Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science

Course No. 4140
Professor Steven Gimbel, Ph.D.
Gettysburg College
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Course No. 4140
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What Will You Learn?

  • Understand how the concept of relativity came to be, and how it has changed over time.
  • Learn how psychology and sociology have had a major impact in defining reality.
  • Discover what the future of reality might hold with the advent of virtual reality.

Course Overview

No subject is bigger than reality itself, and nothing is more challenging to understand, since what counts as reality is undergoing continual revision and has been for centuries. For example, the matter that comprises all stars, planets, and living things turns out to be just a fraction of what actually exists. Moreover, we think that we control our actions, but data gathering systems can predict, with astonishing accuracy, when we will get up in the morning, what items we will buy, and even whom we will marry.

The quest to pin down what's real and what's illusory is both philosophical and scientific. At its core, it is nothing less than the metaphysical search for ultimate reality that goes back to the ancient Greeks. And for the last 400 years, this search has been increasingly guided by scientists, who create theories and test them in order to define reality and then redefine it as new theories replace old.

In physics, biology, psychology, economics, and many other fields, defining reality is a task that needs frequent updates. Consider these once solid facts that were later thrown into doubt:

  • Space and time: Nothing is more real to us than our experience of space and time, which is why one of the greatest revolutions in human thought is Einstein's discovery that these two seemingly stable features of the universe are surprisingly fluid in ways that defy common sense.
  • Matter: It seems obvious that matter down to the smallest scale should have measurable properties: it's either here or there, it's spinning this way or that. But quantum mechanics shows that subatomic particles are in many places and states at the same time - until you measure them.
  • Mathematics: What could be more ironclad than the truths of mathematics? Yet in the 1930s, Kurt Godel showed that the field was built on shifting sands - that no set of axioms designed to serve as the foundation of mathematics could be both self-consistent and complete.
  • Life-giving sun: Plants need sunlight; animals eat plants or other animals; therefore all life on Earth ultimately depends on the sun. This seemed indisputable, until scientists discovered colonies of life in the dark ocean depths, feeding on mineral-rich hot fluids from volcanic vents.

When faced with reversals such as these, it's tempting to give up and conclude that nothing will ever be certain. But there's a more rewarding way to look at it, which is that every successful new theory is an improvement on its predecessor, drawing the net ever more tightly around reality, whose form is gradually coming into focus.

Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science gives you the thrill of this exciting quest in 36 wide-ranging lectures that touch on many aspects of the ceaseless search for reality, both scientific and philosophical. From the birth of the universe to brain science, award-winning Professor of Philosophy Steven Gimbel of Gettysburg College shows that separating the real from the illusory is an exhilarating intellectual adventure.

And since dealing with reality is an experience we all share, this course is designed for people of all backgrounds. No prior training in science or philosophy is assumed. Furthermore, the richness of Professor Gimbel's presentation assures that even those who have studied this problem in depth will find new connections and unexpected insights. Dr. Gimbel's thoroughness makes Redefining Reality an unrivaled introduction to key themes in the history of science and philosophy.

The How and Why of Reality

You begin with the contrasting views of two of the most influential philosophers who ever lived: Plato and Aristotle. According to Plato, reality resides in an abstract world of forms that can only be perceived by the mind; while for Aristotle, reality is right here in this world. It was this elevation of the material realm by Aristotle that launched what we think of as science.

Science was part of philosophy until the 16th and 17th centuries. The turning point came with Isaac Newton's laws of motion and principle of universal gravitation, which showed that the world is governed by natural laws. Newton's supremely successful mathematical theory established science as a separate mode of inquiry and provided a model for the ambitions of all future scientists. Henceforth, science was devoted to explaining how the world works. Speculation about why it works the way it does remained the province of philosophy.

