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.