Redefining Reality
The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science Series

The Great Courses
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36 episodes in this series

Episode 1 Metaphysics and the Nature of Science
Start with the metaphysical concept of reality and how it led to a scientific worldview. Then see how the scientific picture of reality changes as theories are refined or overthrown.…
Episode 2 Defining Reality
Take a step back to define reality as understood by the ancient Greeks. Then work your way forward through revolutionary ideas about reality proposed by Plato, Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler,…
Episode 3 Mathematics in Crisis
The most secure science, mathematics, hit the rocks of uncertainty in the 19th and 20th centuries. Trace the shocking discoveries of non-Euclidean geometries, Cantor's paradoxes of infinite sets, and the…
Episode 4 Special Relativity
Until 1905, physical reality consisted of absolute space, absolute time, and the luminiferous aether. Learn how Einstein's special theory of relativity overthrew this deeply ingrained view and heralded an entirely…
Episode 5 General Relativity
Relativity was incomplete until Einstein formulated a general theory of relativity that incorporated gravity. See how this breakthrough demolished the age-old idea of gravity as a force, replacing it with…
Episode 6 Big Bang Cosmology
Investigate the underlying reality that governs the universe. Is the universe eternally the same? Or is it changing and unstable? In modern times, this debate culminated in the contest between…
Episode 7 The Reality of Atoms
Atoms are the bedrock of ordinary matter, but a century ago many scientists were very reluctant to accept their existence, despite growing evidence that chemical elements come in countable units.…
Episode 8 Quantum Mechanics
Delve into the paradoxical subject of quantum mechanics, which was pioneered by scientists probing atomic structure in the early 20th century. Learn about Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and…
Episode 9 Quantum Field Theory
See how quantum field theory led to a stunning synthesis called the standard model of particle physics, which was confirmed by the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson. Study the…
Episode 10 Chaos Theory
Traditional attempts to understand the world assumed that it was regular, simple, periodic, and predictable. But nature surprised scientists, giving them a richer picture of reality through chaos theory, which…
Episode 11 Dark Matter and Dark Energy
What happens when the accepted picture of reality is dramatically overthrown? Watch this happen in the late 20th century, when scientists suddenly discovered two completely unexpected phenomena: dark matter and…
Episode 12 Grand Unified Theories
Since its earliest days, science has been on a mission to unite disparate phenomena under the umbrella of more comprehensive theories. Follow the search for a grand unified theory (GUT)…
Episode 13 Quantum Consciousness
Can physics explain consciousness? Start with Descartes, who held the dualistic view that the mind and body are separate, and see how materialists countered that brain processes produce the mind.…
Episode 14 Defining Reality in the Life Sciences
Study one of the most complete transformations of reality in history: the new picture of life that emerged from the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. Close…
Episode 15 Genes and Identity
The mechanism that drives evolution was not discovered until long after Darwin's death. Follow the clues that led researchers first to the cell nucleus, then to chromosomes and genes, and…
Episode 16 The Birth of Psychology
The quest to understand human behavior inspired researchers to study the mind. Investigate the theories of Sigmund Freud, who gave the world a new vocabulary, including concepts like ego, id,…
Episode 17 Jung and the Behaviorists
Trace the different directions psychology took before World War II. Carl Jung extended Freud's ideas to encompass a universal collective unconscious. Meanwhile, the behaviorists rejected the mind to focus on…
Episode 18 The Rediscovery of the Mind
The Holocaust raised troubling questions about the mind and its relation to authority. Examine three landmark experiments that tested the limits of human autonomy and came to shocking conclusions: Solomon…
Episode 19 The Caring Brain
Freudian psychology sees mothers as the wellspring of neuroses. Contrast this view with Harry Harlow's groundbreaking studies of maternal caregiving and Carol Gilligan's theory of differing moral development in females…
Episode 20 Brain and Self
What makes us distinctly human? Analyze the contributions of genetics, environmental factors, and social interaction to our effective functioning as members of the species. See how CT, MRI, and PET…
Episode 21 Evolutionary Psychology
If the human brain is the result of evolutionary processes, then many shared psychological traits must have adaptive advantages. Explore this intriguing view, known as evolutionary psychology. See how it…
Episode 22 The Birth of Sociology
Culture imprints itself on our brains through the process of socialization. Investigate the insights that sociology provides--from the 19th-century founder of the discipline, Auguste Comte, to Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx,…
Episode 23 Competition and Cooperation
In the early 20th century, one of the most popular words in book titles was "crisis," reflecting a widespread anxiety about a rapidly changing world. Study contrasting assessments of the…
Episode 24 Race and Reality
What differences between groups are real, and what differences are as arbitrary as a political boundary? Address this question regarding race, which less than a century ago was considered firmly…
Episode 25 Social Progress
Continue your investigation of social reality by looking at the concept of progress. Social optimists and pessimists alike believe that society is progressing, but they see different causes. Evaluate their…
Episode 26 The Reality of Money
For all of its abstractness, money is a powerfully real phenomenon. Delve into the intricate events that unfold as money, goods, and services are exchanged in the economy. Examine how…
Episode 27 The Origin of Life
Apply the reality-analyzing tools you've learned in the course to the problem of life. Consider the close connection between life and sunlight. Then look at the startling exception to this…
Episode 28 Exoplanets and Extraterrestrial Life
Fiction writers have led the way in exploring the prospects of life beyond Earth. See how scientists are catching up, looking for extraterrestrial organisms using a variety of ingenious techniques.…
Episode 29 Technology and Death
Reality for the individual ends at death. But medical technology is making that endpoint increasingly hard to define. Consider what it means to die and the complications that would ensue…
Episode 30 Cloning and Identity
Modern technology has transformed procreation, birth, and parenting. Given the different donor and surrogate options, it's perfectly possible to have a child with five biologically contributing parents. What are the…
Episode 31 Genetic Engineering
Explore the history of genetic engineering, which has roots in the imaginary hybrid creatures of ancient myth. Learn how real hybrids can be made by splicing genes for desired traits…
Episode 32 Medically Enhanced Humans
With the availability of cosmetic surgery, psychoactive chemicals, performance enhancing drugs, and other treatments, people are now free to redefine themselves in order to overcome their limitations. Probe a trend…
Episode 33 Transhumans: Making Living Gods
Prosthetics, eyeglasses, and other aids were once seen as less-than-ideal substitutes for normal human abilities. But now technology can enhance us well beyond what's considered normal. Examine the superhuman traits…
Episode 34 Artificial Intelligence
Trace the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) from simple calculating machines to computers that can vanquish chess masters. Learn the distinction between weak AI, such as a chess-playing machine, and…
Episode 35 The Internet and Virtual Reality
For all of their ubiquity, personal computers, email, and the Internet represent a major departure in the evolution of computer technology. Witness the exciting and improbable birth of personal computing…
Episode 36 Data Analytics
Today's networked culture is a dream come true for researchers in fields from marketing to sociology to epidemiology. Learn how big data puts potentially everyone and everything under the microscope…

