What's special about the first week of the semester is that, not only do you get to sample an unnaturally wide variety of wares, but by studiously avoiding the "required reading" portions of each syllabus, it's possible to indulge in the illusion that you'll actually take every course you sit in on, including that daunting (and tantalizing!) course on quantitative linguistics. Alas, there are only so many hours in the day, and as my wife and I have discovered, small children demand that some of those hours be spent with them. So greedy!
At any rate, here's my lineup for day two:
History of Science 151: Modern Pasts and Postmodern Futures
This course analyzes the modern age through three complementary perspectives. First, it offers a historical perspective focusing on landmark changes of the period, particularly focusing on science (Pasteur, Darwin, Charcot, Maxwell) and technology (steam engines, rail, telegraphy, photography). Second, it analyzes the work of important writers on modernity and civilization (focusing on Marx, Bergson, Freud). Third: it studies theorists of postmodernity (mainly Lyotard, Jameson, Habermas) who describe the benefits, dangers and/or alternatives to modernity.
I sat in on the first 30 minutes of this class, and I had to cross my legs to hide my nerd lust. I love science and pretentious French postmodernists. Who knew there was a class in which Lyotard and Darwin unite? In the words of the great cultural theorist H.J. Simpson, "Woo Hoo!"
History of Science 162: Science in the Enlightenment
Explores practices of scientific theory, experimentation and observation in Europe and North America, 1681-1815. Topics include: Chemistry, Electricity, Astronomy, Mathematics, Natural History, Newtonianism, Science and the Public Sphere, Science and the State, Science and Rationality, Science and Utility, and Science and the Industrial Revolution.
And I sat in on the last half of this course. Also tempting. A whole week devoted to one of my preoccupations from last semester, changing notions of time. Ever heard of "deep time?" I hadn't either. Sadly, this conflicts with the other history of science class above.
Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning 11: Making Sense: Language, Thought and Logic
What is meaning, and how do we use it to communicate? We address the first of these questions via the second, presenting an interdisciplinary approach to the study of human languages. We investigate language as the product of a natural algorithm, that is, a computational facility which grows spontaneously in our species and enables us to expose out thoughts and feelings. Our investigation uses formal models from logic, linguistics, and computer science. These models will also shed light on human nature and basic philosophical issues concerning language.
This one is a little too hearty of fare, even for my substantial appetite. Plus, the professor won't allow auditors to sit in on sections. This is part of the politics of being a Nieman fellow, by the way. Professors generally welcome us—sometimes enthusiastically—to their courses, but due to (I think) administrative restrictions won't let us attend the smaller meetings led by the teaching fellows. This is a problem on a class like this one, where I'd need more, um, intimate assistance if I'm to work out the complex math involved.
Government 98qa: Community in America
Has the social fabric of America's communities and the civic engagement of its citizens changed over the last generation? Why? Does it matter? What lessons might we find in American history? These questions are at the focus of this seminar.
I was born to take this class. Kidding, but only kind of. Anyone who's read my book knows I've wrestled a lot with Putnam and his ideas around community. This is the one course I'm most interested in taking this semester, and it starts in five, so I'm out.