:HIST/HUM/PHYS 361: Science and Culture What is this course about anyways? Einstein the Cynic claims: "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school."
Thematic divisions-nic • In the first segment we focus on the development / emergence of science and scientific inquiry into nature as a discipline distinct from religion, magic and theology. • In the second segment the focus is on the development of physical models of nature and how instruments [e.g., the telescope] facilitate the practice of scientific inquiry. In this phase science has little direct impact on daily life. • In the third segment attention turns to relationship between humans, science, and the environment. Applied Science (industrialization, engineering, technology) emerges. Science and technology directly affect daily life.
In scientific inquiry skepticism and humility are pervasive: ‘reality and clarity are not possible at the same time’and ‘opposites are complementary’. “the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth” Niels Bohr [nic] • That is, one cannot have both clarity and reality at the same time; and opposites may both be ‘true’. • Nonetheless, in the popular imagination we want to believe that we can have both clarity and reality. Why? • To have both provides a kind of security? Something humans crave? • That is, cultural expectations / aspirations / hopes often get in the way of determining reality = Bias. • So too is the determination of ‘reality’ handicapped by incomplete data, instrument failure, etc.
Questions I [nic] • Both science and religion deal with ‘nature’. What is the difference? • How does culture affect / encourage / discourage scientific discovery? • How does scientific discovery / knowledge affect culture? How are these connected? and what are the limitations to this kind of feedback? • Do humans use science to justify political, social, cultural policies? • How does society cope with scientific ideas that appear to be counter-intuitive? Or are at odds with cultural values? • Is there a difference between science and technology? And should society promote one over the other?
Questions II [gb and nic] • Why should society support science? • What is the economic price of knowledge acquisition? Esp. when there is no immediate commercial value? If the price is perceived to be “too high” when compared with other social / cultural needs, what then? • How does science // engineering affect cultural change? Can that change be measured and explained? • What is the “Truth” and who is its “gatekeeper”? • What happens when scientific “Truth” [and/or scientific consensus about what is true] is unacceptable to the masses?
Questions III [nic] • What is the connection between Science and Religion? What do they have in common? • Is science a system of belief? • Is religion a science? • Consider these words: "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.” • What does it mean when we claim to find order in nature? Does order suggest an “Orderer”? • Is nature really ordered or are we forcing it to appear that way so that we can explain it ? If there is no “order” can there be any science? • Are humans part of nature? Or different in some fundamental way different from other species?
Sub Texts [gb] Issues that will permeate the course… • Cooperation versus Competition as the means to achieve the ‘more perfect’ and / or ideal state/government • Why do we so easily treat nature as a consumable? Nature would seem to have no spiritual value but is just a machine. • Are humans really separate and distinct from nature?
More Sub Texts [nic&gb] • Why do we require certainty in order to make decisions? • Can we trust our senses? How can we ‘be sure’? • How do reason and experience interact? Is rationalism superior to empiricism? Or the latter superior to the former? • Has anything really changed for 10,000 years in terms of human behavior and human/institutional structures? • Has science ever impacted the way in which society functions? • What does it mean to be ‘enlightened’?
On the role of science in the world order [nic] • Many religions claim to have a redeemer who can lead the chosen and enlightened people to a better world. • Some believe that “Science” can play this role, namely that those “enlightened” by science can lead us to a better world. What do you think?
Max Planck [nic&gb] “We have no right to assume that any physical laws exist, or if they have existed up to now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future.” Whatever can he mean? And what are the implications?