What do you want? How can you get it? How do you know?
- "Ideas about value—about what we want and how to get it—are future-oriented. They rest upon prediction. Science, sole demonstrated means for making predictions better than we can make by chance, is how we more accurately discern and more fully realize value." ~ David Schrom, Valuescience
Valuescience: Shedding Illusion to Live and Die Well
- Stanford University PSYC 136A/236A (autumn); PSYC 136B/236B (spring)
- 3 units without lab; 4 units with lab
- Tu, Th 10:30am-11:50am; 160-322 (autumn, 2016; varies with quarter)
This is a course about living and dying well. We speak of living and dying well because living and dying are ongoing and contemporaneous in each of us, and we've evidence that acknowledging both is essential to doing either well. We choose this metric because we've evidence that it's shared by most, perhaps all people and that it encompasses most, perhaps all human concerns.
Humans live and die well by discerning and realizing value, by knowing what we want and getting it. Because we are evolving organisms in a dynamic environment what we value, ends and means of our lives, also changes. We live in an era of unprecedentedly rapid, large, and novel alterations—many results of human action—to society, to other parts of nature, to artifact fashioned from nature, and to information accumulated by humans. Today more than ever before we live and die well by cultivating proficiency in bringing to awareness, questioning, and evolving to be more accurate information about value, especially ideas about how we can know and realize value.
This course is an opportunity to bring information from many disciplines to bear upon three central questions of our lives: "What do I want?" "How can I get it?" and most importantly, "How do I know?" We frequently ask the first two questions about everything from big choices like career and marriage to little ones like what we'll eat for lunch today. We ask the third far less often. Perils of this are obvious. If we rely upon flawed means of knowing, what we think we know is more likely error.
All of us have experienced getting what we thought we wanted and feeling disappointed, and all of us have sometimes done what we thought sufficient and come up short. Again and again we think we know how to feel satisfaction only to discover that we're mistaken. With current approaches to value we repeatedly generate overconfidence and error. Though we work to learn from mistakes, we rarely delve deep enough to re-examine methods on which we rely to address questions of value. Even when we ask, "How do I know," we're often quick to answer with long-held, well-practiced justifications yet to be critically scrutinized to their roots, and poorly able to withstand such scrutiny.
In this course we explore history, philosophy, ecology, economics, sociology, linguistics, psychology, and more to learn how we may apply science, by which we mean behaviors by which we predict with success greater than we can achieve by chance, to discern value, by which we mean what we want and how to get it, ends and means, more accurately and to realize it more fully.
We begin by framing our inquiry within a larger context of ecology, evolution, culture, and education. We consider how we've come to current ideas about value, about science, and about their relationship. We examine how we underpin personal, social, and environmental well-being and ills with those ideas.
We then present a case for valuescience, and apply it to achieve more accurate understanding of human history, present condition, and prospects, and to know better what we want and to get it. We pay particular attention to perceptual, cognitive, and cultural impediments to valuescience, and to strategies for overcoming these, and we offer opportunity to practice doing so. If you are engaged or want to engage in such inquiry and practice, we welcome your partnership in valuescience.
- We aim for each participant to learn to write and speak cogently about each of the following topics, evidencing some familiarity with historical and contemporary trends and events as described in published works of others, and demonstrating independent thought grounded at least to some degree in personal practice:
- (1) State a valuescience thesis, beginning with definitions of “value” and “science” to emphasize their nexus, prediction, and concluding with an argument based upon evidence and reason that science is sole demonstrated means to more accurately discern and more fully realize value.
- (2) Outline key elements of world-view common today with reference to their historical roots, methods by which they are promulgated and reinforced, interests served by their persistence, conflicts with science, and consequences for human well-being.
- (3) Describe how emergent consilience of natural science, social science, and humanities can be basis for constructing a more accurate world-view, for shedding illusion about value and contributing to others' doing so, and for thereby improving our and their lives.
- (4) Outline key elements of a consilient science-based world-view and give examples of how you have relied upon it, how you can rely more heavily upon it, and how you can contribute to others' relying more heavily upon it to live and die well.
Development of this Valuescience course is an educational endeavor of Magic, a Palo Alto based public service organization founded in 1972 and incorporated in 1979 under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service Code.