Cosmology and the Origin of Life

Spring Quarter 1996

Prof. Greg Bothun
Office: 417 Willamette
Office Hours: 1:00-3:00 PM MWF or whenever
email: nuts@moo2

Textbook: None Required

Recommended: The Search for Life in the Universe by Goldsmith and Owen

Course Content and Philosophy:

This course is designed to be an exploration of the process by which the Universe grows to a state of self-awareness, as defined by the emergence of intelligence which asks questions and seeks information about that very Universe. More specifically, it is a study in the evolution of ideas, based on observations, and the development of a non-unique evolutionary model that describes the origin of the Universe and the development of life. Since the model proceeds on the basis of human perception of external events, it is highly imperfect and flawed because of the intrinsic uncertainty associated with observation. Thus, we will consider the question of "How do we know, what we know?" as well as emphasizing that which we do not know. In the end we hope to arrive at a consistent evolutionary model for understanding the existence of intelligence and then explore the implications of that model in terms of the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligence. In this way this course is designed to ascertain if our species qualifies as an intelligent one. This will be a different course, unlike what you think its going to be. The final exam will be quite different (see below) and will hopefully force you to reflect on how you think everything in the universe fits together.

All lectures in this course will be delivered electronically. The lecture pages will be done in Netscape format so that they are accessible from any computer lab on campus. All students are required to obtain accounts on gladstone and are encouraged to use the Xterminal Lab in 112 to review the course notes. To do this with a gladstone account, simply type netscape at the gladstone prompt. There is also a newsgroup for this class,


which serves as the electronic discussion forum for this class. Use it. All assignments will be posted there as well. We are using the computer network in this class for several reasons:

Course Organization:

This Course is organized in to 4 basic sections. Section I is an exploration of historical cosmologies and the development of ideas which lead to refinements of various cosmological models. Section II is a detailed exploration of our "standard" scientific cosmological model. Section III deals with the formation of the earth and its evolution as a planet as well as the with the biological evolution of life on the earth. Finally, Section IV deals with the question of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence and possible interstellar communication.

Math Required:

This course will not be very technical, although some mathematical descriptions will be absolutely necessary. Grading techniques, however, will be designed so that people with weak math backgrounds or aptitudes will not be penalized.

Grading and Requirements