Freshman Clusters

Cluster 73A, B, CW
Mind over Matter: The History, Science and Philosophy of the Brain

Lecture Schedule: Tuesday and Thursday | 9:30 A.M. - 10:50 a.m.
Faculty: Scott Chandler | Neuroscience IDP, Integrative Biology and Physiology, Coordinator
Carlos Cepeda | Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior
Efrain Kristal | Comparative Literature
Barbara Knowlton | Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology
Mike Levine | Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences
Marcia Meldrum | Medical History
Romy Sutherland | Comparative Literature
Librarian: Nisha H. Mody | Biomed Library

The human brain is the most complex structure in the universe and the last major organ system to be understood. Our brains give us the power to see and hear, learn and remember, interpret others behaviors, and act purposefully in our environment. This cluster course looks at brain function from historical, biological, psychological, and philosophical perspectives to enable students to better understand the organ responsible for all our mental processes and behavior in health and disease. We hope to provide a solid foundation in neuroscience that the educated student will use as responsible members of society to make knowledgeable decisions about scientific policy.

Course Format

The 21st century citizen must be knowledgeable about societal issues and policies regarding health and disease that will affect them. Complex moral, ethical, and financial decisions regarding health care will be based upon an educated public. A broad goal of this course is to foster a learning environment that emphasizes critical thinking and writing skills used to understand and communicate to others about brain function from historical, scientific and philosophical and literary perspectives. Film as a medium for communication of these goals will be explored. Fall and winter quarters feature large lectures for the entire class with smaller discussion sections capped at 20 students. Some questions that will be covered in this cluster include:

  • What methods and approaches have scientists and physicians used to try to understand the workings of the brain?
  • How has our understanding of how the brain works evolved?
  • How do neurons communicate within and between themselves?
  • How does the nervous system take information from the physical world and transform it into our sensory experience?
  • What methods and approaches have creative writers and filmmakers used to depict brain functions and mental states?
  • How have novelists, play writes, and filmmakers explicitly addressed neuroscience as a theme in their works?
  • Does the brain respond differently to a fictional as opposed to a non-fictional experience?
  • Why is film a privileged artistic medium with which to convey mental illness?
  • Is the brain hard-wired to produce varied movement patterns?
  • Can the brain exhibit plasticity after injury?
  • Is our subjective experience (consciousness) a physical phenomenon?
  • If our actions are determined by the brain, do we really have free will and should we be punished for our wrongdoings?
  • How has society looked upon and treated those with mental disorders?


Spring Seminars

Seminars may include topics such as:

  • Diseases and Injuries Affecting Learning and Memory
  • Historical, Biological, and Philosophical Perspectives on Mental Illness
  • Neuroscience in Popular Culture
  • How We Decide: The Psychology and Neuroscience of Decision-Making
  • Mind Games: How Neuroscientists and Psychologists Reimagined the Brain in the Early 20th Century


Writing II and Foundation Area General Education Credit

Upon completion of the yearlong cluster, students will fulfill the Writing II requirement and satisfy 4 GE course requirements:

  • 1 course in Arts and Humanities (Philosophical and Linguistic Analysis)
  • 1 course in Society and Culture (Historical Analysis)
  • 2 courses in Scientific Inquiry ( 2 in Life Science with 1 laboratory credit)