Philosophy@LSE comprises the Department of Philosophy,
Logic and Scientific Method, the Centre for Philosophy of Natural
and Social Science, the Forum for European Philosophy,
faculty in various departments at the LSE.
The purpose of this Newsletter is to keep our
students, alumni and the general public informed of the latest developments
Chaos, Butterflies and Droplets of Ink
Charlotte Werndl, who joined the
Department last year, was awarded the James T. Cushing Memorial Prize
in History and Philosophy of Physics for her article 'What Are the New
Implications of Chaos for Unpredictability?' (The British Journal for the
Philosophy of Science, 2009). The prize is awarded in memory of James T.
Cushing, who was a Professor of Physics and Philosophy at the University of
All I know about chaos theory is that it has something to
do with butterflies flapping their wings and weather predictions. Wiki
teaches me that this item of scientific lore goes back to the catchy title of
Edward Lorenz's seminal article 'Predictability: Does the Flap of a
Butterfly's Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?' delivered to the
American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972. Reading on a bit I
notice that the vexing question seems to be how to
distinguish chaotic from random systems, and this, Wiki tells me, "has
also been discussed in philosophy", with a footnote to
This piqued my interest. I skimmed through the paper, but it is not
easy to digest for the uninitiated. There are lots of exotic
expressions such as 'Lyapunov exponents', 'KAM-type systems' and 'Devaney
chaos'. I asked her whether she could give me a quick 'for the rest of
us' version of what the great achievement was all about. She was happy to
oblige and what follows is my layman's transcription of scribbles on a few
Think of eight planets twirling around the sun. Tell me about the mass,
location and velocity of each body today and I will tell you where the
planets will be on New Year's Day.
Think of a gambler who agrees to the following deal today.
A fair coin will be flipped on New Year's Eve.If it comes up heads, then she will win
£100. If it comes up tails, then she will lose £100. Will the gambler be
richer or poorer by New Year's Day? I can't tell – there's no way
I can predict how the planets will behave because I have
deterministic laws to rely on. I cannot predict how the gambler will
fare because there is an element of chance in it. Fair enough. But now here is
the catch. There are systems that are governed by deterministic laws and yet I
still cannot predict how they will progress. Those are chaotic systems. The
links from the butterfly wings flapping in Rio and many other things today to
the tornado in Texas on New Year's Day are fully deterministic – and yet there
is no way to predict that tornado on New Year's Day.
So why is this the case? Well, I can only measure the features that are
relevant to tornado prediction with a certain level of precision. And this level
of precision permits me to make some fairly good predictions of tornadoes in
the next hour, some halfway good predictions of tornadoes tomorrow, but when it
comes to tornadoes on New Year's Day, the level of precision is too low to give
me a clue.
One needs to be careful, though. Let's go back to the planets. Also in
measuring the location of the planets, the level of precision is finite. And
also this lack of precision will affect my predictions – I will not be able to
predict where that planet will be on New Year's Day with complete
The difference, however, is that coming to learn the
about the world today that are relevant to planetary location on New Year's
Day puts constraints on where the planets are likely to be on New Year's Day
– and pretty severe constraints. However, coming to learn about the features
of the world today that are relevant to tornadoes in Texas on New Year's Day
does not affect how likely it is that there will be a tornado on New Year's
Day. I might as well not bother – it does not make a hoot of difference
to my prediction.
Here is where the metaphor of 'mixing' comes in. Drop a
small amount of ink, consisting of many small molecules, in a glass of water.
Half a second from now the molecules will all be concentrated in a small
neighbourhood of the point of impact. However, after a few seconds the ink will
have uniformly dissolved in the water and a molecule can be anywhere in the
This brings me to Charlotte's claim. What sets apart
chaotic systems is the following. The molecules of ink put into the glass
correspond to the initial state of the system. After very short time periods any
molecule will be close to the point of impact, implying that the outcome of the
system is predictable. However, after longer time periods, a molecule can be
anywhere in the glass because the ink has spread through the water, and hence
its location cannot be predicted at all. This means that the initial state did
not put any constraints on the outcome of the system and is irrelevant for
predictions. So for chaotic systems, knowledge of the initial state is
completely irrelevant for predictions which are sufficiently far in the
And this, Charlotte claims, is a novel answer to the
question, What is the special kind of unpredictability shown by chaotic systems?
It is what sets chaotic systems apart from completely random systems and from
other deterministic systems like the planets.
Head of Department
Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
WHAT IS NEW IN PHILOSOPHY@LSE?
The Department appointed two new
LSE Fellows, Amandine Catala from the University of Colorado at Boulder and
Foad Dizadji-Bahmani from the LSE for 2011-12.
Karin Edvardsson Björnberg (KTH,
Stockholm) is a Marie Curie fellow in the Department from 2010-12 on the
project Rational Decision-Making in Adaptation to Climate Change.
Adam Caulton is a Jacobsen fellow
in the Department from 2010-12 on the project Symmetries and Interpretation
Eric Martin holds a three-year LSE
fellowship for the God's
Order, Man's Order and the Order of Nature Project housed in
Books and Journals
Chris Brown published Practical judgement in international political theory: selected
essays, Routledge (2010).
Frigg published Beyond
Mimesis and Nominalism: Representation in Art and Science,
Springer (2010) (with Matthew Hunter).
David Held published Cosmopolitanism: ideals and
realities, Polity Press
(2010); edited The Cosmopolitan
Reader, Polity Press (2010) (with Garett Brown); edited The transformation of the Gulf: politics,
economics and the global order, Routledge (2011)
(with Kristian Ulrichsen); edited The governance of climate change: science, politics and
Polity Press (2011) (with Marika Theros and Angus Hervey); and edited the
Handbook of transnational governance: new institutions and
Press (2011) (with Thomas Hale).
