A selection of our courses

Philosophical Foundations for STS Students
Dr. Noam Yuran
What is knowledge? What is truth? What distinguishes scientific knowledge from other forms of knowledge, and what is its relation to technology? How can we account for science as a social project? In what sense can social knowledge be true? What is the place of science and technology in the worldview of modern society? These are some of the basic questions we address in the course, through key texts in epistemology, philosophy of science and science studies. The course is structured around three junctures in the philosophy of science. In the first part we follow attempts to validate science through the rationalism and empiricism debate from the scientific revolution onward and discuss the works of Bacon, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Popper and Duhem. The second part focuses on the linguistic turn in the philosophy of science. Reading works of Carnap, Ayer, Quine and others we follow the implications of the recognition that truth is inseparable from its linguistic expression. The third part of the course addresses the historical turn in science studies, culminating in the work of Kuhn. We explore the meaning of a historical perspective on science and how it can affect our understanding of scientific investigations. The last part of the course presents the social turn in science studies and brings us to the foundations of the STS discipline. Turning to the works of Latour, Daston, Bloor and Veblen, we discuss science as a social project. We inquire after the challenges that such perspective poses to the belief in the truth value of science and study the complex interrelations between science and culture.

 


Techno-Optimism and Techno-Pessimism
Dr. Ido Hartogsohn
This course explores two contradicting tendencies which exist in our culture. On the one hand, the belief in technology as the basis for progress, prosperity, and happiness, and on the other hand, fear of technology and the tendency to view it as a danger which ruins humanity and defiles its culture. The course follows a series of techno-optimist and techno-pessimist movements and thinkers active throughout different historical times and interrogates key questions like: Why and how do technologies arouse human fear and hope? What are the common characteristics of techno-optimist and techno-pessimist thought? What makes techno-optimist and techno-pessimist thinking attractive? And finally, how to we transcend the pitfalls of techno-optimist and techno-pessimist thinking?

 


Powers of Science, Powers of State
Dr. Anat Leibler
This seminar wishes to explore the relationship between state institutions and scientific practices, while emphasizing the constitutive relationship between the two. The course will review the different approaches in the STS literature discussing the separation between knowledge and power. We will examine how “Interests” in the STS literature became a substitution for complex concepts such as state, politics, society and culture. The purpose of the course is to look at studies that explore the role of scientific practices in creating the state as a distinctive, rational and autonomous entity.

 


The Culture of Money
Dr. Noam Yuran
Cultural representations of money differ markedly from the standard economic conceptualization of it. Rather than presenting it as a neutral medium, culture often portrays money as a pathological object, focusing on fantasies surrounding it and on its entanglements with social relations and personal obsessions. The course is grounded on the conviction that these cultural representations encode real knowledge about money, which should be conceived in economic terms in the broad sense of the terms. For that purpose, it addresses money from a wide spectrum of perspectives on money which include economic thought, both from within and outside the mainstream, arts and literature, as well sociology and anthropology of money, history of capitalism and literary criticism.  Taken together, these perspectives will help us address the overarching goal of the course, namely, to understand money as a social technology.

 


Screen Life: Medium and History  
Dr. Noam Yuran
McLuhan's catchphrase "the medium is the message" and his concept of media as "extensions of man" underline the challenges involved in unpacking the entanglements of media and history. They suggest that the most important consequences of the emergence of new types of media are precisely those that are hidden from the sight of people immersed in them. The most important effects of media on human beings and societies are those that are entailed with their transparency and obviousness. The course explores visual media from the 19th to the 21st century, focusing on how they restructure social and political forms and worldviews. We inquire how photography, film, television and new media maintained different forms of being together, different relations to others, different forms of subjectivity and different imaginings of the world and of communities. At a time when media seem to converge, we dedicate effort to conceptually differentiate between screens, in terms of their aesthetics, temporality, ontology, and sociality. For that purpose, we pay special attention to moment of birth a new medium, and to moments of confrontation between media. These are the typical moments when a medium is extracted from its transparency: moments when they are not yet or no longer an obvious background of our lived reality.

