Perspectives IV, New Scientific Visions
philosophy department
Six credits philosophy, three credits math, three credits physical sciences
OR
Six credits philosophy, six credits physical sciences
The world is ultimately intelligible: all of us, students and scientists alike, assume this, by assuming that it is possible to explain how and why things happen. Yet most people still live with relatively simple assumptions about the natures of things.
This course is a ‘guided tour’ that leads beyond the familiar land of ordinary Newtonian experience, into the strange and mysterious territory of contemporary thinking in science and mathematics. The goal is not merely to introduce students to an understanding of scientific discovery, through several simple yet creative projects.
The first semester begins with the ancient Greek thinkers, who (surprising though it may seem) identified and explored problems in science and mathematics that are well beyond the understanding of even highly educated people today. From there, the course moves to the conceptual revolution that lay behind the seventeenthcentury breakthrough to modern science and the nearly mystical enthusiasm of the time for the explanatory power of mathematical demonstration. After examining the interpretation of human being as a mere, though complex, machine, the course takes up the problems that calculus was invented to solve  and the deeper issues opened up by the very brilliance of this solution. Who would have dreamed that such an amazingly powerful tool could be stumped by the trivial problem of analyzing the motion of a simple guitar string? So it was, however, until another genius arrived with a new solution, the theory of functions.
The second semester takes up the shifts from mechanistic explanation to the more recent view of explanation in terms of functions and relations, and from determinism to randomness and probability. The current understanding of the universe will be examined in relation to the modern concept of energy, the unimaginable and paradoxical results of modern mathematics, quantum theory's continuity with previous developments in the science of heat and energy, and the ‘state of the art’ in contemporary evolutionary biology.
Reading List
First Semester: A New Beginning for Science
Those amazing Greeks:

Aristotle, Physics and On the Parts of Animals

Euclid, Elements (selections)

Appolonius, Conics (selections)
Those amazing Europeans:

Cardan, Ars Magna, “Solution of the Cubic Equations,” and “On Imaginary Roots”

Viete, The Analytic Art

Galileo, The Two New Sciences

Harvey, On Circulation of the Blood

Descartes, Discourse on Method, Meditations, and Geometry (selections)
Humans as machines:

Bacon, The New Organon (selections)

Hobbes, Leviathan (selections)

Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (selections)
Demystifying the calculus:

Newton, Principia Mathematica (selections) and other works

Leibniz, selected writings

Berkeley, The Analyst
Remystifying mathematics:

Essays by Taylor, Daniel and Johann Bernoulli, d’Alembert, and Euler
Second Semester: The Modern Idea of Explanation
Energy, heat, and the new chemistry:

Priestly, Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air

Lavoisier, Elementary Treatise on Chemistry (selections) and other works

Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities

Works of Black, Dalton, Fourier, Mendoza, and Maxwell
The mathematics of the strange:

Dedekind, Essay on the Theory of Numbers (selections)

Cantor, Foundations of a General Theory of Sets

Works of Cauchy and Weierstrass
Relativity and quantum theory:

Planck, On Heat Radiation

Einstein, Relativity: The Special and General Theory

Bohr, On the Constitution of Atoms and Molecules

Lewis, The Atom and the Molecule
The beginnings of evolution:

Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle and The Origin of Species

Kelvin, Physical Considerations Regarding the Possible Age of the Sun’s Heat

Mendel, Experiments in Plant Hybridization
Evolution in crisis:

Tapes of Creationist  Evolutionist debates

Works of Mayr, Crick and Watson, Allayd, Lewontin, and Wright