Human Nature and Technology

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Human Nature and Technology
Special Course
Course CodeHTEC
Year Opened2006
Sites OfferedJHU
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Course Description

From the CTY course catalog:

This philosophy course explores the question of human nature in light of the extraordinary technological advancements of the 20 th century. Students examine how new modes of communication (e.g., the Internet), developments in biotechnology, developments in artificial intelligence and cybernetics, and modern devices of warfare (e.g., nuclear weapons), among others have affected and perhaps changed what it means to be human.

Class History

Daniel Estrada taught section A in 2008 and 2009 with Jon Lawhead, also from Lancaster, as a TA. Section B was taught by Michele Merritt and Diana. In 2010, section A was taught by Jon Lawhead with Katie McIntyre as a TA, and section B was taught by Zach Abrahams and Danesh Singh. This is a favorite among students, and the only one that doesn't take existence for granted. During the first week, students learn basic philosophies of the mind. After establishing the fact that we don't know anything, they introduce the idea that all technology changes our definition of ourselves. Students study philosophers from Ancient Greece to those still going out for a drink with certain instructors. This course is challenging and definitely up to CTY standards, and be prepared for a lot of writing (three technically 4-page essays total, which usually end up being about 2.5 pages and Jon doesn't care). It is this CTYer's 2nd favorite class she has taken. (It culminated with a viewing of Wall.E. <3)

"If this were an honest lesson plan, it wouldn't contain much but 'dick around and watch videos about robots.'" - Jon Lawhead, Jun 16, 2010, on Twitter. To the disappointment of the class, we only spent most of the time "dicking around and watching videos." The rest of the time was spent in very interesting philosophical discussion, reading, or writing some long essays. Thank you Jon and Katie, you guys were awesome, and I'd love to have you guys as instructors again.

In 2011, Daniel Estrada taught section B with Patrick O'Donnell as a TA. Section A was taught by Jon Lawhead with (not sure so I'll be back with the TA's name later). The class was similar to in previous years, and it covered a broad range of philosophers from Aristotle to Heidegger. The first week focused on defining "human nature" and "technology" and questioning the concepts of dualism and functionalism. From there, the course branched out to include discussions of the mind, AI, tools and the influence of the Internet.The class is challenging, but not because of any extensive writing assignments. Rather, the class forces students to think outside of usual parameters and examine how technology influences the world and the soul, although according to the class, humans don't have souls. Dan was a fantastic teacher who was beloved by students for his humor and Starcraft skills.

In 2012, Adam See taught HTEC-A with Marc Schultz-Bergin as TA. We delved into philosophies of Aristotle, Heidegger, Clark, Lanier, De Waal, Carr. Topics covered included Neuroplasticity, Enframement, Evolutionary behaviors, Natural-Born Cyborgs, Cognitive Surplus, and Causality. There were 2 debates, each of which was very heated and exciting. Adam was an amazing teacher who was deeply concerned about this class and worked tirelessly to make it the best. This is an excellent course that delves into material not available to most kids in school.

HTEC/Ninja-A liked Ninja, and we played extensively. Especially in the water fountain. That is, until the police came to shut us down (second time that session!)

In 2014, the class was split into two sections: HTEC-A and HTEC-B. HTEC-B was taught by Daniel Estrada and [someone from HTEC-A fill this in]. HTEC-A was taught by Jon Lawhead and Naomi Dershowitz. Reading was pretty heavy and at times, while still understandable, terribly written (I'm looking at you, Martin Heidegger!). This year, books read were Natural-Born Cyborgs by Andy Clark, Ant Encounters by Deborah Gordon, Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky, and The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. The last of these authors disagrees with the view of technology that the class and Cognitive Surplus promote; there are parallels to non-book media in class. Between classes, there are notable differences in what material is covered: HTEC-B, for example, read far more Aristotelian philosophy. Anyway, both HTEC-A and HTEC-B (otherwise referred to in the one chant as HTEC, what else) did some cool stuff when paired together, like setting the first standard to be broken for a Twitch Plays game (512 on 2048, harder than it seems when people like me have no idea what they're doing).

  • note- please leave inter-class banter to a minimum, this page would otherwise quickly degenerate into crummy argument instead of a source of useful information.

In 2017, Daniel Estrada taught HTEC-B, the better HTEC class, with Thomas as the TA. We talked about Aristotle, robot rights, fixed action patterns, analytic vs synthetic, and why hamsters eat their babies. There was one debate mixed with HTEC-B and SPUB-A and SPUB-B on the second week, and there was project presentations on the first week with HTEC-A. Daniel was an amazing teacher and Thomas was an amazing TA. Daniel was very passionate and hyperactive and he always forgot our breaks but we loved him anyways. Thomas was like our cool uncle who understood we were teens but tried to keep us safe. HTEC-B was never forced to write essays!