Tag Archives: history

Past talk:
 12:00 Friday, February 27                                                                                WAG 316

Eugene Garver

 “Spinoza on the Infinite”

Spinoza was not a great mathematician, but his ideas about infinity have been important for mathematicians from Leibniz to Cantor. Since the Ethics doesn’t define the infinite, it is useful to turn to one his letters, often called, even by Spinoza, the Letter on the Infinite. The Ethics presents ethics, which includes knowledge of God, the human mind and body, and the emotions, more geometrico, but it is crucial in both the Ethics and the Letter to distinguish the mathematical infinite from the way in which God is infinite. The method of mathematics is the model for thinking about God, but the mathematical infinite is not a model we can use for understanding divine infinity.

Eugene Garver is Regents Professor Emeritus at Saint John’s University in Minnesota, and a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at UT. He is the author, most recently, of Aristotle’s Politics: Living Well and Living Together (Chicago, 2012). 

Past talk:
Co-sponsored with the UT Austin Physics Colloquium 
4:15 Wednesday, February 18                                                                               RLM 4.102

Slide1Matthew Stanley

 “The Pointsman or the Steam Whistle: Maxwell’s Demon, T. H. Huxley, and the Nature of Consciousness”

Two of the greatest achievements of Victorian science – energy conservation and atomic theory – also raised deeply unsettling issues regarding human consciousness.  Repeated success in explaining the human body as an engine running on thermodynamic principles seemed to question traditional notions of the soul, free will, and moral responsibility.  Thomas Henry Huxley (best known as Darwin’s bulldog) led the scientists who embraced this notion that humans were merely complicated machines, and that consciousness had no meaningful role in the world.  Many other scientists, however, defended the reality of free will and the soul.  This group included James Clerk Maxwell (known for his work in electromagnetism, optics, and thermodynamics) who deployed his technical skills in physics to defend his Christian beliefs.  Both sides in the argument built persuasive metaphors, usually drawn from Victorian industrial culture.  Maxwell’s central metaphor for free will (the “pointsman”) eventually took on a life of its own as his eponymous “demon.”

Dr. Stanley is Associate Professor at the New York University Gallatin School of Individualized Study. His latest book is Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science (Chicago, 2014).