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Philosophy Speakers - Causation, Information, and Agency

Date & Time:
March 24, 2017 | 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Social Sciences Tower 1253
Oliver Lean (UCalgary)

About the Talk

Information-talk is everywhere in the biological sciences.  Genes are very often said to carry "information" that is transmitted in reproduction and read during development, for example.   Likewise, in ethology, a honey bee's dance provides "information" to other bees about the location of nectar.  These uses and many others have come up against various waves of criticism.  One class of arguments claims that information-talk lacks a clear and appropriate theoretical grounding, and proposes replacing information-talk with talk of causes: gene sequences cause protein sequences (in a specific and fine-grained way), and the dancing bee is just trying to get other bees to do things. 

I'll offer an alternative, non-reductive view of the relationship between causation and information.  This relationship is certainly an intimate one: although information per se doesn't presume causation, notions like the flow or reading or transmission or processing of information are ineliminably causal.  Nevertheless, I will argue that there are important differences to viewing systems in informational rather than causal terms, relating to the different roles played by agents in the kinds of reasoning the two concepts are designed to navigate.  I'll illustrate this by contrasting Jim Woodward's interventionist framework for causation with an equally pragmatic and agent-focused account of information.  This comparison offers a principled rationale for taking one perspective or the other on the same system of study, which suggests potential applications to a naturalistic picture of agency.

About the Speaker

Oliver Lean (PhD Bristol) is currently at UCalgary as one of three Postdoctoral Research positions funded by the From Biological Practice to Scientific Metaphysics project directed by Professor Ken Waters. Lean's research takes an evolutionary view of human perception, thought, and language and explores its implications for foundational issues in metaphysics and the philosophy of science.

Link to a fuller description of Lean's research

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