Sunday, 25 January 2009
Current music is the odd combination of Boris and Bach. I have acquired a 160 cd box set of Bach and I am planning to listen to one cd a day until May. But I am aware that many of the cantatas are extremely similar to one another and so I might not make it through them all. Similarly, 17 cds of organ works might be too much. It is also the 100th anniversary of the first performance of one of Schoenberg's string quartets and I have been listening to this for the past few days. I can't say I am entirely enjoying this
But Boris remain a key part of each day's music. Current main listening is their "dark-ambient" 2002 cd "Flood" and a live recording from the 2008 tour playing tracks from "Smile". And in a similar vein, I have also re-found some cds of Isis.
And last night, while on the way to get Emma from her party, I listened to a live broadcast of something by Stockhausen on radio 3 - among the most painfully unpleasant musical experiences of recent years
In respect of non-MSc-related books, I am mainly reading Martines' Scourge and Fire: Savonarola and Renaissance Italy. Savonarola was responsible for the "bonfire of the vanities" in Florence, and was executed around 1500. I suppose there is a sense that reading history is not that divorced from my MSc work, but this isn't that close to my subjects. The author is Italian, but writing in English rather than through a translation. This does result in the writing having a rather odd tone, which no doubt reflects the Italian language influence on his English - something I see in Vicenzo and Leonardo at LSE
I am also reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, which definitely can't be taken as having any relation to my MSc. This is a "post-divorce, travel book" and has sold over 5m copies apparently. I have read the first-third - mostly while in the bath - and have quite enjoyed it.
Friday, 23 January 2009
Early to the Library and searching for more books on historiography. Another really heavy back to carry round for the day after I find half a dozen interesting things.
The Dissertation seminar is moving to its phase 2, where people are supposed to be homing in on their proposed theme. I have volunteered to go first for this section as I am already fairly well advanced on this. Apparently we then have to have a session with Miklos straight afterwards as well.
I have a lunchtime meeting in the city today related to possible work going forward. This seems to go well and might have major implications for the future.
Back across town and checked into the Edward Hotel, the same I stayed at last week. I actually didn't feel 100% this afternoon and slept for a couple of hours before having a walk round to Paddington station in search of snacks from local supermarkets for tea. And so to an evening of work - six sides of notes on Aristotle's Natural Philosophy, and some of the reading for Philosophy of Economics
Awake at 5:30 and time for two hours reading - mainly historiography - then on the tube to LSE for library opening time at 8:00.
I have been trying to find the library copy of Kelley's The Descent of Ideas which I think might be a key text for me to read. It hasn't been where it should be in the library the last few times I have looked so I had another look on Amazon, where it is available secondhand for £36. It appears that I have sold a CD box set for £75 yesterday (Pere Ubu's Datapanik in the Year Zero)and this has inspired me to maybe get the book. The Amazon page says it is being sold from a s/h bookshop on Charing X Rd and I had time to visit there this morning for when it opened at 10:30 - but they don't have it in the shop and I'll have to wait till next week to see it.
At today's History of Science seminar, John Milton confirms our worst fears by wanting to talk the entire time. I have a few questions but it is not easy breaking in (partly as JM keeps his eyes closed a lot of the time!). But one good thing is that his talk does cover most of the points I had thought of yesterday - so it was a good test that my own understanding of the main points is satisfactory, even on a theme that I don't really know well.
I had lunch with Victor today - Leonardo decided he would rather have the Hari Krishna food served from a stand in Houghton Street - perhaps he is short of cash? Victor is more expansive than usual, talking mainly about his dissertation and its poor reception in the department.
Today's Philosophy of Economics seminar is about how people choose - the next session on Rational Choice Theory. Overall I am quite impressed with Richard Bradley - he is clearly very knowledgeable in an area that is well known for deep conceptional confusion. I made a few points about what I see as the limitations of RCT, especially related to "uncertainty" versus "risk". Not a very good reception, though one person had evidently read my article in the Clare Market Review on this subject (my first confirmed reader!)
A phone call on way home related to yesterday's meeting. The response to yesterday was good and things are going to move forward to next Wednesday. I have high hopes that this could be a very significant development, setting up all sorts of new pathways going forward.
Saturday, 17 January 2009
Lots of notes on history - mainly from the "very short introduction" that I read late last year, which is providing me with a basic framework for the more-detailed reading in historiography that I will be doing next - Evans' Defence of History and Iggers Historiography in the Twentieth Century will be next on this theme
I had an email response from Leonardo about the comments I sent him on his Copernicus and Ptolemy essay. He seemed pleased with what I had said and thought the comments helpful - but I am still reflecting on Caroline's comments from the other day. Perhaps I am mistaken in thinking that I should try to help people like Leonardo in such situations. This is a familiar criticism from Linda as well.
