Beethoven’s 9th Symphony

Today students in CC202 will be treated with a lecture on Beethoven by the Boston Conservatory’s Professor Elizabeth Seitz. Here are two excellent performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony:

Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic

Abbado conduting the Berlin Philharmonic

All are welcome to come to the lecture in CAS B12 at 12:30 pm today to enjoy a full hour and a half of Beethoven!

CC106 Integrated Forum: Bird Song

Today, February 13th, at 2 PM in CAS 211 three biologists will meet for an integrated forum on bird song. Although the forum is for the CC106 class, anyone is welcome. Professor Tim Gardner will discuss the physiology of sound and hearing, Professor Frederick Wasserman will discuss the behavioral function of bird vocalizations and Jelle Atema will discuss “Is it music?”

Professor Tim Gardner received his PhD from the Rockefeller University. He teaches a course on neuroethology is research focuses on the mechanisms of temporal sequence perception and production, focusing on vocal learning in songbirds. Read more about his research here.

Professor Frederick Wasserman received a PhD from the University of Maryland. His research focuses on bird song, behavior and territoriality from an evolutionary perspective and recently he has focused on Ovenbirds in suburban Massachusetts. He teaches a number of courses, including introductory biology, ecology, vertebrate zoology, animal behavior and ornithology.

Professor Jelle Atema received his PhD from the University of Michigan. His research focuses on the chemical ecology of lobsters, navigation in sharks and dispersal in larval reef fishes. He is an adjunct scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and in addition to teaching in the core natural sciences, he teaches a course in the marine science program.

If you cannot make it to the forum, don’t fret: We’ll make sure to post a synopsis of what was discussed!

Ian Mckellen reading The Odyssey

Ian Mckellen’s voice is excellent. The Odyssey is excellent.
Ian Mckellen’s voice reading the Odyssey is even better!

This is essentially Mckellen impersonating Homer himself.

Are there any other exciting audiobooks of Core texts you have stumbled upon?
Let us know!

What is wrong with TED talks?

Do you like TED talks?

Some address issues relevant to the Core, including literature, art, theater, music, education, and choice of curriculum. Many of the talks can be informative and inspiring.

However, Benjamin Bratton, a theorist in philosophy, art and design, raises an important point in his TED talk, titled What’s Wrong With TED Talks?

He tackles what TED really is, discusses its focus on innovation, and offers valid criticisms of TED’s approach towards technology, entertainment and design. Here is an excerpt from the video linked above:

The key rhetorical device for TED talks is a combination of epiphany and personal testimony (an “epiphimony” if you like ) through which the speaker shares a personal journey of insight and realization, its triumphs and tribulations.

What is it that the TED audience hopes to get from this? A vicarious insight, a fleeting moment of wonder, an inkling that maybe it’s all going to work out after all? A spiritual buzz?

I’m sorry but this fails to meet the challenges that we are supposedly here to confront. These are  complicated and difficult and are not given to tidy just-so solutions. They don’t care about anyone’s experience of optimism. Given the stakes, making our best and brightest waste their time –and the audience’s time— dancing like infomercial hosts is too high a price. It is cynical.

Also, it just doesn’t work.

For more information, visit Benjamin Bratton’s own website.

For a humorous take on the TED talks, be sure to watch some Onion Talks!

The Advantages of a BU ID

A Boston University student ID has always had the power to get you in to the MFA for free, but just this semester, you can go the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum as well! Now that’s good enough of an incentive for most of us, but for the few unconvinced, here’s a brief article that might give you the final push. Three sociologists Brian Kisida, Jay P. Greene, and Daniel H. Bowen found themselves in the unique opportunity to study the relationship between art and the human mind when Alice Walton (daughter of Walmart’s founder) founded a huge art museum in Arkansas, where very few students had had access to one before.

Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.

Now, we’ve had a few posts before about the benefits of art education and the power of exposure including links specifically pointing out the power of reading literature, but like Kisida, Greene, and Bowen point out, very little research has been done on the actual causal relationship. For that reason, this article’s implications are especially exciting. The arts have always had a difficult time justifying themselves, and it’s studies like these that remind us all the importance of supporting the arts, or continuing to be create art yourself.

And extra brownie points to anyone who can find all three of these pieces (all living right here in Boston).

I Bet You Thought Neil DeGrasse Tyson Was the World’s Richest Astrophysicist

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 6.31.47 PM

I like my progressive/arena/opera rock the way I like my education: Far-reaching in the realms of content and style, influenced by timeless masters of the past, and damn groovy. I write of the latter in reference to an integral part of the CC105 curriculum; that is, learning to bump to Professor Alan Marscher’s sweet, sweet tunes.

