To believe or not to believe

Whether you are coming to the course as alover of science or to learn more ABOUT science, CC 212 (course name: “Reality”!) is a place to explore the beauty of quantum physics among many other topics.

Eager physicists and philosophers alike enter one of the most challenging fields hoping to make a discovery that could change the world. The only problem? Some of the most promising theories in physics can’t be subjected to propertesting as in other science fields.

Physics is not an easy subject to study! Here are some of the major equations used. Don’t worry CC 212 will not be this overwhelming! (source)

David Gross is one of these ambitious physicists; he won the Nobel Prize in 2004. Over atQuanta Magazine, he writes about the complications that come upin theory and research, and the kinds of controversy which arises when his colleagues in physics come up with ideas that it seems impossible to prove true or false:

The dogged pursuit of a fundamental theory governing all forces of nature requires physicists to inspect the universe more and more closely to examine, for instance, the atoms within matter, the protons and neutrons within those atoms, and the quarks within those protons and neutrons. But this zooming in demands evermore energy, and the difficulty and cost of building new machines increases exponentially relative to the energy requirement.”

When will the world ever catch up to science and in the meantime what do we do? The field is increasing and more answers need to be discovered with questionable evidence. How long can we keep up and how much should we believe? Read the full piece by Gross at theQuantawebsite, or take up the topic in conversation with CC 212 students in the Core office.

What’s great about Goethe?


JW Goethe by GM Kraus , c.1775.

That Goethe is being read as part of CC202 speaks to his profound impact on literature. A writer whose works mimicked his life (or perhaps the opposite), Goethe felt a longing, a hiraeth perhaps, for something truehe wanted experience for experiences sake. Yet, can it be recounted when Goethe was last mentioned outside of the Core Curriculum? It seems that his legacy has been, quite ironically, lost amongst posterity’s search for good literary experiences.

This week, Adam Kirsch of The New Yorker writes on this topic, first lamenting the loss of Goethe as a standard-repertoire author, and then explaining why Goethe should be the subject of a literary revival.

Goethe’s fame notwithstanding, he is strangely neglected in the English-speaking world. English readers are notoriously indifferent to the poets of other cultures, and Goethe’s poems, unfortunately, seldom come across vividly in translation. Whether this quip holds is up to the reader to decide; however, its point retains truth: what has happened to Goethe in our modern culture? Goethe’s life is marked by a certain hedonism that seems apropos for the current generation especially. During a time when the youth are so subscribed to experiencing the different offerings of life, it seems Goethe would be a perfect fit; but he remains less than a thought in the minds of many today.

The question arises: so what? Is it a problem that Goethe is not in the mainstream of today’s culture? This question is left to the readers. Perhaps Goethe’s disappearance is a mere fact of society’s changing views and ideals; after all, fame is usually decided by popular opinion. Are there books then that should be kept in the foreground despite popular opinion? That is up to you.

A hat-tip to Dr. Green for alerting us to this article.

PS: Did you know about Boston’s Goethe-Institut? It’s a center for German cultural activity in the area; online at

For the Love of Dog!

The following post was originally published on the BU Culture Shock blog.

Read Emmy Parks post, God is a Canine. Emmy lands on a conclusion that Id like to start with: What is God spelled backwards? Dog. God is with us, anyways. God is a dog. God is a dog. Or, ratherand here Id like to launch from the starting point of Emmys conclusiondogs themselves are God, a part of God that cant rightly be separated from the whole.

Think of it like The Conference of the Birds, my favorite book from my CC 102 class last semester. Dogs are like the Simorgh: they are four-legged kings that both emit and absorb love; they are the physical embodiment of the mirror inside our hearts that collect and reflect love. What I mean by that is when you gaze lovingly at your dog (or am I the only one who does this??) and he gazes at you back, there is a capturing and echoing of sentiments. Instead of saying I love you out loud, youre sending your love out in a beam that lands in and reflects off of his heart.

I keep calling this love, but I dont mean it in the traditional sense. Recently, I picked up a book titled The Culture Clash: A revolutionary new way of understanding the relationship between humans and domestic dogs by Jean Donaldson. I just gave a few chapters a cursory glance through, but I was struck by one passage in particular. To summarize, Donaldson basically says that dogs are just input-output machines that perform tasks in exchange for positive reinforcement, and humans just project anthropomorphic qualities onto their dogs. Dogs arent motivated to perform out of love, but rather the desire to be rewarded. However, that doesnt mean that dogs dont love. Their love, though, is more like an energy. Their energy is white lightthe unification of all emotions. We, human beings, have fractured our energy into separate emotions like the prism that separates white light into the colors of the rainbow.

