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Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science

Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science

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Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science

Course No. 4140
Professor Steven Gimbel, Ph.D.
Gettysburg College
Share This Course
4.6 out of 5
54 Reviews
90% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 4140
Streaming Included Free

What Will You Learn?

  • Understand how the concept of relativity came to be, and how it has changed over time.
  • Learn how psychology and sociology have had a major impact in defining reality.
  • Discover what the future of reality might hold with the advent of virtual reality.

Course Overview

No subject is bigger than reality itself, and nothing is more challenging to understand, since what counts as reality is undergoing continual revision and has been for centuries. For example, the matter that comprises all stars, planets, and living things turns out to be just a fraction of what actually exists. Moreover, we think that we control our actions, but data gathering systems can predict, with astonishing accuracy, when we will get up in the morning, what items we will buy, and even whom we will marry.

The quest to pin down what's real and what's illusory is both philosophical and scientific. At its core, it is nothing less than the metaphysical search for ultimate reality that goes back to the ancient Greeks. And for the last 400 years, this search has been increasingly guided by scientists, who create theories and test them in order to define reality and then redefine it as new theories replace old.

In physics, biology, psychology, economics, and many other fields, defining reality is a task that needs frequent updates. Consider these once solid facts that were later thrown into doubt:

  • Space and time: Nothing is more real to us than our experience of space and time, which is why one of the greatest revolutions in human thought is Einstein's discovery that these two seemingly stable features of the universe are surprisingly fluid in ways that defy common sense.
  • Matter: It seems obvious that matter down to the smallest scale should have measurable properties: it's either here or there, it's spinning this way or that. But quantum mechanics shows that subatomic particles are in many places and states at the same time - until you measure them.
  • Mathematics: What could be more ironclad than the truths of mathematics? Yet in the 1930s, Kurt Godel showed that the field was built on shifting sands - that no set of axioms designed to serve as the foundation of mathematics could be both self-consistent and complete.
  • Life-giving sun: Plants need sunlight; animals eat plants or other animals; therefore all life on Earth ultimately depends on the sun. This seemed indisputable, until scientists discovered colonies of life in the dark ocean depths, feeding on mineral-rich hot fluids from volcanic vents.

When faced with reversals such as these, it's tempting to give up and conclude that nothing will ever be certain. But there's a more rewarding way to look at it, which is that every successful new theory is an improvement on its predecessor, drawing the net ever more tightly around reality, whose form is gradually coming into focus.

Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science gives you the thrill of this exciting quest in 36 wide-ranging lectures that touch on many aspects of the ceaseless search for reality, both scientific and philosophical. From the birth of the universe to brain science, award-winning Professor of Philosophy Steven Gimbel of Gettysburg College shows that separating the real from the illusory is an exhilarating intellectual adventure.

And since dealing with reality is an experience we all share, this course is designed for people of all backgrounds. No prior training in science or philosophy is assumed. Furthermore, the richness of Professor Gimbel's presentation assures that even those who have studied this problem in depth will find new connections and unexpected insights. Dr. Gimbel's thoroughness makes Redefining Reality an unrivaled introduction to key themes in the history of science and philosophy.

The How and Why of Reality

You begin with the contrasting views of two of the most influential philosophers who ever lived: Plato and Aristotle. According to Plato, reality resides in an abstract world of forms that can only be perceived by the mind; while for Aristotle, reality is right here in this world. It was this elevation of the material realm by Aristotle that launched what we think of as science.

Science was part of philosophy until the 16th and 17th centuries. The turning point came with Isaac Newton's laws of motion and principle of universal gravitation, which showed that the world is governed by natural laws. Newton's supremely successful mathematical theory established science as a separate mode of inquiry and provided a model for the ambitions of all future scientists. Henceforth, science was devoted to explaining how the world works. Speculation about why it works the way it does remained the province of philosophy.

A striking case of when a philosophical subject suddenly became scientific occurred in 1965, with the discovery of the fossil radio signal from the big bang, the moment when the universe can be said to have begun. Before this discovery, the notion of a beginning to time was largely theological. After, it was a scientific problem that could be quantified and explored in detail. In Redefining Reality, you examine scores of similar examples of reality in transition, including these:

  • Ghost in a machine: Traditionally, doctors saw the human body as a closed system inhabited by a soul - a "ghost in a machine." The discovery of disease-causing microbes led to a new paradigm: the body as a fortress under attack. Today there's a revised view: microbes are considered crucial to human life.
  • Economics: Newton's success in physics inspired the field of economics. But attempts to predict the complexities of production, consumption, and trade defied exact mathematical analysis. Recent theories have revised our view of economic reality by factoring in the human tendency for irrational economic choices.
  • Artificial intelligence: Can machines think? One current view is that a machine capable of human-like responses to questions would indeed have a mind. But philosopher John Searle's famous "Chinese Room" thought experiment suggests that the imitation of outward behavior is not enough to constitute a mind.
  • Free will: One outcome of today's revolution in big data is that computers can now predict what individuals will do in many situations, including who is likely to commit a crime. These techniques challenge the age-old belief that we have free will - that our actions are the result of deliberate personal choices.

