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Wed 24 Apr, Wed 1 May, ... Wed 22 May 2024
13:00, ...

Venue: Pfizer LT

Provided by: Department of Chemistry


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Chemistry: Philosophy for Physical Scientists

Wed 24 Apr, Wed 1 May, ... Wed 22 May 2024


Science is a strikingly successful and powerful feature of contemporary human cultures: it has transformed lives, enabled great technological feats and often revealed the world to be a much stranger place than appearances suggest. But what is science, really, and how and why has it been so successful?

Target audience
  • Chemistry postgraduates
  • Further details regarding eligibility criteria are available

Number of sessions: 5

# Date Time Venue Trainer
1 Wed 24 Apr   13:00 - 14:00 13:00 - 14:00 Pfizer LT Prof. Hasok Chang
2 Wed 1 May   13:00 - 14:00 13:00 - 14:00 Pfizer LT Prof. Hasok Chang
3 Wed 8 May   13:00 - 14:00 13:00 - 14:00 Pfizer LT Prof. Hasok Chang
4 Wed 22 May   13:00 - 14:00 13:00 - 14:00 Pfizer LT Prof. Hasok Chang
5 Wed 22 May   14:00 - 15:00 * 14:00 - 15:00 * Pfizer LT Prof. Hasok Chang
* Optional session.

This lecture course aims to introduce some main themes in the philosophy of science generally, and the philosophy of chemistry in particular, addressing the following questions and more. Do scientific theories give us the true picture of reality, or are they just useful models of computation and prediction? How do we know that our instruments and procedures really measure what we intend to measure? And does all science ultimately boil down to fundamental physics, and is chemistry just ‘applied physics’?

Lecture Timetable

Lecture 1. What Is Science?(Wed 24 Apr 2024) What makes science scientific? Is there something really distinctive about scientific investigation which distinguishes it from other things humans do? Does science give us infallible knowledge? Or at least the kind of knowledge that is always on a progressive path? Can the scientific way of thinking serve as a guide to other aspects of life? These questions will be discussed in relation to the views of some well-known philosophers of science including Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn.

Lecture 2. The validity of measurement (Wed 1 May 2024) Measurement is the foundation of any quantitative empirical science. We make all sorts of measurements routinely in the lab, but there are actually deep difficulties in knowing if our instruments and procedures correctly measure what we intend to measure. The epistemological issues involved here will be discussed through various scientific examples, including temperature and pH.

Lecture 3. Scientific realism (Wed 8 May 2024) Do scientific theories give us the true picture of reality, or are they just useful models for making computation and prediction? And how would we be able to know if our theories are “really true”? Can models that aren’t strictly true still help us understand nature? These issues will be explored through the history of atomic–molecular chemistry in the 19th century, in which a great deal of knowledge was gained about the structure of complex molecules even though chemists had no direct access to them.

Lecture 4. Reductionism: Is chemistry just applied physics? (Wed 22 May 2024, 13:00-14:00) Does all science ultimately boil down to fundamental physics? This is a pertinent issue to all areas of science, but an especially urgent one for chemistry. Considering the success of quantum chemistry one might imagine that chemistry is just applied physics, but the matter is not so simple. Looking at the longer history of the attempts to reduce chemistry to physics will also be instructive.

Lecture 5. How should we teach chemistry? The case of electrolysis (Wed 22 May 2024, 14:00-15:00) What do all these philosophical considerations about the nature of scientific knowledge imply about how we should teach science? How should textbooks and teachers deal with the fact that even the most basic natural phenomena are actually very complex and difficult to understand, and that our understanding of them is liable to change as science develops? We will explore these questions through the case of electrolysis, about which various chemistry textbooks give not only over-simplified but mutually conflicting treatments.

  • 5 sessions of one hour
  • Yearly

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