Emeritus Professor John Bigelow


I have retired from undergraduate teaching and administration as of January 2010, but am still actively supervising and welcome enquiries from potential graduate students.

The Bigger-Low Effect – a farewell speech by Dirk Baltzly.

Academic Background

PhD Cambridge, United Kingdom, 1973
MA Simon Fraser University, Canada, 1970
BA University of Canterbury, New Zealand, 1968

Career Highlights

Lecturer, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
Lecturer/Senior Lecturer/Reader, La Trobe University, Australia
Professor, Monash University
Fellow, Australian Academy of Humanities (elected 1991)
President, Australian Association of Philosophy (1995)

Personal – Bigelow and Hale Family History

As sometimes happens when a person retires, I have felt the responsibility of preserving some of the family history I inherited from my parents. Consequently I have been keying in handwritten reminiscences of my mother and father, Robert Sidney Bigelow and Moyra Frances Hale (Bigelow).

Late in life, in their seventies, in Christchurch, New Zealand, nearing the end of the twentieth-century, my mother and father would sit in their living-room at home each evening, with the television and radio off, Bob reclining in his shiny new LazyBoy and Molly curled up in her familiar old armchair, writing another chapter in the story of their lives. Before going to bed, each would read what the other had written that evening. They were writing primarily for their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who were mostly living in New Zealand and Australia, and they wrote out the stories they wanted to tell them (and each other), more or less in chronological order, keeping approximately in step with each other, from their earliest memories, through World War II, their early married life in Canada, their emigration to New Zealand, and right up to about the end of the twentieth century. When they died, early in the twenty-first century, they left two very tall stacks of sheets of paper, each stack containing over seven or eight hundred handwritten pages, two parallel texts: the story of a rural American boy and an urban London girl, and the paths their lives took through the last three quarters of the twentieth century.


Download a list of recent publications.

Quine, Mereology and inference to the best explanation’, Forthcoming in Logique et Analyse.


Research Interests

Metaphysics; semantics; epistemology; history of science; Platonism

Other Research

I have recently been coming to terms with Barry Taylor’s arguments for antirealism and gave the Barry Taylor Memorial lecture at the University of Melbourne, titled ‘The truth in anti-realism’. A draft copy of the paper is available here.

I have also completed a draft of a paper attempting to show that time travel stories are inconsistent (contrary to what David Lewis argued in “The Paradoxes of Time Travel”).

I have been working for years on something I call “the Platonic Table”. This is a table of numbers that guided the Demiurge during the creation of the heavens and the earth, and during the creation of both the souls and the bodies of both the gods and mortal animals – according to Plato’s Timaeus.

I entertain the conjecture that this same table of numbers may have guided some of the creative works of a handful of artists who have imitated the Demiurge, and have taken guidance from the very same pattern of numbers in their attempts to create fictional worlds that “hold a mirror up to nature”. I include a book manuscript on the subject, Plato’s Intelligent Design.

I have also worked with my colleague Sam Butchart on Simpson’s Paradox and the evolution of laziness, inefficiency, irrationality and altruism.

Imagine there to be heritable behaviour patterns that harm your own chances of survival and reproduction, but thereby indirectly benefit your neighbours. For instance, your own inefficiency in finding food might ensure that you always leave more resources for your neighbours. Or, you might regularly trust your neighbours in games of Prisoner’s Dilemma, even though your neighbours regularly double cross you and benefit at your expense.

I predicted that Simpson’s Paradox would furnish a mechanism by which behaviour patterns of that kind could survive indefinitely within a population, even if that population also contained individuals who were ruthlessly and efficiently selfish in pursuing their own survival and reproductive interests.

My colleage at Monash, Sam Butchart, wrote two extraordinarily neat programs that tested and confirmed my predictions. (See Sam’s webpage for links to the programs.)

One program represents a game of “Sharks and Suckers”: this demonstrates that a sub-population of “suckers” can survive indefinitely in a population of “sharks”.

The other program represents a game of “Rats and Lemmings”. This game includes a sub-population of “lemmings”, who regularly “trust” their neighbours in games of Prisoner’s Dilemma; and another sub-population of “rats”, who regularly “double-cross” their neighbours in those same games, and benefit at their neighbours’ expense. This second game demonstrates that a sub-population of “lemmings” can survive indefinitely in a population of “rats”.

Some of the background to these games is found in the entry on Simpson’s Paradox in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Further background is found in this unpublished paper.