Course Outline

Below is a list of discussion topics, followed by the associated reading assignment.

Introduction -- "The Other"

Here we hope to develop the idea of a cosmology-- what cosmology do you live in? How are you shaped by your ancestors, and your environoment? How did people in vastly different cultures answer the ultimate questions? Using excerpts from J. Campbell's "Power of Myth" and by examining astronomical texts from other cultures we hope to begin to understand how those in different continents and different millenia grappled with the mysteries of the physical universe.

D1) The development of cosmology, and overview of the course.

R1) Toulmin and Goodfield, p.11-51.

Unit I. Movements of Celestial Bodies and Western Cosmology

We all have watched sunsets, and perhaps moonrises, but most of us have not had the opportunity of watching the night sky for an entire night, or every night for a month. To the ancients, nightfall meant the entire cast of stars and planets were again visible, and they were closely attuned to their movements, and to possible implications here on earth from celestial bodies. We will explore how the planets and stars move, and examine in detail how the ancient Greeks and later Medieval scholars explained the structure of the universe from both religious and scientific approaches.

D2) Motives for Astronomical Observations and Theories.

R2) Toulmin and Goodfield, p. 52-89. Begin Writing Assignment #1


D3) Astronomical Motions -- Planets, Sun and their effects.

R3) Handouts from Aveni, and Krupp. Planetarium Demonstration.


D4) The Presocratics

R4). Handouts from Hetherington.


D5) Cosmology of Aristotle and Ptolemney

R5) Toulmin and Goodfield, p. 90-152.


D6) Christian Astronomical Cosmology vs. Copernicus and Galileo

R6) Toulmin and Goodfield, p. 153-209.


Unit II. Development of Concepts of Time throughout the world.

Central to the development of any cosmology is an explaination and regulation of time for the society. The process of explaining and controlling the natural forces of the universe begin here, as societies time their rituals, and schedule group activities necessary for their survival as a people. Here too, differences appear due to the various social and natural constraints placed upon the society. We survey here development of time and calendars in African, early European, Mesoamerican societies and Native American societies. In all of these societies we see that the quest for answers is more than an intellectual concern, but is a central to defining the identity of the people, and maintaining power and order in the culture.

D7) The Time of the Nuer. Assignment #1 due .

R7) Aveni, ET, 38-65.


D8) Early Western notions of Time.

R8) Aveni, ET, 66-81; 185-195. Begin Assignment #2


D9) Stonehenge

R9) Aveni, ET, 195-219; 249-252.


D10) The Mayan Calendar and the Cycles of the Universe.

R10) Aveni, ET, 253-277.


D11) The Aztecs, the Sun and Creation

R11) Aveni, ET, p. 278-304.


D12) The Incas/discussion of writing assignment

R12) Hudson and Underhay, p. 9-12, 126-137, 145-148.


D13) Chumash Time keeping, and Calendars. Assignment #2 is due ; discuss in class.

R13) Handouts on Cosmology/Paradigms


Guest Lecture: Dr. Edwin Krupp, Director of the Griffith Planetarium and author of "Beyond the Blue Horizon", "In Search of Ancient Astronomers", and "Echoes of the Ancient Skies", speaks at Lyman auditorium. The title will be "Under American Skies: The Astronomy, Myth and Cosmos of the Native Americans". Exact date and time to be determined.

Participants of this seminar will meet with Dr. Krupp, and then have dinner with him before his lecture.


Unit III. Space and World Paradigms of History

From the careful study of the movements of the sky, several societies independently created myths and theories to explain how the universe is put together. From these cosmologies we may learn much about the societies that created them. In this unit, we will examine the cosmologies of three cultures: Chumash, ancient Chinese, and Indian. In each world system are fascinating complexities which are impressive works of intellectual creation, and which have interesting parallels with the current scientific cosmology.

D14) Paradigms and methods of scientific theory.

R14) Hudson and Underhay, p.13-53, Abstract for Final Project due; begin Assignment #3.


D15) The cosmos of the Chumash

R15) Hudson and Underhay, p. 75-98, 99-125


D16) Stars and knowledge to the Chumash people

R16) Aveni, ET, p.305-322, Needham, 67-69, 73-78, 82-90


D17) The Chinese Year and Cosmos

R17) Needham, 121-128, 194-212.


D18) The Chinese Astronomical Achievement.

R18) Dimmit, 15-29, 30-44.


D19) Brahma and the Universe

R19) Dimmit, p.45-58


D20) Assignment #3 due ; discussion.

R20) Toulmin and Goodfield, p.23-51.


Unit IV. Roots of Western Science

The development of our modern conception of the universe relies heavily on the imaginations of the Greeks and the patient observations of the Babylonians. In this unit, we explore the basis for the Greek achievement, and the history of the Western conception of the universe. We will also attempt to answer the questions of how the Greeks refined their cosmology, and to what degree they used the scientific method in formulating their ideas. From the examination we will determine to what extent, or whether the Greek cosmology is unique.


D21) The Babylonian System

R21) Toulmin and Goodfield, p. 52-79.


D22) The Greeks and the development of Theory

R22) Munitz, p.41-57, readings


D23) Cosmologies of the Presocratics

R23) Toulmin and Goodfield, p. 90-114; Munitz 89-100


D24) Aristotle/Ptolemney

R24) Toulmin and Goodfield, p. 182-209, 190-201.


Unit V. Development of Western Cosmology -- technology + quantitative astronomy + theory = scientific explanation of space and time.

Unlike our ancestors, we benefit from the development of scientific instruments and theory to observe the universe. As a result, we share the unique opportunity among all humans that have ever lived to have answers to the questions: how big is the universe? how old? and how was it formed? For the last part of the course, we briefly explore the modern cosmological theory, and its powerful explanation of the first several minutes of creation.

D25) Copernicus and Galileo Redefine the Chief World Systems

R25) Cornell, 1-25, Gamow (in Munitz, p. 390-404).


D26) The Big Bang and the creation of the Universe

R26) Cornell, 26-49, Einstein and Hubble (in Munitz, p. 275-301).


"A Brief History of Time" -- the film by Stephen Hawking


D27) The expansion of the Universe and Relativity

R27) no readings, preparation of final papers


D28) Final Project presentations