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Spring 2019 CNS Honors Seminars 

The Master and Margarita
AI, Data Science, and Society
The Science of Mindfulness, the Art of Attention
What Makes Us Human?
Transhumanism is Getting Real
Communication Strategies for the Pre-Health Professional: Difficult Discussions
Minds, Brains and Computers: Can a Machine Have a Mind?
How to Present an Effective Talk
Bench Science
Emerging Treatments for Cancers and Infectious Diseases    
Arguing with Conservatives
Domestication of Animals: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior, and Ethics
The Literature of Science
Health Communication

 

The Master and Margarita
Tom Garza
Unique: 46305
Tuesday 10-11am
PAI 5.42
Required text: The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor, translators. March 19, 1996. ISBN-10: 0679760806. (The Co-op has ordered copies.)
Stalin's Moscow, 1936. The Devil and his gang have come to the mortal world to determine how Mankind is faring in the mid- 20th century. He encounters a motley crew of Soviet bureaucrats, writers, politicians and artists who offer little hope for the future. Enter the "Master," an unknown writer struggling to finish a novel about the life of Christ told from the perspective of Pontius Pilate. Can this one writer and his work be reason enough to prevent the apocalypse? Enter Margarita, the Master's selfless companion and heroine of Mikhail Bulgakov's Soviet-era masterpiece, The Master and Margarita. Regarded by many readers and critics as one of the greatest novels of our time, The Master and Margarita is a fixed part of Russian culture. This seminar will explore not only the intricacies of the novel itself, but also its place among Bulgakov’s other literary works, and its varied sources from world literature, music and the visual arts.

 

AI, Data Science, and Society
James Scott
Unique: 46323
Tuesday 3-4pm
PAI 5.33
The public narratives surrounding AI and data science are broken. On the one hand, there are the evangelists: the high priests of Silicon Valley hyping up these technologies in the business world. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, for example, once claimed outlandishly that AI will do more for the human race than fire or electricity.  Or if you believed all those IBM Watson ads during the Super Bowl, you would assume that data is some magic business elixir that will sell more widgets and supercharge profits and make your toilet smell like roses. But then on the other hand, there are the doomsayers: those responsible for whipping the public into a froth of indignation and fear about the imminent “Robocalypse,” in which AI will destroy everything we care about, from our jobs to our privacy to our democracy.  We’ve clearly reached the point where most normal people can’t tell who’s making sensible statements about AI, and who is spouting nonsense.

The goal of this seminar to have students separate the reality from the propaganda, the genuine policy issue from the dystopian sci-fi kitsch.  This is a speaking seminar; each week, one or two of you will take a single topic in how AI or data science touches society, educate the class about some basic facts, and lead a serious discussion among your peers.  Some examples of issues that I anticipate we may touch on include:
- AI in transportation
- robots at home
- AI and jobs
- AI and the workplace
- how data science will change human interaction
- machine learning in politics
- bias in machine decision making
- data science in criminal justice
- AI at school

But students in the class will have broad freedom to bring in any related issues they’d like, within reason.

 

The Science of Mindfulness, the Art of Attention
Rosa Schnyer 
Unique: 46285
Tuesday 12:30-1:30pm
PAI 5.42
Mindfulness—often described as the process of attending to whatever is arising in the present moment, in a particular way, on purpose and without judgement—has gained great popularity in the past decade and has been increasingly integrated into contemporary society from education to private industry, to health care.  Mindfulness involves self-regulation of attention and orientation of experience, which enables the cultivation of a different relationship with ourselves and the challenges we face.  In this seminar, while developing a mindfulness practice, we will explore the neural and behavioral effects of mindfulness, the cultural, historical and philosophical foundations, and its modern application.

  

What Makes Us Human?
Inder Saxena
Unique: 46275
Wednesday 11am-12pm
WCH 1.108                        
The human species is one of many species that inhabits this planet. Although there is a common evolutionary origin to all life forms, and common features exist between the different groups of organisms, certain characteristics distinguish each species from all others. In this sense, each species is unique, but it is the uniqueness of the human species that is of interest to most. This question of what makes us human has been addressed by thinkers, writers, evolutionary biologists and many others in the past. With the availability of genome sequences of not only modern humans, but also extinct species such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, one can now make much better comparisons and approach this question at a much higher biological resolution.

