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A Blog for MOOCs and Other Animals

#Introphil MOOC – Sixth Week Impressions

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Newton under the apple tree waiting for the apple to fall...

True theory on its way – really?
(‘Newton under the apple tree waiting for the apple to fall…’ by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig on Flickr)

Are Scientific Theories true ? – very interesting topic for me this week. At issue is whether ‘truth’ is the aim of science (scientific realism) or whether science doesn’t need to be true to be good (anti-realism). This is a big topic to cover in a few short videos but from where I sit, the lecturer, who went to the trouble of having some relevant shots taken in an Edinburgh museum, did a very good basic job.

In the forum – I had an interesting discussion about what a realist would make of quantum mechanics. Here’s a quick resume: The humble electron is a good candidate for consideration. As time passes the realist, on the basis of widely accepted experimental evidence, is pleased to associate various properties with this tiny but concrete object (spin, charge, etc) and accepts all this as at least, approximate truth. Then quantum theory comes along. Although the realist happily accepts a probabilistic view of electron states on the basis of good evidence, she has some difficulty keeping her realist hat on while trying to accept that the electron is ‘really’ not one thing or another until it’s observed.

This may not be particularly relevant to the scientist in the field but it’s certainly a provocative thought if you happen to be a realist. Maybe a purpose of philosophy is to act as a gadfly. As Socrates is reported to have said, “to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth.” I will add this to my list headed, ‘what philosophy is for’.

cMOOC found in an xMOOC ! – I’m convinced that inside every xMOOC there’s a cMOOC trying to get out. This can be difficult because of the way things are set up, particularly with Coursera’s terrible clunky closed forums but, just as in cMOOCs, there is a natural tendency for at least some participants to cooperate, create, share and make connections. Some examples – one participant posts her reflections, not only on current course material but on supplementary references she’s actually studied: all with helpful links. Various study subgroups have been set up by participants under headings of nationality, age, location, subject specialist etc though I haven’t noticed very much activity in these very recently. There are a number of helpful experts, mainly in the physical sciences and computing areas, who really do seem to know what they’re talking about – maybe contrary to my initial impressions when some people seemed more defensive and less tolerant of the poets! A good example of DIY spirit was the participant who, single-handedly, produced a complete transcript of this weeks videos before the official version was available.

Comment Scraping – I undertook to unleash my Comment Scraper on the introphil MOOC but my main computer with all the programs crashed more than a week ago. I’m hoping to get it back today and if so, comment scraping can be restarted, though some comments will be irrevocably lost because of missed aggregation.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

March 11, 2013 at 11:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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4 Responses

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  1. Although *thinking* about comments, I’ve been slacking off questioning and examining ~ philo-ennui and busy asking other questions ~ but this and the Philosophers’ Carnival put me back in the mood. I even found quotes from Camus and Saul Bellows dissing the examined life. 

    Philosophers’ Carnival? No mask or costumes required.



    March 11, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    • Thanks for the link Vanessa – some interesting stuff – ‘Delusions of Alien control’ and ‘Splintered Minds’ just the ticket when I’ve done with ‘Time Travel’ this week 🙂 Gordon


      March 11, 2013 at 5:50 pm

      • Now I am tempted to dash about mooc bashing blogs and leave comments suggesting that they are an alien conspiracy…


        March 17, 2013 at 2:38 pm

  2. And there are the c’s that could use just a touch of x to organize.

    what philosophy is for list:

    * question authority
    * rationalize it

    I’m even questioning questioning.


    March 15, 2013 at 1:27 am

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