The Art of Reality

Scientists and philosophers are not alone in grappling at an intellectual level with reality. Some of the most accessible interpretations are by painters, novelists, filmmakers, and other artists, whose works not only draw on the latest discoveries but also sometimes inspire them. Professor Gimbel includes examples in practically every lecture, such as the following:

  • Alice in Wonderland: Written by mathematician Charles Dodgson (whose pen name was Lewis Carroll), Alice's adventures can be read as an investigation of the paradoxical worlds that are possible when logic is set loose. Wonderland represents the death of the rationalist project.
  • Pointillism, cubism, and surrealism: These new modes of representation in the visual arts arose concurrently with the triumph of the atomic theory of matter and the radical new picture of reality offered by relativity and quantum mechanics.
  • Reality TV: The legacy of Darwin and his successors pervades one of modern media's most popular genres: reality television. From Survivor to Top Chef, these unscripted shows illustrate such Darwinian ideas as survival of the fittest and creative adaptation.
  • Hybrids and chimeras: Ancient myths spanning many cultures depict winged horses, minotaurs, mermaids, griffins, and other impossible crosses between different creatures. These stories prefigure today's real hybrids produced by genetic engineering.

A distinguished teacher, scholar, and author, Professor Gimbel has a gift for giving clear and concise explanations of concepts that can be notoriously difficult, such as special and general relativity, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, Godel's incompleteness theorem, chaos theory, and string theory. He also has a detective's instincts for connecting the dots, marshaling evidence to spotlight historical trends. One trend that you will learn about in Redefining Reality is the gradual redefinition of humans, for we have developed the power to alter our own reality in major ways - to defeat diseases, compensate for disabilities, enhance our mental well-being, and augment our intellect with computers. Where is that trend going? Take this fascinating course to find out.

