Milestones of Modern Science: subtopics.

worldview | Nobel Physicist David Gross | scientific method | considerable questions | readings | pyramid | diagram | prismatic insights | Thesis | Themes | books

Three ways to question a scientific certainty.

Thomas Merton once wrote that a person is known best by the questions they ask,
as opposed to the answers they may render about existence.

World view –Several authors refer to the concept of a worldview, starting with Bronowski and including Freud, Mayr, Dubos, and Kaku. Margulis certainly alludes to the concept as does the Galileo readings. So for clarification consider the following definitions as only a start for what the term "weltanschauung" implies:



Beliefs about reality


Actual behavior explained

materialist vs. spiritualist
"nature vs. nurture" ?
atomism vs. collectivism
Zeitgeist, spirit of the times

Writing about world views.

Object lessons

Talk by Dr. David Gross at Princeton, 2014.

David Gross on the reliability of String Theory and the eventual discovery of the predicted Higgs boson.

Richard Dawid, String Theory and the Scientific Method Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
A review, Columbia University.



On Your Own @ the Olin Library: inspecting the treasury of the intellect that is the Library of Congress.

The repository of our collective intellect, or an archive of a passing time?


Marker stones in the journey from ignorance to curious engagement:

the Lesson to learn

Text specific questions | Definitions of science

Themes in this inquiry | Pyramid of Errors | Explained

  A prism is a device that reveals a hidden reality.

The stories we tell ourselves are either doors to heaven and hell, or windows on the wonder of life, consciousness, conscience and meaningful patterns we discover and chose to share with one another.

But these stories, nonetheless, develop out of the questions we ask ourselves about existence, our lives and our times.

  Jacob Bronowski's questions.
worldview | Dr. David Gross | scientific method | considerable questions | readings | pyramid | diagram | prismatic insights | Thesis | Themes | books


Focus questions:

2nd week: Bronowski, The Ascent of Man

Ascent's Jacob Bronowski Ascent's author Jacob Bronowski

What is his thesis and how many kinds of evidence does he use to support his cases?

By kinds of evidence we mean:

    1. refutable conceptualizations
    2. analogous thought,
    3. thorough thinking,

Can the three themes be found in Bronowski?



A "Feynman diagram" of how electrons and photons are related.

3rd week: Richard Feynman, The Meaning of it All,

What is uncertainty and how is it, paradoxically, a foundation of order and conditions in modern rational thought?

Who was Michael Faraday and what did he accomplish?

What is the character or form of the underlying common qualities of material things – how are all things made of such elements?

Is a scientist responsible for the outcome of their research, according to Feynman, why or why not?




4th week's reading is Freud's essay: "Civilization and the Weltanschauung", 1918

How does Freud define and use the term worldview or in German: "Weltanschauung?"

Does he mean a particular philosophy or view of life; the worldview of an individual or group?"

And how does he argue that this view of life is the case and burden of human beings?


White Plague
week's reading: The White Plague, Rene Dubos

How many kinds of tuberculosis are there?

How exactly do symptoms differ from determining a disease?

What is diagnosis meaning?

Who were the contagionists?

Does the evidence support a hereditary capacity to pass on a disease?

What three or four instruments determined the correct diagnosis of this disease?

When did a defining discovery and what was that discovery reveal the origin of Tuberculosis?

What does he argue was and is the role of public health in a disease's etiology and prognosis?



Life's misunderstood meanings.

Ernst Mayr

The late Dr. Ernst Mayr.

6th and 7th week's readings: Ernst Mayr, One Long Argument,

Life’s characteristic organization. Mayr elucidates a scholarly revolution that shattered modernity giving birth to biological sciences. Mayr traces the great change in one man’s mind.

How does Mayr define species?

How did various anomalies lead to the five different pieces of Darwin’s ideas about the order, origin and behavior of life?

What is the importance of the modern synthesis of molecular biology, genetics, paleontology and Darwinian natural selection?

6-7.A. Life’s variations (read Darwin for yourself, on line).

The Darwinian Revolution in the life sciences.
Questions to consider in the Mayr and Margulis readings on evolution.
Consider the method of Darwin - what does Mayr argue about his means to the discoveries he made?Look for Darwin quotations; what do his choice of words suggest?

What is the book where one may discover Darwin’s great contributions?