A striking case of when a philosophical subject suddenly became scientific occurred in 1965, with the discovery of the fossil radio signal from the big bang, the moment when the universe can be said to have begun. Before this discovery, the notion of a beginning to time was largely theological. After, it was a scientific problem that could be quantified and explored in detail. In Redefining Reality, you examine scores of similar examples of reality in transition, including these:

  • Ghost in a machine: Traditionally, doctors saw the human body as a closed system inhabited by a soul - a "ghost in a machine." The discovery of disease-causing microbes led to a new paradigm: the body as a fortress under attack. Today there's a revised view: microbes are considered crucial to human life.
  • Economics: Newton's success in physics inspired the field of economics. But attempts to predict the complexities of production, consumption, and trade defied exact mathematical analysis. Recent theories have revised our view of economic reality by factoring in the human tendency for irrational economic choices.
  • Artificial intelligence: Can machines think? One current view is that a machine capable of human-like responses to questions would indeed have a mind. But philosopher John Searle's famous "Chinese Room" thought experiment suggests that the imitation of outward behavior is not enough to constitute a mind.
  • Free will: One outcome of today's revolution in big data is that computers can now predict what individuals will do in many situations, including who is likely to commit a crime. These techniques challenge the age-old belief that we have free will - that our actions are the result of deliberate personal choices.

The Art of Reality

Scientists and philosophers are not alone in grappling at an intellectual level with reality. Some of the most accessible interpretations are by painters, novelists, filmmakers, and other artists, whose works not only draw on the latest discoveries but also sometimes inspire them. Professor Gimbel includes examples in practically every lecture, such as the following:

  • Alice in Wonderland: Written by mathematician Charles Dodgson (whose pen name was Lewis Carroll), Alice's adventures can be read as an investigation of the paradoxical worlds that are possible when logic is set loose. Wonderland represents the death of the rationalist project.
  • Pointillism, cubism, and surrealism: These new modes of representation in the visual arts arose concurrently with the triumph of the atomic theory of matter and the radical new picture of reality offered by relativity and quantum mechanics.
  • Reality TV: The legacy of Darwin and his successors pervades one of modern media's most popular genres: reality television. From Survivor to Top Chef, these unscripted shows illustrate such Darwinian ideas as survival of the fittest and creative adaptation.
  • Hybrids and chimeras: Ancient myths spanning many cultures depict winged horses, minotaurs, mermaids, griffins, and other impossible crosses between different creatures. These stories prefigure today's real hybrids produced by genetic engineering.

A distinguished teacher, scholar, and author, Professor Gimbel has a gift for giving clear and concise explanations of concepts that can be notoriously difficult, such as special and general relativity, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, Godel's incompleteness theorem, chaos theory, and string theory. He also has a detective's instincts for connecting the dots, marshaling evidence to spotlight historical trends. One trend that you will learn about in Redefining Reality is the gradual redefinition of humans, for we have developed the power to alter our own reality in major ways - to defeat diseases, compensate for disabilities, enhance our mental well-being, and augment our intellect with computers. Where is that trend going? Take this fascinating course to find out.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    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. x
  • 2
    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. x
  • 3
    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 Godel. See how Alice in Wonderland sheds intriguing light on this new view of reality. x
  • 4
    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. x
  • 5
    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. x
  • 6
    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. x
  • 7
    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. x
  • 8
    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 Schrodinger. Focus on the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the strange behavior of the Schrodinger wave function. x
  • 9
    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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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 Schrodinger's cat. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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 Tonnies, as well as the influential analysis by industrialist Andrew Carnegie." x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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? x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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? x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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? x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x

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Your professor

Steven Gimbel

About Your Professor

Steven Gimbel, Ph.D.
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...
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Reviews

Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 69.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from "Redefining Reality" is a misleading title I do not want to repeat what others have already said in their reviews, so I will keep this short. The good news is that Professor Gimbel is a joy to listen to. The bad news is that the course did not meet my expectations, and, as a result, I was disappointed. Based on the title of the course and the glowing description in the mailer sent to my house, I thought this would be a course defining what is real, i.e., what constitutes the universe. In a sense, I was expecting a physics course that would take me from Aristotle to string theory. Instead of a course defining what is real, this is a course about refining our understanding of what is real (assuming the social sciences can be called real). Thus, lectures 1 though 13, about physics, were satisfying, but then the course shifted gears, from a discussion of what is real, to a discussion of current thinking about various and sundry topics (biology, psychology, sociology, economics, life, and technology). So, on the one hand, I think the course title does not properly reflect the content of the course. On the other hand, I have only myself to blame for not reading the lecture titles and others' reviews before ordering the course. Oh well, live and learn.
Date published: 2016-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just completed ... and very impressed! I learned quite a bit listening to this series--more from the first half, which focuses on the "hard" sciences, than from the second half, which focuses on the "softer" sciences--but what impressed me most wasn't just the course content (which was well covered, but a lot of which is available in other Great Courses), but the professor's incredible ability to explain, synthesize, and, most enjoyably, relate the course content to the modern world, and, in particular, to popular culture. In the process, I picked up quite a few pieces of interesting information along the way, the sorts of things that simply make being alive more enjoyable. Example: In the professor's explanation of alchemy in lecture 7, he not only explained how ancient alchemy was a necessary precursor to modern chemistry--a fact that is pretty well known--but in doing so, he also provided a fascinating explanation of the history of alchemy, much of which I did not know, and even a few fascinating nuggets like this: alchemists developed a number of "recipes" for making certain metals, but the alchemists, who could not rely on intellectual property law to protect their trade secrets (and, thus, their funding) relied on a type of secret code, consisting of assigning names and strange symbols to the various substances (e.g., gold = king, silver = queen), explaining the chemical reactions between them in terms of human interactions (e.g., separating = fighting, combining = marrying), and instructing the person preparing the metal to wait a certain amount of time (e.g., 10 minutes) by giving them a 10-minute poem to recite before proceeding to the next step. This, of course, allowed the alchemist to encode their recipe in the form of a story so that those on the outside would only understand it on a superficial level, but those on the inside could use to replicate the formula for making the metal. Over time, however, the original purpose of the poem (to mark time) was forgotten, and, looked at along with these strange symbols representing the known elements, was understood as a type of "spell" that one needed to cast to create the metal. The original purpose of the symbols (to protect intellectual property) was later forgotten as well, with the result that someone from the modern world, if they did not know what the alchemists were really up to, might look back and chuckle on the silly "magicalism" of the alchemists, but the joke, of course, is on us. These sorts of tidbits appear throughout the lectures, making them an absolute delight to listen to. I also really appreciated how the professor frequently paused to illustrate how something that was going on in the scientific world influenced, or was reflected by, an analogue in the world at large. So, in his discussion of atoms, where the discrete began to replace the continuous, the professor enjoyably digresses to discuss how artists began using the technique of pointillism to replace the smooth brushstroke in modern art (lecture 7). Again, in lecture 8, the professor pauses to explain how the incredible new science of quantum mechanics was reflected in the brilliant play "Copenhagen" by Michael Frayn. Once again, in lecture 9, the professor takes a quick detour to explain how the standard model, which abandons "substance" and understands particles as the excited states of various fields, is not all that dissimilar to what one can find in the Upanishads. And on and on and on. More examples? Want to talk about some amazing breakthroughs in life at the bottom of the sea? We can't do this unless we first include a delightful discussion of what Jules Verne imagined a century earlier (lecture 27). Want to talk about exoplanets and extraterrestrial life? Then you should hear about E.T., H.G. Wells, and, of course, Shakespeare (lecture 28). Want to understand the way humans tend to behave online? Time to revisit Plato's myth of the Ring of Gyges (lecture 35). And so on.I looked forward to listening to each lecture in equal parts for the course content and for the entertaining anecdotes. But my favorite anecdote of all? That a child can have as many as seven parents! How is this possible? Listen to lecture 30 and find out. