Stephen Francis Mann

Stephen Francis  Mann

Position: Current PhD Student

School: School of Philosophy

Email: stephenfmann@gmail.com

Location: HC Coombs Building, Room 4110

Qualification:

MSci Mathematics and Philosophy (University of Bristol, UK)

Personal website: http://stephenmann.isaphilosopher.com

My thesis outlines and defends the use of information theory across biological sciences.

Although information is commonly taken to be the heart of biology, it is still unclear how the
mathematics of information theory can be applied across the biological sciences. The question of
measuring biological information has been approached from the point of view of genetics, molecular
biology, neuroscience, microbiology and animal communication. Much of the scientific work in these
areas is appraised by philosophers of biology.

My view is positive. Unwarranted scepticism pervades philosophy of biology due to inappropriate
interpretations of the mathematical theory of information. My thesis will outline correct
methodological approaches to information in natural science.

Throughout, I explore the connections between information theory and game theory. The entry
point to this research tradition is formal modelling of signalling games. David Lewis showed that
conventional meaning can arise between communicating agents without explicit prior agreement.
Brian Skyrms later showed the same is true for biological individuals whose communication is
underpinned by natural selection rather than rational choice. Developments in this area continue at
great pace, with many aspects of the Skyrms framework being mined for philosophical insight. My
contribution to the literature will be a careful discussion of the extent to which evolutionary
modelling can inform the study of communication and information in the philosophy of biology. I will
focus particularly on the relationship between communication and common interest. This approach
benefits not only naturalistic perspectives on meaning, but also the study of models within the
philosophy of science more generally.

Biography

In 2010 I completed a four-year Master in Science (equivalent to three-year Bachelor’s + one-year
Master’s) in mathematics and philosophy at the University of Bristol, achieving First Class Honours.
For the following three years I worked as a software developer in Manchester, UK.

In 2013 I began a PhD at King’s College London under the supervision of Nicholas Shea and David
Papineau. The focus of that project was teleosemantics and its growing body of adjacent literature.
After exploring several closely related areas, I decided to concentrate on the concept of information
in the philosophy of biology. To this end I visited The Australian National University in the first half of
2015 to work with Kim Sterelny.

The research environment at ANU is unparalleled, and their strong representation within philosophy
of biology was directly suited to my interests. After six months as a visitor I applied to the graduate
program and was fortunate enough to be accepted. As a result I commenced a new PhD in February
2016, with a focus on information and cooperation in biology. Though this required withdrawing
from the KCL program, I was encouraged by supervisors on both sides to take what was clearly an
advantageous step.

My supervisory panel at ANU is Justin Bruner, Kim Sterelny, Matt Spike and Ron Planer.

AOS: (Philosophy of:) biology, science, information and computation.

AOC: (Philosophy of:) language, cognitive science, mathematics; Bioethics; Logic; Computational modelling.

Mann, Stephen Francis and Jessica Pfeifer (2018): “Review of Studying animal languages without
translation: An insight from ants by Zhanna Reznikova.” Quarterly Review of Biology.
Mann, Stephen Francis (forthcoming): “Attribution of information in animal interaction.” Biological
Theory.
Mann, Stephen Francis (under review): “Consequences of a functional account of information.”

My research is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship
and Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship Grant FL130100141.

Society for the Study of Cultural Evolution

2017: Philosophy of Biology (ANU, tutor + guest lectures)
Biology, Society and Ethics (ANU, tutor + guest lecture)
2014: Philosophy of science (KCL, tutor)
Elementary and Intermediate logic (KCL, tutor)

Updated:  24 January 2019/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications