Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2023

Course Description

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.
Albert Einstein, “The World As I See It” (1931)

The greatest enterprise of the mind has always been and always will be the attempted linkage of the sciences and the humanities.
E.O. Wilson, Consilience (1998)

As an introduction to literature and the liberal arts, this course challenges the idea that there are two separate ways of knowing the world: the interpretive approach of the humanities and the positivist approach of the sciences. E.O. Wilson found a bridge between the two with the idea of consilience, a common ground in creative thinking, a will to discover, and an appreciation of the power and pliability of words and stories as a medium for describing reality. Carl Sagan described consilience as a dance, with each kind of knowledge taking its turn leading the other. Scientific discoveries and technological innovations give rise to new paradigms in literature, while the literary imagination inspires new scientific inquiries. Einstein thought that art and science came together in a shared sense of wonder in confronting the mysterious. We will survey literature that searches out mysteries in the living world and in technology, looking at the ways that literature imagines life in its many forms and metamorphoses, and technology with its many threats and promises. We will consider the relation between myth and science, evolution and mutation in literature, narratives of environmental crisis, the imaginary ecologies of science fiction, the collective life in social media, and future paths of artificial intelligence and other forms of posthuman life. In the end, we will think of literature as a path to the wonder that Einstein valued as essentially human.

Student Outcomes

Learning goals and outcomes.
In our course, the content becomes a medium for develop- ing your intellectual abilities through writing. The course will help you:

  1. to order and to derive deeper meaning from the thoughts and impressions that constitute our basic response to experience, including reading literature;
  2. to understand consilience in literature, or the convergence of scientific and humanistic perspectives; and
  3. to develop a more specific awareness of climate crisis and artificial intelligence as the two predominant scientific issues that threaten and promise to redefine future human experience.