What have we learned? Please respond to two of the following essay questions in approximately 600 words per question (i.e., 1,200 words combined for both selected questions answered).
Initially, in the first week, humans did not make up much of the story when we addressed the creation of everything (i.e., the universe as we know it) and origin of life from non-living material. We were also introduced to the Pale Blue Dot image. How do you think this knowledge, as “fuzzy” as it may be, changes the narrative of the human story we get from traditional history? Make your case. It could change little or it could be transformative.
You were introduced to Charles Darwin and the evolutionary path to human life. We learned that traditional history captures just a small portion of our existence. We gained knowledge about our distant genetic ancestors and our current day genetic cousins–chimpanzees and bonobos. What inferences should we draw from chimpanzees and bonobos, if any? Are there some parallels to what people think of out biological human nature? We have nearly the same DNA, yet clearly there are so many differences. How would you reconcile this?
You were introduced to the perhaps “neglected” importance of language. If anything, our capacity to use language to create fictions, to socially construct things that are accepted as real, may be our most unique feature. How does our use of language differ from other animals and what are the most significant consequences of this?
We learned that there is more biochemistry to love than emotion. If humans had a more realistic understanding of this science rather than the romantic notions of soulmates and Hollywood scriipts would this be a good or bad thing? How would we be different? Basically, this question asks if we could deconstruct the imaginary notions of love from our culture, how would we treat each other, in your opinion?
We learned the “real” value of money. How would you explain the value of a $100 U.S. bill to a remote group of hunter gatherers in the Amazon? Could you convince them of its value? Why would you likely not need to convince anyone of this in everyday life in your community? Would there be a danger in the masses having more understanding of the social construction of currency? Why or why not?
Although many have called economics the “dismal science,” this label might better apply to social psychology—specifically social identity theory. What does this theory tell us about human prejudice and discrimination? Should we expect that social movements will ultimately be able to lead people towards less in-group favoritism and out-group prejudice and discrimination?
In many places around the world today people are experiencing an unprecedented process of secularization. For the first time in human history that we can study, it appears some are “losing God.” What are the consequences of this, in your opinion? How do you think people could discern “good” and “evil” without religion? Feel free to take the postmodern lens in your answer and argue that good and evil do not exist.
We learned that some social scientists and historians have tried to make the case that people don’t really matter. If you removed a person considered important in history that the social context and forces around them would generate a “replacement.” Who, in your opinion is the most important person in history? Why? Remember, important is not a synonym for good.
What makes us human? How much of this is a part of our “nature” (e.g., biological hardware, chemistry, and physiological changes) and how much of it is due to how we are nurtured (our socialization, cultures, and social interactions)? This course explores some of the most central aspects of the human condition and asks, “What makes us tick?” The class explores competing paradigms derived from a combination of studies and research from biology, medicine, psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, archaeology, and historical observation. The structure of the course is inspired by the concept of a “hierarchy of needs”—beginning with essential “lower order” aspects of the human condition moving up toward the problems and issues that are more often the focus of life once the essentials of life have been obtained. The course challenges the notion that 21st century human beings are all that different from those that existed in 100, 1,000, or even 10,000 years ago. It also seeks to understand how human behavior can vary so much across cultures now. Course readings are supplemented with suggested journal articles including current research as well as multimedia excerpts on each week’s topics.
Course Learning Objectives
Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:
Identify and describe major theories of human decision making and behavior
Explain how humans have understood the concept of “human nature” over time and across cultures and what impact these understandings had on their lives
Demonstrate application of major theories of human decision making and behavior to a particular scenario or problem
Differentiate and explain the biological, physiological, psychological and sociological contributions to human decision making and behavior
Demonstrate the ability to identify and deconstruct human thought(s) and action(s) for a specific historical event
Speculate about human behavior using theories of human decision making and behavior for a specific scenario
Assemble argument(s) for the “most important” influences on human decision making and behavior
Required Readings for Purchase
Through a Glass Brightly: Using Science to See Our Species as We Really AreLinks to an external site.
