Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It

Course No. 1235
Professor Steven L. Goldman, Ph.D.
Lehigh University
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Course No. 1235
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Course Overview

Choose one: (A) Science gives us objective knowledge of an independently existing reality. (B) Scientific knowledge is always provisional and tells us nothing that is universal, necessary, or certain about the world. Welcome to the science wars—a long-running battle over the status of scientific knowledge that began in ancient Greece, raged furiously among scientists, social scientists, and humanists during the 1990s, and has re-emerged in today's conflict between science and religion over issues such as evolution.

Professor Steven L. Goldman, whose Teaching Company course on Science in the 20th Century was praised by customers as "a scholarly achievement of the highest order" and "excellent in every way," leads you on a quest for the nature of scientific reasoning in this intellectually pathbreaking lecture series, Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It.

Those who have taken Professor Goldman's previous course, which is an intensive survey of the revolution in scientific knowledge from 1900 to 2000, may have wondered: if what counts as scientific knowledge can transform so dramatically within only 100 years, what exactly is scientific knowledge? Science Wars addresses this surprisingly difficult question.

Five Centuries of the Science Wars

In 24 half-hour lectures, Science Wars explores the history of competing conceptions of scientific knowledge and their implications for science and society from the onset of the Scientific Revolution in the 1600s to the present. It may seem that the accelerating pace of discoveries, inventions, and unexpected insights into nature during this period guarantees the secure foundations of scientific inquiry, but that is far from true. Consider these cases:

  • The scientific method: In the 1600s the English philosopher Francis Bacon defined the scientific method in its classic form: the use of inductive reasoning to draw conclusions from an exhaustive body of facts. But "no scientist has ever been a strict Baconian," says Professor Goldman. "If you followed that, you would get nowhere."
  • A "heated" debate: Around 1800 the dispute over the nature of heat was resolved in favor of the theory that heat is motion and not a substance given off during burning. But then the French mathematical physicist Joseph Fourier wrote a set of equations that accurately described how heat behaves regardless of what it "really" is, which, Fourier contended, was not a scientific question at all.
  • Paradigm shifts: The publication in 1962 of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions precipitated a radical change in attitudes toward scientific knowledge, prompted by Kuhn's insight that science is not an entirely rational enterprise, and that its well-established theories (or paradigms) are overturned in a revolutionary, nonlogical process.
  • Postmodern putdown: The postmodern attack on science as a privileged mode of inquiry made some headway in the late 20th century. But the credibility of the movement wilted in 1996, when a postmodern journal unwittingly published a spoof by physicist Alan Sokal, purporting to prove that physical theory was socially constructed. Sokal then exposed his piece as a parody.
  • In the penultimate lecture of the course, Professor Goldman considers intelligent design—the argument that evolution can't account for the immense complexity of life and that a master designer must be at work. He approaches this topical debate by asking: What are the minimum criteria that define a hypothesis as scientific, and does intelligent design qualify? Having already covered five centuries of the science wars in the previous lectures, you will analyze this controversy with a set of tools that allows you to see the issues in a sharp, new light.

What Is Reality?

"Fasten your seatbelts," says Professor Goldman at the outset of Lecture 21—an advisory that applies equally to the whole course, which covers an astonishing array of ideas and thinkers. Throughout, Professor Goldman never loses his narrative thread, which begins 2,400 years ago with Plato's allegorical battle between "the gods" and "the earth giants"—between those for whom knowledge is universal, necessary, and certain; and those for whom it cannot be so and is based wholly on experience.

The problem of what constitutes scientific knowledge can be illustrated with one of the most famous and widely accepted scientific theories of all time, Nicolaus Copernicus's heliostatic (stationary sun) theory of the solar system, which has undergone continual change since it was first proposed in 1543:

  • Copernicus called for the planets to move in uniform circular motion around the sun, slightly displaced from the center.
  • Using observations by Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler revised the Copernican model, discarding the ancient dogma of circular motion, which did not fit the data. Instead, he guessed that the planets in fact move in elliptical orbits.
  • In his influential work endorsing the Copernican theory, Galileo ignored Kepler's corrections and opted for circular motion. Notoriously, the Catholic Church condemned Galileo for heresy. But the church was actually correct that he had no basis for claiming the heliocentric theory was true, rather than simply an interpretation of experience.
  • Galileo's picture of space was superseded by Newton's and later by Einstein's, which also will doubtless be revised.
  • Even something as basic as the elliptical motion of the planets is a vast oversimplification. There are no closed curves in space, since the solar system is moving around the center of the galaxy; the galaxy is moving within the local cluster; and the local cluster is also moving.

