Monday was the first day of Dartmouth’s Spring term. So, as I often do at this time, I started teaching my course for non-science majors called “Understanding the Universe: From Atoms to the Big Bang.”
This is what students like to call a “physics for poets” class — a class that explores the history of how humanity has confronted some of the deepest questions we can ask about the material world and our place in it, without the math. It is a class that tries to capture the true spirit of the liberal-arts education, mixing the sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences as different and complementary ways of knowing the world and why we matter. In fancier words, as an intellectual history of physics and astronomy, the class requires that scientific thinking be contextualized culturally, so that students can situate the ways in which some of the most revolutionary ideas in the past 2,000 years emerged when they did.