The Autodidact Course Catalog
August 27, 2009 |  by Dale Keiger

Higher Mathematics in Nouns and Verbs

William Minicozzi, professor of mathematics, Krieger School

Mathematics explains itself best in numerals and symbols, but for those who must rely on written English, there are books that vividly convey some of how mathematicians think and work. The instructor notes the absence of a good layperson’s guide to his specialty, minimal surfaces. Extra credit for any student who writes one.

Society Can Be Dangerous to Your Health

Thomas LaVeist, professor of health policy and management, Bloomberg School of Public Health

Public concern for your health, and your chances of having a favorable encounter with the American medical system, depends to a significant degree on your answers to the following questions: Are you an immigrant? Are you black? Are you poor? Class readings will demonstrate that your odds get worse with each affirmative answer.

Nature, Nurture, and Cognition

Barbara Landau, professor of cognitive science, Krieger School

Based on the instructor’s Johns Hopkins freshman seminar in cognitive science. The nature of human knowledge: where it comes from, how it’s learned, the effects of damage and genetic deficit. The readings explore four key topics: language, perception and visual organization, number, and the understanding of other human minds.

And Now for the Really Big Picture: Modern Cosmology

Charles Bennett, professor of physics and astronomy, Krieger School

There have been no bangs as big as the original whammo 14 billion years ago, at least so far as we know. An introduction to modern cosmology and its explanation of how everything we know came into being in a cosmic flash.

  • Your Cosmic Context: An Introduction to Modern Cosmology, by Todd Duncan and Craig Tyler. Your cosmological starting point, which begins with the simplest of first steps: looking up.
  • Echo of the Big Bang, by Michael D. Lemonick. A narrative account of the creation and launch of the WMAP satellite that found the universe to be 13.7 billion years old, 23 percent dark matter, and flat, at least in cosmological terms.
  • The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, by Brian Greene. Professor Greene’s second appearance in our catalog. He goes where most fear to tread— attempting to explain string theory, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, inflationary cosmology, and other ideas that are not what you’d call intuitive.
  • Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, by Neil Degrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith. Companion volume to a NOVA television series that attempts a history of the whole shebang with concision and wit.

Dale Keiger is Johns Hopkins Magazine’s associate editor.