SIMILE is a new residentially-based program organized around the question of when something we might call “science” identifiably began, what it became, and what it might become. While we may believe that science, technology and medicine represent some of the powerful tools we have for making a difference in the world, SIMILE challenges students to consider these as dynamic and changing fields of knowledge which must be understood in their historical, cultural and social contexts. Only then can we consider how new ideas, interpretations, technological artifacts and systems respond to societal needs within the limits of what is possible but also, importantly, in light of what might even become plausible.
Science In the Making presents freshmen with a one-of-a-kind residential learning experience in which they set out on an intellectually intense journey and grapple with the great thinkers and practitioners of science, medicine and technology from antiquity to the present. A historical perspective will de-familiarize what students think they know. It will invite them into the distant past and surprise them with the sophistication of its science, medicine, and technology. Students will be able to trace how the answers to crucial problems unfold over a long period of time and change.
Each week offers students the opportunity to examine a rich and well-chosen case study mapped in time and space. We see how past societies identified important scientific and technical problems and developed the means to provide explanations and solutions. For instance, the question of how to map the heavens also begs the question of why. What does a society do with this knowledge? How do they accumulate, interpret, and transmit it? What do other societies do with this knowledge as it travels?
Learning by Thinking and Doing
All SIMILE lectures and discussions take place in the dorm and are complemented by hands-on tutorials, field trips, and lectures by invited experts, as well as informal and ongoing conversations among faculty and students that do not readily happen in a traditional classroom environment.
SIMILE also provides hands-on opportunities to gain perspective on the material culture of science and technology. Understanding ancient scientific instruments, historical experiments, and the ingredients that gave birth to more modern technologies will give students a real appreciation of how knowledge is made by doing as well as thinking. We will consider these issues by talking with distinguished visitors who investigate these subjects from many different disciplines in our “Science Salon” and by working in small groups on historical projects in our “Collaboratorium.” There will also be quarterly opportunities to collaborate with ITALIC, the freshman residential program in the arts also housed in Burbank, doing creative projects of science, technology, and art together.
Foundation for the undergraduate education
Students emerge from the yearlong experience in SIMILE understanding science, medicine, and technology in their original contexts, as works entwined with the philosophies, religions, literatures, crimes, and arts of the worlds in which they are created. Students will have grappled with a set of profound questions as relevant today as in antiquity: How do scientific worldviews explain body, nature, and cosmos? What compels human societies to push beyond the frontiers of knowledge of any given time? Why do we accept some new ideas quickly, while others inspire our reaction and opposition? Above all, why has science been so successful – what, in the final analysis, makes it possible for us to discover truth and to transform the world around us?
Is SIMILE the right choice?
SIMILE is designed to appeal to several different kinds of students who might not otherwise find themselves in the same conversation. It is designed for the potential scientist, engineer or premed interested in understanding these fields historically; it is equally designed for the humanities or social science student who wants to understand science, technology, and medicine as social, cultural, and historical phenomena. Last but not least, it is designed for students who are fascinated with both the humanities and sciences and who do not wish to choose between them. In all instances, this is a program designed for students looking for a challenging and cohesive intellectual program as the bedrock of their freshman experience.