Interdisciplinary Honors Seminars

Xenoanthropology

Course # 01:090:292:H2
Index# 06032
M/H 10:20AM-11:40 AM
BIO 206 C/D
Rob Scott

Will Count Towards Anthropology MAJOR
Will Count Towards Anthropology MINOR

The search for other intelligent life in the universe and the question of how humans would manage first contact with such life poses many scholarly questions. These include: Does such life exist or is it likely to exist? Is contact possible? Why have we not had such contact? If we encounter such life, how should we respond and what might we expect? How could we possibly even begin to understand alien intelligence? These questions demand an interdisciplinary approach drawn from the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. They also require the exercise of human imagination. The methods and theory drawn from all four subfields of anthropology (biological, linguistic, cultural and archaeological) offer ways of approaching in a scholarly way the question of other intelligent life somewhere out there. Any first contact will require biological insight, linguistic insight, and a general capacity to try and understand the other. In the event of first contact, any international team might include anthropologists.

The idea of first contact has perhaps most commonly been considered in works of science fiction. As a genre, science fiction can draw from a wide range of sciences and fuses such borrowings with speculative questions and an exercise in human imagination. It demands imaginative reasoning which is itself a human character and can be a subject of anthropological study. Science fiction authors and self-described futurists might also almost certainly find themselves part of a first contact team.

Anthropology and science fiction both can be used as mirrors that help us understand ourselves. The practice of anthropology can make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. By grappling with the other, we may learn more about ourselves. Science fiction plays a similar role and a speculative reality can expose truths about our everyday existence.

This course will focus both on a thoughtful exploration of a possible first contact with alien life and use the opportunity to hold up a mirror to ourselves and think about the meaning of being human. To do this, you will read first contact stories as well as scholarly anthropological literature that considers first contact and understanding the other. In particular, reading will include science fiction first contact stories written by anthropologists. The writing assignment and term project for class will be a term project where you author a first contact plan. This course will draw from many disciplines including biology, anthropology, and literary study.

About Rob Scott

Rob Scott grew up in Hamilton, Montana and received his Ph.D from the University of Texas at Austin in 2004. His research is united by an interest in environmental influences on hominid evolution. Previous work includes a strong quantitative and analytic program in evolutionary morphology and paleoanthropology including museum studies of fossil species, a record of fieldwork as part of international collaborations in Java, Turkey, Hungary, and China, finite element modeling of the human tibia, and extensive work reconstructing ancient environments relevant to the evolution of the human lineage.