The history and philosophy of science (HPS) option develops knowledge and understanding of the historical evolution of the physical and biological sciences and the philosophical perspectives that inform them, as well as the dynamics between science, technology, and other human endeavors.
HPS courses in history help students learn about the origins of theoretical and experimental practice; the social and institutional contexts of science; the origins and applications of quantitative methods; and specific developments since antiquity in the mathematical, physical, and life sciences, in geography and cartography, and in space technology. Students learn to use social, political, biographical, and comparative analytic methods for the study of these fields. HPS courses in philosophy deal with issues in causation and explanation; the foundations of probability and statistical inference; and philosophical problems in biology, mathematics, medicine, neuroscience, and physics. They address ethical issues of significance, such as scientific fraud and misconduct, and human-machine interactions.
HPS courses ask: To what extent was the scientific revolution revolutionary? What is a scientific explanation and how do scientists go about constructing and justifying one? How have conceptions of scientific experimentation changed over time? How and why did modern physics (or chemistry or biology) emerge in the way that it did? How should the theory of evolution inform our conception of the modern mind and brain? What role can neuroscience play in solving the "mind-body" problem?
In their coursework, students receive regular feedback from the faculty on their research, writing, and presentation skills. They can carry out independent research and present their findings in a seminar setting. HPS is unique in that historians and philosophers maintain close ties with their colleagues in the sciences. Students who pursue an HPS option write a thesis based on independent research. The HPS minor is designed for students who want to pursue concentrated study, without the more extensive coursework and senior thesis required by the option. The option provides excellent preparation for students going into medicine, law, business, science administration, journalism, and public affairs through a rigorous development of critical thinking skills and development of eloquent writing and speaking.
- William and Myrtle Harris Distinguished Lectureship in Science and Civilization
- Upcoming events in the Exploration: The Globe and Beyond Seminar Series
- Einstein Papers Project
- Research Institute for the History of Science and Technology (RIHST) at Caltech and The Huntington
- Caltech Archives
- Caltech Library