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Philosophy meets Mathematics meets Neuroscience

Hannes Leitgeb named Humboldt Professor at LMU

Munich, 02/24/2010

Once again, a candidate nominated by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) München has been awarded one of the coveted Alexander von Humboldt Professorships. The philosopher and mathematician Hannes Leitgeb, Professor of Mathematical Logic and Philosophy of Mathematics at the University of Bristol (UK), was selected to receive the accolade by an expert committee set up by the Humboldt Foundation. The prize, which is worth 5 million Euros, is financed by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research, and is the most richly endowed award of its kind in Germany. Leitgeb is one of the leading proponents of an approach to problems in logic, philosophy and the foundations of the scientific method that exploits insights from both philosophical analyses and mathematical theories of provability. In effect, he formulates philosophical questions as precisely posed mathematical propositions, allowing him not only to come up with solutions, but also to explain them with the utmost clarity. Hannes Leitgeb becomes the LMU’s third Humboldt Professor, joining Ulrike Gaul (Systems Biology) and Georgi Dvali (Astrophysics).

Leitgeb is one of the most prominent scholars worldwide who tackle analytical philosophy and cognitive sciences with the help of mathematical logic. This multi-pronged approach is motivated by the conviction that philosophical investigations can best be advanced if their fundamental assumptions can be recast as mathematical models that make them more transparent and simpler to describe. As a Humboldt Professor at LMU, Leitgeb will provide the basis for the planned Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy, Language and Cognition, in which postgraduate and postdoctoral students in the fields of Philosophy, Logic and Mathematics will work together on common problems.

The new Center will also collaborate with the Munich Center for Neuroscience, Brain and Mind (MCN). This institution was established in 2007, as the result of an internal competition (LMUinnovativ) to identify innovative ways of tackling questions related to the mind-brain problem. Its members utilize the whole spectrum of disciplines relevant to the neurosciences, from molecular biology, through systemic neurobiology, psychology and neurology, to philosophy. By fostering cooperation between widely diverse areas of study, the two Centers hope to make internationally significant contributions to theoretical and empirical brain sciences. Hannes Leitgeb's interdisciplinary orientation will help further sharpen the profile of the LMU’s Faculty of Philosophy by renewing its long-standing focus on the intersection between philososphy, logic and foundations of science, which is closely associated with the work of Wolfgang Stegmuller. This focus will also be given a future-oriented and internationally apparent impetus.

Leitgeb first forged a firm link between philosophical logic and the cognitive sciences in his book “Inference on the Low Level. An Investigation into Deduction, Nonmonotonic Reasoning, and the Philosophy of Cognition”. Here he showed that, under certain circumstances, state transitions in neural networks can be understood as simple ‘if ... then’ inferences. These in turn are known to follow laws governing the behaviour of logical systems that have emerged from studies in the philosophy of language and in theoretical computer science. Leitgeb is currently working on a monograph devoted to Rudolf Carnap’s “The Logical Structure of the World”. He hopes to give this classic text a new lease of life by highlighting the relevance of Carnap’s insights for modern scientific research. One of the aims of this latest endeavour is to discover how to transform theoretical scientific models into propositions framed in terms of our immediate sensory perceptions. To this end, Leitgeb is developing a theory of probability that permits valid inferences about systems which are themselves capable of generating statements about their own probability.

Hannes Leitgeb was born in Salzburg in 1972, and studied Mathematics, Philosophy and Computer Science at Salzburg University, earning doctoral degrees in both Mathematics and Philosophy. In 2002 he became a staff member in the Department of Philosophy at his alma mater. Two years later he was awarded an Erwin Schrödinger Fellowship by the Austrian Science Foundation (FWF), and spent the following year at Stanford University in California. He moved to the University of Bristol (UK) in 2005, and was named Professor of Mathematical Logic and Philosophy of Mathematics in 2007. In the same year, he won the Philip Leverhulme Prize awarded by the Leverhulme Trust, and in 2009 the Humboldt Foundation conferred its Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Prize for Research upon him. The latter honour enabled him to spend 6 months as a Research Professor at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf.

For further information on Alexander von Humboldt Professorships, visit the website of the Humboldt Foundation at:
www.humboldt-foundation.de/web/4410.html

 

 

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