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History and Philosophy of Science

Hum/H/HPS 18. Introduction to the History of Science. 9 units (3-0-6). For course description, see Humanities. 

HPS 98. Reading in History and Philosophy of Science. 9 units (1-0-8). Prerequisite: instructor’s permission. An individual program of directed reading in history and philosophy of science, in areas not covered by regular courses. Instructor: Staff. 

HPS 102 ab. Senior Research Seminar. 12 units (2-0-10). Offered in any two consecutive terms, by arrangement with HPS faculty. Under the guidance of an HPS faculty member, students will research and write a focused research paper of 15,000 words (approximately 50 pages). Work in the first term will comprise intensive reading in the relevant literature and/or archival or other primary source research. In the second term, students will draft and revise their paper. Open to seniors in the HPS option and to others by special permission of an HPS faculty member. Instructor: Staff. 

HPS 103. Public Lecture Series. 1 unit; first, second, third terms. Student attend four lectures, featuring speakers from outside Caltech, on topics in the history and philosophy of science. Students may choose from a variety of regularly scheduled HPS lectures, including HPS seminars, Harris lectures, and Munro seminars (history or philosophy of science only). Graded on attendance. Not available for credit toward the humanities–social science requirement. Graded pass/fail. Instructors: Visiting lecturers. 

HPS 104. Forbidden Knowledge. 9 units (3-0-6). When and how has the notion of freedom of knowledge and teaching in science emerged? What kinds of restrictions have been placed on scientists, their publications and institutions? Who restrained scientific knowledge of what sorts; for what reasons; and how successfully? These questions will be addressed by looking at some canonical cases in the history of science, such as Copernicus and Galileo. But we will also move into more recent history, discussing work on the atomic bomb, genetic engineering, and global warming. Not offered 2017–18. 

HPS/Pl/CS 110. Causation and Explanation. 9 units (3-0-6); first term. An examination of theories of causation and explanation in philosophy and neighboring disciplines. Topics discussed may include probabilistic and counterfactual treatments of causation, the role of statistical evidence and experimentation in causal inference, and the deductive-nomological model of explanation. The treatment of these topics by important figures from the history of philosophy such as Aristotle, Descartes, and Hume may also be considered. Instructor: Eberhardt.

HPS/Pl 120. Introduction to Philosophy of Science. 9 units (3-0-6); first term. An introduction to fundamental philosophical problems concerning the nature of science. Topics may include the character of scientific explanation, criteria for the conformation and falsification of scientific theories, the relationship between theory and observation, philosophical accounts of the concept of “law of nature,” causation, chance, realism about unobservable entities, the objectivity of science, and issues having to do with the ways in which scientific knowledge changes over time. Instructor: Eberhardt. 

HPS/Pl 122. Probability, Evidence, and Belief. 9 units (3-0-6); first term. Philosophical and conceptual issues arising from the study of probability theory and how it relates to rationality and belief. Topics discussed may include the foundations and interpretations of probability, arguments for and against the view that we ought to have personal degrees of belief, rational change in beliefs over time, and the relationship between probability and traditional epistemological topics like evidence, justification, and knowledge. Not offered 2017–18.

HPS/Pl 123. Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics. 9 units (3-0-6); first term. Prerequisites: Ph 1abc or instructor’s permission. This course will examine the philosophical foundations of the physical theories covered in the freshman physics sequence: classical mechanics, electromagnetism, and special relativity. Topics may include: the goals of physics; what laws of nature are; the unification of physical theories; symmetries; determinism; locality; the reality of fields; the arrow of time. Not offered 2017–18.

HPS/Pl 124. Philosophy of Space and Time. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. This course will focus on questions about the nature of space and time, particularly as they arise in connection with physical theory. Topics may include the nature and existence of space, time, and motion; the relationship between geometry and physical space (or space-time); entropy and the direction of time; the nature of simultaneity; and the possibility of time travel. Not offered 2017–18.

HPS/Pl 125. Philosophical Issues in Quantum Physics. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisites: Ph 2b or Ph 12b. This course will focus on philosophical and foundational questions raised by quantum physics. Questions may include: Is quantum mechanics a local theory? Is the theory deterministic or indeterministic? What is the role of measurement and observation? Does the wave function always obey the Schrödinger equation? Does the wave function give a complete description of the state of a system? Are there parallel universes? How are we to understand quantum probabilities? Not offered 2017–18.

HPS/Pl 128. Philosophy of Mathematics. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. An examination of conceptual issues that arise in mathematics. The sorts of issues addressed may include the following: Are mathematical objects such as numbers in some sense real? How do we obtain knowledge of the mathematical world? Are proofs the only legitimate source of mathematical knowledge? What is the relationship between mathematics and the world? How is it possible to apply abstract theory to the world? Views of major historical figures such as Plato, Hume, Kant, and Mill, as well as of contemporary writers are examined. The course will also examine philosophical issues that arise in particular areas of mathematics such as probability theory and geometry. Instructor: Hitchcock.

