INCO 796: Cosmology and Our View of the World

Seminar Schedule of the Year
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We will explore the sources and limits of human knowledge concerning the origin of the universe, the origin and distribution of life in the universe, and the mystery of our consciousness of the universe. Three UNH faculty members from diverse academic backgrounds have joined together to offer this discussion-centered course, which is open to students from all academic levels and programs. This one-credit course is not intended to fulfill any particular program requirement, but rather to serve as an expression of a shared desire to delve deeply into the mysteries of our existence as conscious beings in a vast universe.

Starting from the historic evolution of humankind's view of the world, we will explore the edge of current scientific knowledge in modern cosmology and evolution and how this relates to the spiritual “other half” of our being. We will explore the wider picture of the unfolding universe, including the evolution of sentient life, over 13.7 billion years, as well as philosophical and religious interpretations of the meaning of this process. The seminar raises questions about the foundation and structure of human knowledge and whether there are limits to its reach. We will explore the arguments for technological and scientific limits, for “in-principle” philosophical limits connected with the nature of our minds, as well as limits potentially inherent in a religious/spiritual quest for knowledge. These and other related questions will be discussed in the tension field between science, religion and philosophy.

This Seminar is meant to reach out to students majoring in a variety of fields from the "hard core" sciences through the humanities. In order to facilitate this endeavor we plan to disseminate summaries of our discussions via internet across the Campus. The responsibility of preparing a brief summary following each session will be passed among the students. The level of the scientific discussions and the summaries should be that of the publication, Scientific American. We will include new developments in the sciences, technology and society as appropriate.

The success of this seminar will hinge on the active participation of students in the compilation of the material and the discussions. Although the Seminar will not see the pressure of exams or formal presentations, it is expected of all participants to take reading assignments and participation in the discussions seriously. Although the emphasis in this seminar is on interactive discussion, it is important that all participants read the material for discussion ahead of time. We will start with a discussion in the group about what we would like to cover and then go into brief overviews of past paradigm changes and the current status in cosmology, formation and evolution of life, and the philosophical perspectives of where we fit in. Emphasis will be placed on the question of the limits posed on us (are there any?) in science, in philosophy and in religious inquiries. Where the discussion goes beyond these items is flexible. The emphasis of the rest of the seminar will depend on the interest of the student body in the seminar. A (not necessarily complete) list of potential discussion topics is available.

There is no specific course book for this discussion-oriented seminar, but we strongly recommend purchase of the seminar book that are available at the bookstores in Durham and over the internet.

Credit for the Course:

For those students who are taking the seminar for credit (1 Credit) the evaluation will be based on: