Preface

This year’s edition of VAST Essays is our most adventurous and playful yet. We introduce poetry for the first time: Stephen Chiger’s hypertext poetry sequence, “Eppur’ si Muove,” is not reproduced here in its entirety, but we invite readers intrigued by his poem, “Teacher Said,” to pursue the rest of his work. Francis Jordan’s two poems, “Our Lady” and “The Dance,” offer pungent commentary on the issues that concern several of this year’s writers: relationships between the microscopic, even the molecular, and the macrocosmic, both natural and social. Meghan Rothenberger’s essay explores the interaction between human behavior and the all-too-adaptive virus. Brendan Cotter explores another kind of interaction, between the world and the language we use to capture the world, finding in Richard Dawkins’ highly metaphorical “selfish genes” both a promise and a warning. Chantal Pasquarello takes on selfishness from a delightfully contrarian angle, arguing that the ethical system of Christianity might have evolutionarily adaptive value.

Andrew Saunders’ essay on “Milo and Otis” shows the kind of cultural analysis that can happen in the VAST classroom: questions about interspecies relations open into a discussion of how we use dogs to represent the human. Brooke Soper’s essay on automation suggests both the potential and the troubling consequences of transferring  human capacities into machines. Finally, Stephen Chiger returns with a full-dress presentation of the one element that connects all our writers, and indeed that all readers and writers in VAST courses must confront: the rhetoric of science writing.

 What kind of program can bring together such a wide array of issues and approaches? The VAST, or Values and Science/Technology Program, gives all sophomores at Lafayette College, and a large representation of faculty from all four divisions (Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Engineering), the experience of posing large questions about the relationships among science, technology, and society. The essays and poems in this volume show that this continues to be a vital and exciting enterprise. Our thanks to all who have furthered our interdisciplinary adventures, whether as students and writers, as teachers, or as readers. Particular thanks go to all those VAST instructors who submitted student essays, and to the students who dared to imagine their work in print; and once again, to Tom Yuster of the Mathematics Department and to Patricia Donahue, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Writing Program, for their invaluable assistance in producing this, our third volume of student essays, which officially takes the VAST program into the third millennium.

Laura Dassow Walls
Associate Professor of English and Co-Coordinator of VAST