Although we still call the conventional picture of the solar system Copernican astronomy, there is effectively no resemblance between astronomy today and Copernicus's 1543 theory of the heavens. The same is also true of other theories, such as the atomic theory of matter. All scientific theories are in a state of ceaseless revision, which raises the question of what reality "really" is.

As the contemporary philosopher of science Mary Hesse has pointed out, the lesson of the history of science seems to be that the theories we currently hold to be true are as likely to be overturned as the theories they replaced!

Sharpen Your Understanding of What Science Is

The uncertainty about the status of scientific knowledge and about the objectivity of the scientific enterprise led to a broad assault on science in the late 20th century by sociologists, philosophers, and historians, many connected with the postmodern movement. The lectures covering this attack and the ensuing counterattack by scientists are some of the most thrilling in the course and involve a number of figures whom Professor Goldman knows personally.

Of one of the firebrands in this conflict, the late Viennese philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend, Professor Goldman says, "I myself took a seminar with Feyerabend when he was teaching at Berkeley in the early 1960s. … Feyerabend was not really off the wall, although he was often depicted that way. … He too recognized, as everyone must, that after all, science does work and science is knowledge of a sort. It's just not the absolute knowledge that scientists and philosophers have historically claimed that it is."

By the time you reach the end of this course, you will understand exactly what science is, and you will be enlightened about a fascinating problem that perhaps you didn't even know existed. "There have been a raft of popular books about what scientists know," says Professor Goldman, "but to the best of my knowledge, there is not a single one of these popular books that focuses centrally on the question of how scientists know what they know."

