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Freshman Inquiry: Life Unlimited?

Modern biotechnology allows tinkering with life in unprecedented ways. Yet, what currently sounds more like science fiction is just the beginning of an exciting new era that bears both incredible risks and opportunities for humankind. This interdisciplinary year-long course will delve into the fascinating relationship between non-living and living matter, life and death, nature and the artificial, humans and machines. Our inquiry will start with the fundamental question what is life. How can a finite number of non-living molecules and atoms become a complex living organism with consciousness and moral beliefs? We will explore in what ways human search for perfection is embodied in various myths and utopian visions. What does it mean to be human, cyborg, or transhuman? Nowadays, genetic engineering modifies life and synthetic biology seeks to create it from scratch. However, the social consequences are enormous. Therefore, we will examine the risks and opportunities of such technologies and how they redefine social relations and values. These changes prompt the emergence of new concepts and disciplines, such as biopower, biopolitics, and bioethics that address the new forms of discrimination and social injustice. How do these modifications of life ultimately lead to a redefinition of life itself? Through readings, movies, research, hands-on experiments in designing artificial life systems through simulations, and discussions, the students will study topics ranging from philosophy to arts, from ethics to the evolution of language, from law, politics, and religion to economics, and from artificial cells to avatars. The course also offers unique creative, artistic, and educational opportunities for students by using modern simulation software.

Faculty

Michael Flower has research interests which include original training and research/teaching in developmental and molecular biology; political, moral, social and economic understandings of natural science; science education reform.

Mike Bartlett

Christof Teuscher holds an assistant professor position in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) with joint appointments in the Department of Computer Science (CS) and in the Systems Science Graduate Program at Portland State University. He also holds an Adjunct Assistant Professor appointment in Computer Science at the University of New Mexico (UNM). Christof obtained his M.Sc. and Ph.D. degree in computer science from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) in 2000 and 2004 respectively. His main research interests include emerging computing architectures and paradigms, biologically-inspired computing, complex & adaptive systems, and cognitive science. Christof has received several prestigious awards and fellowships, has published multiple books, and about 100 scientific papers. He is very passionate about research and teaching. For more information visit http://www.teuscher-lab.com/christof