The Science Institute at Summer Classics

About the Science Institute

The Science Institute draws on St. John’s College’s long tradition of studying science through the discussion of original texts, emphasizing hands-on involvement and experiments. Each weeklong session is an intensive immersion in landmark topics and texts, with twice-daily seminars centered on discussion among participants.

Rather than viewing science as an edifice of facts, we encounter it through the living questions it poses and, in so doing, reenact the experience of scientific discovery. By encouraging each other to express and engage with those questions, we open ourselves to the wonder of inquiry into the mysteries of nature.

The Science Institute is open to those who want to delve more deeply into the questions
raised by science and mathematics.

Mr. Pesic, tutor emeritus and musician-in-residence at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, is the director of the Science Institute.

Seminar programs run concurrently with Summer Classics. Seminars meet twice daily.

Summer 2022 Science Institute Seminars

A Tale of Two Geometries: Euclid and Lobachevsky

Christopher Cohoon and Peter Pesic
Noon–2 p.m. EDT /10 a.m.–Noon MDT and 4–6 p.m. EDT / 2–4 p.m. MDT
July 4–8, 2022
ONLINE

Even if you don’t think you love math, Euclid’s beautiful geometry may change your mind. We spend two days with Book I from Elements, his classic compilation that has taught the world geometry for more than two and a half millennia. Then we turn to Nikolai Lobachevsky’s “imaginary geometry” from his book Geometrical Researches on the Theory of Parallels, a prime source of non-Euclidean geometry that is no less coherent and captivating than Euclid, though much more startling. Both geometries are accessible to anyone with a high school education. The affinities and contrasts between these two geometries—even more vivid when studied close together—offer an unparalleled feast for the mind and the imagination.

Text: Manual of readings provided

Great Debates in Neuroscience

Leslie Kay and Aparna Ravilochan
10 a.m.–Noon MDT and 2–4 p.m. MDT
July 11–15, 2022
IN-PERSON

How can we understand brains? How do neurons work? We read the papers of early neuroscientists as they grapple with the nature of neurons, the mode by which they communicate, and the nature of their individual and cooperative activity. We begin with the neuron doctrine debate between Ramon y Cajal and Gerlach. We take up the papers of Loewi and Dale as they argue with Eccles on the nature of synaptic activity in the great “soup vs. sparks debate.” We marvel with Adrian as he discovers the nature of neural activity in the first analysis of action potentials and repeat his experiment in the laboratory. We explore Berger’s first use of electrodes to measure EEG in humans and try some ourselves. We round out the week discussing the neural substrates of memories, the singularity of consciousness, and the mechanisms underlying perception.

Text: Manual of readings provided

A Matter of Taste: Gastronomical Explorations Between Literature, Philosophy, and Science

David Carl and Paola Villa
10 a.m.–Noon MDT and 2–4 p.m. MDT
July 25–29, 2022
IN-PERSON

Knowledge and taste share a long common cultural history. To “have good taste” is an ordinary expression indicating the ability to make good choices. But what is taste? Is it objective? How is it connected to language? Can we read with our tongues? Gastronomy provides a useful framework for exploring the familiar yet ephemeral idea of taste in its philosophical, artistic, and scientific ramifications. We study flavor through a selection of cookbooks, literary texts, scientific works, and hands-on culinary experiments. Treating the kitchen as a laboratory, we reflect on how geometry affects flavor around a plate of pasta and study the relationships between time, temperature, and pressure while preparing a bowl of stock. The sole prerequisite for this class is a healthy appetite for knowledge.

Texts:

  • Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking. Scribner Books, ISBN: 9780684800011
  • César Vega, Job Ubbink, Erik van der Linden, eds., The Kitchen as Laboratory. Columbia University Press, ISBN: 9780231153454
  • Manual of additional readings provided

About Peter Pesic

Peter Pesic is a writer, pianist, and educator. He is director of the Science Institute at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he is Musician-in-Residence and Tutor Emeritus. His writings include five books about the history of science, music, and ideas, six editions, and sixty papers. As a pianist, he has been heard in many places in the United States and in Europe.

He is the author of the following books, all published by the MIT Press:

  • Abel’s Proof: An Essay on the Sources and Meaning of Mathematical Unsolvability
  • Seeing Double: Shared Identities in Physics, Philosophy, and Literature
  • Sky in a Bottle
  • Music and the Making of Modern Science

Peter Pesic’s books are available at the SJC Bookstore.