Homework Guidelines

STEP ZERO: Before doing anything else, make absolutely sure you understand the campus policies on citations and plagiarism (see Compass for links). All stages of the paper must be sent in as searchable text files (via SafeAssign on Compass) to facilitate routine plagiarism checks. All significant special information, wording, illustrative examples, etc., must have specific in-text references, not just general bibliographic notes. We are not picky about the exact format, but the style must allow a reader to find the source for any material easily and must specifically identify quotes and paraphrases.

Try to be convincing. Original clear arguments, rather than rehashed class material, are looked upon favourably. A good general procedure for answering our questions (and others) is to start with the strongest and clearest arguments, falling back to weaker or more obscure ones only as necessary. Most of us will agree on something like this ranking:

  1. Common experience, and simple logic, including easy mathematics.
  2. Easily accessible observation and mathematics.
  3. Harder mathematical reasoning and observation, directly available only to specialists.
  4. Intuition.
  5. Authority.

    It is not necessary to cite some prior author for every argument. However, when you employ some possibly unfamiliar observation, you should cite some source accessible to the reader.

Use a topic paragraph. It's much easier to understand a paper that announces where it's heading at the start. Don't digress from the topic. If you find yourself writing conflicting statements, at least acknowledge the conflicts. Never substitute big words for reason. Never pad the essay with flattery of science.

Each body paragraph should make a distinct point and, if possible, should build on the previous ones. In a paper of this length, you should usually have 2-4 body paragraphs.

Your concluding paragraph should summarize your arguments and show how they support your conclusion.

Please double-space and submit your papers (on Compass) as Word documents; we will then comment on them and return the commented papers as PDFs on Compass.

Homework Assignments

Assignments should generally be 500-750 words long (about 2 pages or so, but go by word count). However, if you find that you can complete your argument in fewer words, do not pad the paper. Brevity is a virtue!
Late homework will be penalized 5% per day. No homework will be accepted later than a week after it is due.

Grading of Homework: All homework will be graded out of a total of 20 points. Both the grammar and the content will be graded. For the first 3 assignments, grammar will count for 60% (12 points) and the content for 40% (8 points). In the remaining 4 homework assignments, the point distribution will be reversed: 12 points for content and 8 points for grammar. Note the grading of the grammar will be strictly quantitative. A single point will be deducted for each grammatical error including spelling; so please use spell-check. In the first 3 assignments, points will be deducted until 12 errors are found. Beyond that, no deductions will be made. Hence, there will be no negative scores in grammar. A grammatical error will be defined as anything that is not in line with the usage in a standard handbook of English. For example, subject-verb disagreements, run-on sentences, two sentences joined together by a comma, misplaced semicolons, non-parallel constructions, misplaced commas, etc., are all instances of grammatical errors. You should consult H. Willis, A Brief Handbook of English Grammar (on Compass).


Assignment 1: due by the beginning of class on Tuesday, January 22 (submit on Compass).
Choose one of the following two topics. 
Topic 1: Does the Earth go around the Sun or does the Sun go around the Earth?  How do you know?  Give some evidence to support your argument.
Topic 2: Hume's Missing Shade of Blue: You are to argue for or against Hume's assertion that one could have an idea of a missing shade of blue without actually seeing it. You should refer to the paper by Nelson. If you argue that this is possible, what does such an assertion say about Hume's larger claim that all simple ideas are derived from simple impressions, that is, sense data from the external world?

Because this is the first assignment, you do not need to cite reading material, except of course for the Nelson article on Hume. If you remember some fact but cannot recall where you saw it, use it anyway.

Assignment 2: due by the beginning of class on Thursday, January 31 (submit on Compass).
Choose one of the following two topics.
Topic 1: The grounds for deciding between two scientific theories which are both capable of explaining the observational facts is a subtle problem. In this homework assignment you are to write an essay explaining what are the principal reasons why the Newtonian description of the solar system is preferable over the system developed first by Herakleides and rediscovered by de Brahe. Restrict your knowledge to that available to scientists in the 17th century. Another way of stating this problem is that you are to write an essay in which you present an argument for choosing Newton's laws over more and more epicycles.
Topic 2: The second topic concerns the influence of Plato and Aristotle on astronomy. Here you will need to refer to ``The Sleepwalkers,'' by A. Koestler. In 310 B.C. E., heliocentrism was proposed by Aristarchus. However, it was not until 1506 that heliocentrism was rediscovered. The key reason Koestler gives is that Aristotle and Plato had a pernicious influence on Western astronomy. You are to write an essay on whether or not, in your opinion, Westerners over-interpreted Aristotle and Plato or if the words of Aristotle and Plato were to have been taken literally and hence, the influence they had was warranted. You should start by considering the quotation from Plato's Timaeus on p. 60 of Koestler or other secondary literature you are familiar with regarding Aristotle and Plato.

Assignment 3: due on Compass by the beginning of class on Tuesday, February 12.
You are to write an essay on your conception of space and time. Specifically, is there a difference between space and time, and if so, what is it? You can appeal to the classic arguments about space and time that were presented in the lecture notes, but your essay should not simply be a rehashing of the ideas of Newton, Leibniz and Mach. Any essay that does just that will receive only half the content grade -- that is, 4 points.

Assignment 4: due on Compass by the beginning of class on Tuesday, February 26.
Richard Taylor in "Causation" (The Monist, v. 47 n. 2, pp. 287-313, 1963) argues that there are many instances in which cause and effect are simultaneous. He cites examples of an engine pulling a caboose and the wind making a leaf flutter. Once the cable between the engine and the caboose is taught, Taylor argues that the motion of the caboose and the pulling by the engine are simultaneous. You are to analyse his argument in the context of special relativity. Pick one of his examples and analyse whether special relativity places restrictions on the simultaneity of cause and effect. If it does, what does this say about Taylor's argument? In particular, is Taylor's claim about the difference between cause and effect still true?

Assignment 5: due on Compass by the beginning of class on Thursday, March 7.
You are to write an essay on what is left of the Newtonian world after special relativity (SR) and general relativity (GR). For every feature of the Newtonian world that is ruled out or allowed by GR and SR, you are to present a clear argument as to why.

 Assignment 6: due on Compass by the beginning of class on Thursday, March 28.
Topic 1: T. S. Kuhn has argued that theories are "man-made interpretations of given data". Popper has argued that the falsifiability of scientific theories removes the "man-madeness" about them. You are to address two (or three) questions: 1) Does falsifiability solve the man-madeness problem? If not, how can the man-madeness problem be resolved?  2) What does the man-madeness problem say about experimental observations?

Topic 2: In either "Galilean" relativity or special relativity, it is impossible to say whether you are "in motion" without making a comparison with other objects -- i.e., specifying "in motion" with respect to what. The question of whether the Earth or the Sun moved becomes a question not about instantaneous velocity but rather about who is doing most of the accelerating. Our actual world is described by general relativity, at least on the planetary scale. Explain carefully whether the Earth goes around the Sun or the Sun goes around the Earth, what you mean by your assertion, and what the evidence for it is. If you decide that this is really just a convention, say what would be different if we were to choose the Earth as the center.

 Assignment 7: due on Compass by the beginning of class on Thursday, April 4.
In class, we have covered a number of interpretations of quantum mechanics that deal with the collapse of the wave function. Are you convinced by any of them? That is, are you convinced that when we deal with the very small, we must give up the notion that objective reality exists? I.e., are you content with the fact that quantum mechanics purports that we lose objective reality as the wavelength increases from zero?