"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.
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.
Why is it so hard to agree with some people? They are literally wired to value different things than you.
The field of moral psychology is the study of how people think through moral decisions. It goes back all the way to Plato and Aristotle, but today, we have modern psychological techniques to utilize. A data set 2,500 years in the making, i.e. recorded human civilization, gives us reason to think that most people make moral decisions in similar ways, based on prebuilt moral dispositions. The concept means that, even across cultures, we would see basic similarities in moral systems.
But, if our brains come with a built in ethical system, why is there such a debate over right and wrong?
Doctors Haidt and Graham, have studied this subject extensively. In their work they argue that there is great debate over the nature of right and wrong, but that the debate is over the meaning of five moral foundations rather than over what morality is — most of the time. Those five foundations are harm/care (preventing it, to be precise), fairness/reciprocity, loyalty, authority, and purity. Each is briefly explained here:
1) Harm/care: This foundation is based on our neurological tendencies to attachment, compassion, and our feelings towards those who cause harm.
2) Fairness/reciprocity: This foundation is all about our innate understanding of when we are not being treated fairly, something many animals have as well. This foundation is used as a basis for a wide range of ideas, including justice, freedom, and autonomy.
3) Loyalty: This foundation relates to our ability to form large, organized, cooperative groups of people who are not related. It is the driving force behind ideas such as shared sacrifice, patriotism, and the manifestation of tribal thinking.
4) Authority: This foundation was shaped by the history of hierarchical social interactions. It includes deference to authority viewed as legitimate and respect for traditions for their own sake.
5) Purity: This foundation is based on the psychology of disgust, a vital element in psychological evolution. It relates to any notion of finding virtue by controlling what you do and don’t do with your mind or body. Not only does this include conservative notions of chastity, but can also include such ideas as how pure your food must be, what bodily activities are morally good and evil, and what drug useage (if any) a person views as morally legitimate.
But, why would our brains have evolved to be predisposed to these notions of proper behaviour?
These five fundamentals cover a great deal of human behaviour and a tremendous range of attitudes. A group that can work together well, by means of sharing moral dispositions, is likely to thrive. It makes some sense then, that a group which was even slightly better able to utilize these ethical tools than another group might be more cohesive, successful, and therefore spread the dispositions by both example and population growth.
But it doesn’t really seem like we all share these five values. Have you seen how ferocious morality debates can get?
We do share the foundations, so say the researchers, but we don’t share them equally. Their studies show that while most everybody places a high value on fairness and harm prevention as cornerstones of morality, not everyone agrees on the significance of the other three values.
While the first two values, harm and fairness, cover how you treat other people, the last three relate to group membership and tradition. Individuals determined to be open to new experiences tend to view the first two foundations — harm/care and fairness/reciprocity — as the most vital, while people who are more disposded to routine and familiarity placed no special value on the first three. It was also found that open individuals placed greater value on the first two precepts, but not nearly as much on the last three; while more routine people tended to view all five elements as being vital to morality.
Can morality be reduced to five fundamental points? These two doctors think it can be. What does that say about us and our moral disagreements? This theory, if correct, could help us understand people we disagree with better, by showing us how they reason through moral problems. Is would only be of use, however, if we remember that there are moral foundations we might not be in tune to, but have every ability to harness.