Author: Haley Andonian (page 1 of 2)

End of Semester Celebration

Haley Andonian

December 5, 2017

End of Semester Celebration of Research for the Origins Seminar

 

The end of semester celebration of research poster session was a very nice end to the semester of origin themed seminars.   The diversity of topics made me realize how broad of a theme “origins” is and how many fascinating topics fall under the theme or can be viewed through the lens of the theme. The poster that most interested me was the one on the origins of evil.  Usually, when we consider origins, we think of the origins of people or technologies or cultures, but rarely do we consider the origins of concepts as widespread and deep-seeded as evil.

This poster included descriptions of a couple of experiments or cases which revealed the essence of evil in all people.  For example, the Milgrim experiment revealed that most people do not hesitate to respond to instructions or authority even when these instructions include harming other human beings.  This ability to and tendency for people to inflict serious harm on other people without hesitation is surely a form of evil.

Another experiment that the poster highlighted was the Stanford Prison Experiment.  In a similar way to the way the Milgrim experiment was conducted and the results it produced, the Stanford Prison Experiment revealed that people often obey authority or instruction even if it means harming another human.  Further, this experiment revealed the evil associated with people in power.  The subjects assigned the role of guard valued their authority and control more so than the wellbeing of other people.

The conclusion of these experiments and of this poster was that all people have some evil in them.  Evil is an innate quality that is present in all people and can be expressed in many forms, including greed, physical harm, and deceit.  Whereas we like to think the best of the human race and assume that most people are good and that evil is only something that takes over certain people, this poster argues that evil is not a foreign quality but rather something in us all.

I thought that the way this poster made readers think about origins in a complex and unique way was particularly interesting.  The poster really made me think about the presence of evil in society and within us all and, more broadly, about the origins of our actions and the qualities that tie us all together as humans.   I thought that the experiments and historical data presented did a great job of highlighting actual evidence pointing towards the evil within all people, and it was very cool to see how something as intangible as evil could actually be tested in experimental studies.

Overall, the final celebration of everyone’s research into origins this semester was a great event in which we were able to appreciate the breadth of the concept of origins and how origins can be applied to a variety of different topics.  The event worked very well as a final appreciation for and understanding of the humanities theme and I was happy to have been a part of this experience.

Origins of Poetry

In Professor Stefano Colangelo’s lecture on “Voice and Verse: At the Origins of Contemporary Poetry,” he first encouraged the audience to make questions about poetry and about the origins in and of poetry, and then took a practical turn and attempted to answer those questions.

In the first section, the asking questions part, Professor Colangelo took the audience through a series of quotes from poets throughout history.  These poets included a variety of famous voices, including Benedetto Croce and Gaston Bachelard.  Hearing words from famous poets of the past eluded to the feeling of a historical aspect to poetry, since people have been composing poetry and commenting on poetry since the beginning of time.  However, the actual content of the quotes presented by both Benedetto Croce and Gaston Bachelard contradict any sort of history within poetry.

Croce claims that art is “but a pure intuition…., the primordial form of knowledge” (Croce).  He suggests that intuition and expression are the essence of art, and thus there is no historical aspect to it.  Similarly, Bachelard also suggest that poetry is timeless.  He states that “poetry rejects all preambles, general principles, methods, and proofs” (Bachelard), suggesting that poetry stands on its own, without any regulations or history.  As with Croce, Bachelard suggests that poetry condenses all thoughts, topics, and concepts in a single moment.  Poetry has no origins, but is rather a general state of mind, with no past or future, but rather occupying a single moment.

It is an interesting claim to state that something has no origins.  Thus far in the semester, all lectures and discussions have stressed the ubiquitous presence of origins.  Nothing can come from nowhere, but rather everything has to come from something.  No person, no object, no idea comes out of thin air.  Everyone comes from a certain background with family values and social dynamics, among other things.  Each object in this world was made from something or made at some point in time and has since survived past that moment of origin.  Every idea is shaped by the ideas of others, the environment, and other influential conditions.

