Search | Directories | Reference Tools
UW Home > Discover UW > Student Guide > Course Catalog 

Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Paul Boynton
PHYS 215
Seattle Campus

A Way of Knowing

Insight to the character and culture of scientific inquiry through a historical examination of how we have interpreted our experience of the phenomena of gravitation. Specifically for non-science majors. Quantitative reasoning and critical thinking required, but no college-level mathematics.

Class description

Since the latter part of the 19th century, advances in physical science and associated technologies have reshaped the way we conduct our daily lives. Our great-great-grandparents would hardly recognize the world we live in today. In addition to the electrification of the Industrial Revolution, this science has provided the means for global communication and transportation, and introduced nuclear power. Subsequently, discoveries in the physics of matter spawned the transistor, Silicon Valley, and the so-called information superhighway that now rises up to meet us . . . ready or not.

Although these seem profound enough changes, the full impact of the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries is not measured by these relatively recent technological innovations. Rather, these are only manifestations of the contribution made by science to the fundamental change in how we have come to think about the world and ourselves in modern times.

The character of physical science was determined largely some 400 years ago with major contributions by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton. This was also the time of Descartes, the beginnings of philosophical quest for certainty, and the laying of groundwork for the emergence of scientific thinking. Physical science is both a progenitor and the most fruitful undertaking of this revolutionary period, and is consequently both a foundation and a product of modernity.

In A Way of Knowing, we gain insight to modern science and the modern condition by studying the character and culture of inquiry to the nature of the physical world in four historical periods: Classical Antiquity, Hellenism, the late Renaissance, and the early Twentieth Century. In doing so, we discover not only the success and power of our modern way of knowing the physical world, but also how this approach contrasts with earlier modes of inquiry, as well as with the pseudo science of any era. The central theme we pursue through these four periods is the phenomenon of gravitation and how the Western approach to interpreting this fundamental aspect of our experience of the world has changed over the past two millennia.

This is a physical science course whose only prerequisite is some familiarity with high school algebra and geometry. Learning about science requires doing some science, which in turn requires some basic skills in quantitative reasoning and critical thinking. In modern times, there is no other way to grasp the compelling, underlying connection between a falling apple, the mechanics of space travel, and the nature of a black hole. This is our way of knowing.

Physics 215 is intended for non-science studentsand satisfies the Arts and Science Graduation Requirements in "The Natural World" category. Physics 214, 215, 216 may be taken independently, that is, in any order.

Lectures with discussions will be held on MWF 1:20-2:30 PM in PAB A114. Further discussion with a teaching assistant will be on Tuesdays 1:20-2:30 PM in PAB A114. Three workshops where students examine various phenomena related to course work will be held on Thursdays at 1:20-2:30 PM.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Familiarity with high school level algebra and geometry as required for entrance to UW is an advantage. We try to use as little algebra and geometry as possible, introducing or reviewing what we need. Reasoning and critical thinking will be emphasized. Also advantageous would be be any introductory course in Western civilization, philosopy and/or history. This course is not intended for anyone who has completed one term of a regular college or university physics course (other than UW Phys 214 or 216) or an accelerated high school physics course.

Class assignments and grading

1) Readings from the required text "Science and the Human Prospect", Ronald Pine (available on web) "Cosmology: A Cosmic Perspective" , Paul Boynton (available on web) 2) Required written homework consisting of discussion questions and some assignments of a problem-solving nature will be handed in periodically and generally collected on Wednesdays. 3) There will be a required 50 minute exam and a required 110 minute final exam. The exams are based not only on the text and lectures, but also on homework and workshops. The exams are closed book. Two 8.5 x 11" pages with notes of your choice on both sides will be allowed for exams. There are no make-up exams.

The hour exam will comprise 30% of the course grade; the final exam 40%; homework assignments 30%.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Matthew S. Winslow
Date: 12/22/2003