Cosmology and the Origin of Life

Winter Quarter 2002

Prof. Greg Bothun
Office: 417 Willamette
Office Hours: 10:00-12:00 MWF or whenever

TA: Ted Martin
Office: 217 Willamette
Office Hours: TBA

The URL for this course is:

Textbook: Cosmology: Mankind's Grand Investigation

This book is not required. There are probably a few copies at the bookstore, however.

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 HTML format so that they are accessible from any networked computer using standard Browsers.

All students are required to have a functional and reliable email address. Students are encouraged to use the network to review the course notes and be better prepared for this class.

We are using this format/mode for several reasons:

Course Organization:

This Course is organized in to 4 basic sections. Lectures 1-4 are an exploration of historical cosmologies and the development of ideas which lead to refinements of various cosmological models. Lectures 5-10 are a detailed exploration of our "standard" scientific cosmological model. Lectures 11-15 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, Letures 16-20 examine the question of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence and possible interstellar communication and our overall role in this.

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