This course serves as that book.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Knowledge and Truth Are Age-Old Problems
    What is it that scientists know, and how do they know what they know? The "science wars" in the late 20th century were a dispute within modern science that signals a deep, longstanding conflict over this question. x
  • 2
    Competing Visions of the Scientific Method
    This lecture casts doubt on the popular notion that the rise of modern science in the early 17th century was the result of discovering a single method for extracting objective truths about nature from subjective experience. x
  • 3
    Galileo, the Catholic Church, and Truth
    The Catholic Church has been cast as villain in its condemnation of Galileo, but a great deal hinges on whether Galileo possessed knowledge and was defending truth, or was promoting personal opinions based on his beliefs. x
  • 4
    Isaac Newton’s Theory of the Universe
    Isaac Newton's mathematical theory of gravity and motion works, and for more than 200 years was lauded as finally giving knowledge of physical reality. But Newtonian physics is wrong, in spite of "working." x
  • 5
    Science vs. Philosophy in the 17th Century
    From the beginning, modern science used novel instruments that disclosed realities that cannot be experienced directly. But the very novelty of these instruments raised questions about what it was they revealed. x
  • 6
    Locke, Hume, and the Path to Skepticism
    John Locke formulated the classic empirical theory of knowledge, while George Berkeley mounted a vigorous attack on modern science, and David Hume embraced skepticism, criticizing unjustifiable knowledge claims. x
  • 7
    Kant Restores Certainty
    Immanuel Kant invented a philosophical system that guaranteed universal, necessary, and certain knowledge, but at a price. We could have knowledge of experience, but not of the world as it "really" is, beyond experience. x
  • 8
    Science, Society, and the Age of Reason
    The role that scientific knowledge plays in society today is the realization of the 18th-century Enlightenment vision linking social reform and the idea of progress to reason by way of science. x
  • 9
    Science Comes of Age in the 19th Century
    In spite of science's growing applicability to the real world through technology, scientists began to question the relationship between theories and reality, influenced by such startling ideas as non-Euclidean geometry. x
  • 10
    Theories Need Not Explain
    Joseph Fourier and others showed that a theory can provide prediction and control without describing realities behind experience. But then as now, the dominant view was that scientific theories reveal what is really out there. x
  • 11
    Knowledge as a Product of the Active Mind
    William Whewell invented the term "scientist" and tried to demonstrate that creative activity by the mind is a fundamental factor in scientific reasoning, and that the history of science is crucial in understanding this process. x
  • 12
    Trading Reality for Experience
    This lecture looks at thinkers as diverse as Ernst Mach, Pierre Duhem, and Heinrich Hertz, who argued from three different perspectives that theories were non-unique interpretations of experience, not descriptions of reality. x
  • 13
    Scientific Truth in the Early 20th Century
    Ironically, just as science increasingly mattered to the general public, and for that reason scientific knowledge was accepted as true, the 19th-century scientific theories responsible for this perception were being discarded! x
  • 14
    Two New Theories of Scientific Knowledge
    The most proscience philosophies in the first half of the 20th century were logical positivism, which embraced the primacy of scientific knowledge, and pragmatism, a homegrown American philosophy that rejected it. x
  • 15
    Einstein and Bohr Redefine Reality
    Relativity and quantum theory raised new questions about the relationship of science to reality. This lecture addresses these questions, which continue unresolved to this day. x
  • 16
    Truth, Ideology, and Thought Collectives
    The most radical theory of scientific knowledge to be formulated in the 1930s came from immunologist Ludwik Fleck, who used the history of syphilis as a vehicle for exploring what scientists know and how they know it. x
  • 17
    Kuhn's Revolutionary Image of Science
    The 1962 publication of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions sparked a reassessment by intellectuals of the privileged status of scientific knowledge and more broadly of the possibility of true objectivity. x
  • 18
    Challenging Mainstream Science from Within
    Scientific thinking has a collective character shaped by education and professional community life, but scientific theories also evolve, and highly credentialed "outsiders" play a role. x
  • 19
    Objectivity Under Attack
    Israel Scheffler and Paul Feyerabend assumed opposite stances in response to Kuhn's thesis. Independently, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida launched an attack on the very possibility of objective knowledge. x
  • 20
    Scientific Knowledge as Social Construct
    In the 1980s, a consensus formed that scientific and technological knowledge were not value-neutral, but the products of communal practices deeply affected by professional and societal values. x
  • 21
    New Definitions of Objectivity
    While many intellectuals after 1960 were busily denouncing Western ideals of rationality, knowledge, and truth as politically motivated myths, many philosophers of science proposed defensible theories of scientific realism. x
  • 22
    Science Wars of the Late 20th Century
    In 1996, a postmodern journal addressed the science wars after a decade of hostility between scientists and supporters of the social construction view. The journal unwittingly published a parody of postmodernism known as Sokal's hoax. x
  • 23
    Intelligent Design and the Scope of Science
    Is intelligent design a scientific hypothesis? This question highlights issues of who defines what science is, what constitutes good science, and what words like rationality, truth, knowledge, and reality mean. x
  • 24
    Truth, History, and Citizenship
    At a time when science is involved in profound social, moral, and environmental challenges, misunderstanding the positions of competing interpretations of science is an obstacle to effective action. x

