The Science of Information: From Language to Black Holes [TTC Video]

The Science of Information: From Language to Black Holes [TTC Video]
The Science of Information: From Language to Black Holes [TTC Video] by Benjamin Schumacher
Course No 1301 | M4V, AVC, 640x360 | AAC, 128 kbps, 2 Ch | 24x30 mins | + PDF Guidebook | 14.35GB

The science of information is the most influential, yet perhaps least appreciated field in science today. Never before in history have we been able to acquire, record, communicate, and use information in so many different forms. Never before have we had access to such vast quantities of data of every kind. This revolution goes far beyond the limitless content that fills our lives, because information also underlies our understanding of ourselves, the natural world, and the universe. It is the key that unites fields as different as linguistics, cryptography, neuroscience, genetics, economics, and quantum mechanics. And the fact that information bears no necessary connection to meaning makes it a profound puzzle that people with a passion for philosophy have pondered for centuries.

Little wonder that an entirely new science has arisen that is devoted to deepening our understanding of information and our ability to use it. Called information theory, this field has been responsible for path-breaking insights such as the following:

  • What is information? In 1948, mathematician Claude Shannon boldly captured the essence of information with a definition that doesn’t invoke abstract concepts such as meaning or knowledge. In Shannon’s revolutionary view, information is simply the ability to distinguish reliably among possible alternatives.
  • The bit: Atomic theory has the atom. Information theory has the bit: the basic unit of information. Proposed by Shannon’s colleague at Bell Labs, John Tukey, bit stands for “binary digit”—0 or 1 in binary notation, which can be implemented with a simple on/off switch. Everything from books to black holes can be measured in bits.
  • Redundancy: Redundancy in information may seem like mere inefficiency, but it is a crucial feature of information of all types, including languages and DNA, since it provides built-in error correction for mistakes and noise. Redundancy is also the key to breaking secret codes.

Building on these and other fundamental principles, information theory spawned the digital revolution of today, just as the discoveries of Galileo and Newton laid the foundation for the scientific revolution four centuries ago. Technologies for computing, telecommunication, and encryption are now common, and it’s easy to forget that these powerful technologies and techniques had their own Galileos and Newtons.

The Science of Information: From Language to Black Holes covers the exciting concepts, history, and applications of information theory in 24 challenging and eye-opening half-hour lectures taught by Professor Benjamin Schumacher of Kenyon College. A prominent physicist and award-winning educator at one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, Professor Schumacher is also a pioneer in the field of quantum information, which is the latest exciting development in this dynamic scientific field.

Professor Schumacher introduces the essential mathematical ideas that govern the subject—concepts that can be understood by anyone with a background in high school math. But it is not necessary to follow the equations to appreciate the remarkable story that Dr. Schumacher tells.

A New View of Reality

Clearly, information has been around a long time. In human terms, language, writing, art, music, and mathematics are perfect examples; so are Morse code, Mendelian genetics, and radio signals—all originating before 1900. But a series of conceptual breakthroughs in the 20th century united what seemed like unrelated phenomena and led to a dramatic new way of looking at reality. The Science of Information takes you on this stimulating intellectual journey, in which some of the key figures include:

  • Claude Shannon: Shannon plays a key role throughout the course as the dominant figure in the early decades of information theory, making major contributions in computer science, cryptography, genetics, and other areas. His crucial 1948 paper was the “shot heard” round the world” for the information revolution.
  • Alan Turing: The genius behind the decryption of the Nazi Enigma code during World War II, Turing invented the principle of the modern digital computer, and he showed the inherent limitation of all computers by showing that the notorious “halting problem” was fundamentally unsolvable.
  • John A. Wheeler: One of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, Wheeler had a passion for the most fundamental questions of science, which led him to conceive the famous slogan, “It from bit,” meaning that all of physical reality emerges from information. He was also Professor Schumacher’s mentor.

In addition, you study the contributions of other pioneers, such as John Kelly, who used information theory to devise an influential strategy for betting and investing; David Huffman, who blazed the trail in data compression, now used in formats such as JPEG and MP3; and Gregory Chaitin, who pursued computer algorithms for information theory, hypothesizing a celebrated yet uncomputable number called Omega. You also explore the pivotal contributions of pre-20th-century thinkers including Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Samuel F. B. Morse, and Joseph Fourier.

The Laws of Information at Work

With lucid explanations and imaginative graphics, Professor Schumacher shows you the world through an extraordinary set of lenses. “If we wear our information-colored glasses,” he says, “we will see the laws of information at work all around us, in a hundred different ways.” The course illustrates this with examples such as:

  • Money: Today most money exists as electronic account data. But even in ancient times, money was a record-keeping device—in other words, information. Precious metal coins had a cryptographic function: to make it hard to counterfeit messages of economic agreement and obligation.
  • Privacy: The search for guaranteed privacy has only one refuge—the quantum realm. Professor Schumacher explains how the only perfectly secure communications take place between pairs of entangled quantum particles called qubits (a term he coined). Such systems are now in use.
  • Games: The parlor game 20 Questions obviously involves the exchange of information. But why is the number of questions 20? Why not 10 or 30? The answer has to do with the connection between entropy and information—in this case, the total number of possible solutions to the game.

