Great Scientific Ideas That Changed the World

Course No. 1120
Professor Steven L. Goldman, Ph.D.
Lehigh University
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Course Overview

Why has science so dramatically altered how we live and how we think about ourselves? What is the greatest scientific idea of all time? According to Professor Steven L. Goldman, one is tempted to speak of scientific discoveries as the source of science's power to be a driver of social change—that scientists have been discovering new truths about nature, and that the change follows from that. But I argue that it is scientific ideas that are responsible for this change. Ideas are the source of science's power—not discoveries."

And what is the greatest scientific idea of all? For Professor Goldman, that is surely the very idea of science, for as he puts it, "The idea of science itself is an idea that had to be invented."

In Great Scientific Ideas That Changed the World, you will explore ideas that—when society has been willing to pursue them—have helped form the foundation of modern life. You'll interpret the term "scientific idea" broadly, so as to include ideas that made science possible at all, as well as ideas that make science immensely powerful.

You will discover there is no sharp distinction between ideas that are classified as scientific and those that are classified as philosophical or mathematical, or even between scientific ideas and political, religious, or aesthetic ideas. Alfred North Whitehead, for example, famously linked the emergence of modern science in the Christian West to the belief in a single, law-observing Creator of the universe.

The New Dot-Com World

New ideas affect society in unpredictable ways. A perfect example is the evolution of the Internet from a modest U.S. Department of Defense-funded computer network project to a global technology that has transformed commerce, industry, politics, warfare, communication, education, entertainment, and research. We are still unfolding the unexpected and sometimes disturbing consequences of a few innovative ideas that enable computers in different locations to share information in real time, ideas that underlie the Internet's astonishing capabilities.

What we do know is that science has changed our lives—but how it does so, and why it is able to do so, tells us as much about ourselves as it does about science.

Moreover, as unpredictable as science may be, Professor Goldman argues that for 200 years now the interaction of science and technology with society has been the primary driver of social and cultural change, first in the West, then globally, and at an accelerating rate. During this period, social and personal values and relationships; social, political, and economic institutions; and cultural values and activities have changed and continue to change almost beyond anything our great-grandparents (or sometimes even parents) would recognize. What has transformed entire ways of life that had previously been entrenched for centuries or millennia?

There are objects, of course—the telephone, automobile, airplane, television, computer—that appear to be causes of social change. But identifying these artifacts does not reach down to the causes of innovation itself, nor does it expose those features of the sociocultural infrastructure that enable innovations to become causes of social change. Artifacts, in spite of their high visibility, are symptoms of causes at work; they are not themselves causes.

Learn How Society Affects Ideas

It is not only television, the automobile, or the Internet that have changed society. Instead, forces at work in society have caused television and automobiles and the Internet to take on the changing forms they take. One of these forces is ideas—new scientific ideas, originating in the past and subsequently internalized by society. These ideas have shaped both our social and cultural affairs and the lines along which society is most open to change.

For instance, the notion that there are laws of nature seems to reflect a political idea. There can be no doubt that mathematical and aesthetic ideas were central to the 17th-century Scientific Revolution. Furthermore, distinguishing science and technology is fuzzy, too—especially since the late 19th century, when scientific knowledge and technological innovation began to be coupled systematically in industrial, academic, and government research laboratories.

Each of Professor Goldman's 36 lectures highlights in a provocative way a single idea or development critical to the development of science in the West. The lectures are broadly chronological, beginning with prescientific know-how and the invention of writing, and advancing through modern times all the way to the development of chaos theory. In each lecture, Professor Goldman looks at not only the content of an idea that is fundamental for science, but also how that idea arose and what its impact has been throughout the centuries.

In the first third of the course, Professor Goldman engages in a sort of "reverse engineering" of what we mean by science today, identifying the origins of features that now seem essential for the existence of modern science.

Lecture 1 begins by looking back at the already impressive prescientific skills and know-how humans had achieved by the 4th century B.C.E., and Lecture 2 discusses the invention of writing and the spread of writing systems and texts from 3500 B.C.E. to the beginning of Classical antiquity.

Who Invented Ideas?

The invention of writing may not seem a scientific idea at all. Yet there is a profound assumption underlying the invention of writing, whose controversial implications are reflected in Socrates's argument against writing, as recounted in Plato's dialogue Phaedrus. Writing is also a technology and serves as a shining example of how technologies embody ideas, even though we tend to ignore the ideas when our attention dwells only on what the technologies do, how they do it, or what the consequences have been.

Between 500 B.C.E. and 300 B.C.E., Greek philosophers developed highly specific concepts of knowledge, reason, truth, nature, mathematics, logic, knowledge of nature, and the use of mathematics to describe nature—all in ways that continue to inform the practice of science to the present day. Lectures 3–5 are devoted to these ideas and their legacies.

Lecture 6 discusses the first appearance in Western history, perhaps in world history, of the idea of techno-science—technology derived from theoretical knowledge rather than from practical know-how. This was largely a Greek idea that was applied in the context of the rising Roman Empire, and the lecture describes selected Roman-era technologies that influenced modern science and engineering.

Lectures 7–11 explore a set of interrelated developments that together constitute a bridge between the ancient and early modern eras:

  • The idea of the university and its role as a progenitor of modern science
  • Medieval machinery and Europe's first Industrial Revolution
  • The Renaissance ideas of progress, the printed book, and mathematics as the language of nature.

All of these ideas are fundamental for science as we know it, and they are also fundamental for the rise of engineering and technological innovation.