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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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Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 103.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Albert Einstein: Physicist,Philosopher,Humitarian What a fascinating history of Einstein's life and works! I knew about his relativity contributions, but not about his doubts about quantum mechanics, NOR about his questioning the creation of the atomic bomb, even though it was based on his own E=mc(squared) equation. And it was interesting how he grew up not being much affected by being a Jew, but how he eventually got very active in his Jewish identity.
Date published: 2017-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course About Scientific Knowledge Thoroughly enjoyed this course. I took one like it back when I was an undergraduate physics major. This refreshed my knowledge of what I had learned and brought me up to speed into the early 21st Century.
Date published: 2017-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Watch this first. Of all the Great Courses I have, this is easily the best introduction to thinking. It develops thinking not just about thr scientific method but whay approach to studying the art of thiught. His historical presentation gives context to some of the eternal questions mankind has thought about.
Date published: 2017-01-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Worthwhile A good set of lectures. I don't think it is what the instructor intended, but it makes a good case for eschewing the term Scientist and a return to the idea of this endeavor as Natural Philosophy. Let the discussion begin...
Date published: 2016-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In Defense of Philosophy I think therefore I am. At least I think I think. Descartes would definitely say I know I think. But then what does it mean to know? Sometimes the philosophy of knowledge seems like babel to me. Then there is Science! Now that's something I can sink my thoughts into. It's also a place where the philosophy of knowledge makes sense. In some sense modern science is the child of the philosophy of knowledge through the works of philosophers like Bacon and Descartes. It is the job of science philosophers to question scientists' intellectual wanderings, to test the claims of science for coherence, and to help the rest of us place science in our value systems. That is the core of this course. Some will find it too abstract but Professor Goldman does a good job of making this difficult discipline accessible and entertaining. His presentations are lively, conversational, and chock full of knowledge. Natural philosophy has been around for a very, very long time. Archimedes figured out why things float in the 3rd century BC. So it seems strange that science, as we know it today didn't evolve until the 17th and 18th centuries. It took philosophy to bring it about. Then came Newton and great minds saw what was possible with a scientific approach. When we look at theories like Archimedes' and Newton's it hard to see how they could be anything but descriptions of what really is but philosophers have always debated that nature of all knowledge, scientific knowledge included. Professor Goldman walks us through these thoughts, through to the work of Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn taught us that science isn't what we thought it was. Professor Goldman gives an excellent treatment of Kuhn's work and the later philosophers that questioned him. Today, the mathematics of science is beyond the reach of all but the very few. Physicists generate airy theories decades before any experimental evidence supports them and then they design incomprehensibly complex and expensive instrumentation to find exactly what they are looking for. Is this still science? Professor Goldman examines that question in detail. Science holds a lofty position in our society. I think that's justified but we need philosophy of science both to help us comprehend the nature of scientific knowledge and to keep science on a justifiable path.
Date published: 2016-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Science Doesn't Know Reality but Actualities So I have training as a scientist and in my early years quickly learned that if your ideas deviated too much from the status quo you wouldn't get published. My background was in the neurosciences, getting my Ph.D. in 1975. I thought much of the neuroscience work being done in the 1970s was BS and have since learned that 95% of what we know about the brain has been learned in the last 25 years. I suspect that 25 years from now, they will say the same thing. But that's the story of science itself. And that's because what science knows changes every 25 to 100 years, depending on the resistance to the current scientists of new information. This is review in an exceptional manner in this course. What's missing however, is a discussion of why and a lot of the material explained in Korzybski's Science and Sanity. Most other books that questioned nature of what we know were mentioned, so why not this one. However, overall I loved this course and will listen to it several times. However, the conclusion is rather lame. He says science can never no reality, so lets invent a new word, actualities. And what happens he says is that science continually redefines what it knows about actualities.
Date published: 2016-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a philosophy course This course is or at least starts about evolution of scientific philosophy, not what I thought it would be. However, astronomy is one of my favorite subjects, and the course included sessions on Galileo, Isaac Newton and Einstein. I managed to enjoy those 3 sessions immensely, in spite of how much I hate philosophy. The professor is a consummate speaker and teacher. Unfortunately, because of my aversion to philosophy, I don't think I'll be able to listen to the other sessions. Maybe I'll skip to the end.
Date published: 2016-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superlative I have all three of Prof. Goldman's courses. Brilliant, spellbinding. He's the Master.