What are some of Darwin’s evidence for his ideas? How does artificial selection differ from natural selection? How does vertical evolution differ from horizontal evolution?

How is diversity accounted for by Mayr, Darwin, & Margulis ? What are fossils for Darwin?

What are the inconsistencies according to Mayr in Darwin’s thoughts? What is the sexual selection process being described by Darwin?

Interpret Darwin’s statement in light of Mayr’s critique of the term Natural Selection.

“This principle of preservation, I have called, for the sake of brevity, Natural Selection. Natural selection, on the principle of qualities being inherited at corresponding ages, can modify the egg, seed, or young, as easily as the adult.” (Origin, 127)


8th week's reading is about genes and the riddles of their many roles in life’s essential inner workings.

The Century of the Gene, By Evelyn F. Keller

How do we conceive what a gene is, how it acts, and what it is made of?

How is the function of chromosomes not precisely the same as the idea of a gene to determine a trait?

Where do we find genes?


The X Chromosome: The X in Sex (Gender that is!)

Bainbridge peers deeply beneath the surface.

What is the gender bearing chromosomes hidden secrets?

For more on sex, do see Jared Diamond for Why Sex is Fun!



9th week's reading is: Beyond Einstein about the light quantum and microcosmic as connected to macrocosm order.

Kaku explains the immense distances that have opened up before our inquisitive minds since 1905 and Einstein's reinterpretation of spacetime.

What are the examples of unification that Kaku applies to the history of physics and the birth of quantum mechanics?

What are the logical consequences of Einstein’s redefinition of acceleration, light and material existence?

If space and time are not absolute, what accounts for their existence and behavior; how does Kaku explain them?

What are the four or three fundamental forces in the universe?

An extra related play:

Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Physicists, 2-21-1962, Zurich, Switzerland was its debut.

So who is crazier, the asylum keepers or its inmates?

"With eloquent brevity, Dürrenmatt’s play reveals the paradox of the twentieth century: at the supposed apex of reason and science, and under the banner of scientific and social progress, man became guilty of some of the most barbaric atrocities ever committed."

"The Physicists at Fifty" review by Samuel Matlack



10th week's reading is: The Universe Within, by Neil Shubin about geology, the masked connections between the origins of space-time, life and our own human body's organs and fossil remains.


11th week's reading is: The Essential Galileo, Maurice Finocchiaro. Who was the man when it came to a new vision upended the way people viewed the Earth's place and the human purpose in the cosmos?


12th week's reading about the human order is by Dr. Karen Horney who examines our need to so control events that human potential is subverted into intolerance of others as rooted in self-loathing.

Are we inherently unstable?
What sort of irresolvable tensions do the need for control and the desire for perfectionism generate in human development?
What does the author mean by “neurotic personality?”

Karen Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth, How does human personality cope with the challenges of socialization, infantile regression and opposition?



13th and last week's reading is a play about the cosmos, light, and indeterminacy. Frayn confronts us with responsibility for knowing and respect for not knowing the facts we encounter.

Michael Frayn, Copenhagen, Is this play about scientific knowledge or social responsibility, or are these two sides of a common coin?

How do each of the characters in the play represent the characteristics of scientific knowledge?

What is the dual role of certainty and uncertainty in the play?
What stopped Heisenberg from creating an atomic weapon? Consider the answer from Heisenberg’s own perspective or explanation and from Bohr’s perspective and argumentation.
What is Margarite’s role in the play?


Extra: The Contested Cosmos.

Brecht & Bentley inspect the past: Galileo, by Bertolt Brecht.

What accounts for the change and thus the two versions of the play GALILEO about which Eric Bentley writes?
Who is the first to speak to Galileo in the play and what do they speak about?
Who was Galileo? Are these different images of Galileo: the icon, the person, the figure?

What made him and his ideas the sixteenth century “cause célèbre?”



Extra reading for curious people (available in bookstores).

Joseph Siry, Marshes of the Ocean Shore, What were the mistakes made in the earliest assessments of wetlands by observers, naturalists & reclamation engineers; when and based on what body of scientific ideas was the pre-industrial view of marshes altered?

The Discovery of Global Warming, Spencer Weart.

The incredible lightness of being. Weart identifies the motivation and the obstacles that problem-solving scientists confront. What great idea stood in the way of understanding the profound implications for human pollution’s capacity to alter the atmosphere?

