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THINK 1: The Science of MythBusters

How do scientists actually go about answering practical questions? How does science function as a way of understanding our world, and importantly how does it differ from other approaches? As its point of departure, this course will examine and critique selected episodes of the television series, MythBusters (Discovery Channel), which tests the validity of many popular beliefs in a variety of imaginative ways, including myths, rumors, traditions, and stories. We will take the opportunity to delve more deeply into the applicability of the scientific method in understanding a vast range of real-world problems, and into the practical acquisition of fact-based knowledge, which together form the cornerstone of all science. The intellectual framework of this course will be based, first and foremost, on skeptical inquiry, combined with the other key ingredients of good science, which include: framing the question well, careful experimental design, meticulous observation and measurement, quantitative analysis and modeling, the evaluation of statistical significance, recovery from failure, disseminating findings, and the continuous cycle of hypothesis and testing. Note: This course is taught at an introductory level, but it pays serious attention to the quantitative treatment of experimental data and associated tests of statistical significance. All students taking the course will be expected to learn, and to work a series of problems in, basic probability and statistics. There is also a hands-on, "dorm lab" component that involves some fabrication and a significant amount of individual testing and measurement. The final course project will involve developing and writing a scientific grant proposal to test a myth. We hope to inculcate in our students "a taste for questioning, a sense of observation, intellectual rigor, practice with reasoning, modesty in the face of facts, the ability to distinguish between true and false, and an attachment to logical and precise language. " (Yves Quéré, 2010 Science 330:605).
Terms: Aut | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-AQR, WAY-SMA | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)

THINK 23: The Cancer Problem: Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

How has our approach to cancer been affected by clinical observations, scientific discoveries, social norms, politics, and economic interests? Approximately one in three Americans will develop invasive cancer during their lifetime; one in five Americans will die as a result of this disease. This course will expose you to multiple ways of approaching the cancer problem, including laboratory research, clinical trials, population studies, public health interventions, and health care economics. We will start with the 18th century discovery of the relationship between coal tar and cancer, and trace the role of scientific research in revealing the genetic basis of cancer. We will then discuss the development of new treatments for cancer as well as measures to screen for and prevent cancer, including the ongoing debate over tobacco control. Using cancer as a case study, you will learn important aspects of the scientific method including experimental design, data analysis, and the difference between correlation and causation. You will learn how science can be used and misused with regard to the public good. You will also learn about ways in which social, political, and economic forces shape our knowledge about and response to disease.
Terms: Aut | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-AQR, WAY-SMA | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)
Instructors: ; Lipsick, J. (PI)

THINK 24: Evil

What is evil? Are we naturally good or evil? How should we respond to evil? There are many books and courses that focus on the good life or the virtues. Yet despite their obvious apparent presence in our life and world, evil and the vices are rarely taken as explicit topics. We will read philosophical and literary texts that deal with the question of evil at a theoretical level, but will also focus on some practical implications of these issues. By exploring evil, we will confront larger questions about the nature of human beings, the appropriate aims of the good society, the function of punishment, and the place of morality in art.
Terms: Aut | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-A-II, WAY-ER | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)

THINK 31: Race and American Memory

How have Americans remembered the Civil War - what it meant, what it accomplished, and what it failed to accomplish? How did Americans reimagine the United States as a nation after the war? Who belonged in the national community and who would be excluded? In 1865, the peace treaty was signed at Appomattox and the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery, but the battle over memory and national identity had just begun. The questions that the Civil War addressed - and failed to address - continue to affect our lives today. We will focus on how Americans negotiated issues of cultural memory and national identity through a close analysis of historical texts, novels, poems, films, paintings, cartoons, photographs, and music. Our interpretations will foreground the particular themes of race and nationhood, freedom and citizenship, and changing notions of individual and collective identity. Our assumption in this course is that history is not available to us as a set of events - fixed, past, and unchanging. Rather, history is known through each generation's interpretations of those events, and these interpretations are shaped by each generation's lived experience. What stories get told? Whose stories? And in what ways? The stories we choose to tell about the past can shape not only our understanding of the present, but also the kind of future we imagine and strive to realize.
Terms: Aut | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-A-II, WAY-ED | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)

THINK 43: What is love?

Is love a spiritual or a bodily phenomenon? Is the concept of love timeless or ever changing? How does thinking about love lead us to ask other important philosophical and social questions? In this course we will examine the classical roots, medieval developments, and contemporary permutations of Western ideas of romantic love. With an eye to thinking about representations of love in our own culture, we consider some of the foundational love books of the Western tradition. From Plato's Symposium to Chester Brown's graphic novel Paying For It, we ask the fundamental question of whether and how we might distinguish between spiritual and physical desire. We consider how medieval and contemporary writers dealt with the relation of love to sex, power, money, marriage, and gender. We discuss these works of the past, for example the illicit love in the courtly romance Tristan, in tandem with representations of clandestine love from the present day, such as the portrayal of same-sex love in Brokeback Mountain.
Terms: Aut | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-A-II, WAY-ED | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)

THINK 50: Empathy

This course will introduce freshmen to a range of ways of thinking about empathy. How do we know and understand the other? How does knowledge of another's experience and circumstances enable us to make moral decisions and take moral actions? It will take students on an intellectual investigation of the topic of empathy from the Buddhist emphasis on compassion in the fifth century BCE to Jesus' teaching of parables in the first century CE to Enlightenment philosophy to Silicon Valley¿s adoption of empathy in the twenty-first century. The main focus will be on the modern period (from the 18th to 20th century) and students will be asked to approach different genres of text through the lens of empathy. The course will culminate with a one-week creative workshop on the question of empathy.
Terms: Aut | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-CE, WAY-ED | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)
Instructors: ; Shaw, J. (PI)

THINK 51: The Spirit of Democracy

This course provides an overview of the challenges and aspirations facing ideals of democracy. It deals both with competing visions of what democracy might be, and their actual realization not only in the US but around the world. It will begin with the debate over the American founding and move eventually to the ¿third wave¿ of democratization around the world in the late 20th century as well as its more recent retrenchment. The problems of democratic reform are continuing and recurrent around the world. Democratic institutions are subject to a living dialogue and we intend to engage the students in these debates¿at the level of democratic theory and at the level of specific institutional designs.
Terms: Aut | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-SI | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)

THINK 54: 100,000 Years of War

If you had been born 10,000 years ago, the chance that someone would kill you was more than 1 in 10, but if you were born in the twentieth century AD it was more like 1 in 100, despite that century¿s world wars, genocides, and nuclear weapons. In the 2010s, it is just 1 in 150. This course tries to explain this astonishing shift away from violence. We will look at the history of war from the Stone Age to the robot age, including the conflicts of the 2010s; and we will draw on everything from anthropology and archaeology to biology and psychology, as we try to answer one of the biggest questions of all: will there ever be a world without war? Students learn how to approach a big, complex, and often very politicized question in an analytical manner.
Terms: Aut | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-SI | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)
Instructors: ; Morris, I. (PI)
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