Cushing Memorial Prize for 2011

Charlotte Werndl
London School of Economics

The John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values, along with the Graduate Program in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame and the Advisory Committee of the James T. Cushing Memorial Prize in History and Philosophy of Physics are pleased to announce the award of the Cushing Prize for 2011 to Dr. Charlotte Werndl, Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics.  She is being honored for her paper, “What Are the New Implications of Chaos for Unpredictability?” published in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science in 2009. The Cushing Prize carries a $1000 award plus an invitation to deliver a lecture as part of the History and Philosophy of Science Colloquium at the University of Notre Dame.

Charlotte summarizes her argument in the abstract of her paper: “one might expect that the question ‘What are the new implications of chaos for unpredictability?’ has already been answered in a satisfactory way. However, this is not the case…I will approach this question by showing that chaos can be defined via mixing, which has never before been explicitly argued for. Based on this insight, I will propose that the sought-after new implication of chaos for unpredictability is the following: for predicting any event, all sufficiently past events are approximately probabilistically irrelevant.”

Charlotte was nominated for the Prize by senior colleagues at LSE, who describe the importance of her paper for the philosophy of physics in this way: “Chaos theory has often been hailed as the third revolution in physics in the 20th Century… From the beginning of chaos research until today, the unpredictability of chaos has been a central theme. However, it has long been unclear how exactly chaos impinges on our understanding of unpredictability.  In particular, the question whether chaotic systems show a special kind of unpredictability, i.e. whether they are unpredictable in a way that other deterministic (or indeed indeterministic) systems are not, has not been answered satisfactorily for decades. The paper contains a lucid discussion of how to define chaos in a mathematically rigorous say. More specifically, it argues that chaos can be defined in terms of the mathematical notion of mixing. Based on this definition, she is able to clarify whether chaotic systems show a special kind of unpredictability…In this way she solved a profound problem which had plagued physicists and philosophers for decades.”

Charlotte earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics in 2003 as well as Master’s degrees in both Mathematics and Philosophy in 2006 from the University of Salzburg and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Cambridge in 2009.  She was a Junior Research Fellow in The Queen’s College and Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University during 2009-10.