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THINK 9: Technological Visions of Utopia

How do science and technology shape the frameworks for imagining utopian or dystopian societies? Sir Thomas More gave a name to the philosophical ideal of a good society - a word that is now a part of common language: utopia. In the almost 500 years since More's Utopia appeared, changes in society - including enormous advances in science and technology - have opened up new possibilities for the utopian society that More and his predecessors could not have envisioned. At the same time science and technology also entail risks that suggest more dystopian scenarios - in their most extreme form, threats to humanity's very survival. We will look at several works that consider how literary visions of society have evolved with the progress of science and technology. The readings begin with More and include examples of more technologically determined visions of the late 20th century, as imagined in works of fiction.
Terms: Aut, last offered Autumn 2014 | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-A-II, WAY-ER | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)

THINK 21: Folklore and Literature in Russia and Beyond: Vampires, Talking Cats, and Frog Princesses

What is 'folklore' and what is its purpose? How do we decide if something is authentically 'folk' and does it matter? Why are Eastern Europe and Russia associated with the idea of folklore? For the past two centuries, writers, composers, and artists have found inspiration in folklore: the stories, songs, and beliefs of their grandparents, their servants (or their slaves), and their neighbors. This class asks what folklore means and what purposes - political and philosophical as well as artistic - it can serve. We begin with examples from around the world: the German Brothers Grimm as well as the Americans John and Alan Lomax. Then we turn to Eastern Europe and the role it has played in the Western European and American imagination as the home of the archaic and the authentic, from the vampires of Transylvania to the oral epics of the Bosnian Serbs to the nostalgic idea of the Jewish shtetl to the fantasy of Soviet communism as a survival of a pre-capitalist order. Students will analyze both folk and elite texts, and will experiment with gathering oral texts and transforming them just like the writers we studied.
Terms: Win | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-A-II, WAY-CE | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)

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 an abstract level and then use other readings that help us focus on more practical implications of the meaning and consequences of evil. By exploring the issue of evil, we will confront larger questions about the nature of humans, the responsibility to address evil as a society, and the moral and ethical ways we might begin to define what is evil.
Terms: Aut | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-A-II, WAY-ER | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)

THINK 31: Reimagining America

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: not given this year | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-A-II, WAY-ED | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)

THINK 41: The Conscious Mind: The Philosophy and Biology of Consciousness, Memory, and Personal Identity

How do our common-sense conceptions of the mind and of ourselves hold up against the growing body of psychological and neurobiological knowledge of the brain? How is your mental life anchored to your physical self?nYou wake up from a dreamless sleep and suddenly everything's buzzing with color and sound. Somehow your brain sustains this rich landscape of experience, integrating it with a repertoire of memories to constitute yourself. This course probes the neurobiological bases of these familiar yet miraculous facets of the mind. You'll learn to analyze primary philosophical and scientific texts, using basic knowledge of the brain to assess and even innovate experiments that could shed light on the nature of consciousness and personal identity.
Terms: not given this year | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-A-II, WAY-SMA | 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, last offered Autumn 2014 | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-A-II, WAY-ED | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)

THINK 44: Belief

Why do people believe in God? What does it mean for people to experience the supernatural? How do we understand belief in God? How do people convey experiences that are by definition extra-ordinary to others? In this course we ask the big (and unanswerable) question why people believe in God. Some scholars argue that belief results from direct experience, such as visions or moments of transcendence, that testify to God's existence. Others suggest that belief in the supernatural is better explained by the way the human mind has evolved or people's experience of the social world. In this class, we will pair medieval literature on Christian mysticism and magic with readings from modern psychology and anthropology. We will look at the dominant answers provided by each discipline. For example, belief might result from our sensory experience of the world, or it might have developed as part of our cognitive apparatus in response to fear. Our aim is to show how different disciplines can work together to cast light on a basic question of human existence.
Terms: Win | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-A-II, WAY-SI | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)

THINK 49: Stories Everywhere

Do we perceive the world through stories? Are we made of stories? Can we make sense of the world without narrative? The telling of stories is not just a form of entertainment but an essential human activity that moves and persuades us, compelling us to action and reflection. In this course, we will probe how moral, cognitive and historical forces give stories their power. You will be introduced to the basic theory and art of storytelling, enabling you to understand and master the fundamentals of narrative structure, plot, and character. This will allow you to practice producing your own stories through both interpretative and creative writing assignments. The class will also give students the chance to participate in various story-making activities and work with the Stanford Storytelling Project, San Francisco StoryCorps, School of the Arts and the Stanford Innocence Project to create assignments that would be useful to both private and nonprofit organizations.
Terms: Spr | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-A-II, WAY-CE | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)
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