What Im saying makes more sense when keeping the Dao De Jing in mind, another book I enjoyed from CC 102. Laozis teachings about The Way encapsulates what I mean about a dogs version of love. Laozi defines The Way as, The Way is to the world as a small gully is to rivers and seas (Chapter 32). It is the small current that runs through and powers and connects all living beings, and dogs (and all other animals, for that matter), as virtue of their being in a state of nature, are one with The Way. Dogs are able to access The Way because that is simply how they live. They follow their instincts; they let energy and intuitionalready generated by The Waylead their way. Laozi says of this, For one who is one with The Way, The Way likewise is happy to have him (Chapter 23).

Humans arent capable of this or at least have to work harder to achieve this becauseas Rousseau would sayreason is the prism that blocks this fundamental energy (The Way) and splinters it up into individual facets. We cant blindly obey and simultaneously wield our instincts and natural energy like dogs can, like the Simorgh can, like God can.

I talked a lot about my dog in my CC 102 class precisely because his behavior mirrors the themes and concepts we were discussing. One time in particular stands out, when we were reading Matthew 19:14, which reads as follows: Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. My professor asked why the kingdom of heaven should belong to children or people who act like children. I dont know much about children, but I do know a lot about dogs, specifically my dog, and I know that he, like a child, is simple. Uncomplicated. They have yet to be afflicted by reasonthey are free to follow their compulsions, which makes them innocent and, therefore, heavenly.

We have a lot to learn from dogs. We go out, out, out to look for God, placing Him in an inaccessible, divine realm, but perhaps, like Laozi, we should be looking in to find God, looking in towards the dogs and the horses and the trees. After all, the Quran teaches that God made everything, so His spirit is in everything. So, why shouldnt we be looking inwards, looking small, abandoning the inaccessible realm of divinity and finding tangible, accessible, Earthly reminders of the God we pursue?

About the author:Alina Szremski spends her days petting her dog, petting other people’s dogs, and fantasizing about petting cows. She’ll pretty much do anything if free food is involved, especially if that food is pizza. Sometimes she says funny things and laughs about them when she’s uncomfortably close to a stranger on the street.

Life’s Prehistory, Summarized

In the latest video created by Core Learning Assistant Gregory Kerr, find a lighthearted and comedic look at recent topics covered in CAS CC 111: Origins. How lighthearted? Well, this will probably be the only time you find Cake Boss, Kevin Spacey, cat memes, involuntary defenestration, and Jar-Jar Binks brought in to help explain rough endoplasmic reticulum, clay crystals, and RNA World.

These videos are obviously not a substitute for learning the material (Read the Books! Go to Class!), but they are useful as a refresher when studying. Find other videos covering topics from CC 111, CC 101, and CC 102, at the homepage for Gregory’s YouTube channel, Overly Sarcastic Productions.

Class Distinctions Photo

From Prof. David Green, a photo of one of the extraordinary paintings the Core group saw at the Class Distinctions exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston this past Friday: Abraham del Court and Maria de Keersegieter, 1654, Bartholomeus van der Helst.

Current Core student? Alum in the Boston area? Let us know if we can plug you in to one of our group visits to the MFA to see this remarkable exhibit.

from In Defense of Literacy

Snug within the book-bricked walls of a University, it may not seem that literacy is under threat. However, there is a great tradition of humanisticcommentators taking on the role of reminder to bid us keep in mind that literacy in its broadest conception is not just about the ability to decipher meaning out of written speech. Rather, it allows mankind in its present moment to take into account the lessons (and failures, and strivings…) of the past, and to conceive of a future informed by the past and the present. Literacy is as much a moral and political as an educational need.

In the excerpt below, of likely interest to Core community members, the American author Wendell Berry steps up to the podium to remind us that literacy is something that exists alongside, and sometimes opposed to, commercial and professional interests. He writes:

Ignorance of books and the lack of a critical consciousness of language were safe enough in primitive societies with coherent oral traditions. In our society, which exists in an atmosphere of prepared, public language — language that is either written or being read — illiteracy is both a personal and a public danger. Think how constantly the average American is surrounded by premeditated language, in newspapers and magazines, on signs and billboards, on TV and radio. He is forever being asked to buy or believe somebody elses line of goods. The line of goods is being sold, moreover, by men who are trained to make him buy it or believe it, whether or not be needs it or understands it or knows its value or wants it. This sort of selling is an honored profession among us. Parents who grow hysterical at the thought that their son might not cut his hair are glad to have him taught, and later employed, to lie about the quality of an automobile or the ability of a candidate.

What is our defense against this sort of language — this language-as-weapon? There is only one. We must know a better language. We must speak, and teach our children to speak, a language precise and articulate and lively enough to tell the truth about the world as we know it. And to do this we must know something of the roots and resources of our language; we must know its literature. The only defense against the worst is a knowledge of the best. By their ignorance people enfranchise their exploiters.

Hear, hear.

This excerpt comes from Berry’s essay “In Defense of Literacy,” as appears in the collectionA Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural & Agricultural (Harcourt Brace & Company 1970/72, reprint 2012). Read the text online at Google Books, or swing by Mugar or the Core office to borrow a copy.