David P. Barash
Oxford University Press (August 1, 2018)
Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in AnimalsLinks to an external site.
Nathan H. Lents
Publisher: Columbia University Press (May 17, 2016)
Available online at Georgetown Library:
Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big HistoryLinks to an external site.
University of California Press; Second Edition, (October 3, 2011)
Each week we meet on Wednesdays at 5:20 pm at 640 Mass Ave.
Exercises & Assignments Due
Class meets Aug. 24
Module 0 Orientation (The Human Condition)
Module 1: Introduction to “Big History”
● Read and watch materials about Pre-human history: Why are we here?
Complete Reflection Paper #1
Class meets Aug. 31
Module 2: Dawn of Human Nature
● Read and watch materials about “The state of nature” and develop comparative understandings of creation and origin, religious salvation and punishment.
Class meets Sept. 7
Module 3: Communication
● Read and watch materials about human language and the arts’ explore the emergence and evolution of language; visual communications from cave wall to cyberspace, and the transformative changes brought by mass media.
Complete Short Exercise #1
Class meets Sept. 14
Module 4: Love and Socio-biology
● Read and watch materials about the makings and development of human attraction, bonding, and modern conceptions of “romance.”
Complete Short Exercise #2
Class meets Sept. 21
Module 5: Security and Order
● Read and watch materials about leadership; how we choose our leaders; from tribal leaders to feudal monarchy, to democracy, to the next “thing” (or the “End of History”).
Complete Short Exercise #3
Class meets Sept. 28
Module 6: Economy
● Read materials about money, property and exchange; from agrarian feudalism, to free markets, to state-planned economies.
Complete Reflection Paper #2
Class meets Oct. 5
Module 7: Movements Toward Equality
● Read materials about the expansion of human rights, liberties, and status.
Submit Final Paper Topic
Class meets Oct. 12
Module 8: Advancement and Invention
● Read materials about the different periods in technological and scientific history: enlightenment, the industrial age, and the digital age.
Complete Reflection Paper #3
Class meets Oct. 19
Module 9: Good and Evil
● Read materials about the origins of salvation religions, and the concept of sinners and saints through the ages; ask questions about “morality” and explore post-modern claims of relativism and the inability to know truth.
Class meets Oct. 26
Module 10: Leisure
● Read materials about the history of human leisure time, and the concepts of entertainment, the “late coming of leisure” childhood, and how we might be “amusing ourselves to death.”
Class meets Nov. 2
Module 11: Do People Matter?
● Read and watch materials about major social forces and human events, and ask big questions about free will and social determinism.
Class meets Nov. 9
Module 12: The Future
● Read materials about current views of the future and what “futurists” today think about the “shape of things to come.”
Class meets Nov. 16
Module 13: Final Assessments
● Read materials begin the final exam
● Discussion and final steps
Complete Exam – Due Dec. 2
Submit Final Paper – Due Dec. 16
Date Details Due
Mon Aug 29, 2022 Assignment Module 1 Do: Reflection Paper #1 due by 11:59pm
Tue Sep 20, 2022 Assignment Module 4 Do: Short Exercise #2 – GSS on Marital Status and Sexual Partners due by 11:59pm
Tue Sep 27, 2022 Assignment Module 5 Do: Short Exercise #3 – National Election Study due by 11:59pm
Wed Oct 5, 2022 Assignment Module 6 Do: Reflection Paper #2 due by 11:59pm
Wed Oct 12, 2022 Assignment Module 7 Do: Final Paper Topic Submission due by 11:59pm
Wed Oct 19, 2022 Assignment Module 8 Do: Reflection Paper #3 due by 11:59pm
Fri Dec 2, 2022 Assignment Final Exam due by 11:59pm
Fri Dec 16, 2022 Assignment Module 13 Final Paper Submission due by 11:59pm
Assignment Module 3 Do: Short Exercise #1 – Language Mapping