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Spring 2020 CNS Honors Seminars

The NSC 110H seminars below are restricted to Dean's Scholars, Health Science Scholars, and Polymathic Scholars.

Minds, Brains and Computers: Can a Machine Have a Mind?
The Last Unknowns
The History of the Banjo
The Body in Pain
Arguing with Conservatives 
What Makes Us Human?
The Science of Mindfulness, the Art of Attention
Environmental Justice
Things Are Going to be Okay
The Science of Monsters
CNS Honors Thesis: Life Sciences
Bench Science
CNS Honors Thesis: Physical Sciences

  

Minds, Brains and Computers: Can a Machine Have a Mind?
Mike Mauk
Unique: 45810
Thursday 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).

 

The Last Unknowns
William Press
Unique: 45815
Monday 4-5pm
WCH 1.108
Last year, editor John Brockman asked 300 famous scientists and scholars each to submit exactly one question—their candidates for “the most important last unknowns.” In this seminar we will “question the questions”: Which are actually within the realm of possible scientific discovery? Can we imagine the path by which they might be answered? If so, what are first steps? Which questions are not scientific at all, but instead are societal decisions or individual ethical choices? For those, how can science contribute? And, which questions are semantically meaningless or operationally empty—and how could famous scientists have been so stupid as to ask them? (These are sometimes the most fun.) We will discuss a few questions each week. Students will be asked to prepare short oral presentations at Wikipedia level, each week introducing the group to the field of science behind a question.

 

The History of the Banjo
Alan Lloyd
Unique: 45820
Tuesday 11am-12pm
PAI 4.28
The banjo is the quintessential American instrument. We will examine the evolution of the banjo, and banjo music, from its African origins to modern factory-made instruments. Content includes the transitions of form and function that mirror contemporary political, economic, industrial and social movements over 400 years. Students will have the option of learning to play the banjo outside of class at a basic level with loaned banjos.

  

The Body in Pain
Travis Lau
Unique: 45860
Tuesday 2-3pm
WCH 1.108
In 1985, Elaine Scarry made the claim that pain was defined by its unsharability and its capacity to destroy language itself. The relationship between a body in pain and its witness is said to be of fundamentally different, inaccessible worlds. Pain, in Scarry’s framework, is antithetical to language and narrative. This course turns to approaches in the health humanities and disability studies to consider how narratives about pain and by people living with pain complicate Scarry’s original thesis. The opioid epidemic underscores a cultural crisis surrounding the issue of pain: What gets to count as pain? Whose pain is worth addressing and how? What do we do with people whose pain cannot be ameliorated or eliminated? Pain, as our case study, will reveal the great extent to which medicine and science are deeply intertwined with society and culture; the pain of bodies is the pain of populations, the pain of nations.

 

Arguing with Conservatives 
Mark Longaker
Unique: 45825
Wednesday 1-2pm
PAI 5.42
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 classical and 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?
  

What Makes Us Human?
Inder Saxena
Unique: 45830
Monday 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


The Science of Mindfulness, the Art of Attention
Rosa Schnyer
Unique: 45835
Thursday 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.


Environmental Justice
Donnie Sackey
Unique: 45840
Tuesday 11am-12pm
PAI 5.42
Environmental justice is a framework for analyzing and addressing the inequalities in environmental conditions (benefits and burdens) among communities of varying race/ethnicity and economic class. At the same time, environmental justice presents a deep challenge to mainstream environmental and sustainability frameworks. In this seminar, we will discuss and develop theoretical frameworks for understanding how environmental injustice is produced locally, regionally, and globally and develop communicative strategies necessary for addressing environmental justice from the community, government, science, and legal perspectives.


Things Are Going to be Okay
David Laude
Unique: 45845
Wednesday 2-3pm
WCH 1.108
Enough with negativity.  Things in the world (and even this country) are actually getting better and better despite what your news feeds say and there are a lot of books that tackle this optimism.  One that should appeal to scientists is Steven Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now:  The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress” and we will work through the book during seminar this spring.  Pinker’s book frames this optimistic world in traditional secular humanisms arguments.  What is nice about the book is that there is nice data presented in each chapter to make you feel more hopeful, but after that he presents his argument for why and what to do next, and that is where the opportunity for discussion really begins.



The Science of Monsters
David Taylor
Unique: 45850
Monday 2-3pm
PAI 5.42
What is a monster? Is it the terrifying thing lurking in your closet or under your bed? The word originated to describe something that is malformed or different than ourselves. In this seminar, we will talk about mutants: their genetic basis, their phenotypes, their transformation into literary symbols. There will be a combination of readings from scientific journal articles and gothic literature. Is Dracula an evil blood-sucking vampire or does he just have a slight sensitivity to light?

 

CNS Honors Thesis: Life Sciences
Shelley Payne
Unique: 45855
Monday 4-5pm
GAR 0.120
This course is restricted to in Dean's Scholars or Health Science Scholars who are completing a thesis in the life sciences.

 

Bench Science
Brian Roberts
Unique: 45865
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.

 

CNS Honors Thesis: Physical Sciences
Josh Roebke
Unique: 45870
Monday 4-5pm
PAI 4.28
This course is restricted to in Dean's Scholars or Health Science Scholars who are completing a thesis in the physical sciences.