Author: srkohli (page 1 of 2)

History of Advancement

In her visit to Colby, Professor Aronova touched on the three various intertwined origin stories, the Origins of Science, Idea of Scientific Revolution, and Origins of the discussion of the history of sciences. Centering on the scientific revolution as a basis of scientific discovery and exploration, was it a transitionary period or single event? We can further question the definitions of the scientific revolutions and origins by looking at such feats and their origins in modern times. A number of changes that occurred during the Scientific Revolution are unlikely to be recognized as non-scientific now given what has been established scientifically, however the origins of any scientific revolution could be placed upon any numbers of years, ranging back to Aristotle’s relevance in 350BC to Roger Bacon’s in the 1800’s. Would the science that was considered to be modern at the time, be considered modern now? Should we alter what we call The Scientific Revolution” to A Scientific Revolution?  We must look at the accomplishments and societal transformations of the last several centuries in relativity, as it is truly impossible to singularly define “modern science” without comparing it to the past.


How heavily does history play into The Scientific Revolution? Professor Aronova touched on the study of historiography, defined as the study of history and what historians said about that past. So when does the historiography of science start? While this idea and name is relatively recent, the actual practice could seemingly be stretched back as far as philosophy and science go, as every scientific study automatically has its implications and associated history attached. Why is this history of science important, though? Does it really even matter to know this information? I would argue yes, that is entirely critical to scientific study. As an STS major, I look to history not only as an interest, but a necessity of having context. STS is an extremely intersectional major, and not only relies on science and its effects, but understanding the study in a broader lens, as these multidisciplinary studies are what truly inform scientific discovery and progress. Developing far-reaching conclusions and multiply angled views is dependent on defining both what is being sought to be achieved, alongside what has been achieved historically. Using past learning supplements growth, coupling fact with fiction and producing new knowledge. Additionally, history provides context in advancement, showing origins and new origins, particularly underscoring the difference between the two and recognizing the “new origins” dependence on the past.


The Lucifer Effect

The Stanford Prison Experiment is recognized as one of the most critiqued psychological experiments of the last century due to its ethical controversy and questioned practices, however it is important and intriguing even moreso due to its shocking results. When “average Americans” quickly assume rules of prisoners and guards, their characteristics, interactions, and mentalities transform 180o, as “good turns evil.” In The Lucifer Effect, Philip Zimbardo offers his first-hand account as the conductor of the experiment, pulling from an extensive career as a psychologist and professor to supplement the details of the experiment with his own analysis after nearly 40 years. What marks the tipping point

About halfway through the novel, Zimbardo writes a 10-page section with the overarching title of ‘Why Situations Matter.’ Placed within the chapter of ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’s Meanings and Messages,’ this subsection captures perhaps some of the most important writing within the novel conveying the author’s perspective. He focuses on an argument which claims that individuals, though dispositionally unique, are ultimately molded via the complexities of novel situations. Although it is much easier to imagine and attempt to emulate the human that is morally stable, right, and “good,” this requires a simplification of the human experience through “erecting a seemingly impermeable boundary between Good and Evil.” The ease of falling in either category is so high that we are not forced to question the in-between, or even entertain the possibility that we encompass pieces of both good and evil. Zimbardo uses multiple case studies to supplement the detailed account of the Stanford Prison Experiment, citing historical atrocities including those in Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, and Burundi, and offering analogous experiences in cases such as Holocaust concentration camps and Abu Ghraib prison-guard interactions. Using these cohesive narratives as additional support for his claim, Zimbardo focuses on the role that everyday situations are at play in shaping who we are. We are formed by the common, everyday interactions and familiar situations in which we are placed including “rules, laws, policies, and pressures that constrain us.” However, the test of our “true colors” occurs when we are thrown into unknown territory with entirely new limitations and social standards.

A significant aspect of Zimbardo’s research is found in the voice of the experiment volunteers, who share their personal shock of their own transformation from “good to evil.” Many of the prisoners sought some sort of feedback loop, expecting policing on their own actions (despite serving as police figures themselves). One guard, noted as the most sadistic and aggressive, emotionally questioned, “why didn’t people say something when I started to abuse people?.” Zimbardo pens that knowledge democratizes evil, centralizing blame around Them, rather than Us when faced with a widespread issue. However, this is specific to Westernized societies modeled by individualism, which takes a very dispositional approach. This approach looks at the essentialist elements that “make you who you are,” from genetic makeup to unique personality traits.

The Lucifer Effect, though rooted in the gripping and disturbing narrative of the Stanford Prison Experiment, prompts compelling conversation through Zimbardo’s constant contributions of analysis and personal commentary. Additional case stories help ground the primary experiment and offer comparisons and contrasts by which the ethical and scientific elements of Zimbardo’s work are questioned.

