Leaming objectives

1. Nexa 380, Cosmologies and Worldviews, explores historically and functionally the imaginative and conceptual processes involved in the efforts of great writers and astronomers to understand and model the universe. The focus is on three critical periods of human history: the ancient world; the Renaissance or early modem era; and the modern (contemporary) age.

2. Literary writers and physicists/astronomers are linked by their complementary and interdependent modes of approach to their endeavors: both employ imagination and creativity in the design and execution of their relative fields; both by necessity must conceptualize the cosmos in order to express a vision of that universe; both utilize models that purport to reveal the workings of the universe (in physics, the model is the scientific method and experimentation; in literature the model is the aesthetic representation of the world through words, images, characters, the stage, and narrative microcosms); both utilize technical and specialized tools (mathematics, symbolic analysis, metaphoric/thematic construction).

3. We recognize that all estimates of scientific and literary history are directed through our contemporary sensibility and we acknowledge this in our course design. We use narratives of astronauts, contemporary writers, artists, scientists, essayists, film- makers, musicians, politicians, social theorists to envision relevant contemporary issues of literature and physics--- eg, quantum physics, global warming, postmodernity , interpretive ambiguity-- to address the past, present and future of the field of cosmology .

4. Great scientists and philosophers (Aristotle, Plato, Lucretius, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Boltzmann, Einstein, Gould) and great writers (Sophocles, Lucius Apuleius, Shakespeare, Donne, Marvell, Voltaire, Pope, Brooke, Eliot, Macleish, pynchon, Beckett, Bronk, Hill, Zoline, Stoppard, Eco, Calvino) are compared and contrasted during comparable epochs regarding their relative abilities to change, model and represent human life and thought.

5. We focus on three key epochs of human history: the ancient world, the Renaissance/Early modem period; the modern/contemporary era. These periods are crucial because they demarcate fundamental shifts in human thought. These were turbulent eras when massive paradigm shifts were accompanied by political, social, cultural, and historical upheaval. We direct students to explore supplementary and complementary convergent cosmological analyses of culture and ideas in order to examine the power of human thought to change the world.

Modes of assessment.

  1. A central ingredient in the class is the hands-on experience of rudimentary scientific calculation. Students are encouraged to experience directly (through credit/no credit assignments) the fundamental calculations that astronomers utilized in their major cosmological advances.
  2. A central ingredient in the class is the hands-on experience of basic literary analysis. The mid-term focuses on the students' ability to put themselves in the perspective of a creative writer.
  3. The student is challenged to devise a creative semester project that would itself represent a cosmology or world view.