Bodies of Knowledge
Fall 2014, Winter 2015 and Spring 2015 quarters
The human body has long been a natural locus of study, interpretation and storytelling. Corporeal existence has been conceptualized and experienced in radically different ways across time and across cultures, conceived as an irreducible whole by some and as an amalgam of separate systems or individual elements by others. How has our philosophical and biological conception of the body changed over time? How is the body used to find or express meaning? What is the relationship of the body to the mind and the soul?
In this program, we will explore the nature and essence of the body and reflect on the experience of being human. Knowledge about the body and our lived experiences within our bodies has been created from the culturally distinct perspectives of biologists, social scientists, artists, philosophers and storytellers. We will read philosophical and historical texts and closely analyze some of the ideas that have helped shape our conception of the body. We will study the genetic development and biological function of the body, carrying out experiments in the laboratory to get a direct sense of the process of scientific investigation. Finally, we will read novels and look at visual images as other ways of engaging with the body, particularly the physical manifestation and representation of emotion. Throughout our inquiry, we will ask how we have come to know what we claim to know.
Our investigations will follow a particular progression. In fall quarter, we will consider the body: the history of the conception of the body, images of the body, evolution of the body, the body as the site of meaning-making and genetic approaches to deciphering the development of the human organism. In winter quarter, we will examine aspects of the mind: the Cartesian dualism, the functional organization of the brain, processes of cognition, measuring intelligence, use of language and the importance of emotions. In spring quarter, we will explore the notion of the soul: death and burial rituals in different cultures, philosophical and literary investigations of the soul, ethics, beauty and religion. The program will use regular writing assignments, including essays and papers, to strengthen and deepen analytical thinking skills. We anticipate reading such authors as Michel Foucault, Rene Descartes, Martha Nussbaum, Thomas Kuhn, Oliver Sacks, Antonio Damasio, Clifford Geertz, Gregory Bateson, Paul Rabinow, Joao Biehl, Emily Martin, Virginia Woolf, Robert Musil, Kazuo Ishiguro and Jeffrey Eugenides.
Fields of Study
Preparatory for studies or careers in
Location and Schedule
Offered during: Day