2011-12 Catalog

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Offering Description

Adaptation: Evolutionary Patterns in Biological Space-Time


Fall 2011 and Winter 2012 quarters

Bret Weinstein biology
Fields of Study
biology, consciousness studies, environmental studies, natural history, philosophy of science and zoology
Preparatory for studies or careers in
biology, medicine, psychology, and public policy. This program will focus on how to think, not what to think. As such, it will be useful to in any career in which critical thinking is important.

Nearly all of the complexity in the observable universe is due to one process: Selection-natural, sexual and otherwise. And though the basics of evolutionary selection can be summarized in a single phrase ("survival of the fittest"), the details are surprising in the extreme, raising profound questions at every juncture. Why, for example, has a simple, shared drive to increase 'reproductive success' taken aardvarks and spruce trees in such different directions? And why would a peahen choose to burden her sons with a giant handicap to their movement by mating with a male carrying genes for massive tail?

We will take a broad approach to selection, studying what is known, but focusing on that which remains mysterious. The adaptive interplay between genetic, epigenetic (regulatory) and cultural traits will be of particular interest. We will also place special emphasis on understanding the tension between selection exerted by mates, and that exerted by environmental factors.

Fall quarter will be spent constructing a basic toolkit for evolutionary analysis: What is an adaptation and how can it be recognized? How can we infer function? What is the relationship between a trait's short and long-term adaptive value? We will scrutinize structures; behaviors and patterns found in the wild, and refine our ability to understand them through the language of game theory. During the winter quarter, we will focus on pushing our model of selection to its limits, and beyond, by applying it to the most complex and surprising adaptive patterns in nature, with a special emphasis on adaptive patterns manifest in Homo sapiens.

We will read, have lecture, and detailed discussions. Discussions will be central to our work. Students will be expected to generate and defend hypotheses and predictions in a supportive and rigorous environment. We will go out and look at nature directly when conditions are right. Each quarter, we will take a multi-day field trip to observe thought-provoking patterns in unfamiliar environments. There will be assignments, but the program will be primarily about generating deep predictive insight, not about producing a large volume of work. It is best suited to self-motivated students with a deep commitment to comprehending that which is knowable, but unknown.

Academic Website
Online Learning
Enhanced Online Learning
Greener Store
Required Fees
$150 per quarter for week-long field trips.
Upper Division Science Credit
Upper division credit will be awarded for upper division work.
Offered During

Program Revisions

Date Revision
April 29th, 2011 New program added.