Sense and Sensibility and Science

Saul Perlmutter (Physics) John Campbell (Philosophy) Tania Lombrozo (Psychology)
  • MW 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM
  • 150 GSPP
  • 4 Units
Letters and Science 22 (class number 26167)

Breadth: Philosophy and Values, Physical Science, Social and Behavioral Sciences

Every day we make decisions that can and should be informed by science. We make decisions as individuals, as voters, and as members of our various communities. We make decisions as students and parents and policy makers. The problem is, we don’t do it so well—a fact sadly apparent in political debates.

It’s easy to blame poor decision-making on the greed, irresponsibility, ignorance, or incompetence of other people. But the problem seems to be more basic than that. It seems we face a paradox. Living in a democracy means that everyone’s view counts the same as everyone else’s. But to make decisions informed by science, we often need to defer to those with relevant expertise. Therefore, we shouldn't rely on a democratic system to make the best decisions. Or should we?

This basic tension between science and democratic decision-making serves as a unifying theme for Sense & Sensibility & Science, a course that aims to equip students with basic tools to be better thinkers. We will explore key aspects of scientific thinking that everyone should know, especially the many ways that we humans tend to fool ourselves, and how to avoid them—including how to differentiate signal from noise, evaluate causal claims, and avoid reasoning biases. We’ll then look at the best models for using science to guide decisions, since the rational and a-rational (e.g., fears and goals) then have to be combined. We will explore these themes experientially, often with in-class activities and discussions, and we will culminate in an open-ended project to design better methods of deliberation and decision making, both as groups and as individuals.

Co-taught by faculty from Physics (Saul Perlmutter), Philosophy (John Campbell), and Psychology (Tania Lombrozo), SSS fosters intellectual advancement for interdisciplinary knowledge seekers.

Students interested in enrolling in SSS Spring '18 must fill out the online form below, AND waitlist themselves. Full application instructions appear on the form itself.

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