Alistair Isaac

Senior Lecturer

  • Philosophy
  • School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences

Contact details



Room 7.15

40 George Square, Edinburgh
Post code


BA Harvard 2000 East Asian Studies; MA University of Houston 2004 Philosophy; PhD Stanford University 2010 Philosophy and Symbolic Systems; Postdoctoral Fellowship Michigan 2010–1; Postdoctoral Fellowship Pennsylvania 2011–3 NSF: “Measurement and Isomorphism in the Psychology of Perception: A Historical Approach to the Problem of Representation”; Edinburgh: Lecturer in Philosophy of Mind and Cognition 2013–19; Senior Lecturer 2019– 

Selected recent publications

  • "Apophatic Science: How Computational Modeling can explain Consciousness" (with W. Bridewell) (2021) Neuroscience of Consciousness
  • "Epistemic Loops and Measurement Realism" (2019) Philosophy of Science 86: 930–941.
  • "Realism without Tears" (part 1 2019; part 2 2020) Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
  • "The Semantics Latent in Shannon Information" (2019) British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 70: 103–125.

Responsibilities & affiliations

PPLS Postgraduate Director

Undergraduate teaching

In 2021–2

  • Philosophy of Science 1
  • Introduction to Cognitive Science
  • Philosophy of Information

Student consultation hours

2021-22 TBA.  I am also available by appointment, so please feel free to email me to set up a time.

Postgraduate teaching

I teach courses related to the Mind, Language, and Embodied Cognition MSc program; in 2021-2 Semester 2 CogLab

Current PhD students supervised

Past PhD students supervised

Research summary

The central themes of my research are measurement and representation; in particular, I explore the consequences of the idea that measurement provides a paradigmatic account of representation and the acquisition of knowledge.  Given a sufficiently sophisticated understanding of measurement, this line of reasoning supports a form of structuralism, on which representations are homomorphic to their targets, and the knowledge successful representations support is structural.  

One strand of this project applies the methods of integrated history and philosophy of science to the sciences of the mind.  I am interested on the one hand in the evidential question of whether attempts to measure psychological attributes and phenomenal qualities satisfy the formal criteria for successful measurement.  On the other hand, I treat mental (especially perceptual) representations as analogous to measurement outcomes and ask what implications this analogy holds for the epistemology of perception.

A second strand of this project investigates the distinctive features of high precision measurement in physics, especially the measurement of fundamental constants and the efforts of the CODATA Task Group on Fundamental Physical Constants to suggest measurement-based optimal values of the constants for the physics community.  The aim of this project is to establish the distinctive epistemic contributions of high precision measurement and empirically interlocked constants in grounding physical knowledge.  I defend a form of geometrical structural realism, which I call fixed point realism, on the basis of case studies drawn from the history of this research tradition.

Past research interests

Modeling; Decision theory; Game theory; Probability and the foundations of statistics