2012-13 Catalog

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Offering Description

Adaptation: Evolutionary Patterns in Biological Space-Time


Fall 2012 and Winter 2013 quarters

Bret Weinstein biology
Fields of Study
anthropology, biology, botany, cultural studies, ecology, environmental studies, natural history 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.

The vast majority of the complexity in the observable universe is due to one process: Selection--the tendency for some patterns to outcompete alternatives for either resources, mates or both. And though the basics of evolutionary selection can be summarized in a single phrase ("survival of the fittest"), the details and diversity of patterns 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 peacock 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. 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
$200 per quarter for field trips.
Upper Division Science Credit
Upper division credit will be awarded on the basis of analytical insight, innovation and analysis.
Offered During

Program Revisions

Date Revision
August 22nd, 2012 New offering added.