Date published: 2016-08-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Historical Review of Philosophy of Science This is the first Great Course I've thought was a waste of time and money. It's not about current disputes over scientific ideas. The vast majority is a historical review of the development of the philosophy of science, the 'what is knowledge' question as it has evolved since the time of Plato. The professor is quite enthusiastic and taken with his subject, but I had a difficult time staying focused as he threw out name after name and philosophical concept after concept. It all blended together into a giant mishmash and I found myself constantly wondering why I cared about anything he had to say. My undergraduate degree was in the biological sciences and my advanced degree in critical thinking, but I just couldn't follow this course or professor at all. If you do decide to try this one, just understand that it is first and foremost an historical review of the evolution of the philosophy of scientific reasoning, not a course dealing with competing scientific theories on specific topics.
Date published: 2016-07-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from not the content I had hoped I actually returned this course so my review is only from a partial listen. From the first handful of lectures, I could tell this course is much more about philosophy than science. It is centered around the word "knowledge" and how it is obtained. I was hoping for more of a science course. The professor is wonderful though. I just didn't like the subject. He is one of the more enjoyable lecturers I have listened to from the teaching company.
Date published: 2016-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Multidisicplanary Approach to Philo. of Science Goldman is uniquely qualified to elucidate important issues and debates within the philosophy of science while simultaneously showing how such matters (e.g. questions about Truth, objectivity, knowledge, method, evidence, et al.) have shaped the institutions of modern science and technology. He is very knowledgeable in several domains including philosophy, science, mathematics, history and sociology. This enables him to make connections that more narrowly focused lecturers might not. Prof. Goldman thinks and expounds a bit rapidly, so reviewing the guide-book might be helpful for those not already steeped in philosophy of science. The lectures are part philosophy and part intellectual history and, imo, always thought provoking. Video is not essential for this course, although there are some useful illustrations, diagrams, equations, photos and definitions onscreen if you are visually oriented. The course is from 2006 so the graphics are not super high-tech. The guide-book contains concise outlines of all lectures, a timeline, glossary and an annotated bibliography but It does not include any graphics (e.g. astronomical diagrams, charts, photos etc.) found in the video. Finally, this professor literally thinks on his feet as he moves to and fro, keeping the camera man busy throughout. If such a peripatetic style makes you dizzy, I recommend audio (though I enjoyed watching him thinking in motion, as opposed to reading from a teleprompter). I have seen or heard all 3 of Goldman's courses and have not been disappointed by any of them. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Course I Have Heard In Great Courses This course is superb. It is presented in a dynamic conversational style, not a monotone read from a transcript. Unlike many of the other philosophy professors, this prof also has a degree in hard science (physics). What a difference it makes ! This course could also be titled "Reality Wars" as Dr. Goldman ultimately is dealing with "what is reality and can we ever know it". However, he does not deal with the subject using the word games and "philo-babble " so common with philosophers. I have advanced degrees in science and appreciated Dr. Goldman's obvious deep knowledge of many scientific topics. The bottom line is that he examines issues perhaps deeper than those dealt with in any r course for sale here and does a great job. My only criticisms were that he should have spent more time explaining 1.Why (alluded to only) Popper's falsification is "wrong" . 2. Spent as much time on the question of wheher or not string theory is science as he did on creationism. The latter is obviously not science but the former may or may not be in that category.
Date published: 2015-10-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Philosophy Wars The title of this course is misleading, a more accurate title would be 'Philosophy Wars: The Rambling History of a Soft Science'. If you are looking for knowledge about the hard sciences, avoid this course.
Date published: 2015-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved it I have listened to about 20-25 great courses, and I just wrote a review for the first one to disappoint me, so to be fair, I'm coming back to write a review of my favorite course so far. The gist of this one is how do we know what we know -- or how do we *think* we know what we know, and what is our method for finding out more? Of course, two major approaches to that set of questions are science and religion, but neither is as simple as it seems. This course explores the different methods and beliefs over the centuries that philosophy, religion, and science have applied to the subject of "knowledge." I thought it was fascinating.
Date published: 2015-07-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prof Goldman is my hero I cannot get enough of Prof Goldman. Its as if the questions he addresses are those questions that I have long harboured but not heard addressed, till now. I have purchased the audio product which I find very easy to follow. I look forward to listening and re-listening to Prof Goldman in the years to come. Congratulations to the Great Courses for producing such works and thanks to Prof Goldman for such shear intellectual brilliance, clarity of thought and superb teaching skills
