Jon Lawhead

New York, NY, United States

About Jon

Bio

I did my B.A. in philosophy at UC Berkeley under John Searle, and I'm currently a PhD candidate in philosophy at Columbia University, where I have earned an MA and an MPhil in philosophy, and am working under Philip Kitcher. I'm interested generally in the foundations of the natural sciences, and in naturalism as a broad metaphilosophical position. I take a primarily problem-solving (as opposed to historical) approach to philosophy, and have particular interests in the foundations of complexity theory, the philosophical implications of the digital revolution, the prospects for naturalistic ethics, unity of science, and problems in the foundations of quantum mechanics. My work has been primarily influenced by Philip Kitcher, John Searle, David Albert, Yaneer Bar-Yam, and Daniel Dennett.

I'm interested in the emergence of complex behavior in deterministic dynamical systems. My dissertation focuses on issues in modeling the global climate, highlighting the differences—both methodological and conceptual—that scientists must confront in the move from modeling simple systems to modeling complex systems. In particular, I attempt to call attention to the role that the insights generated by studying commonalities between diverse complex systems have to play in the politically-charged field of climate science.

I argue that many of the criticisms levied against the methods and claims of climate science stem from a lack of appreciation for the unique challenges that climatologists face in studying a canonically complex system. By offering a clear articulation of the role of complexity in science generally (and climate science in particular), I hope to show why climate science, though qualitatively and methodologically different from fundamental physics, ought to be taken just as seriously. Accurate and widely-accepted modeling of the future of the global climate is pressing in a way few scientific problems of the past have been. Climate science is, in a very real sense, the first high-pressure test of the methods of complexity theory.

I'm passionate about

Complexity theory. Climate science. Philosophy of science. The Internet.

People don't know I'm good at

"I'm not an expert at anything, but I can improvise."

Comments & conversations

180029
Jon Lawhead
Posted over 2 years ago
Will humankind ever achieve an end to science history?
I'm somewhat nervous about the idea of paradigm shifts, at least as they tend to be construed. I think a lot of people get Kuhn wrong--he ends up getting recruited to support all kinds of epistemic relativism (see, e.g., the work of Feyerabend on "epistemic anarchy"), when I think that was the last thing he had in mind. It seems to me that the most plausible position is not this kind of anything goes approach to knowledge, where we jump from incommensurable paradigm to incommensurable paradigm, but rather an _accretive_ process by which different sets of patterns are cataloged and mapped. That is, it seems to me that the endpoint of the insight that Kuhn had--that big breakthroughs in science often result in entirely new ways of looking at things--isn't relativism, but a kind of integrated pluralism. We can recognize that there are many different ways to look at the world around us, and that each of those ways might contribute to a more holistic understanding of the natural world _even if_ they can't be expressed in a common language. The project of cross-referencing patterns in the time-evolution of the natural world is an important one, and Kuhn's real legacy is, I think, first suggesting that this _is_ a project worth pursuing. The story of science is a story of progress through collaboration.
180029
Jon Lawhead
Posted over 2 years ago
Will humankind ever achieve an end to science history?
I wasn't suggesting that the situation warrants pessimism in a standard sense: the "pessimistic metainduction" is a particular argument in the philosophy of science (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pessimistic_induction). The claim is more-or-less what I said above: that the continued failure of science to converge on a theory that accurately describes reality (combined with the persistent optimism of each generation of scientists that such a convergence has been reached) suggests a kind of skepticism about current claims of scientific knowledge. I was just clarifying, not disagreeing with your point. I agree entirely that Newtonian mechanics is not best described as _wrong_ but just as _incomplete:_ Newton identified some real patterns in how the world works, but there are other stories to be told as well.
180029
Jon Lawhead
Posted over 2 years ago
Will humankind ever achieve an end to science history?
Krisztian, the point that Yaron is making (I think) is that if we admit that Einstein--along with every other science luminary in the history of humanity--dismantled the scientific understanding of the previous generation, then why should we think that the understanding that _we_ have arrived at now will fare any better in the future? This is _pessimistic_ in the sense that it suggests that we never have very good reason to think that we've arrived at anything that looks like the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
180029
Jon Lawhead
Posted over 2 years ago
Will humankind ever achieve an end to science history?
Why should we even WANT a full understanding of the universe? There are a lot of real patterns out there that are just useless as far as we're concerned. The fact that we're limited in virtue of our perceptual capacities, spatio-temporal location, and technology isn't a problem, but rather a useful limit on what we ought to attend to. I'm not even sure what a full understanding of the universe would consist in; why not just focus on understanding patterns that are useful for realizing the kinds of goals we have, both as individuals and as a species?