David Harriman’s Fundamentals of Physical Science: A Historical Inductive Approach

by Lisa VanDamme

One of the most formative courses in my educational history was David Harriman’s “Fundamentals of Physical Science” – formative of my knowledge of science, formative of my views on education, formative of my very ability to think. It taught me what it really means to learn science, and by extension, what it really means to learn.

Let me illustrate the difference between science as it is conventionally taught and science as it is taught by David Harriman, using Newton’s law of universal gravitation as a striking case in point.

If your education was like mine, this law was presented as a commandment to be memorized—as knowledge that, along with Newton’s apple, fell from the sky. You had no knowledge of the prior discoveries that were the “shoulders” on which Newton famously declared he stood, no awareness of the questions that remained and that Newton sought to answer, and therefore no substantive understanding of the meaning, the explanatory power, and the monumental importance of Newton’s achievement.

When, in Harriman’s course, you arrive at Newton’s law of universal gravitation, it comes as a page-turning, climactic chapter in an epic story of discovery.

You will have already learned about Galileo’s principle of inertia, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, and Newton’s own law of circular acceleration. You will see how these discoveries made possible the question Newton asked himself when the apple fell.

You will have already learned Galileo’s law of fall, Eratosthenes’ calculation of the size of the Earth, and Aristarchus’ calculation of the distance to the moon. You will see how these discoveries made possible Newton’s answer to the question.

When guided through the ingenious process by which Newton integrated this knowledge and built upon it, you are able to thoroughly grasp the principle of universal gravitation: to see that it is true and why it must be true. The law of gravitation becomes connected to and explanatory of the things you see around you every day. It is real knowledge.

Harriman teaches all of the great achievements in the history of physics, from the heliocentric theory, to optics, to electromagnetism and more, in this historical, inductive manner.

The value of a course that takes this approach to teaching science is inestimable. It provided me with a clear filter for distinguishing “knowledge” I had memorized from sincere, independently held, fully-formed knowledge. It helped me to see that complex, abstract principles of science are not the province only of geniuses, but are, if properly taught, accessible to all. It inspired me with epic stories of world-changing discoveries that have made life as we know it possible. And it modeled, and helped me to develop, real intellectual self-discipline.

That is why I cannot recommend this course highly enough.

David Harriman’s “Fundamentals of Physical Science” is now available in the VanDamme Academy Store.

Special Offer: Reduced price for the first 100 buyers!

 

Vaccination: An Essentialized History of a Life Saving Technology

Amesh Adalja, M.D., discusses the history of vaccination with special attention to the heroic figures who developed this technology. Particular consideration is given to the chain of reasoning leading to the first vaccine, as well as how the germ theory of disease led to a plethora of vaccines that allowed humans to experience a rapid improvement in lifespan and quality of life.

Adalja is a board-certified physician in infectious disease, critical care medicine, emergency medicine and internal medicine, specializing in the intersection of national security with catastrophic health events. He publishes and lectures on bioterrorism, pandemic preparedness and emerging infectious diseases and appears as a guest on national radio and television programs. This talk was delivered on Wednesday, July 6, 2016, at Objectivist Summer Conference 2016 in Bellevue, Washington.

Genetically Engineered Food is Safe: No Evidence that GE Crops are Unsafe to Eat, or Do Damage to the Environment

“The inescapable conclusion, after reading the report, is the G.E. crops are pretty much just crops. They are not the panacea that some proponents claim, nor the dreaded monsters that others claim.” — Wayne Parrott a professor of crop and soil sciences at the University of Georgia.

A two-year analysis of almost 900 journal articles on the past 30 years of genetically modified, or engineered (GE), crop use concludes that there is no evidence that GE crops are unsafe to eat, or do damage to the environment. The 400-page reportGenetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects’ published by the National Academies Press on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. — was conducted by 20 scientists, and commissioned by the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

The report looks at the impacts GE crops have had since the 1980s. Its findings include:

  • Generally positive economic outcomes for farmers, but no indication GE crops changed the rate of increase in yields;
  • Decreased crop losses, insecticide use and greater insect biodiversity for insect-resistant Bt crops, but also instances of insects evolving resistance;
  • No decrease in plant biodiversity for herbicide tolerant crops, but a major problem with herbicide-resistant weeds due to heavy glyphosate use;
  • No evidence that foods from GE crops are less safe to eat than conventional food.

Looking to the future of GE crops, the report notes that new genetic technologies are blurring the line between conventional and GE crops, and that the U.S. regulatory system needs to assess crop varieties based on their individual characteristics, not the way they are produced.

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