FYS 211: Sense and Nonsense

Course Description:

Human knowledge comes from information we can gather through our senses -- eyes, ears, etc. Indeed, we commonly refer to understanding as "making sense." Yet people (and other creatures) in other times and places use their senses quite differently than us 21st century Americans. This course will be a multidisciplinary approach to the senses and perception, drawing on biology, history, anthropology and the humanities.

The course will be divided into three parts:

1) The loss of the senses. How do people who have lost a sense experience the world differently than us? We will discuss some about blindness, and focus primarily on deafness.We will explore how the loss of hearing has wide-ranging influences on language, education and even politics.

2) The history and anthropology of the senses. How has technology expanded the range of our senses and shifted which senses we tend to rely on? We live in a culture dominated by vision, but olfaction is very important to many tribes in New Guinea, and audition was more prominent in ancient Greece.

3) The zoology of the senses. How do animals perceive the world differently than humans? How do their unique capacities and limitations help determine the lifestyle they lead?We humans have incredibly sophisticated senses. But for every thing we can sense, there isan animal out there that can do it far better than us. In addition, we will discuss about some sensory modalities that are completely foreign to humans: e.g., electroreception in fish, echolocation in bats and dolphins, magnetic detection in birds.