English 50:01
Literature and Science
Tanya Pollard and Truman Schwartz
MWF 2:20-3:20
Old Main 009


C. P. Snow, a British physicist and novelist, described the intellectual enterprise as divided into two cultures— the literary and the scientific—with a great gap of mutual ignorance and indifference separating them.  Almost half a century has passed since his observation, and the fissure within the house of intellect appears to have grown even wider.  This course, conceived and co-taught by professors from the English and Chemistry departments, is an effort to bridge that gap.  What can literary writings teach us about scientific thought, and vice versa? How can two disciplines so frequently opposed to each other be fruitfully juxtaposed?  Readings will include plays about the lives and contributions of actual scientists, such as Bertold Brecht’s Galileo and Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen; works that explore the relationship between science and society, such as Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist, John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia; works that meditate significantly, if indirectly, on contemporary scientific worldviews, like Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; and writings by scientists, such as Stephen Jay Gould, Primo Levi, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Darwin, and Galileo.  Topics will include literary and scientific treatments of alchemy, evolution, chaos theory, and uncertainty.  Prequisites are an English course at the 20s level and at least one college science course.  We hope to attract roughly equal numbers of students from both literary and scientific cultures.


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