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IDSEMUG 1720 - The Artificial and the Natural

When we hear the story about molecular biologists inserting a gene responsible for luminosity taken from a lightning bug into a tobacco or strawberry plant, we tend to be repulsed, declaring that such a move is ‘unnatural.’ Yet when we see cows grazing on the Great Plains, or a beautiful array of flowers at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, we praise the beauty of nature. However, flowers and cattle are just as ‘artificial’ as the genetically modified tobacco or strawberry plant. After all, they are the products of centuries of breeding, artificially selecting for traits, which nature itself did not. Likewise, why should a chemical polymer or dye derived from a natural substance, such as carbon, be any more (or less) artificial than a genetically modified mouse programmed to succumb to cancer? Finally, why are we awestruck when we hear about IBM’s Big Blue defeating one of the greatest chess player of the century, Gary Kasparov, yet we are deeply concerned with and troubled by the attempts of scientists and engineers to devise computers, which may one day mimic human attributes, such as consciousness? The goal of this course is to study the debate in the West from Aristotle to the present and explore its socio-political, philosophical, economic and scientific ramifications. This course may be counted toward the science requirement. Readings include Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Meteorology, Essays by Grafton, Newman, and Bensaude-Vincent in The Natural and the Artificial; Shapin, The Scientific Revolution, Riskin on automata, Goethe, N. Hawthorne, E. A. Poe, Freud, Turing, Fullwiley (race and genes) and Jackson (gene patenting). Add Consent: Department Consent Required.
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