journal articles I have collected. So I would be presenting Bruno as someone who got things broadly correct for the wrong reasons, and both Clavius and Tycho who got things wrong, but perhaps for the right reasons. My weakest part is to bring out the implications of erroneous theories for history and philosophy of science. History of science tends to be written from the point of view of the winners - like much history. What should we learn from the history of losers?

While walking round Oxford on Saturday I was struck yet again with thoughts of the history of Oxford. Where did Bruno stay in Oxford? Did he walk along Broad Street as I did on my way to Blackwells?

Giordano Bruno's statue in the Campo de' Fiori (the "Field of Flowers") in Rome, erected in 1889, where Bruno was burnt as a heretic on February 17, 1600

Wider view of the Campo de' Fiori - Bruno faces the Vatican, so his face is always in shadow - last minute change of plan, as the Vatican considered that facing away, towards the sun, would be disrespectful!

Purchased two books - the first I have purchased in a shop for a while - Thomas Kuhn's The Road Since Structure and Lucy Russell's Dr Dr I feel like . . . doing a PhD. Recently I have been getting more interested in Kuhn's ideas of the interaction of history and philosophy of science due to the large number of articles on him that I have downloaded and saved to the PC. As for the PhD book, this is a remote possibility, but I would like to read more about the experiences associated with such a venture. In many respects, I have enjoyed the last few months more than just about any other period since I left University. Yet the MSc is rather hanging by a thread at the moment. Another domestic row about it over the weekend and a deep pessimism continues to hang over it all. In an ideal world, I would go on and do a PhD - but the chances are currently slim - less than 1 in 10 I would say.