Searching for the soul of science

By Emily Leighton, MA'13
For Danae Campos-Melo, PhD, and Cristian Droppelmann, PhD, philosophy is an integral part of working in a science lab.

“I consider the philosophy of science to be the soul of science,” explained Droppelmann. “It gives us the intellectual deepness that we need as scientists.”

Campos-Melo and Droppelmann are research associates in the Strong lab at Robarts. In an effort to share their passion for philosophy with the wider Robarts community, the husband-and-wife team, in consultation with Marlys Koschinsky, PhD, scientific and executive director of Robarts, organized a summer event series called the Philosophy of Science Café.
Danae Campos-Melo and Cristian DroppelmannIn partnership with the Department of Philosophy and the Rotman Institute of Philosophy at Western, the series aims to bring together philosophers, scientists and graduate trainees to discuss broad philosophical themes related to their work. Topics include pseudoscience, the nature of scientific progress, the replication crisis and the scientific method.

The inaugural series launched this summer with four afternoon sessions, each beginning with a formal lecture presentation from a philosopher, followed by open discussion and debate.

For Koschinsky, it’s been an opportunity to explore science through new perspectives.  

“Our degrees are Doctor of Philosophy, which we scientists don’t stop to think about that often,” she said. “We don’t stop and consider the significance of that title.”
“It’s from the Greek ‘love of wisdom’,” added Campos-Melo. “And that’s exactly what this is about. Our idea is to stimulate the training of analytical and critical thinking.”

This is particularly significant for the Institute’s role in teaching and education – the Café series was designed with trainees in mind.  

“Our goal is to enrich their training as young scientists,” explained Koschinsky. “And I think the trainees are very interested in learning that goes beyond the walls and bounds of their own laboratory and their own projects.”

With lively discussions extending into the early evening hours, the Café has certainly generated plenty of interest from trainees and scientists.

Koschinsky understands the enthusiasm on a personal level. “In the sessions, I often find myself thinking ‘this is what I became an academic for’,” she explained. “It’s hitting that note in me. Because we get so busy with grants, deadlines and experiments, it’s wonderful to have this time to think.”

“The Café is like a breath of fresh air for us,” added Campos-Melo.
Philosophy of ScienceRotman Director Christopher Smeenk, PhD, also sees these types of discussions as an opportunity to establish connections across campus.

“Challenging problems don’t fall neatly into different disciplines,” explained Smeenk. “We need to benefit from the expertise of different disciplines by talking to each other and taking advantage of the specialized knowledge each area has developed.”

 “I’m proud that the Robarts community can recognize that there is a whole world of other disciplines out there we can learn from,” said Koschinsky. “We’re embracing other schools of thought and other disciplines, and welcoming them to our community to share.”