Required for all first-year HC students, this two-semester sequence lays the foundation for your development as an Honors Scholar. Focused on a common theme, this class will encourage you to think creatively, be curious and investigative, and ask rich and complex questions.
In the belief that action and experience are a critical part of the learning process, Honors Colloquium embraces the principles of “active learning.” In that spirit, and COVID-19 permitting, all classes will take a required active learning trip during Fall Break, which begins Thursday, Oct 21; travel costs, accommodations, tickets, and some meals will be paid for by the Honors College.
HON 111 (Fall)
In HON 111, you will learn how to encounter and interact with different kinds of writing and texts; how to become a better analytical reader; how to collaborate with your fellow scholars; how to engage in academic debate and discourse; and how to improve your communication skills, both written and oral.
HON 112 (Spring)
In HON 112, we will go from a focus on asking questions to a focus on answering them. While you continue to hone the skill of asking rich and rewarding questions, you will also begin developing the tools you need to find answers. In short, in HON 112 you will learn how to undertake “research,” broadly defined, what research looks like in various disciplines, the ethics of research, and how research develops organically.
In our daily lives, we often act to vanquish uncertainty: we look for the “right” answers, readily indicated on multiple-choice and true/false tests; we seek clear-cut solutions to complex problems; we want to trace clear lines between causes and effects. In fact, however, we inhabit a world where certainty is actually very elusive, where chaos and ambiguity often seem to swamp us, where there are more questions than there are answers. Across its various sections, Honors Colloquium 2021-22 will examine the topic “(Un)certainty.” Whether looking at time or history, faith or doubt, human perseverance or mathematical realities, Colloquium 21-22 will delve into what it means to be human in a world dominated by uncertainty and how we can learn to be as comfortable with what we don’t know as we are with what we do.
While each section of Colloquium will approach this topic differently and will make use of different texts, all sections will begin the year by reading, discussing, and writing about Jo Boaler’s Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead, and Live Without Barriers (2019).
Individual course descriptions follow.
“Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.” –Agent Kay, Men in Black
Life is the endless quest for certainty, where we seek what’s true, what’s good, and what’s right. However, we’re often faced with the reality that what we thought was certain one minute turns out to be uncertain the next. These changes are often jarring, because new knowledge can leave us feeling uneasy about what to believe. They can also be jarring when we discover that the certainty we felt was deceptive from the start. Why do we fall for it? Why do we line up and follow the mob? How do we move on from these revelations and get to the promised land of certainty? Is it enough to throw out preconceived notions and ideas and start over? Or do we need new ways of asking questions to find more certain answers? In this section of Colloquium, we’re going to peek into that window of deception and also look for ways to turn away from it to forge a new path. In HON 111, we will explore situations in which we were knowingly led astray, and in doing so showed us ways in which we buy into false certainty. In HON 112 we’re explore ideas that we were so sure about, only to have those certainties challenged by new and innovative ideas about ourselves and our universe.
Readings include: Unraveling Piltdown: The Scientific Fraud of the Century and its Solution; Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy; A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience; and Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology.
The human mind has the powerful ability to create meaningful ideas about itself and the world around it. But this ability to create beliefs to guide our way is matched by an almost equally powerful ability to destroy. Our capacity for doubt and cynicism can leave us lost, confused, and rudderless. How do we convince ourselves to believe and what happens when our truths are taken from us? How and why do people navigate the tightrope between certainty and doubt? In Hon 111, we’ll explore the social and cultural contexts in which beliefs are formed and analyze the ways individuals find and create belief. In Hon 112, we will turn to the question of doubt and explore how and why individuals abandon belief for the unknown.
Readings include: When Prophecy Fails; Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche; Ishmael; and The Intuitionist.
In this section of Colloquium, we will ponder what it means to live with uncertainties, but also what it means to delve into uncertainties and attempt to resolve them. In the Fall, we will begin by questioning what we think we know about ourselves and how we learn, and then we will branch out and consider the uncertainties surrounding unfamiliar objects and communities. We will contemplate the ways historical and scientific artifacts lead us to either to dismiss the objects as unfamiliar and strange or to ask more meaningful questions. We will then shift our attention to communities and consider the stereotypes, truths, and falsehoods that make us uncertain around some groups of people but not others. In the Spring, we will explore how digital literacies and technologies have led to uncertainties in our day-to-day lives, our relationship with ourselves and others, and how we interact with the world around us. Throughout the course of our year together, we will participate in projects designed to encourage uncertainty, to dwell in it, and to see how it might inspire us to make unexpected changes.