Read an article by Ann Blair this afternoon on responses to information overload in the Renaissance (as printed books became more available). A nice article I thought. Also read some of Doing a Literature Review, which I could really have done with at the start of the course. In fact, I have come to the view that the LSE writing seminars are missing quite a bit of useful teaching they could give us. My own reading has prepared me well for academic style writing I think, but this is definitely not true of many others on the course, who don't seem to me to be well-prepared at all.
Some more new ideas for my dissertation arose today related to origins of internal/external Historical split. Also on themes like whiggism and theory evaluation. I am still intending to link this all to Bruno, Tycho Brahe and Clavius. I've still not heard from the US conference, though I have come to the view that overall, I would prefer not to do this after all.
Friday, 16 January 2009
I have acquired several piles on journal articles on my study floor. Pile one is unread - currently about 2 ft high. Pile 2 is read and has underlining and notes on it. This pile is currently about 6 inches high. A subset of this pile is Pile 3, located on my desk rather than the floor. This consists of read articles that I will be taking notes on next. Then Pile 4 is those articles that have been read and had notes taken on them. This is the working bibliography as it were.
But I keep being distracted by new artiucles and the piles aren't always organised very well. It also shows how much I have outstanding to be taking notes from. But usually this ends up showing me loads of new articles I could review and before I know it, Pile 1 is a foot higher.
I ordered Hart's Doing a Literature Review a few days ago and this arrived today. Lots of practical advice on precisely the issues I have been having i.e. how to manage the referencing and stroage of articles, and so on.
Then across to King's for 11:00. Some admin confusion, but a few of us get there on time. Caroline raises some criticism of my role with Leonardo, saying that apparently Miklos has been very critical of Leonardo's quality of English and the bit of help I gave him last term was a really bad plan - but this does raise the question: how does she know about this?
John Milton has 15 years of teaching this course. He hands out a 20 seminar programme which looks great but of course we can only do half of it. Now the structure of the entire course is so much clearer - and it looks very good without the George Seminars. The reading list given out is really excellent. We have to select 9 out of the 19 seminars avaliable and this seems to just about go ok. These choices affect the exam so I was keen to ensure that some areas I want to cover where in the list. So seminar 8, the Reception of Copernicus is in, as is number 10, onKepler. But John doesn't intend that people present papers. Instead, on the basis of the way things go in the rest of the seminar, it looks like the seminar could be a rambling affair. A shame given how good it looks on paper
Lunch with Leonardo and Victor. Victor can't get anyone at LSE to give him a reference for his PhD applications as he has offended too many people already. He is applying to loads of places - all non-UK (for financial reasons). This gives me some pause for thought about my ultimate decisiuon on PhD applications. I have thought of Cambridge as choice 1, UCL 2, Imperial 3, and LSE 4. But I don't have a huge list in mind.
2:00 and off to the Philosophy of Economics seminar. Much to my surprise, I am remembered by someone from the one seminar I attended last term (and that was week 1). My plan is to try and attend as much of this seminar as possible and use it as subject 3 to finish my MSc next year while hopefully working full time. Hadn't done the reading for today but that didn't seem to matter - I still made a couple of contributions. Talked to Richard Bradley, who runs the seminar and who is the head of the Philosophy Department, at the end - he is pretty happy for me to attend on an ad hoc basis this term. Next week we are doing decision making under uncertainty - one of the topics in P of E that I ought to know alot about.
So not a bad day today - I suspect Thursday will be my main day at LSE this term
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
One of the effects of my timetable changes is that I am not required to be down till 6:00pm today. Some initial thought about commuting each day this week, but it is better to stay up when I don't finish till 8:30 and so a late decision to book a hotel - the £30 a night Edward Hotel at Lancaster Gate.
I have a lot of trouble parking today as the "park and ride" was full and many of the streets where I used to park are now resident permits only. This might make a big difference to my plans going forward for this term. I might just do Wednesday and Thursday. But perhaps it is not the best excuse to miss PH400 that I can't find a place to park in Oxford!