Wulf Gaertner's new book
Social Choice, CUP (jointly
with Erik Schokkaert) is coming out in the Fall of 2011.
Simon Glendinning's new book Derrida: A Very Short
Introduction, OUP is due to come out shortly.
Paul Kelly edited John Stuart Mill - thought and influence -
the saint of rationalism, Routledge (2010) (with Georgios
List has published
Group Agency: The Possibility, Design and
Status of Corporate Agents, OUP (jointly with Philip
Miklos Rédei edited EPSA
Launch of the European Philosophy of Science Association, Volume 1,
Epistemology and Methodology of Science; Volume 2. Philosophical Issues in
the Sciences, Springer (2010)
(with M. Suárez and M. Dorato).
Lea Ypi's new book Global Justice and Avant-Garde Political
Agency, OUP is coming out in the Fall of
A terrific team of student editors (Jonathan Benn, Grace Fox, Josh
Green, Blake Heller, Charlotte Holloway, Tom Pugh, Anneken Swaantje Tappe,
Ivanka van der Merwe, and Raha Vaziri-Tabar) published the fourth edition of
the BSc and MSc journal Rerum
A no less terrific team of student editors (Andréana Lefton, Brian
Avi Patchava, Maria Rosala, and Beth Cherryman) published the first volume of Philosoverse.
Fellowships, Prizes and
Andreea Achimescu (BSc Philosophy and Economics)
received a scholarship from the Evert Will Beth
Foundation (Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences) to support her Research
Masters in Logic at the Institute for Logic, Language and Computation at the
University of Amsterdam.
Chlump Chatkupt was awarded an
LSE Research Studentship to study for a PhD at the Department.
Sarah Alexandra George (BSc
Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method) was awarded the 'Cara Giulietta'
('Dear Juliet') prize for her letter to Shakespeare's most romantic heroine.
For more info, click
here. To read her prize-winning letter,
She also received a scholarship
from the Thai Government to study Buddhist Ethics and Muay Thai (Thai
Jonathon Gunn (BSc Philosophy,
Logic and Scientific Method) was awarded the Andrea Mannu Prize for best
performance in our undergraduate degrees.
Lefton (MSc Philosophy and Public Policy) received an honourable mention for
Wiesel Prize in Ethics (2010) and high commendation for the Bernard
Levin Award for Journalism (2011).
Agnes Neher (MSc Philosophy of the Social
Sciences) received a Konrad Adenauer
Stiftung Scholarship to study for a PhD at the department of Catholic
Theology and Business Ethics in the University of
Ben Ferguson and Esha Senchaudhuri (PhD
students) received LSE Teaching Awards.
Luc Bovens received a fellowship
the British Academy for his project on fairness and responsibility sharing in
asylum policy in the EU.
Richard Bradley received an AHRC
fellowship to complete his book Decision Making with a Human Face.
Roman Frigg was a visiting scholar at the Descartes Centre for
the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities at Utrecht
University in the Fall of 2010.
Christian List and Luc Bovens will be fellows
at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced
Studies in the Fall of 2011.
Charlotte Werndl was awarded the
James T. Cushing Memorial Prize in
History and Philosophy of Physics for her article 'What Are the New
Implications of Chaos for Unpredictability?' (The British Journal for the
Philosophy of Science, 2009).
John Worrall received a Wagner Fellowship in the
Philosophy of Risk at the Center for
Philosophy of Science/HPS
Department at the University of Pittsburgh in the Winter of
Auguste Comte Memorial Lectures titled 'The Prospect of Harm to
Civilians in the Ethics of War' were delivered by Professor Frances Kamm
Lakatos Prize recipient is Professor Peter Godfrey-Smith (Harvard
University) for his book Darwinian
Populations and Natural Selection , OUP (2009).
We are all madly planning for an exciting new
academic year. The calendar is slowly falling into place. Here is a sneak
The Department will be hosting the Popper
Memorial Lecture and the Lakatos Prize lectures. Next year's Auguste Comte
lectures will be given by Joshua Cohen (Stanford). We will be conducting a hire
for a lecturer in Business Ethics jointly with the Management Department. And we
will be starting off with a new undergraduate course, viz. Philosophy and Public Policy, which will
be the new capstone course for the BSc degree Politics and Philosophy. To keep
informed about the Department's activities, click here.
The Forum is putting the final touches on its
programme for Michaelmas term 2011-12. On the schedule is a discussion led by
J. McKenzie Alexander on the Evolution of Morality, a dialogue on
Love with Simon Mays and David Bell (the President of the British
Psychoanalytical Society), an event on Architecture and Happiness with
Roger Scruton and Ben Rogers, an event on The Philosophy of Flavour/Wine
with Barry Smith, a discussion of Chaos Theory with Charlotte Werndl and
Paul Glendinning, and an event on Workplace Democracy with Axel Gosseries
and Paul Loach. In the "probably forthcoming" category is a discussion on
Photography: Art versus Document, a book
launch of Simon Glendinning's Derrida: A Very Short
Introduction and a
discussion of Free Speech on Campus. To keep informed about the
Forum's activities, click here.
The Centre will start the academic
year with a new Director, Roman Frigg. We thank the outgoing director Rom
Harré for his dedicated service over the last three years. We have started a Friends of
the Centre initiative. Public Lectures in the upcoming academic year will
include Evelyn Fox-Keller, Paul Nurse and Quentin Skinner. To keep informed
about the Centre's activities, click