Susie Phillips (right), Curriculum Development

Curriculum Innovation Award, 2015

Thought Experiments: An Exploration of Knowing Through Neuroscience and the Humanities

Susie Phillips, associate professor of English, and Indira Raman, professor of neurobiology, will develop a course to understand the human experience by merging neuroscientific, literary and artistic perspectives -- disciplines generally thought to be at opposite ends of the academic spectrum.

The goal of the course is to teach students how to think with and through very different disciplines, learning how to bridge the gap between subjects that would appear to speak different languages. “Until a couple of centuries ago, scholars made no distinction between science and literature or science and art,” Phillips said. “Indira and I wondered what it would be like to revive this older paradigm and reintegrate these supposedly disparate ways of thinking about thinking into a single classroom. We’re absolutely thrilled that this award will enable us to do just that.” Reading works like Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” alongside scientific writing on neurophysiology, neuropyschiatric disorders and animal behavior, students will explore different perspectives on what constitutes thought, what free will is and isn’t, and what tools we have for making sense of some of the most fundamental aspects of human experience -- emotions, memory, perception, ethics and knowledge.

“We laid down a challenge for ourselves in setting the goal of creating a multidisciplinary course -- one that incorporates totally distinct disciplines, methods and perspectives, rather than one that spans the interface between related disciplines,” Raman said. “It is a pleasure to know that those who reviewed the application are interested in that challenge and that they were willing to validate it.”