To the Library by 4:00 and a long list of books that I wanted to find, most of which are not there - missing rather than taken out. But I did manage to get Bevir's The Logic of the History of Ideas, Israel's Enlightenment Contested (to review prior to possibly buying), Kitcher's The Advancement of Science, Collingwood's Autobiography, and Thurston's excellent Early Astronomy. And some others. But I was disappointed not to find some I really wanted e.g Hart's Doing a Literature Review.
PH400 has changed teachers for this term - now Peter Ainsworth rather than Miklos. I sat with Anne Marie and soon joined by Leonardo, Caroline and Femke. Anne Marie is apparently thinking of switching to part time study having got too far behind.
Tonight's lecture is on reductionism - again I haven't done the reading, but I do have a vague idea about this. Therefore I can contribute to the seminar afterwards - mainly through a strange comment I made against anti-reductionism based on the story of the universe and the emergence of structure (from where). I had expected people to jump on this and critique it strongly, but no one did.
Jacob has a copy for me of Clare Market Review - the magazine with my "Black Swan" article in it. I have to admit that I am a bit disappointed with the art work and the lack of index. But it is nice to be in print again.
A short tube ride to Lancaster Gate to find that the hotel is not bad. I can't find my phone (which I assume I left in the car earlier), and the phone in the room is not working. So no call home. Instead I read 40 pages of the biography of Frances Yates for an hour or two
It is a cold and misty morning, my breathe is visible as I walked towards Marble Arch at 7:30. Nice views across Hyde park. Listening to Boris - a recent set of Smile live. Tube rest of way to LSE and in the Library at 8:15. Mainly working on History of Science ideas - a 90 minute brainstorming session in respect of my dissertation. Trying to sort out "History of Ideas" as a historical concept - not sure how this term is used in current academic work, it was quite popular in the early 1980s!
At the dissertation seminar, there is some confusion about the start time and Miklos is 45 mins late. We don't bother starting without him. Jacob is up first. His ideas closely relate to the reductionism topic from yesterday. Some interesting points, but I have no idea if it is a decent dissertation idea. Don't know much about Prigogine or Dupre, who made up quite a bit of Jacob's presentation. Some very nice graphics though - I really should work out how to use Word and Powerpoint better.
Next up was Leonardo who discuses a view of Lakatos's programme as being routed in a language approach to science - I am not convinced at all and I think he will struggle badly with this idea.
No one to have lunch with afterwards so return home. Not a fantastic start to the new term. I have much to think about in respect of how I organise this term
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
The freezing weather continues. It is now several days since the temperature got about freezing during the day. Frost has been building up on the trees and I spent a little while on Saturday morning out taking some pictures. My favourites below.
Friday, 9 January 2009
Most recent theory has been aimed at demolishing many of the claims that historians have typically sought to make. History of science has also been hit by this. Yet I, for one, have little problem asserting that the history of science should be whiggish and does tell a story of increasing understanding and progress - in contrast to, say, political history. There seems to me to be so much good history around at the moment - perhaps this is just the way it looks in respect of "popular history", rather than "academic". How are these two fields really related?
One thought that has stuck in my mind as a result of my recent reading the biography of Frances Yates is that her field of history - broadly hermeticism - is a really good test case for an examination of the internal/external questions of history of science. For instance, Kepler disputed with Robert Fludd at one point. Kepler is clearly the most perfect case study for internal/external history and questions such as the rationality of science, or otherwise. And Robert Fludd is a good example of someone whose main ideas did not survive. So despite Kepler's many unusal beliefs, there is a perfectly good sense in which a whiggish history of science can be written about him and Fludd. In fact, I would argue that any "good" history would have to explicitly work on the basis of an internal history (rather than purely external)
So my developing ideas for either my MSc dissertation or a PhD thesis relate to the exploration of the historiogrpahy of science in the past 100-150 years related to the changing view of Kepler and the reasons why an internal, whiggish history can be written about history of science - despite the claims of most current theorists - a sort of "defence of internal history of science".
Among other things, this would enable me to engage in a huge amount of reading on the "history of ideas" - perhaps this is the main unifying interest for me. Some of the books that I have most admired are histories of ideas - Popkin's History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza, Lovejoy's Great Chain of Being, etc. Yet such books are decidedly out of fashion. A PhD thesis that involved studying the historiography of such works would be ideal for me.
