The Cosmos Through Disciplines

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Nathaniel Deutsch (center) facilitates the “Making the Cosmos Local” discussion with panel members and professors Anthony Aguirre (left) and Minghui Hu (right). The event was a part of the “Questions That Matter” speaker series celebrating the 50th anniversary of UCSC. Photo by Stephen De Ropp
Nathaniel Deutsch (center) facilitates the “Making the Cosmos Local” discussion with panel members and professors Anthony Aguirre (left) and Minghui Hu (right). The event was a part of the “Questions That Matter” speaker series celebrating the 50th anniversary of UCSC. Photo by Stephen De Ropp

The UC Santa Cruz Institute for Humanities Research launched its first public event, “Questions That Matter: Making the Cosmos Local,” on Jan. 27. About 200 attendees listened to a dialogue between UCSC physics professor Anthony Aguirre and associate history professor Minghui Hu at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in downtown Santa Cruz.

The dialogue, based on questions asked by history professor Nathaniel Deutsch, aimed to establish, realize and question the connection between humanity and the universe. The launch also addressed the core subjects of humanities, history, ethics, language and religion while also celebrating UCSC’s 50th anniversary.

“We really want to bring the university to the broader community and demonstrate, in a concrete way, that this is everyone’s university,” Deutsch said. “Also, of course, [we want to bring] meaningful conversations to talk about things that matter to all people and places. It’s also an opportunity to bring that into town rather than have that literally on a hill.”

The conversation compared science to culture and civilization — the science of the cosmos as it relates to historical cultural society, specifically Eastern Chinese history. While Aguirre provided insight into the scientific understanding of the cosmos, Hu explained the universe in relation to Chinese history and the cultural understanding of China’s relationship to the cosmos.

“It’s a great community building event that can involve both the campus and the community,” Chancellor George Blumenthal said. “It emphasizes the humanities and how the humanities relate to other endeavors on the campus as well. It shows that we haven’t taken the humanities and stuck them off in the corner, but rather they are an intellectual core of the campus that interact with what else goes on around campus.”

Deutsch spurred conversation by asking questions, such as, “Do you think the cosmos, as the notion of order, is still useful?” and “Does chaos have a place in cosmology? Why did cosmology come into existence? Was there a language used to express cosmology?”

Once the conversation between the professors ended, the event shifted to a Q&A format for audience members to pose questions. While the audience was predominantly composed of Santa Cruz community members, a handful of UCSC undergraduate and graduate students also attended.

“In humanities, there is a huge push for interdisciplinary studies, which is crucial to the future of humanities,” said audience member and UCSC graduate student Danielle Dye. “It is really nice to see this university going toward that, and actually reaching into the community to show that’s what’s going on. This event could have done a little bit more toward that, but this is a good start.”

“Questions That Matter” is a series that informs and challenges audience members to understand the “bigger picture” in relation to not just the community, but the entire world and universe, physics professor Aguirre said.

“When you think the world is you and the people you know, versus the world being the solar system or galaxy or a 3.8-billion-year-old galaxy,” Aguirre said, “it affects the way you live and think about a lot of other things.”