Hamlet in a Jordanian refugee camp

Prof. Hamill (who lectured last week in CC 201 on Hamlet, as it happens) brings to our attention this photo essay from The Guardian:

Photojournalist Sarah Lee travelled to Jordan with the Globe Theatres touring Hamlet production.

Aiming to visit every country in the world to commemorate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeares birth, and the 400th anniversary of his death, it has visited 136 countries out of 196.

The only country the company could not get permission and insurance to visit was Syria, so they performed in the Zaatari refugee camp on the Jordanian border to an entirely Syrian audience.


Caption: There is graffiti all around the camp. Some of the work is of an incredibly high standard and it represents one of the few ways that residents have to express themselves and their frustrations with the politics and conflict that has placed them there.

Find more photos and the full commentary at the Guardian website.

NB: Are you a student, alumnus, or other interested party, who would like access to the recordings of Prof. Hamill’s lecture on Hamlet? Email the Core office and we’ll send you a link.

How Cultured Am I (by the standards of the 1950s)?

A guest post by Word & Way president Justin Lievano (CAS 2016). recently posted several pages fromAshley Montagu’s The Cultured Man, 1958. These leaves warrant our interest because they contain quizzes meant to evaluate ones cultural knowledge. Quiz might be generous; taken all together, these questions compose a kind of oral exam to which one might be subjected on his/her way through graduate school.

I find a couple facets of these quizzes striking. First, they rely heavily upon a certain kind of canonical knowledge, both of works that everyone ought to know, and of sweeping generalities of the type one might find in a particularly dry academic monograph. Additionally, some of the questions just offer arbitrary judgements as in the question Do you collect books? to which the answer given is Everyone should collect books. A home without books is a home without a soul.

So, for the enjoyment of our readers, I shall now answer some of the questions, such that you, dear reader, might evaluate whether or not I am cultured.

Define Art.

When I was in the practice of creating sculpture during my high school years, I took it to mean something like sobbing and kneading my lachrymal essence into the clay. No one ever corrected me.

What is a book?

Does it have pictures?

What is the origin of the romantic conception of love in the western world?


What is Puritanism?

I think it has something to do with belt buckles on shoes and hats. Oh! And witch burning, somehow that seems integral.

The Subjection of Women was written by?

Men, I would imagine.

What kings married their own sisters?

Please, let us be honest; all of them.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Okay, that is about all for which I have the time and patience. What do you think, readers? Am I cultured? Is there a definitive way to measure ones cultural prowess? Does the fact that I cannot answer a number of these questions invalidate my extensive knowledge of 19th century American literature and culture, for example? If we can be certain about anything, it is that I do not know.

Should you have any interest in taking the quiz yourself, you can find it here, at the website of Slate magazine.

Winter is coming.

Migrating Canada geese, October 2015. Photo by Prof. David Green.

Migrating Canada geese, October 2015. Photo by Prof. David Green.

“… as the world rolls on toward bigger and better nobility.”


It seems folks are always fretting about the juvenile hijinks taking place on college campuses. However, going through some BU archives, we find an opinion expressed in 1931 that the immaturity was more or less over. Has this observation been borne out? You be the judge.

From an editorial titled “Growing Pains”, published in a 1931 issue of The Boston University Beacon, the campus literary/commentary magazine first published in1876.:

the-boston-university-beacon-1931-vol-LV-no-3-36Signs that the college student is growing up have been a source of satisfaction, in recent years, to educators who have the dignity of the human race at heart. In the more sophisticated colleges hazing has disappeared. Fraternity initiations have become milder and in some cases have been left off entirely as the world rolls on toward bigger and better nobility. Only this year at Boston University, Sophomores have stopped teasing the Freshmen publicly, and Open House night has gone the way of all collegiate indecorum. Even the Junior Prom — almost –. Can it be that the era of jazz is passing; that students are finding more fun in less riotous ways; that even perhaps ye good old stars are again lending themselves for hitching-posts?

A distinction arises here between what is good and what is not so good in this tendency towards quietness. Very few are going to regret those lesser and greater forms of silliness known as “informal initiations.” A large number, on the other hand, who have enjoyed running around from house to house — on such a night as Open House Night, — laughing, singing, remeeting a whole University’s acquaintances in a few hours, will mourn the abolishment of such an institution. But it is understood by all concerned that Boston University is not yet a campus college and Boston citizens still have their privileges — so patience is called in.

But to mourn –? surely this is not the adult spirit! No, we are afraid it is not. We are not even sure that we want it.

So, all those like us, who are having a hard time growing up, who like the Pickwickian flavor in their fun, who could have had a great old time at a Mr. Wardle’s Christmas Party, and who like to shout around the place once in a while just because they feel good — all those, we invite to join with us in a hurray for having had Junior Week, with Prom, “Pirates,” and Nickerson Field with its spring woods, to ease our growing pains in.

[Vol. LV, No. 3]

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