Lecture 12 discusses Copernicus's idea of a moving Earth, the cultural consequences of that idea, and its subsequent evolution into an astronomical theory. Copernicus himself was wrong about a great deal—for example, planets move in orbits that are elliptical, not circular—but his idea helped clear the way for the foundational ideas of modern science that you'll explore in Lectures 13–17. Among these are the idea of method, mathematical ideas such as algebra and calculus, ideas of conservation and symmetry, the creation of instruments that extend the mind and not only our senses. All together, these ideas created a new conception of knowledge of nature.

Lectures 18–28 explore 19th-century scientific ideas of immense social, cultural, intellectual, as well as scientific, influence:

  • Time is an active dimension of reality and not merely a passive measure of change.
  • A chemical atom is an expression of a generic idea of fundamental units with fixed properties out of which nature is composed.
  • The cell theory of life, the germ theory of disease, and the gene theory of inheritance, can all been seen as conceptually allied to the atom idea—to the powerful notion that natural phenomena can be analyzed in terms of fundamental building blocks.
  • Energy, immaterial force fields, and relationships offer a contrasting, yet equally powerful, conception of processes as the most elementary features of nature.
  • Science can be allied systematically with technology—knowing with doing—to synthesize a new world.
  • Evolution epitomizes a process-oriented approach to science and can be extended from biology to scientific thinking generally.
  • Natural phenomena have a fundamentally probabilistic and statistical character.
  • New social institutions can play a pivotal role in science's ability to transform the world.

Lectures 29–35 discuss increasingly sophisticated scientific ideas of the 20th century, including relativity, quantum theory, the expanding universe, computer science, information theory, molecular biology; as well as the idea of systems, especially chaotic systems and self-organizing systems, plus the related ideas of ecology.

