Ohio University

Knowing the Future: Knowledge, Uncertainty, and Prediction

A Curricular Theme at Ohio University

About This Theme

?Never make predictions, especially about the future,? the baseball coach Casey Stengel is reported to have said. But we all want to know what the future holds: both the immediate future (Will it rain today? Should I take that job?) and well beyond that (How long will gasoline last? When will the Cubs win a World Series?).

Many faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences seek to predict what?s going to happen. People from Political Scientists to Meteorologists make forecasts, and sometimes they even get them right. In this theme, we?ve collected a broad range of classes that teach and discuss the tools that are used to make predictions in disciplines from the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Physical Sciences.

Physics to Population Biology to History

As you engage with these classes, you?ll realize that before we can talk about our ability to know the future we first have to figure out what we really know about the present and the past. That subject is called ?epistemology.? It?s the branch of philosophy devoted to the analysis of knowledge and evidence.

Epistemology is a key emphasis within the theme, and we hope you?ll come to appreciate its crucial?if usually unacknowledged?role in our lives. After all, how often has someone asked you "How do you know that?" How do you tell fact from opinion? And do you think that numbers never lie?

We discuss these kinds of questions in our first-year class, which is called "Knowing What We Know." That course examines the topics of knowledge, uncertainty, and prediction, and particularly how they arise and intersect in contemporary policy issues, societal debates, and state-of-the-art research.

Every student in this class will meet once a week with a smaller group, where discussions led by someone who is expert in his or her chosen field will take place. In lectures, those discussion leaders will team up with guest professors to present material from a variety of disciplines in the natural and social sciences and humanities. All the class instructors are interested in the advantages and limitations of different means for understanding our society, our world, and the cosmos. Instructors will introduce students to the way different forms of mathematical, statistical, and scientific reasoning enable us to grapple with problems ranging from the everyday (Should I bring an umbrella?) to the cosmic (How did the universe begin?).

As you participate in this theme, our goals are that you will develop the skills to be able to make good predictions of your own, understand which things can—and can't—be reliably predicted and gain a deeper appreciation of the way in which we arrive at "knowledge."

Contact Us

For more information on this theme, contact: Daniel Phillips or Kevin Uhalde.

Faculty Involved So Far

Dr. Larry Burmeister (Sociology)

Dr. Michael Burton (Political Science)

Dr. David Drabold (Physics)

Dr. Glenn Dutcher (Economics)

Dr. Todd Eisworth (Mathematics)

Dr. Ryan Fogt (Geography)

Dr. Claudia Gonzalez-Vallejo (Psychology)

Dr. Dan Hembree (Geology)

Dr. Kenneth Hicks (Physics & Astronomy)

Dr. Joshua Hill (History)

Dr. Jana Houser (Geography)

Dr. Daniel Karney (Economics)

Dr. James Lein (Geography)

Dr. Glenn Matlack (Environmental & Plant Biology)

Dr. Jeremy Morris (Philosophy)

Dr. Greg Nadon (Geological Sciences)

Dr. Daniel Phillips (Physics & Astronomy)

Dr. Beth Quitslund (English)

Dr. Jeff Rack (Chemistry & Biochemistry)

Dr. David Rosenthal (Environmental and Plant Biology)

Dr. Matthew Rosen (Sociology & Anthropology)

Dr. Rose Rossiter (Economics)

Dr. Bill Shambora (Economics)

Dr. Alycia Stigall (Geology)

Dr. Nancy Tatarek (Sociology & Antropology)

Dr. Kevin Uhalde (History)

Dr. Ronaldo Vigo (Psychology)