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Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science

Get a grip on reality in 36 enthralling lectures about the changing view of what's real-in space, in matter, in society, and in your brain.
Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 86.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Title is weak compared to the course's content I received this course sometime ago and am now going through it again for the 4th time. I have over 110 of the Great Courses and taken over 70 of them to this point. Several of them have been so good that I have taken them 2 or even 3 times. But this Course outstrips all that I have taken to this point, and by a good margin. In truth, my wife purchased this one for me and, and based on the title I might never have selected it because of the connotations invoked by the title. I am so glad she did because the course provides such a powerful big picture of the historical evolution of science, I think the course is an excellent value at 10 times the price. Each lecture is valuable as a stand alone lecture with provocative perspectives that offer tremendous big picture insights.
Date published: 2023-08-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mared by ideological bias The course is unfortunately impaired by the lecture on race. The professor denies the (biological) reality of race. To support his argument he quotes the notorious leftist ideologues Lewontin (of Lewontin's fallacy, an intricate statistical argument serving to obscure the reality of racial differences, which says that there's a pattern of higher diversity within races, largely shared in all races, and only a small amount of variety differing between races, which is supposed to invalidate a racial taxonomy. The problem is the same broad pattern will happen even between related species, especially at the genetic level. Closely related species have more similarities than differences. In fact perhaps you have to move quite a long way on the phylogenetic tree in order to add up more differences than similarities, maybe past "family" or "order." We share something like 60% of our genome with bananas, funnily enough the same percent of similarity we have with fruit flies. That the within-species level of differences is small is no impediment for valid, consistent taxonomies) and Gould (of The Mismeasure of Man, a pseudoscientific book polemically attacking intelligence research, thoroughly debunked by intelligence experts such as Linda Gottfredson and Earl Hunt). The professor proceeds to deny racial differences in IQ, namely the 1s IQ gap between white and black Americans, perhaps one of the most replicated findings in all of psychology, supported by transracial adoption studies, admixture analyses and the Spearman effect. I can understand his position is effectively a necessity in the American academia and recognizing the reality of racial differences is enough to be branded a "racist" and have one's career destroyed. What I fail to understand is why would such a poorly argumented lecture be aired at all. If you can't offer an objective overview of a topic, might as well skip the topic. I would recommend professor Haier's excellent course The Intelligent Brain as a scientifically valid alternative. Besides this lecture, I liked the course, especially the first 13 lectures on physics. The professor possesses a superb ability to explain difficult topics in terms understandable to the layman. My problem is I can't overlook even 1 lecture if it is so thoroughly wrong that it destroys the credibility of its lecturer.
Date published: 2023-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Reason they call it Great Courses Accurate but lousy title is probably the reason I missed this course for so long. Glad I found it. Gimbel is an excellent lecturer. I didn't note he used a teleprompter as so many of the latest courses have the person just sitting there and reading. Dr. Gimbel kept it moving, to the point and covered a vast array of subjects very well. He also didn't throw in personal bias as so many of the professors do. I liked this better than Big History. Most subjects I had a working knowledge of but I still learned a lot. I liked his relating the topic to books and movies also.
Date published: 2023-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional lecturer! Dr. Gimbal has researched the sciences very well and his lecture delivery is captivating. The application of how philosophy relates to the sciences is well focused, without reiterating the origins of the philosophy discipline.
Date published: 2022-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic! Excellent course providing an overview of a large amount of topics that influence how we see the world today. Highly recommend. Personally I know very little of physics and it was fascinating to hear how theories in science has had an effect on the arts. Prof Gimble ties together a lot of different strands of thought and different fields into a very clear narrative.
Date published: 2022-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quite a Fascinating Journey With Professor Gimbel These lectures are very thought provoking. Some of these fields were familiar to me but others, like sociology and psychology, were less familiar. It got me interested in these subjects and made me realize how these fields were important in the evolution of modern science. Each lecture ties up perfectly with the main theme of the course, “redefining reality”. The goal of the course is clear and Steven Gimbel is obviously passionate about all these subjects. The parallels he makes with literature, art and movies were a nice touch. I ended up buying a few books mentioned by Gimbel and watching (or rewatching) movies mentioned by him.
Date published: 2021-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Riveting: Brilliantly connects the dots Riveting: Brilliantly connects the dots This is a captivating tour through the intellectual implications of classical and contemporary sciences, in the broadest sense, including physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, economics and technology. Not only does the professor explain difficult concepts clearly, he relates them to trends in popular culture - especially books and movies - in an entertaining and illuminating fashion. He lightens things up from time to time with subtle puns and cute analogies. Cultural references include everything from science fiction books and films to contemporary reality TV. Many times I found his insights startling. Here are some examples that I jotted down while listening: * Implications of the origin of chemistry in alchemy * Influence of Freud on horror films * Connections between the 60's hippie movement and the development of behaviorism and public relations * A totally surprising interpretation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in the light of Carol Gilligan's ethic of care * Influence of the Holocaust on Stanley Milgram's classic experiments on obedience * Rampant thermodynamic metaphors in economics and what they signify * A convincing argument that our definition of disability reflects people's ability to work in an unforgiving society * The origin of personal computers and the Internet in hippie culture and opposition to the Vietnam War I highly, highly recommend this course!
Date published: 2021-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most amazing thing I've seen over last 20 years Absolutely amazing. Steven Gimbel's masterpiece on science, reality, world, and everything. It's the most fantastic thing I've seen over the last 20 years. I could easily watch it again and again. This lecture is very likely the best Great Courses has to offer. Gimbel succeeds brilliantly in walking us through where we are now as a sentient human by showing us where we come from in our understanding of life, reality, and science. Gimbel manages to surprise with his lucid and witty lecturing style. After watching this lecture I feel I understand myself, my place in the world, the society, science - and even the reality itself - better than before. This is coming from someone who thought he had already seen everything and is not easily impressed. 20 hours well spent.
Date published: 2021-04-03
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No subject is bigger than reality itself and nothing is more challenging to understand, since what counts as reality has been undergoing continual revision for centuries. The quest to pin down what's real is both philosophical and scientific. Redefining Reality , presented by award-winning Professor of Philosophy Steven Gimbel, shows that separating the real from the illusory is an exhilarating intellectual adventure.


