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
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
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
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,
uo.classes.astr.123 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:
- This is the future; network literacy is the key to
getting a job
- Since the course material is always available, there is no
longer a need for students to incessantly take notes in class.
Now you have the option of just listening.
- Electronic anonymity will foster better dialogue between
students and the professor
- There is lots of material out there on the Internet which
is relevant for this class.
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
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
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
- 2 Midterms worth 40% of your grade
- Final, comprehensive midterm worth 40% of your grade:
The final is going to be a take-home final
that can be done interactively in groups. You can choose to take the final
as an individual or choose to argue with your friends about it. More details
will be given as the term get near the end.
- Homework assignments worth 20% of your grade:
These homework assignments will require you to work together
in student teams to find information relevant to this class on the