ECEN 3070 - Edges of Science
ECEN 3070 (3). Edges of Science.
Examines the evidence for paranormal phenomena, reasons for skepticism, and
physical models that could account for the data. Reviews controversial
scientific theories that overcame barriers to acceptance and how
world views shift. Considers the scientific method and ways uncontrolled
factors might influence experiments. Develops skill in statistical
analysis of data. Includes group projects testing for anomalous and
Not accepted as a technical elective for engineering majors.
Approved for the Core Curriculum Critical
Thinking requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences. May be
used only as free elective credit for EEEN or ECEN majors.
Credits and Design
||3 credit hours:
3 hours of seminar (discussion and presentation) per week,
independent laboratory work.
Math 1011, or equivalent.
Dean Radin, Entangled Minds, Pocket Books, 2006.|
Chris Carter, Parapsychology and the Skeptics,
SterlingHouse Books, 2007.
| || |
- In textbooks, science and engineering are usually presented as
universally accepted, stagnant bodies of knowledge, but in fact they
are in constant turmoil such that today's fiction becomes tomorrow's
fact and vice versa. Many claims are made about scientific findings
and theories, on one extreme that they represent the ultimate truth,
and on the other that they are unscientific or fraudulent. One course
objective is to develop a mental tool set and careful approach for
analyzing scientific claims, to distinguish fuzzy thinking and an
irrational response to new scientific concepts from a healthy skepticism.
- The second objective is to learn about current research in
psychic phenomena and the underlying science in sufficient depth to be
able to follow and possibly even participate in its progress. A wide
array of these phenomena cannot stand up to critical scrutiny, while
a subset have exhibited a stubborn positive statistical effect in
hundreds of published scientific studies. These will be analyzed using
the texts, scientific publications, and direct experimentation.
Each class includes a discussion which usually takes up the majority of
the class time. The class is divided into the three groups
(make-up of groups varies over semester):
- The scientific method
Format: Mixed lecture and classroom discussion
Content: An examination of the scientific method, first in
general and later in light of experimental data.
- Historical examples and critical methods
Format: Dominantly discussion.
Content: Tracing through deveopment of several scientific
theories to the point where they become generally accepted
or rejected, using several historical examples.
- Basic experimental methods, hypothesis testing, and statistical analysis
Format: Dominantly lecture
Content: Analyzing one experiment or model, or related group of
experiments or models, during each class meeting. Many assertions
of anomalies are anecdotal and are not susceptible to rigorous
inquiry. We work to distinguish appropriately documented research
from unsupported assertions. We show how a healthy skepticism can
see through unsupported assertions, and how pathological skepticism
can work against honest scientific inquiry.
- Current experiments:
- Influences through space: telepathy.
- Influencing physical objects: Psychokinesis in
random event generator experiments.
- Influences through time: precognition.
- Implications and models:
- The experimenter effect.
- Energy conservation.
- Distance and time in classical and quantum physics.
- Assumptions of forward causality.
- Thermodynamics and entropy considerations.
- Information and Shannon entropy.
- Sample size and statistical power.
- "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
How much evidence is required to legitimize psi research?
- Student project presentations.
For each topic, advocates and skeptics provide a short opening statement.
The questioners query both the advocates and the skeptics. The goal is
not to "win" the "debate," but rather to examine the subject in as much
depth as possible. Therefore, after the initial round of discussion,
advocates and skeptics may change their positions following what they
believe or becoming devil's advocates.
For topics requiring a particular background, a lecture format is used for
part of the class period.
Last revised: 08-02-11, PM, ARP.