New Centre for Philosophy of Sciences to tackle big questions

New Centre for Philosophy of Sciences to tackle big questions
From left, Head of School Seth Lazar, Centre director Rachael Brown, and guest lecturer Peter Godfrey-Smith
Thursday 17 August 2017

The Australian National University (ANU) has opened a new Centre for the Philosophy of Sciences to help people make sense of the world and to explore questions such as ‘are bees like us?’

Centre Director Dr Rachael Brown said consciousness was one of the most fundamental mysteries that humans faced.

“Is it likely that bees have feelings like us, or less likely?” Dr Brown said.

“Associate Professor Colin Klein, who will be joining the Centre at ANU next year, has done research finding that bees are probably like us – they have some degree of consciousness. Now we need to explore what that means for society.

“People and philosophers think that what makes you an object of moral concern is that you are conscious and you can feel things, especially if you can feel any pain or suffering.”

The Centre was championed by the Research School of Social Sciences Director, Professor Catherine Waldby.

It will explore concepts such as consciousness, cognition and intelligence, and will aim to bring philosophers of the sciences together with scientists to develop interdisciplinary research and education projects.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt officially launched the new Centre and said it was another example of how the School of Philosophy looked outward to seek new collaborators, not only across disciplines, but also outside the academy.

“Over the past several years, philosophers at ANU have developed active collaborations with faculty in the Research Schools of Biology, Psychology, Economics, Political Science and International Relations,” he told an audience at the Australian Academy of Science’s Shine Dome.

“Indeed, while I’m thinking of the big issues facing this university and society, I’m continually drawn to thinking about how I should involve the philosophy department, around academic freedom, for example, around divestment, around the future of civilisation.”

ANU philosophy faculty and PhD students have repeatedly sought to contribute to and learn from the other leading educators and researchers at ANU, Professor Schmidt added.

“This connection is of course not only about research, ANU philosophy contributes to courses taught in the Mathematical Sciences Institute, the Research School of Biology, and they welcome any science students to courses in philosophy of science minor, which in due course may develop with partners in STEM into a major.

“The Centre for Philosophy of Sciences aims to build on these individual collaborations, to trumpet them, and to make clear that ANU philosophers are ready to engage with colleagues around the university, indeed around the world.”

The University of Sydney’s Professor Peter Godfrey-Smith, author of Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, delivered a lecture at the launch about the nature and origins of the mind.


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