How then, can anyone claim that poetry has no origins? Poets have existed throughout history, creating poetry with evolving ideas, themes, and concepts.  Poetry exists all over the world and all throughout time, so how can it be condensed into a single moment?  Paul Celan states that “composing verse relates not so much to time, as to universal time” (Celan), but how? How can all the centuries worth of poetry exist in a universal time, when it has been composed over changing times and changing ways?

These questions are hard for me to reconcile.  Yes, maybe poetry is all connected in some way and each poem builds off of the previous and together all poems form a unified entity, but the field of poetry nonetheless has a beginning.  Poetry had to have started somewhere, just as with everything else in this world.  It thus seems unrealistic for poets to claim that poetry exists in a universal time, having no origins and being completely timeless and completely condensed in a single moment.

It is difficult to imagine or try to understand something as having no origins or history, especially a practice as old as history.  I thus wonder how these poets believe and convey such claims.  It also makes me wonder, however, if maybe somehow these claims are true or possible.  Does is make sense to understand poetry as a single condensed moment? Is it fair to disregard a history of poetry in such a way? If all poetry exists in a single moment, how is it possible to add to that moment without moving away from that moment?

The Human in Superhuman

Haley Andonian

“On the Origin of Superheoes”

Lecturer: Chris Gavaler

November 27, 2017

 

In his book On the Origin of Superheroes: From the Big Bang to Action Comics, Chris Gavaler discusses the little recognized or little known true origin of superheroes that, contrary to popular belief, started way before Superman’s appearance.  Gavaler argues that the characteristics of superheroes, unusual powers, hidden identities, special disguises, were common and creating a standard superhero long before Superman was born.

In his chapter titled “Evolution”, Chris Gavaler quotes a man named Richard Reynolds on the superhero qualities of Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde. Gavaler quotes Reynolds stating that “a superhero’s split identity makes him ‘both the exotic and the agent of order which brings the exotic to book’” (Gavaler, 137).  After reading this quote, I stopped for a while to think about what Reynolds is saying and found his point very interesting.  The reason we as humans have so much fascination for superheroes, Reynolds is suggesting, is because they are exotic but also familiar.  We can see ourselves in them by relating to their human-like qualities, their seemingly ordinary lifestyle, their ordinary appearance, their language, their day jobs, etc.  However, they also contain a hidden side that is fantastical, magical, extraordinary, and something most humans can relate to desiring at some point, such as intense strength, super speed, or the ability to fly.

Thus, as I interpret Reynolds’s quote, we as humans are so fascinated and so like superhero stories because we can relate to the superhero and imagining ourselves as them feasible or desirable.  Superheroes often are cut from the same cloth as an ordinary human, or at least it appears so.  Their daily lives and appearance are so similar to ours that we can relate to them and are intrigued by their stories.  In other words, we relate and express interest in superhero stories because of the shared sense of origins.

Further, just as humans are interested in the stories of super humans since they share a sense or mutual origin or humanity, so are cultural, religious, national subgroups interested in the stories, lives and wellbeing of others within their own subgroups.  We as humans better identify with those we share an origin or history with.  A Catholic individual can likely identify more with another Catholic than an individual of a different religion, just as a human can identify more with a human-like superhero than with a completely alien mythical creature.

Overall, we can relate better to those who share a part of our identity.  In the same way, we show more interest in those who we can see a part of ourselves in.  Just as humans can relate to superheroes that are both exotic and similar, subgroups within mankind help people locate themselves, interact, and form close bonds with those of their own subgroups, and at the same time people learn from the seemingly exotic characteristics of those same people.  Everyone is different in one way or another, and while or similarities bring us closer together, our difference help us learn and grow.

 

Agency and Origins

Haley Andonian

 

Jennifer Wilcox, an associate professor in the Chemical and Biochemical Engineering Department at the Colorado School of Mines, has dedicated her life to researching methods of carbon capture.  Professor Wilcox came to speak to the STS seniors this fall about her researcher, and although her talk was not geared towards the origins theme, the nature of her research and the presence of her young daughter brought to mind themes of origins and the agency we have as humans in impacting the lives of future generations.

