Author: Walker Griggs (page 1 of 2)

Celebration of Research

Before digging into my experience at the celebration of research, I want to distribute credit where credit is due. Personal relations aside, I was quite impressed with Carl-Philips research, as it both incorporated all aspects of science, technology, and society, but additionally tackled an increasingly relevant topic. His material fits together spectacularly well, and his supporting research form a solid vehicle for his argument. As I told him after presenting our posters in-class, it’s rather unbelievable how well his whole corpus points towards the same conclusion. It’s uncanny and indicative of a thoroughly fleshed out topic. Well done!

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Citizen Science and the Bio-Hacker

Professor Elena Aronova of the University of California came to talk with us this past week on the history of science. My take away from her talk, was the role of citizen scientists in modern, western society. Though her talk centered primarily on the easter theater (understandably), I couldn’t help to draw connections between the current role ‘bio-hackers’ play in the science community of the United States. Do note: the biohacking sub-culture has a great many facets which I will not discuss in this post. Intent to provide my top-level opinions of and reactions to these home-grown scientists.

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The Point of Popularity

This past week, Chris Gavaler came to speak with us about the origins of superheroes. While we spoke at great length, both during and after class, my response to his ideas on transgression and the literary tradition of eugenics in Superheros will be intertwined with my final essay. As for this post, I want to address his idea of a ‘point of popularity’ in relation to my ongoing development of the tree of origins.

 

If you have read any of my previous posts (you most likely haven’t), you may notice my fascination with the organization of origins. Specifically, I believe that each origin is a node on a hierarchical tree of all origins. The parent origin is unknown to us, but we can see how the origin of American short fiction traces to the origin of fiction writing which traces back to the written tradition of literature etc. etc. Gavaler mentioned something new to this theory: perception of origins construed by popularity. His theory is that we, as consumers and the uninformed, see Superman as his own entity. In reality, the origins of Superman is actually the summations of previous fictional characters, eugenics, and American diction circa 1938. We, as the uninformed consumer, do not notice the cultural influence, and instead focus on the cultural significance — we forget everything that led to this point.

 

I argue that this bottleneck of sorts fits into my hierarchical model quite well, and that we have a rather limited view of the tree of origins. For example, we are so struck by the invention of computers that we fail to recognize its predecessor: Alan Turing’s Bombe machine. Of course, with the creation of ‘The Imitation Game’ we ALL know that story. But what about the distant predecessor of computers? We often forget the importance of Ada Lovelace and diagram for the computation of Bernoulli numbers. Lovelace is credited by some to be the original ‘computer programmer’, but her work is often — dare I say, rightfully — overlooked, because… well… computers! That is to say, we — and I repeat –, as the uninformed consumer, are only aware of an impactful origin as long as it’s popular. When the next great thing rolls around, we are quick to move on. Granted, we all see the name Nintendo and think of the N64; but can we name all the summands that led to the creation of the SNES… probably not.

 

Of course this has a great impact on the public perception of the term ‘original’. In previous posts, I have noted that the ‘original’ is actually only the first origin — the thing which has been around since the beginning. Yet, if we lose sight of the influential factors of an origin, as Gavaler argued, we understand that lone origin to be the original. Take a moment to look at a term in pop culture: ‘OG’ or ‘original gangster’. Often times, OG refers to Tupac and Notorious B.I.G., but that’s because society has largely moved past Lucky Luciano and Bugs Moran.

 

If you’re looking for a grand conclusion, which I’m sure you are, take away this: nothing (except one thing) is the true original. Everything we interact with every second of every day, is a summation of predecessors and past influencers. Everything (except one thing) is an iteration.

Inner-disciplinary Darwin

I rarely critique lecturers in this post. In fact, I never have. Yet, something about this past lecture rubbed me the wrong way. Please, don’t mistake this note to be a criticism on Janet Browne herself. She is clearly the authority on Darwin and his corpus of books, essays, and letters. That being said, I didn’t feel as though the lecture truly fit the ethos of ‘Science-Technology-Society’. That is to say, I didn’t feel as though this lecture entertained the interdisciplinary nature of the STS department. This post, likewise, is a response to the material on hand — not framed in an interdisciplinary context.


 

After reading the vast majority of Janet Browne’s Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography, I was truly impressed with her breadth of included information. As a student in American schools studying biology, I learned about Darwin’s overarching studies and his underlying impact in biology. I had not, however, learned of his upbringing, studies, and marital life; both of which I feel greatly impact his research. More specifically, I feel that his inner battles with religion, coming from a religious family, may have impeded his self-awareness as an evolutionist. That being said, his brief stint in medical school brought his closer to science and biology. All in all, Browne’s approach to big history is refreshing and quite eye-opening.

