Pauline van Wierst

Scuola Normale Superiore
Piazza dei Cavalieri 7
56126 Pisa (IT)

Student Assistant within the ERC Starting Grant Project Tarski's Revolution .

Tarski's Revolution | Specialization | Publications | CV |

My research interests are in logic, mathematics, and their philosophies. In November 2014 I started my PhD in philosophy at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy. Before I started in Pisa, I spent three semesters as a visiting student and research assistant in the philosophy department of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, USA. My Bachelor's and Master's degree in Philosophy I obtained from the VU University Amsterdam, where I graduated for my Master’s in August 2013 with a thesis on Bolzano’s notion of analyticity and computational methods within philosophical research under supervision of Arianna Betti.

Ever since my Master's I have been working on ideals of proof in mathematics. In particular, I have been investigating what distinguishes expanatory or grounding proofs from non-explanatory ones. In my research I have been inspired by the works of Bernard Bolzano on proper scientific proofs. I like to take actual mathematical practice as a starting point for my research. Currently, I am working on a paper on how Bolzano's theory of mathematical explanation actually works in his own mathematical practice, namely in his famous (1817) proof of the Intermediate Value Theorem. I am further interested in many related questions, such as: what is the nature of mathematical concepts and truths, is there such a thing as an objective hierarchy of (mathematical) truths, such as Bolzano believed, (to which extent) is mathematics mind-dependend, what does mathematics tell us about our reasoning in general, how does math help us understand the physical world?

In my dissertation, I am investigating infinite idealizations in physics from the viewpoint of philosophy of mathematics. In physics commonly a mathematics based on actual infinities is used, whereas it should describe a reality which contains only finitely many components. The use of actual infinites gives rise both to representational mismatches, and to philosophical problems. I investigate whether a mathematics based on a different notion of infinity than the current one would solve these mismatches and problems.

For my research I like to take into account not only mathematics at an academic level, but also at the basics. I am fascinated by the fact that we can sometimes "see" that a mathematical truth is true, and I like to understand what happens in these cases and think about what implications this has for the way in which we best learn and teach math for example in high school.

Within the Concepts in Motion group, I am part of the Phil@Scale project. In this project I work together with Sanne Vrijenhoek, a master student in Artificial Intelligence, in order to develop a computational tool to help philosophers answer text-based questions. Part one (funded by the The Network Institute) finished successfully in 2013 with the fruitful application of our tool called SalVe, to an open question in Bolzano scholarship (namely how analyticity links up with the relation of ground & consequence in Bolzano’s 2000-page Wissenschaftslehre). We continued Phil@Scale with a follow-up project, aiming to extend the “data set” for SalVe with the works of Frege. From Phil@Scale I learned that with computationally relatively easy methods, a lot can be gained for our text-based philosophical research. I was honestly and pleasantly surprised to experience how useful a simple tool like SalVe is, and am excited to see and contribute to further development of computational tools for philosophy.