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36 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Metaphysics and the Nature of Science
    Start with the metaphysical concept of reality and how it led to a scientific worldview. Then see how the scientific picture of reality changes as theories are refined or overthrown. Explore examples such as the germ theory of disease and philosopher Thomas Kuhn's influential idea of paradigm shifts. x
  • 2
    Defining Reality
    Take a step back to define reality as understood by the ancient Greeks. Then work your way forward through revolutionary ideas about reality proposed by Plato, Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and finally Newton, who inspired the Age of Enlightenment. Close with the Romantic backlash of the 19th century. x
  • 3
    Mathematics in Crisis
    The most secure science, mathematics, hit the rocks of uncertainty in the 19th and 20th centuries. Trace the shocking discoveries of non-Euclidean geometries, Cantor's paradoxes of infinite sets, and the incompleteness theorem of Kurt Godel. See how Alice in Wonderland sheds intriguing light on this new view of reality. x
  • 4
    Special Relativity
    Until 1905, physical reality consisted of absolute space, absolute time, and the luminiferous aether. Learn how Einstein's special theory of relativity overthrew this deeply ingrained view and heralded an entirely new conception of reality. Examine how cultural figures such as Kurt Vonnegut drew on this legacy. x
  • 5
    General Relativity
    Relativity was incomplete until Einstein formulated a general theory of relativity that incorporated gravity. See how this breakthrough demolished the age-old idea of gravity as a force, replacing it with the concept of warped spacetime, leading to strange predictions such as black holes. x
  • 6
    Big Bang Cosmology
    Investigate the underlying reality that governs the universe. Is the universe eternally the same? Or is it changing and unstable? In modern times, this debate culminated in the contest between the steady state theory and the big bang model. Hear how unexpected events led to a spectacular solution. x
  • 7
    The Reality of Atoms
    Atoms are the bedrock of ordinary matter, but a century ago many scientists were very reluctant to accept their existence, despite growing evidence that chemical elements come in countable units. Investigate the backstory of the atomic hypothesis, and witness its triumph and the complications that ensued. x
  • 8
    Quantum Mechanics
    Delve into the paradoxical subject of quantum mechanics, which was pioneered by scientists probing atomic structure in the early 20th century. Learn about Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Erwin Schrodinger. Focus on the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the strange behavior of the Schrodinger wave function. x
  • 9
    Quantum Field Theory
    See how quantum field theory led to a stunning synthesis called the standard model of particle physics, which was confirmed by the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson. Study the startling implications of this theory for our understanding of reality. Close by examining its impact on the visual arts. x
  • 10
    Chaos Theory
    Traditional attempts to understand the world assumed that it was regular, simple, periodic, and predictable. But nature surprised scientists, giving them a richer picture of reality through chaos theory, which includes fractal structures. Learn how chaos is not randomness but a previously unimagined complexity within the universe. x
  • 11
    Dark Matter and Dark Energy
    What happens when the accepted picture of reality is dramatically overthrown? Watch this happen in the late 20th century, when scientists suddenly discovered two completely unexpected phenomena: dark matter and dark energy, which together dwarf the contribution of ordinary matter to the cosmos. x
  • 12
    Grand Unified Theories
    Since its earliest days, science has been on a mission to unite disparate phenomena under the umbrella of more comprehensive theories. Follow the search for a grand unified theory (GUT) that unifies the workings of quantum forces, and a theory of everything (TOE) that quantizes gravity. One current TOE candidate is string theory. x
  • 13
    Quantum Consciousness
    Can physics explain consciousness? Start with Descartes, who held the dualistic view that the mind and body are separate, and see how materialists countered that brain processes produce the mind. Then discover what physics has to say about free will, and probe the famous thought experiment involving Schrodinger's cat. x
  • 14
    Defining Reality in the Life Sciences
    Study one of the most complete transformations of reality in history: the new picture of life that emerged from the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. Close by tracing their influence on William Golding's Lord of the Flies and on television reality shows. x
  • 15
    Genes and Identity
    The mechanism that drives evolution was not discovered until long after Darwin's death. Follow the clues that led researchers first to the cell nucleus, then to chromosomes and genes, and finally to the DNA molecule as the agent of heredity. Close by weighing the role of genetics in determining human identity. x
  • 16
    The Birth of Psychology
    The quest to understand human behavior inspired researchers to study the mind. Investigate the theories of Sigmund Freud, who gave the world a new vocabulary, including concepts like ego, id, and superego. Learn how Freud's legacy has been especially enduring in the horror film genre. x
  • 17
    Jung and the Behaviorists
    Trace the different directions psychology took before World War II. Carl Jung extended Freud's ideas to encompass a universal collective unconscious. Meanwhile, the behaviorists rejected the mind to focus on observable behavior, an approach that had profound influence on advertising and public relations. x
  • 18
    The Rediscovery of the Mind
    The Holocaust raised troubling questions about the mind and its relation to authority. Examine three landmark experiments that tested the limits of human autonomy and came to shocking conclusions: Solomon Asch's group think study, Stanley Milgram's obedience study, and Philip Zimbardo's Stanford prison study. x