 


Writing Workshop
Prof. Oren Harman
Do you consider yourself a physician of memory, an archeologist of human pasts, a burglar opening up locks to discover hidden treasures, an artist? perhaps you are a psychologist, or a sociologist at heart, a detective carefully pursuing bashful facts. And why the pursuit of your given project: what is its relevance, and why should we care? In this writing workshop, second year graduate students beginning to work on their own projects will be challenged to sharpen their arguments, consider the connections between themselves and their research, and consciously work at bettering their craft.

 


History of Computation
Dr. Boaz Tamir
Present day questions in computer science can be best understood on historical grounds. New models of computation like quantum computers or D.N.A. computers implement old ideas about computing apparatuses in new physics and genetics. We therefore follow the history of computers from early stages, as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries, up to present day, following the evolution of the notion of a 'computer'.

The invention of the first digital computer is attributed to Charles Babbage. We dwell on the 19th century sociological background driving Babbage to his inventions: the 'differential engine' and the 'analytical engine'. The failure to construct those 'engines' ends this short digital episode, and is followed by the rise of the analog computer. Analog machines compute by simulating physical phenomena, which is very close to most modern theories of computation.

New ideas in mathematics at the beginning of the 20th century give rise to the best known artificial model of the classical digital computer: the 'Turing machine'. In the midst of the 20th century, the digital computer is re-invented. We discuss the benefits of digitalization and the reasons for its comeback. In the shadows of world war II, Von Neumann presents his 'computing architecture' which is a modern version of Babbage's old analytic engine. Von Neumann is mainly occupied by the possible use of such a machine in physics.

 

 

History of Science: Ancient Times to the Scientific Revolution & The Scientific Revolution to the 21st Century
Dr. Roly Belfer
These two courses together comprise the year-long Introduction to the History of Science, part of our core curriculum. This intensive course introduces the development of western science, from its origins to its current state.

Such an introduction includes the big-item topics, from the great ancient philosophers to influential theories and experiments of modern science. In order to fully appreciate a historical view of science, we will explore classical scientific issues in their social and intellectual context. As part of the STS graduate program, we develop the various questions and methods that guide the historical study of science & technology, with relation to culture, identity and religion.

What makes science so fascinating is its change and development, the different approaches taken to understand the world. We will touch on slow development and game-changing revolutions, the relation between technology and science and the relation between conceptual systems and the experimental-applied aspect of science.

 


“Nature”: an Historical, Philosophical and Social Investigation 
Dr. Noah Efron
The words “nature” and “natural” were, since the time of the Pre-Socratics, usually synonyms for a fixity beyond the scope of human intervention. “He can’t help it,” people would say, “it’s in his nature.” Recently, though, nature has become plastic. The capacity of scientists to intervene in the workings of nature, and to alter them, has increased rapidly, surpassing the predictions of last generation’s scholars. This change matters a great deal. On the notion of autonomous nature rest notions of natural law, natural rights, inalienable rights, of autonomy. It is not coincidence that the great theorists of the liberal tradition -- Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and others – began their inquiries by meditating on how humans might behave in a state of nature.   America’s Founding Fathers --- Franklin, Hamilton, Madison and Adams – had a particular view of nature and human nature in mind when they came to frame new American political institutions. Adam Smith found that trade relations had a certain economic “nature” as inviolate as the nature described by the Newtonians. On the notion of infrangible nature rest notions of liberty, republicanism, free trade, habeas corpus and much more. On the autonomous and integrous self rest notions of personal responsibility, legal liability, franchise, free speech and much more. In this seminar we will survey the changing notions of nature from early modern times to today. 

 


Technology and Consciousness
Dr. Ido Hartogsohn
Technology and Consciousness interrogates a basic question in the study of technology and media: how does technology shape our consciousness? How much of the way we perceive the world is a result of the shaping of consciousness by media and technology?

