Learn about the historical and philosophical foundations of contemporary science. Explore cutting-edge debates in the philosophy of the physical sciences and philosophy of the cognitive sciences.
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.
PART I. PHILOSOPHY AND THE PHYSICAL SCIENCES
Week 2. The origin of our universe
(Michela Massimi and John Peacock)
How did our universe form and evolve? Was there really a Big Bang, and what came before it? In this class, we take you through the history of contemporary cosmology and we look at how scientists arrived at the current understanding of our universe. We look at the history of astronomy, with the nebular hypothesis back in the eighteenth century, and in more recent times, Einstein’s general relativity and the ensuing cosmological models. Finally, we explain the current Standard Model and early universe cosmology and the experimental evidence behind it.
Week 3. What are dark matter and dark energy?
(Michela Massimi and John
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 Richmond and 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.
PART II. PHILOSOPHY AND THE COGNITIVE SCIENCES
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 in science is the nature of consciousness. We know that we have consciousness. We do not just blindly process information, make discriminations, take actions. It also feels a certain way to do so from the inside. Why do creatures with brains like ours have consciousness? What makes certain bits of our mental life conscious and others not? These questions form the heart of consciousness science, an exciting field to which psychologists, neuroscientists and philosophers contribute. This session will explore these questions, and introduce 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 clever adaptive machine that can recognise speech, control an aircraft, and detect credit card fraud? Recent years have seen a revolution in the kinds of tasks computers can do. Underlying these advances is the burgeoning field of machine learning and computational neuroscience. The same methods that allow us to make clever machines also appear to hold the key to understanding ourselves: to explaining how our brain and mind work. We explore this exciting new field and some of the philosophical questions that it raises.
Week 8. Embodied
(Andy Clark and Barbara Webb)
Cognitive Science has recently taken a strongly 'embodied turn', recognizing that biologically evolved intelligence makes the most of the opportunities provided by bodily form, action, and the material and social environment. This session explores the way this impacts our vision of minds, brains, and intelligent agents, and asks whether 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