Review Comment

[PHIL V3576] Physics and Philosophy

May 03, 2013

Albert, David
[PHIL V3576] Physics and Philosophy

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

This course does not have any pre-requisites, which it desperately needs. Professor Albert teaches as though the whole room has already taken linear algebra and basic quantum mechanics, and only 5 people really seem to understand consistently what's going on in the class. The lack of syllabus and sporatic readings make it very difficult to prepare for the class (short of reading his whole book, which is really just a typed-out version of his lectures). This class would be greatly improved if there were pre-requisites, or if Professor Albert spent the first three weeks, instead of jumping into the linear algebra and quantum mechanics, teaching linear algebra.

This is not a class for run-of-the-mill philosophy students--it's for science majors and astrophysicists.

Workload:

Virtually none, except in the first few weeks there are two short homeworks that make no sense and everyone gets help. The midterm is a regurgitation of the homeworks, but, because everyone got help/googled/begged someone to do the hw for them, 1/3 of the class got between a 15-20/20, 1/3 of the class got between 10-15, and the last THIRD of the class got below a 10.

August 22, 2005

Albert, David
[PHIL V3576] Physics and Philosophy and [PHIL W3551] Philosophy of Science

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

A lot of people seem to be put off by Albert's teaching style, but I thought he was great - definitely one of the best professors I had at Columbia. I'll grant that it takes a little while to get used to the way he runs class discussions. Essentially, he presents a problem to the class, asks for ideas or responses, and then argues vehemently against anything a student says. The trick is not to take this personally. That's just the way he discusses things - by debating them. If the student has a valid point and sticks up for it, he'll acknowledge that it's interesting and continue to explore it by arguing against it. If the student doesn't have a valid point, then he'll explain why in the course of shooting it down.

Philosophy of Science requires little or no background in either philosophy or science. The readings are mainly from an anthology of papers; their relevance to the class discussion varies.
Physics and Philosophy, strictly speaking, doesn't require a background in philosophy or science either. However, it is necessary in the course of the class to learn a fair bit of linear algebra; the course will probably not appeal to those phobic of math. The text is Albert's book. His writing is a bit unusual; he has a tendency toward very long, very complex sentences. This makes the book difficult to skim, but it also rewards a careful reading with great clarity and precision.

December 28, 2004

Albert, David
[PHIL V3576] Physics and Philosophy

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

i hope this review helps people like myself (non-Philsophy/Physics majors) who look for enrichment in courses beyond their skill range and don't consider a "B" a shameful grade.

Albert is brilliant, pretentious, and a horrible teacher. 17 students were left in this class by December, the majority of them were grad students in Albert's grad program. Atleast 8-10 had called it quits before then.

Albert doesn't really teach you anything about the philosophy of quantum mechanics until you can master the linear algebra necessary to "talk competently" about it. We never "talked competently" about quantum mechanics because we never broached any philosophical arguments about quantum mechanics until late November.

Lectures are infuriating, ill-managed discussions dominated by grad students with undergrad backgrounds in Physics who are desperately concerned with minutiae of the course material that few others care about or understand. But Albert entertains all of their questions. Every last one of them.

Here's the kick in the behind: write a 15-20 page paper about a philosophical problem that interests you. Wonderful assignment, if discussion about philosophical problems took place before November 29th. But it didn't.

Text Book: Albert's own. An abstruse, grammatically flawed introduction to quantum mechanics that had students scratching their heads all semester.

At the end of the day, you will learn about quantum mechanics, philosophy, but it'll be up to you if you want to sweat blood doing it.

Workload:

15 page paper. Fair grader.

