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Unknowability: How Do We Know What Cannot Be Known?

April 4 @ 3:00 pm - April 5 @ 3:30 pm


The Center for Public Scholarship at The New School invites you to Unknowability: How Do We Know What Cannot Be Known?, the 38th Social Research Conference.

From the earliest moments of humanity’s search for answers and explanations, we have grappled with the unknowable, that which we are unable or not permitted to know. What does the history of the unknowable look like? What are the questions once thought to be unanswerable that have been answered? Are there enduring unknowables and if so, what are they?

This conference affords a rare opportunity for scholars from different fields to engage with each other and with the general public on this issue, particularly while we are living in what some might call a post-truth world. At a time when the distinction between what is true and what is not has become increasingly problematic, focusing attention on how we know what we cannot know has become essential.

*This event is free. Guests are encouraged to register.

This conference is partially supported by the National Science Foundation under Award Number SES 1837895

For a full conference description and speaker bios, please visit the Center for Public Scholarship’s Conference website


Day 1: Thursday, April 4, 2019

(All sessions held at: Tishman Auditorium, University Center, 63 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY)

Session 1, 3:00PM – 5:30PM: Humanities

  • Rebecca Goldstein, Visiting Professor of Philosophy, New College of the Humanities, London; MacArthur Fellow, philosopher, author and novelist
  • Marina Warner, British novelist, short story writer, historian, mythographer, and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, University of London
  • Michael Scott, Professor of Classics and Ancient History, University of Warwick
  • Zoë Crossland, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University
  • Moderator: Jim Miller, Professor of Liberal Studies and Politics; Faculty Director of Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism, The New School

KEYNOTE EVENT, “Unknowable Unknowns” 6:00PM -7:30 PM

  • John D. Barrow FRS, Professor of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge; Director of the Millennium Mathematics Project
  • Keynote Interlocutor: Rebecca Goldstein, MacArthur Fellow, philosopher, author and novelist

Day 2: Friday, April 5, 2019

(All sessions held at: Room I-202, Theresa Lang Center, 55 W. 13th Street, NY, NY)

Session 2, 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM: Science and Mathematics

  • Gregory Chaitin, Professor, University of Buenos Aires; and Visiting Professor, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
  • Stuart Firestein, Chair, Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University
  • Gavin Schmidt, Director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
  • Moderator: Natalie Wolchover, Senior writer and editor, Quanta Magazine

Session 3, 1:30 PM – 3:30 PM: Psychology and Social Science

  • Nicholas Humphrey, Senior Member, Darwin College, Cambridge University
  • Alan Fiske, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Linsey McGoey, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Essex
  • Moderator: William Hirst, Malcolm B. Smith Professor and Co-Chair of Psychology, New School for Social Research

This conference is partially supported by the National Science Foundation under Award Number SES 1837895


April 4 @ 3:00 pm
April 5 @ 3:30 pm
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