How can we (as individuals and as whole societies) better incorporate into our thinking and decision making the problem-solving techniques characteristic of science at its best?
We humans have developed rational and systematic methods for solving problems, ways carefully designed to chart a reliable path to the truth. Yet we as individuals, as groups, as whole societies fail to take full advantage of these methods. This course aims to equip you to do better, by helping you explore what it means to approach a question “scientifically”. What skills – and more importantly, habits of mind – does this approach require of you as an individual (especially an individual who needs to work in collaboration with other individuals)? What does successful scientific inquiry require of a community – both the community undertaking the inquiry, and the larger society of which it is part? Here you will find the tools to start answering such questions for yourself. You will learn to spot widespread and stubborn errors in reasoning that we humans easily fall prey to, along with techniques for avoiding them. You will uncover some of the fundamental assumptions (about the world we inhabit, and about our access to that world) that science must proceed from, and thereby become more sophisticated about what science can teach us and what it can’t. By engaging with these foundational aspects of scientific inquiry, you will come to understand more fully what it means to adopt a critical scientific mindset, and how to do so for yourself. And you will thereby end up in a much better position to assess how communal scientific inquiry does and should guide decision making in a democratic society such as ours.