Science, Perception, and Reality

Course Description

Modern science sheds light on many of the perennial questions of philosophy, sometimes seeming to confirm or refute old answers and sometimes suggesting new ones. Are sensory qualities, such as colors, in external things or only in our minds? Is the world governed by deterministic laws, and if so, what room is there for freedom of the will? Could space have extra dimensions? Could space obey geometrical laws other than the familiar ones of Euclid? Is time something that flows, or is the world a static four-dimensional manifold? Is time travel possible? Do the laws of classical logic break down at the level of quantum events? Is reality at the quantum level to any significant extent (as some have maintained) an observer-created reality? In this course we will explore these questions, using as food for thought both works of philosophy and elementary expositions of the two major theories of 20th-century physics, relativity theory and quantum mechanics.

During the first week, our theme will be the relation between the world of everyday perception and the world as described by science. We will pay special attention to the writings of the great 18th-century philosopher George Berkeley, who wrestled with this issue as it arose during the heyday of the Newtonian worldview. We will also learn something about Berkeley’s predecessors Locke and Galileo and his successors Hume and Kant. Berkeley resided from 1729 to 1731 at what is now the Whitehall Museum House near Newport, RI, and our class will take a field trip to his home.

During the second week, our theme will be philosophical questions about the nature of space and time. Among other things, we will read Einstein's own popular exposition of the Special Theory of Relativity, seeking to determine what bearing it has on the geometry of space, the reality of temporal flow, and the possibility of time travel.

During the third week, we will turn to quantum physics, reading explanations of it for the layman and pondering its implications for determinism and observer-created reality.

In this course, you will:

• Become acquainted with some of the main questions of philosophy,
• Gain a basic understanding of the two most important developments in twentieth-century physics, and learn some of the ways in which philosophy and physics influence and inform each other.
• Hone your skills in recognizing, constructing, and critically assessing philosophical arguments, as our reading materials contain many argumentative passages on which you will be asked to practice this valuable skill.




One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: June 27, 2022 - July 15, 2022
Duration: 3 Weeks
Meeting Times: M-F 8:30A-11:20A
Status: Closed
Format: On-Campus
Instructor(s): James Van Cleve
Course Number: 10314