The phrase “the end of the beginning” is thrown a lot these days as kind of a pseudo-spiritual allusion to there being more to come. But if you think about, this is, literally speaking, the point at which we find ourselves. The end of the series of lectures on origins. Using fancy linguistic algebra (which is an actual thing–I read an article on it, though I’m not using it in accordance with the way it was designed), we can determine that the end of the origins series is, in a way, the “end of the beginning.” And we ended the beginning with a small conference celebrating varying research projects, from the sociological precedent for Bitcoin to the anthropological origins of a group of Kenyan ethnic groups. But why did we end the semester this way?
I could’ve answered this question by sending any number of people involved in the Center for the Arts and Humanities a quick email. But philosophically musing for a page or two is a lot more fun.
To me, the significance of ending a semester spent investigating origins with a celebration of research is fairly complex. I like to try and distill it down to thinking about presenting research as an outcome of having evaluated origins in the abstract sense, not just in the literal sense. Think about it in this way: If you have a research question (just drawing from the plethora of questions presented at the celebration, an example might be “are there any historical social precedents for the behavior we observe surrounding Bitcoin?”), then it’s a popular thing to do to try and get to the heart of the question. My high school teachers pounded this idea into me like a nail into a two-by-four.
So researchers will try to get to the heart of their question. Any decently written peer-reviewed journal article will discuss the implications of this question, it will it will discuss opportunities for further research germane to the question, and it will, most importantly, discuss the origins of the question. In this way, we can empirically observe how our academic society has heralded the origin of a question–the notion of understanding from whence the topic area came, how it has been historically influenced by changing zeitgeists, et cetera–as a modus operandi for ascertaining a proper understanding of the research to come. So it’s totally fitting that we ended our investigation into origins with a celebration of the logical conclusions of origins: Research.
Let me try and phrase it differently. An alternative way of understanding something never hurt anybody. Think about the “onion” model that Professor van der Meer discussed with us. The onion itself represents the research question at hand. There are billions of onions in the world, just like there are uncountably many feasible research questions. So once you’ve picked an onion, you have to start peeling away layers. These might be layers of colonialism, layers of record-keeping, or any other barrier to proper understandings. But once you peel them away, you’ve made it to the center: To the origin.