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2016-02-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Did Not Change My Reality But It Is a Good Course I was disappointed in this course because it was more of a history of scientific advancement than an exploration of the nature and perception of reality. A reader reasonably versed in science is going to find most of this course painfully elementary. The second half is a little better but still doesn't delve into what I would expect for a course supposedly designed to redefine my idea of reality. It might make a redefinition for a particular individual with no prior knowledge of scientific advancements of the past 100 years. The level is closer to high school than college. But wait. While this course was a disappointment to me, it may be great for you. I expected more mind stumping discussion than a recap of the history of mathematics and the papers of Einstein. I've traveled those roads often. Almost all books on the current state of quantum mechanics will take the reader step by step through the Bohr Einstein debates. Most books reach back to Newton in order to set the stage for the new science of quantum mechanics. This course starts way before Einstein shook up reality. Newton certainly redefined reality for his time. Even that's not far enough back. Euclid? If I take a course called "redefining reality" I wouldn't expect it to begin with Euclid or Plato though putting some foundation in place is a good idea. Still, I think the title is misleading unless you think the world might be flat. This course might aptly be called "The History of Science Through the Ages---An Overview". To that end, it's a great course. For me, there was nothing new. My reality was not refined. It wasn't adjusted slightly. It's not a bad course and the presentation is good. If you want a decent overview of the history of science, here's a decent course. Again, let me say that the course is well presented and many people will enjoy and learn from it. It is very basic, however, and if you have a science background you won't find anything new or thought-provoking in this course.
Date published: 2016-02-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Broad summary Very useful survey, but a bit repetitious, especially about overall themes.
Date published: 2016-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My fav course of about 10 now Prof Gimbel deals with some real cutting edge science and scientific theories here and he makes them conceptually understandable to a reasonably well educated person who doesn't have a science background. I found it particularly interesting the way he shows how advances in science are reflected in art, architecture and even pop culture. He is a delightful teacher. I now have a feeling for how science and philosophy are...or should be, connected.
Date published: 2016-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It's complicated but reasonable Professsor Gimbel's outstanding lectures displayed a great breadth of knowledge and understanding across physical, biological, psychological, and social sciences. His lectures were interesting, wonderfully organized and successful in illustrating the essential unity in our evolving understanding. In those areas where I have some expertise (physics) I found his presentation accurate and very lucid. In areas where I had little familiarity, I found the selection of material and the central themes of the lecture illuminating and very reasonable. I have enjoyed many Great Course Lecture Series. I rate this as one of the best.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a WOW course We are both amazed at the content and presentation. Professor Gimbel not only has a vast knowledge of the fields of science and philosophy but is amazing in how he relates everything. His every day examples really clarify the concepts. We love his sense of humour. Great ties too.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just what I needed This course addressed issues that had been troubling me lately, and did so spot-on. While I can't say that someone else's concerns would be the same as mine, I do believe that the course would be of great interest to anyone trying to understand the modern world and its scientific underpinnings.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Redefined my reality of a great course Redefining Reality is one of the best Great Courses I’ve taken. Professor Gimbel tells the story of how mankind’s perception of reality changes with new discoveries in science. What makes the course so great is the professor’s skill at weaving the story together in a very fluid way. I was familiar with most of the math and science presented in the first third of the course, but I learned so much about how and why each new discovery changed our view of reality. I was delighted to get a fresh perspective of topics that I have studied for so many years and a great introduction to other areas I haven’t studied in depth yet. I really can’t recommend this course highly enough. Whether you have a lot of knowledge in the topics presented or they are new to you, I believe you will get your monies worth from this course.
Date published: 2016-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Fantastic!!! I'm currently listening to this course for the 3rd time and will probably need another 7 listens to even begin to understand all of it's content. Professor Gimbel is a great instructor who has that perfect blend of humor, intelligence, and charisma to really make you want to understand this courses content. His ability to effortlessly discuss all the realms of science and to clearly show how each new discovery reshaped our view of what reality true is, is utterly remarkable. It's hard to oversell this course. He literally covers everything from the beginning to now when it comes to the sciences. Everything! Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Human behavior etc. It just goes on and on. I really enjoy the Great Courses on my commute but this one course will be listened to again and again. Thank you professor for trying to enlighten me on this fascinating view of reality! I think you may have awoken the scientist in me!