December 27, 2004

Albert, David
[PHIL V3576] Physics and Philosophy

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Prof Albert is incredibly brilliant; definitely knows his stuff. He was always very supportive/encouraging and kept telling me I could do the math involved when I visited his office hours whining about how I couldn't understand the formalism. His high level of support, so rare in CU professors (especially the brilliant, well-known ones), was what kept me in the class, despite it probably having been a better decision to drop it. That said, I was at a complete disadvantage as far as background prep goes (there's a reason the vast majority of students were either math or physics grads or undergrads), but nevertheless, I'm very happy, now that the semester is over, that I took the course because I feel like I now finally have a reasonable understanding of quantum mechanics and it'll help me tremendously in future studies (whether on my own or in a class). Besides his sincere support, Albert's teaching style was extremely refreshing. He was always very relaxed and he displayed no pretentious, better-than-thou attitude. He treated us more like colleagues than his students. He would sit with his feet on the desk or wander around the classroom sitting on the deskchairs. He wanted us to voice our opinions or questions, and even though he mostly shot down everything we came up with, he did it in a tactful, explanatory way which made sense later when we learned more--although at the end of the semester, it was more his opinion (instead of fact) versus ours on certain topics but of course, he's studied the stuff for eons so he naturally has a better supporting argument than we do but nevertheless, I'd encourage any student to pursue studying your own ideas that you find more interesting than Albert's conclusions. If you plan on or are taking the class, please note the following: I really didn't understand what the objective of the course was until towards the middle of the semester, so here's the scoop on what happens: First, the only book required is his book and he lectures almost word for word from it in the exact same sequence as the book. Hence the reason that he says the syllabus is the chapters of the book. Second, the only thing you discuss is quantum mechanics so the course should really be called QM and Philosophy instead of Physics and Philosophy. Third, if you haven't had a minimum of high school physics and calculus, you'll probably find the course much more challenging (at least I did anyway; Albert says you only need a high school background to understand the course, that it's self-contained, but stupid me, I took it anyway, forgetting that I had never taken physics and calc in high school and had done very poorly on the intro classes I took in college). Last, if you're having difficulty understanding stuff from Albert's book, get some books that explain QM theory in more elementary layman's terms. It helps a ton; I wish I would've done that from the very beginning instead of waiting until the end of the semester.

Workload:

1 in-class midterm (depending on how well Albert thinks the class understands the mathematical formalism; if he gives a midterm, it'll only be 1 or 2 problem sets). 1 final 15-20 page paper (believe me, you'll need more pages than that to write a really good paper).

December 20, 2004

Albert, David
[PHIL V3576] Physics and Philosophy

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

The subject matter is fascinating, although the course title is misleading: we didn't get to the philosophy until the last class and the physics is all quantum mechanics. Tough for someone like myself who knows little physics or math, but not impossible. I was totally lost during most of class yet I aced the extremely easy midterm (that most others somehow failed) and I had plenty to write about on the final paper.

Albert might be a worldwide-expert philosopher of physics, but that has its drawbacks. He puts no time into teaching except for the class period itself (for which he was generally five to ten minutes late) and the office hours--not even enough time to make a syllabus, assign homework, or type up a description of the final paper. Albert has no interest in you personally, what your name is, or how you're doing in the class.

As for his lecturing, Albert seems to think that if he is just pedantic and repetitive enough, anyone will be able to understand every advanced detail about a field of science that couldn't even be conceived of until the twentieth century and that still makes no sense. You won't feel prepared to write the final paper and he won't give you much help, but it will be the only way that you really learn anything from the class.

Workload:

You have to read a short book that Albert wrote and recites almost verbatim in class; extremely easy midterm on technical stuff that most people somehow failed (they were assigned a make-up take-home exam); a 15-20 page research paper

November 15, 2004

Albert, David
[PHIL V3576] Physics and Philosophy

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Under no circumstances should you take this course. None. Professor Albert is a terrible lecturer who lets questions from students, valid or not, drive the entire lecture. This and the repetetive nature of the class made it a daily fight not to skip. He also focuses on details of little or no importance and skates right over those that are critical.

The midterm is completely unrepresentative of the substance of the class, and his examples are exactly out of the book (which he wrote) so you never get a clearer picture by asking him to explain. Unless you are extremely well versed in Physics, Philosophy, or both, you will get below a B- in this class. There is no homework to prepare you for the math-based take home midterm, and recitation is at a time that made it impossible (at least when I took it) for an observant Jew to attend.

I learned more in researching for the final paper than I did from the entire class. I also felt like Professor Albert focused almost entirely on the Physics aspect and not at all on the Philosophy. I would have liked to see more exploration of what the discoveries meant for contemporary Philosophy, rather than just seeing the experiments and learning that they caused questions.

Workload:

A take-home midterm based on the first half of the class, which nominally explains the math involved, and a 15-page final paper.

