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Beginning January 2021, The Rotman Institute of Philosophy will be hosting the ‘Emerging Minds’ colloquium—a series of virtual talks delivered by members of the Institute and scholars from around the world. We invite you to take part by both presenting and attending, in order to network with others who are completing novel interdisciplinary work in science and philosophy. More details to come soon. Please direct any inquires regarding this event series to Jaipreet Mattu.

The Problem of Trustworthy AI in Medicine

Paul Istasy, Medical Student; Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University

Date: Friday, January 22, 2021
Time: 6:00PM EST
Duration: 20 minute talk, followed by 15 minute question/answer period
Host: Ben Chin-Yee
Presentation Style: powerpoint


This paper argues that under a patient-centered model of care, the notion of trustworthy artificially intelligent systems is inherently misconstrued. Trust is an essential component of the physician-patient relationship. Current models of the clinical encounter focus on shared decision-making, whereby physicians develop management plans with patients and actively elicit and integrate patients’ values and preferences into clinical decisions. With the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) in medicine, there is a growing concern about how this will influence the physician-patient relationship. While the majority of the relevant literature examines the dynamics of human-machine relationships, the influence that these machines have on human-human relationships remains an understudied topic. The trust in physician-patient relationships is determined by the competence and integrity of a physician—the former is self-evident, and the latter is required for identification-based trust, which is a type of trust whereby a physician identifies with and incorporates a patient’s values in medical decision-making. I provide an analysis of the physician-patient trust relationship in light of the introduction of medical AI. I demonstrate that even if artificially intelligent systems show superior competence to physicians in certain tasks, they will ultimately fail to display integrity and thereby, eliminate any possibility of identification-based trust between the patient and the physician. To this end, medical AI systems cannot be considered the epistemic authority in a medical setting and if introduced without philosophical scrutiny it may adversely affect the physician-patient trust relationship.

A Roundtable with Rotman Postdocs: Life After the PhD

Date: Friday, January 29, 2021
Time: 7:00PM EST
Duration: 30 minute presentation with 30 minute question/answer period
Host: Jaipreet Mattu
Presentation Style: roundtable


Join the seven current Rotman postdoctoral researchers to discuss their academic journey, current research interests, and experiences conducting interdisciplinary research at The Rotman Institute. The postdocs will also provide prospective students advice on applying for postdoctoral positions and answer audience questions during a question-answer period.

View the profiles of the Rotman postdocs:

Edward Baggs

Bartek Chomanski

Benjamin Chin-Yee

Niels Linnemann

Rebecca Livernois

Matt Parker

Vicente Raja

Bean-In-The-World: On the Complexity of Plant Behavior

Vicente Raja, Postdoctoral Fellow; Rotman Institute of Philosophy, Western University

Date: Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Time: 4:00PM EST
Duration: 30 minute talk, followed by 15 minute question/answer period
Host: Ed Baggs
Presentation Style: powerpoint and video


Plants move. A lot. Their world is about soil, water, and sun, but also about luring insects for pollination or avoiding being eaten by caterpillars. Being able to move helps plants in some of these activities and, like other plant behaviors (e.g., communication, habituation), that ability is way more complex than one would expect. In this presentation, I am going to talk about such a complexity of plant movement, in particular, and plant behavior, in general. To do so, first I am going to address the importance of notions like complexity or nonlinearity for the study of behavior. This will allow me to frame the study of particular plant behaviors within a larger enterprise of the behavioral and cognitive sciences. Then, I will show a study of the dynamics of plant movements of nutation. This study is performed on common beans common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) in two conditions—with and without a support to climb onto—and is based on three typical signatures of adaptively controlled processes and motions: harmonicity, predictability, and complexity. The results I will report support the hypothesis that patterns of nutation are influenced by the presence of a support to climb in their vicinity, suggesting that plant behavior could be understood as a goal-directed activity possibly involving the perception of the support to climb and the control of action towards it. In the last part of the presentation, I will evaluate several implications of this suggestion.