Lecture 36 concludes by reviewing today's ideas about science and technology in upcoming fields such as cognitive neuroscience, bio- and nanotechnology, and physicists' search for a Theory of Everything, and considers ideas, and their likely roles as motivators of future change.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Knowledge, Know-How, and Social Change
    Scientific discoveries require scientific ideas. Scientific ideas primarily act on society through technology, but they also change our sense of who we are and of what the world is. Modern science is a uniquely Western cultural phenomenon, and the combination of abstract scientific knowledge with practical know-how in the 19th century made possible "techno-science," which has remained a relentless driver of social change ever since. x
  • 2
    Writing Makes Science Possible
    Writing is a core commitment of science because scientific knowledge is an abstraction—not embodied in concrete things or processes. Cultures without writing may be quite sophisticated in other ways, and cultures can be highly literate without developing an idea of science. x
  • 3
    Inventing Reason and Knowledge
    The idea of knowledge had to be invented. Plato and Aristotle defined knowledge as something universal, not linked to probabilities or context. For them, knowledge was timeless, universal, necessary, and certain, and their paradigm was deductive logical reasoning, as in geometry. x
  • 4
    The Birth of Natural Science
    Plato believed that true reality was form, which exists separately from matter. Aristotle broke decisively with Plato by declaring there is only one reality, which is nature, and that all natural phenomena are to be explained within the framework of nature. Parmenides posited that reality was manifested in changeless things, while Heraclitus said reality was change or process—and the tension between these two approaches continues to this day. x
  • 5
    Mathematics as the Order of Nature
    Pythagoras proposed a mathematical order underlying nature, and mathematics could be used to describe natural phenomena. Although Aristotle generally dismissed the value of mathematics for the study of nature, Archimedes and others followed the example of Pythagoras. x
  • 6
    The Birth of Techno-Science
    In the 1st century B.C.E., the Roman architect Vitruvius wrote about the fruitful combination of abstract knowledge with practical know-how. Today we would call a person who combines both an engineer. Vitruvius did not originate this idea, but Roman society from his time forward experienced the first heyday of machines whose invention depended on mathematical knowledge. x
  • 7
    Universities Relaunch the Idea of Knowledge
    In the 12th century, social pressure to make life better and to explore knowledge spawned universities across Europe. From the 12th through the 16th centuries, universities revived and extended Classical and Islamic learning in mathematics, philosophy, medicine, and science. x
  • 8
    The Medieval Revolution in Know-How
    Parallel with the rise of universities was an explosion of technical skills supporting the development of water mills, sawmills, blast furnaces, and the like. The most famous gear-related invention of the age was the weight-driven mechanical clock. Improved sailing and navigation technologies supported increased trade. Banks and corporations were established. x
  • 9
    Progress Enters into History
    The notion of progress did not begin with technology but with Petrarch and a concern about language. Humanist schol­ars developed scholarly techniques for re­con­structing Classical texts then sought to surpass Classical learning. The Humanist idea of progress paved the way for the idea of social reform based on scientific reason. x
  • 10
    The Printed Book—Gutenberg to Galileo
    Printing of texts and movable type were old technologies when Gutenberg introduced the latter to Europe. Unlike China and the Middle East, the West embraced metallic movable type and became "print drunk." The response triggered the creation of a vast sociotechnic system to supply, produce, and distribute texts. Institutions were created to protect and reward producers and increase literacy, promoting further increases in text production and distribution. x
  • 11
    Renaissance Painting and Techno-Science
    The technique of perspective used by Renaissance painters made visual the notion that "reality" is structured by mathematics. The rebirth of techno-science depended largely on their work, with further contributions by Renaissance mapmaking, instrument tuning (musical theory), and books illustrating the design of machines. x
  • 12
    Copernicus Moves the Earth
    Pythagoreans claimed that astronomical bodies were spheres, their orbits circles, and their motion constant because they were perfect. Copernicus replaced Ptolemy's Earth-centered model with a Sun-centered model, but it remained for his followers to make the planetary orbits elliptical, rather than circular, and posit an infinite universe. x
  • 13
    The Birth of Modern Science
    Bringing together all of the ideas discussed to this point was the 17th century's idea of modern science. A new emphasis on scientific method was a critical factor in pulling everything together, though founding figures of this period such as René Descartes and Francis Bacon championed radically different methods. x
  • 14
    Algebra, Calculus, and Probability
    During the 16th and 17th centuries, mathematics in the West took a remarkable turn. It moved from geometry, which the ancient Greeks had favored, to embrace algebra—which was as momentous as the transition from Ptolemaic astronomy to Copernican astronomy. Calculus provided an unprecedented tool for knowledge about change, and the mathematics of probability opened the way for knowledge about uncertainty. x
  • 15
    Conservation and Symmetry
    Experience suggests that nature is orderly and lawful; if so, then something has to be conserved. From this notion slowly developed the ideas of conservation of momentum, matter, and energy; Einstein's idea that matter and energy are jointly conserved; and the use of mathematical invariances to understand deep symmetries in nature. x
  • 16
    Instruments as Extensions of the Mind
    Galileo saw what he described as moons around Jupiter in the 17th century, but his description could not be verified independently for many years. If a scientific instrument gives a result that cannot be verified independently, then the result is really an extension of the mind rather than of the senses. This is no less true today: particle accelerators, for example, provide mountains of mathematical data that require interpretation. x
  • 17
    Time, Change, and Novelty
    An idea becomes a scientific idea when it functions in the context of a scientific explanation. The idea of time is an excellent example. If, as Plato claimed, both real knowledge and ultimate reality are timeless, then time is insignificant. However, by the 18th century, the idea of time was increasingly regarded as the dimension containing hope for an improvement in the human condition. This, in turn, prefigured 19th-century scientific ideas of time as both irreversible and significant. x
  • 18
    The Atomic Theory of Matter
    The theory of the atom began as an extension of Parmenides's view of reality as ultimately changeless. John Dalton in the early 19th century used a theory of changeless atoms in his examination of chemical reactions, and atomism gained prominence thereafter even as the atom was discovered to be mainly empty space and composed of parts, each with distinct properties. x
  • 19
    The Cell Theory of Life
