L&S Curricular Connections

Big Ideas Courses

Students and professors in discussion

Letters & Science 22

Sense and Sensibility and Science

Philosophy and Values; Physical Science; Social and Behavioral Sciences

Every day we make decisions that can and should be informed by science. We make decisions as individuals, as voters, and as members of our various communities. The problem is, we don’t do it so well—a fact sadly apparent in political debates. This course aims to equip students with basic tools to be better thinkers. We will explore key aspects of scientific thinking that everyone should know, especially the many ways that we humans tend to fool ourselves, and how to avoid them—including how to differentiate signal from noise, evaluate causal claims, and avoid reasoning biases. We’ll then look at the best models for using science to guide decisions, combining both evidence and values, with the ultimate goal of bettering the world.

We’re facing a world that seems to struggle with rational collective decision making. How can we take into account our values, fears, and aspirations while also grappling with and evaluating facts and evidence? We make decisions as individuals, as groups, and as a society; we find this challenge everywhere we turn. This year, the challenge of making good decisions as a society seems both more difficult and more important than ever. Over the centuries, scientists, psychologists, and philosophers have developed rigorous, yet open-minded ways of thinking about the world that can help us address these universal and pressing concerns. This course explores and directly engages with some of the most useful tools of scientific-style critical thinking, taking into account both psychological biases and philosophical underpinnings.

Course website: https://sensibility.berkeley.edu 

Saul Perlmutter faculty profile
Saul Perlmutter (Physics)
John Campbell faculty profile
John Campbell (Philosophy)
Amy Lerman faculty profile
Amy E. Lerman (Public Policy and Political Science)

Terms Offered

  • Spring 2023
  • Spring 2022
  • Spring 2021
  • Spring 2020
  • Spring 2018
  • Spring 2017
  • Spring 2016
  • Spring 2014
  • Spring 2013
“Absolutely mind bedazzling blowing fantastic”
— Spring 2023 Student
“Here at Berkeley, we are all stuck in our departmental bubbles, everyone in a class outside of their major views it as a pain. This class forces us to see the benefits and similarities of all our disciplines.”
— Spring 2023 Student
“I am not used to combining my humanities work with STEM subjects. I really liked learning about the intersections between these different subjects.”
— Spring 2023 Student
“It was amazing to learn about concepts that apply to many disciplines. I found that as I was learning the concepts, they would come up in my other classes too, or what I learned in this class would stimulate thought in my other classes. It's cool to now have the vocabulary to articulate how I think.”
— Spring 2023 Student