Professor Wilcox’s research, new ways to optimize carbon capture, is cutting edge research that has the potential to have a large scale impact on the lives of future generations.  Finding ways to counter the negative impact that human beings have had on increasing climate temperatures could provide generations to come with a safer environment.  This potential impact on the way of life for future generations is where Wilcox’s work connects to the theme of origins.  The way people enter this world (the place their born into, the political environment at the time, the current global issues at hand) effects the way they grow up and the people they become.  Thus, entering a world in crisis due to climate change versus entering an environmentally stable world has the potential to shape a person’s personality, lifestyle, and sense of identity at large.

The presence of Professor Jennifer Wilcox’s young daughter at the luncheon that followed her talk served to highlight the relevance of her work to origins, lifestyles, and identities of the children of the future.  Professor Wilcox made a point to acknowledge her awareness of the relationship between her work and her daughter’s future, and stated how she wanted to be able to make the world a better and more habitable place for her daughter so that her daughter would not have to worry about solving problems our generation and generations before us have laid out.  I found this awareness of our impact on the future of others and Professor Wilcox’s desire to work to change the world in order to better it for generation to come remarkable.  As a  working scientist, she wants to find a solution to the problem and, as a mother, she wants to exercise agency over the way her daughter and other future descendants enter the world.

Agency and origins are not two words that usually go hand in hand.  Typically, we consider origins as all of those parts of your history that comprise your identity without a freedom of choice.  For instance, you can’t choose where you’re parents were born or what religion your family practices.  However, Professor Wilcox indirectly suggests that perhaps we can exercise agency over the origins we provide for our children and their children.  We don’t have to sit back and let the world spiral out of control and ignore climate, but rather we can make an effort to solve the problems of today to provide a better start for the generations of the future.

Evolution and Origins

Haley Andonian

Origins Lecture Series

“The Origin of the Origin

Janet Browne

 

I was fortunate enough to experience the wisdom of Dr. Janet Browne in a variety of different settings over the course of her visit to Colby last week.  In each setting, she proved to be extremely intelligent and insightful in unique ways, and I believe I strongly benefitted from her presence in my STS senior thesis course, in the Origins lecture series, and in my introductory ecology course.

Although she specializes in the history of Darwin, Dr. Browne was a very helpful person to bounce ideas off of for my senior thesis, which will focus on the history of human experimentation in the United States.  She is very familiar with the history of medicine, and her excitement about my topic was very reassuring given this familiarity.  She is very enthusiastic about history and science and her enthusiasm made me excited to pursue my topic.

Dr. Browne also attended my introductory ecology class, where she integrated her knowledge on the history of Darwin with the history of ecological concepts.  One of the good points she made was that, throughout history, as with Darwin and with the history of ecology, new concepts and discoveries that change people’s perspectives on how the world work are always controversial at first.  Darwin’s theories of evolution were extremely controversial, especially since they contradicted long held religious beliefs, and thus took a long time to become accepted.  This comment that Dr. Browne made reminded me of the conversation on paradigm shifts that Thomas Kuhn introduces in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”  By making this statement, she provides a great example of a paradigm shift and the challenges associated with accepting the new paradigm.

Finally, I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Browne lecture during the Origins lecture series.  In this lecture, Dr. Browne discussed the origins of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.  This piece of literature marks a very pivotal time due to the way in which Darwin redefined origins.  In his work, he presents a completely new theory of where humans come from that totally contradicts religious beliefs.  Instead of man being created from God, Darwin suggests rather that man descended from apes.  This change in the origin story, backed up by detailed scientific observations, completely shocked the world and altered people’s views of where they come from.

Darwin’s theory of evolution likely had such a large impact on society and was so controversial because of the fact that it messed with people’s idea of their origins.  Origins are so crucial to one’s identity and sense of self, and so to suggest that people originated from other species rather than from a divine power completely changed people’s conceptions of themselves and their history.

Overall, I found Dr. Browne’s comments on Darwin, the history of medicine, and the concept of origins very insightful and beneficial to our continuing conversation on origins.  She did a great job of connecting Darwin’s history to his work and our humanities topic, and I found her to be a very intriguing person to meet, speak to, and hear from.

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