Sophomore Seminars

Am I a Part of Earth? Understanding of Rock, Water, and Time


Am I a part of Earth? Not only is this a question of personal meaning, but also a complex question that shapes how we interact with the natural world. Answering it calls for both scientific and experiential understanding of Earth processes, as well as how geologic thinking and our individual thinking about nature have changed through time. By connecting Earth processes and rates of transformations to personal experience, we can rigorously interrogate our relationship to and/or separation from Earth.

In this course, you will think like a philosopher and a geochemist. You will commune with nature and calculate the history of rocks. You will use real data analysis of Earth processes to understand the limits of our knowledge about Earth history (Deep Time). You will explore your interactions with Earth materials through mindfulness activities and discuss different views of humans relative to nature through history. You will have autonomy in a course-long project that synthesizes your growing understanding of your relationship to and/or separation from Earth.

This course welcomes all, from rock collectors to hikers and ecofeminists to meditators. No prior experience with philosophy or Earth science is required, though an introductory high school chemistry and algebra course will be helpful. The only requirement is a willingness to examine your personal relationship with Earth from scientific and humanistic perspectives.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Joey Nelson, PhD

"I grew up playing in the woods of the Piedmont in North Carolina. The rocks, waters, and life of the region have since shaped my academic and personal endeavors in pursuit of understanding the natural world and my place in it. As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, I explored the landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains and majored in math and environmental science. Subsequently, by moving to Stanford for my Ph.D. in geochemistry, I have gotten to know the widely varying geology and ecology of the Bay Area. Then as a Thinking Matters Fellow and now as an Undergraduate Advising Director, I focus my time on fostering critical thinking and exploration among undergraduates across disciplines. My environmental science research broadly examines how reactions between aqueous solutions and Earth materials alter the environment around us and beneath our feet. This scientific inquiry into Earth processes informs my perception of the natural world. Simultaneously, my meditation practice and trail running enlighten how I probe reactions in the environment. This course has grown out of my personal quest to understand the natural world and my place in it through scholarship, direct experience, and contemplation."