- What is truth? How do we find and express scientific truth about the Nature?
- What has this quest for truth changed in time and across cultures?
- What do we know so far about the physical universe, the world of life and our own mind? What are the impacts and consequences of these discoveries and scientific endeavors?
- What are the limitations of human knowledge and scientific methods?
[Excerpts from WONG Wing Hung, "Introduction", In Dialogue with Nature: Textbook for General Education Foundation Programme.]
Humans have long been curious about nature. Since before the dawn of civilization, we have struggled to come to terms with the vast array of phenomena that the world presents.
The endeavour by the early natural philosophers and their descendants, today's modern scientists, to discover rules of nature has been a dialogue between nature and ourselves.
This dialogue is conducted through experience and reasoning. It began in ancient Greece, beginning about 500 BCE, where philosophers began applying the intellectual tools of logic and reason to their observations of natural phenomena in their attempts to explain existence. Their attitude towards nature and their methods of investigation laid down the foundation of our modern, Western, empirical sciences and the technologies they support.
But in the course of this process, our understanding of Nature underwent numerous modifications and even some profoundly radical changes. Some of these new modes of thinking have even occasionally challenged the very concept of understanding, forcing humankind to reflect on the meaning of knowledge.
Meanwhile, in China, the quest to understand nature met with very different solutions. By developing concepts such as yin and yang and the five elements, Chinese scholars created a set of understandings very different from those of their Greek counterparts. It wasn’t until the early modern historical period that concepts of western science began to infiltrate the Chinese ethos, and yet China, without the supposed benefits of science, was for many centuries the acknowledged super-power of the ancient world.
Thus this course invites students to retrace the train of thought of our predecessors in this quest for knowledge, and with whose writings students will engage in dialogues. By following the footsteps of great minds, students shall develop informed views about nature and human interactions with it.
Intended Learning Outcomes
By the end of the course, students will be better able to:
- identify the essential characteristics of various methods of scientific inquiry that have significant impacts on how human beings view life and universe;
- read and discuss science texts with confidence;
- evaluate the scopes of application, achievement and limitations of highlighted scientific methods using multiple perspectives;
- relate the development in natural sciences highlighted in the course to contemporary human conditions; and
- formulate informed personal views on the societal implications of scientific explorations.
Course Framework and Required Readings
* Excerpts will be selected from listed classics. The reading list is subject to review by the teaching team meeting. Individual teachers may add recommended readings as they see fit.
1. Human Exploration of the Physical Universe
- Plato, Republic
- David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science
- I. Bernard Cohen, The Birth of a New Physics
- Isaac Newton, The Principia
2. Human Exploration of the World of Life
- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
- James D. Watson, DNA: The Secret of Life
- Rachel Carson: "Silent Spring"
3. Our Understanding of Human Understanding
- Henri Poincaré, The Value of Science: Essential Writings of Henri Poincaré
- Eric R. Kandel, In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind
- Joseph Needham, The Shorter Science and Civilisation in China Vol.1
- Nathan Sivin, 'Why the Scientific Revolution Did Not Take Place in China – or Didn't it?'
- William Dunham, The Mathematical Universe: An Alphabetical Journey Through the Great Proofs, Problems, and Personalities
- Euclid, Elements