Science & Technology in Society

Science and Technology in Society courses engage you in the study of scientific innovations and their social contexts, helping you assess the promise and pitfalls of current and future innovations using methods of scientific inquiry.

The following courses fulfill the Gen Ed Science & Technology in Society requirement 

Ancestry (Gen Ed 1014)

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2021

How does ancestry affect our opportunities, our rights, and our sense of who we are?

 

Histories, Societies, Individuals icon with text Science & Technology in Society icon with text

Maya Jasanoff

Everyone comes from somewhere. We carry our ancestries in our DNA, genealogy, family stories, and more. What do these forms of evidence tell us about who we are, as a species, as a social group, or as an individual? This course looks at ancestry from a range of perspectives: biology, anthropology, genealogy, history, law, and memory—from the origins of human populations to the origins of you.... Read more about Ancestry (Gen Ed 1014)

Artificial and Natural Intelligence (Gen Ed 1125)

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2021

What does it mean for a machine to be intelligent, how does current artificial intelligence compare with animal intelligence, and should we be worried?

 

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Venkatesh Murthy

What is intelligence? An inquiry into the nature of intelligence can take different forms – philosophical, biological, mathematical or technological. In this course, we will use machine intelligence (everything from voice recognizing smartphones to game-playing computers) as a handle to think about natural intelligence (brains and behavior of animals). Although we will start with big, general questions, we will quickly move to concrete queries about brains and computers.... Read more about Artificial and Natural Intelligence (Gen Ed 1125)

Brains, Identity, and Moral Agency (Gen Ed 1064)

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2021

Can we reconcile the scientific 'brain as a machine' view with our strong experience of moral agency?

 

Ethics & Civics icon with textScience & Technology in Society icon with text

Steven Hyman

Advances in brain science have the potential to diminish many forms of human suffering and disability that are rooted in disordered brain function. But what are the ethical implications involved in altering the structure and function of human brains? What’s at stake when we have the ability to alter a person’s narrative identity, create brain-computer interfaces, and manipulate social and moral emotion? In this course, you will ask and attempt to answer these questions, and discuss the implications of mechanistic explanations of decision-making and action for widely-held concepts of moral agency and legal culpability.... Read more about Brains, Identity, and Moral Agency (Gen Ed 1064)

Can We Know Our Past? (Gen Ed 1105)

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020


In a time when histories are being contested, monuments removed, and alternative facts compete with established orthodoxy, how do we evaluate competing narratives about what really happened in the past?

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Jason Ur and Matthew Liebmann

What happened in the past? How do you know? Even though today we take great pains to document every major event that occurs, more than 99% of human history is not written down.... Read more about Can We Know Our Past? (Gen Ed 1105)

Climate Crossroads (Gen Ed 1167)

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020


Irreversible climate change poses an unprecedented challenge to the stability of all societies:  what are the scientifically viable pathways to a future that is sustainable and just?

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James G. Anderson and James Engell

What one thing is changing everything in your lifetime—and for generations to come? It’s changing what you eat; it’s changing buildings you live in; and it’s changing politics, the arts, and finance. The change is accelerating. This course reveals fundamental alterations that climate disruption is bringing to multiple human activities and natural phenomena.... Read more about Climate Crossroads (Gen Ed 1167)

Confronting Climate Change: A Foundation in Science, Technology and Policy (Gen Ed 1094)

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

How can we address the issue of climate change, reducing the damages by preparing for impacts already underway and fixing the problem by transforming our energy system?

 

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Daniel Schrag

This course will consider the challenge of climate change and what to do about it.   Students will be introduced to the basic science of climate change, including the radiation budget of the Earth, the carbon cycle, and the physics and chemistry of the oceans and atmosphere.... Read more about Confronting Climate Change: A Foundation in Science, Technology and Policy (Gen Ed 1094)

Confronting COVID-19: Science, History, Policy (Gen Ed 1170)

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020


How do pandemics end?

