HC 241H: The Making and Unmaking of Scientific Theories; a History of Science

Professor: Amy Connolly

4.00 credits

  • CRN 26177: Tuesday & Thursday, 1415-1545 @ REMOTE

You are confident that the sun sets when the earth rotates (even though the sun appears to revolve around us); you can be sure you have a bacterial or viral infection when you are sick (even though they are invisible to the naked eye); and you know that you have evolved over millions of years (even though you were not around to witness it). Explanations of the natural world are not necessarily intuitive and are frequently hidden from plain sight. So how did we arrive at these conclusions? 

While these concepts may seem obvious today, they were not to past thinkers. 

There is a tendency to think of our predecessors, who believed in geo-centrism and astrology, as less sophisticated, yet these intellectuals used tools we value today such as observation, reason and eventually experimentation to craft incredible theories that may or may not have stood the test of time. Atomism, originally posed in ancient times, is accepted today, albeit much revised. While geo-centrism, another ancient theory that was founded on rigorous observation of the night sky, is rejected today.

Who were the people who took, rejected, and reshaped theories of how the world operates? How did these theories settle into truth, and what assumptions were made in the process? How did the scientist’s loyalties to theological, cultural, and political ideologies simultaneously propagate and stagnate the development of new paradigms? In our class we will answer these questions and more by examining key moments in the history of science. We will seek to understand how scientific models like planetary orbits and evolution shifted over time in response to new findings, inventions, and changing ideologies. By understanding our scientific heritage, we can truly internalize that science is not a collection of facts, but a process of discovery.