April 02, 2004

Albert, David
[PHIL V3576] Physics and Philosophy

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

This from the philosophy department's website. "One reason why he is in ColumbiaÂ’s Philosophy Department is that he is a philosopher; but another is that his work in physics is so highly theoretical that he can pursue it without the experimental resources of a physics department." Believe that if you'd like.
His TA butchered my midterm, which was regraded to a number twice the original score, he lost my final paper and I didn't get my grade until well into the next term. He's an engaging lecturer, but his writing style is rough (and he uses his own book as the course's text) and he is pretty dismissive of any philosophical stance that is not copacetic with his tacit scientific realism. Nice guy, but his uncommon blend -- too technical for a philosopher, too hands-off for a scientist -- can make him a frustration to both camps.

Workload:

One midterm take home short answer test and one final paper (~15 pages).

January 27, 2003

Albert, David
[PHIL G4675] Direction of Time, [PHIL V3576] Physics and Philosophy, and [PHIL W3551] Philosophy of Science

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

As you can tell from the amount of courses I've taken with him, I like Professor Albert. However, of the three I consider only Physics and Philosophy to be exceptional. Philosophy of Science is very good too but Direction of Time is disorganized, confused, and very weak overall....
Physics and Philosophy deals with various interpretations of quantum mechanics, some of their mind-boggling consequences, and how they bear on certain metaphysical doctrines, e.g., determinism and indeterminism, materialism. In addition to the fascinating subject matter, the appeal of the course lies largely in its accessibility: no background in physics or math is presupposed in lectures or in Albert's book--the only text for the course. As you long as youÂ’re willing to work a bit on the necessary technical/formal stuff, even if you are a non-science major (I am), you will be able to understand quantum mechanics in a general but sophisticated way. It's one of the best classes I've taken. The only assignment was a paper, due at the end of the semester, of approximately 20 pages. You can get away with something a bit shorter....
Philosophy of Science also had only one requirement, a 15 pager. The course is a good introduction to the field and you explore interesting issues, e.g., how to interpret scientific theories, realism, scientific explanation, objectivity. Albert was irresponsible about putting photocopies on reserve. In fact, the syllabus was generally vague and you did not have to do any reading because he didn't talk about the readings in class nor did he test us on them. He sort of just lectured on the subjects--if you were interested you could do the reading. Despite his sometimes surprising nonchalance learned a lot in the course and found his lectures interesting.....
Direction of Time is a different story. The only text used was Albert's own book about the conflict between the time asymmetry of thermodynamics (and our everyday lives) and fundamental physical theories. It is a confusing book and, unlike his book on quantum mechanics, poorly written. For one thing, he goes parenthesis crazy. In addition to his stylistic unclearness, the structure is awkward. He makes the problems more complicated than they have to be and the class mirrors the confusing progression of the book. I don't know if there are better, non-overly-technical books/articles on the subject, but if there are I wish he had assigned them. Further, after I finally deciphered his main points I wondered why there was a whole course devoted to them: they're few and simple once the decoding of his insane style is through. It seemed that he had stretched his book into a semesterÂ’s worth of material by being so confusing. I left the class annoyed that I hadn't learned more about this problem or about the philosophy of time in general. There was a choice between a final exam and a final paper. I took the test, which I found shockingly easy.

December 03, 2001

Albert, David
[PHIL V3576] Physics and Philosophy

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

This class should really be called the Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics because this is all that is covered. I highly recommend this class and any other class Prof. Albert teaches. He really cares about the student's understanding of the material and takes much of the classes answering questions about the difficult subject matter. My only complaint is that sometimes he would not know when to cut questions off because they often became repetitive or ridiculous, and this hindered him covering all of the material intended. Albert presents the material in a dynamic and entertaining manner and is an excellent lecturer. The various explanations for the central problems in QM are covered and changes the way I view the physical world as well as the nature of my own perceptions. The class requires learning about 3 weeks worth of mathematical formulism, but once you get through this it is well worth it. Also, the math isn't bad for even people who haven't taken any of it since high school.

Workload:

20-25 page Final Paper, one short problem set mid-semester, but that's all the work you will get for this class

Directory Data

Dept/Subj Directory Course Professor Year Semester Time Section
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V3576: Physics and Philosophy David Albert 2006 Spring TR / 1:10- 2:25 PM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V3576: Physics and Philosophy David Albert 2004 Fall MW / 2:40- 3:55 PM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V3576: Physics and Philosophy David Albert 2003 Fall MW / 1:10- 2:25 PM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V3576: Physics and Philosophy David Albert 2001 Fall TR / 1:10- 2:25 PM 1