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PLAI 500 (Winter 2014): Advanced Interdisciplinary Humanities Seminar

The Humanities-Sciences Dialogue: Mutual Offerings

Instructor: Stephen McAdams (Music) and colleagues

This course will take as a starting point the line of argument developed by Slingerland, which criticizes a number of tenets of post-modernist thought based on empirical findings in the cognitive sciences (including cognitive psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience). His arguments will be analyzed critically and evaluated from the standpoint of what these scientific approaches truly offer scholarship in various branches of the humanities. But what Slingerland's book does not do is address the complementary possibility of developing a framework through which thought in the humanities might influence thinking in the sciences. The essential role of the humanities in stimulating and guiding scientific thought will be addressed from the various positions developed by the authors in the Slingerland & Collard collective edition, in particular extrapolating to the question of what conceptual frameworks from the humanities and fine arts might offer to the sciences as modes of thought and questions to be addressed. Student projects will explore the fruitful movement of ideas between the arts and humanities on the one hand and the sciences on the other, as well as how this interaction is or could be reflected in positive and negative public attitudes toward the two spheres. The course will include guest appearances by artists, humanists and scientists interested in this essential dialogue.

Evalutation will be based on:

  1. pairs of students presenting a critical issue related to each of the readings from Slingerland (2008) for the first 5 lectures (20%)

  2. pairs of students presenting one case study chapter from Slingerland & Collard (2012) (30%)

  3. a group project (3-4 students) in which a thought experiment is developed that integrates humanistic and scientific elements and discusses how such a dialogue could transform the two disciplines (50%)


Edward Slingerland (2008). What Science Offers the Humanities: Integrating Body and Culture, Cambridge University Press.

Edward Slingerlan & Mark Collard (Eds.) (2012). Creating Consilience: Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities. Oxford University Press.

Additional textual, sonic, visual and multimedia materials of various sorts (TBD).