How did the “balance of nature” argument actually impede the acceptance of global warming?


worldview | Nobel Physicist David Gross | scientific method | considerable questions | readings | pyramid | diagram | prismatic insights | Thesis | Themes | books

1st previous reading was: Lynn Margulis, Symbiotic Planet,

How did the five kingdoms of life originate and what distinguishes one from another as they form a complementary whole?

Essence of beings on a Living Planet. Margulis reveals the hidden unity among the myriad forms of life within life.
How is life divided by biological classifications?

What is the five kingdom system and what clues exist to its accuracy as a rendering of the biological world?
In what senses and to what extents is the earth alive?



2nd previously discontinued –yet recommended– reading was: Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden, here Marx charts a literate path to follow: a Second Nature.

What is the logical and symbolic significance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest?

What is the affect of European colonization and resettlement on the United State's not having undergone the Renaissance as did the Latin American settlements that began a century earlier?

What is the "sleepy hollow motif" and how is it used for understanding American cultural transformation by the development of national attitudes about nature?




Go here for more complete lists of critical vocabulary and specific definitions of words such as science, epistemology, nature, technology, ecology, worldviews and culture. None of these words are simply defined on their face value because their subtle or nuances meanings offer important clues to complex themes in this class of: Cosmos, or order, Bios, or life and Lux, or light.

Richard Feynman suggested that science is at once three things: 1) the means to know, 2) the evidence of what we know and 3) the products of knowing applied to practical tasks. Compare his definitions with the web site and the definitions used in common discussions.

science defined

worldview | Nobel Physicist David Gross | scientific method | considerable questions | readings | pyramid | diagram | prismatic insights | Thesis | Themes | books

Pyramid of explanatory means to determine errors:








Pyramid of explanatory terms explained.

scientific: the uses of doubt in a search for errors in conventional explanations based on heuristics, reason, empirical and theoretical coherence.

empirical: the imposition of similar descriptions based on repeated observations to test the logical assumptions arising from reason. Often thought of as merely "verified by observation." But such a simple visual approach has serious flaws.

dialectical: a refinement of a logical approach by means of employing opposites to determine the essential qualities of experience.

rational: a logical approach to reason; analyzing and synthesizing experience according to some definable relation among elements.

magical: based on a belief in sympathies among like and unlike objects we encounter: water is like blood because they are both fluids.

mystical the belief that the reasons for the behavior we witness in the material world is largely, if not wholly, inexplicable.

thumbs A fault-line in the Adriatic coast of central Italy reveals a masked reality.

The pyramid in three dimensions could be conceived of as a prism, through which we look at the world; an instrument to examine the complexity of experience.

Mystery of the order, origins and function of the Universe, the Earth and its "strange freight" of passengers.


The journey of stars, life and humanity begs for an explanation, because since the earliest recorded languages, humans have told stories about how the world came to be, continues to function and holds our attention.

Themes in the above questions about knowing the natural world are cosmos, life, and light. And thus, how the inorganic and organic means of existence sufficiently describe the modern world as functioning in a necessary and sufficient way without the need of corrective, divine intervention.

Religious history is also a search for order. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane.

How does he define sacred power; is that use consistent throughout the text? (pp. 12-13, i.e. 102, 194, 198.)

How does the organization of the universe impose on ideas about places, directions, duration, and apparent cycles of death and renewal?

What is the structure that Eliade derives from different religions about how humans organize the world?

What role does hierophany play in the book?



Cosmos, axis mundi, imago mundi, sacral, hierophany, weltanschauung



worldview | Nobel Physicist David Gross | scientific method | considerable questions | readings | pyramid | diagram | prismatic insights | Thesis | Themes | books

A Complex Thesis:

Science is a means of determining errors and is not, as many imagine, the surest road to Truth.

I argue that since we are limited simultaneously by a world that has no need of us and is so challenging to comprehend consider redefining your ideal of science as a search for ultimate rather than tentative truth.


1) We "can't handle the truth," and t

2) he world is not only "queerer than we think, but is queerer than we can think," according to J. B. S. Haldane;

Then, the surest way to understand science is to know it is a means of detecting errors.

Text specific questions | Definitions of science | Themes in | world views | Pyramid | related ideas

worldview | Nobel Physicist David Gross | scientific method | considerable questions | readings | pyramid | diagram | prismatic insights | Thesis | Themes | books

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Assigned readings

Pyramid Pyramid