Cosmology and Mythology: Science and Story

Fall 2016
Winter 2017
Evening and Weekend
Class Size: 50
Credits per quarter

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During this year-long program, we will cultivate a sense of wonder as we explore our place in the universe. Through a study of astronomy and cosmology, science and story, intellect and imagination, we will develop tools to understand the nature of our world—from human through astronomical scales—as we study critical and creative models of thinking in the sciences and humanities, including language, literature, myth, history, philosophy, mathematics, sustainability, education, and the arts .  How do diverse cultures and disciplines express a relationship to the cosmos as they ask foundational questions: “Who are we?” “Why are we here?” and “What difference does it make?”

As we follow the historic development of astronomical ideas--from prehistory to contemporary cosmological theories—we will consider scientific, literary, mythological, alchemical, and ecological systems of thought that reveal cycles of transformation and change. Through embracing the tools of science and story, we will deepen our understanding about the evolution of the cosmos, life on earth, and the evolutionary and ecological challenges of sustainability that face the world today.

Through workshops and observations, participants will combine theory and practice as they analyze various models.  They will make quantitative inquiries into the nature and origin of physical phenomena as they explore various narratives about the natural world.  They will develop critical and creative writing skills, along with the ability to analyze diverse poetic, literary, cultural, and philosophic texts and traditions.

Over the year, students will learn to use binoculars and telescopes to do field-studies and identify stars, planets, constellations, and other astronomical phenomena. We will take field trips to a planetarium, science center, or observatory.  Students will use virtual technologies and software to simulate the night sky, navigate star charts, and plan stargazing explorations.

There are no science prerequisites to enter this program. We will develop all scientific topics from the ground up. By the end of the program students will precisely describe and explain the motion of objects in the solar system, stellar evolution, the creation of the building blocks of the material world, modern theories of the origin of the universe, and the connection between science, wisdom, sustainability, and the future.

Fall: Celestial Motions

In the fall, we will explore celestial motions. We will ask, what is the relationship between earth and sky, time and space? We will look at different calendars and explore cycles and seasons; we will learn about the ecliptic, fixed stars, the zodiac, solar and lunar motion, and how and when eclipses occur. We will study classic and cross-cultural star lore, literature and essays that explore the human connection between earth and sky, and investigate ancient cultures and archeo-astronomy.  Students will tell star stories and create their own star maps based on qualitative and quantitative information. Students will work in teams to do research and create virtual planetarium programs or other projects.

Winter: Stellar Evolution and Transformation

In the winter, we will deepen our understanding of cosmology as we learn about stellar and solar evolution, cosmic cycles of transformation and change, and the building blocks of the cosmos.  We will investigate the history of scientific thought, medieval alchemical traditions, and solar cosmologies from the Salish Star Child myth to ancient Vedas.  Students will read and write poetic and fictional works related to astronomy, complete a research project and paper, and will create an artistic project, such as a Cornell Box, based on the alchemical symbols and art, or other course themes.

Spring: Big Bang--Science, Wisdom, and The Future

In the spring we will deepen our understanding through exploring theories about relativity, the Big Bang, cosmic evolution, life on earth, the search for extraterrestrial life, and other cosmic quandaries.   We will study creation stories and myths, and a variety of writers exploring the relationship between science, wisdom, and the future.  Bringing our studies back to earth, and evolutionary processes, we will study sustainability and global warming from both a planetary and ethical point of view, connecting astronomy to cultural, ecological, and social justice issues. Students will develop educational or research projects that they can present at Science Circus, or other public venues.  They will continue to develop their star-finding skills, after class in the evenings, and will learn to give public star hunts and presentations about the upcoming eclipse in the summer of 2017. 

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

astronomy, mathematics, and science education and research; education, public programs, and interpretive work (museums, parks, observatories, outdoor education); writing, fiction, literature, philosophy, cultural studies, mythology and storytelling; sustainability, social, and environmental ethics;


Credits per quarter

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

Fall: $80 for field trips and supplies. Winter: $80 for field trips and supplies. Spring: $300 for an overnight field trip and supplies.

Class Standing: Freshman–Senior
Class Size: 50

Scheduled for: Evening and Weekend

Advertised schedule:

Fall: Mon and Wed 6-10p.  Winter: Mon and Wed 6-10p plus a Weekend Retreat Fri Feb 3 (evening)- Sat Feb 4. First meeting is Monday, January 9, 6p, in Seminar 2 C1105. Spring: Mon and Wed 6-10 p plus one weekend field trip, dates to be confirmed.

Located in: Olympia

2017-02-24This program has been cancelled for Spring quarter