HONRS 223 Unexpected Connections: Physical Science-Letters

Section 001: “Transcendent Skies: Literature and Astronomy”
Denise Stephens/Aaron Eastley
From time immemorial people have been inspired by the heavens. We have studied them, imagined and ordered them as constellations, sought the divine through them, and made them metaphors in our art. This course combines Physical Science and Letters, focusing on astronomy and the influence of the heavens on writers and readers from classical antiquity to the present. On the literary front, we will inquire into the many ways in which texts both affect and connect us. We will consider literary works spanning from Greek and Roman classics to Shakespeare, and give careful attention to Tennyson’s In Memoriam and C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. On the astronomy front, we will explore how our views of science have changed. What started out as empirical observations led to physical laws where outcomes could be predicted and unseen worlds could be discovered. But as science grew and developed, small deviations from these physical laws forced us to reevaluate the unseen world and accept that science is driven by uncertainty, and at the smallest and largest scales science is still an exploration of the unknown and a desire to explain what we cannot know. This will be a hands-on, experiential, fun and deeply intellectually engaging course. We will meet primarily in the BYU planetarium, personally make some of the most famous observations first made by people like Galileo, and hope (COVID conditions permitting) to take field trips to the observatory on West Mountain and down to southern Utah, and read books like Michael Ward’s The Narnia Code and Alan Lightman’s Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine.

Section 002: “Finding Truth: Disagreement and Engagement in a Complex World”
Ryan Christensen/Karl Warnick
Most of the information that informs our beliefs comes second-hand, and with the world growing more complex, identifying trustworthy authority is becoming ever more important. But how do we know what sources to trust? Can there be equally valid authorities that disagree? And how do we live in a society filled with disagreement and uncertainty? We will consider these questions through wide-ranging case studies from science and philosophy -- including free will versus determinism, the existence of God, climate change and global warming, bioethics and the morality of mandated vaccination, and machine learning and artificial intelligence in everyday life. The goal is to help students find solid footing in a polarized world where each of us has both blind spots and valuable perspectives to contribute as we engage in critical discussions and serve in our communities and vital institutions.