Pitfalls of Evolution in Modern Society

This week, Janet Browne returned to Colby to speak on the Origins of the Origins of Species, a defining work not only in the world of science and biology, but a revolutionary text with immeasurable impact globally. While speaking on the origins of Origins of Species, Browne spoke on what could be deemed as the Origin of the origin. Where did we come from? Where did the Earth come from? How do origins fit into the Evolution theory? Ultimately, where does the story start? Humanity, when looked at in a general picture of evolution, is often depicted as a muscular man evolving from apes. But what defines the modern man? We are constantly transforming and growing, not reaching an endpoint that boxes in our humanity, despite a the aforementioned photo of a hairy, upright, biped man. Evolution cannot be equated to steps on a staircase, but rather steps to multiple different rooms all on the same floor, given that within each room there are hundreds upon thousands of steps, incremental and nearly non-noticeable changes separating every mark. As a concept, it is dependent on gradual development, with no clear intro, body, conclusion, or more appropriately, beginning, middle, or end. It is an idea, not a list of consequential steps. The silhouetted model often reflects a timeline, marked by a single line of growth. In reality, there is a much greater resemblance to a patch of trees, with each species representing a brand on one of multiple trees, having stemmed from the same, similar, or even entirely different parent species. Evolution is a never-ending process, with the definition constantly being altered by those studying it.


However, in a constantly changing world, with political leaders and administration fighting what is common knowledge and widely accepted fact, how do we avoid falling into pitfalls of invalidity and false science? In a political administration run by those who advocate for racial and social difference concluding a biological hierarchy, where difference is hated rather than appreciated, we must fight for the importance in genetic variation, diversity, and science-based perspective.


Heroism v. Evil

Although I was unable to attend Chris Gavaler’s lecture on Superheroes, I encountered the idea of heroes and superheroes in my personal research project on the Origins of Decision, and particularly evil. Superheroes are defined as having supernatural powers, but also “dedicated to fighting crime, protecting the public, and usually battling supervillains.” Heroes, though originated in comics, movies, and books, are ever-present today as notable figure of humanity by carrying out the same tasks as the aforementioned superheroes. But where do the lines between humanity, heroism, and evil separate? Having written my research paper on this topic, this is a particularly idea of interest. Hannah Arendt’s “Banality of Evil” is rooted in the idea that the evil that occurs in society is not actually as a result of the existence of “evil people,” but rather that evil can be drawn out in any one of us. A seemingly evident and defined line separates “evil and good,” one that separates terrorists from figures like Ghandi, MLK, or even everyday people, such as yourself. In turn, categorizing good and evil is also categorizing “moral and immoral,” immediately casting the two far apart and unable to mix, flow across, and combine. Though it is easy to initially cast one another apart, we immediately recognize that this is not reality, as there are not globally specific locations of evil, encapsulated within a town or state border. It is easy to embrace this lack of personal responsibility, settling for the mentality of evil in the “other.” As Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn explains, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human-being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” This divide is expressed in a number of ways, such as in art, as created by MC Escher’s ‘Angels and Demons.’ This piece is a geometric tessellation of black devils and white angels – hinged on the viewer’s perspective. The Yin & Yang of human dimension, the devil and angel represent good and evil in the world, however the image merely poses the two extremes. Visually, and metaphorically, the transformation from good to evil can happen immediately yet is fluid, seemingly without any conscious choice. The same idea separates heroism and normality, that any one human can be a hero, or a villain.

Personal History and Deconstruction of the Onion Theory

Arnout Van Demeer’s lecture was titled “In Search of the Origins of National Identity in Southeast Asia” centered around Soemarsano, and sparked a particularly chord in me given my father’s ancestry in India, with much family in Southeast Asia. As Professor Van Demeer shared, the Southeastern Asian countries are often overlooked in the discussion of Asia, with primary focus being on China, Korea, Japan, and the previously considered “Oriental” nations. Having grown up in Arizona, but living in Hong Kong and Singapore for a year, with Indian heritage, my perspective of Asia has always been slightly altered comparatively. However through multiple different classes at Colby, this disregard for Asian countries has become aware to me, through discussion of the myth of the model minority and Asian-American history. The myth of the model minority is one founded upon the notion that Asians are more likely to achieve success in “climbing the social and economic ladders” of America due to their strong family values and strong work ethic. This idea was debunked as mythical, but certainly outcasted Southeast Asians, including Vietnamese, Thai, and Cambodian communities. While they were unable to replicate the success of other Asian ethnic groups during this time period, it was not as a result of any cultural values or weaknesses, but rather geographic disparities resulted in poorer educational and work backgrounds. When Southeast Asians immigrated to the United States, they were thus unable to achieve the same success as “typical” Asian-Americans, much to the confusion and disbelief of American culture. While Van Demeer focused on a specific individual, Soemarsano, and Southeast Asian national identity, this model minority myth certainly ought to be accounted for in regards to affecting national identity, causing for outcast by Americans by a unifying among the Southeast Asian-American communities within the United States. Another key element of Van Demeer’s lecture was the Onion Theory, another topic I’ve faced in classes at Colby. By peeling back the layers of cultural identity, you are able to pinpoint the core and basis for the root one a nation’s culture. While in theory this makes sense, it is not a viable nor pragmatic way of identifying elements of cultural importance or relevance. It is simply not all-encompassing or detailed, rather focusing strictly on history rather than growth. Origins, though looking at history and foundation, requires understanding progression and transformation, for origins are not truly the origin, but the beginning of a transition.

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