New Core Program for Winter '07!

This one quarter program will explore philosophy of science, logic, biology, earth sciences, and evolution. We'll go on a multi-day field trip early in the quarter, and take some one-day trips throughout the quarter. This program might be for you if you're curious about the natural world, excited about using the scientific method to make predictions about what you observe, and interested in using creativity and logic to come to careful conclusions. We will encourage discussion and active participation in all class meetings, and this is not the program for you if you prefer to skip class and get the answers from a book.

Program description:

On an average day in the life of a modern human, we experience much that seems at first difficult, if not impossible, to explain. Why do we sleep? How do we know when the sun will set, or when the moon will be full? Why do we get sick, or age? Why are some organisms—and some people—better at doing a few things very well, while others are generalists? How are the scars of past events—glaciation, floods—evident in our current landscape? How do we know?

In this program, we will follow two fictional characters through their day, as they ask, and figure out how to answer, questions about their environment and experiences. How do we know what we think we know? Using the scientific method as our model for gaining knowledge and understanding natural processes, we will refine hypotheses about what we observe, generate predictions that follow from those, and attempt to falsify our beliefs en route to a more robust view of the natural world. Some of the topics that will be raised include the origin and effects of seasons; the roles of altitude and latitude in determining climate; the fossil evidence for the history of life on Earth; how natural selection has shaped modern organisms; and under what circumstances convergent evolution produces similar forms from different building blocks. We will also investigate several topics relating to the human condition, including how agriculture has transformed human existence; the role of the long period of development in childhood; ethnobotany and the evolution of disease; the pursuit and experience of happiness; and the evolution of morality. Throughout the quarter, we will rely on the importance of metaphor to advance our understanding. Students will be expected to actively engage difficult topics with logic, precision, and a willingness to be wrong, in pursuit of more robust understanding.

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