Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
First-Year Seminar


FYS Section A03. The Edge of Reason

Consciousness has been memorably described as a flashlight trying to illuminate itself. (Perhaps Art is the human activity that best understands the surrounding darkness?) The Edge of Reason is the boundary between light and dark: the mathematics at the border between Knowing and not-Knowing. In this course, we’ll use logic and reason to grapple with ideas and concepts that are literally beyond the reach of human imagination. For example:

  • Forever and a Day: Exploring different kinds of Infinity.
  • Lower Dimensions: A solid block is three-dimensional. What about a sponge? A cloud?
  • Higher Dimensions: All hyped-up and no place we know. Möbius Bands, Klein Bottles, Hypercubes, and Hyperspheres.
  • Logical Conclusions: How can we logically use Logic to understand the limits of Logic?
  • Sense and (Non)Sensibility: Information, disinformation, and codes—Tales from the Cryptological.

The Edge of Reason is for anyone interested in understanding the mental models our minds make. While people who enjoy math are encouraged to take the course, the only prerequisites are an open mind, a big mouth, and an inquiring spirit.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Students in The Edge of Reason are enrolled in FYS in the fall and English 101 with Michael Drout in the spring. This intertwined co-requisite is Writing: Math, Science and Science Fiction; in it, students examine the many ways that writers can communicate mathematical, scientific and technical information to varied audiences. In the process of improving their own writing, students will learn to steal/adapt the best techniques from sources that include science fiction dramatizations like Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, literary works inspired by sophisticated concepts (including Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel”) and explanatory works for general audiences such as David Foster Wallace’s Infinity and More. In practical terms, students will do FYS on M and English 101 on W (or vice versa) for the entire year, with both professors attending both classes. The pair of courses satisfies the FYS requirement, the English 101 requirement, the QA requirement, a two-course Connection requirement.

Bill Goldbloom BlochBill Goldbloom Bloch
Professor of Mathematics