    What is life? An 18th-century debate pitting mechanism against vitalism was resolved, literally, when new microscopes of the early 19th century were used to proclaim in the late 1830s that cells were the building blocks of all living things. The view that cells were the "atoms" of life, in turn, provoked a search for what within the cell is the essence of life. x
  • 20
    The Germ Theory of Disease
    The germ theory of disease is another instance of the atomistic style of thinking and the cornerstone of modern scientific medicine. The notion of disease caused by imbalances within the body was undermined when Pasteur and Koch showed how illness comes from the outside, an idea dating back to Hippocrates and the notion of miasmas. Resistance to the germ theory was understandable; some people had germs in their bodies but not the disease. x
  • 21
    The Gene Theory of Inheritance
    Gregor Mendel was trying to confirm a theory about evolution when his experiments with pea plants led him to realize that inheritance was owed to discrete units. Yet gene theory rests less on Mendel's work than on experiments with fruit flies showing that x-rays could alter parts of chromosomes. If x-rays could do that, then genes must be real. x
  • 22
    Energy Challenges Matter
    In the 19th century, with the rise of the science of thermodynamics, energy assumed a parallel reality to matter. Like matter, energy was seen to take many forms but was conserved. Unlike matter, the idea of energy quickly stimulated process theories in which patterns and relationships were real. x
  • 23
    Fields—The Immaterial Becomes Real
    Faraday's introduction of fields as elements of physical reality in the 19th century was a giant step for modern science. But the difficulty of formulating a plausible physical mechanism for how fields work led to Maxwell's equations of electrodynamics—and a view of scientific theories as capturing our experience of a process, rather than a final truth about objects. x
  • 24
    Relationships Become Physical
    Beginning in 1837, a few chemists came to believe that understanding a molecule required knowing not only what atoms the molecule had, but also the spatial relationships among those atoms. Pasteur relied on this insight; it forms one of the cornerstones of organic chemistry. The recognition of relationships as real also appeared in other 19th-century disciplines including symbolic logic, mathematics, and social science. x
  • 25
    Evolution as Process Science
    Evolution has proven to be a cross-disciplinary idea, bringing contingency into scientific explanation and showing how novelty can emerge. Evolution also entails making time, which moves in one direction only, a fundamental feature of reality. x
  • 26
    Statistical Laws Challenge Determinism
    Modern science was founded on determinism, but determinism was undermined by the recognition of probability in nature and by the claim that certain processes obeyed statistical laws. The kinetic theory of gases, thermodynamics, and radioactivity all showed that statistical laws had a place in scientific theory. This had far-reaching implications: If nature is probabilistic, then so, too, are theories and laws of nature. x
  • 27
    Techno-Science Comes of Age
    A qualitative divide separates important 18th-century innovations in textiles, iron, and steam power from such 19th- and 20th-century innovations as electric power, plastics, and radio: The latter were made possible by science-informed engineering. Successful innovations became increasingly dependent on scientific knowledge and formally trained engineering—as well as supportive business acumen. x
  • 28
    Institutions Empower Innovation
    Moving beyond improved versions of what already existed, such as water power, innovations increasingly appeared that could never have existed without scientific knowledge. Western societies accelerated this development by creating institutions explicitly designed to promote science-based innovation, including widespread engineering education, new ways of organizing companies, and supportive government policies. x
  • 29
    The Quantum Revolution
    Quantum physics is the most revolutionary of 20th-century theories, and it is the most predictively successful physical theory ever. But it is still controversial as well as inconsistent with the general theory of relativity. Quantum mechanics imputes randomness, probability, and uncertainty to elementary physical processes. It redefines causality, space, time, matter, energy, the nature of scientific law and explanation, and the relationship between mind and world. x
  • 30
    Relativity Redefines Space and Time
    Einstein's special theory of relativity forced a reconceptualization of Newtonian space and time, and proclaimed that matter and energy could be converted into one another. The general theory even redefined physical reality at the cosmological level. The properties of space and time are determined by the distribution of matter and energy; space and time are really names of relationships, not separate in their own right. x
  • 31
    Reconceiving the Universe, Again
    In the 1920s, the scale of the universe changed dramatically with the discovery of thousands of galaxies beyond our Milky Way and the expansion of the universe. By 1963, the expanding universe was explained with a "big bang," and by 1980, an explanation of the big bang led to the proposal that the universe was unimaginably more vast than anything we could detect. x
  • 32
    The Idea behind the Computer
    Alan Turing conceived of a machine that could solve any problem whose solution could be specified by a finite decision procedure, or algorithm. Turing recognized that increasingly powerful calculators could be reconceived as generalized problem-solving machines, even artificially intelligent machines. The computer went from being a calculator to a universal simulator. x
  • 33
    Three Faces of Information
    Information is organized data, the content in which we are all awash. But information as conceived in Claude Shannon's mathematical theory of information is independent of content, an idea at the foundation of powerful information technologies that continue to change the world. Moreover, DNA and the new view of black holes as information structures, suggest, almost like something out of science fiction, that information seems to be physically real. x
  • 34
    Systems, Chaos, and Self-Organization
    Atomistic thinking faces challenges from three closely related ideas from the 20th century: Phenomena are produced by systems; "chaotic" real-world systems are in fact orderly; and some systems are self-organizing. These systems display properties that aren't apparent in the properties of their individual constituents. That is, the wholes are more than the sums of their parts. x
  • 35
    Life as Molecules in Action
    The molecular theory of life says that life can be fully explained in terms of molecules in action, using the concepts and the tools of physics and chemistry. The discovery that DNA molecules defined every life form on Earth sealed this shift. By the 1980s, the molecular theory of life was transforming medicine as well as the meaning of life. x
  • 36
    Great Ideas, Past and Future
    Which scientific ideas will transform 21st-century life? Self-organization is fundamental to the emerging nanotechnology industry. Molecular biology and cognitive neuroscience continue their naturalization of human consciousness. Quantum chemistry makes possible molecular psychiatry and even molecular sociology. String theory controversially promises to unify the forces of nature into a comprehensive theory of everything. x