  • 19
    The Caring Brain
    Freudian psychology sees mothers as the wellspring of neuroses. Contrast this view with Harry Harlow's groundbreaking studies of maternal caregiving and Carol Gilligan's theory of differing moral development in females and males. Close with a powerful precursor to Gilligan's ideas: Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. x
  • 20
    Brain and Self
    What makes us distinctly human? Analyze the contributions of genetics, environmental factors, and social interaction to our effective functioning as members of the species. See how CT, MRI, and PET imaging technologies provide windows into brain structure and activity. x
  • 21
    Evolutionary Psychology
    If the human brain is the result of evolutionary processes, then many shared psychological traits must have adaptive advantages. Explore this intriguing view, known as evolutionary psychology. See how it can be illustrated by a simple logic problem, which perplexes most people until they tap into their innate skill for detecting cheaters. x
  • 22
    The Birth of Sociology
    Culture imprints itself on our brains through the process of socialization. Investigate the insights that sociology provides - from the 19th-century founder of the discipline, Auguste Comte, to Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx, and Emile Durkheim, who suggested that crime has an unappreciated positive role in society. x
  • 23
    Competition and Cooperation
    In the early 20th century, one of the most popular words in book titles was crisis," reflecting a widespread anxiety about a rapidly changing world. Study contrasting assessments of the stability of society from sociologists Max Weber, Pyotr Kropotkin, and Ferdinand Tonnies, as well as the influential analysis by industrialist Andrew Carnegie." x
  • 24
    Race and Reality
    What differences between groups are real, and what differences are as arbitrary as a political boundary? Address this question regarding race, which less than a century ago was considered firmly rooted in biological reality. Trace the evidence that led this view to be conclusively overthrown. x
  • 25
    Social Progress
    Continue your investigation of social reality by looking at the concept of progress. Social optimists and pessimists alike believe that society is progressing, but they see different causes. Evaluate their theories, and explore the idea that Western culture is doomed to collapse under its own weight. x
  • 26
    The Reality of Money
    For all of its abstractness, money is a powerfully real phenomenon. Delve into the intricate events that unfold as money, goods, and services are exchanged in the economy. Examine how the ideas of John Maynard Keynes and the results of modern psychological research challenge the two primary assumptions of classical economic theory. x
  • 27
    The Origin of Life
    Apply the reality-analyzing tools you've learned in the course to the problem of life. Consider the close connection between life and sunlight. Then look at the startling exception to this rule: the fauna that flourish around volcanic vents in the dark ocean depths. What does this tell us about life's origins? x
  • 28
    Exoplanets and Extraterrestrial Life
    Fiction writers have led the way in exploring the prospects of life beyond Earth. See how scientists are catching up, looking for extraterrestrial organisms using a variety of ingenious techniques. Learn how they are narrowing the search and which tantalizing clues have already turned up. x
  • 29
    Technology and Death
    Reality for the individual ends at death. But medical technology is making that endpoint increasingly hard to define. Consider what it means to die and the complications that would ensue if we developed brain transplants or found the secret of immortality. x
  • 30
    Cloning and Identity
    Modern technology has transformed procreation, birth, and parenting. Given the different donor and surrogate options, it's perfectly possible to have a child with five biologically contributing parents. What are the implications of this revolution, especially if human cloning becomes the next new option? x
  • 31
    Genetic Engineering
    Explore the history of genetic engineering, which has roots in the imaginary hybrid creatures of ancient myth. Learn how real hybrids can be made by splicing genes for desired traits into the genome of an organism. Then discover how this brave new technology is being used. x
  • 32
    Medically Enhanced Humans
    With the availability of cosmetic surgery, psychoactive chemicals, performance enhancing drugs, and other treatments, people are now free to redefine themselves in order to overcome their limitations. Probe a trend that is rapidly transforming what it means to be human. x
  • 33
    Transhumans: Making Living Gods
    Prosthetics, eyeglasses, and other aids were once seen as less-than-ideal substitutes for normal human abilities. But now technology can enhance us well beyond what's considered normal. Examine the superhuman traits currently available and those on the drawing board. Has the era of the cyborg arrived? x
  • 34
    Artificial Intelligence
    Trace the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) from simple calculating machines to computers that can vanquish chess masters. Learn the distinction between weak AI, such as a chess-playing machine, and strong AI, which is a machine that has a truly human-like mind. Question whether strong AI is even possible. x
  • 35
    The Internet and Virtual Reality
    For all of their ubiquity, personal computers, email, and the Internet represent a major departure in the evolution of computer technology. Witness the exciting and improbable birth of personal computing in the 1970s, and explore the nature of the virtual world where more and more people now reside. x
  • 36
    Data Analytics
    Today's networked culture is a dream come true for researchers in fields from marketing to sociology to epidemiology. Learn how big data puts potentially everyone and everything under the microscope of analysis, creating a comprehensive view of the intricate reality in which we are all mere atoms. x