The course is based on the theoretical field known as media ecology and looks at a wide variety of technological media including writing, number, agriculture, time, money, transportation, pharmaceutical drugs, radio, computers and smartphones.

Acknowledging the all-encompassing character of media, students embark on a journey through the history of technology which is also a journey through the history of consciousness, examining the intricate relationships between technology and mind, and asking the crucial question: how did human consciousness change throughout history as technology developed?

 

“Being Digital”: Social and Philosophical Aspects of Computers and Computerization

Dr. Noah Efron
More and more, we experience the world through computer screens. In this seminar, we will consider how computers (in their myriad forms: smartboards, smart telephones, game consoles, electronic books and more) have insinuated themselves into the fabric of human society. Among the issues covered are: computers and techno-utopianism, personal identity in an age of computer mediation, the geography of cyberspace, computer-mediated politics and economics, computerization of education, and man-machine interface. 

 


Scientific Biographies
Prof. Oren Harman
Scientific Biography is a genre with a history, one that can teach us a lot about how our views of science, knowledge, truth and art have changed over time. Reading biographies of scientists from different fields - physics, mathematics, biology, geology, astronomy, medicine – and different times, we’ll closely examine both the art and craft of biography, and its changing historical contexts. Characters we’ll meet include Pythagoras, Descrates, Galileo, Darwin, Einstein, Marie and Pierre Curie, Barbara McClintock, and George Price. Using literature, plays, film, and art – we’ll see how biographies of scientists have evolved, and why that’s meaningful for the history of science. The course will also deal with biographies of a different kind – of ideas, objects, diseases, equations. Here we’ll encounter Lonesome George the Galapagos turtle, E=mc2, H2O, Cancer, Mitochondria, and even Objectivity itself.

 


25 Years to the Internet – Introduction the Information Revolution
Dr. Ido Hartogsohn
Some 25 years have passed since the internet was opened to the general public. During that time scholarly and popular perceptions of the “information age” have changed dramatically. Some of the early hopes for the internet have been frustrated, other predictions took form differently than expected, while other significant developments that took place were completely unforeseen. The course explores the basic questions regarding the internet. How did the internet shape society and culture, how did these shape its own development? Which of the early promises of the web were realized and which were defeated? How can these developments be explained? Among the subjects to be discussed: early visions of the internet, the impact of the internet on cognition and human relationships, digital culture, social media, internet addiction, the internet economy, big data and algorithmic culture, virtual worlds, virtual currencies, trolls, surveillance, and fake news.

 


Altruism
Prof. Oren Harman
How can a behavior that reduces fitness have evolved if evolution is a game of survival of the fittest? Darwin first posed the question, and it has haunted thinkers ever since in fields as disparate as psychology, economics, mathematical population genetics, animal behavior, and philosophy. From the clash between the Russian anarchist Petr Kropotkin and “Darwin’s bulldog” Thomas Henry Huxley, through the architects of the Evolutionary Synthesis, and the pioneers of Game Theory, ecology, evolutionary psychology, and genetics, we’ll learn about the different solutions that have been offered to solve the paradox and their historical and philosophical contexts. We’ll also ask that most vexing question: Does biology have a morality?

 


Science, Technology & Society
Dr. Noah Efron
As a core course of the STS program, this seminar introduces students to major theoretical developments and trends in the interdisciplinary field that goes variously by the names of science studies; the social studies of science; science and technology studies; science, technology, and society; or simply STS. The seminar begins by considering the theories of some of the foundational scholars of the field (e.g., Kuhn, Fleck, and Merton, on the one hand, McLuhan on the other). It then considers the myriad (and sometimes conflicting) directions in which the field has developed over the past decades, including: laboratory studies, sociology of scientific knowledge, Social Construction of Technology, actor-network theory, feminist approaches in STS, STS and race, Triple Helix or Mode 2 Science, Action STS.

