The Craft of Writing
R1B - 007 | CCN: 26505
The Machine and the Organism
Instructor: Kathleen Powers
M/W/F 12:00 – 1:00PM, Dwinelle 206 ///
This course will address how Western philosophy has attempted to define biological life. In particular, we will consider how organic life has been compared to the activity of machines.
In the Timaeus (360 B.C.), Plato submits that life emerges from ‘chains’ of ‘triangles’ kept safe in our bone marrow. In François Jacob’s The Logic of Life (1970) – published after Watson & Crick’s paper on base-pairing and the double helical structure of DNA, life is discussed as a ‘continuity’, in which the programming language of the genetic code ensures life’s propagation.
In this course, we assume that ideas about life are situated within the technological affordances of the period of the works in which they appear. Technological advancements have influenced how philosophers of biology have considered the question: what is life?
Consequently, this course is divided into two parts. In this first half of the course (1) we will read work from periods that pre-date the advent of computer science and the genetic revolution (2) in the second half of the course we will examine ideas of life grounded in comparisons between the organism and the analog/digital computer as well as ideas of life that require the basic assumptions of modern genetics.
The goal of this course is to develop writing skills that will enable you to write a research paper of 10 pages. Throughout the semester, writing exercises and draft work will be assigned to prepare you to write a compelling research paper. This course emphasizes argumentation: your ability to write a nuanced thesis statement that evolves through the length of a piece of writing.
N.B. This course is capped at 17 students.