Crazy Ideas And Scientific Theories
Dr. David R. Burgess
Rivier College

Class Philosophy

Some crazy ideas end up being scientific "truths", others don't. They thought the idea of the earth being round was a crazy idea, but it turned out to be true. Some people thought that “electrons orbiting around the nucleus like planets around the sun” was not a crazy idea, but that one turned out to not be true.

Today some scientists say that coal doesn't come from living organisms, time travel is possible, the solar system has two suns, etc. Is there any way to predict which ones will be proven true and which ones will fail?

This course will investigate that question. As we learn some criteria for deciding, we will be exposed to a lot of science and learn to better understand the world around us. It should be interesting and fun to look into these crazy ideas that may one day be scientific theories.

The general philosophy of the course is to use science content as a means of developing better writing, logical thinking, and maybe some mathematical reasoning as well. The course is more concerned with the process of understanding how scientific theories are developed than it is with imparting a body of knowledge. This is reflected in the fact that there are not any exams in the course, only homework problems and short papers that will give lots of practice with the process. By doing this course you will not only gain a better appreciation for what scientists do, but you will be a better problem solver within your own discipline as well.

To better understand how the papers will give practice in the process consider the following paragraph from the syllabus.

Five "short" papers are required for this course (the first one is actually a homework assignment for practice). These papers will all be written in a prescribed format that uses logical reasoning as the foundation. I have found this structure to facilitate the study of the topics and it is a straight forward way for the instructor to see if the student has mastered the basic concepts. It isn't so much a matter of proving why things are the way they are as it is explaining the observations in a logical manner using well established "facts" and principles. For most of your papers the textbooks that we are using will provide the well established "facts" and principles. At times, however, you may have to do more research to clarify or better understand what the book is presenting. Either way, writing the papers in the prescribed format will require that you determine the central idea, identify relevant observations, and understand how the observations are connected to that main idea. These are the main tasks of any scientific investigation.