Research Profile

History and Philosophy of Science and Engineering at Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. A Research Profile: Faculty, Research Projects, and Doctoral Fellowships.  

The newly formed research group for history and philosophy of science and technology in the department of Humanities and Arts includes Professor Ohad Nachtomy (Head), Dr. Dustin Lazarovici, Dr. Tzipora Rakedzon. Dr. Avital Binah-Pollak, as full-time faculty, as well as Professor Justin Smith, Professor Ayelet Shavit, Dr. Alik Pelman, Dr. Barnaby Hutchins, Dr. David Manheim, and Dr. Avigail Ferdman as research fellows; and Dr. Uri Eran, Dr. Noa Lahav-Ayalon, and Lotem Elber-Doretzko as post-doctoral fellows.

We are currently looking for outstanding candidates for doctoral fellowships. The program fosters research projects that link the humanities with the sciences as well as academic work with practical involvement. Presently, we are seeking suitable*, motivated candidates with innovative projects in mind.

This document presents our faculty, their research interests and some of their ongoing research projects. In addition to our faculty, we encourage doctoral students to pursue joint projects with other faculty members in all other faculties in the Technion.

Dr. Avital Binah Pollak

avitalbp@technion.ac.il

Dr. Avital Binah-Pollak is a faculty member at the Technion’s Department of Humanities and Arts. She is a socio-cultural anthropologist with an emphasis on education, cognitive processes, and mobility in contemporary China and Israel. Her current research focuses on three main topics: 1) Cross-cultural aspects of learning and cognitive processes; 2) The relationship between borders, mobility, and gender; and 3) Local and international aspects of higher education. She welcomes students who wishes to explore these or related topics.

1. A project focused on investigating learning and cognitive processes in cross-cultural perspectives. The project examines several main issues: What is the cultural influence on learning skills? What cultural conceptions and practices are evident among students? How are these cultural conceptions and practices implicated in students’ academic performance, study approaches, and cognitive skills? And how are these cultural conceptions and practices affected over time or in different contexts? The project is led by Dr. Avital Binah Pollak. Candidates must have genuine interest in education, cross-cultural perspectives, and interdisciplinary work.

2. A project focused on public policy and education in contemporary China. The project welcomes students who are eager to explore issues related to education, public policy, childhood, and/or gender in contemporary China from a variety of academic backgrounds: Chinese studies, anthropology, sociology, and history. The project is led by Dr. Avital Binah Pollak.

Dr. Avigail Ferdman

avigailf@technion.ac.il

Dr. Avigail Ferdman is research fellow at the Humanities Department – Technion and program director at JDC-ELKA. She works broadly on the intersection between political philosophy, ethics and technology, with a special interest in human flourishing. She is also interested in applying philosophy to climate change policy.

A Project on Autonomous Vehicles as a System. Self-driving cars may become one of the most disruptive technologies in the future city. Much of the discourse on the ethics of self-driving cars focuses on crash-optimization. Yet the proliferation of self-driving cars poses broader ethical and moral concerns, if we conceptualize self-driving cars as institutional activity. Absent regulation, self-driving systems may entrench structural discrimination, institutional injustice, unflourishing and human nonautonomy. This project will use big data to integrate moral principles into the algorithmic design of automated vehicles. Its aim is to optimize distributive justice, non-discrimination, conditions for virtuous living and livable environments. The ideal Ph.D. candidate should be highly motivated to pursue interdisciplinary research. A background in political/applied philosophy, computer science or data science is welcome, but can be substituted with other expertise relevant to the project.

A project on Biophilia, morality and climate change. Biophilia is humans’ innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. This project, inspired by virtue ethics, seeks to conceptualize biophilia as a human capacity, in need of development and continuous exercise. The project further seeks to examine the relationship between being biophilic as a moral duty to others (i.e. to combat climate change) and as an ethical duty to oneself (becoming a virtues person). The ideal candidate should have a genuine interest in interdisciplinary research. A background in moral/political/applied philosophy, ecology or environmental engineering is welcome, but can be substituted with other expertise relevant to the project.

Dr. Dustin Lazarovici

dustin@technion.ac.il

Dr. Lazarovici is Assistant Professor at the Humanities Department of the Technion University and a Fellow of the John Bell Institute for the Foundations of Physics. He works in philosophy of physics and philosophy of science, especially on the foundations of quantum mechanics, foundations of statistical mechanics, the arrow of time, the ontology of physics and the metaphysics of laws of nature.

Dr. Lazarovici seeks to combine insights from philosophy, mathematics, and natural science to understand the world and welcomes research proposals from motivated students who want to do the same.

1. A project investigating perspectives in relativistic quantum physics and the tension between relativity and nonlocality. The project is led by Dr. Dustin Lazaroviciand seeks to explore both technical difficulties arising in relativistic quantum mechanics (or quantum field theory) and the philosophical implications of different approaches. The successful candidate should have some knowledge of quantum mechanics and an interest in foundational and ontological questions. Prior experience in foundations of quantum mechanics or philosophy of physics would be ideal.

