Fall 2011 - Graduate Course Descriptions

Turner Fred
Discipline and Number
HUSL 6355 Section 001
R Time 1:00 PM - 3:45 PM
Course Title
Literature, Science, and Culture

Description of Course:

Game theory has proven to be a highly fruitful tool of research in the social and natural sciences; this class will investigate its potential uses in the humanities, especially but not exclusively in literary studies. Many classic works of art and literature already embody profound insights into the nature of games and the principles of interactivity and nonlinear dynamics. We will ask a fundamental question, related to the basic questions of aesthetics: What makes a good game?

One of the remarkable characteristics of a good game--or a good work of literature--is its capacity to come up around one, so to speak, and complete about one an imaginative world. This class will investigate the requirements for that feeling of depth and reality in various genres--drama, the novel, poetry, science fiction, and computer games.

In the course of this investigation we shall find ourselves faced with a variety of interdisciplinary questions: how do our senses construct the world? How do the senses and physical sensitivities of the rest of the world--people, animals, plants, inanimate systems--construct us? How did the universe evolve from its evidently abstract, fragmentary, and insubstantial beginnings to the deep, complex and concrete unity of its present state? How can chaos theory and the theory of dissipative systems help us in our inquiries? Is there a quality of thickness or richness to time itself in the experience of human beings and other higher animals? How rich must a map become, and in what ways, for it to start feeling like a real place rather than a representation of one? Hypertext and hypermedia may be attempts to mimic some aspects of that depth and thickness; but already computer games, which are often fully interactive, truly unpredictable, generative of unique situations, and full of highly complex positive and negative feedback, are far ahead of the more academic and literary computer applications. How might one construct a criticism of computer games? A critical theory? An esthetic? How might these investigations rebound upon traditional and contemporary literary theory?

The course will be highly exploratory. We will look at the ideas of the giants of game theory, John von Neumann and John Nash (of A Beautiful Mind); also applications of game theory to the biological evolution of moral and political behavior, such as Brian Skyrms' Evolution of the Social Contract. We will discuss some of the more successful board and computer games. We will read and discuss some of the great literary works that involve gamelike play and strategy, such as the Biblical book of Genesis, Sophocles' Oedipus, Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and Hamlet, Jorge Luis Borges' Ficciones, etc. We will relate what we find to, for instance, the economic ideas of the Austrian economists, philosophical issues raised by Michael Polanyi, Kurt Gödel, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the nonlinear dynamical systems described by chaos theory.

This course will be a possible option for graduate students in the Art and Technology track.

Required Texts:

(Preminary: we may add or omit some texts, and select limited excerpts from others)

Morton D. Davis: Game Theory: a Nontechnical Introduction, Dover, 1997

Brian Skyrms: Evolution and the Social Contract, Cambridge U.P. 1996

Michael Polanyi: The Logic of Liberty, Liberty Fund Press, Indianapolis, 1998

The Bible: Authorized King James Version, World Bible Publishers, 1989

Jorge Luis Borges: Ficciones (Fictions), Knopf Everyman's Library, 1993

Sophocles: Oedipus the King

William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet

Robert Wright: Nonzero, Pantheon Books

James Gleick: Chaos: Making a New Science

William Gibson: Neuromancer

Friedrich von Hayek: Individualism and Economic Order, U. of Chicago Press

Course Requirements/Evaluation Criteria:

Grades will be based on regular quizzes on the readings, class discussion participation and a term paper.

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