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Your professor

Steven L. Goldman

About Your Professor

Steven L. Goldman, Ph.D.
Lehigh University
Dr. Steven L. Goldman is the Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Lehigh University, where he has taught for 30 years. He earned his B.S. in Physics at the Polytechnic University of New York and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from Boston University. Before taking his position at Lehigh, Professor Goldman taught at The Pennsylvania State University, where he was a cofounder of one of the first...
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Reviews

Great Scientific Ideas That Changed the World is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 86.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Renaissance, Reformation, and the Rise of Natuins This course brings this important period to life with fresh insights.
Date published: 2018-10-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from How to Become a Great Conversationalist I now have at least 50 titles from The Great Courses. Some have helped my daughter prepare for Chemistry and Math, but mostly I have enjoyed learning so many details of interest in so many different subjects. It is hard to begin to describe how I find myself knowing more than most about so many different subjects, which makes for very interesting conversation. I also think it is a healthy challenge to continue to learn, which is good for good aging brain.
Date published: 2018-09-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Prof. Goldman's presentation style/manner is totally distracting from his content. He moves incessantly -- all over the place -- and doesn't pay attention to which camera is live. I had to stop watching shortly into the third lecture. I just COULDN'T STAND IT!!
Date published: 2018-08-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from poor presentation, wrong info, limited graphics Review of Great Scientific Ideas That Changed the World Steven Goldman Many problems: 1. Very poor presentations 2. Too slow 3. Does not know some of his topics 4. Limited graphics 5. Mixes xx century & 1x00’s so have to pause & try to get the correct time, etc. 6. Published in 2007, now in 2018 way out of date in many areas. The presentations are very bad – he constantly moves back & forth, with camera trying to follow him – very distracting. He rarely finishes a sentence, instead just short bursts of phrases. Way too many uh’s & um’s etc. Chapter 26 on statistical laws does not mention Heisenberg’s uncertainty rule. No mention of Rutherford’s 16 inch shell bouncing back at him, etc. Chapter 11 – “Renaissance artists contributed to the idea of techno-science”?? pretty far-fetched, not explained on what he meant. Chapter 19 cell theory mentions Lamarck, but does not mention the main reason we know of him was the idea of environment changing the genes. Very superficial thots on “what is life” & how it might have come about. Chapter 30 – relativity – space & time – very poor, limited view of the major concepts . Not sure that he really understands the current view of time, no useful examples. Chapter 32 – computers. As an old computer guy, PhD UCLA, & using computers since 1958, he clearly does not know what he is talking about. Implies that not much difference in micro circuits in a phone & a computer !! Very bad misunderstanding. Writing about the history many problems does not mention the “Bombe” in England & Turing’s influence on breaking the Nazi military codes. Not understand Zuse’s limited roll. Not mention the “ABC” computer as such & it’s impact. Confuses algorithm with computer & no mention of the computer Program. He does not seem to know what a computer program is. Ignores Binary arithmetic & Boolean algebra. Is wrong with saying that Moore’s law doubling every year, it was every 18 months. No mention of Neumann’s very important idea of stored program. The very poor coverage of a topic that has been my life’s work, makes me wonder about most of the topics covered, all are now suspect for accuracy, completeness, historical accuracy etc. This one is going back
Date published: 2018-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Scientific ideas that changed the world As a former science teacher I wish I had had access to this information to consider and pass on. I am grateful as an eighty year old retiree to be able to appreciate and rethink the many ideas professor Goldman presents.
Date published: 2018-05-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Confusing This course, so far, has been one of the worst purchased by me. The professor found it incapable of standing in one place and was bouncing from side to side, making this an incredible distraction. I distraction, I suppose, was to take your mind away from the course material. At times he sounded like he was babbling. I've taken many courses and this is truly the first one that I would give a negative review to. I suffered through 26 of the lectures before I finally gave up.
Date published: 2018-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from OUTSTANDING! Steven L Goldman is the most entertaining lecturer that I have heard! I another one of his courses and it is magnificent also. So informative with insights that just flow. He rolls along in a seamless story of connected events. Hard to turn it off! This truly is a Great course.
Date published: 2017-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fourth Time Through! What a voice! I mention this, having gotten selected the audio format. It's a terrific bargain on sale and I didn't feel at all deprived of images. Dr. Goldman does a fantastic job just by speaking. Honestly, his voice is mesmerizing. I'm sure he could have made a fortune with it in advertising. Of course we expect our Great Courses lecturer's to have superb knowledge, especially when they've been selected for three such courses. This is delivered by in great abundance, enough to warrant listening again and again. I've completed this course four times (allowing several months between, while I attend my other Great Courses). I always seem to learn something more the next time through. I've repeatedly enjoyed all three of his courses: 20th Century Science #1220, Scientific Ideas #1120 and Science Wars #1235. Though he's now "professor emeritus" at Lehigh U., I'm hoping Dr. Goldman gives us at least one more Great Course. Perhaps, "Science, Information & the Entrepreneur"? I can hardly wait!
Date published: 2017-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great teacher! Dr. Steven Goldman is one of the top three teachers in the Teaching Company. Funny and extremely interesting with a topic that, I initially thought, I would find somewhat boring.
Date published: 2017-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought it after watching it free from library. I wanted to be sure my grandchildren could access it some day and that it would be easily available. I will view it again myself.
Date published: 2017-04-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from All philosophical hand wringing I've really been disappointed in this one. I expected a discussion of the seminal concepts of science, but got mostly a meandering discussion of the theories of scientific knowledge. The lecture on algebra didn't show one equation. There was no illustration of the replacement of geometry with algebra as the mechanism for proof. The discussion of instruments only briefly showed a couple of basic instruments--not how they worked--but spent all the time talking about how the instruments were extensions of the mind rather than extensions of the senses. I think that most people buying this course would be surprised to find that instead of getting a detailed look at the science behind the most important ideas and how they changed the world, they got a very lengthy discussion of the philosophy of the scientific knowledge behind those ideas. There was very little reason to take this course in video, since there were very few illustrations, and they weren't all that relevant.
