Alison Gopnik: Why philosophy of science?

10 minutes

The drill

3 minutes

Mary-Jane Rubenstein: multiverses, pantheism and ecology

27 minutes

Bayes’s theorem, and making probability intuitive

16 minutes

In the absence

29 minutes

What toddlers can teach us about how the human brain does science

Science as we’ve come to understand it today – that is, conducting experiments using a hypothesis-testing method – has existed only since about the 17th century. But the Homo sapiens brain has been around since the Pleistocene, so how is it that we’ve gotten so good at the kind of science we do in such a short amount of time? In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn from the PBS series Closer to Truth, the US psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik argues that scientific skills, including making statistical inferences and testing our environments through trial and error, are implicit in children, even those as young as 20 months. Drawing on research conducted at her laboratory at the University of California, Berkley, Gopnik believes that the fundamentals of scientific thinking appear in humans just about as soon as we start to speak. In other words, as she puts it: ‘It’s not that children are little scientists, it’s actually that scientists are big children.’

Video by Closer to Truth

‘I want to take the bullet and save my friends’ – the grim reality of safety drills in US schools

A generation ago, children in classrooms in the United States prepared for natural disasters such as fires and tornadoes. Today, active-shooter drills force them to confront the grim possibility that someone – perhaps a fellow student – might open fire in their school. In this StoryCorps animation, one such drill prompts a mother and her 10-year-old son in Texas to discuss a question no child should ever have to consider – whether he would sacrifice himself to try to save his schoolmates. An affecting and troubling short, The Drill gives an aching human voice to the psychological toll of school shootings and the culture of fear they’ve created for schoolchildren and their parents in the US.

Director: Richard O’Connor

Producer: Shelley Gorelik

Website: StoryCorps

If you think that modern cosmology leaves no room for ‘god’, start using your imagination

‘We’re not so much abandoning the idea of the gods, we’re just trying to pull them all the way into the Universe.’

From the possibility of infinite universes to the prospect of panpsychism, puzzles have arisen in physics that can take science to some very counterintuitive places. According to Mary-Jane Rubenstein, assistant professor of religion and feminist, gender and sexuality studies at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, new theories and breakthroughs at the forefront of cosmology need not – and moreover, should not – elbow out theology from the conversation about our place in the cosmos. Instead, as she argues in this wide-ranging interview recorded at the HowTheLightGetsIn Festival from the Institute of Arts and Ideas in 2019, science should encourage us to build more durable myths and theologies to suit our times.

What is it to be Bayesian? The (pretty simple) math modelling behind a Big Data buzzword

If you’ve ever tripped up over the term ‘Bayesian’ while reading up on data or tech, fear not. Strip away the jargon and notation, and even the mathematics-averse can make sense of the simple yet revolutionary concept at the core of both machine learning and behavioural economics. As this video from the YouTube channel 3Blue1Brown skilfully explains, at its most basic, Bayes’s theorem is a tool for assessing degrees of probability based on prior conditions. And there are ways to make it altogether more intuitive than the statistical formulas might suggest. Although the theorem dates back to its 18th-century namesake, the English statistician and philosopher Thomas Bayes, it has gained increasing relevance in the Big Data revolution.

Video by 3Blue1Brown

‘They told us to stay put’: the South Korean ferry disaster that sank lives and trust

On 16 April 2014, the ferry MV Sewol sunk off the coast of South Korea, killing 304 people – the vast majority of them high-school students on a field trip. Like many other tragedies, the event made headlines around the world before quickly fading from the international news cycle. In South Korea, however, facts about the incompetence, government failures and lapses in responsibility that led to the Sewol’s sinking emerged slowly over the course of several years, prolonging pain and stoking anger to the present day. The documentary In the Absence by the South Korean director Yi Seung-Jun is a devastating account of the sinking and its aftermath – from the first signs of trouble at sea to the years-long struggle by bereaved families demanding accountability and justice. Combining original material with real-time audio and video of the tragedy, the film offers an extraordinary, chilling account of the consequences of following instructions from inept authorities – and the profound breakdown of public trust that follows such a disaster.

Director: Yi Seung-Jun

Producers: Gary Byung-Seok Kam, Park Bong-Nam

Website: Field of Vision

What toddlers can teach us about how the human brain does science

Science as we’ve come to understand it today – that is, conducting experiments using a hypothesis-testing method – has existed only since about the 17th century. But the Homo sapiens brain has been around since the Pleistocene, so how is it that we’ve gotten so good at the kind of science we do in such a short amount of time? In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn from the PBS series Closer to Truth, the US psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik argues that scientific skills, including making statistical inferences and testing our environments through trial and error, are implicit in children, even those as young as 20 months. Drawing on research conducted at her laboratory at the University of California, Berkley, Gopnik believes that the fundamentals of scientific thinking appear in humans just about as soon as we start to speak. In other words, as she puts it: ‘It’s not that children are little scientists, it’s actually that scientists are big children.’

Video by Closer to Truth

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