Date published: 2015-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Conversations in Science as Ideology Review of Audio Download. How do science and technology influence our views of ourselves and our shared world and ultimately become core ideologies of our culture? Professor Gimbel presents a lucid, thought-provoking course on modern advances in the natural and social sciences and in technology as redefining our reality and allows us to intellectually engage with often highly-specialized fields. In addition, he is a fine lecturer who can both draw on humor, philosophy, movies, and off-beat examples to clarify his topics and explain difficult technical concepts straight on for a non-specialized audience. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2015-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best I would have likely given this course 6 stars if that were allowed. Professor Gimbel is just a great presenter. He's dynamic and interesting enough to keep your focus, drops in some well placed, dry humor, and really seems to enjoy the subject matter. I don't think there was a single lecture in this series that didn't really interest me. The ONLY criticism I have is that you learn a broad scope of a variety of topics as they relate to the history of scientific breakthroughs and paradigm shifts. This can be either good or bad depending on what you are looking for. It's shallow, but very broad. If you are looking for deep insights and a mastery of a particular topic, this isn't the course for you. On the other hand, if you are looking to gain a better perspective on science and philosophy as they evolved and as they pertain to everyday life, you really cannot do much better than this course. Highly entertaining and educational. I can't recommend this one enough.
Date published: 2015-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications This is an excellent course. It is wide in scope and quite educational. I knew over 2/3 the material quite well but his framing of the information and his lecture style added some depth to my knowledge. I do have a quibble with his reference to an optometrist using botulinum toxin first. From my research it was an ophthalmologist (Alan Scott) that pioneered its clinical use. I listened to the audio version on my to and from work. Beats the radio.
Date published: 2015-10-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Broad and accesible An examination of the developments in science in relation to culture and society since the birth of the scientific age. The reason I rate the course 4 and not 5 stars is due to the at times less than seamless transitions from professor Gimbel's treatment of advances in scientific understanding to their correlates in society. The segue from one to the other seemed, at times, abrupt without sufficient lead-in, the contrast between where we'd been and where we'd arrived too great. Just as I was settling into some of the lectures, professor Gimbel would shift ground leaving me with the feeling as though I were listening to a different, if distantly related, course. It's as though he were teaching two different courses, one science and the other sociology without fully conferring the benefit of either. Another thing I disliked is the "stand alone" quality of the lectures. I prefer lecture series that build sequentially, one lecture upon the one before it to form a whole greater than the sum of the parts. Single lectures on topics are just enough to whet my interest and rarely satisfy my desire to learn. Likely due to demand, TTC has produced a large number of these infotainment type courses lately, which has led to my enjoying the series produced from the mid 90s to around 2011 even more than when I originally listened to them. On a more positive tack, the course did remind me of the broader social, cultural, philosophical, religious and personal contexts into which science reaches to shape our lives and influence the world around us. The great chasm which separates us from pre-scientific society serves to illustrate this and for me was one of the most valuable and salient features of the course. "
Date published: 2015-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course is a great educational experience dealing with just about everything. It is a major achievement
Date published: 2015-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ontological Aspects of Technology I found this course to have immediate applicability to our lives. Being members of a western, technological society we each have a set of beliefs we rely on in our daily lives. While our personal philosophies and religious beliefs are important to us and we often question these, there is a deeper and more immediate set of beliefs that we rely on when we deal with the world. As a quick example, consider gravity, germs, and atoms, all beliefs we deal with every moment of the day. Only recently have I become aware of how recently these concepts became part of daily life. This course discusses the work involved in establishing these ideas as real, and the people who did the investigations. The experiments, the investigations, and even the lucky accidents involved in the discoveries are detailed. Dr. Gimbel's course allows us to consider the intimate reality of the metaphysical aspects of ontology (the things that comprise the “real” world) and of epistemology (how we know the things in that world). It is, perhaps, the most directly applicable philosophy course I have ever taken. As I read through the drafts of my review, I was struck by the sophistication of his topics and saw that the list may have looked too imposing to the prospective students. This is far from the case. His approach to each topic, and even the entire course, is entertaining The topics are varied and drawn from many technical fields. He is obviously familiar with the material and has an ability to draw the audience into his own enthusiasm. His use of common cultural examples, primarily movies and television shows, makes each lesson a uniquely entertaining experience. His approach is historical, and he has found a commonality of sequences in the general discovery and refinement of the technical advances he discusses. I was impressed by the coherence of his lectures. He happened to cover several topics that I have enjoyed over the course of my education. Cantor's work on infinite sets took me back to my undergraduate days, and his discussion of Godel's work is one of the most tractable I have ever encountered. Lest the potential student be disturbed by the role physics has played in this review, be assured Dr. Gimbel also covers topics is psychology, sociology, genetics and artificial intelligence. I was very aware, over the progress of this course, of the quality of the review questions following each section in the course guidebook. Some of the questions you have considered, I'm sure, but other sections are harbingers of ethical questions we, or our children, will be forced to deal with on a very practical basis.