Another artist, however, which I have always considered a worthy listen is the band Queen. One of the finest and most legendary acts to emerge from the domain of 20th century British rock wizardry, Queen endures as a sound that is simultaneously accessible and complex. This sound owes its success to, most notably, the honest flamboyance of the late Freddie Mercury, and the talent and creative fire of lead guitarist Brian May. May’s solos and riffs complement Mercury’s marching staccatos in a special way that gives Queen its intoxicating signature layered sound.


And just to reiterate, May, now at age 66, is the one responsible for all the milky solos heard on your favorite Queen tracks. Take, for example, the aristocratic echoes on “Killer Queen”, or the warm wahs of “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy”–both were seamlessly weaved into grooviness by our English gentleman’s own nimble fingers.


But, in the style of the Core, May has also extended his energies across multiple intellectual dimensions. At the same time that the release of the “Queen II” LP in March 1974 began to pull Queen into the limelight, May had been in the process of pursuing his PhD in astrophysics at Imperial College London. Due to the new demands of his band, he abandoned his scientific studies–only to return to school to complete his doctoral studies more than 30 years later. In 2008, May graduated from Imperial College (the graduation ceremony was held in the Royal Albert Hall, at which, ironically, the original Queen lineup never played). Only a month after completing his doctorate, he was even appointed as Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University.

"Don't stop me nooooooow, I'm havin' such a good time."

“Don’t stop me nooooooow, I’m havin’ such a good time.”

May’s PhD thesis, A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud, is available for purchase on If you would prefer a sample of his work that’s a little less dense, May also co-authored a book, Bang! The Complete History of the Universe, along with astrophysicists Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott. The book’s introduction reads:

So let us look back to the very start of the Universe – just after the Big Bang itself. It is tempting to picture the Universe suddenly bursting out in a vast ocean of space, but this is completely misleading. The true picture of the Big Bang is one in which space, matter and, crucially, time were born. Space did not appear out of ‘nothingness’; before the moment of creation there was no ‘nothingness’. Time itself had not yet begun, and so it does not even make sense to speak of a time before the Big Bang. Not even a Shakespeare or an Einstein could explain this in plain English, though the combination of the two might be useful!

Sounds to me like something to consider reading next year in CC105, as the Core explores the nature of the universe and the meaning of life. Then again, maybe this Monty Python skit that Professor Marscher shared with the class this fall satisfied everyone’s existential qualms.

Either way, Brian May’s interdisciplinary success is an inspiring testament to the Core’s dedication to liberal education. Also, note May’s spooky resemblance to Sir Isaac Newton.

A Classics Lecture

One of the greatest things about Core (you know, besides everything) is that it doesn’t just promote itself, it’s also interested in making sure you know about all kinds of events in other departments that could intrigue you, discussions you might not be a part of otherwise. This week, we have just such an opportunity. This Wednesday, the 5th, from 5-7pm the Classics Department has invited Michael Silk from King’s College in London to come give a lecture entitled “Euripides, Pindar, and Others: What makes Poetry Poetic”. It’s located in the School of Theology (745 Commonwealth Ave) in room 409. There will be refreshments, good company, and knowledge so feel free to stop on by and listen. Bring a friend, enjoy yourself, and let us know what you think afterwards.

Was Shakespeare a scientist?


A recent article by Dan Falk of The Telegraph puts forth this important question by highlighting that:

 The genius from Stratford-upon-Avon has worn many hats over the years, with imaginative scholars casting him as a closet Catholic, a mainstream Protestant, an ardent capitalist, a Marxist, a misogynist, a feminist, a homosexual, a legal clerk and a cannabis dealer – yet the words “Shakespeare” and “science” are rarely uttered in the same breath.

CC201 delves a little into this, and indeed, the science of Shakespeare’s texts is not obvious. The closest we get to science fiction is Milton’s Paradise Lost and Satan’s journey through space. Still, Dan Falk writes that Shakespeare’s plays are:

 Full of references to the Sun, Moon, stars, comets, eclipses and heavenly spheres – but these are usually dismissed as strictly old-school, reflecting the (largely incorrect) ideas of ancient Greek thinkers such as Aristotle and Ptolemy. Although Copernicus had lifted the Earth into the heavens with his revolutionary book in 1543 – 21 years before Shakespeare’s birth – it supposedly took decades for the new cosmology to reach England; and anyway, the idea of a sun-centred universe only became intellectually respectable with the news of Galileo’s telescopic discoveries in 1610. By then, Shakespeare was ready for retirement in Warwickshire.