Possibly my two favourite philosophy books
Thursday, 8 January 2009
The Stooges - recent live show
Tuesday, 6 January 2009
The main notes of the day were on Charlotte Methuen's article, Maestlin's Teaching of Copernicus. I have continued to focus much of my History of science reading on the early Copernicans. Methuen's article continues some themes apparently developed from her book, Kepler's Tubingen. This, in turn, was based on her PhD thesis. One issue that it did raise that I have been wondering about recently is the extent to which such "primary" source research requires a good knowledge of Latin. I read somewhere that Latin work is often "outsourced" to other people in the process of this research. I do find it hard to believe that so many historians of science would have sufficient knowkedge in this area themselves. Hard to say.
I have also taken notes on Hanson's The Irrelevancee of History of Science for Philosophy of Science. I have read a few things by Hanson over the years and have always found him quite a tough writer - his particular "rhetorical style" does not seem to suit me very well. This article comes from the very start of the "historical turn" in the philosophy of science and seems to reflect many of the points that this turn developed. I was particularly taken by the anology between Eurler-Bernoulli theoretical hydrodynamics and logical empiricist P of S, compared with the practical concerns of engineers and historians.
Also took some very brief notes on a couple of early Isis reviews/articles. These covered a couple of early Copernicans in England (not just Thomas Digges). More interestingly perhaps, were a couple of book reviews, including Francis Johnson's Astronomical Thought in Renaissance England. This is also available at the Bodleian. I seem to remember this from years ago - is this one of the works Frances Yates admired as she began to do her own work on Bruno?
Two main blocks of reading today. First of all, Curtis Wilson's Newton and Some Philosophers on Kepler's Laws from Journal of the History of Ideas. I was first attracted to this by the somewhat odd title. What is means is this. Kepler's laws have been taken to be exemplary cases of induction and Newton is considered by many to have used them as a key part of his own process. Indeed, some philosophers have argued that Newton's laws are deduced from Kepler's (and Galileo's), but more commonly, the strict contradiction between K & G with respect to N has been stressed (e.g. Popper). Wilson's article reviews the manner in which Newton viewed Kepler's law and sketches a much more circumspect account of how important they were for him. He them considered three accounts by Mill, Whewell and Pearce of this same episode. Overall, a very interesting piece of work - yet another example of history of science showing how over-simplified philosophy of science can be.
And secondly today, I finally read Westman's Three Responses to the Copernican Theory: Johannes praetorius, Tycho Brahe and Michael Maestlin. This is his contribution to the volume The Copernican Achievement (which he also edited) and which I copied at the Bodleian just before Christmas. Interestingly, much of the section on Meastlin seems to conflict with Methuen's paper (unless Methuen is taken as considering only Maestlin's textbook and disputations). Westman seems pretty clear that Maestlin was a Copernican, citing many comments on Maestlin's copy of De Revolutionibus.
This is a prime example of exactly the sort of work I would like to have been able to produce. I have come across about a dozen articles by Robert Westman and all have been excellent - and I'm not just saying that because he replied to my email query so quickly the other week!
But reading this sort of article does highlight the deficiencies in the "History of Science" component of the P and H of S MSc at LSE. Works like Methuen's and Westman's should be a key component of the H of S part, but the P seems to dominate so much. I wonder if this if the case for other History of Science courses. From my review of UCL's, I suspect it isn't.
I have also begun to notice something about the way in which academic papers link to earlier work - this is a clear result of the large scale literature reviews I have been doing. For instance, the quote that Lakatos uses at the start of History of Science and its Rational Reconstructions which I used in a recent article submission to Rerum Causae is unattributed to anyone there - is it a Lakatos motto or is it such a common phrase that it doesn't need attributation? It actually appears earlier than Lakatos in the Hanson article discussed above. That article, in turn, is extremely similar to Feyerabend's 1970 article Philosophy of Science: a subject with a great past. A month of so ago I was reading an article by Ann Blair on Tycho Brahe vs Copernicus, yet though this covered much of the same theme as Westman, there was not a single reference to the paper discussed above. So I am beginning to suspect a far more complex nature to academic writing. I suspect I may have far too pure a view of this process.
As part of this work, I have arrived at a new list of books to look for at LSE when I return next Tuesday. These are mainly based on my current wish list at Amazon - surprising how many on this list turned out to be at LSE. I am very excited about getting these out next week.
Sunday, 4 January 2009
One interesting project that I enjoyed working on today was a review of old issues of the journal Archive of History of Exact Science - in particular, I worked through most of the years that I don't have access to via the LSE online system. Quite a few of these articles could be good to find - they have the full journal at the Radcliffe Science Library, so I could see the articles there.