In today’s world of instant answers, where does uncertainty fit in? What happens when we become accustomed to accessing resources at our fingertips and gratification is only a click away? When we, as a society, become reliant on certainty, what happens when uncertainty strikes? Ultimately, how we deal with uncertainty both as individuals and as members of a community reveals the nature of our true selves. Through our explorations of how we, as humans, persevere through ambiguity, doubt, and moments of indecision, we will investigate the heuristics of decision making and reflect on the underlying power of humanity to survive.
In HON 111, we will ponder the ways in which humans process ambiguity in a world that often seems to rely on assurance. We will explore different ways in which we can navigate a world that is often filled with uncertainty through our common read (Limitless Mind) in addition to other texts such as Thinking, Fast and Slow. In HON 112, we will continue to delve into the uncertainty of modern life by investigating ways of knowing and exploring how we consume, evaluate, and categorize information through texts such as Cataloging the World and In Search of the Canary Tree among others.
The world we live in frequently feels as if it's guided by randomness—like we are navigating through a domain that lacks meaningful patterns. We have “big data” that can help us make predictions, but we are often unsure of whether those predictions are accurate. We want to deal with the monumental problems we face as a planet—but if we're really just stumbling through life without a possibility of knowing what's coming, can we truly effect change? We will begin this course by exploring the role of randomness and probability in our day-to-day lives and throughout human history through texts like The Signal and the Noise (Nate Silver) and Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond). Guided by Nassim Nicholos Taleb's Fooled By Randomness, we will go on to consider how we can navigate a world governed by (Un)Certainty. We will also explore the specific psychological characteristics we have developed to help reduce uncertainty, using Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history." –Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, 1862
The language we use to talk about time suggests that we think about it as if it were a commodity: we make it, spend it, waste it, enjoy it, and lose it. This way of thinking about time can give us the impression that we exercise control over it. In the honors colloquium, we will consider the ways in which time exercises control over us; specifically, we will explore how time and our experience of it limit what we can know with certainty about the world. We will pay particular attention to how those limitations (and our efforts to overcome them) affect our individual and collective lives, focusing on the ways in which we try to make sense and use of "the past." In HON 111 we will explore a range of questions, including how different academic disciplines (such as biology, history, and physics) conceive of the past and what it means to say that we "know" about it. Our work on these questions will prepare us to delve into how the past and the present interact in our own lives and communities in HON 112.
Over the last few decades, scientists have learned a great deal about the inner workings of the human mind, but in this section of Honors Colloquium, we will examine a few remaining uncertainties. We will begin by studying the human brain, exploring how learning and visual perception are far from fixed and consistent. We will then tackle a few more modern perceived certainties—race and sex, for example, and explore the consequences of our society’s belief in these as set characteristics. We will even dig into assumptions about scientific objectivity and how they shape artificial intelligence. In HON 112, we will examine how uncertainty can serve as a catalyst for social change. How do people—historically and today—become awakened to oppressive certainties and come to push against them? How can we use uncertainty to fuel our own socially-responsible research and activism today?
“We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!” –Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Certainty can feel like a cozy blanket, giving us assurance of the future and of what we know. However, certainty removes the questions, the quest for answers, the willingness to challenge ourselves, and it gives us a false sense of security that is removed from reality. I urge you to embrace the undefined and the uncertain, the unclear and the ridiculous. Remove the shackles of certainty and allow your brain to ask questions, to doubt your beliefs, to redefine who you are. This course will not give you answers but will help you ask questions. The opposite of certainty is not uncertainty, but curiosity, openness, challenge, and growth (look it up in the thesaurus if you are uncertain!). In the fall, we will explore (un)certainty in our learning, in science, in our minds and in our societies. In the spring, well, that's uncertain...oh and we will find out why fish don't exist! Above all, we will embrace the motto: question everything!