Date published: 2015-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superlative, in a class all by himself I've listened to 3-4 dozen "The Great Courses" professors. Dr. Goldman is by far the very best, in a class by himself because of (1) his dynamic and flawless presentation, (2) the very rich content of his course, and (3) his amazing ability to recall minute details, dates, names, title of books, and lines of philosophical and scientific arguments. Apparently he is one of those few with the ability of absolute recall of anything and everything he's ever read or heard. In addition, he is able to correctly pronounce the German oe and ue vowels that only few Americans are able to do. He has closely approximated the correct pronunciation even of the names of such Hungarian mathematicians and scientists as Eotvoes, Bolyai-Farkas, Polanyi, and Lakatos to which I can attest having been raised in Budapest. By contrast, many lecturers in The Great Courses series make a regular habit of butchering French and German names (forget about Hungarian names) that any well-educated American should be able to pronounce correctry. Also, by contrast to Dr. Goldman, many other lecturers not only stumble over their words but are disconcertingly glued to teleprompters in front of them on either side from which they read the text of their lectures, That practice shows lack of adequate knowledge of their course materials in general and lack of adequate preparation for their lectures coupled with their pitiable lack of self-confidence as lecturers/public speakers. Dr. Goldman, as a master instructor, could give pointers to most of the other lecturers at The Great Courses. I would heartily recommend all the other courses by Dr. Steven Louis Goldman.
Date published: 2015-02-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thought-provoking This course covers, in an historical fashion, the question of whether science can reveal the reality behind experience. As a science-oriented person, I have always assumed that was the case, without thinking about it critically. So this course raised questions new to me, and Professor Goldman presents the arguments well. I recommend this course to anyone who wishes to explore the nature of knowledge, of what we can know and what we think we know.
Date published: 2014-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Of Inestimable Value Dr. Steven L. Goldman presents the nature and history of science in a most effective way. Of the two dozen Great Courses lectures that I have watched, I find these lectures on the philosophy of science to be of the highest relevance and effectiveness. His presentation is absorbing, riveting, captivating and enthralling. Difficult philosophical concepts are explained so well that one is increasingly filled with enthusiasm for the subject. If we want to avoid the scientism that has permeated western society, we need to understand the nature and development of science, and Dr. Goldman has succeeded in helping us do that. I believe that this set of lectures should be an indispensible part of the education of not only scientists and engineers, but anyone who is interested in the nature of knowledge and truth. Any educated person who has not heard these lectures I consider to be deprived of a complete education. If I were to recommend only one set of lectures to buy and watch, Science Wars is the one. The need for its message cannot be overstated.
Date published: 2014-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from As philosophical as it is historical This course explores a long-running gap or problem point in the philosophy of knowledge, showing how an eminent succession of philosopher-scientists attempted to repair the crack, with little lasting success. The professor maintained my interest throughout, and I believe this course would have value to anyone interested in epistemology, philosophy of science or the deep roots of recent disputes over the provability of science.
Date published: 2014-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderfully Stimulating! In this series of 24 lectures, Professor Steven Goldman discusses at length a topic crucial to him but potentially little known to many of his potential listeners: the validity of scientific ‘truths‘, given many are profoundly revised over a period of sometimes only a few decades. Repeatedly, he brings back as an example the difference in the understanding of the Earth and the Universe in 1900 with respect to 2000: no plate tectonics, no molten core, no multiplicity of galaxies, no big bang, no expanding cosmos, etc. Were scientific facts then totally not valid? Are today’s any better? Are scientists gradually proceeding towards the discovery of an absolute Truth or are they swayed towards certain views by their philosophical and social milieus? Such questions are treated passionately and enthusiastically by Professor Goldman with a chrono-historical approach from the 17th century to the present. Admittedly, such philosophical discussions are theoretical and may seem far-fetched to some. Yet, this highly original series is thought-provoking and will prove interesting to all minimally familiar with the history of science.
Date published: 2014-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Complex The professor is extremely thorough! The course outline not only contains each lecture in detail but it also has short biographies of each person mentioned. There is a plethora of material in these lectures. Not for the lazy!
Date published: 2014-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intellectually Stimulating Audio Review: This is the second course I have taken from Dr. Goldman. Among the over 40 courses (and over 30 instructors) I have taken from TGC, I find Dr. Goldman's to be the most intellectually stimulating. His depth and breadth of knowledge in history, philosophy and science is astounding. He moves at a crisp pace as he covers a lot of intellectual territory in each lecture. The "Science Wars" he discusses are basically regarding the intellectual nature of what can be learned from science. The basic conflict relates to whether science tells us about a reality that exists independent of human interaction or just the best description of the nature of the universe that human's experience. There are different corollaries of this basic "war" discussed, such as whether or not anything true in mathematics must exist in nature, but the "reality" vs "experience" theme is the basic battleground of the "Science Wars". Dr. Goldman takes the student through the progression of these battles (mostly between philosophers and "natural philosophers" (ie scientists) from the Enlightenment through today's 21st century. One very important point that Dr. Goldman comes back to several times throughout the course, is that scientific theory itself is not stagnant, it evolves with time as more knowledge is gained. More often than not this is as a result of finding new phenomena as we explore the infinite and infinitesimal regions beyond the scope of what was realizable previously. Sometimes conventional scientific wisdom does turn out