Fall 2024

The Art of the Probable

Prereq: none
Units: 3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

“The Art of the Probableā€ addresses the history of scientific ideas, in particular the emergence and development of mathematical probability. But it is neither meant to be a history of the exact sciences per se nor an annex to, say, the Course 6 curriculum in probability and statistics. Rather, we will focus on the formal, thematic, and rhetorical features that imaginative literature shares with texts in the history of probability. These shared issues include (but are not limited to): the attempt to quantify or otherwise explain the presence of chance, risk, and contingency in everyday life; the deduction of causes for phenomena that are knowable only in their effects; and, above all, the question of what it means to think and act rationally in an uncertain world. Readings include work by Aristotle, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Dostoevsky, Darwin, H.G. Wells, Thomas Pynchon, Tom Stoppard, and more. [Pre-1900]