Dr. Schumacher also shows you how information theory can provide answers to profound scientific questions. What is the information content of the genome? The human brain? A black hole? The universe? Time and again, the concepts and laws of information reveal breathtaking insights into the workings of nature, even as they lay the foundation of astounding new technologies.

One final example: 12 billion miles from Earth, a spacecraft built with 1970s technology is racing through interstellar space, never to return. From that distance, the sun is a very bright star and Earth is a pale blue dot. Voyager 1’s radio transmitter is about as strong as a cell phone tower on Earth, which typically can’t reach phones more than a few miles away. Yet we continue, to this day, to receive data from Voyager. How is that possible? The Science of Information explains this amazing feat, along with so much more.

The Science of Information: From Language to Black Holes [TTC Video]

Representing Justice: Stories of Law and Literature [TTC Video]

Representing Justice: Stories of Law and Literature [TTC Video]
Representing Justice: Stories of Law and Literature by Susan Sage Heinzelman
Course No 2336 | AVI, XviD, 432x304 | MP3, 128 kbps, 2 Ch | 24x30 mins | + PDF Guidebook | 4.3GB

Great literature can be the means of understanding as well as creating our world—by teaching and reinforcing society's laws, articulating its values, and enforcing the social contracts that unite us as a culture. What if literature itself generated our ideas and feelings about justice, marriage and family, property, authority, race, or gender? What if it enflamed our determination to pursue justice—or, conversely, undermined our ability to detect injustice?

What if law in all its variations—from religious commandments to oral tradition to codified statute—embraced its own narrative assumptions to the point of absorbing purely literary conventions as a means of more forcefully arguing its points in the legal arena?

And what if this dynamic relationship between written and unwritten laws and literature is constantly evolving? How do law and literature influence or reflect one other? And what lessons might we draw from their symbiotic relationship?

Representing Justice: Stories of Law and Literature is a provocative exploration of just such questions—an examination of the rhetorical and philosophical connections that link these two disciplines.

Mine the Riches of a New Scholarly Field

Professor Susan Sage Heinzelman, who has been honored many times for her teaching skills, is also president of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities, and she brings to these lectures many years of thought and research into the roles of law and literature in society and culture and their relationship to one another.

She is especially concerned to break down the stereotypical definitions of these two disciplines: that literature is fictive and subjective, that is, persuasive on a primarily emotional level understood as the realm of the feminine, and that law is factual and objective, and thus primarily persuasive in the intellectual realm traditionally ascribed to the masculine.

Professor Heinzelman refers to the representation of culture, whether legal or literary, through language, image, symbol systems, and action. It is the intertwining of the stereotypical definitions that she untangles in these lectures, showing how each has contributed to creating our cultural beliefs and expectations "in similar ways—by offering us ways of imagining ourselves—both at our best and at our worst."

Professor Heinzelman's examination encompasses more than 3,000 years. It begins with the Old Testament—in which literature was law—and takes us through ancient Greece, the Middle Ages, England's experience of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and the 19th and 20th centuries. Focusing on works of literature that hold law, implicit or explicit, as a central theme—as well as on the overall relationship between law and literature in society—she shows how that relationship gradually transformed from the astoundingly intricate cross-connections between law and literature still present during the time of Shakespeare, to a point in the mid-18th century when the two disciplines separated more clearly into the distinct realms we recognize today.

Fresh Insights into Great Works and Their Eras

As Professor Heinzelman guides you through these great works, she shows how each reflects its times, and she offers fresh insights that can illuminate even those with which you may already be familiar. For example:

  • In The Scarlet Letter , you'll see how a woman sentenced to a lifetime of community shame sets aside societal dictates to create a new standard of virtue for women.
  • In the 1917 short story, A Jury of Her Peers, you'll see how a reporter covering a sensational turn-of-the-century murder trial would one day reconfigure the events of the case into a play and a short story that would dramatize the implications of all-male juries sitting in judgment on female defendants.
  • And in Lolita, you'll see how a single literary work can challenge not only a society's written jurisprudence, but its unwritten moral codes, as well.

As presented by Professor Heinzelman, these and the other works explored in this course each present their own challenges, forcing you to re-evaluate the ways you read fiction, watch films and plays, or take in legal arguments. Indeed, you may never do any of these things the same way again.

Representing Justice: Stories of Law and Literature [TTC Video]

The Wisdom of History [TTC Video]

The Wisdom of History [TTC Video]
The Wisdom of History [TTC Video] by J Rufus Fears
Course No 4360 | AVI, XviD, 550 kbps, 640x432 | MP3, 128 kbps, 2 Ch | 36x30 mins | + PDF Guidebook | 5.24 GB

Do the lessons passed down to us by history, lessons whose origins may lie hundreds, even thousands, of years in the past, still have value for us today? Is Santayana's oft-repeated saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" merely a way to offer lip service to history as a teacher—or can we learn from it? And if we can, what is it that we should be learning?

