Winter 2019 HC 209H: From Truth to Absurdity and Back; A History of Science

Winter Term, 2018-2019

Professor: Amy Connolly

4.00 credits

CRN 26796: Tuesday & Thursday, 16:00 – 17:20 @ CHA 201

You are confident that 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). Our scientific knowledge of today is well tested, but not necessarily intuitive and would have been contrary to every-day evidence for past thinkers. Though we often think of our predecessors as less sophisticated, our history is full of individuals who used observation, reason and experiments to describe the world around them. Ptolemy charted the stars extensively and concluded the earth stood still, the philosopher Democritus used reasoning to pose the theory that everything is made of atoms, and Aristotle described embryo development in chickens.

When we look back on past rejected scientific ideas, it begs the question “which of our theories today will be disproven? This class will explore the philosophy of science by looking at its history. We will look at how science develops a paradigm by examining the data and logic used to support outdated models, such as the earth-centric universe. We will look at how the political climate and religious atmosphere frames a scientist’s way of thinking. We will examine how society reacted when new alternative theories were posed. Finally, we will look at our present-day dogmas and scientific truths and discuss what the future holds for them.