Science, Brains, Humanity

Paul Grobstein

Liberal Arts Honors Program, City College of New York
Science 10001, Man and Nature: Life
December 6-8, 2004

What is science?
Where does it come from?
Is it good for humanity?

Starting places

Josh White, Free and Equal Blues (Yip Harburg), 1940's

I went down to that St. James Infirmary
I saw some plasma there
I up'd and asked that doctor man
Now was the donor dark or fair

The doctor laughed a great big laugh
And he puffed it right in my face
He says, "A molecule is a molecule son,
And the damn thing has no race."

And that was news, yes that was news
That was very very very special news
'Cause ever since that day we've had those
Free and equal blues
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

The Brain - is wider than the Sky -
For - put them side by side -
The one the other will contain
With ease - and You - beside-

The Brain is deeper than the sea -
For - hold them - Blue to Blue -
The one the other will absorb -
As sponges - Buckets - do

The Brain is just the weight of God -
For - Heft them - Pound for Pound -
And they will differ - if they do -
As syllable from Sound -

Looking forward to working with you all. I gather you've been having an interesting semester thinking about genetics, development, and evolution. For our week together, let's step back just a bit and ask some more general questions ... about what gives rise to what you've been thinking about, and maybe about thinking itself.

What exactly is science? What makes it possible to do it? And is it a good thing?

As a way to get us started, put a few of whatever thoughts these questions raise in your mind in the on-line forum area. If the song lyrics and/or poem above help, that's fine. If not, don't worry about them. The idea is to give ourselves (and others) a sense of the diversity of ways we all think about these things. And to have something we (and others) can look back on to see where we've gotten after we've talked together. So don't spend too much time trying to get it "right". The idea isn't to get it right but to have a conversation, to let everybody's stories influence everyone else's and see where we all (and each) get to as a result. Whatever you have to say can be helpful for someone else's thinking, and whatever they have to say for yours, so let's get going and see where we get to.

If you're particularly interested, have a little extra time, want to join in another conversation as well, have a look at
"Writing Descartes: I Am, and I Can Think, Therefore ..."

Notes for two class days

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