Honors Seminar Example: Limits of Scientific Knowledge; Chaos, Complexity and Noncomputability

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Katie Stember
Honors Seminar – Limits of Scientific Knowledge: Chaos, Complexity and Noncomputability

For my honors seminar I took a course called Limits of Scientific Knowledge: Chaos, Complexity, and Noncomputability. As someone who is a science major (Behavioral Neuroscience) I figured that it would be an interesting course that would get into the more philosophical side of science as opposed to the very hands on side that I had experienced up until that point. What I didn’t expect is that I would be the only science major in the course, and that it would be unlike anything I had ever studied before.

The course started out with defining the term “chaos” and what that really means in the context of our world. We then went on to talk about chaotic systems, algorithms, and essentially unsolvable problems. These were all topics that I didn’t even know existed in the world of science, much less as ideas that could be related to human biology. Besides a few homework assignments here and there and weekly reflections on the various readings/topics of the course we had a presentation and a final paper that had to relate a topic we had covered in class to a subject that we hadn’t discussed in class. I figured as the only science major I would be best of trying to connect one of the themes of the class to the human body somehow.

What I found was that the very chaotic systems we discussed in class were present in several aspects of the human body including brain waves, heart rhythms and walking gait. I decided to focus in on human heart rhythms and learned that unlike I had always assumed, the human heart actually beats chaotically. Even beyond that I found that when the heart beat becomes more steady and periodic, it can be a sign of pending disease. This was fascinating to me, and was something I probably would have never stumbled across had it not been for the themes of this course. It gave me an entirely new way of looking at the human body and ways that it regulates itself, as well as ways that it can be studied.

I gave my presentation on this topic, and received feedback from my peers before writing my final paper called “Chaos in the Human Heart.” It really gave me not only a greater understanding of the courses themes and ideas, but also a greater understanding of how the human body really works. My professor also recommended me to present this project at the annual honors evening, so I created a poster and was able to share what I had learned with a much wider audience than just the other students in my class. Overall it was a really great experience that gave me a much greater appreciation for researchers who think outside the box because I personally would have never thought to question whether or not the human heart beats in a steady rhythm. It was a reminder to always keep asking questions and testing hypotheses because in the end that is what makes a great scientist.

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Honors Poster_Katie Stember 2012