This course will view the question of what makes us human from a variety of perspectives, including literary, cultural, social and biological. Topics to be discussed in the course will be made known at the beginning of the semester and each student will make a presentation on one of the given topics. In every class meeting, students will be given an opportunity to express their opinion in a discussion on the topic of presentation.

"Our dream is to one day uncover the essence of what makes us human."

- Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, in an announcement pledging support for the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle.

  

Transhumanism is Getting Real
David Laude
Unique: 46300
Wednesday 1– 2pm
WAG 208
Transhumanism is the concept that human beings can evolve beyond their current physical and intellectual limitations. Long the domain of science fiction writers, advances in artificial intelligence and biology have made the notion of transhumanism a very real question with many thought-provoking lines of argument.  In this seminar, we will talk about that future.  There are a lot of ways we will do this—from exploring what science and technology will permit with respect to the biological and AI advances, to the philosophical consequences of transhumanism, to your predictions of the social, cultural and political world that will result from our achievements/follies.  Some of what you will read for the seminar will be the work of thoughtful and respected scientists, some the work of brash visionaries and ideologues, some the work of crackpots.  Distinguishing the future reality from future fiction will be an essential part of the course. 

  

Communication Strategies for the Pre-Health Professional: Difficult Discussions
David Ring
Unique: 46324
Monday 3-5pm on Jan 28, Feb 11 & 25, Mar 11 & 25, April 8 & 22, May 6
Room: PAI 5.42
Training for healthcare professionals has long emphasized technical knowledge and assumed that communicating expertise would come naturally. It is increasingly clear that nontechnical skills (e.g., effective communication strategies, emotional intelligence, cultural humility, etc.) are also important to help people get and stay healthy. In this seminar, students interested in the health professions can begin to learn and practice helpful communication strategies. Guest speakers from various clinical and professional backgrounds will help train pre-health professionals in effective communication. This seminar will involve group dialogues and practical exercises that cover topics ranging from difficult conversations to how to maintain joy, meaning, and purpose in the work.


Minds, Brains and Computers: Can a Machine Have a Mind?
Mike Mauk
Unique: 46320
Thursdays 4– 5pm
WCH 1.108
We will use the single question – could a machine have a human-like mind? – as a launching point to discuss topics such as 1) philosophy of mind, 2) artificial intelligence, 3) newsy items such as Watson and the blue brain project, and 4) the use of computer simulations in neuroscience research (computational neuroscience).

 

How to Present an Effective Talk
George Pollak
Unique: 46290
Wednesday 1– 2pm 
SZB 434
Limited to 10 students
As the name suggests, this is not a topic-oriented course, although we could focus on a particular topic if the class would like to do so.  Rather the focus is on learning some rules and methods for presenting a talk that is clear, understandable and one that will be remembered by the audience.

Here is how the course will proceed.  I have written a short set of “rules” that I want everyone to follow when they present their talks.  The set of rules is posted under Modules in Canvas and is titled “Some Pointers on How to Present an Effective Seminar.” In the first class period, I will go over the rules and explain why each is important.  I have also selected an article that I will present in the second class period, in which I will illustrate each of the rules, and point out how each applies during the various parts of my talk.  The article is titled, Expanding the primate body schema in sensorimotor cortex by virtual touches of an avatar, and is also posted under Modules in Canvas.  Everyone should read the article before the second class meets. 

In the subsequent weeks, each student will present at least one talk.  I have posted a set of articles under Modules in Canvas and each student is assigned an article he or she will present.  If any student feels they would prefer to present an article that is not on the list, that is also acceptable, but please consult with me first.  Instead of an published paper, you might want to present some results of the research that you are conducting.  The idea here is that the presenter will receive constructive comments on how he or she could improve the presentation.  If time permits, those comments should then be incorporated into the second presentation of the same article that the student will present later in the semester. 

I am hoping that the class will be fun and that everyone will learn skills so that you will be confident that the talks you present in the future will be well received.   

  

Bench Science
Brian Roberts
Unique: 46310
Wednesday 3– 4pm 
GDC 2.502
Courts have long struggled with resolving cases with competing scientific – natural and social – claims. While there have been efforts to eliminate the use of “fake science” from the courtroom, the issue has not gone away. Because courts play such an important role – often having the last say – in resolving contested public policies it is more important than ever to understand this critical intersection of science and policy. In this seminar we look at some celebrated cases that have challenged the courts’ ability to handle science-based claims, consider the difference in evidentiary standards in law and science, and think about ways to encourage and improve the use of science in the law.

