8 Yale University courses you can take online, for free

"The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think," Albert Einstein said. So go back to school, Ivy League style.

The idea of continuing to learn new things after leaving school is an attractive one, but one that can seem daunting. Finding both the time and the proper resources to learn something new can prove difficult, and leave us with unsatisfied curiosity. Even if we find a class we might be interested in, the cost can be prohibitive.

So, to help you curious cats out, we present 8 online classes from Yale you can take right now, at no cost.


Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics
Who hasn’t looked up at the night sky and wondered about the mysteries of the cosmos? This series of video and audio lectures covers the big questions of space, such as back holes, extra-solar planets, and dark energy, while discussing both what we know and what we wish we knew. Course notes are also available to help you review after school lets out. 

Cervantes’ Don Quixote
It can be difficult to tackle a classic novel with little to no help. For those who want to read this classic of world literature but don’t quite know where to start, this series of video lectures help facilitate a close reading of one of the greatest adventure stories of all time. There are 24 one-hour lectures in this set, organized by chapter so you can find the area you need help understanding and start there. It's like being part of the world's brainiest book club.

Game Theory
Do you know why a good deal is a good deal? Why people act the way they do when confronted with a lose-lose situation? Game Theory is the study of how people react to problems of conflict and cooperation and it's used in business, politics, and even computer science. This course consists of 24 one-hour lectures, and you can also download the exams and solutions to test how well you understood the course. For a taster, here's Professor Barry Nalebuff from the Yale School of Management who came to the Big Think studio to discuss Game Theory:

Introduction to Ancient Greek History
The Glory that was Greece: we’ve all seen the statues, heard the big names, and benefit from their achievements, but do you know the story of how it all happened? This series of 24 lectures, some clocking in at over an hour, introduces the history of ancient Greece to us from the Dark Ages to the rise of Alexander. While the lectures might not leave you speaking Greek, it will leave you with a better understanding of why the world today is the way it is. There are also downloadable files that can help you remember the keywords, dates, and big events. 

Moralities of Everyday Life
You have some idea of what kindness is, right? Can you explain it? How responsible are we for our moral stances? In this course, provided via Coursera, the moral psychology behind many of the concepts we use in our everyday thinking is examined and explained in readings and video lectures. The class materials can be viewed for free, or taken as a graded class for a fee. The recommended commitment is 2-3 hours per week. Bonus: this course is taught by Big Think favorite Professor Paul Bloom:

Journey of the Universe: The Unfolding of Life
Have you ever wanted to learn the story of life, the universe, and everything?* In this series of classes, available both to English and Chinese speakers, the story of the universe and the evolution of biological life is examined. In later lectures, new ways to understand our place in the ever-changing universe are examined. The classes consist of readings and video lectures, and for a fee you can also take quizzes to see how well you understand the material.

Introduction to Classical Music
You know all the names: Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach—but do you know why their classical music still endures? In this class, you can learn what elements classical music is comprised of, why the great symphonies are still played before crowds of millions, and even come to appreciate other genres of music a little more too. This nine-week course consists of lectures and readings that take 2-3 hours per week. This course can also be viewed for free, or taken as a graded class for a fee. (Really want to get those grades? Financial aid via Coursera is available for those who qualify.) 

Fundamentals of Physics I & II
If you want to understand how the world really works, this comprehensive series of physics classes will put you in the know. This class requires a strong understanding of mathematics as an entry point, but is highly rewarding for those who can follow along, and basic calculus is reviewed in the first few videos. Problem sets and solutions are also available for those who want an extra challenge. 

The above selection is just a small sampling of the courses offered by Yale, and the full list of classes can be found here and here. Many other excellent institutions have similar options. So, now that you know, you can view Ivy League-quality lectures online for free, whenever the mood strikes. Now there's just one question left: what are you waiting for?




* The answer is 42.  

 

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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
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The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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