 

As for Darwin himself: I do also find a great amount of interest in the causational relationship Darwin had on the eugenics movement. Specifically, I am intrigued by the nature of the purely observational science conducted at this time. Findings were simply observations grounded in truth, and so ‘genetics’ at that time was more a game of probability than biology. Therefore, it’s understandable that a great many individuals believe that the government could filter out genetic traits via selective breeding. Of course, this form of observational science has a great many number of faults, and it wasn’t for another one hundred years until scientists could fully discern behavioral qualities from genetic qualities — nature vs. nurture. Whether it be racism or simply ignorant, innocent aspirations, eugenics can be traced back to Darwin and his rooftop pigeon experiments.

 

I truly wish we could have further discussed the relationship between Charles Darwin and the ‘Origins’ lecture series theme: ‘order and chaos’. I believe that such an influential individual has left such an astounding impact on society, and it’s a shame we missed the opportunity to discuss this in great detail. If you’re looking for a great conclusion in this post, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one. That being said, I find it quite interesting that he reappears again in the Chris Gavaler lecture on the ‘Origins of Superheroes’ in the context of eugenics. Perhaps that’s something to note, but I think we can say without a shadow of a doubt that Darwin’s influence reached across more disciplines than he is given credit for.

American Origin of Nationalism: An etymological approach.

This past week, Professor Arnout Van Demeer, come to discuss the origins of nationalism in Southeast Asia. While I could summarize the tale of Soemarsono igniting change and deconstruct the analogy of the oil lamp, I feel more compelled to search for our origins of nationalism. Now, to be clear, “our” refers to the American origins of nationalism, and that in itself contains a number of complications. So I care to ask, just as I have scrawled in my notes: can we be nationalistic despite not being a native. Yet, though not a native American (note how I’m not capitalizing native), I am still an American national. This of course, opens a further can of worms, stemming from questions of national identity. Thus, I’ll start at the root: ‘nat’.

‘Nat’, as in nation, nationalism, and native directly means ‘to be born’ or ‘to spring forth’. Yet, the majority of our country has familial roots spanning multiple nations, thus ‘international’ and ‘internationalism’ seem a better. Therefore I question that, unless you are indeed a native American, wouldn’t it be better to refer to your nationalism as internationalism. With such a minute percentage of native Americans, isn’t then nationalism re-branded internationalism under the guise of a unifying umbrella nation? Perhaps the suffix clarifies this ambiguous derivation…

The suffix ‘al’ is simple, meaning “of a kind or pertaining to”; therefore ‘national’ means ‘concerned with or pertaining to a nation’.1(<<apparently I cannot superscript) Does that not therefore deem my previous assessment of nationalism invalid? The final suffix, ‘ism’, is merely means “the distinctive doctrine or theory of”. Therefore, nationalism is the doctrine pertaining to a nation, and I care to argue that my previous logic is actually backwards. Instead of nationalism being exclusive to those tied to the nation from birth, perhaps nationalism, in a way, ties those who share the unifying ideals of a nation regardless of birthplace as ‘nat’ suggests. Of course, this is only an etymological view of nationalism, but it seems to suggest that anyone — immigrant, national, or otherwise — is as much as an American as those born in America*.2

Now where does this fit in with the larger theme of origins? I’m not sure if it does…yet

With such a large uprising in nationalism” surrounding the recent elections, it’s hard not to notice the hypocritical rhetoric that helped our president into Washington. Threats of deportation and slogans of “make America great again” don’t exactly mix with the idea that Americans are any people who agree with core “American values” (and yes I do put this in quotations because, I believe, ideals of equality and freedom aren’t exclusively American). However, I do believe that we, as Americans, in the upcoming years must bring this issue of inclusive nationalism to light, and find order in our self-referential chaos.

* The fine print here being: as long as they share the ideals of the nation as a whole.

  1. Sidenote: Notice how ‘foreign national’ is one who does not belong to the nation where they preside. Yet, when taking the root ‘nat’ literally, every immigrant, citizen or not, is a foreign national.
  2. Revisiting the preceding footnote: With the understanding of national and nationalism I have just derived and ignoring legal classifications, a ‘foreign national’,  is not so different from ‘immigrant’. More reading here: https://medium.com/reportedly/the-language-we-use-foreign-vs-immigrant-4e70f955f56b
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