Data, Phenomena, and Observations Reconsidered
Michael Weisberg (University of Pennsylvania)

October 18, 2021, 7:30am - 9:30am

This event is online

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We are happy to announce that Michael Weisberg will give two online lectures on 25th October and 18th October at CASIP and Fudan PSI, respectively. Weisberg will give an introduction to his rethinking of the concepts of data, phenomenon and observation. Scientific knowledge is grounded in observations. But what exactly counts as an observation? And to what extent do we rely on observations to make inferences about the world? Weisberg will give us his new answers to these questions.

The lectures are jointly organized by the Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CASIP), and the Philosophy and Science of Intelligence Center (PSI), Fudan University. Everyone is welcome to attend. More information can be found below.


Fudan PSI Yan Fu Lectures #3: Data, Phenomena, and Observations Reconsidered

Organizer: The Philosophy and Science of Intelligence Center (PSI), Fudan University


Most contemporary philosophers of science are committed to scientific empiricism, which is the idea that scientific knowledge is ultimately grounded in observable or measurable features of the world. Even though this rules out pure thought as a source of scientific knowledge, it leaves a lot of room for interpretation and further development. How strictly should observation be interpreted? Is unaided, human observation the only thing that matters, or can observations include the use of instruments? Are we licensed to make inferences to the world beyond our observations—whole populations, instead of samples? Electrons instead of the effects of electrons? And what is the extent of this grounding in measurements and observations? Is it the beginning? Or the entirety of what we can know?

This lecture develops the idea that our knowledge about the natural world is ultimately grounded on observations that we make both directly with our senses, and with instruments that extend the reach of our senses. Such observation is not the passive reception of a flow of experiences, but rather an active interrogation of the world. At the simplest level, this involves our nervous systems integrating impulses from our sensory modalities with each other, with our prior knowledge, and perhaps with built-in perceptual biases. More broadly, this involves using measuring devices, computers, and community knowledge to make sophisticated and active observations of the empirical world. This entire process—including causal chains running from the world to the scientific community and back again—is the ground for scientific knowledge.


Michael Weisberg is Professor and Chair of Philosophy, as well as Senior Faculty Fellow and Director of Post-Graduate Programs at Perry World House. He serves as Editor-in-Chief of Biology and Philosophy, advisor to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Nairobi Work Programme, and directs Penn’s campus-wide transdisciplinary research in Galápagos. He is the author of Simulation and Similarity: Using Models to Understand the World and Galápagos: Life in Motion, as well as a contributing author to the IPCC's 6th Assessment Report. Much of Professor Weisberg’s research is focused on how highly idealized models and simulations can be used to understand complex systems. He also leads efforts to better understand the interface between humans and wildlife, between humans and the climate system, and how scientific issues are understood by communities in the Americas and in East Asia. Professor Weisberg received a B.S. in Chemistry and a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of California, San Diego in 1999, and continued graduate study in Philosophy and Evolutionary Biology at Stanford University, earning a 2003 Ph.D. in Philosophy.

Speaker: Michael Weisberg (University of Pennsylvania)

Chair: Qiu Wang (Fudan University)


Wei Wang (Tsinghua University)

Qiaoying Lu (Peking University)

Wei Fang (Shanxi University)

Mingjun Zhang (Fudan University)

Time: Monday, 18th October, 2021, 7:30 PM—9:30 PM (UTC+8)

Online Platform: Zoom

Zoom Address:

Meeting ID: 489 550 5875

Passcode: 6666

Language: English


Tung-Ying Wu: [email protected]

Mingjun Zhang: [email protected]

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2 people are attending:

University of Sydney (PhD)
Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CASIP)

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