Scientific Reasoning, see instructions for topic list

A topic for the essay assignment is to be chosen from the list of topics given below. Essays are to be between 3000 and 3500 words in length and use proper referencing and a standard essay style.

In writing the essay be sure to:

  • Provide a clear thesis statement.
  • Structure the essay to provide a logical progression of the arguments that support the thesis.
  • Provide evidence to support your arguments.  This evidence can be drawn from areas of study that are of interest to you provided they are relevant and support your arguments.
  • Cite all evidence and include in the bibliography.
  • Please pay attention to grammar, spelling and punctuation.
List of Topics to Choose from:

Unit 1 Why Study Science?

  1. Contrast the scientific and religious senses of the word meaning.
  2. Discuss a question of public concern involving some aspect of science or technology.

Unit 2 Can Science Be Defined?

  1. Discuss the similarities and differences between research in the sciences and humanities.
  2. The animal behaviorist and primatologist Robin Dunbar claims that science is nothing other than learning. On this basis, he has argued that every creature with any capacity to learn, however limited, is engaging in a form of science. Discuss whether or not this claim is consistent with the definitions of science that you have encountered in this course.

Unit 3 How Does Science Proceed?

  1. Discuss linkages between the sense of wonder as a motive for science, the search for understanding and the goal of generality.
  2. Compare criteria for a valid answer in science to criteria for a valid answer in some other area of human activity such as law, literature, art or religion.

Unit 4 What Is Understanding?

  1. Describe the use of top-down and bottom-up approaches in the development of the periodic table of the elements.
  2. Discuss the way in which the formal purpose of science relates to and supports one (or more) of its functional purposes.
  3. Discuss the importance of intuitive insight for understanding. Why is being able to provide a verbal or written explanation not sufficient?

Unit 5 What Is Not Science?

  1. Discuss the difference between open and closed belief systems.

Unit 6 What Does Philosophy Have to Say?

  1. Discuss the way formal criteria are used by scientific communities in forming judgments.
  2. Discuss how suspension of judgment fits the inductive attitude as defined by Polya.
  3. Write an essay structured as a dialog between a rationalist and an empiricist on the topic of the proper way to do science.

Unit 7 Is Science Value Free?

  1. Discuss the relation between the Einstein quote given at the beginning of Unit 7 and Bronowski quote that heads Discussion 7.1.
  2. Discuss Jacob Bronowskis statement, You cannot know what is true unless you behave in certain ways.
  3. Discuss Darwins statement, All observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service.
  4. Discuss the apparent contradiction between the idea that all science is carried out within, and hence is influenced by, a particular cultural context, and the idea that science produces objective knowledge of the world.

Unit 8 What Is Reason?

  1. It seems that the perception of events in terms of cause and effect is a built in aspect of the way the human mind interprets the world, to the extent that we automatically assume causal relations even in completely random sets of experiences. Discuss why such an inbuilt bias might be of value in a hunter-gatherer.
  2. Defend the contention that the three decision heuristics are necessary for any use of language to think about or communicate experience.

Unit 9 What Are the Basic Tools of Formal Reason?

  1. The Aristotelian law of identity is often stated in the form A equals A, or A thing is identical with itself. Aristotle also defined the essence of a thing as that which it must have to be entitled to its name. Discuss the possible relations between the law of identity and the definition of an essence, in light of the three principles of reason given in Discussion 9.1.
  2. Cats, dogs, tigers and wolves are all mammals; cats and tigers are feline, while dogs and wolves are canine; cats differ from tigers and dogs differ from wolves. Describe the formal structure that is imposed on the set of cats, dogs, tigers and wolves by the naming process taken together with the three laws of Aristotelian logic. You may wish to include a diagram.

Unit 10 Mathematics and Science

  1. Discuss the justification for using mathematics to study physical systems.

Unit 11 What Are Some General Approaches in Scientific Reasoning?

  1. Discuss the relationship between symmetries, distinctions and the principle of the identity of indiscernibles.
  2. Compare the process of model construction described at the end of Discussion 10.3 and the general application of the principles and polarities of reason introduced in Discussion 9.1.

Unit 12 What Are Scientific Facts?

  1. One of the first results Galileo reported after he began to study the planets with his telescope was that there were mountains on the moon. This observation, however, was not as straightforward as it might seem. The mountains he claimed to have seen were Galileos interpretation of the patterns of light and dark that he actually saw when focusing his telescope on the moon. Discuss the bottom-up and top-down aspects of this discovery. When do you think that mountains on the moon became a scientific fact?

Unit 13 What Makes a Theory Scientific (Instead of Just Opinion or Belief)?

  1. If we focus attention on the forms of scientific theories, in contrast to their content we see that a form of theory valuable in one area of science may be worth little in some other area, and vice versa. The Aristotelian idea of a life cycle is a particular form for theorizing, based on the assumptions listed below:
    • Entities develop according to a natural progression in an organic way, from birth to death, or completion.
    • By various means, the rate of this natural development can be accelerated or retarded, within certain bounds.

    This particular form of theory was taken over into alchemy, where it was assumed that metals develop in the earth toward gold, which being the most noble metal, is their final state of completion. Many alchemists sought to discover a method to speed up this process in the laboratory. Today we know that this form of theory does not fit when applied to the study of metal. Discuss an area of modern science where this life cycle does appear as an ideal of natural order.

  2. Discuss the following quotation, There is only one way of seeing ones own spectacles clearly; that is, to take them off. It is impossible to focus both on them and through them at the same time.
  3. In Discussion 3.2, we considered science as a question and answer process, and described the qualities of a good question and the criteria for a valid answer. A scientific theory can be seen both as providing an answer to a general question and as a framework within which answers can be given to more specific questions. With this in mind, compare the qualities of a good question, the criteria for a valid answer, and the six criteria for a good theory given in Discussion 13.1.
  4. Analyze the history of modern cosmology as presented in Discussion 13.2. Focus attention on the different factors contributing to the modern theory and the underlying theoretical assumptions that were involved in the development of this theory.

Unit 14 What Are the Major Ideals, Principles and Paradigms in Science?

  1. In Chapter 20 of What Science Is, the problem of exponential population growth is mentioned. This problem was first pointed out by Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), in a tract published in 1798, Malthus argued that sexual attraction leads animal species, including humans, to reproduce at a rate that is faster than they die off, resulting in exponential population growth. At the same time, food supplies are limited, so that every species can be expected, in time, to outgrow its food supply and suffer mass starvation. Discuss whether you think such mass starvation is a real danger for humans, and what, if anything needs to be done to avoid such a catastrophe.
  2. Use the idea of self-organization and autopoiesis to describe Kuhns view of scientific paradigms, and normal and revolutionary science.

Unit 15 What Are Some General Methods in Science?

  1. Based on your readings in What Science Is, and this Study Guide, explain why empathy and analogy cannot provide a conclusive argument in support of a scientific idea of hypothesis.
  2. Compare the quotes from Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, It is more important to have beauty in ones equations than to have them fit experiment and Henri Poincar, We almost always notice that this false idea, had it been true, would have gratified our natural feeling for mathematical elegance.

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