HPS/Pl 130. Philosophy and Biology. 9 units (3-0-6); second term. A selection of philosophical issues arising in the biological sciences. Topics will vary by term. Not offered 2017–18.

HPS/Pl 134. Current Issues in Philosophical Psychology. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. An in-depth examination of one or more issues at the intersection of contemporary philosophy and the brain and behavioral sciences. Topics may include the development of a theory of mind and self-representation, theories of representation and neural coding, the nature of rationality, the nature and causes of psychopathology, learning and innateness, the modularity of mind. Not offered 2017–18.

HPS/Pl 135. Moral Philosophy and the Brain. 9 units (3-0-6); first term. This course will examine the impact of recent advances in neuroscience on moral philosophy. Topics to be addressed include: the evolution of morality and a naturalistic perspective on ethics; the role of brain imaging in adjudicating between deontological vs. consequentialist perspectives on moral decision-making and judgment; the relation between virtue theory and habit systems in the brain; brain imaging of altruism and its implications for egoism, empathy, and moral motivation; moral agency and free will; the neuroscience of distributive justice; the debate regarding the normative significance of neuroscience for moral philosophy. Not offered 2017–18.

HPS/Pl 136. Happiness and the Good Life. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. This course will critically examine the emerging science of happiness and positive psychology, its philosophical assumptions, methodology, and its role in framing social policy and practice. Topics to be addressed include: the relation between happiness as subjective well-being or life satisfaction and philosophical visions of the good life; the relation between happiness and virtue; the causes of happiness and the role of life experience; happiness and economic notions of human welfare, attempts to measure happiness, and the prospect for an economics of happiness; happiness as a brain state and whether brain science can illuminate the nature of happiness; mental illness and psychiatry in light of positive psychology. Instructor: Quartz.

HPS/Pl 137. Minds, Brains, and Selves. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. This course will critically examine the impact of recent advances in psychology, economics, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience on philosophical questions about the nature of the self and self-identity. Topics to be addressed include: the nature of self-awareness; the role of the self in decision-making, reasoning, and planning; the possibility, and accuracy of, self-knowledge; whether the self is unitary, multiple, fragmented, or illusory; self-related emotions; the narrative structure of the self; and how selves are instantiated in neural tissue and whether selves could be instantiated in non-biological substrates (technological singularity). Not offered 2017–18.

HPS/Pl 138. Human Nature and Society. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. This course will investigate how assumptions about human nature shape political philosophy, social institutions, and social policy. The course will begin with a historical perspective, examining the work of such political philosophers as Plato, Locke, Rousseau, and Marx, along with such psychologists as Freud and Skinner. Against this historical perspective, it will then turn to examine contemporary views on human nature from cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary psychology and explore their potential implications for political philosophy and social policy. Among topics to be discussed will be the nature of human sociality and cooperation; economic systems and assumptions regarding production and consumption; and propaganda, marketing, and manipulation. Instructor: Quartz.

HPS/H/Pl 157. The Mathematization of Natural Philosophy in 17th- and 18th-Century Europe. 9 units (3-0-6); second term. The mathematization of “natural philosophy” (namely, the discipline whose aim was to explain the causes of natural phenomena) in early-modern Europe is one of the deepest transformations in the history of scientific thought. In the 17th century a group of innovative mathematicians began to apply mathematics to the study of nature with unprecedented success. This innovative approach was often rejected and opposed, However, amongst its defenders it was unclear which mathematical methods could, and should, be deployed. The debate that ensued on the nature and aims of mathematized natural philosophy intersected with many philosophical themes. The course explores these debates by focusing on the positions held by some protagonists of the so-called scientific revolution, such as Galileo, Descartes, Huygens, Hooke, Newton, and Leibniz. Instructor: Guicciardini.

HPS/H 160. Einstein and His Generation: The History of Modern Physical Sciences. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. An exploration of the most significant scientific developments in the physical sciences, structured around the life and work of Albert Einstein (1879-1955), with particular emphasis on the new theories of radiation, the structure of matter, relativity, and quantum mechanics. While using original Einstein manuscripts, notebooks, scientific papers, and personal correspondence, we shall also study how experimental and theoretical work in the sciences was carried out; scientific education and career patterns; personal, political, cultural, and sociological dimensions of science. Instructor: Kormos-Buchwald.

HPS/H 162. Social Studies of Science. 9 units (3-0-6), third term. A comparative, multidisciplinary course that examines the practice of science in a variety of locales, using methods from the history, sociology, and anthropology of scientific knowledge. Topics covered include the high-energy particle laboratory as compared with a biological one; Western as compared to non-Western scientific reasoning; the use of visualization techniques in science from their inception to virtual reality; gender in science; and other topics. Not offered 2017–18.

