Q: Is dark energy more interesting than dark matter?

Codrington Library, All Souls College, Oxford, England

Codrington Library, All Souls College, Oxford, England.

Prof. Daniel Hudon, of CC105 and CC106, writes…

This month, in their Readings department, Harper’s magazine published a list of questions* from the entrance examination to All Soul’s College at Oxford University. Applicants take four examinations of three hours each, and in the general subject tests must answer three questions from a list. The question in the title to the post was one of the few science questions; other science-related questions include:

  • If there are millions of other planets capable of supporting advanced life-forms, why haven’t we seen or heard from them?
  • Is there anything to be said for astrology?
  • What can we learn from a century of sound recording?
  • How many people should there be?
  • Has there ever been a period that was not an information age?

Elsewhere in the list you find abundant questions that Core students can relate to:

  • From where does a sense of community come?
  • What has happened to epic poetry?
  • Why does truthfulness matter?
  • Would it have been better had some surviving works of ancient authors been lost?
  • Have any philosophical problems been finally solved?
  • Is Amazon.com good for literature?
  • Has morality made progress?
  • Is nothing sacred?

Provocative questions! Last year, to the chagrin of the traditionalists, the college dropped its famous one-word essay subject, in which applicants were asked to write coherently for three hours about a single word, such as “innocence,” “miracles” or “water.” Detractors argued that the entrance test, sometimes known as the “world’s hardest exam,” has now been made too easy. I wonder how an entrance-earning essay on the word “science” would read…

Read a longer sample of questions published in the Guardian, or about how a few of the paper’s hand-picked entrants fared under exam conditions. The college’s own collection of general subject exams from the last five years is also available online. Click here to browse other subject exams.
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* = In the ironic fashion typical of Harper’s, this list was juxtaposed with a list of questions posted to online message boards by Jared Loughner, who is charged for a shooting that killed six people in Tucson. [back to top of post]

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