Which conferences to attend?

Posted on January 22, 2012

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This is a question I always ask myself at the beginning of every year. With a few years of experience behind me I think I am in something of a position to make a judgement as to which of the many conferences that take place every year are the most likely to be valuable to myself, or to someone who shares some of my interests. The general rule is that I prefer small meetings that are focussed on a specific topic than large ones where most of the talks are only of peripheral interest – though the small meetings are unlikely to be regular. I’d be interested to know on what basis others decide to attend conferences, whether they have favourite regular meetings and whether they disagree about some of my choices.

Essential

Not many conferences are truly essential but there is a couple that I routinely get so much from attending that it would be foolish of me to not come to all of them so long as it is physically/financially possible. The first and most obvious of these, given my current interests, is the annual meeting of the International Association for Cognitive Science of Religion. This year this conference takes place on June 25th in Aarhus, Denmark. The conferences tend to be one day only but they are attended by many of the people working in CSR which makes it worth coming. After all, the actual talks are always just one part of what conferences are about and, after Boston last year, I think the IACSR conferences are great to talk to people whose interests are really very closely connected to what I am working on – not something that I find I can do at many other meetings. Also, the IACSR meetins are always combined with other conferences that are also interesting, particularly so given the continued presence of the CSR crowd.

The second regular conference that I think it is essential for me to attend is the meeting of the European Society for Philosohpy and Psychology. This year the meeting is in London, August 28 to 31. While many of those who come to these meetings are not necessarily interested in supernatural practices and beliefs, they do generally share the same attitude that I have to the relationship between philosophy and psychology as disciplines that need to be in close cooperative connection. I have found that the intellectual atmosphere at the ESPP meetings is quite different from that at many other meetings where large numbers of philosophers are present. I am far less likely to get weird uncomprehending looks when I explain what I do, for one thing. More importantly, at least some of the talks there exhibit the kind of thoroughly naturalist approach to philosophy that I have been pursuing. And the psychological talks, which I often find more valuable, offer valuable empirical insights that I need to ground everything I do.

The third of the conferences that I wish to attend every year is the European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association meeting which, this year, will be in Durham, March 25th to 28th. Unlike the IACSR and the ESPP meetings, I will not be going to Durham this year. However, I hope that from next year I will be at EHBEA every year. Also unlike the other two meetings, this meeting is one in which philosophers are a rare presence – the crowd here is made up of empirical scientists working on evolutionary explanations of human behaviour. I have thus far only attended one meeting of this association but I found it to be extremely valuable in that many of the talks I attended there were quite simply thrilling at the time and have made me aware of results and approaches that have proved vital in my later work. The only reason I have not come back is that I have not had any empirical results of my own to present to the meeting!

Valuable

Apart from these meetings there is a number of regular meetings that are quite valuable and which I like to attend when I can. The biggest of these is the Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science meeting which takes places every four years somewhere in the world. The one this year is in Santiago de Compostela, July 18-20. I have many qualms with this meeting, most having to do with its size and overly broad focus but have found it of interest when I have attended it. Chosing a worthwhile talk to attend is a much more difficult task at these meetings I find, however, and it often makes more sense to just sit somewhere and talk to old and new acquaintances. Much smaller are the meetings of the biosemiotics society and interactivist group. When held in Europe, they are attractive to me as some of the people who attend each of those meetings have interesting views that I find I have some basic agreement with and which are not normally represented at the big philosophy conferences. This year there will be biosemiotics meeting is Tartu but I will probably miss it as it is at the same time (July 17-22) as LMPS. Finally, on my list of conferences there are two that I have not yet attended but which I would like to. The first is the philosophy of science meeting held every April in Dubrovnik. It sounds very relaxed and like a blast. The second is the European Philosophy of Science meeting and is held every other year, the next one being in 2013. Being a philosopher of science /even if I am working on nonscience or, at best, pseudoscience at present/ I would like to keep in touch with what others are doing in the field.

Not on the list

A number of conferences are not on the list I have quickly put together. Some, perhaps, should be and would be if I gave this more thought. Some, however, are not there for a reason. First of all, the European Conference of Analytical Philosophy – a meeting that would seem to be a natural one for me to attend – has never seemed really worthwhile. Much of the philosophy that is presented at that meeting is quite traditional and fairly tedious to my tastes. It either pays no attention to science (apriori proofs anyone?) or treats it in a mercenary fashion, twisting particular findings without much understanding to their meaning and in such a way as to justify independently held beliefs. Another meeting that does not appear on the list for a reason is the big Polish meeting of philosophers that is held every few years. Similarly to ECAP it is far too insular, the universe of reference in this case all too often seeming to be encompassed by the Polish borders. Since I have come to the conclusion that there is no point in me publishing anything in Poland, there is very little I have in common with most of the people who attend those meetings. Those whose work I do find interesting I generally already know and stay in contact with independently of such overblown official affairs.

Others

Apart from regular meetings there are always one-off meetings that I want to attend. Some I want to go to because of their topic being of particular interest, some because of the people I know will be attending and some because of the people who are organising them. The best example of the last is anything organised by the Religion studies people in Brno. I have come to the conclusion that Ales and the others there are incapable of organising a boring meeting. Everyone has limitations.

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