 


Intellectual Foundations of Sociology of Science
Dr. Anat Leibler
This class focuses on introductory topics of the interdisciplinary field “Science Studies” and deals with the following questions: In what ways has classical sociological attention to the study of knowledge, culture, politics, and social order prompted or informed sociological scrutiny of modern science and technology? What have been the dominant approaches to the sociological study of STS? How have different schools developed, what sorts of sociological questions do they ask, what theories do they present, and what analytical tools do they offer? In which ways are present-day studies of STS consistent with, and in which ways are they in tension with, other ways of understanding knowledge, culture, and politics, that are employed within sociology today? Readings review main topics in STS: deconstructing scientific knowledge; the scientific fact as the object of science studies; local versus universal knowledge; science as practice and culture; science and politics. 

 


The Science Wars
Dr. Noah Efron
In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal published an essay entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” in a small academic journal named Social Text. The same day he revealed to the New York Times that the essay was gibberish and a hoax; the fact that it was published demonstrates the vapid credulity of its editors. Sokal’s hoax signaled the start of what became known as the “Science Wars,” a sustained effort on the part of certain scientists and philosophers of science to discredit constructivist explanations of science that had come into vogue. In this course, we will examine the long simmering background to the “science wars.” We will trace the development of philosophy of science from the Vienna Circle in the 1920s, through Thomas Kuhn, the Strong Programme of the Edinburgh School and up to the increasing acceptance of constructivist approaches that still enjoy vogue in STS programs today. 

 


Biology and Progress
Prof. Oren Harman
What does Progress mean to people? What are their dreams, and why? In this course we’ll approach these questions from a surprising angle: the ever-changing definitions of biological progress in evolutionary thought over the past 300 years. Alongside an appreciation of the scientists – Cuvier and Lamarck, Wallace and Darwin, Fisher and Haldane and Dawkins and Gould, and into the 21st century, we’ll also be closely attuned to the cultural and political and literary imagination as they manifest in utopian writing throughout the same period. Starting with Francis Bacon, we’ll read utopias from Condorcet, Godwin, San-Simon, Wells, Zamyatin, Huxley, Skinner and more. As we consider the two corpuses side-by-side, we’ll begin to see the ways in which scientific and social thought bleed into and influence each other. We’ll also engage in creative utopian writing ourselves.

 


Modern Scientific and Technological Systems
Dr. Noah Efron
This writing workshop will focus on developing the individual research projects of students who are examining, from a sociological perspective, the complicated and varied ways in which scientific institutions and large-scale technological systems function in contemporary society.

 


Reading Darwin the 21st Century
Prof. Oren Harman
We all love Darwin, it seems, but do we really know him? And how much of his ideas have we imbibed? Wearing 21st century spectacles, we’ll return to Darwin’s 19th century writings to understand how biology has evolved over time. Looking closely at concepts such as “variation”, “heredity”, “adaptation”, “natural selection”, “species”, “race”, “altruism”, “sexual selection”, “development”, and others, we’ll ask how our understanding has changed and why. By charting the path by which ideas are born and morph over time, we’ll consider the intricate and fascinating ways in which sociology, philosophy, history and technology interact and inform one another. By the course’s end, we should all be more informed Darwinists.

 


Making Worlds: Historical, Philosophical and Social Aspects of Biotechnology
Dr. Noah Efron
In 1980, the US Supreme Court ruled that General Electric could patent an oil-digesting bacterium, allowing for the first time that organic life could be a human invention rather than a “product of nature.” Since then, the capacities of scientists to jigger and engineer new forms of life have grown enormously, and such bioengineering has become routine. The impacts of these increased capacities have been varied, raising new challenges in law, economics, industry and more, as well as raising a host of ethical questions. In this seminar we will examine the history of the introduction of the engineering ethos into the life sciences (which stretches back longer than is often assumed). We will then consider the social and philosophical implications of biotechnology, with special emphasis on the changes in the structure of contemporary agriculture, wrought by plant and seed engineering of the sort advanced by multinational corporations such as Monsanto.

Past courses (Hebrew)

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