History of Knowledge
History of Thought: The Ideas that Changed the Way we See the World
Sep. 16 to Oct. 21 (2014) at UC Berkeley: A six evening course
(previously named "Paradigm Shifts" until 2004)
Click here to Register (or Contact me about attending the class).
Course material | Reader for the class | View the slides
The following course complements and extends the Thinking about Thought seminar that I have been holding for several years. It provides background information on the three fundamental sources of ideas: religion, philosophy and science. It is meant as self-standing but also as complementary to the seminar on Thinking about Thought, a seminar that focuses on recent scientific research on the three fundamental mysteries of our times: Life, Mind and Consciousness, Basically, this is a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary history of human knowledge. As we proceed in this history of "ideas", we place emphasis on the "paradigm shifts" that changed the way we see the world and therefore "ourselves". This is a "comparative" study of world civilizations over the centuries, and it is an "interdisciplinary" study of the fundamental themes of human knowledge. It is also very visual: it includes hundreds of photographs taken by the instructor during his trips in over 90 countries and 1,000 museums of the world.
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE:The purpose of this course is to provide an introduction to the ideas that, throughout the course of our history, have dramatically changed the way we think of the world, of life and of ourselves. The course presents theories that range from 3000 years ago to last year, that originated from Europe and from Asia, and spanning Physics, Biology, Religion, Mathematics, Philosophy, Psychology, etc. A "paradigm shift" is usually born out of the interaction among all these disciplines: it affects all of them, implicitly or explicitly. It redraws the entire map of human knowledge. The fascination of humans with the universe they inhabit, with the phenomenon of being and with the essence of consciousness is shared by all scientific and nonscientific disciplines around the world. Those mysteries have haunted ordinary folks as well as Nobel prizes. While they still remain mysteries, studying them has opened completely new ways of thinking. The course uses a conversational language that can be grasped by an audience of intellectually curious professionals and undergraduate students with no specialistic training in any of those disciplines. A central topic is how mind is related to matter, a theme that has roots in all civilizations. The course will therefore focus on ancient and modern theories that attempt to bridge the gap between matter and mind, between the universe and us. The paradigm shifts that changed the way we see the world are, ultimately, about that relationship: how we (living and sentient beings) fit in a universe that appears to be made of (nonliving and nonsentient) things. The sequence of paradigm shifts mankind went through has been a series of approximations that has slowly revealed our role in the world, as humbling as it can be: not the center of the universe, but a mere planet adrift in the geometry of spacematter; not the ruling organism, but an accidental product of evolution; etc. The course will review those paradigm shifts and illustrate what a paradigm shift is, entails and means. After the course you will be ready to see the world in a different way, you will be ready for your own paradigm shift. And you will be ready to speculate on what the next paradigm shift will be.
LEARNING OBJECTIVES:This course will provide the student with a general knowledge of the most influential themes in science and philosophy and how they are being bridged by modern theories of matter and mind. The student will gain a basic understanding of ancient and modern Philosophy, of classical and modern Physics, and of the "paradigm shifts" that have been introduced in the 20th century by disciplines as varied as Biology, Linguistics, Mathematics, Psychology, etc. The student will be explosed to ancient and modern theories that attempt to bridge the gap between matter and mind, between the universe and us. The course will enable the student to pick up a book or an article on modern science or philosophy and understand the general concepts.
CATALOG DESCRIPTIONScience in the last part of the 20th century has been defined not so much by the discoveries of new particles or the observation of distant galaxies, but by the "paradigm shifts" that have changed the way we think about the universe, life and ourselves. At the same time, there has been a trend towards absorbing into mainstream science themes first introduced by ancient philosopher and even religions, ranging from the mystery of form, the illusion of sensations, idealism, phenomenalism, etc. Finally, the last part of the 20th century has seen the rise of a number of different approaches to science, whether from biologists or linguists, from mathematicians or psychologists, and from physicists themselves. One can sense that these "paradigm shifts" are changing the way we think about the universe and ourselves. This class will discuss the birth of western thought, the views of ancient religions, the masters of eastern philosophy, the great western philosophers from the "age of reason" to today, the ideas of modern physics, the themes and impact of Darwinian biology, and fuse everything to get a grasp of the two sciences that are being born in our days: the science of living matter and the science of language and meaning. This class deals with immortal questions such as "where do we come from", "what is the meaning of life", "what is the universe", etc from both the western and eastern perspective, relating them to both ancient and modern science/culture.