I have finished reading Methuen's article on Maestlin. Over the last few days I have sold £120 of cds and have used £60 of this to buy Methuen's Kepler's Tubingen - the most money I have ever paid for a book. I am not intending to spend much on books this year - I had quite a splurge before Christmas. But I am planning to try and sell around 1,000 cds, which at £4-5 each would generate me quite a substantial future book fund. But actually, there are very few books I want - my Amazon wish list only have about £200 of books on it at the moment, which for me is quite low.
One article that I have studied in some detail today is Pyenson's What is the Good of history of Science? This is a detailed review of three founders of the study of the history of science - Osler, Sarton and Weber - and contains lots of interesting stuff about the development of the subject over the last 100 years. But it is also a somewhat odd article, rejecting any role for P of S in H of S, and then rather petering out towards the end.
This did prompt me to have a look at some very old issues of Isis via the LSE link. These go all the way back to the first issue in 1913. It is amazing just how much of the magazine was written by Sarton! Some interesting book reviews, where most of the books are available at the Bodleian - these could be an interesting source for neglected works.
Also on today's reading was an article by Hanson from 1962, The Irrelevance of History of Science to Philosophy of Science. This had been used by Pyenson to justify his non-consideration of P of S. However this appears to me to be an outrageous mis-reading of Hanson, who is mainly concerned with strict logical relevance in a logical empiricist framework - for which the irrelevance is not saying there is no connection. Interesting, Hanson makes a number of points that Feyerabend subsequently makes about the need for P of S to engage with what science actually is.
New series on BBC tonight, Science and Islam, which I am very keen to see. I wonder if there will be a book to accompany this.
And a cold and clear night enabling me to take some more photos of Orion, now I have found the missing camera tripod. A big improvement on last time, but I would not imagine they make the best blog pictures. I was quite pleased with them though.
The bottom half of Orion - 10sec at 150mm. Rigel at the bottom right and the faint red glow of the famous Orion nebula is just visible.
My next plan to to take multiple shots and process them up into stacked pictures - still not very clear how that is done though.
Friday, 2 January 2009
But I did read an interesting article in the current issue of Prospect magazine discussing the renewed interest in the history of ancient Greece and Rome. This mentioned a book that I have just pre-ordered on Amazon - James Barrow's The History of Histories. This will be the last book I get for the forseeable future. I have been carefully working through a list of books I would like to buy with the aim of buying what I wanted by Dec 31st. Then 2009 will have very few books bought in theory.
The other day I was showing Linda a new book that had arrived called Panorama of the Renaissance. This is a beautifully illustrated book and I was very pleased with it. In the past Linda would have also been interested in it - now the only comment is "do you really need more books?" How things change over time.
Thursday, 1 January 2009
After making them a nice tea, I went outside for a couple of hours trying to take some pictures of stars. This was not a great success as I couldn't find the camera tripod and had to use the telescope one instead. But one of two test pictures came out ok. When I do find the tripod, I should be able to get some nicer pictures.
A 30s test shot of the Orion region, with Sirius in the lower left
And how Orion looks photographed properly (not by me!)
I somewhat naively assumed that they would both be grateful for what I had done and so, the next day, as I did some study in the morning, I had thought I would be left undisturbed. Sadly that was not the case and I was repeatedly interrupted. When I pointed out that I was working and would they mind not disturbing me, they both got really annoyed, basically saying that what I was doing was unimportant compared to whatever the pressing matter was that they needed to bother me with - such is the life of the mature student!
But things continued to deteriorate throughout the rest of the day. Back from dropping Emma at the station for her trip to a party in London, I was settled in the lounge reading my newest secondhand book - the quite gorgeous Panorama of the Renaissance, £5 - and watching Sour Angelica which I had saved to our new Sky+ box. Linda sat down next to me for a few minutes and then announced she was going to ring her mum and dad. I had assumed she would go and do this elsewhere but no, instead she stays put - her only comment to me being to turn the sound down while she is on the phone. A continuation of the contempt with which I seem to be held these days
Later I cooked us a really nice meal. Salmon parcels with salmon flakes and a mustard dressing followed by fillet steak and a cream and whiskey source. Mid way through the main course, a huge outpouring of rage and anger from Linda about all manner of things - so a somewhat subdued end of the year.
Such little examples, of such little importance in and of themselves, across just a couple of days are clearly a symptom of the many problems at the moment. I suspect the time is fast approaching when some sort of drastic action will have to occur and I am beginning to ponder on life going forward on a very different basis. So sad that after 20 years together it is all falling apart. And such a surprise to me that the last two years have turned out so badly when I had thought they could have been two of our best years.
So much to think about again . . . .