Steven Gimbel

Scientists give us new accounts of how the universe works, and philosophers unpack those theories to see what they tell us about what is real.


Gettysburg College
Professor Steven Gimbel holds the Edwin T. Johnson and Cynthia Shearer Johnson Distinguished Teaching Chair in the Humanities at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, where he also serves as Chair of the Philosophy Department. He received his bachelor's degree in Physics and Philosophy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and his doctoral degree in Philosophy from the Johns Hopkins University, where he wrote his dissertation on interpretations and the philosophical ramifications of relativity theory. At Gettysburg, he has been honored with the Luther W. and Bernice L. Thompson Distinguished Teaching Award. Professor Gimbel's research focuses on the philosophy of science, particularly the nature of scientific reasoning and the ways that science and culture interact. He has published many scholarly articles and four books, including Einstein's Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion; and Einstein: His Space and Times. His books have been highly praised in periodicals such as The New York Review of Books, Physics Today, and The New York Times, which applauded his skill as "an engaging writer...[taking] readers on enlightening excursions...wherever his curiosity leads."

By This Professor

Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science
An Introduction to Formal Logic
Take My Course, Please! The Philosophy of Humor
The Great Questions of Philosophy and Physics
Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science


Metaphysics and the Nature of Science

01: Metaphysics and the Nature of Science

Start with the metaphysical concept of reality and how it led to a scientific worldview. Then see how the scientific picture of reality changes as theories are refined or overthrown. Explore examples such as the germ theory of disease and philosopher Thomas Kuhn's influential idea of paradigm shifts....

33 min
Defining Reality

02: Defining Reality

Take a step back to define reality as understood by the ancient Greeks. Then work your way forward through revolutionary ideas about reality proposed by Plato, Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and finally Newton, who inspired the Age of Enlightenment. Close with the Romantic backlash of the 19th century....

33 min
Mathematics in Crisis

03: Mathematics in Crisis

The most secure science, mathematics, hit the rocks of uncertainty in the 19th and 20th centuries. Trace the shocking discoveries of non-Euclidean geometries, Cantor's paradoxes of infinite sets, and the incompleteness theorem of Kurt G?del. See how Alice in Wonderland sheds intriguing light on this new view of reality....

31 min
Special Relativity

04: Special Relativity

Until 1905, physical reality consisted of absolute space, absolute time, and the luminiferous aether. Learn how Einstein's special theory of relativity overthrew this deeply ingrained view and heralded an entirely new conception of reality. Examine how cultural figures such as Kurt Vonnegut drew on this legacy....

31 min
General Relativity

05: General Relativity

Relativity was incomplete until Einstein formulated a general theory of relativity that incorporated gravity. See how this breakthrough demolished the age-old idea of gravity as a force, replacing it with the concept of warped spacetime, leading to strange predictions such as black holes....