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Allan M. Brandt and Ingrid Katz

We are living in a world radically reshaped by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This course will investigate the wide range of questions raised by the pandemic, its impact and significance. We will also examine how diseases raise fundamental issues for science, policy, and society.... Read more about Confronting COVID-19: Science, History, Policy (Gen Ed 1170)

Energy Resources and the Environment (Gen Ed 1085)

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2020

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John Shaw

This is a revolutionary time of change regarding how we produce and utilize energy around the world. How will we provide enough energy to support our growing global economy while protecting our environment? This class examines the full life cycle of each energy resource, including where it comes from geologically, how we acquire it, the way it is used in our economies, and the environmental impacts of these activities.... Read more about Energy Resources and the Environment (Gen Ed 1085)

Evolving Morality: From Primordial Soup to Superintelligent Machines (Gen Ed 1046)

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2021

Ethics & Civics icon with textScience & Technology in Society icon with text

Joshua D. Greene

In this course we’ll examine the evolution of morality on Earth, from its origins in the biology of unthinking organisms, through the psychology of intelligent primates, and into a future inhabited by machines that may be more intelligent and better organized than humans. First, we ask: What is morality?... Read more about Evolving Morality: From Primordial Soup to Superintelligent Machines (Gen Ed 1046)

Experiments that Changed Our World (Gen Ed 1037)

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020


In what ways does reliving 12 groundbreaking scientific experiments teach us how our own efforts can remake the world?

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Philip Sadler

Facing the edifice of preexisting knowledge, how are breakthrough scientific discoveries made that contradict the existing canon? Twelve great experiments that have transformed our understanding of nature will guide us, first through immersion in the scholarship and popular beliefs of the time. Next, how did the discoverer prepare? What were the motivations, prior experiences, and training that led to the threshold of a fruitful advance?... Read more about Experiments that Changed Our World (Gen Ed 1037)

Finding Our Way (Gen Ed 1031)

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020


How did/do humans find their way across the planet, and how can we replicate their wayfinding?
 

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John Huth

How do you navigate our increasingly automated culture? In this course, we will use the theme of primitive navigation to open our eyes to the physical world in a direct and palpable manner. Basic principles include human cognition of physical and mental maps, dead reckoning, direction finding from nature. The course includes the basics of astronomy, including planetary orbits, meteorology, thermodynamics, bird behavior, electromagnetic radiation, optics, waves, tides, ocean currents, and fluid dynamics.... Read more about Finding Our Way (Gen Ed 1031)

How Music Works: Engineering the Acoustical World (Gen Ed 1080)

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020


Music and technology are two dimensions of humanity that have been interdependent for tens of thousands of years; what can this intersection teach us about our past and our future?
 

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Robert Wood and Kelly Miller

How does Shazam know what song is playing? Why do some rooms have better acoustics than others? How and why do singers harmonize? Do high-end musical instruments sound better than cheap ones? How do electronic synthesizers work? What processes are common in designing a device and composing a piece of music? How is music stored and manipulated in a digital form? This class explores these and related themes in an accessible way for all concentrators, regardless of technical background.... Read more about How Music Works: Engineering the Acoustical World (Gen Ed 1080)

How to Build a Habitable Planet (Gen Ed 1018)

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020


The relationship between human beings and Earth is the central problem of our time; can an understanding of Earth’s history reveal a place for us in a process of planetary evolution that might influence our behavior?

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Charles H. Langmuir

Is Earth one of many planets in an inhabited Universe, or is it the result of a low-probability accident? And what does the answer to that question tell us about humans’ relationship to our planet? The aim of this course is to place human beings in a universal and planetary context as we investigate the steps of planetary evolution and their significance to our current relationship to Earth.... Read more about How to Build a Habitable Planet (Gen Ed 1018)

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Gen Ed Categories

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Aesthetics & Culture

Aesthetics and Culture courses engage diverse artistic genres and cultural traditions, helping you situate yourself and others as products of and participants in art and culture.

 

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Ethics & Civics

Ethics and Civics courses engage with large questions about right and wrong, helping you grapple with the nature of civic virtue and the ethical dimensions of what you say and do.

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Histories, Societies, Individuals

Histories, Societies, Individuals courses engage questions of identity and social change, helping you understand the histories and traditions that you will encounter in a global context. 

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Science & Technology in Society

Science and Technology in Society courses engage you in the study of scientific innovations and their social contexts, helping you assess the promise and pitfalls of current and future innovations using methods of scientific inquiry.

Courses by Semester

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Gen Ed's advising is currently done remotely.  We also welcome online questions.

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