Can we Stop Believing in Magic?


What is the course about?

This course is for all students. It provides students with an understanding of some evolutionary, biological, social, philosophical, and psychological explanations of how and why humans believe what they believe. The course further aims to make students familiar with the scientific method and to be able to use it to test the validity of commonly held beliefs, including their own.

The course introduces the students to some interdisciplinary concepts about knowledge. It overviews the evolutionary development of the human mind in relation to how and why we form beliefs, and provides biological explanations. It then explains a number of social, philosophical and psychological reasons behind our formation of beliefs. After that, it introduces the scientific method and its position within the broader concepts of rationalism and empiricism. It then explains how the scientific method can be used to test some beliefs but not others, and how this can be determined. The role of testimony will also be discussed in relation to the dissemination of scientific knowledge. Examples of commonly-held beliefs are then illustrated, and explanations are given as to why people believe such things even in the face of compelling counter evidence. Examples are then given of individuals and societies that have experienced drastic changes in their beliefs (e.g., individuals changing from one believing in one religion to another, or going from atheist to religious or religious to atheist; society going from believing the earth is flat to knowing it is spherical, or going from believing the sun revolves around the earth to knowing the earth revolves around the sun, etc.). Guided by students’ own interests and input, a number of current commonly-held beliefs (e.g., “Chinese medicine works”; “ghosts exist”; “global warming is a left-wing conspiracy”; “the ‘war on terror’ is what its name implies,” etc.) are then presented for discussion, evaluation, and (where possible) testing.

Course Code Offering Department(s) Area of Learning Units & Hours
GDAR1907 ENG ARTS (3,1,2)
Download the course syllabus


IGEThis is an interdisciplinary GE (IGE) course.
  1. One IGE course is listed for more than 1 area of learning. You can decide which area of learning you would like the course to fulfill, by enrolling in the course with the corresponding course code.

Notes for all GE courses

  • You can take a maximum of 6 additional units of GE courses from any categories as electives.