2. A project about norms of reason and the epistemic crisis. While the project is also interested in the reasons for the declining trust in science and the “crisis of truth” in politics and (social) media, its focus will be on working out the role of epistemic norms in guiding the scientific method and rational discourse, in general. The successful candidate will collaborate with Dr. Dustin Lazarovici.A background in philosophy of science or scientific epistemology is welcome but can be substituted with other expertise relevant to the project.

Dr. David Manheim
davidmanheim@technion.ac.il

Dr. David Manheim is a public policy researcher currently visiting the Technion, specializing in biological and technological risks and the impacts of new technologies. He has done research on topics from the future of pandemic response and monitoring at the World Bank, the Council on Strategic Risks, the US National Biosurveillance Integration Center, and the US White House Office of Science and Technology. In addition to dozens of academic publications in journals ranging from Technological Forecasting and Social Change to Clinical Infectious Diseases, and from Health Security to PLoS Computational Biology, his work on the implications, risks, and management of novel technologies has appeared in Foreign Affairs and TechCrunch. Among his current Projects:

1. Is the current risk of pandemics growing or shrinking? Both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, he has been researching biological risks from natural and bioengineered pathogens.  The risks of natural pandemics may be increasing due to environmental encroachment, population growth, and failures of international coordination – but they are become less worrying due to improved biosurveillance, better medical technology, and faster vaccines. At the same time, anthropogenic risks, from bioengineering, bioterrorism, and biological warfare, pose unclear new threats. Research on this topic includes Bayesian modelling, public policy, risk analysis, and technological forecasting.

2. Should we worry about future artificial intelligence? Research on decreasing risks from self-driving cars and algorithmic bias are important, but may be ignoring longer term concerns. What failure modes exist for a society increasingly dependent on complex systems? What is the trajectory of artificial intelligence as it reaches or surpasses human levels of ability in a growing number of specific tasks, and possibly human general intelligence as well? Research on this topic includes systemic risks, complexity, understanding arguments about artificial intelligence safety, and how coordination with future AI systems, and between them, can be managed.

3. How long-term should humanity’s focus be? The future is arguably vast, spanning billions of years and futurist possibilities of humanity expanding far beyond earth, so that improving technology and economic growth have tremendous potential. At the same time, there are short term problems in the world, from hunger and poverty, to near-term risks of catastrophe, to animal suffering and global mental health. How can or should we balance these concerns? Research on this topic includes utilitarian philosophy, long-term forecasting and policymaking, and understanding near-term opportunities for philanthropy and policy to improve the world, both from an economic value perspective, and as a practical endeavor.

Prof. Ohad Nachtomy

ohadnachtomy@technion.ac.il

Ohad Nachotmy holds the Sonia T. Marschak Academic Chair in Humanities and Arts and currently serves as the head of the Department.Among other things, he is interested in the intersection between Science and Philosophy in the Early Modern Period; Philosophy and History of Biology; Mind-Body Relations. Below are outlines of several projects his is engaged with.

1. A project examining the nature of human technology in comparison with natural technology, by using tools from information theory. The successful candidate will cooperate with Professors Ohad Nachtomy, Olaf Witkowski, Zohar Yakhini and Ayelet Shavit. We are looking for a Ph.D. student interested in the topic and capable of performing independent research. A background in biology, computer science and/or computational biology is required. A background in philosophy of science is desirable and competence in programing (for simulations) is highly desirable.

2. A project examining mind–body relations experimentally by referring to yoga practice and its tradition of correlating postures and moods as a test case. The project involves Professor Ohad Nachtomy, Professor Moshe Bar (Bar-Ilan), Dr. Eyal Shifroni and Dr. Nava Levit-Binun (IDC). The ideal Ph.D. candidate should be motivated to pursue research on this topic and have a solid background in experimental psychology or cognitive science. Additional background in philosophy is highly desirable.

3. A project on Spinoza entitled On the Capacities of the Body and the Wonders of the Mind.

4. A project on Leibniz’s Preestablished Harmonies (with Uri Eran, Noam Hoffer, and Reed Winegar). 

Dr. Tamar Novick
Temporary e-mail address: tnovick@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de

Tamar Novick will join the Technion’s Department of the Humanities and the Arts in academic year 2022-2023 as an Assistant Professor. Her research lies at the intersection of history of technology, environmental history, and Middle East studies. She is particularly interested in the agricultural and reproduction sciences, and the perspectives of colonial studies and global history of science. Two of the main projects she will be engaged with are: 

1.     Scientific Waste: A project examining the longue-durée understanding and use of waste in science, with a focus on bodily waste

2.     Intimate Knowledge in Global Histories of Reproduction: A project on the history of human and animal reproduction management, 1850-present