27 min
Big Bang Cosmology

06: Big Bang Cosmology

Investigate the underlying reality that governs the universe. Is the universe eternally the same? Or is it changing and unstable? In modern times, this debate culminated in the contest between the steady state theory and the big bang model. Hear how unexpected events led to a spectacular solution....

29 min
The Reality of Atoms

07: The Reality of Atoms

Atoms are the bedrock of ordinary matter, but a century ago many scientists were very reluctant to accept their existence, despite growing evidence that chemical elements come in countable units. Investigate the backstory of the atomic hypothesis, and witness its triumph and the complications that ensued....

30 min
Quantum Mechanics

08: Quantum Mechanics

Delve into the paradoxical subject of quantum mechanics, which was pioneered by scientists probing atomic structure in the early 20th century. Learn about Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Erwin Schrödinger. Focus on the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the strange behavior of the Schrödinger wave function....

29 min
Quantum Field Theory

09: Quantum Field Theory

See how quantum field theory led to a stunning synthesis called the standard model of particle physics, which was confirmed by the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson. Study the startling implications of this theory for our understanding of reality. Close by examining its impact on the visual arts....

31 min
Chaos Theory

10: Chaos Theory

Traditional attempts to understand the world assumed that it was regular, simple, periodic, and predictable. But nature surprised scientists, giving them a richer picture of reality through chaos theory, which includes fractal structures. Learn how chaos is not randomness but a previously unimagined complexity within the universe....

29 min
Dark Matter and Dark Energy

11: Dark Matter and Dark Energy

What happens when the accepted picture of reality is dramatically overthrown? Watch this happen in the late 20th century, when scientists suddenly discovered two completely unexpected phenomena: dark matter and dark energy, which together dwarf the contribution of ordinary matter to the cosmos....

29 min
Grand Unified Theories

12: Grand Unified Theories

Since its earliest days, science has been on a mission to unite disparate phenomena under the umbrella of more comprehensive theories. Follow the search for a grand unified theory (GUT) that unifies the workings of quantum forces, and a theory of everything (TOE) that quantizes gravity. One current TOE candidate is string theory....

31 min
Quantum Consciousness

13: Quantum Consciousness

Can physics explain consciousness? Start with Descartes, who held the dualistic view that the mind and body are separate, and see how materialists countered that brain processes produce the mind. Then discover what physics has to say about free will, and probe the famous thought experiment involving Schrödinger's cat....

31 min
Defining Reality in the Life Sciences

14: Defining Reality in the Life Sciences

Study one of the most complete transformations of reality in history: the new picture of life that emerged from the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. Close by tracing their influence on William Golding's Lord of the Flies and on television reality shows....

30 min
Genes and Identity

15: Genes and Identity

The mechanism that drives evolution was not discovered until long after Darwin's death. Follow the clues that led researchers first to the cell nucleus, then to chromosomes and genes, and finally to the DNA molecule as the agent of heredity. Close by weighing the role of genetics in determining human identity....

32 min
The Birth of Psychology

16: The Birth of Psychology

The quest to understand human behavior inspired researchers to study the mind. Investigate the theories of Sigmund Freud, who gave the world a new vocabulary, including concepts like ego, id, and superego. Learn how Freud's legacy has been especially enduring in the horror film genre....

30 min
Jung and the Behaviorists

17: Jung and the Behaviorists

Trace the different directions psychology took before World War II. Carl Jung extended Freud's ideas to encompass a universal collective unconscious. Meanwhile, the behaviorists rejected the mind to focus on observable behavior, an approach that had profound influence on advertising and public relations....

30 min
The Rediscovery of the Mind

18: The Rediscovery of the Mind

The Holocaust raised troubling questions about the mind and its relation to authority. Examine three landmark experiments that tested the limits of human autonomy and came to shocking conclusions: Solomon Asch's group think study, Stanley Milgram's obedience study, and Philip Zimbardo's Stanford prison study....

30 min
The Caring Brain

19: The Caring Brain

Freudian psychology sees mothers as the wellspring of neuroses. Contrast this view with Harry Harlow's groundbreaking studies of maternal caregiving and Carol Gilligan's theory of differing moral development in females and males. Close with a powerful precursor to Gilligan's ideas: Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein....

31 min
Brain and Self

20: Brain and Self

What makes us distinctly human? Analyze the contributions of genetics, environmental factors, and social interaction to our effective functioning as members of the species. See how CT, MRI, and PET imaging technologies provide windows into brain structure and activity....

