I view myself as a philosopher of science in the broadest sense: concerned not just with the logic and positivism of science, but also with its social, moral, and political dimensions.
I started out with a degree in physics (minor mathematics), and combined this with a degree in music performance. Eventually I switched physics out for philosophy of science. Science — not art, nor religion — is the societally dominant epistemic project of our times. It is the default intellectual project against which all the others are defined. I wanted to engage with science on a philosophical level, as a gateway to philosophy in the 21st century.
But in a deep sense I continue to hesitate between the natural sciences and arts. It’s not just that I maintain a side-career as a professional violinist. I went into the philosophy of biology because the biological sciences broadly conceived (i.e., including human evolutionary sciences such as cultural evolution or evolutionary psychology) are situated in the middle, between physics and poetry.
On a more technical side, my unique angle in the philosophy of biology is that I have sought to bring attention to the importance of variation and uncertainty in the environment. This was traditionally abstracted away in Darwinian models, somewhat akin to how Galileo abstracted away friction. Yet bringing it into consideration has important implications for how we should understand Darwinism and natural selection, especially in light of developments in cultural evolution and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. It also impacts broader questions on philosophy of cognition, such as how should view the behaviour of organisms: as machine-like or as agent-like?
For me, thinking about cutting-edge developments in biology is ultimately a means for gaining fresh perspectives on the big philosophical questions, such as what is the nature of knowledge, what is human nature, and what is the ground of ethics. An important moment here was when I had the fortune, for some years after my PhD, to be part an applied ethics center, where I worked on research integrity and human enhancement. Engaging with ethicists showed me how to integrate ethical and political analyses into my work in philosophy of science.
This sparking of ethical interest has led to contributions to a host of debates:
Research integrity: What does it mean to do research in an integrous way? How should researchers deal with norms and incentives?
Human enhancement and human nature: what is human nature? What does enhancement mean as humans evolve? How should we ground our moral judgements about enhancement in evolutionary theory?
Big Data ethics: how should we deal with the online environment, whether in social media, open science?
However, the current project that brings together my interest in ethics with the theoretical work in philosophy of science is the question of trust in science. Why should we trust science and scientists? And, crucially, why is science seen as so trustworthy today in the 21st century? How did we get to the point that we look towards Galileo’s mathematicized science to cure depression?
I link this back to evolutionary theory: how do we “trust” and “distrust” Darwinism? Why have Darwin’s ideas had such influence? What is the worldview inherent to Darwinism?