Date published: 2017-03-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Endure to the end; it is worth it! I thought that I would take just a few moments to share my personal thoughts on Professor Steven L Goldman's 36 lecture course, Great Scientific Ideas that Changed the World. Overall, I found the course content to be excellent. I found the presentation to be good. It is critical to watch all 36 lectures in order to really understand the final conclusion that Professor Goldman draws. It is hard to get a sense of the point of this lecture series without watching all of the lectures (or at least most of them). The lectures do build in a way that supports the final conclusion. The first 6 lectures did not really engage me particularly well. However, they provide the building blocks for so much of the material covered in the latter 30 lectures and Professor Goldman refers back to those early topics FREQUENTLY throughout this series. Advancing beyond lecture 6, my interest level and enjoyment of this course increased significantly. By the end of the course, I had concluded that this was a rich and worthwhile experience. Also, you must go into this course understanding that it's focus is on great scientific "IDEAS" that changed the world. The focus here is not on the people, the experiments, the technology, etc., rather it is a focus on the 'ideas themselves' that led to the experiments and technological achievements, etc. There is a very strong argument for the power of the mind and thought experiments, throughout this lecture series. It would not be unfair to think of this course as Philosophy meets history of science. If you can keep those two points in mind, going into this lecture series, you can take a lot away from this course. I found it very worth my time. The majority of criticisms that I read, in reviews, came from people who either did not finish the course or who went into the course with expecting it to be more about the tangible historical events of science and not the 'ideas' that led to these events. One other frequent complaint had to do with Professor Goldman's hyperkinesis. This may be a legitimate complaint for viewers watching the video (unimportant for audio streaming). Professor Goldman has a LOT of enery! He does move around a lot and gesticulates, when speaking. The tight camera shots (upper body only) seemed to accentuate these movements and I wonder if a wider camera angle may have mitigated against some of this rapid camera movement (trying to keep pace with the good professor). My mannerisms are similar to the professor's and I tolerated it just fine throughout the lecture series. Be aware that Professor Goldman does have a lot of energy and is not one to stand still. The phenomenal number of names, dates and places that Professor Goldman appears to pull out of memory, is impressive! Some found this information overwhelming, but I was in awe of his memory (Yes, there are teleprompters but he appeared to use paper notes instead). This lecture series had very limited extra visual content and should work very well in an audio only format. I was unsure if I was going to like this course when watching the first few lectures. By the end of the lecture series, I found that I really enjoyed the course (overall) and can recommend it to anyone with an interest in philosophy, science or history (provided you take into consideration the caveats that I mentioned above).
Date published: 2017-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Classic GC Master Course As much as I'm enjoying some of the superbly produced and illustrated new offerings from the Great Courses like the Paleontology course that I'm currently watching or Dr. Ressler's Everyday Engineering, there is something to be said for going back through the catalogue to find one of the true classics. This is a course that hearkens back to days of going to a classroom to be awed by the knowledge of one man with no PowerPoint or even a microphone. Just a man sharing a lifetime's worth of knowledge on a subject that he has studied so long and so deeply you feel that he was actually there. Yes he bounces about, yes wants he has so much to say that the words sometimes come out in torrents and then a fumbling pause and yes he occasionally makes an error. If that defines a poor teacher in your mind than avoid this course. If what makes a good teacher in your mind is absolute command of a subject, a desire, make that a passion, to engage the minds of students and a challenge to rethink the science of the modern world through the prism of ideas, then this is the course for you.
Date published: 2017-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant Professor Goldman is quite simply brilliant. His comprehension of the overall picture of importance of these scientific events placed in proper perspective makes him a true joy to listen to, and the overall level of knowledge one gains from this course cannot be overstated. It led me purchasing his other 2 courses and then wishing for more from him. Wonderfull.
Date published: 2016-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Audio Review - Excellent Presentation Dr Goldman is probably my favorite presenter from the great courses. He like most of the presenters does an excellent job. I think the ability of the professor to keep things engaging, interesting and relevant is far more important than the actual content or topic of the course. Dr Goldman does not read his lectures; he presents them as if you were setting in his class. By doing so, he repeats things of importance, he provides definitions and etymology of words, he provides side notes and comments of the people he is discussing, he brings up questions and answers, and overall he brings the ideas, the topic’s and the people to life. He also sometimes stumbles over words and uses umm, all of which I don’t mind, since I would rather hear a presentation than listen to someone reading a script. This course is exactly what the title and description says it is. It is also a great summary of the major works and people involved over the past 300 years of science. Most notability in the areas of astronomy, physics, mathematics and biology. If you are not familiar with some of these ideas or people, I would recommend you start with another course such as the Joy of Science, since the variety of topics might not get detailed enough to provide proper understanding. However, this course is a perfect complement to tying many of the great ideas of science that have happened over the past years all together. It also provides a rich understanding on how science and the scientific method developed and changed over the year. Moreover, Dr Goldman is always pointing out, with a variety of examples, that what we know today may be proven completely wrong down the road. That is a sobering fact and one that many lecturers never bring up.
Date published: 2016-03-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good content, undisciplined delivery This course delivers what it promises: an intellectual history of science from ancient times to the present. Its main strength is Goldman's extraordinary breadth of knowledge, and his success in keeping the presentation focused on how changes at the level of ideas and theory shaped subsequent technological developments. Its big weakness is Goldman's undisciplined delivery. He clearly knows his material, but he should have prepared and rehearsed these lectures more carefully. He rushes along pell-mell, with frequent changes of thought mid-sentence, endless chains of subordinate clauses, and interjection of superfluous and unhelpful details and factoids that seem intended more to show off his own erudition than to help the student understand what he's saying. This course is well worth buying and listening to if you are interested in the intellectual history of science, but buyers should be warned that the lectures are challenging and will require careful attention, especially given Goldman's self-focused approach and apparent lack of concern for helping us follow him and understand what he's talking about.
