LS 812: Science and Human Values: The Meaning of Life

Fall 2015  | Dr. Michael Kenny

Course Outline:

This seminar will explore the significance of the concept of 'life' -- broadly defined in a biological sense. Topics will include the following:

-- the boundary between the living and the non-living; the origins of life

-- the nature of vitality

-- structure, evolution, and intelligent design

-- taking control of evolution; eugenics & human enhancement

-- artificial life, artificial intelligence, and the Turing problem

A disquieting Promethian theme runs throughout  -- the search for mastery of life, whether as organic process, political program, or capitalist commodity.

Course Readings:

Richard Holmes – The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science
UK General Books: 978-0007149537

Aeschylus – Prometheus Bound and Other Plays
Penguin Classics: 978-0140441123

Percy Shelley – Prometheus Unbound
Nabu Press: 978-1178047646

Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
Dover Publications: 978-0486282114

H.G. Wells – The Island of Doctor Moreau
Dover: 978-0486290270

Diane Paul – Controlling Human Heredity, 1865 to the Present.
Humanities Press (1995): 978-1573923439

William Paley – Natural Theology
Oxford UP: 978-0199535750

Richard Dawkins – The Blind Watchmaker
Penguin UK: 978-0141026169

Erwin Schrödinger – What is Life?
Cambridge UP: 978-1107604667

Craig Venter – Life at the Speed of Light
Penguin: 978-0143125907

Ray Kurzweil – The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology
Penguin: 978-0143037880

Karel Capek – R.U.R.
Dover: 978-0486419268

Isaac Asimov, I, Robot
Spectra: 978-0553294385

Phillip K. Dick – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Del Rey: 978-034504473

Custom Courseware:

Arthur Lovejoy – The Great Chain of Being (extracts)

Thomas Henry Huxley – "On the Physical Basis of Life" (extract from: Collected Essays: Methods and Results. Greenwood.

Aleksandr Oparin – The Origin of Life (extracts)

J.D. Watson & F.H.C. Crick – "A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid." Nature v.171 (1953): 737-38.

Alan Turing - "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" (Mind, v.59, 1950: 433-460)

Searle, John – "Can Computers Think?" (extract from: Minds, Brains and Science, Harvard UP, 1984).

Nikolas Rose – "An Emergent Form of Life?" (extract from: The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century. Princeton (2007)