Date published: 2015-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Colossal Tour Professor Gimbel delivers an extremely interesting lecture series, covering a vast amount of scientific, technological and philosophical thought, from the Hellenistic period to the present, as he pursues his primary theme: that man has progressed from viewing reality as composed of an array of concrete, individual parts, to realizing that we can only truly understand phenomena by considering them in their complex relationship with everything else, i.e. holistically. I have taken many science courses offered by The Teaching Company, and there is some overlap here, as with many of the science courses. However, given the depth and complexity of science in general, not only is a little review welcome, but each professor brings to the table his or her own unique perspective, interpretations, insights and pedagogical style. Hence, I continue finding much new material, and the professors’ different ways of explaining and conveying the subject matter leads to greater clarity and understanding. This is indeed true with Professor Gimble. He covers a broad expanse of territory here, and due to time restrictions is only able to touch on much of it, but there is a wealth of new and updated information. I also enjoy how he incorporates some pop culture – using movies, etc., to make a point -- and that he sprinkles his lectures with interesting biographical and historical anecdotes. Professor Gimbel has a rapid delivery, and it took me a couple of lectures to get used to his style. But once I did, I thoroughly enjoyed this course and would recommend it to anyone wanting to take a quick and interesting tour of several centuries of scientific and philosophical thought, and its impact on our ever changing view or reality. The DVDs have been subtitled, I assume because the Professor moves along at a pretty good clip and is sometimes a little difficult to understand. For those this reason, and because my hearing is not the best, I find the subtitles very beneficial. I would suggest, however, that The Teaching Company make this optional for those who are bothered by neither.
Date published: 2015-08-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Trying to Cover too much leads to some weak spots Much of what Professor Gimbel presents in areas I have knowledge is clear and fair. There is one glaring and major exception: Sociology. He has completely misunderstood Durkheim's category of anomie (without norms# and his book Suicide. He needs to go back and re-read it, if this isn't simply from second hand sources. Anomie is the lack of norms, the inability to discern which goals and expectations one should embrace and the connection between socially established goals and the means to reach them. So anomic conditions occur when there is rapid social change. There is a break down of the shared cultural bonds between people since the guidance that comes from shared social norms dissolves. The problem isn't the pressure of too many norms that oppress, but not enough shared norms that guide and set expectations. In addition, he neglects Durkheim's full social theory of suicide. Durkheim points the way to four types of socially induced suicides: The Degree of Regulation leads to: Anomic Suicide Fatalistic Suicide Degree of Integration leads to: Egoistic Suicide Altruistic Suicide Here's Durkheim's theory of anomie underlying two types of anomic suicide: Human wants are in principle boundless and insatiable--unless regulated and restrained they can lead to grave unhappiness. The satisfaction of needs does not make the person content, but rather leads to the stimulation of further needs. For there to be some equilibrium between needs and the means to satisfy them, there needs to be some force which restrains them and channels them. The individual cannot do this for him/herself. The only force powerful enough to accomplish this is the superior moral force of society in general. Restrained by societal pressures, each individual accepts the limits placed on his/her ambitions and aspires to nothing more. When that regulation of needs-means breaks down, suicide rates go up. The condition in which this societal regulation has relaxed or broken down is called anomie. Proposition: The less balance there is between the regulation of needs and means to reach those needs, the higher the suicide rate There are two sorts of major conditions which lead to anomie and thus to ANOMIC SUICIDE: Economic anomie occurs when crises occur--either great disasters #depressions, recessions# when people's expected profits are frustrated or great periods of growth where people suddenly have far more than expected. In both cases, what they have grown accustomed to as the expected levels of satisfaction or comfort is overturned--the limits which had set the framework for their passions, desires, goals are no longer valid--the rules by which they have lived their lives are now felt irrelevant. Means and needs are no longer in expected harmony and there is consequent suffering. The individual is released from societal regulation and suicide rates go up. Proposition: Economic anomie occurs when the rules and expectations that regulate people's economic behavior and goals are disturbed so that they no longer appear valid Domestic anomie occurs in the case of the death of a long term marriage partner and in the differences between societal regulation of the needs of men and women in marriage #bachelor men have higher rates of suicide because the expectations in intimate matters and expectations are not limited as they are for married men). Proposition: Domestic anomie occurs when people's expectations for intimacy and companionship do not have clear limits or are dramatically changed, leaving people without firm notions of what to aim or hope for.
