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Our Cosmic History

Page history last edited by debrasantorini 10 years, 5 months ago

An overview of the scientific story of human origins from the "big bang" to the present day



It's often said that we can't know where we're going without knowing where we've been. The need for a big-picture perspective on who we are, where we came from, and where we're going is perhaps more important now than ever, as we make decisions that affect the fate of our species and our planet. But this broad perspective is difficult to achieve. As David Christian writes in Maps of Time, "...from schools to universities to research institutes, we teach about origins in disconnected fragments. We seem incapable of offering a unified account of how things came to be the way they are." 


This lecture series, "Our Cosmic History," is designed to complement and support existing science education by combining a unified scientific account of how things came to be as they are, with guidance on how to incorporate these insights into classroom science units. The theme of the series is the scientific story of our human origins, from the beginning of the universe to our present technological society. This theme provides a way to organize a wide variety of scientific disciplines into a coherent story of deep human interest - our own origins. The common thread throughout the story is the emergence of structures of increasing complexity driven by the flow of energy - a story of interaction, change, and emergence.


Background References


Goals of the Series


Archive of 2008-9 Series


Spring 2010 Details 

The 2010 version of the series will consist of 6 lectures on Thurs. evenings at 7 pm, open to the public and also available for PSU graduate credit. All lectures will be led by Dr. Todd Duncan.

  • PSU credit - If you'd like to take the course for PSU graduate credit, you'll need to register through the usual PSU system (Sci 510, CRN #65333, registration fee for the 3 -credit course should be around $300). Please contact Todd for syllabus and assignments if you're taking the class for credit - duncan AT scienceintegration.org).
  • Flier for the 2010 Series - Please help spread the word!


Topics List and Schedule (Spring 2010):

(Lectures are related but independent, so feel free to attend any or all.)


1. Introduction: The Value of a Cosmic Perspective (7 - 8:30 pm Thurs., April 1, Portland State University, Cramer Hall room 71)

This first lecture sets the stage for the rest of the series by discussing why it matters to be concretely aware of yourself as a thread in the vast tapestry of the cosmos. We'll take a tour of the universe designed to immerse you in the vastness of space and time.


2. Early History of the Cosmos (7 - 8:30 pm Thurs., April 8, Portland State University, Cramer Hall room 71)

Tracing the early stages of our history, from the "big bang" birth of our known Lawyers universe, up to the formation of the first neutral hydrogen 380,000 years later. This transition freed light to travel long distances through space for the first time, and we see it today as Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, a snapshot of the baby universe when it was only 380,000 years old.


3. Structure: The Formation of Galaxies, Stars and Planets (7 - 8:30 pm Thurs., April 15, Portland State University, Cramer Hall room 71)

How did galaxies, stars, and planets begin to form a few hundred million years after the "big bang"? How do structures continue to form today? This process includes the formation of our own Earth and solar system nearly 4.6 billion years ago.


4. Emergence of Life on Earth (7 - 8:30 pm Thurs., April 22, Portland State University, Cramer Hall room 71)

What do we know about the early history of Earth that created the environment for complex chemical compounds and life to emerge?


5. Evolution of Life and Awareness (7 - 8:30 pm Thurs., April 29, Portland State University, Cramer Hall room 71)

How did we get from the first simple life nearly 4 billion years ago, to the complexity and variety of life forms that have flourished since then? We'll also begin looking at the emergence of conscious  awareness, humans and our societies in the context of the much larger cosmic history we are embedded within.


6. Connecting to a Cosmic Perspective (7 - 8:30 pm Thurs., May 13, Portland State University, Cramer Hall room 71) (Note that we've skipped a week to avoid conflicting with the ISEPP lecture on May 6.)

Reflections on what it means to be human within this vast cosmic context we have surveyed over the last 5 weeks. We'll also discuss ideas for incorporating some of these insights about our cosmic history into classroom science units.


* This lecture series is made possible by a generous grant from the Oregon Department of Education and The Center for Science Education at Portland State University.   


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