Models of the World: Explaining the Past and Predicting the Future





Nina Zipser (Department of Mathematics)
Freshman Seminar 51H  4 credits (fall term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12

This freshmen seminar explains the concept and practice of social and natural science modeling. The seminar will address four fundamental questions: (1) What is a model? (2) How are models related to data? (3) How are models used to explain and predict events in the world, including counterfactuals (i.e., what would happen if we conducted military campaigns differently)? (4) How do models evolve over time? The seminar answers these questions with numerous case studies from the fields of astronomy, biology, computer science, economics, mathematics, and physics. For example, we’ll see that natural science models have (unintentionally) challenged fundamental social and religious beliefs, like the geocentric view of the universe and the origin of species. We’ll also show how models have been used to measure social phenomena, like the pursuit of instant gratification. We’ll also explore the origins and trajectory of a new class of powerful, data-driven models that are emerging in the field of machine learning.

Prerequisites: High school-level algebra and geometry. No knowledge of model-building is required.


See also: Fall 2020