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Fantastic Places, Unhuman Humans: Exploring Humanity Through Literature

Brown University via edX

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Overview

Can you be confident that the person sitting next to you on the bus is really a human rather than some remarkable replica conjured up by a mad scientist or, perhaps, an alien from another planet? What evidence is needed to conclude that the person casually looking at her mobile device is human? What, after all, distinguishes us humans from unhumans? Is there something unique about our brains, our external features, our consciousness, or our imaginations? How have we constructed the conceptual boundary between what we qualify as human and what we categorize as robotic, animal, android, or alien? What, in the end, makes the human “human”?

Join me as we dive into these and related questions in a distinctive way through the gamified structure of this course. Using simple tools, you’ll create your own avatar and begin a virtual journey led by a humanoid and professor through various imaginative realms.

Your travels will be brought to virtual life by literature and made visible on the course map. Your assignments and readings will be quests that concentrate on integral parts of a story, and themes that run throughout the duration of the course. These quests challenge you to do things such as produce visualizations (graphs, word clouds, network diagrams, etc.) utilizing easy-to-use online tools, capture interpretations through art, and engage in battles with characters from the readings.

Before you choose to accept this mission, ask yourself if you answer “yes” to any of the following questions:
  • Do you love reading literature whose plot, characters, or themes challenge you to empathize with formerly unknown or unimagined beings or feelings?
  • Do you find reading literature a great way to think deeply about important ideas and want a fun, unusual way of doing so?
  • Are you a gamer who loves fiction?
  • Are you looking for a course that will put you in touch with some cutting-edge pedagogical learning strategies?
  • Are you looking for a course that covers time-tested literary themes taught in a radically new way?
  • Have you been looking for a way to indulge your love of literature while also dipping your toes into online gaming?
Step into the realm of fiction and fantasy and join us in examining what exactly it means to be human.

Taught by

James Egan

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