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CORE 103 Process of Change in Science


Professor W. Däppen, Department of Physics and Astronomy >>
Professor A. Dunn, Department of Biological Sciences >>
Professor P. Lerner, Department of History >>



Professor Werner Däppen, Department of Physics and Astronomy

In contrast to conventional science courses where the emphasis is on conveying specific knowledge and skills, here we will take the opportunity to step somewhat back in order to obtain a broader picture.  We will discuss, among other ideas, some of the most important moments in the history of science, the tacit assumptions contained in scientific theories, the role of mathematics in science, and the completeness or incompleteness of scientific knowledge. We will try to do everything with as little mathematics as possible!

With the instructor being both a physicist and an astronomer, the course will slant the term "science" towards physics. The course will also contain a substantial cosmological component.  We will show how the quest about the nature of the universe has tremendously helped the development of physics. Physics, in turn, has paid back generously by delivering the very concepts that can make comprehensible the seemingly weirdest things in the universe.

We will begin with admiring the astronomical achievements of the Greeks, go over to the deterministic world of Newtonian physics, and then discuss its breakdowns evidenced by relativity, quantum theory, and chaos. Special emphasis will be given to the concept of symmetry, which lurks behind almost every significant development in physics!

The assigned books can be divided into two groups. Two books (Comins, Kuhn) will serve as references for the "crash course in physics and astronomy," which is inevitable and implicitly given in this class. The four other books are selected from among the finest popular-science writing. Three of them are by experts in their own fields (Aczel, Lorenz, Hooper), while the fourth is by a brilliant science writer (Bryson) who writes about many other things as well.

Since there is no shortcut around the hard work of properly studying science, the implicitly given crash course and the assigned popular-level reading material can of course not replace the serious stuff! The reading could rather be compared with phrase books for a foreign language. One should not underestimate the power of a good phrasebook! During a trip, it opens many doors, leads to cultural insight, and above all, it can give immense pleasure. Similarly, in this class we will encounter and learn about real science. The experience will not be easy, but it should be interesting and enjoyable.  And most importantly, your instructor is here to help!

Amir D. Aczel.  Entanglement: The Greatest Mystery in Physics.  London: Plume (Penguin), 2003.
Bill Bryson.  A Short History of Nearly Everything.  New York: Broadway Books, 2004.
Neil F. Comins.  Discovering the Essential Universe (3rd Ed).  New York: W. H. Freeman & Co., 2006.
Dan Hooper.  Dark Cosmos: In Search of Our Universe's Missing Mass and Energy.  New York: Smithsonian Books (HarperCollins), 2006.
Karl F. Kuhn.  Basic Physics: A Self-Teaching Guide.  New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.
Edward N. Lorenz.  The Essence of Chaos (The Jessie and John Danz Lecture Series).  Seattle:
University of Washington Press, 1996.



Professor A. Dunn, Department of Biological Sciences        

Since 1950, advances in biology have been so rapid that we can safely say that they constitute a scientific revolution comparable with the revolutions in astronomy, mathematics and physics that resulted from the discoveries of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Isaac Newton.  Recently, a distinguished molecular biologist stated that if a student knew everything there was to know in 1970 about biochemistry and molecular biology, it would constitute only about five percent of what is known today.  The historical scientific foundations leading to this very sudden and recent revolution in biology, however, can be traced back to changes in ways of thinking that occurred in the Italian Renaissance, the 18th century Enlightenment, and to innovations in research in physiology and chemistry of the 19th century that occurred in France and Germany.  This course will explore the historical development of these scientific foundations as well as related events in the arts, literature, politics, economics, and changes in university education that impacted scientific research.

Reading assignments will cover the historiography of the history of science; changes in modes of thinking in the Renaissance and Enlightenment; the relationships between the beginnings of modern anatomy and the Florentine artists; William Harvey and circulation of blood; university reform and development of the modern research university; beginnings of a new physiology and chemistry in 19th century France; the impact of the German romantic movement in literature on "nature philosophy" and German science; the revolt of German scientists against "nature philosophy" and acceptance of mechanistic experimental approaches to biology; the fall of vitalism and the rise of modern biochemistry.

The Physiological and Biochemical Revolution.  A collection of history of science readings by different authors available on CD from Thematic Option office.




Professor P. Lerner, Department of History

This course proceeds from the assumption that science reflects broader cultural and social changes and trajectories. By studying our subject-madness, the mentally ill and the history of psychiatry-we will thus be able to ask deep questions concerning the nature of scientific truth, the creation of notions of normality and deviance and the relationship between power and knowledge in the modern West.

The course aims to investigate and elucidate the shifting place of insanity and the mentally ill in modern society and culture. We will ask how "madness" (and therefore normality) has been defined in different periods and regimes, and how the social and cultural role of "the mad" has changed over the course of modern history. We will also survey various models of the mind as well as the institutional, administrative and therapeutic approaches to mental illness that have been implemented over this period from the rise of the "moral treatment of the insane" around the French Revolution to the persecution of the mentally ill in Nazi Germany and through the emergence of the anti-psychiatry movement in the 1960s. Themes we will emphasize include: the relationship between medicine and the mad; changing approaches to the mind-body relationship; the significance of race and gender in ideas of mental illness; and the rise and fall of particular symptoms and diagnoses.

Reading assignments emphasize primary sources which embody key moments in the West's changing approaches to mental illness. Works we will look at include: Philippe Pinel's "Treatise on Insanity" from revolutionary Parise; Sigmund Freud's case histories; Max Nordau's writings on "degeneration"; R. D. Laing's views on schizophrenia; and Peter Kramer's defense of Prozac. A great deal of class time will be spent analyzing these sources and thus learning to treat scientific texts with several secondary sources: our three histories of psychiatry represent three of the dominant approaches to the subject: feminist, postmodern and scientific and will therefore allow us to examine the implications of these assumptions and methodologies on the status of mental illness in particular and scientific knowledge as a whole.

Michel Foucault. Madness and Civilization: A Treatise on Insanity in the Age of Reason.
New York: Vintage, 1988.
Peter Gay, Ed. The Freud Reader. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995
Max Nordau. Degeneration. Introduction by George L. Mosse, Ed. Lincoln: University of
Nebraska, 1993.
Edward Shorter. A History of Psychiatry. From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of
. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1998.
Elaine Showalter. The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-
. New York: Viking Penguin, 1987.


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