Measuring Time with Fossils: A Start-Up Problem in Stratigraphic Geology

Max Dresow, Doctoral Candidate, University of Minnesota; Member of Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science

Date: Friday, March 5, 2021
Time: 4:30 pm EST
Duration: 30 minute presentation, followed by 20 minute question/answer period
Host: Jaipreet Mattu
Presentation Style: powerpoint


This talk is about a relatively obscure problem in the practice of historical geology that has been solved, to the satisfaction of most geologists, for over 150 years. Why then show up? Because the problem is an interesting one—or so I will attempt to convince you. But that’s not all. The problem also illustrates a generic difficulty that scientists face when trying to get a new method off the ground in the absence of knowledge that might warrant the method as epistemically reliable. Call this a “start-up problem” in scientific practice. In this talk, I will examine a start-up problem that arose in the attempt to construct a trans-national geological time scale on the basis of (mostly) fossil evidence. I will explain how this problem arose, why it was so serious, and how it was ultimately overcome. In addition, I will suggest that this and other start-up problems teach us something important about the nature of justification in ongoing research, and its relationship to practices of heuristic appraisal.

Taming the Uncertainty Monster: Lessons from Astrochemistry

Marie Gueguen, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Fellow

Date: Thursday, April 1, 2021
Time: 11:30 am EST
Duration: 30 minute presentation, followed by 30 minute question/answer period
Host: Martin Zelko
Presentation Style: powerpoint


Astrochemistry is a young discipline that started with the surprising detection of molecules in the interstellar medium in the 1940’s. This was a surprise for such a low temperature, low density environment, with constant exposure to ionizing radiation, seems too hostile to host molecules. Astrochemical models that rely on extrapolated reaction rate constants for networks of chemical reactions often fail to reproduce observations. The spectroscopic observations, performed by ground and space-based telescopes, that permit the detection of molecules in space and the physical conditions in astrophysical media are known to be both incomplete and uncertain, despite recent significant progress in telescopic resolution. Hence, astrochemistry is faced with the challenging task of evaluating models known to be incomplete against uncertain data. Yet, models are essential for identifying where better experimental data are needed, for improving and guiding future observational campaigns observations, as well as for motivating further theoretical development. Thus, astrochemists have no choice but to develop methods to assess their models, to learn from departures between models and observations, and to decide when disagreements between the former and the latter should lead us to question the fundamental assumptions of astrochemical models. In this talk, I will present some specifics of model evaluation in astrochemistry as well as methods recently developed to make the most out of a models’ expected departures from observations. This crucial task of model evaluation requires interdisciplinary expertise, and philosophers have a key role to play, both in advancing these methods and in fleshing out an adequacy-for-purpose view of models that stands up to such taxing empirical circumstances.

Philosophy of Psychedelics

Chris Letheby, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Western Australia

Date: Thursday, May 6, 2021
Time: 9:30 – 11:00 am EST
Duration: 45 – 50 minute presentation, followed by 30 minute question/answer period
Host: Sidath Rankaduwa
Presentation Style: powerpoint

Please note, this event will take place during a zoom webinar and advance registration is required.


In this talk I give an overview of the arguments in my forthcoming book, Philosophy of Psychedelics. The book is motivated by recent evidence that “classic” (serotonergic) psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin can be administered safely in controlled environments, and can cause lasting psychotherapeutic benefits with just one or two administrations. These benefits seem to be predicted by the occurrence of a specific type of experience during the drug action: a “mystical-type” experience of oneness, self-transcendence, or cosmic consciousness. This fact gives rise to what I call the Comforting Delusion Objection to psychedelic therapy: the concern that this novel and promising treatment modality works by the induction of implausible metaphysical beliefs, and ought therefore to be avoided. In response to the Objection, I assume the truth of a naturalistic worldview and show, within this constraint, that the overall epistemic profile of psychedelic therapy is better than it initially appears. Psychedelic therapy does not work centrally by changing metaphysical beliefs, but by altering the sense of self; moreover, it has myriad epistemic benefits consistent with a naturalistic worldview. The positive side of my project is an attempt to reconcile naturalism and an “Entheogenic Conception” of psychedelics as effective agents of knowledge acquisition and spiritual growth.

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