Philosophy and the Sciences

8 h
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Week 1. Introduction to the course

(Michela Massimi and Duncan Pritchard)

In this Introductory session, we introduce you to the broad field of 'philosophy of science' and clarify some of the central questions that philosophers ask about science. In particular, we briefly review the nature of scientific knowledge and debates about the scientific method, from induction to Karl Popper's falsification. We also discuss the problem of underdetermination, and Thomas Kuhn's view of scientific knowledge—both central to our following lectures on philosophy of cosmology.


Week 2. The origin of our universe

(Michela Massimi and John Peacock)

How did our universe form andevolve? Was there really a Big Bang,and what came before it? In this class, we take you through the history ofcontemporary cosmology and we look at how scientists arrived at the currentunderstanding of our universe. We look at the history of astronomy, with thenebular hypothesis back in the eighteenth century, and in more recent times,Einstein’s general relativity and the ensuing cosmological models. Finally, weexplain the current Standard Model and early universe cosmology and theexperimental evidence behind it.  

Week 3. What are dark matter and dark energy?

(Michela Massimi and JohnPeacock)

According to the currently accepted model in cosmology, our universe is made up of 5% of ordinary matter, 25% cold dark matter, and 70% dark energy. But what kind of entities are dark matter and dark energy? In this class, we take you through a fascinating journey at the frontiers of contemporary cosmology and particle physics. We also look at alternative theories that explain the same experimental evidence without recourse to the hypothesis of dark matter and dark energy and we discuss the rationale for choosing between rival research programs. 

Week 4. The Anthropic Reasoning in Philosophy and Cosmology

(Alasdair Richmondand John Peacock)

Anthropic reasoning attempts to understand peculiarities of the physical universe via context-sensitive observers in a multiverse of different distinct universes. Anthropic reasoning can explain the dimensionality of space (and time), the ratio of gravitational and electromagnetic forces, the valency of carbon bonds, and the ages of the stars we observe in the night sky. Other anthropic explanations suggest that our universe ought to be a gigantic time machine and that we may live inside a ‘Matrix’-style computer-simulated reality. In this class, we review the problems and prospects of anthropic reasoning by drawing on cutting-edge research in galaxy formation.


Week 5. Stone-age minds in modern skulls:evolutionary theory and the philosophy of mind

(Suilin Lavelle and Kenny Smith)

This week, we will explore scientific interpretations of how our minds evolved, and some of the methodologies used in forming these interpretations.  We will relate evolutionary debates to a core issue in the philosophy of mind, namely, whether all knowledge comes from experience, or whether we have ‘inborn’ knowledge about certain aspects of our world.

Week 6. What is consciousness?

(Mark Sprevak and David Carmel)

One of the hardest problems inscience is the nature of consciousness. We know that we have consciousness. Wedo not just blindly process information, make discriminations, take actions. Italso feels a certain way to do sofrom the inside. Why do creatures with brains like ours have consciousness?What makes certain bits of our mental life conscious and others not? Thesequestions form the heart of consciousnessscience, an exciting field to which psychologists, neuroscientists andphilosophers contribute. This session will explore these questions, andintroduce some recent progress that has been made towards answering them.

Week 7. Intelligent machines and the human brain

(Mark Sprevak and Peggy Series)

How does one make a cleveradaptive machine that can recognise speech, control an aircraft, and detectcredit card fraud? Recent years have seen a revolution in the kinds of taskscomputers can do. Underlying

is the burgeoningfield of machine learning andcomputational neuroscience. The same methods that allow us to make clevermachines also appear to hold the key to understanding ourselves: to explaininghow our brain and mind work. We explore this exciting new field and some of thephilosophical questions that it raises.

Week 8. EmbodiedCognition

(Andy Clark and Barbara Webb)

Cognitive Science has recentlytaken a strongly 'embodied turn', recognizing that biologically evolvedintelligence makes the most of the opportunities provided by bodily form,action, and the material and social environment. This session explores the waythis impacts our vision of minds, brains, and intelligent agents, and askswhether there can be a fundamental science of the embodied mind.




  • Kenny Smith - School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences
  • Michela Massimi - Philosophy
  • Andy Clark - School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences
  • - University of Edinburgh
  • John Peacock - Institute for Astronomy
  • Suilin Lavelle - University of Edinburgh
  • Barbara Webb - School of Informatics
  • Duncan Pritchard - University of Edinburgh
  • David Carmel - Psychology
  • Peggy Series - Institute for Adaptive and Neural Computation
  • Mark Sprevak - School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences
  • Alasdair Richmond - Philosophy


The University of Edinburgh is a British university, founded in 1583 during a period of rapid development for the city of Edinburgh. It is considered to be one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Having counted among its students inventors of the Industrial Revolution, it has more students than any other Scottish university and is one of the largest universities in the United Kingdom.


Coursera is a digital company offering massive open online course founded by computer teachers Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller Stanford University, located in Mountain View, California. 

Coursera works with top universities and organizations to make some of their courses available online, and offers courses in many subjects, including: physics, engineering, humanities, medicine, biology, social sciences, mathematics, business, computer science, digital marketing, data science, and other subjects.

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