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Steven Gimbel

About Your Professor

Steven Gimbel, Ph.D.
Gettysburg College
Professor Steven Gimbel holds the Edwin T. Johnson and Cynthia Shearer Johnson Distinguished Teaching Chair in the Humanities at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, where he also serves as Chair of the Philosophy Department. He received his bachelor's degree in Physics and Philosophy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and his doctoral degree in Philosophy from the Johns Hopkins University, where he wrote his...
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Reviews

Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 54.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Essential for Humans; Useful for Cyborgs My first review of this course was rejected, and I'm not sure why. It was the best review I have ever written, and I don't think this second one will compare to it. And I was so shattered by getting rejected that I don't know if I have it in me to continue writing. But I'll try, so here is goes: This is a very good course about how the sciences, including the physical, biological, social, and mathematical ones, have caused us human beings to rethink what we call real. The basic organizing principle is that scientific thought has progressed from particulars to relationships between particulars to fields in which particulars are mere modes. At least that's what I understood. Lots of examples from physics to math to sociology. I was worried that I wouldn't understand all of the science, but Steve Gimbel explained it in such a way that even someone like me could grasp it. I barely have self-awareness, so that should tell you something about Steve Gimbel's skills as a teacher. There are lots of cultural references (to film, art, and literature) that help clarify what Steve was saying. Steve also tells some jokes that are okay. I bet he could be funnier if he wanted to, but the Great Courses probably told him to stick to the script. We're not paying you to tell jokes, Steve. That's probably what they said. I watched the video, but I think the audio probably would be okay, too. In the video, the "classroom" seems a bit strange to me. There is a bookcase with a plant on the bottom shelf. How is it supposed to get enough light down there? I wouldn't have been distracted by that had I only listened to the audio. One other thing: I watched these episodes in 30 minutes or one-hour increments. You don't have to watch this series (18 hours) all the way through in one sitting in order to understand it. I also bought Steve's course on formal logic. I might watch that soon because I liked this one so much.
Date published: 2016-11-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from More Metaphysics, Please I viewed this lecture series via The Great Courses Signature Collection on Amazon, a wonderful service! One expects "The Great Courses" to feature the acme of academics, but Prof. Gimbel stands out even in this illustrious company for the remarkable clarity of his presentation of complex and diverse subject matter. For pedagogy, five stars. The first and second episodes of the series, “Metaphysics and the Nature of Science” and “Defining Reality,” were outstanding. (I *am* prejudiced, as my focus when studying philosophy in college was metaphysics.) I especially enjoyed Prof. Gimbel’s exposition of the dynamic role of scientific knowledge in informing humanity’s conception of reality. For history, five stars. As Prof. Gimbel notes in episode three, “Mathematics in Crisis,” coming into the late 19th century and moving into the 20th, things start to go awry with the “certainty” of knowledge that had obtained for millennia. Ironically, this is the exact point at which pedagogy is undermined by epistemological issues. Prof. Gimbel certainly addresses the physical and social sciences with great aplomb. I feel, however, that there needed to be more of an overarching structure to the course to provide greater insight into how these diverse disciplines interact to "redefine" our concept of reality.
Date published: 2016-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from ONE OF MY PERSONAL FAVORITES IF YOU WANT A CLEARER UNDERSTANDING OF THE HISTORY OF PHYSICS, MEDICINE, SOCIOLOGY AND MOST OF THE SCIENCES THIS IS THE BEST. STEVE GIMBEL IS IMPRESSIVE. HE HAS MY DEEPEST ADMIRATION. I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO MEET HIM ONE DAY. YOU WILL COME AWAY FROM THIS CLASS WITH A CLEARER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IT IS TO EXIST IN THE WORLD.
Date published: 2016-11-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from wish I knew The course sounded interesting. Unfortunately, I purchased the audio download and the app is so unstable, the recordings kept freezing, skipping and generally being unlistenable. So, the scores above relate to delivery, not the content, which I never heard at any length. (The web page required that scores be entered!)
Date published: 2016-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from catalogs I like the product but Great Courses sends far too many catalogs.
Date published: 2016-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent discussion A well organized series of significant topics reviewed in a thoughtful and cogent fashion.
Date published: 2016-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses ever I have purchased probably 25 - 30 courses from The Teaching Company, this is easily one of the top 3, if not the best I've ever listened to. Professor Gimbel has an excellent presentation style, just the right level of humor, excellent historical background and research on the different topics covered. The only downside to the course are the lectures where Dr. Gimbel reviews the social sciences, but that's just because I much prefer physics, cosmology and chemistry to psychology, etc. That being said, even those lectures were very informative. The only word of caution I would offer to someone buying the course is that for the first two lectures or so, Dr. Gimbel comes across more like he's speaking to a high school science class than the level you would expect from The Teaching Company; but that may just be his way of "warming up" his audience. Regardless, this is a phenomenally good course and I would highly recommend it to anyone.
Date published: 2016-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Owesome course I took the "Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science" class.... as I love science and the links to philosophy and understanding the reality around us. The class is awesome and the professor can explain the most complex scientific concepts in layman terms that can be understood by all.... highly recommended
Date published: 2016-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent lecturer! I've only completed 1/3 of the course, but feel compelled to say that I could listen to Dr. Gimbel talk until he couldn't talk anymore. While I don't think he really redefines reality, he certainly explains what we know about it at different times in history. I was already familiar with much of what he says, but he certainly says it in a very interesting way. Now on to lecture 13. GREAT JOB!!
