A letter from an alum about the new science curriculum
May 11, 2004
No sequence of courses can ever embrace the whole of science, but the traditional reductionist principles of physics, chemistry, and molecular biology that the proposed sequence emphasizes provide a fundamentally incomplete account of the complex phenomena that draw most of us into science. Holistic principles, which describe interactions among parts and which lead to the emergence of evolution, economic systems (including ecosystems), tectonics, and societies must have a standing equal to the laws governing matter and energy as quantitatively laid out in the so-called hard sciences.
People in industrialized countries, including the United States, have
in recent years increasingly turned away from science, the most powerful
way of knowing humans have devised. They perceive science as alien and
unapproachable, as failing to connect everyday phenomena with coherent
theories of explanation. This trend will continue if we persist in teaching
science with a heavy emphasis on reductionist theory. I therefore hope
that my impressions are wrong, and that Princeton and other institutions
will see the virtue of teaching science not just by breaking down complex
structures into simpler parts, but also by building up complexity and
emergent properties from elementary components and interactions.
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