O’Connor receives 2012 Romney prize
- September 26, 2012
- LPS graduate student honored for paper on evolution of vagueness
Name: Cailin O’Connor
Hometown: Manlius, New York
Education: logic & philosophy of science graduate student; received undergraduate degree in visual and environmental studies from Harvard College
Research interests: philosophy of biology, philosophy of science, and evolutionary game theory
Recent honors: 2012 Honorable Mention, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program; 2012 A. Kimball Romney Award for Outstanding Graduate Paper
What made you decide to pursue your Ph.D. in logic & philosophy of science?
I studied biology and filmmaking as an undergraduate at Harvard College, and I was interested in the neurobiological underpinnings of aesthetic preference. While applying for graduate study, I realized that the best discipline for pursuing this research was philosophy of science. My research plans eventually changed, but the discipline stuck. I currently study the evolution of language, and of information transfer more generally. Specifically, using tools from evolutionary game theory – a discipline that looks at how and why behavioral strategies evolve – I’ve investigated the evolution of vagueness in language. I’m also looking at how organisms learn to categorize things in the world while simultaneously learning how to communicate about them.
What interests you most about your graduate program?
I love philosophy of science because it allows for a great deal of interdisciplinary research. For example, my current research projects appeal/respond to previous work in biology, psychology, cognitive science, mathematics, and philosophy.
Why did you decide to come to UCI?
The logic and philosophy of science department at UCI is truly a special place. The professors are uniformly excellent, and the focus on technical topics in philosophy of science was ideal for my research interests.
Do you have any upcoming publications or talks?
My first paper was just published in Analyse & Kritik. It was joint work with one of my advisors and several other graduate students. It addressed how and whether observations from biology and anthropology can inform ethics. I have a research paper entitled ‘The Evolution of Vagueness’ that has been accepted for publication in the journal Erkenntnis. It argues that certain learning strategies employed by human agents lead inevitably to languages where terms have vague meanings. I also have an upcoming symposium at the Philsophy of Science Association meeting where I will present a paper on the evolution of linguistic and perceptual categorization.
What unique circumstances/life experiences have had an impact or played a major role in where you are today?
My husband is also a philosopher of science. While it’s unusual to work and live with the same person, I think both of our academic careers have benefitted greatly from the arrangement. It’s very convenient to have a (in my opinion) brilliant philosopher across the dinner table to argue things out with.
Any other interesting tidbits you would like to share?
We have four cats named Chairman Meow, Margaret Catcher, Catsius Clay, and Caterine the Great. In retrospect, I would have named one of them Winston Purrchill. Also, I’m expecting twin girls in November. I suspect it will be a pretty major milestone!
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