Date published: 2016-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Super Brain Workout for Oldsters I anticipated this so much I ordered it twice due to short term memory loss Thanks for my full refund on the second one
Date published: 2016-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Astonishingly wide-ranging tour Professor Gimbel is listed as an expert in philosophy, but the truth is that he can explain almost all the concepts in hard science better than most scientists. There are many "general" round-ups of thinking in science, but Gimbel goes one step better -- in each case, he gives a cogent summary of the topic under consideration, and then he zeroes in on the cutting edge debates, and explains them really well. It's really extraordinary that one person can know so much about so many different fields---you have to know your subject very well to be able to explain it simply. This is a great course, and one of several from the Great Courses series that I have listened to with pleasure and then gone back to the beginning to listen to again. I also agree with other comments about his voice -- it is a rather odd voice, high-pitched and dynamic (I imagine he sings tenor in the university choir) but is also charming and infectiously enthusiastic
Date published: 2016-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Our collective knowledge of reality has evolved I am enjoying this history of our understanding of reality. By combining the different approaches of various disciplines, the subject is illuminated. Bonus: the lecturer has a nice voice.
Date published: 2016-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best Great Courses I'm a journalist who writes about the Big Picture of philosophy (God Reconsidered: Searching for Truth in the Battle Between Atheism and Religion, for example) and I have covered many of the issues Gimbel discusses. This is probably the most thought-provoking course I've ever listened to among the hundreds over many years from Teaching Co. Worth relistening several times.
Date published: 2016-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging, articulated stream Humor, connections, coordination, great narration / narrator and teaching / teacher all wrapped up in one audio version. Love audio version for portability
Date published: 2016-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Choice for My First Philosophy Course I have completed numerous history and science courses from The Great Courses but this is my first philosophy course. I bought it on a whim to see how philosophy views the advances in modern science. I am very glad that I took this course and I highly recommend it especially as an alternative view of modern science. There are many aspects of modern science which are not intuitively obvious especially in the realm of quantum mechanics and particle fields. These aspects include such topics such as entropy, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, super position of states, and Schrödinger's cat to name a few. These topics are taught in several other offerings from The Great Courses but I did not fully understand them until they were presented by Professor Gimbel from a philosophical view to enhance the scientific view. As demonstrated in Professor Gimbel’s lecture, the concept of reality evolves over time as more knowledge becomes available and the concepts of reality will continue to evolve as more scientific discoveries are made. Professor Gimbel does an excellent job of explaining the view of the ancient masters and how these views have evolved over the ages. Professor Gimbel also provides excellent examples of how reality has been portrayed in other methods including art, literature, plays, TV shows and movies. Some of the predictions of the masters of science fiction such as Arthur C. Clarke and Jules Verne are not far from where reality has evolved.
Date published: 2016-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding!!! Prof. Gimbel is a consummate polymath. He hit the biggies of modern science with just enough detail and truly related them to our perception of reality. This is a subject that I had not thought much about from a historical perspective - we just go about acquiring new knowledge. Right? Wrong. As Prof Gimbel puts it, we change our perception of reality. He compares Descartes and Aristotle, expounds on Jung and Freud, and discusses the possible impacts of exoplanets and the biggest impact of them all, extraterrestrial life. I was fascinated about his dissertation on human formation and his discussion of five mothers and two fathers! Prepare to be exposed to the multifaceted view of a uniform reality, all with the same theme: moving from the individual to the organization. It was really well done. The only negative: we never got to see how long his hair really was!
Date published: 2016-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mixed Bag, But Plenty of Goodies This review is for the video version of the course. For learners who are able to stay focused on a purely audio presentation, I doubt that the video element would be important. I personally need that visual component to keep me pulled in. Although some lecture topics were more relevant to my current interests than others, I was never bored. Professor Gimbel made good use of literary, cinematic, and other popular culture analogies and illustrations, as well as frequent humorous comments that I thought mostly hit the mark (not always easy to accomplish without a live audience to react). Like a couple other reviewers, I was mostly interested in what physics currently is saying about what we take as material reality; thus the first third of the course was the most satisfying for me. My interest waned as we moved into the “softer” life sciences. Most of the experiments he described were already familiar to me from my graduate studies back in the 1970s. Things did pick up again in the final lectures on more contemporary topics in which I have less background (Technology and Death, Genetic Engineering, Artificial Intelligence, etc.). Even these did not impact my sense of “reality” as much as the earlier lectures did, but at least I felt like I got my money’s worth out of the course. A couple reviewers complained about the lectures seeming like a random collection of miscellaneous topics. I can see where they are coming from, but Prof. Gimbel did keep returning to his theme of the sciences focusing first on the nature of individual entities, then shifting to the emergent reality of the relationships among these entities, and finally treating the entire system as an interconnected web with a reality of its own. He leaves us with the intriguing question of whether it makes more sense to think of ourselves as individual entities, or rather parts of a larger interconnected system. At that point, my interest was starting to peak again, but he was done. So I guess I’ll just have to by some more courses.
