HANS CHRISTIAN VON BAEYER, College of William and Mary and RALPH DAVIS, Albion College
May 20-22, 2004 in Stony Brook Manhattan, New York City
This course is an examination of historical and contemporary paradoxes and their role in scientific thinking. Although there are many different kinds of paradox, "In modern science," according to John Barrow, "the term paradox is usually reserved for a counterintuitive finding that is believed to shed light upon something fundamental." By contrast, logical and linguistic paradoxes usually focus on the tools of understanding itself while visual and perceptual paradoxes are different still. Paradoxes have revealed unexpected inconsistencies in our beliefs, challenged our conceptual and perceptual frameworks, and served as a check on both theory and practice. They have provided us with insights as to how the brain and eye work and how information is processed, and, perhaps most importantly, they have allowed us to enter into imaginative speculation and the constructive juxtaposition of ideas resulting in a deeper understanding of the world. We share Niels Bohr's enthusiasm: "How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress."
The physical sciences will provide such examples as Olbers' Paradox, the Twins Paradox, Maxwell's Demon, the EPR Paradox, Superluminal Signal Transmission, Gibbs' Paradox, Parrando's Paradox, and the Hardy, Vaidman, Greenberger/Horne/Zeilinger Quantum Paradoxes, etc. We will reflect on logical and philosophical paradoxes from Zeno, Russell, Goedel and Quine, to Hempel's Raven, the Prisoner's Dilemma, the Unexpected Hanging and Newcomb's Paradox. The history of visual paradox will be examined from Brunelleschi, Durer, de Vries and Hogarth, to Reutersvard, Dali, Penrose and Escher highlighting our Euclidian/Renaissance conventions of seeing and graphic representation. Also included will be less formal but equally paradoxical topics such as free will, dreaming, the nuclear defense strategy of "mutually assured destruction," and the grandfather paradoxes of time travel. Time permitting, the sophisticated and highly suggestive writings of such authors as Augustine, Borges, Carroll and Wells will provide examples from yet a different perspective. The topic of paradox and scientific thinking is too broad to cover in a short period of time. Thus, in selecting material for presentation and discussion we will try to take Bertrand Russell's advice "...to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it." A very modest Suggested Reading List will be provided.
For college teachers of: all disciplines. Prerequisites: none.
Dr. von Baeyer is Professor of Physics at the College of William and Mary. Dr. Davis is Professor of Philosophy at Albion College.
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