HPS/Pl 165. Selected Topics in Philosophy of Science. 9 units (3-0-6); offered by announcement. Instructors: Staff, visiting lecturers.

HPS/H 166. Historical Perspectives on the Relations between Science and Religion. 9 units (3-0-6); first term. The course develops a framework for understanding the changing relations between science and religion in Western culture since antiquity. Focus will be on the ways in which the conceptual, personal, and social boundaries between the two domains have been reshaped over the centuries. Questions to be addressed include the extent to which a particular religious doctrine was more or less amenable to scientific work in a given period, how scientific activity carved an autonomous domain, and the roles played by scientific activity in the overall process of secularization. Instructor: Feingold.

HPS/H 167. Experimenting with History/Historic Experiment. 9 units (3-0-6). Prerequisites: Ph 1 abc, and Ph 2 abc (may be taken concurrently). This course uses a combination of lectures with hands-on laboratory work to bring out the methods, techniques, and knowledge that were involved in building and conducting historical experiments. We will connect our laboratory work with the debates and claims made by the original discoverers, asking such questions as how experimental facts have been connected to theories, how anomalies arise and are handled, and what sorts of conditions make historically for good data. Typical experiments might include investigations of refraction, laws of electric force, interference of polarized light, electromagnetic induction, or resonating circuits and electric waves. We will reconstruct instrumentation and experimental apparatus based on a close reading of original sources. Not offered 2017–18. 

HPS/H 168. History of Electromagnetism and Heat Science. 9 units (3-0-6); offered by announcement. Prerequisites: Ph 1 abc, and Ph 2 abc (may be taken concurrently). This course covers the development of electromagnetism and thermal science from its beginnings in the early 18th century through the early 20th century. Topics covered include electrostatics, magnetostatics, electrodynamics, Maxwell’s field theory, the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and statistical mechanics as well as related experimental discoveries. Not offered 2017–18.

HPS/H 169. Selected Topics in the History of Science and Technology. 9 units (3-0-6); offered by announcement. Instructors: Staff, visiting lecturers. 

HPS/H 170. History of Light from Antiquity to the 20th Century. 9 units (3-0-6); second, third terms. Prerequisites: Ph 1 abc, and Ph 2 abc (may be taken concurrently). A study of the experimental, mathematical, and theoretical developments concerning light, from the time of Ptolemy in the 2nd century A.D. to the production of electromagnetic optics in the 20th century. Instructor: Buchwald, J. 

HPS/H 171. History of Mechanics from Galileo through Euler. 9 units (3-0-6). Prerequisites: Ph 1 abc, and Ph 2 abc (may be taken concurrently). This course covers developments in mechanics, as well as related aspects of mathematics and models of nature, from just before the time of Galileo through the middle of the 18th century, which saw the creation of fluid and rotational dynamics in the hands of Euler and others. Not offered 2017–18.

HPS/H 172. History of Mathematics: A Global View with Close-ups. 9 units (3-0-6); offered by announcement. The course will provide students with a brief yet adequate survey of the history of mathematics, characterizing the main developments and placing these in their chronological, cultural, and scientific contexts. A more detailed study of a few themes, such as Archimedes’ approach to infinite processes, the changing meanings of “analysis” in mathematics, Descartes’ analytic geometry, and the axiomatization of geometry c. 1900; students’ input in the choice of these themes will be welcomed. Not offered 2017–18.

HPS/H 175. Matter, Motion, and Force: Physical Astronomy from Ptolemy to Newton. 9 units (3-0-6); second term. The course will examine how elements of knowledge that evolved against significantly different cultural and religious backgrounds motivated the great scientific revolution of the 17th century. Not offered 2017–18. 

Pl/HPS 183. Bioethics. 9 units (3-0-6); offered by announcement. For course description, see Philosophy.

H/HPS 185. Angels and Monsters: Cosmology, Anthropology, and the Ends of the World. 9 units (3-0-6). For course description, see History.

HPS/Pl 188. The Evolution of Cognition. 9 units (3-0-6); second term. By many measures, Homo sapiens is the most cognitively sophisticated animal on the planet. Not only does it live in a huge variety of habitats, and not only has it transformed its environment in unprecedented ways, but it is also responsible for such cultural artifacts as language, science, religion, and art. These are achievements that other species, however successful they may be in other respects, have not accomplished. This course investigates the cognitive, behavioral, and environmental bases for humans’ surprising cultural dominance of our planet. Possible topics include the evolution of language, the evolution of morality, the evolution of religion, the evolution of cooperation, and the advent of technology, math, science, and the Internet. Contact the instructor to find out what the topic in any given term is. Instructor: Cowie.