Date published: 2015-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a course and you'll have to work for it... This is Pynchon, not J.K. Rowling. Not to disparage Harry Potter, but if you're looking for a cirriculum that affords passive engagement, heed the gripes about Goldman's discursive approach and move along. The lecturer is presenting an extremely complex, interdependent complex of ideas centered on the concept that ideas themselves are the instigating force of human progress. Taking the lectures within the context of that foundational thesis is the only appropriate way to work through them, and you absolutely will have to put in effort in order to get through and come out of it with anything of value. This course assumes that you'll approach the material after a fashion that you'd approach it in the classroom and you'll be saddled with a substantial amount of mental legwork in order to effectively comprehend what Goldman is after. Whether you agree with him or not will ultimately be up to you, but the arguement presented in these 36 lectures is impressive even if you aren't persuaded by it. Quibbling over the basic presentation is to misunderstand what he's after, and as far the complaints about his pacing around the set are concerned, this non-issue can easily be remedied by listening to the course instead of watching it, especially given that there aren't any vital visual components to these lectures, anyhow. The sweeping nature of Goldman's interpretation of intellectual history requires covering a tremendous amount of ground. As such, anecdotes and details are often shunted in favor of broad strokes, but Goldman's focus rarely strays too far from his central assertion that big ideas that have shaped human history. Some folks are turned off by his seemingly off-the-cuff manner; Goldman talks like a basso profundo, hyper-erudite Woody Allen, he rarely looks at his own notes and he often detours to touch on ideas peripheral to the crux of a given lecture. He also make mistakes. Some of these can be explained away as innocent lapses (there are only two types of quarks in a proton), and some of them are just outright wrong (glass is not a superfluid). But engaging with these lectures and digging through Goldman's narrative is part of the fun. If you're just here to pick up nuggets to toss out during happy hour then you're in the wrong place. If you're attempting to build an intimate comprehension of some very broad, undergirding precepts, you could certainly do worse than these lectures. Just don't expect to sit in a high chair and have it fed to you with a rubber spoon.
Date published: 2015-07-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Mixed Bag Well Worth Opening I drive quite a bit in my business, and so most of my Great Courses are on CD. Judging from the reviews of the DVD that was fortunate with this course, as the professor's moving around while lecturing put quite a few viewers off. I have dozens of Great Courses, almost all good. A few, like this one, bring me back for repeated listening. I just completed my 2nd or 3rd time through this course, and I found it entertaining, informative, and thought provoking. For example, I am astounded at the resistance among scientists in the past to many ideas which are commonplace now: germs, genes, and atoms, for instance. It takes generations for ideas this basic to become established. I was a bit dismayed to learn that our most advanced scientific instruments do not give us pictures or images of what they "see." They are digital, and their output is bits, or numbers at best, which a computer assembles into the data we get from them. You could say this is also true of our own eyes. Information comes to them as light, various parts of the eye respond to various wavelengths, and the brain assembles the picture of reality which results. Still, I'm used to my brain, and a bit suspicious that we might mistake a programming error for a scientific breakthrough with our newest instruments. Or, how about this: the ancient Greeks knew about steam power, and gears. The idea of what could be done with these two things were the basis for the launching of the industrial revolution. Many centuries later, in another culture. The Chinese, Japanese, and Islamic cultures knew about movable type. But they did not develop printing as a means of spreading knowledge widely. As the professor points out, quoting another thinker, the idea opens a door, but there is no guarantee that the culture will step through it. What ideas of tremendous promise are now being ridiculed or ignored by our leading thinkers? A course that can make me think about these kinds of things is what I want from the Great Courses. In this course, they delivered. Now, I gave the course 4 stars, and that's because the material is not presented in a readily graspable form. You can see that most reviewers either love or hate the course. I have Dr. Sadawa's "What Science Knows About Cancer" and it is a model of clarity in presenting very complex materials. The Great Scientific Ideas course is not. You'll have to think about it, perhaps give it more than one hearing, before you get all (or most) of what Professor Goldman is saying. But when you do, you'll be glad you put in the effort.
Date published: 2015-04-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lots of Nuggets But You Have to Look for Them As other reviewers have noted, this is not a course which will teach you much about science. The majority of this course is split between the history of science and the philosophy of science. I very much enjoyed the history portions of the course but I admit the philosophy was often lost on me. On the plus side, Goldman is able to cram a huge amount of information into each lecture. I agree that the first section of the course should have been shortened. While these lectures provided background, I didn't feel that the background material was required to understand the rest of the course. Goldman was always on the move - it was quite distracting the way he was constantly pacing, shifting his weight, and bobbing around. I felt that he sometimes went into far too much detail on trivial aspects of a topic while leaving more important aspects not enough time to be properly developed. Or, perhaps, I didn't understand which aspects were important. I felt that the last few lectures were the weakest - my mind kept wandering and I'd have to force myself back to the TV. I recommend this course with a caveat: there are about 20 good lectures here compressed into 36, so you'll have to be patient. While I got the DVDs, there wasn't a lot of added value over an audio version and, if you get an audio version, you won't have to deal with his constant motion. Note that most, if not all, of the science discussed in this course is explained in other courses. That's ok, as this course presents far more of the history and philosophy of science. In fact, if you like philosophy, you might like this course much more than I did. I preferred the History of Science courses to which I've provided links below.
Date published: 2015-03-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Highly frustrated. Now I don't claim to be a rocket scientist, after all I did flunk out of a Ph.D. program in Analytical Chemistry, but on the other hand, I'm a lifelong learner and fairly aggressive in my approach to learning new material. I've enjoyed many courses from TheGreatCourses precisely because I've been able to absorb so much material from them. Goldman's course was just too much. He puts demands of enormous contextual familiarity upon the listener. His rapid-fire style of presentation compounded by his habit of throwing so much flack of tangential details into the air as to block one's learning process simply left me frustrated nearly to the point of rage from my inability to come away with anything relevant. His throwing out so many dry factoids at some points made me think he was trying to impress rather than teach his audience. At the course's halfway point I started skipping ahead minutes at a time, then entire lectures at a time hoping to find a more accessible entry point, but it was a waste of time; his material is so densely presented as to be impenetrable to anyone lacking a rigorous background in philosophy and the history of science. In other words, if you already know all that he has to say, you'll enjoy this course as a familiar review; otherwise, you'll leave the course as intellectually parched as if a desert wanderer came upon a fire hydrant. His course is an impressive tour-de-force of how much disparate material the human mind is capable of assembling and assimilating, so if there were a category in this review for rating the ability to perform as a human encyclopedia, I'd have given him five stars (which I did for his course content, which is clearly encyclopedic); but as a rating for transmitting material in a manner that a fellow human mind can absorb, I can't rate him above 1 star. He could learn much from the teaching styles of the compelling and colorful David Christian on Big History, or the delightful storytelling of Rufus J. Fears on the ancient Greeks, Romans, freedom, and Churchill, or the engrossing first-person accounts from Thomas Childers on WWII.