28 min
Evolutionary Psychology

21: Evolutionary Psychology

If the human brain is the result of evolutionary processes, then many shared psychological traits must have adaptive advantages. Explore this intriguing view, known as evolutionary psychology. See how it can be illustrated by a simple logic problem, which perplexes most people until they tap into their innate skill for detecting cheaters....

32 min
The Birth of Sociology

22: The Birth of Sociology

Culture imprints itself on our brains through the process of socialization. Investigate the insights that sociology provides-from the 19th-century founder of the discipline, Auguste Comte, to Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx, and Emile Durkheim, who suggested that crime has an unappreciated positive role in society....

29 min
Competition and Cooperation

23: Competition and Cooperation

In the early 20th century, one of the most popular words in book titles was "crisis," reflecting a widespread anxiety about a rapidly changing world. Study contrasting assessments of the stability of society from sociologists Max Weber, Pyotr Kropotkin, and Ferdinand Tönnies, as well as the influential analysis by industrialist Andrew Carnegie....

30 min
Race and Reality

24: Race and Reality

What differences between groups are real, and what differences are as arbitrary as a political boundary? Address this question regarding race, which less than a century ago was considered firmly rooted in biological reality. Trace the evidence that led this view to be conclusively overthrown....

33 min
Social Progress

25: Social Progress

Continue your investigation of social reality by looking at the concept of progress. Social optimists and pessimists alike believe that society is progressing, but they see different causes. Evaluate their theories, and explore the idea that Western culture is doomed to collapse under its own weight....

31 min
The Reality of Money

26: The Reality of Money

For all of its abstractness, money is a powerfully real phenomenon. Delve into the intricate events that unfold as money, goods, and services are exchanged in the economy. Examine how the ideas of John Maynard Keynes and the results of modern psychological research challenge the two primary assumptions of classical economic theory....

30 min
The Origin of Life

27: The Origin of Life

Apply the reality-analyzing tools you've learned in the course to the problem of life. Consider the close connection between life and sunlight. Then look at the startling exception to this rule: the fauna that flourish around volcanic vents in the dark ocean depths. What does this tell us about life's origins?...

29 min
Exoplanets and Extraterrestrial Life

28: Exoplanets and Extraterrestrial Life

Fiction writers have led the way in exploring the prospects of life beyond Earth. See how scientists are catching up, looking for extraterrestrial organisms using a variety of ingenious techniques. Learn how they are narrowing the search and which tantalizing clues have already turned up....

27 min
Technology and Death

29: Technology and Death

Reality for the individual ends at death. But medical technology is making that endpoint increasingly hard to define. Consider what it means to die and the complications that would ensue if we developed brain transplants or found the secret of immortality....

31 min
Cloning and Identity

30: Cloning and Identity

Modern technology has transformed procreation, birth, and parenting. Given the different donor and surrogate options, it's perfectly possible to have a child with five biologically contributing parents. What are the implications of this revolution, especially if human cloning becomes the next new option?...

29 min
Genetic Engineering

31: Genetic Engineering

Explore the history of genetic engineering, which has roots in the imaginary hybrid creatures of ancient myth. Learn how real hybrids can be made by splicing genes for desired traits into the genome of an organism. Then discover how this brave new technology is being used....

30 min
Medically Enhanced Humans

32: Medically Enhanced Humans

With the availability of cosmetic surgery, psychoactive chemicals, performance enhancing drugs, and other treatments, people are now free to redefine themselves in order to overcome their limitations. Probe a trend that is rapidly transforming what it means to be human....

32 min
Transhumans: Making Living Gods

33: Transhumans: Making Living Gods

Prosthetics, eyeglasses, and other aids were once seen as less-than-ideal substitutes for normal human abilities. But now technology can enhance us well beyond what's considered normal. Examine the superhuman traits currently available and those on the drawing board. Has the era of the cyborg arrived?...

29 min
Artificial Intelligence

34: Artificial Intelligence

Trace the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) from simple calculating machines to computers that can vanquish chess masters. Learn the distinction between weak AI, such as a chess-playing machine, and strong AI, which is a machine that has a truly human-like mind. Question whether strong AI is even possible....

30 min
The Internet and Virtual Reality

35: The Internet and Virtual Reality

For all of their ubiquity, personal computers, email, and the Internet represent a major departure in the evolution of computer technology. Witness the exciting and improbable birth of personal computing in the 1970s, and explore the nature of the virtual world where more and more people now reside....

29 min
Data Analytics

36: Data Analytics

Today's networked culture is a dream come true for researchers in fields from marketing to sociology to epidemiology. Learn how big data puts potentially everyone and everything under the microscope of analysis, creating a comprehensive view of the intricate reality in which we are all mere atoms....

34 min