GEP 397 --Legacy of Prometheus


Objectives: This is a course about Science and Society: how social factors shape the progress of science, and how the findings of science affect public affairs. A major focus is the Construction of Reality: how science teaches us to see the world around us by a certain perspective and thus to see ourselves as creatures of the cosmos. The main aim is to develop a deeper awareness of our own assumptions, to become self-conscious about the way we reason from the findings of science--or why we disregard them. This is not a course about solving particular issues: we shall not decide how to deal with cloning or global warming. It is all about the steps we have to take first, before we can have an informed discussion about such problems. How do we know when the scientist is right? And then how do we decide what to do about it?

As a secondary aim, we summarize some of the basic knowledge that should be standard equipment for educated persons--even the science-challenged (like your instructor). The first readings will examine the biological basis for much of what we think of as personality and culture. The second book follows the evolution of cosmology--the ever-changing story of what the universe is. Then, in the last few weeks of the course, we step back and try to assess the various models or theories on how to deal with hard science--how we make decisions about everything from required courses in college to expert witnesses in court.

Requirements: The required work is largely a matter of working through four books (as time permits), one by a biologist, one by an astronomer, another by a philosopher, and the last by a lawyer. For the first two, you will have Quizzes (or hour-tests) focusing on identification of major figures and events, with discussion or short essay on key topics (all of which will be laid out in quiz-guides). These quizzes should be self-evident to anyone who shows up and pays attention. The Final will take the form of an Essay: you will be asked to assess critically 2 or 3 of the authors whose works we read; compare their views on the same or similar problems; evaluate their reasoning for bias, errors, insight.

Any academic dishonesty will be subject to sanctions as listed in Student Academic Integrity, p.4, proportionate to the value of the work: Cheating on a Quiz brings F for the course. Plagiarism on Final Essay= XF.

The texts are challenging. You need to stay reasonably caught up; come to class and ask about what you don't understand; and as often as possible be prepared to answer the study questions provided. The 2 or 3 best contributors to class discussion, will receive a letter-grade bonus for the course (B --> A).

Class discussion will be particularly important as we assemble what we might call 'rules for civil discourse,' together with a list of common fallacies. If we are to carry on a productive debate on issues of common concern, we must deal respectfully with those who disagree. Recognize that the other guy comes to the problem with a complex set of values, and the first step toward some agreement is to understand her position (or his) as clearly as you can: call this 'the first rule of civil discourse,' not to dismiss out of hand views we don't understand. Add to this, whatever principles we agree upon: what counts for sound reasoning, and what is not. This is not just a matter of reducing our thoughts to logical form (or not necessarily); it involves formulating some of the (often unrecognized) assumptions of 'common knowledge' and popular belief. For instance, we all know that what comes after an event is not necessarily caused by it --just because the rooster crows before sunrise doesn't mean he makes it happen. But often, in casual thinking, we tend to assume that 'what comes after' is a result of 'what went before' (post hoc ergo propter hoc). Put this on the list of fallacies and beware of it.

Required Reading: .....E.O. Wilson, Consilience (Random 1999)... Timothy Ferris, Coming of Age in the Milky Way (Morrow 1988)... J.R. Brown, Who Rules in Science (Harv. 2001)... Peter Huber, Galileo's Revenge (1993)


Aug. 19....	Intro: Creating Reality (Creation Myths )
Aug. 21 ....  	Wilson Ch. 1-2 Ionian Enchantment 
 Questions for Chh.1-3  (Creation Myth  to Early Science) 
Aug. 23 .... Wilson Ch. 3:  Enlightenment
Aug. 26...  The Natural Sciences: Wilson Ch. 4
Aug. 28 ... Ariadne's Thread  : Wilson Ch. 5
Aug. 30-Sept.4 .. The Mind  : Wilson Ch. 6
Sept. 6...From Genes to Culture: Wilson Ch. 7
  .....(study questions for Chh. 7-8)
Sept.  9 ... 	The Fitness of Human Nature: 
Wilson Ch. 8
Sept. 11-13...	The Social Sciences (Wilson 9)
...A footnote on Weber
Sept. 16 ... 	The Arts and Their Interpretation:
 Wilson Ch. 10  Notes Postmodern and Post-Structural
Sept. 18 ...	Ethics and Religion: Wilson  Ch. 11
Sept. 20 ...  Quiz 1: Biology of the Mind 
and 'Coevolution' of Culture
Sept. 23 ... The Ancient Universe: Ferris Chh. 1-2

Sept. 25-27 ... Copernicus & Co. Ferris Chh. 4-5
 (Parallax for the Rest of Us)  
Sept. 30 ... 	Newton (and the World as it Was): 
 Ferris 6.
Oct. 2-4  ... Deep Space and Island Universes: 
Ferris Chh. 8-9   Popper on Kant and Newton
...Nebulae (photo gallery)
Oct.7-9 ...	Einstein's Sky: Ferris Ch. 10

Oct. 11...	The Expansion of the Universe : Ferris 11
Oct 14 ...		The Age of the Earth: Ferris 12, 13
 (Comparative World Cycles)

Oct. 16...	Evolution of Atoms and Stars: Ferris 14
Oct. 18	....	The Quantum and its Discontents
 (Ferris 15)  Quarks on the Loose?

Oct. 21	...	Rumors of Perfection: Ferris 16
Oct. 23	...	The Axis of History,  Ferris Ch. 17  
Layman's First Three Minutes:   timeline for Big Bang

Oct. 25	...	The Origin of the Universe: Ferris Ch. 18
   After the  First  3 Minutes: Death of the Super Collider
Oct. 28	...	Review and Discussion...
Oct. 30	. ..	Quiz 2: 'Remember that you're standing
 on a planet that's evolving...'   Practice Quiz

Nov. 1-4 ... The Science Wars: Brown Chh. 1-2; 
	Sokal's Hoax and Snow's 'Two Cultures'

Nov. 6-8 ... Positivism, Constructivism, etc. 
Brown Chh. 3-4.  A Garland of 'isms' (key terms)
Nov. 11...  Values, etc. Brown Ch. 5 (Chh. 6-7 optional)
Nov. 13 ... Brown Chh. 8-9
Nov. 15... Preliminary discussion for Final and 
Final Essay: 
'How do we as a society determine the validity of 
scientific findings for public affairs?'

Nov. 18--Dec. 4 ... Galileo's Revenge (as time permits)
Nov. 18 ...Chh.1-2, Junk Science and N-rays
Nov. 20 ... Chh.3-4, Traumatic Cancer 
and Sudden Acceleration
Nov. 22 ...  Chh.5-6, Cerebral Palsy and Clinical Ecology
Nov. 25 ...  Chh. 7-8, More birth defects...and Fear
Nov. 26 ...  Chh. 9-10, 'Coupling' and Cause
Dec. 2 ... Chh. 11-12. Huber's Rules; Review terms on Final 
guide section II, plus discussion (III) 5-6.
Dec. 4 ...  Review terms on Final Guide section I, and 
discussion (III) 1-4
....Special hours for Finals Week
Mon. Dec. 9 ... Final Exam or Essay (11am)