Date published: 2015-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Presentation Superb I am seven lectures into it. The course content and approach are creative and appropriate for the intended audience of, let's be honest, course auditors. And if only Steven Gimbel could teach every subject. Someone needs to acknowledge that the savvy Professor Gimbel knows how to talk to you. Script, pacing, enthusiasm and perfectly-timed pauses. And, yes, that does amount to something -- otherwise we would just read transcripts. If he does not enjoy what he is doing, he's got me fooled. I have purchased an almost embarrassing number of The Great Courses and am pleased with maybe 80 percent of them. This one is a no-doubter.
Date published: 2015-08-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Reality as a crazy salad? I think that the main problem of this course is its title. “Re-defining reality” assumes that “reality” in the first place has been defined, which I believe is not the case. Professor Gimbel tried to “re-define reality" based on scientific and technological advances that are not clearly related to each other. It seems to me like a crazy salad or a disjointed string of pearls. In my opinion the title of this course would be better by dropping “Redefining reality” to get a more honest title: “The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science”. In my opinion, that is what it is (I enjoyed several lectures using only this context). However, this course did not give me any new or original insight about “reality”. What is being claimed in the course (reality is complex, reality has levels, everything is interconnected, etc.) does not help to define or re-define reality.
Date published: 2015-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Redefining Reality - a wonderful road trip for me Dr. Gimbel serves as a phenomenal guide on the journey through the scientific and technological contributions expanding mans understanding of reality. He provides an engaging and compelling discourse of the physical, biological, psychological, sociological, mathematical/logical and technological learning's that have garnered a greater perception of the constituents of reality. He is an excellent communicator. The presentations are cohesive, well supported via excellent examples and frankly I found them fun. His humor was much appreciated. Additionally I enjoyed his references to art, literature, and movies as vehicles for communicating reflections on the artist interpretation of "reality". My only negative comment is the course ended to soon. Additionally I wish i could personally attend one of his courses.
Date published: 2015-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What This Course Is About When I was considering buying this course, there was but one review, but, of course, one review could not determine my decision. The assertions in that review were suspect: a mischaracterization of the target audience and the reviewer's frank admission of having not gotten or having missed the point of the course. I could not, naturally, judge the negative assertions about the course, without having myself completed the course. Having done so, I will simply say I think that reviewer, for whatever reasons, reasons likely beyond the course itself, did indeed miss the multifaceted points of the course. Perhaps a slightly more wordy subtitle would help: A Comprehensive Evaluation of the Intellectual Implications of Modern Science. Each word or phrase in that subtitle identifies important considerations of what Professor Steven Gimbel means by Redefining Reality. True, the course is not linear; I shudder to think how bad it would have been if it were. There necessarily is a quasi-linear organization in that it begins with the ways reality was defined, or at least described, from ancient sources (specifically ancient Western sources# and moves to the near present tracking and assessing the intellectual implications of how reality was conceived to be then and how those conceptions changed #we could say evolved# consequent to new perspectives from the co-evolution of the many sciences and arts the professor examines and describes, with disciplined brevity, but also in a well-integrated and comprehensive way #say multidisciplinary if you prefer# the intellectual implications he discerns. Yes, the basic guiding principle of the course is simple: knowledge changes, and those changes alter our perceptions, descriptions, and definitions of reality. For many years in my courses, I asked students to consider what the mutability of knowledge implied, an exercise designed to converge on the sentence "The mutability of knowledge requires us continually to reconsider what we think we know." That sentence describes rather well what this course is about. The lectures are neither shallow nor loosely joined. By frequently looping back to earlier examined descriptions of realities, Professor Gimbel adroitly builds the needed network of often conflicting but still interconnected variant redefinitions of reality and reveals how they play out in the communal and social debates that are shaping our futures. That mutability of knowledge is not, in fact, what he "means" by reality: it is what drives the change in our evolving definitions of realities. And those changes occur in every discipline, every debate, every new hypothesis, and every attempt