Date published: 2016-02-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from "Redefining Reality" is a misleading title I do not want to repeat what others have already said in their reviews, so I will keep this short. The good news is that Professor Gimbel is a joy to listen to. The bad news is that the course did not meet my expectations, and, as a result, I was disappointed. Based on the title of the course and the glowing description in the mailer sent to my house, I thought this would be a course defining what is real, i.e., what constitutes the universe. In a sense, I was expecting a physics course that would take me from Aristotle to string theory. Instead of a course defining what is real, this is a course about refining our understanding of what is real (assuming the social sciences can be called real). Thus, lectures 1 though 13, about physics, were satisfying, but then the course shifted gears, from a discussion of what is real, to a discussion of current thinking about various and sundry topics (biology, psychology, sociology, economics, life, and technology). So, on the one hand, I think the course title does not properly reflect the content of the course. On the other hand, I have only myself to blame for not reading the lecture titles and others' reviews before ordering the course. Oh well, live and learn.
Date published: 2016-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just completed ... and very impressed! I learned quite a bit listening to this series--more from the first half, which focuses on the "hard" sciences, than from the second half, which focuses on the "softer" sciences--but what impressed me most wasn't just the course content (which was well covered, but a lot of which is available in other Great Courses), but the professor's incredible ability to explain, synthesize, and, most enjoyably, relate the course content to the modern world, and, in particular, to popular culture. In the process, I picked up quite a few pieces of interesting information along the way, the sorts of things that simply make being alive more enjoyable. Example: In the professor's explanation of alchemy in lecture 7, he not only explained how ancient alchemy was a necessary precursor to modern chemistry--a fact that is pretty well known--but in doing so, he also provided a fascinating explanation of the history of alchemy, much of which I did not know, and even a few fascinating nuggets like this: alchemists developed a number of "recipes" for making certain metals, but the alchemists, who could not rely on intellectual property law to protect their trade secrets (and, thus, their funding) relied on a type of secret code, consisting of assigning names and strange symbols to the various substances (e.g., gold = king, silver = queen), explaining the chemical reactions between them in terms of human interactions (e.g., separating = fighting, combining = marrying), and instructing the person preparing the metal to wait a certain amount of time (e.g., 10 minutes) by giving them a 10-minute poem to recite before proceeding to the next step. This, of course, allowed the alchemist to encode their recipe in the form of a story so that those on the outside would only understand it on a superficial level, but those on the inside could use to replicate the formula for making the metal. Over time, however, the original purpose of the poem (to mark time) was forgotten, and, looked at along with these strange symbols representing the known elements, was understood as a type of "spell" that one needed to cast to create the metal. The original purpose of the symbols (to protect intellectual property) was later forgotten as well, with the result that someone from the modern world, if they did not know what the alchemists were really up to, might look back and chuckle on the silly "magicalism" of the alchemists, but the joke, of course, is on us. These sorts of tidbits appear throughout the lectures, making them an absolute delight to listen to. I also really appreciated how the professor frequently paused to illustrate how something that was going on in the scientific world influenced, or was reflected by, an analogue in the world at large. So, in his discussion of atoms, where the discrete began to replace the continuous, the professor enjoyably digresses to discuss how artists began using the technique of pointillism to replace the smooth brushstroke in modern art (lecture 7). Again, in lecture 8, the professor pauses to explain how the incredible new science of quantum mechanics was reflected in the brilliant play "Copenhagen" by Michael Frayn. Once again, in lecture 9, the professor takes a quick detour to explain how the standard model, which abandons "substance" and understands particles as the excited states of various fields, is not all that dissimilar to what one can find in the Upanishads. And on and on and on. More examples? Want to talk about some amazing breakthroughs in life at the bottom of the sea? We can't do this unless we first include a delightful discussion of what Jules Verne imagined a century earlier (lecture 27). Want to talk about exoplanets and extraterrestrial life? Then you should hear about E.T., H.G. Wells, and, of course, Shakespeare (lecture 28). Want to understand the way humans tend to behave online? Time to revisit Plato's myth of the Ring of Gyges (lecture 35). And so on.I looked forward to listening to each lecture in equal parts for the course content and for the entertaining anecdotes. But my favorite anecdote of all? That a child can have as many as seven parents! How is this possible? Listen to lecture 30 and find out. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2016-02-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Did Not Change My Reality But It Is a Good Course I was disappointed in this course because it was more of a history of scientific advancement than an exploration of the nature and perception of reality. A reader reasonably versed in science is going to find most of this course painfully elementary. The second half is a little better but still doesn't delve into what I would expect for a course supposedly designed to redefine my idea of reality. It might make a redefinition for a particular individual with no prior knowledge of scientific advancements of the past 100 years. The level is closer to high school than college. But wait. While this course was a disappointment to me, it may be great for you. I expected more mind stumping discussion than a recap of the history of mathematics and the papers of Einstein. I've traveled those roads often. Almost all books on the current state of quantum mechanics will take the reader step by step through the Bohr Einstein debates. Most books reach back to Newton in order to set the stage for the new science of quantum mechanics. This course starts way before Einstein shook up reality. Newton certainly redefined reality for his time. Even that's not far enough back. Euclid? If I take a course called "redefining reality" I wouldn't expect it to begin with Euclid or Plato though putting some foundation in place is a good idea. Still, I think the title is misleading unless you think the world might be flat. This course might aptly be called "The History of Science Through the Ages---An Overview". To that end, it's a great course. For me, there was nothing new. My reality was not refined. It wasn't adjusted slightly. It's not a bad course and the presentation is good. If you want a decent overview of the history of science, here's a decent course. Again, let me say that the course is well presented and many people will enjoy and learn from it. It is very basic, however, and if you have a science background you won't find anything new or thought-provoking in this course.