Date published: 2015-03-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Lessons unwatchable ... wandering instructor There are probably some great philosophical ideas surrounding scientific breakthroughs. We couldn't get past the first 3 lectures so we don't know! If you like watching ping pong tournaments from table-side, you will like this course. It was hard to concentrate on what Professor Goldman was saying because the camera was chasing him from side to side on the set. He was certainly likable, but his presentation manner made it impossible to watch. Please nail his shoes to the floor the next time he works for you.
Date published: 2014-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent Course An insightful overview of the philosophical history of scientific thought. A gift for me as many of the insights provided are often lost in today's society. We often forget how our current understanding stands on the shoulders of those who preceded us. Simply put, insightful, clear, and to the point.
Date published: 2014-12-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Timing... As I review these lectures (video download) the ESA is about to land the Philae probe (launched from Rosetta) on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a 500 million km journey. The timing of my finishing Dr Goldman's lecture series could not have been better. First, a quick review for those considering purchasing this series: this is not a purely science-based course, even though it's all about science. These are not about the history of great scientific advances, either. These are largely about the philosophy of the evolution of human thought regarding the complex relationship between pure science and 'know how' (i.e. as in I know how to do that), and the exploration of ideas. Science, as it relates to 'techno-science' is driven by societies...mostly looking for a better mouse trap. So how does this better mouse trap relate to the charm of a strange quark? THAT is what these lectures is about. Pretty hard to wrap your head around that concept. These lectures make you work (hence the broccoli from the #1 reviewer)...and the presenter doesn't help much. Second, Dr Goldman is a brilliant man and a great teacher (just read his student reviews from Lehigh), but, his rapid-fire delivery tends to wear a person down a bit, causing the mind to wander. For instance, I couldn't help but notice the clock on the table behind his lectern...many of his lecture began around 8:30 and continues (covering several lectures) until well passed 11:00. This professor, largely not referring to his notes, was able to talk continuously, on subject for nearly two hours...introducing names, dates and concepts without missing a beat. Pretty impressive...but probably not a great teaching method. Lastly, the Philae landing on the comet is exactly the type of human accomplishment that Dr Goldman would showcase as the culmination of a techno-science event, that could not have happened without the pure science of a Plato combined with the minds of men who could get this spectacular gadget to work after such an incredible journey. Just imagine.... Bottom line: I struggled with this one. The material is brilliant, the approach is inventive, but the presenter made me nervous. I recommend this one with the caveat...wait for a great sale (I scored this one at $0.55/lecture). The audio version may be the way to go.
Date published: 2014-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent parts, even greater whole Another excellent class by Professor Steven Goldman! The range of content was impressive and fit the length of the course well. Professor Goldman's explanations of key scientific ideas are clear and enthusiastic. He not only excels at describing individual technical topics, but also carefully places the development of ideas into the contexts of their scientific legacy and of societal acceptance. I learned a lot about many intriguing ideas, along with how so many of them interact with each other and with prevailing conditions in society as a whole. Highly recommended! (Minor quibble, so hopefully production mistake isn't repeated in later courses: at times the camera focused in too closely to Professor Goldman, moving back and forth to follow his frequent movements. His movements normally evoke energy, but that incorrect camera work was distracting.)
Date published: 2014-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Blown Away Professor Goldman’s teaching is superb. His knowledge of science is vast and wide ranging. His lectures require intense concentration but the time passes quickly as information pours forth. I intend to rerun the lectures taking notes and stopping and restarting the DVD in order to compile an essay from the course for my edification. I should like him to revisit the topics in a course in 2014 as ten years on much scientific has developed. If not possible I wish him a happy retirement and/or an afterlife among the elect.
Date published: 2014-02-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Interesting content, awful presentation I am shocked that this course has been rated higher than 4 stars. I was very excited to watch these lectures as my favorite Great Course so far has been "The Joy of Science" and I thought "Great Scientific Ideas That Changed the World" would similarly be great. However, the professor completely ruins the content. You get completely lost in his rambling and I found that the individual lecture material does not even follow the lecture context. For example, in his lecture "Universities Relaunch the Idea of Knowledge" he actually only talks about universities relaunching the idea of knowledge for about ten minutes then rambles for the rest. I was very disappointed.
Date published: 2013-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from fascinating journey for my "techie" mind I really enjoyed this journey through time - it really helped my "techie" mind to realize how things have evolved over a lot of time... I definitely recommend this course to anyone interested in how science has evolved and is still evolving. Enjoy !
Date published: 2013-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Get ready, hang on Goldman's lectures are not simple presentations, they are performances that I think most resemble those of a jazz musician. He starts by introducing the main theme, sets it out carefully. You know where he's going, but not how he's going to take you there. You have to learn to get on board and enjoy the ride -- and to forget any standard sort of stenographic note-taking, because that won't work. Then off he goes, expounding, restating, developing the theme. He dances around it, sails off this way and that, comes back to it from one angle then another, then takes flight again, physically bobbing and weaving -- mute the sound and it's easy to imagine he's up there playing an air-saxophone -- elaborating his theme in new riffs. At the end he abruptly returns to the main theme, recapitulates, comes full stop, leaves its echo hanging in the air. Bravo, Goldman! Bravo.
Date published: 2013-08-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Reasonable Overview of scientific development Interesting development of major scientific thought...sometimes too superficial. Heavy emphasis on evolution by denial of existence of individual species... Not much room for differing viewpoints... Did give me a broad overview and perspective of important concepts necessary for technological achievement.
Date published: 2013-06-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Amazing Scope and Depth Professor Goldman begins with the development of writing in the 4th millennia BCE as a necessary precedent to the development of science as a concept, method, separate discipline by the ancient Greeks. Be ready for a well reasoned and comprehensive tour in only 36 lectures. Why did the Scientific Revolution that gave birth and form to our modern world appear in Western Europe in the fertile 17th century CE instead of in Rome in the 2nd century CE, or Western Europe in the 12th century CE, or in another place and time? How has science developed since the Scientific Revolution? Where may it be leading in the future? This class is thought provoking. Professor Goldman is high energy, passionate and engaging teacher. At times the camera can't keep up with his high energy. Reading a number of other reviews of this course has identified his style as a distraction from the subject matter for some. The audio-only version of this class may be a way to go, if that is a potential concern, as the material stands without video. Regardless of style, the content is 5+ stars, IMO, and I wouldn't hesitate to try another course by Prof. Goldman.
Date published: 2013-05-04
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