Related videos

The Origin of Life
Episode 27 of Redefining Reality
Apply the reality-analyzing tools you've learned in the course to the problem of life. Consider the close connection between life and sunlight. Then look at the startling exception to this rule: the fauna that flourish around volcanic vents in the dark ocean depths. What does this tell us about life's…
Biotechnology: Cleaning Up with Microbes
Part of the Series: Show Me Science Series - Advanced
As achievements in engineering and manufacturing move us toward 21st Century lifestyles, problems emerge as a result of these processes. Moreover, cleanup concerns plague us as a legacy of the industrial revolution. This program focuses on an innovative yet natural solution science proposes for the cleanup of polluting by-products. Discover…
Defining Reality in the Life Sciences
Episode 14 of Redefining Reality
Study one of the most complete transformations of reality in history: the new picture of life that emerged from the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. Close by tracing their influence on William Golding's Lord of the Flies and on television reality shows.
What is the World Made Of?
Part of the Series: History of Science
Michael Mosley takes an informative and ambitious journey exploring how the evolution of scientific understanding is intimately interwoven with society's historical path. In What is the World Made Of?, Michael demonstrates how our society is built on our search to find the answer to what makes up everything in the…
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Episode 8 of The Aging Brain
Find out what medical scientists mean by "dementia," which results from disease and is not a normal part of healthy aging. The most prominent disease that causes dementia is Alzheimer's, so Professor Polk walks you through its history, symptoms, and palliative treatments, as well as the current state of Alzheimer's…
Is Aging a Disease?
Episode 3 of The Aging Brain
Scientists debate whether aging is actually a disease, but the effects of aging indisputably resemble the symptoms of a disease. Here, examine three major mechanisms behind these effects: energy consumption, free radicals, and damage to our DNA. Then consider whether there could be a way to "cure" these effects.
The Pleasures and Pains of "Maybe"
Episode 7 of Being Human
For a long time, scientists thought that the neurotransmitter dopamine was directly related to pleasure. But it turns out that dopamine is more about the anticipation of reward than the reward itself. Here, plunge into the neuroscience behind why we're willing to deal with such long delays in gratification, and…
Dark Matter and Dark Energy
Episode 11 of Redefining Reality
What happens when the accepted picture of reality is dramatically overthrown? Watch this happen in the late 20th century, when scientists suddenly discovered two completely unexpected phenomena: dark matter and dark energy, which together dwarf the contribution of ordinary matter to the cosmos.
Time in Quantum Mechanics
Quantum mechanics is the most precise theory ever invented, yet it leads to startling interpretations of the nature of reality. Probe a quantum state called the collapse of the wave function that may underlie the arrow of time. Are the indications that it shows irreversibility real or only illusory?
Nero's Golden House
It was once the grandest, most ostentatious building on earth. It was built by the most infamous emperor in history to satiate his many and various lusts. It was a building that played host to violence, sexual perversion and great beauty. Even the Romans found it too much and built…
Mathematics in Crisis
Episode 3 of Redefining Reality
The most secure science, mathematics, hit the rocks of uncertainty in the 19th and 20th centuries. Trace the shocking discoveries of non-Euclidean geometries, Cantor's paradoxes of infinite sets, and the incompleteness theorem of Kurt Godel. See how Alice in Wonderland sheds intriguing light on this new view of reality.
Lords of Nature
For centuries, humans have feared wolves, cougars and other top predators, driving them to the edge of extinction in our wildlands and prairies. But in recent years, scientists are learning that top predators play a vital role in maintaining healthy ecosystems, a critical reminder of the importance of preserving biodiversity.…