We all have some basic, intuitive understanding of energy as the stuff that powers everything — from the cells in our bodies to the computer chips in our cell phones. But what is this fundamental currency of the universe? This foundation seminar will explore multiple ways of answering this question. Drawing from the perspectives of both scientists and philosophers, we will examine how our understanding of energy has evolved historically and what we know about the laws that govern energy's role in the universe. In the second half of the course, we will turn to the more practical concern of how humans manipulate energy and the challenges we face for energy production in the future.
Our Material World
Early humans used the materials they found in their world, such as wood, rock, and metals, with very little modification. Later, humans learned to manipulate natural materials through “heating and beating” (blacksmithing) and combining materials to create composites with enhanced properties. More recently, humans discovered methods to synthesize entirely new materials not found in nature, including the plastics that surround us today. The advances in materials science throughout history have evolved from trial and error–experimentation without any understanding of process–to engineering and research based on a fundamental understanding of the science of materials, including the relationships between structure, properties, and processing. All along the way, nature has played a critical role in discovery of new materials and providing models that inspire the design of new engineered materials that are bio-inspired or “biomimetic.”
Secret Codes, Hidden Patterns
You and your friend want to send each other secret messages, but how do you do it? You want to easily encrypt and decrypt your message, but want eavesdroppers to have difficulty breaking your code. You want a secure system, but don't want any method too tedious for encoding or decoding long messages.
Think that's hard enough? What if you and your friend cannot meet ahead of time to discuss how to encode and decode your messages? Can you publicly tell your friend how to encode a message to send to you without revealing how to decode it? What if you are the eavesdropper? Can you crack someone else's encoded messages without knowing their code?
Secret messages also play big role in other areas, like national security and online shopping. In this course we will discover mathematical patterns that lend themselves to encryption methods, and then study mathematical tools that can help us develop decryption methods.
Theatrical magic (think Copperfield, not Potter) is one of the oldest and most popular performing arts in human history. This course introduces magic both as an object of study (via psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and history) and a medium of artistic expression (via practice, scripting, and live performance). In other words, this course teaches you how to do magic and gets you thinking deeply about it.
You will engage in both scholarly essay writing and creative projects, and you will critically reflect on the relationship between them. Readings include texts by psychologists, neuroscientists, philosophers, art critics, cultural historians, and magicians. We will also study and practice basic principles and techniques of sleight-of-hand with cards, coins, and other small objects, as well as basic principles of stagecraft and performance.