 Giving examples from the plays themselves, the article proposes different readings:

 Donald Olson of Texas State University has argued that the star observed by Prince Hamlet shining “westward from the pole” was inspired by Shakespeare’s boyhood memory of Tycho’s star – reinforced, perhaps, by a reference to it in Holinshed’s Chronicles 15 years later. (At the very least, Shakespeare would have seen the next supernova, “Kepler’s star”, in 1604.) One might note that Brahe observed the stars from the Danish island of Hven, a stone’s throw from the castle of Elsinore, Shakespeare’s setting for Hamlet.

 Astronomer Peter Usher, recently retired from Penn State University, takes the story further, arguing that Hamlet can be read as an allegory of competing cosmological world views. The evil Claudius stands in for his namesake, the ancient astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern represent Brahe, and Prince Hamlet is Thomas Digges. When Hamlet envisions himself as “a king of infinite space”, could Shakespeare be alluding to the new, infinite universe described – for the first time – by his countryman, Digges?

 Are there Core texts whose scientific elements you think deserve more attention? Let us know!

Call Me Burroughs: A Life

In the 1930′s, William S. Burroughs spent a good four years in our beautiful city of Boston.

Bookforum recently reviewed Barry Miles’ biography of the author, titled Call Me Burroughs: A Life. Here is an extract:

William S. Burroughs lived the kind of life few contemporary American novelists seek to emulate. A roll call of his sins: He was a queer and a junkie before being either was hip; he was a deadbeat father and an absent son; he was a misogynist, a gun lover, and a drunk; he was a guru of junk science and crank religion; he haunted the most sinister dregs of Mexico City, Tangier, Paris, London, and New York; he was an avant-garde writer with little affection for plot and none at all for epiphany; he wore his Americanness like a colostomy bag, shameful but essential. When he died at age 83 in 1997, his last words were: “Be back in no time.” At least he wasn’t a liar.

A worthy listen is Burroughs’ own spoken word album, Call Me BurroughsIt is available on Amazon, and probably elsewhere in the deeper recesses of the web. Do check it out!

Also, a valuable film is David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, based on Burroughs’ novel of the same name. The trailer:

What do you think of the Beat generation? Let us know!

Virtues and Virtual Reality

Do you remember a few years ago after the last Harry Potter book had long since been read and the last movie installment’s tickets long lost? The anticipation had died down, and, despite the attempts to replicate the success of the Potter series, nothing seemed to be able to renew that excitement and anticipation that used to have people lining up for hours outside of bookstores to pick up something they’d pre-ordered anyway. Then, in a last ditch effort to stretch the world of Harry Potter for as much as possible, JK Rowling released Pottermore, bringing up all the past excitement and frenzy.

That might not have been the best use for the powers of the internet. Pottermore never really took off, and today it is almost forgotten completely. Well, here’s a new attempt to combine the worlds of literature and internet gaming. Now, Jane Austen’s novels can come to life in the new multi-player game Ever, Jane that Jezebel so beautifully brought our attention to. All those dreams you’ve had where you live the life of Elinor or Marianne, Emma, Elizabeth, or even Austen herself are about to be fulfilled in a game that will, if the current information is to be believed, not include any sort of violence outside the realm of gossip. As the campaign’s about page says:

“Ever, Jane is a virtual world that allows people to role-play in Regency Period England. Similar to traditional role playing games, we advance our character through experience, but that is where the similarities end. Ever, Jane is about playing the actual character in the game, building stories. Our quests are derived from player’s actions and stories. And we gossip rather than use swords and magic to demolish our enemies and aid our friends.”

Gaming has become more and more complex over the past decade expanding from the standard story lines that require minimal attention to detail and are frequently based in violence of some sort (shooting games, war games) to more complex, subtle virtual realities that rely on intricacy rather than violence or excitement. Of course these games have existed in Myst or Civilization, but never has human interaction on such a personal level formed as much a part of the basics as in Ever, Jane. We know we haven’t even played the game yet, but we’re intrigued as to how closely this world will resemble the real one.

But what’s your opinion of this promise, Core scholars? Do you think this is simply another role-playing game that will find itself swallowed by the depths of the internet or do you think this one has some valid points of interest meriting excitement? And could this game perhaps create more interest in the books in a world increasingly less interested in literature? Let us know below.