Shih-I Pai Lecture

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25th Annual Shih-I Pai Lecture
"Information, Time, and Life"
by Jenann T. Ismael

When: Tuesday, October 15, 2019

  • 3:00 - 3:50 pm : Reception in the James A. Yorke Rotunda, William E. Kirwan Hall
  • 4:00 - 5:00 pm : Lecture in the Physics Lecture Hall, Room 1412, Physics Building

The Institute for Physical Science and Technology and The Department of Physics presents the 25th Annual Shih-I Pai Lecture. The Shih-I Pai lecture series commemorates the many contributions and the remarkable legacy of Professor Shih-I Pai (1913-1996), to the study of aerodynamics and fluid dynamics. Professor Pai was a University of Maryland faculty member from 1949 to 1996, and founding member of the Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Applied Mathematics, now the Institute for Physical Science and Technology.

Jenann T. Ismael

Speaker: Jenann T. Ismael. Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University.

Biography: Jenann T. Ismael received her Ph.D. from Princeton University, was a Mellon Fellow at Stanford, and taught at the University of Arizona before joining Columbia University in 2018.

Ismael's research focuses on the philosophy of physics and metaphysics, especially areas involving the structure of space and time, quantum mechanics, and the foundations of physical laws. She has published on such issues as the conflict between lived experience and physics, the implications of physics on issues of freedom, death, the nature of the self, and the problem of free will.

Ismael has held a number of prestigious fellowships, including an NEH fellowship at the National Humanities Center, a Queen Elizabeth II Research Fellowship from the Australian Research Council, and fellowships from the Templeton Foundation and CASBS (Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Science at Stanford). She is a member of the Foundational Questions Institute.

Abstract: The differences between past and future frame every aspect of our experience of the world. It is a remarkable fact that research that began in the mid-nineteenth century and was originally focused on trying to derive the phenomenological asymmetries embodied in the second law of thermodynamics from the time-symmetric laws of classical mechanics turned into a very general account of the sources of temporal asymmetry in our world. So a conversation that started by being about why (for example) gas will disperse to fill an open container, turned into a conversation about why we remember the past but not the future, why time seems to flow from past to future, and why we can affect the future but not the past. There is much that remains to be understood, but we can assemble the pieces that we have into a picture that has intelligible contours and gives us deep insight not only into the nature of time, but the asymmetries that structure living processes, and our own place in the universe. I'll sketch the elements of this picture in broad strokes, highlighting the role of information.

For more information, contact Mary Kearney at (301) 405-4814 or