1. The Birth of Western Thought Form and identity The structure of matter The paradoxes of logic Aristotle's and the "classical" view of the world Plato's world of ideas History and epics 2. The World and Us in Ancient Religions Monotheism: God as the force, not the vehicle Christianity: the "you", not the "self" Buddhism: the power of mind Hinduism: religion as cosmology Islam: religion as politics Confucius: religion as culture 3. The Masters of Eastern Philosophy The idea of Knowledge The idea of a theory of the world The idea of harmony 4. The Age of Reason The primacy of logic Mathematics Science The mind-body debate Evolution 5. Idealism Theories of knowledge (Locke, Kant, Hegel) Theories of mind (Berkeley, Freud, James) Theories of the human condition (Phenomenology, Existentialism) 6. Philosophy and Logic Logic as Thought (Frege, Russell, Hilbert, Goedel, Turing, A.I.) Paradigms of Science (Kuhn) Common Sense (Wittgenstein, Bayes, Zadeh) 7. Introduction to the Themes of Modern Physics Entropy and thermodynamics The observer and quantum theory Interpretations of quantum mechanics Spacetime events and relativity theory Grand unified theories Cosmology: Big Bang, Black Homes, etc 8. Introduction to the Themes of Modern Biology Design without a designer Genetics The modern synthesis The growth of form Autopoiesis Thermodynamics of non-equilibrium systems 9. The science of Language and Meaning Linguistics Semantics Pragmatics Semiotics Memetics 10. The Science of living matter The symbolic processing paradigm Computational functionalism The reconstructive memory Connectionism Neural selection Self-organization Quantum consciousness Dreams
CONTENT OUTLINE (old)
1. The Birth of Western Thought Thales and form; Democritos and atomism; Pythagora and numbers; Eraclito Parmenides Euclides: "Elements" Socrates Plato and the world of ideas; Aristotle: logic, matter, natural motion; Zeno and the paradox; 2. The World and Us in Ancient Religions "Bible" Jesus Buddha Hinduism Buddhism Zoroaster and Mithraism Judaism and Christianity Mohammed Confucius "Zhuangzi" "Upanisad" "Bhagavad Gita" "I Ching" 3. The Masters of Eastern Philosophy Laozi Gongsun Long Nagarjuna Vasubandhu Mohammad Fazang Wonhyo Avicenna Ibn Arabi Shinran Dogen 4. The Age of Reason Augustine: "Confessiones" Aquinas: "Summa Theologica" More: "Utopia" Bacon: "Novum Organum" Descartes: "Discourse" Hobbes: "Leviathan" Spinoza's spiritualism; Leibniz' panpsychism; Newton: "Principia Mathematica" Vico: History Darwin: "Origin of Species" 5. Idealism Locke: Theory of knowledge Berkeley: Idealism Hume: Epistemology Kant's categories; Hegel: Kierkegaard: Mill: Freud: "Interpretation of Dreams" Nietzsche: James: Bergson: Brentano: Meinong: Husserl: Phenomenology Heidegger: Being and Time 6. Philosophy and Logic Gadamer: Sussure: Dewey: Frege: Peirce: Hilbert: Russell: Kuhn: Paradigm Levi-Strauss: Ayer: Language, Truth and Logic Wittgenstein: Ryle: Von Neumann Goedel's theorem Turing's test 7. Introduction to the Themes of Modern Physics The observer and quantum theory Interpretations of quantum mechanics Spacetime events and relativity theory Entropy and thermodynamics Grand unified theories Wormholes and other universes 7. Introduction to the Themes of Modern Biology Design without a designer The growth of form 8. The science of Language and Meaning Austin: Grice: Popper: Quine: Ontological Relativism Kripke: Possible World Semantics Putnam: Functionalism Barthes: Semiotics Chomsky Fodor: Computational Functionalism Searle: Dennett: Intentional Stance, Memes 9. The Science of living matter Modern synthesis of biology Herb Simon's symbolic processing paradigm Jerry Fodor's computational functionalism Kenneth Craik's representational paradigm Ilya Prigogine's thermodynamics of non-equilibrium systems Gerard Edelman's theory of neural selection Fredrick Bartlett's reconstructive memory William James' connectionism Noam Chomsky's generative grammar Stuart Kaufman's self-organization Humberto Maturana's autopoiesis George Lakoff's cognitive metaphor Roger Penrose's quantum theory of consciousness Lotfi Zadeh's fuzzy logic Rodolfo Llina's brain model Allan Hobson's theory of dreaming Richard Dawkins' memes 10. Conclusions
Classes will consist of lecture and discussion. READING REQUIREMENT
Additional course material
View the Slides (These files contain only a small portion of the slides. Ask the instructor for a CD-ROM with the entire set. It requires Powerpoint or Acrobat and about 100 Mbytes of free space). Print the Outline
Reader: "A History of Knowledge" (2004) by Piero Scaruffi.
Milestone books in the history of western civilization