Professor J. Rufus Fears believes that not only can we learn from history—we must. In The Wisdom of History he draws on decades of experience as a world-renowned scholar and classical historian to examine the patterns of history. Ignoring them, by choice or because we've never learned to see them, is to risk becoming their prisoner, repeating the mistakes that have toppled leaders, nations, and empires throughout time.

In this personal reflection on history, Professor Fears has taken on the challenge of extracting the past's lessons in ways that speak to us today, showing us how the experience of ancient empires like those of Rome and Persia have much to teach us about the risks and responsibilities of being a superpower. He shows how the study of those who left their impact on an earlier world—Caesar Augustus or Genghis Khan, George Washington or Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi or Josef Stalin—can equip us to make responsible choices as nations, citizens, or individuals.

You may not agree with everything Professor Fears says history teaches us—for example, that the desire for freedom and democracy is not shared by everyone and never has been—but that is fine with him, even desirable. For example, here's what he writes about the accompanying course bibliography:

"I have followed Lord Acton's dictum that it is the mark of an uneducated person to read books he or she agrees with. The educated person reads books he or she disagrees with. Thus I have frequently recommended books that disagree with me because these are the ones we find most stimulating." The challenge Professor Fears poses, to seek such stimulation and examine history closely, is especially pertinent during the "ahistorical age" he says we live in—an era when too many people are willing to invest in a "dangerous delusion" that "science, technology, the global economy, and the information superhighway all make us immune to the lessons of history," and that "in an age of global economy, war and tyranny will become things of the past."

A Profound Challenge

This delusion, Professor Fears says, has become more dangerous in light of recent history.

"The terrorist attack on our country was a watershed for American history. 9/11 presented the United States with a challenge as profound as the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II. The Wisdom of History was conceived in my conviction that if America and its leaders are to meet that challenge, then we must learn and apply the lessons of history."

Because it addresses enduring issues that have contemporary relevance, this course is perhaps even more timely than any current headline. It offers a relevant context for understanding the post-9/11 world Professor Fears says has transformed our country and influenced his own intellectual growth; a world in which the Middle East plays—as it does in this course—a recurrent and crucial part.

For those who have already enjoyed one or more courses by Professor Fears, The Wisdom of History makes an ideal companion piece. And for those new to Dr. Fears, this course is ideal as an introduction to the work of a scholar whose mastery of his subject and ability to present it with clarity and spirit has been repeatedly honored by his peers and students.

Professor Fears has extraordinary skills as both teacher and scholar. He has received 24 university and national teaching awards; he was named three times by University of Oklahoma students as Professor of the Year, and once as Most Inspiring Professor.

Vivid Narratives from a Superb Storyteller

Professor Fears creates vivid narratives of people and events that continue to reverberate in your mind long after you've paused a lecture to think about what you've just heard. This skill has helped make his courses among our most popular, and it is on frequent display in these lectures.

But in a panoramic exploration that ranges from the ancient Greeks and Hebrews to the history of this nation, and in his unflinching and perceptive portraits of those who shaped our world for better and worse, Professor Fears supplies something more than just another telling of history, no matter how engrossing.

By filtering history through his personal perspective—and inviting us to take seriously the effort to distill laws or lessons from the past—he is determined to teach us to see history from a fresh perspective that both evokes the past and speaks to the present. The result is a course that teaches us, by example, how to learn from history. We can add what we learn to the storehouse of hard-won wisdom each of us have already built up to make our own decisions, both privately and as citizens or public leaders.

Some of History's most Provocative Themes

What sorts of themes does Professor Fears invite us to consider? He uses an intimate portrait of Winston Churchill, a man who understood history deeply and wisely, to tell us that:

  • Despite the importance of doing so, we do not learn from history.
  • Science and technology cannot immunize us from history's lessons.
  • Freedom, which Americans believe is longed for by people worldwide, is not a globally shared value. By contrast, desire for power, whether wielded as a despot, or as a benevolent empire or superpower, is a universal value.
  • Known as the cradle of civilization, the Middle East has also been the graveyard of empires, no matter what their intention, as the Romans and so many others have learned.
  • America will experience the same ultimate destiny as the memorable democracies, republics, and superpowers of the past.
  • Religion and spirituality—and the lust for power—are the most profound motivators in history.
  • Nations and empires rise and fall not because of anonymous social and economic forces but because of decisions made by individuals.
  • A true statesman possesses four qualities: a bedrock of principles, a moral compass, a vision, and the ability to build consensus to achieve that vision.

Professor Fears also declares that the United States, because of its unique foundation in freedom and the power it wields through science and technology, "might still be able to provide lessons and leadership to guide the world into a new age of prosperity—if Americans are willing to learn from the past." We are not free from the lessons of history, but we can learn from those lessons and make our decisions based on what we learn.

Although most of us will never achieve the knowledge and understanding of history wielded by a man like Churchill, the end of this course indeed brings us to the same position in which Professor Fears placed him at its beginning—armed with a historical perspective that can, if we choose to heed its wisdom, help guide our lives and choices for the future.

The Wisdom of History [TTC Video]

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