HC 209: 21st Century Science

Spring Quarter 2017

Prof. James Schombert
Office: 461 Willamette, 6-5214
Office Hours: 11-12am M-F
email: jschombe@uoregon.edu

Course Content:

This course is a review of the foundations of modern science emphasizing the status of our current view of Nature from the discoveries as we begin the 21st century.

The course will not be a cultural review nor a historical survey, but rather an introduction to the philosophy used to explore Nature and the meaning of reality. We will build a non-mathematical course with a modern perspective, using ideas and concepts that are acquired in the last century of scientific exploration.

The course is divided into three terms covering the macroscopic world, the microscopic world and cosmology. The macroscopic world section will cover topics on order and reductionism, determinism, Cartesian-Newtonian view of Nature, clockwork Universe, chaos and complexity, and evolution. The microscopic world section will cover topics on the uncertainty principle, quantum theory, superposition, tunneling, many-worlds hypothesis, quantum vacuum, emergence and holism. The cosmology section will cover topics on the arrow of time, entropy, anthropic principle, expanding Universe and creation. The underlying theme for these topics will be to synthesize technical and humane issues, build a foundation of thinking and train future voters in the process of rational thought. This will be accomplished not by semantics and historical tales, but by actual examples from Nature and physical theory.

The aim of this course is to install the ability to communicate effectively, to think critically, and understand the analytic methods of inquiry derived from an appreciation of humane values. Hopefully this curriculum will present a liberal art education and the ability to separate science from superstition and the rational from the irrational.

Course Organization:

This course is a seminar/lab style course that meets three times a week for lecture/discussion and once a week for a lab. All lectures in this course are available electronically. The lecture pages will be on the Web in HTML (hypertext mark-up language) format so that they are accessible from any computer, either at home or on campus. The address for this course is abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/21st_century_science.

Even though the web notes supplement the need for a textbook, they do not replace your need to attend class. A great deal of material is discussed in lecture that is not in the web notes and will appear on the exams. And difficult concepts in the web lectures will be clarified in class. So please attend.

Feel free to drop by my office at anytime my schedule shows I'm around. Most times email is a faster way to get ahold of me. Make sure your email has a non-implicit destination, one recipient, a non-empty subject field, and does not contain any html code and is 100% 7bit clean pure ASCII.


Grading will consist of the following:

The three exams are given on dates marked on the main class web page. These are one hour, short essay, critical thinking type of exams. Note that the exams are not cumulative. The 1st exam covers material from the start of the course to the exam date. The 2nd exam covers material from the 1st exam to the day of the 2nd exam. The last exam covers the last 1/3 of the course occurs on the last day of class.

If you miss an exam due to illness you must contact me as soon as possible after the exam. Missing an exam, for a good reason, usually means an oral make-up exam (these are torture, so you want to avoid missing an exam at all costs).

Notice there is no final exam during final exam week. The three exams taking during the classtime (plus labs) consist of all the material towards your grade.


If you have a documented disability and anticipate needing accommodations in this course, please see me as soon as possible. And please request that the Counselor for Students with Disabilities (H. Gerdes, hgerdes@oregon) send a letter verifying your disability.