Date published: 2016-02-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Broad summary Very useful survey, but a bit repetitious, especially about overall themes.
Date published: 2016-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My fav course of about 10 now Prof Gimbel deals with some real cutting edge science and scientific theories here and he makes them conceptually understandable to a reasonably well educated person who doesn't have a science background. I found it particularly interesting the way he shows how advances in science are reflected in art, architecture and even pop culture. He is a delightful teacher. I now have a feeling for how science and philosophy are...or should be, connected.
Date published: 2016-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It's complicated but reasonable Professsor Gimbel's outstanding lectures displayed a great breadth of knowledge and understanding across physical, biological, psychological, and social sciences. His lectures were interesting, wonderfully organized and successful in illustrating the essential unity in our evolving understanding. In those areas where I have some expertise (physics) I found his presentation accurate and very lucid. In areas where I had little familiarity, I found the selection of material and the central themes of the lecture illuminating and very reasonable. I have enjoyed many Great Course Lecture Series. I rate this as one of the best.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a WOW course We are both amazed at the content and presentation. Professor Gimbel not only has a vast knowledge of the fields of science and philosophy but is amazing in how he relates everything. His every day examples really clarify the concepts. We love his sense of humour. Great ties too.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just what I needed This course addressed issues that had been troubling me lately, and did so spot-on. While I can't say that someone else's concerns would be the same as mine, I do believe that the course would be of great interest to anyone trying to understand the modern world and its scientific underpinnings.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Redefined my reality of a great course Redefining Reality is one of the best Great Courses I’ve taken. Professor Gimbel tells the story of how mankind’s perception of reality changes with new discoveries in science. What makes the course so great is the professor’s skill at weaving the story together in a very fluid way. I was familiar with most of the math and science presented in the first third of the course, but I learned so much about how and why each new discovery changed our view of reality. I was delighted to get a fresh perspective of topics that I have studied for so many years and a great introduction to other areas I haven’t studied in depth yet. I really can’t recommend this course highly enough. Whether you have a lot of knowledge in the topics presented or they are new to you, I believe you will get your monies worth from this course.
Date published: 2016-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Fantastic!!! I'm currently listening to this course for the 3rd time and will probably need another 7 listens to even begin to understand all of it's content. Professor Gimbel is a great instructor who has that perfect blend of humor, intelligence, and charisma to really make you want to understand this courses content. His ability to effortlessly discuss all the realms of science and to clearly show how each new discovery reshaped our view of what reality true is, is utterly remarkable. It's hard to oversell this course. He literally covers everything from the beginning to now when it comes to the sciences. Everything! Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Human behavior etc. It just goes on and on. I really enjoy the Great Courses on my commute but this one course will be listened to again and again. Thank you professor for trying to enlighten me on this fascinating view of reality! I think you may have awoken the scientist in me!
Date published: 2015-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Conversations in Science as Ideology Review of Audio Download. How do science and technology influence our views of ourselves and our shared world and ultimately become core ideologies of our culture? Professor Gimbel presents a lucid, thought-provoking course on modern advances in the natural and social sciences and in technology as redefining our reality and allows us to intellectually engage with often highly-specialized fields. In addition, he is a fine lecturer who can both draw on humor, philosophy, movies, and off-beat examples to clarify his topics and explain difficult technical concepts straight on for a non-specialized audience. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2015-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best I would have likely given this course 6 stars if that were allowed. Professor Gimbel is just a great presenter. He's dynamic and interesting enough to keep your focus, drops in some well placed, dry humor, and really seems to enjoy the subject matter. I don't think there was a single lecture in this series that didn't really interest me. The ONLY criticism I have is that you learn a broad scope of a variety of topics as they relate to the history of scientific breakthroughs and paradigm shifts. This can be either good or bad depending on what you are looking for. It's shallow, but very broad. If you are looking for deep insights and a mastery of a particular topic, this isn't the course for you. On the other hand, if you are looking to gain a better perspective on science and philosophy as they evolved and as they pertain to everyday life, you really cannot do much better than this course. Highly entertaining and educational. I can't recommend this one enough.
Date published: 2015-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications This is an excellent course. It is wide in scope and quite educational. I knew over 2/3 the material quite well but his framing of the information and his lecture style added some depth to my knowledge. I do have a quibble with his reference to an optometrist using botulinum toxin first. From my research it was an ophthalmologist (Alan Scott) that pioneered its clinical use. I listened to the audio version on my to and from work. Beats the radio.
Date published: 2015-10-31
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