What is Life?

Eleven 2-hour classes.

In our view, one of the primary goals of education is to give young people a sense of their place in the larger scheme of things. Within the framework of science, one way to approach this task is to help students understand what role humanity plays in the evolution of life, and what role life plays in the evolution of the universe.

To support students in finding their own answers to these deep questions, this course will start by asking: What is life? After an in-depth exploration of what distinguishes living systems from inanimate ones, we will explore different theories about how life emerged in the oceans of the early Earth. Then, we will take students on a tour of life’s stupendous creative innovations — including the invention of photosynthesis, the development of multicellularity, the creation of complex ecosystems, and the rise of mammals. We will also situate the birth of our own species within the larger arc of biological evolution, and we will ask if this arc has any goal or meaning. After helping students come to their own conclusions about this profound mystery, we will explore the immense challenges and opportunities facing the biosphere in our historical moment.

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Course Includes

  • 11 Classes
  • 11 Exercises