Science and the quest for knowledge

A. Mahdavi in discussion with one of the guests in the course Science and the quest for knowledge

Since Winter term 2016 a little course has been added to the list of electives offered at TU Wien, which can be arguably characterized as different. Its stated objective is to "to encourage general critical reflections regarding the role of science and the scientific method in generation of knowledge. The central objective thereby is to discuss the relative standing of science amongst other expressions of human quest for understanding and interpreting the natural world and the human condition." The course is entitled "Science and the Quest for Knowledge", not without a certain intentional - and certainly not humorless - invocation of a sense of adventure.

When asked about the initial motivation behind conceiving and preparing this course, Professor Ardeshir Mahdavi reflects on the following circumstance: We work in an academic context, which takes science and the scientific method as Via Regia to knowledge for granted. And we make a lot of efforts to transfer scientifically based knowledge and derivative technical skills. But a great number of our graduates, it seems, rarely reflect on the deep nature of the scientific reasoning and the reasons why is generally credited with the capability to establish knowledge and reveal truth. One of the main aims of the course is to address this gap. Toward this end, it seemed useful to address the quintessence of the scientific worldview in the context of other traditions and institutions invested in understanding and interpreting the world.

This intention in reflected in the stated content of the course: "An introductory treatment of science will be followed by a number of discussions with representatives of traditions and institutions related not only to the sciences, but also - and primarily - to those pertaining to the arts, philosophy, religion, politics, and ethics. A central trust of these discussions will address the ’how’ and ’why’ questions, their meaning as relevant to the natural world and social settings, and if and to which extent they can be answered by science alone."

As of winter semester 2107-2018, a total of 16 guests participated in public conversations with Professor Mahdavi, followed by discussions with attending students. The guests came from a wide variety of disciplines, including physics (H. Balasin; I. Brezinova; G. Ecker), biology and ecology (B. Lötsch; H. Knoflacher; H. Kromp-Kolb; P. Mitteröcker), computational logics (A. Ciabattoni; L. Kovacs), philosophy and ethics (V. Bühlmann; G. Franck; M. Singer), arts (I. Reichle), and religion (K. Appel; U. Heil; G. Weissgrab).

"The course started as an experiment", Professor Mahdavi notes, "however, the unexpectedly high level of interest and excitement on the side of students has been very encouraging and motivating. So we hope to continue..."

Information about the course available in TISS :
Course-Number: 259446 (1.0, 1.0 ects), Type: Seminar; Course language: English
Schedule and venue: Regularly, blocked Seminar (Tuesday evenings, 6-7 sessions), Main building of TU Wien, Karlsplatz 13

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