Dr. Alik Pelman

alikpelman@technion.ac.il

Dr. Pelman is research fellow in humanities at the Technion and senior lecturer at Shenkar college of engineering and design. He works on philosophy of science (both natural and social), philosophy of language (especially reference and modality), metaphysics (especially comparative ontology) and the philosophy of mind (especially reduction and supervenience). He also regularly ventures into environmental ethics and the philosophy of technology. He is happy to advise students in any of these fields. Following are two budding projects that he’ll be specifically interested to collaborate on:

1. Environment – A project on technological Optimism vs. Pessimism. As a matter of definition, the total greenhouse gas emissions of humanity are the product of three variables: the sheer number of people, per-capita consumption (measured in dollars per person), and carbon intensity (measured in emissions per dollar). So in order to mitigate climate change, any of the three has to be reduced. However, virtually all efforts in the world are concentrated on the third variable, namely, technology. Can technology, in principle, indeed fit the bill? This project aims to contribute to the heated debate between technological optimists and pessimists regarding the climate crisis.

2. Metaphysics / Philosophy of Science – A project on the relations between ontological theories in metaphysics and in physics. What are the relations between the two? Do they strive to describe the same thing? Should they inform one another? Could one disprove the other? And what is the role of intuitions – broadly conceived – within these two enterprises?

Dr. Tzipora Rakedzon

hutzipi@technion.ac.il

Dr. Tzipora Rakedzon serves as the coordinator and a lecturer of Graduate Academic Writing in the Department of Humanities and Arts at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. She has been teaching a variety of writing and communication courses for over 20 years. Tzipora received her PhD at the Technion in science communication at the Department of Education in Technology and Science, and her BA and MA in linguistics from Haifa University. Her research interests include teaching and assessing scientific and professional communication, especially writing and vocabulary.  

Dr. Rakedzon is looking for a Ph.D. student interested and motivated to pursue research on a topic in these areas with a solid background in education, linguistics, and/or communication. Additional background in statistics is desirable.

A project in the field of academic/scientific writing or any form of scientific communication.  This includes topics in writing/communication pedagogy, academic publishing, oral/written academic genres, English as a foreign language/English for specific purposes (EFL/ESP), students’ writing outcomes and automated writing tools. The project will be supervised by Dr. Tzipora Rakedzon.

Prof. Ayelet Shavit

ashavit@technion.ac.il

Ayelet Shavit is a philosopher of ecology and evolution, chair of the Israeli Philosophical Association. a research fellow at the Technion and an Associate Professor at Tel-Hai College. 

Ayelet studies the interplay of facts and values in fundamental biological concepts – ‘individuality’, ‘collectivity’, ‘cooperation’ and ‘location’ – and proactively examines the possibility of a communal academia.


1. A project focused on articulating and examining what involved academic research is, and what its practice entails. The project examines whether and to what extent engaging with other academic disciplines and non-academic communities improves academic excellence and reduces epistemic injustice. The project is led by Prof. Ayelet Shavit. Candidates must have prior experience and genuine interest in interdisciplinary work and public engagement.

Prof. Justin E. H. Smith

justin.s@technion.ac.il

Prof. Smith is research fellow in humanities at the Technion and professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Paris.

He works broadly on the intersection between philosophy, natural science and technology from the 17th century to the present, with a special interest in the work of G. W. Leibniz.

His work also engages with the philosophical problems of artificial-language processing and artificial intelligence, and with the efforts to “externalize rationality” that have guided the history of computer science.

Finally, he is interested in environmental philosophy and in the study of natural systems as instances of “non-human rationality”.

He is available to advise students in a wide variety of fields, especially the history of early modern natural philosophy, philosophy of AI, philosophy of biology, and environmental philosophy. 

1. A project on “Natural and Artificial Languages, 1600–1800.” This project aims to investigate early modern European reflections on the origins of language and on the construction of an ideal language for reasoning and perhaps also for machine-processing. A component of this research will look at the European encounter in the period with indigenous, non-textual languages throughout the world, particularly in the Americas and in Asia; at the compilation of bilingual dictionaries that resulted from this encounter; and at the reflections of the authors involved on the difficulty or impossibility of true translation. The project is led by Prof. Justin Smith and Prof. Ohad Nachtomy. Candidates should be interested in pursuing interdisciplinary research, should be familiar with historiographical methods, and ideally should be proficient in reading French, German, and/or Latin. 

Candidates who are interested should send a letter of interest, a CV, a writing sample to Anat Glass at anatg@technion.ac.il .

* PhD students for these positions must meet the Technion’s acceptance requirements and are expected to receive generous supporting scholarships during their studies. A completion of an MA degree (including a research thesis) is required, grade above 85.

For more details on registration, scholarships and graduate school policy at the Technion, please see https://graduate.technion.ac.il/regulations/regulations-part3

For further details and explanations in English, see here.