to be wrong (e.g. the "plum pudding" model of the atom in light of Rutherford's experiments, or that the speed of light is greater if sourced from a moving object). Such is the consequence of having theory stand up to the test of experiment and/or observation. This course gives a progressive history of the "Science Wars" of the past several centuries along with the evolution of philosophy of knowledge itself that came with it. It is not intended to be a comprehensive view of current scientific or technological debates. Dr. Goldman is a very enthusiastic, articulate and emphatic lecturer. I took the first of his courses on video, but I found that audio version of this course quite sufficient. The accompanying course guide is excellent with quality lecture notes, intriguing questions to consider, a timeline, glossary, biographical notes, and an annotated bibliography. I strongly recommend this course to anyone interested in the history and/or philosophy of science.
Date published: 2014-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not for People with The Answers or Tyros Already read Locke, Hume, Popper, Kuhn, Feyerabend, Medawar, et al, and this course is a great provider of summary and context for all those separate works. If you want a Golden Book of Famous Science Facts, this ain't it. If you're over the age of 40 and have been interested in the emergence of Science from the quagmire of metaphysics and the manga of religion, this is the place. Should come standard with every AAAS membership.
Date published: 2014-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Breadth & Depth I’ve purchased Teaching Co./Great Courses products since the early 90s when I bought audio tapes to supplement some gaps in knowledge (modern philosophy) while I was in a PhD program (English, literature and criticism). Since then I’ve purchased CDs, DVDs, and downloaded audio on a variety of topics in humanities in order to enhance my teaching, first in a community college and now at a research university. Prof. Goldman’s lectures on the Science Wars are among the best Great Courses I’ve seen or listened to, demonstrating his breadth and depth, introducing important concepts, making insightful connections. I purchased this series of lectures in order to prepare to teach an undergraduate gender and science course in the fall. My next purchase will be his “Great Scientific Ideas That Changed the World” (when it goes on sale!).
Date published: 2014-07-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing Ending A very comprehensive course on the history of science and philosophy of science; overarching review of the back and forth within - and about - the scientific community. At times there was a lot of information to chew on but I kept thinking it would be worth it in the end. What I anticipated was a great, unbiased "view from 30,000 feet" of the present science wars and (hopefully) a real prescription for how to reach a better detente. When we finally got to the present - with a review of ID - it was a complete let-down; what I perceived as a biased, party-line smear of one side of the modern science wars (supposedly not a "maligning" but a "criticizing" - however that's just semantics; he dismisses the whole thing as "unscientific"). He ignores those aspects of the opposing view where similar flaws can be seen. Even as a lay-person, I could see the lopsided arguments, points left out, points overly-emphasized, and just the general one-sidedness of the lecture. I kept thinking, over and over: "You work at Lehigh with Michael Behe; have you ever even talked with him about this?" So the problem is that after hours of comprehensive and intensive lectures, Dr. Goldman left me only with frustration and all my original questions. "Leave science to the scientists, even if they're wrong". Which works if science doesn't impact the direction of my life. To combat that, He says we should let the public vote on policy decisions related to science. Which also works fine if the public is truthfully updated on science and has faith it is being truthfully updated. [E.g. the data controversies regarding climate science weren't even addressed, though that was one of my hopes when I purchased the course. Fracking? Pesticides? GMO's & our food supply?] The current science wars involve the public more than ever in history, I believe, and thus they involve just as much deceit and politicking and subversion as ever before. This is what I had hoped he could shape for us in a clear-eyed manner. Instead, we end with a call to come up with a new term about what science is attempting; the modern science wars essentially overlooked. Thus, for a historical view of science wars, it is a great course. If you hope (as I did) to get a better grip on the modern science wars, you won't find it here.
Date published: 2014-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought provoking Some reviewers are distracted by the kinetic movement of the professor. I found the style energized, passionate and lively. I learned a lot in this course. The question of whether science is a quest for the universal or is limited to our experiences or concepts runs throughout the course, which, necessarily is historical. The professor reconciles the provocative question very thoughtfully in the end. Those that come to this course should appreciate it as a philosophy of science and not a science course. Highly recommended. One of the few courses I would listen to again.
Date published: 2014-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of Favorite Courses I recently listened to this lecture series again, and I liked it more the second time around than the first. The professor is excellent in his presentation. I love the historical approach that he takes for building up his ideas. I also loved his development of his ideas around the concept of the God vs. The Earth Giants. I often say a lectures series, or a book, is awsome if you get one great idea, or concept from it. Well the great idea that I got from this series is how modern science seems to be built around a logical fallacy called Affirming the Consequent. The first time I listened to the series I went back and listened to the lecture that explains this idea 3 times because I found the idea so astounding. I also really appreciated how he points out that for many years technology drove science. The statement was that no one would mistake the Wright brothers for scientists was marvelous. Yet they figured out how to make a flying machine, then the scientists helped to make it better. I highly recommend this series. I also highly recommend it if you're considering the Philosophy of Science series, by Prof. Kasser, because this one is much more accessible and lays the ground work for what is coverd in that series.
