Holistic Biology 2012 -- Overview
Holistic Biology 2012 will not be able to undertake our usual journey to Baja California Sur, because of U.S. State Department travel advisories for Mexico. Hopefully the 2010 class in Mexico will not be our last, but for now we will be exploring a variety of habitats -- marine, freshwater and terrestrial – in the Salinas and Carmel Valleys. We shall cut down on salt and explore unfamiliar terrain in our own backyard.
In 2012 we will be focusing on ecological issues surrounding human utilization of the Salinas and Carmel River watersheds, including Elkhorn Slough, in Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties. These naturally rich watersheds have been tremendously impacted by agriculture, urban development, dam building and other human activities. But essentially pristine areas remain. Our 2012 voyage will take us to a variety of habitats and sites that cover a broad spectrum of land usage and management issues.
Although our Sea of Cortez may be the Salinas Valley this year, we will read the entire Log from the Sea of Cortez as a textbook in holistic thinking and relate sequential sections to philosophical ideas and to other works by John Steinbeck and Robinson Jeffers. We'll relate these ideas to other readings from more contemporary scholarly literature.
We will also feature six creative writing workshops with editing feedback.
We hope to provide students of varied backgrounds with a holistic understanding of complex natural systems – and hope that Holistic Biology will be the most though-provoking course you will take at Stanford.
A Question to Consider: Holistic Biology or Biological Holism?
At the core of holistic thinking lies the desire to understand natural systems as a functional whole, rather than a sum of parts. Thus, it is not sufficient to simply recognize the different facets of complexity. Instead, we need to discover and examine the generally hidden connections that hold all together and elucidate how these connections can lead to emergence of new phenomena, understanding, and problems. To this end, a large part of the course will involve interrogating the reductionist methodology that has driven scientific advancement for much of the last several hundred years. Ecology provides an exceptionally rich set of problems that merit a holistic consideration. Holistic Biology utilizes the rich scientific and literary history as a means of considering contemporary issues in the naturally rich areas of Monterey Bay and central California, along with Baja California Sur.
Holistic Biology will consider many questions, including the way in which modern institutions break down learning into discreet departments such as "physics," "math," or "history." Holism looks through the porous nature of these divisions and in doing so creates a new approach to interdisciplinary learning. Subjects that traditionally fall into different disciplines will be combined in new ways. For instance, a nights reading may include a scientific paper on climate change, a section from a Steinbeck novel, and a selection of Chinese poetry. All of these resources will be brought together to explore common issues and themes in the texts.