Taner Edis

April 4, 2012

“Class participation” grade boost

Filed under: Class discussion @ 13:00

In your syllabus, you will see that 5% of your overall grade comes from class participation. Some of you have been pretty active in class, asking me interesting questions and so forth. But the majority have been quiet. So, if you want something better than a participation grade based on an impression like “well, I remember she was there most of the time, but she really didn’t ask many questions,” here is an opportunity.

One of my goals in this course is to get your knowledge about physics to a level where you can appreciate public conversations about physics, including recent developments in physics. So here’s your opportunity:

  1. Read “A Universe Without Purpose,” a recent LA Times op-ed by a big name physicist, Lawrence Krauss.
  2. Comment on it in the comments sections following this post. (Here, not on the LA Times comment section.)

The op-ed is interesting because it is connected to physics, but it also takes a culturally controversial point of view. Krauss is an expert on physical cosmology, but his readers’ interest in what he writes is likely due to the fact that he draws conclusions in areas related to philosophy and religion, in which Krauss is not an expert. You might say he’s being a good liberal-arts person. But then, as good liberal-arts students, you might have something to say yourselves about interdisciplinary matters that you are not experts in.

Things you might ask yourselves while reading the op-ed:

  • When Krauss refers to physics, does it look like he’s talking about established, reasonably certain knowledge, that will soon make it into textbooks? Or is he bringing up cutting-edge ideas that are much less thoroughly tested, and therefore much less certain?
  • When Krauss makes connections between physics and certain conclusions about philosophy and religion, do you think he is doing a good job?
  • Given your background in physics so far, how much of an informed response to this op-ed do you think you have?

I don’t care about whether you agree or disagree with Krauss. I would hope, however, that after a year of college physics, you would be better able to join in cultural conversations involving physics.

If you want to demonstrate this, leave a thoughtful comment. (It doesn’t have to be very long—I don’t want to read 40 long essays.) Please include, in your comment, some way I can identify you. If you don’t want to use your name in public, please also email me a note telling me you made a particular comment, so I can adjust your class participation grade accordingly.

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