UN2978: Science and Pseudoscience: Alchemy to AI | P. Smith, M. Whitman

Undergraduate Lecture
Tu Th 2:40-3:55PM

During the 2020 US presidential election and the years of the COVID-19 pandemic, science and “scientific truths” were fiercely contested. This course provides a historical perspective on the issues at stake. The course begins with an historical account of how areas of natural knowledge, such as astrology, alchemy, and “natural magic,” which were central components of an educated person’s view of the world in early modern Europe, became marginalized, while a new philosophy of nature (what we would now call empirical science) came to dominate the discourse of rationality. Historical developments examined in this course out of which this new understanding of nature emerged include the rise of the centralized state, religious reform, and European expansion. The course uses this historical account to show how science and pseudoscience developed in tandem in the period from 1400 to 1800. This historical account equips students to examine contemporary issues of expertise, the social construction of science, pluralism in science, certainty and uncertainty in science, as well as critical engagement with contemporary technologies.

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