Julia Sklar, Presentation Editor

The University’s Humanities Project sponsored the first of four lectures in a series titled “Observations” on Thursday, Nov. 8. The series, organized by Spanish and Comparative Literature Professor Claudia Schaefer and Assistant Professor of Philosophy Brad Weslake, seeks to encourage students to reexamine the scientific practice of observation and evaluate its place in standard scientific practice.

The series facilitates students from various disciplines to question “what they understand science to be, how the humanities and the sciences might share insights about what each field observes, how what is observed gets represented and the value of those representations, what kinds of proof convince us, whether objectivity is a shared value and how we record or archive what we have seen,” according to Schaefer.

The idea for “Observations” came from Schaefer’s participation in the Bridging Fellowship Program offered to University faculty, which allows professors to explore an area of interest outside their field for a semester. Schaefer used the fellowship to take a class taught by Weslake  — Darwin and Religion — which sparked the idea for this series. From this study of Darwin, religion and scientific inquiry, Schaefer concluded that “the arts and literature may have ways of questioning and interpret[ing] different from those of the empirical sciences.”

However, “within underlying human intellectual undertakings,” there can be similar questions about “the senses, reason, knowledge and all manners of persuasion,” she said.
Schaefer and Weslake selected experts that they had come across in their own research as possible speakers for the series.

“To our delight, we were extremely successful; all those to whom we extended invitations accepted,” Schaefer said.

Peter Dear, a professor of history of science at Cornell University, presented the first talk entitled “Darwin’s Sleepwalkers: Naturalists and the Practices of Classification” last week. The talk was well attended by students and faculty from the University as well as members of the community. Dear discussed issues with Darwinian classification, according to Schaefer, but focused the discussion around “a larger conversation about what science means, how the inclusion or exclusion of fields has changed over time and how different cultures interpret the idea of science into their worldview.”

The next talk, scheduled for Feb. 21 and 22, is entitled “What Did Einstein See? The Media of Relativity” and will be given by Jimena Canales, an associate professor of the history of science at Harvard University.

The other two talks in the series are scheduled for April 4 and 5 and April 15 and 16 and will be given by Paula Findlen, professor of Italian history at Stanford University, and Lorraine Daston, a science historian and executive director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, respectively.

Findlen and Daston will discuss how images of the brain can be used to consider how observation was understood during the Enlightenment when natural phenomena were recorded through drawing, Schaefer said.

Schaefer explained that the lectures in this series “cross a number of fields whose culture and language of inquiry, like different languages and cultures in the world, may be ‘translated’ into understandable idioms for those outside.”

“We are seeking those bridges,” she said.

Sanguinetti is a member of the class of 2014.

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