  

Emerging Treatments for Cancers and Infectious Diseases    
Pratibha Saxena
Unique: 46315
Wednesday 2– 3pm 
PAI 5.33
Infectious diseases affect each and every one of us. Even today a large number of people succumb to infectious agents even after we understand a lot more about infectious agents and how to control them. Infectious agents include viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoans. Antibiotics helped control microbes in mid 1900s but now we are faced with multi drug resistance organisms that are proving difficult to control. While a large number of infectious diseases of the early 1900s are under control, there are many more emerging and reemerging diseases that we all are confronted with on a regular basis.

Some of the infectious diseases we will discuss are Influenza, HIV-AIDS, Zika, Dengue fever, Tuberculosis, Pneumonia (especially caused by multidrug resistant Klebsiella pneumonia), Healthcare associated (HCA) diseases and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). This seminar course will discuss basic concepts of these diseases, their clinical presentation and diagnosis, and both current and potential treatments.

We will discuss key popular and scientific articles, case studies that enhance our understanding of the molecular basis, genetics and impact of Infectious diseases on society.
Students will be given the opportunity to learn more in depth about each of these aspects over the semester. Starting early-semester students will present their findings in a 15-20-minute PowerPoint presentation to the class. Presentations should be such that someone with a high school education can comprehend the main concepts and ideas presented. Each week one to two students will present their findings and the other students will participate in discussion. Every student will have the opportunity to read and discuss all the articles and work in detail on one of the infectious diseases for the presentation.

 

Arguing with Conservatives
Mark Longaker
Unique: 46265
Wednesday 9:-10am
BUR 228
Conservatism has a rich history, so rich that conservative principles often lead to conflicting arguments about what governments should do and how citizens should behave. Present-day, self-styled conservatives often repeat classical ideas in order to promote radical political programs. And while they invoke specific political forebears--such as Edmund Burke and John C. Calhoun--modern conservatives would never endorse the monarchy that Burke favored or the slavery that Calhoun advocated. These inconsistencies lead us to wonder, Is there a philosophical core to conservatism? Is there a commonly "conservative" argument, or just a bunch of people claiming that they want to go back to the good old days? In this class, we'll read and discuss excerpts from three classical and three modern conservative writers, exploring the rhetorical aspect of conservative politics. What does it mean to argue like a conservative? How do conservatives disagree with one another? We will also draw connections to current events and contemporary arguments. What would a classical conservative say about #MeToo, states' resistance to follow federal environmental laws, or constitutional originalist judges?

 

Domestication of Animals: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior, and Ethics
Blinda McClelland
Unique: 46270
Wednesday 10-11am
WCH 1.108
Humans have had a long mutually beneficial relationship with domestic animals.  We will be reading an article from the popular press or academic journal each week and discuss questions such as: How do animals become domesticated? Why can some animal species become domesticated and others not? What is the evidence for domestication in the fossil record? How do domesticated animals differ genetically and behaviorally from wild ancestors? Is it ethical to raise domestic animals for human consumption? The discussions will be thought-provoking, entertaining, and enlightening.

 

The Literature of Science
Josh Roebke
Unique: 46295
Wednesday 3-4pm
PAI 5.33
Who writes about science and what are they trying to tell us? Poets, scientists, journalists, playwrights, novelists, publicists, historians, and philosophers have all been known to opine about science, but how do they communicate differently? Are they even describing the same branches of knowledge? We will read a variety of texts—from blogs to memoirs, essays to poems, and articles to humorous sketches—to discuss the many ways that writers communicate science and the ways they depict real and imagined scientists. Each week, we will read an article, essay, or short excerpt to debate the merits of different styles of writing by either scientists or non-scientists. Basically, we will discuss good writing about science and talk about why it is good. Students will have the chance to lead a discussion about the writing genre that they prefer or the area of science that they like best.

 

Health Communication
Mike Mackert
Unique: 46280
Monday 11-12am
PAI 5.42
Health communication is the science and art of using communication to advance the health and well-being of people and populations. In this seminar we will explore health communication ranging from the interpersonal level (provider-patient) to mass communication (national ad campaigns) across a range of health issues and populations. We will also discuss how health pervades popular media and new frontiers in health communication resulting from advances in science and medicine.