The following undergraduate courses will be showcased leading up to and as part of the College Themester 2023 program.
AST-A 107 – The Art of Astronomy
Instructor: Dr. Liese van Zee (Astronomy)
From breath-taking images produced with today’s space telescopes to measurements that infer the presence of black holes, dark matter, and dark energy, the science of astronomy uses light to find the truth about the universe within which we live. In this course, we explore the science of imaging the universe and the technology that makes the images possible. Topics include the night sky, telescopes and cameras, light and color, and the science behind the images.
College Critical Approaches
COLL-S 103 – Illusions in Culture
Instructor: Dr. Brandon Barker (Folklore and Ethnomusicology)
We spend our lives trying to get a grasp on “reality,” but anyone who has ever seen a rubber pencil, read a Magic-Eye kids book, been tricked by a stage magician’s sleight of hand, or watched a blockbuster film in three-dimensions knows that the “unreal” can be just as meaningful (and certainly just as entertaining) as reality. This course considers the very real roles that perceptual illusions have played and continue to play in a range of humanities topics—including philosophy, art, folklore, music, sports, magic, film, and food. Interdisciplinary at its core, our discussions and coursework will oscillate between scientific and humanistic descriptions of illusory experience as we answer bedrock intellectual questions—What am I? Who are we? What is reality?—manifest as illusions in culture.
This course is part of two Arts + Sciences Undergraduate Research Experience (ASURE) two-course sequences – How We Learn New Languages: Multi-Lingual Behavior and the Brain and Mythic Remakes: Adapting Classical Myths for Novels, Stage, and Screen.
COLL-C 104 – Opinions, Beliefs, and Truth
Instructor: Dr. Richard Hullinger (Psychology and Brain Sciences)
What can we know and how do we know it? This course will introduce students from the sciences and humanities to key elements of scientific research: observation and experimentation. Observations and experiments are foundational to the scientific endeavor. They put assumptions and expectations to the test; they provide a framework for learning basic principles; and they inspire new ideas. Our class will start with general discussions about what observations and experiments are, how they are used to test ideas, and how they vary across different scientific fields. We will examine some classic experiments in psychology and neuroscience to illustrate important aspects of observation and experimentation that are relevant in the experimental sciences today. By exploring techniques and methods, we will wrestle with ideas about what experiments and observations can (and can’t) ascertain and how and what can be learned from them. We will also take a critical look at the scientific process and explore issues of responsibility, validity and control, ethics, replication, negative results, risk, and failure.
This course is part of the Arts + Sciences Undergraduate Research Experience (ASURE) two-course sequence Believing the Unreal: Conspiracy Theories and the Psychology of Pseudoscience.
Collins Living-Learning Center
CLLC-L 220: Uses of the Past (3 cr.) – The Scientist as Storyteller
Instructor: Siyu Yao (History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine)
Scientists construct stories about nature, from the birth of the universe to mechanisms of cell interaction, and sketch what they themselves do, to promote their latest results or to overview domain achievements. Stories not only communicate accumulated knowledge but also structure the relation between evidence and theory and empower future scientific discoveries. The class provides an overview of the different uses of narratives in science, analyzes their contributions and caveats, and concludes with how past stories inform about the future.
ENG-L 210 Studies in Popular Literature and Mass Media
Instructor: Dr. Miranda Rodak
Not despite but because of its otherness, fantasy fiction interrogates reality. Magical worlds operate metaphorically and allegorically, bringing disturbing truths into the light where real histories and systems of oppression can be constructively confronted. Particularly in the last decade, more diverse and justice-minded authors have disrupted Tolkien’s Euro-centric, white-male canon (which always sat uncomfortably between mass-market and literature) to confront systemic racism, sexual violence, colonialism, and other institutionalized form of power. This semester, we will analyze three such bestselling authors – Tomi Adeyemi, Chelsea Abdullah, and Sarah J. Maas – whose secondary worlds bring our own into view.
French and Italian
FRIT-F 226 : French Society
Instructor: Dr. Oana Panaïté
At the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic, French President Macron launched “Operation Resilience” signaling his country’s determination to find a successful response to this global crisis. This reaffirmed France’s historical ambition as a defender of truth against conspiracy theories and “fake news” and a beacon of light against unscientific public policies and undemocratic political agendas. Using a variety of materials from mass-media and social media, political science, film, fiction, and other arts, we will examine how and why France has succeeded or failed in its ambition to achieve economic and social justice, to face its colonial past, to eradicate racism and embrace sound immigration policies, and to deal with political polarization, nationalism, and xenophobia. We will draw comparisons between specific examples of “the French Exception” and “American Exceptionalism” to better understand how the US and its “longest friend and ally” agree or disagree on the meaning and role of scientific “truth” and democratic “light” in today’s complex world.
HON-H 241 Quick and Dirty Mental Ops
Instructor: Dr. Leah Savion (History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine)
The abilities to gather information, reason, decide, and solve problems are central to our rationality and survival. Our brains routinely solve problem too complex for the mightiest computer, yet fails dramatically to establish correct knowledge and make logical inferences regarding simple everyday events. The culprits can be partially traced to cognitive shortcuts (heuristics) and their inevitable biases; these account for errors in economics, medicine, business, judicial systems, and human relations. This course offers a theoretical and pragmatic analysis of these cognitive tools.
History and Philosophy of Science
HPSC-X 200 Scientific Reasoning and Scientific Methods
Instructor: Dr. Jordi Cat (History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine)
Scientists, politicians, administrators and the lay public pay attention to scientific claims and controversies. For instance, is some substance really harmful to our health? For different reasons, we all benefit from reaching informed opinions and informed decisions. You might be the victim or beneficiary of someone’s opinions and decisions. We must first try to understand the claims and then take a critical look at the claims and at any reasoning and procedures behind them. In the best cases, the evidence is never conclusive. The results can always be revised in light of new evidence, better experimental designs and alternative hypotheses. In order to assess and interpret data and to produce and evaluate hypotheses, scientists apply a variety of methods. Different methods may have different goals and limitations; some limitations are methodological, others are practical, others ethical or legal.
In this course we will examine and discuss questions such as, Why accept any scientific claim? How do scientists produce hypotheses and evaluate them? What kinds of hypotheses are there and what are they good for? How do scientists produce, collect and evaluate empirical data, big or small? Do scientists produce and use only numerical data? How do they present quantitative data visually? Can they reason with pictures as well as with numbers? How do they use data as evidence for hypotheses? Why do scientists care about hypotheses that concern a group of individuals that is larger than the ones we actually observe, test and want to deal with? How can a group of different subjects in a study help establish more general results? Aren’t all individuals different, anyway? What’s so special about hypotheses about causal links? How do experimental designs reflect the causal character of such hypotheses? Are all kinds of experimental designs equally useful? Are there different levels of strength of evidence? What can go wrong?
LING-L 325 Semantics
Instructor: Dr. Thomas Grano (Linguistics)
Truth is intertwined with language: we use language to express truths (and falsehoods!). Fundamental to the meaning of a sentence is its truth conditions: what would the world have to be like for the sentence to be true? This course introduces formal semantics, which borrows tools from mathematical logic to investigate how word meaning and sentence syntax interact to determine a sentence’s truth conditions, thereby illuminating how a speaker of a language
understands a sentence—even one never encountered before.
Political and Civic Engagement Program (PACE)
PACE-C 200 Issues Forum: Truth, Media, and Democracy
The PACE-C 200 Issue Forum (1 credit hour) is an opportunity for students to engage in a one-day experience in democratic deliberation. Student conversations will focus on the topic of Truth, Media, and Democracy. Students will explore the topic in many ways by reading research, listening to an expert panel, discussing the topic with peer students, and engaging in critical thinking to further expand their understanding of the nuances associated with the topic.