Flipping through this year's course calendar reveals an interesting selection of courses for students who want to dabble in subjects outside their field of concentration:
To Noam is to love him
The Department of Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics is offering Language and Mind: The Chomskyan Program, a course studying the approach to linguistics introduced by MIT linguist, author and political activist Noam Chomsky.
Prior to the "Chomskyan Revolution" of the late 1950s, linguists were discouraged from talking about the mind. Chomsky developed the idea of a mental grammar, or language template, and took a computational approach to the study of mental processes.
An analogy, according to Concordia linguistics professor Charles Reiss, is to think of the brain as a computer and of the mind as software. The course will study the structure of language and use it as a tool to understand the mind.
"We will look at actual linguistic data from different languages and how it pertains to philosophical questions like the nature/nurture debate and the mind/body problem," Reiss said.
There are no prerequisites for the course, and no textbook. Rather, students will have a selection of readings to be read before class so as to ensure provocative discussion.
Think like a computer
The Mathematics Department offers a course to help students think like mathematicians.
Introduction to Mathematical Thinking was devised five years ago by William Byers and Joel Hillel, who felt that new students were taught mathematics poorly at the CEGEP level, which caused them to stumble when they made the leap into university.
"Every subject comes with its own characteristic way of thinking, its own culture," Byers said. "We think the way we do today in large part because the Greeks did mathematics a certain way."
CEGEP math courses, according to Byers, focus their attention on computation and the memorization of formulae, neglecting to make the student understand how those formulae the end products of mathematical thinking were arrived at. Byers thinks this is part of a larger irony.
"Here we are, in the process of digitalizing the whole world, mathematizing everything, reducing everything down to ones and zeros, and yet we shun math."
The class is intended for students majoring in mathematics, but it is open to anyone with a keen interest in the subject.
Stages coast to coast
Most courses offered by the Faculty of Fine Arts are restricted to students enrolled in Fine Arts programs, but there are some that are open to the university at large.
The Theatre Department is offering Current Canadian Theatre, a course that will take a panoramic snapshot of Canada's theatre scene. It was first offered in 1971 at Loyola College by Philip Spensley the first course dealing with Canadian theatre in the entire country and he's still teaching it.
Class work will involve newspaper and online research into what Canadian theatres are producing and how they are financing their productions. The state of playwriting, directing and acting will also be studied.
"We will have to identify in what context theatre takes place, understand in what situation theatre takes place in this country," Spensley said. "Given all the variety, there's more than one cultural context in which theatre exists."
Another topic of discussion will be the emergence of small, young theatre companies started by drama students fresh out of school. "Our students do that all the time. It's very common. The question is, does it last?"
Students can also expect to read some plays by contemporary Canadian authors and attend some performances as part of the course.
Roots of wealth
Capitalism and Enlightenment, offered by Lonergan University College, will look at theories of the origins of capitalism, most notably the one proposed in 1904-1905 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.
This year-long course is divided in two: Natural Rights and Enlightenment is offered in the fall and Commerce and Virtue will be offered in the winter term. Weber held that Calvinism was at the root of the growth of capitalism in early modern Europe.
"Calvinists were individuals who believed that they had a calling and that they were predestined to enjoy eternal life," said Professor Jim Moore, "so they were inclined to take this calling very seriously and approached it with a kind of devotion. [Weber argued] that they were inclined to accumulate capital not for enjoyment, but out of a divine duty to do so."
As compelling as Weber's theory is, some scholars find it lacks historical substantiation. Moore will argue that the origins of capitalism lie with the critics of Calvinism and not with Calvinists.
Students are, of course, invited to argue with Professor Moore.
Does God play dice?
Twentieth-century discoveries in quantum physics have turned conventional notions of reality upside down.
The Philosophy Department's Conceptual Revolutions in Science will explore some of these discoveries and what they might mean. "One implication of quantum mechanics is that people's consciousness affects the world in a way that classical mechanics does not," said Professor Andrew Wayne.
"Scientific objectivity as we know it is out the window. I should say •maybe' because there are different interpretations." A popular example is that of "Schroedinger's cat" the idea that the existence of the cat is dependent on whether you look at it or not.
With theories suggesting that the natural world is uncertain and indeterministic, quantum physics has had many critics, including Albert Einstein, who once famously said that "God does not play dice."
Students will be expected to learn a little linear algebra in order to help them understand some of the concepts more easily.
Nike ads, Zena the Warrior Princess, and grrrl power will be among the many topics covered in Popular Culture and Feminist Theory, a new course in Women's Studies.
Robyn Diner, a doctoral student in Communication Studies, will teach the course, and she says that it will critically analyze the seemingly contradictory effects of popular culture on the condition of women.
"We will be tracing the critiques about women and the media over the last 30 years the dominant critique being that women are objectified by the media that mass-mediated images of women are neither positive nor realistic," she said. "But we will also be looking at ways in which the media is selling feminism. For example, recent Nike ads have revolved around empowering women."
The course will examine a lot of popular culture sources, such as TV, film, advertising, music, cyberculture and the marketing of toys.
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