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The University of Southampton
International Summer School

The Contemporary Scientific World View

The world is round with diameter about 15,000 km, rotates on its axis once a day, and revolves around the sun once a year. The sun is about 150 million km away and shines, but the moon does not.

International Summer School
International Summer School

The dots in the sky which we call stars shine like the sun, and they all live happily in a family of stars called a galaxy, which is about some billion times larger than the distance to the sun. Everything we see around us is made up of atoms (of which there are about a hundred different types), which are typically of the order of a billionth of a metre across. The atoms combine into groups called molecules. Living organisms are made up from cells about a millionth of a metre across, which act as factories for the molecular fuel used by the organisms. By a process called evolution, life forms have changed markedly over the 3 billion years or so that life has existed on earth, which is itself 4.7 billion years old. But people have been around for only 150 thousand years or so.

These are facts that educated people “know”. When they don't, scientists are as contemptuous as experts in the humanities are when it turns out that the same scientists are not familiar with great literary works. However, not so long ago, most sensible people believed that world was flat, that life was simply the product of a life-force breathed by a supernatural being, that the sun rotated around the earth, that stars were simply bright dots in the sky and that God had granted their particular ethnic group property rights over their land until eternity. Nowadays, a public belief in flat-earthism will destroy your credibility, even in areas entirely unconnected to geology or astronomy. Formerly ridiculed beliefs are pronounced true, and previously uncontested truths are suddenly nonsense.

This course will discuss how, over the years, belief systems underlying our understanding of the world came to change. Using examples, we shall examine some principal pieces of evidence were (and/or are), and what technological inventions were necessary in order to facilitate this. If there is time, we shall also discuss some philosophical theories associated with this general process.

The academic organising this topic is Professor Tim Sluckin, Professor of Applied Mathematics.

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