AT 8: Main: Paper

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Autumn Term Research Paper

The paper should be in the range of 4 - 6 pages, double-spaced. You need to cite a minimum of three outside sources (although one can be the textbook). It will be graded based on:

1. Evidence that you understand the concepts and facts you are writing about, and that you drew from your sources.

2. Communication effectiveness, including organization, writing mechanics, vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, etc.

3. Evidence of original thought on your part - that you have "put together" the facts, made your own connections and reached your own conclusion(s).

Topic Selection

Below are ten suggested topics. You are free to interpret the instructions freely: I do not mean to dictate content. However, it should be clear that I want your topic to relate to our course. A simple "biography" of (say) Karl Popper which gives dates, marriage data, events in his life, etc. is NOT sufficient. You need to focus on his contributions to the subject related to our course: in Popper's case it is his delineation of how the scientific methodology actually works in practice, and the implications of this.

It is OK if more than one student selects the same topic, but I want independent work on the paper and presentation.

You are encouraged to invent your own topic (i.e., something other than the ten suggested). But if you do this, PLEASE check with me before spending too much time on it. I want to make sure that it is not too far afield from the course materials.

The topics suggested below are rated: * = relatively easy; ** = medium difficulty; *** = relatively difficult. The "easier" the topic, the more stringently I will grade the writing. That is, I expect you to master completely those concepts that are not difficult, whereas I will be more forgiving of imperfection when you are attempting a difficult mastery. The writing mechanics should be good in any case.

Schedule of Due Dates

The TOPIC needs to be chosen by Monday, August 23. (Doing this "on time" will be part of the grade on the paper.)

You will make a 10-12 minute PRESENTATION on the paper topic either Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday (August 29, 30, or 31).

The actual paper is DUE to be handed in at the Final Exam on Thursday, September 1.

Some Suggested Paper Topics

1.(***) In Medieval Europe the population lived in a cozy, known universe: everyone knew exactly where they stood in relation to ultimate reality (God), what was expected of them (the Church told them), and how to achieve eternal joy. Their lives might be miserable, but eternal happiness awaited them if they obeyed instructions. Perhaps they were "wrong," but they were secure and did not need to worry about their place in the Great Chain of Being. Contrast their psychological state with ours, and argue EITHER that they were happier than us, OR that we should be happier.

2.(**) Karl Popper is the philosopher of science who is mainly credited with defining just what science actually is and what it can and can't do. Write a biography emphasizing his contributions.

3.(*) Joseph Campbell is the 20th Century mythologist who has had perhaps the greatest impact (in recent years) in defining myth and how a mythology works. Analyze his view of mythology.

4.(**) Alfred North Whitehead, British mathematician and philosopher of the early 20th century, says that the entire history of western thought can best be described as "a series of footnotes to Plato." Perhaps the most influential of Plato's ideas is his "theory of FORMS." Describe this and other Platonic contributions to philosophy.

5.(*) Describe the medieval idea of the "Great Chain of Being" and outline its influence on attitudes toward ourselves, other humans, and nature.

6.(**) Trace the development of the medieval Jewish mystical tradition built around the Kabbalah. Describe some of its influence on western ideas even into modern times.

7.(**) The city of Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great around 330 BCE. It became the intellectual and cultural center of the Mediterranean world until about 400 CE. It was famous for its Museum (the "Temple of the Muses") and its Library. Hypatia, one of the few women mathematicians and philosophers, was one of its last famous intellectuals, and she died a bloody death in 415 CE, an event which symbolizes the end of Alexandrian culture and the beginning of the Dark Age. Write about Alexandria and (if you like) about Hypatia.

8.(**) The Hebrew account of creation in Genesis Chapter 1 is modeled closely on the older Babylonian account in the Enuma Elish (sometimes called the "Babylonian Genesis"). Write about Babylon, the Enuma Elish, and the similarities/differences with the Genesis 1 account of creation.

9.(*) One religious tradition that arose in Europe after Newton was called Deism. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and most of the American "founding fathers" were, in fact, Deist. Write about how this movement arose out of Newtonian physics, and what became of it.

10.(**) Henrietta Leavitt was one of the early important women in astronomy. She worked out a method of obtaining the distance to far-away clusters of stars using one particular type of variable star, the "Cepheid variable." Describe Leavitt's life and important contributions, especially her method for distances.