Date published: 2014-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best I don't have much to add to what other reviewer's have written, but I found the course material interesting and enthusiastically and clearly presented. The bibliography is thorough and the course well-structured. I took philosophy of science in college (about 30 years ago) and I took the other Teaching Company Philosophy of Science course. The latter is also good, but I really enjoy the more thoroughly historical approach to the subject presented in this course. It draws on a broader range of thinkers and doesn't emphasize the logical empiricists (as does Prof. Kasser's course). I enjoy this course and topic so much that I've actually watched this course by Prof. Goldman 3 times on DVD.
Date published: 2014-01-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting topic, good prof, poor structure This is the second time I've listened to these lectures, and I enjoyed them less the second time, even though I believe I got more out of them. I'm also torn between 3 and 4 stars, as the content of the course is very interesting, and I feel I learned a great deal. Also, unlike several of the reviewers, I did not have trouble following the professor, and I actually enjoyed listening to the courses. I do have a similar "complaint" to many other reviewers relating to the title of the course. It really is misnamed, as this is a history of the philosophy of science, not really a science course at all, at least as I understand the concept.. My main problem, however, was the structure of the course. In some ways this is not even so much of a history of the philosophy of science as much as it is a history of the philosoPHERS of science. And unless philosophers are set to silly Monty Python tunes, I can't tell a German from a Frog. Seriously, this course was marred, in my mind, by the professor's insistence on structuring everything around the philosophers themselves rather than around their ideas. Although he does, of course, explain the ideas that they put forth, he then goes on to refer to the history of each idea by referencing back to the philosopher him- (generally) -self. This was just too much for me to be able to follow effectively. If, instead, he had structured the course around big ideas, with the history of each principal idea being followed all the way through, it would have been much easier to follow. You would have lost the chronological cohesiveness, of course. And you would have little idea of how the different strands of each idea related to each other in time, but I think that would have been a worthy price to pay. This is especially true given that professor Goldman doesn't really make too much of the effect a particular time had on a particular philosophical approach. I recognize that the problem with this approach may be that there is really only one big debate through the entire course: the realist vs. the experiential perspectives. However, I did think there were sufficient "sub-ideas" that could have served as framework for a more topical approach. Overall, I did enjoy the course, and do recommend it. However, be prepared for a dose of that kind of history course that you hated in college, with lots and lots of names to be memorized. If you can muddle through the long list of names, though, and focus on the ideas, the course is fascinating and well worth listening to!
Date published: 2013-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course...Brilliant professor Philosophy and science are interrelated in that, at the core of each, is the search for truth. Indeed, until the past 200 years or so, scientists were termed natural philosophers. Although it is listed as a science course, this course is heavy on philosophy and light on science. It could be more aptly called “The Philosophical History of Science”. It covers a long history of philosophers and scientists chronologically from Plato to the present…and explores their beliefs, theories, concepts, and accomplishments in the pursuit of truth. In doing so, its serves as an over view of some of the history of philosophy and science as well. Science is discussed as both a catalyst and a role player within an ever-changing philosophical concept of how one discovers and determines “truth” and “reality”…and whether it is even possible to do either. Professor Goldman displays a brilliant intellect. He rarely uses notes and delivers, in astounding detail, that huge body of information I mentioned in the first paragraph. He reveals a deep understanding of both philosophy and science. He has obviously studied some of the personalities involved as well…with occasional asides mentioning interesting facts of their lives. His presentation is best described as animated….he is constantly on the move. I’m sure he was a challenge for the camera person, who does an admirable job in following him. It was a bit distractive at first, but I quickly adapted to it. Goldman makes use of many gestures and analogs to bring understanding to complex philosophical concepts. In the DVD version, those conceptual descriptions are displayed on screen and the professor then carefully goes through it to explain it. He sometimes stumbles for words a bit as he searches his mind and then provides a further in-depth explanation. It is a minor nitpick which is offset by the thoroughness he so carefully provides. This course requires your focused attention. Let your mind wander a bit and you’ll miss the thrust of the lecture. It is an intellectually stimulating course with a huge amount of information. Some, especially non-philosophers, will likely feel that they’ve failed to fully absorb all of its insights with the first viewing. That describes me. I suspect that many, myself included, would benefit from a second viewing and I will plan to do so. This is an excellent course by a brilliant professor. I will purchase another of his courses. As a scientist, I highly recommended it as a course which thoroughly examines what we can truly know about scientific truth, universal truth, and the nature of reality itself.
Date published: 2013-05-05
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