to assess the legacy of science for us and our children and theirs. So, I say that the many topics are most definitely related to each other, and, rather than being random, as the previous reviewer asserted, they are well-integrated into a forward moving and dynamic reassessment of our variant thoughts and claims about reality. The course is comprehensive enough, though no course can be truly exhaustive. And, yes, there are points on which I differ with Professor Gimbel: for example, his comments on Nietzsche are trite at best, and too much is made of Libet's research #he is not alone in that#. And yes, there are other Teaching Company courses students can turn to for more in-depth treatments of particular topics, but none of that gainsays the true value of this course in furthering awareness of how important it is to escape the bondage of the over-commitment to specialization in education. Since Professor Gimbel's focus was on science and implications of modern science, the course purview is, as mentioned, Western definitions of reality, yet it provides a model of how to approach new ideas thoughtfully and interpretively from differing cultural perspectives. For the record. I have advanced degrees in two sciences; I estimate I have read well over 25,000 books thus far in my life; this is my 405th Teaching Company course and my first review: I esteem it so. Watch and/or listen carefully, pay attention to transitions and changes in point of view #especially to keep track of the persona whose point of view Professor Gimbel relates#. I replayed many sections, especially when what was said triggered other related thoughts. Thank you, Professor, for guiding and sharing an easy-going yet adventurous journey through so many realities; even though I had visited most of them before, your tour was fun, evocative, challenging, and memorable.
Date published: 2015-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Reality Check This course takes us on a journey from the new realities of Physics and the weirdness of the Quantum world through Origins of Life, Chemistry, Biology, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology with side trips to the world wide web and a number of books and movies that illustrate lecture subjects. I started out taking 1 Redefining Reality and 1 Dark Energy/Dark Matter course each day but soon switched to a couple of Redefining Reality's a day as I needed to see what Professor Gimbel had to tell me next. I have taken dozens of TC courses and have to rate this one very high on my list of all time favorites and that list includes Professor Hazen's and Sapolsky's courses. My only regret is that I've completed the course and no longer share an hour a day with Dr. Gimbel. Perhaps he will put out another course in the future.
Date published: 2015-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Complex Course Matter In a Format I Understand Professor Gimbel is highly engaging and understands his audience. As such, he delivers course material that is inherently hard to understand in a way that is easily enough understood, and in an interesting and entertaining manner. I watched each lecture twice to absorb the content and have come away from it with enough understanding to want to dig deeper. If Professor Gimbel had a tip jar I would stick a 20 in it.
Date published: 2015-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2015-07-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from What is this course about? Is the professor trying to present a Theory of Everything? A course on everything? A theory that there is no "everything"? An attempt to show that "reality" is complex? I don't get it. I did like the idea that ideas evolve over time. That theory goes from the linear and specific to more holistic to more network. Reminds me a bit of Kuhn's structure of (a) scientific revolution. OK. The course touches a bit on metaphysics and epistemology and also on the "history of science" (which have been well covered by other TTC courses in the past). But also this course is disjointed and non-linear and I'm not sure that is intentional. It goes from traditional science to psychology to sociology to genetics and medicine to big data and analytics. Tho this is a good range, I'm not sure what the professor is presenting. For example, there are full 7 lectures on psychology. But these lectures are sort of like very basic lectures on notable ideas and research in the psychology field from 1900's to present. A bit on Freud, then Jung, then classic studies (Asch, Milgram, Zimbardo), then some on mind/brain, then on evolutionary psych, etc. There is a similar structure in the lectures on sociology, genetics, etc. - a little of this, a little of that. In the area of biotechnology (?) he covers all sorts of other topics, like cloning, genetic engineering, artifiical intelligence, internet and the "self", medically enhanced humans, etc. These topics have little to do with each other, they seem random. They are presented at the level of perhaps a college freshman who is new to higher education and hasn't or maybe won't take any psychology or sociology, or biology courses after this. It's a real "survey" level course and quite a hodge-podge. So, I'm not sure what this course is about other than a general survey of basic "ideas" of the past 150 years in all different discilplines. The topics are somewhat interesting, but not novel. The professor does have a pleasand style, sort of like an uncle talking with young adults over a holiday dinner, but nothing earth-shattering. As for "reality" ("redefining reality") all I get is that our knowledge (which, I think, is what he means by "reality") changes over time as we gain/discover/reconfigure knowledge. This is not a very sophisticated concept for an educated adult audience such as TTC. Even though it is billed as "philosophy" it is not particulary "deep" or thought-provoking. Maybe a bit entertaining but not revelatory.
Date published: 2015-07-08
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