Category: October 3 (page 1 of 4)

Nullius in Verba

Professor Hanlon opened his presentation by making a remark about the structure of our campus. Facing Miller Library from the bottom of the hill, humanities studies take place on one’s left and sciences occupy the right. Arts are isolated from this structure, with theatre on one far side of the campus and visual and music hidden behind the science complexes. There is a clear physical divide between disciplines. One can easily dispel the issue by claiming it is a matter of convenience. However, as a liberal arts college, Colby prides itself on the interdisciplinary and boasts that its students are well rounded and apt in multiple subjects. So why does it force students wishing to broaden their horizons to trudge across campus in the grueling winter? Not exactly what I deem the definition of convenience. In fact, I might even call it a deterrent.

Aside from edu-geographical issues, Professor Hanlon’s presentation was mostly concerned with the Royal society and the novel, two major forces which see their origins around the same time in history.

Hanlon provides an overview of the Royal Society and mentions their motto, ‘nullius in verba’, which translates to ‘take nobody’s word for it’. The Society focused heavily on pure observational science and detailed accounts of experimentation and research, without an overwhelming focus on ‘why’ or ‘how’.

Hanlon mentions the novel by S. Fielding, published in 1744, which bears the title ‘The Adventures of David Simple: Containing An Account of his Travels Through the Cities of London and Westminster In the Search of A Real Trend’ or its abridged title ’David Simple, The Adventures of, in Search of a Real Friend’. Hanlon explains that the novels of the era were far form fantastical. They focused on the quotidian, with a strong emphasis on realism. They sought to teach through their attention to detail and the particular. Hanlon argues that these novels led to a development in observational science where contextual knowledge could be built upon understanding of others’ works.

This interdisciplinary link, focusing on the spread of observations enabling the creation of contextual knowledge, highlights a trend of constructivist learning which I believe we will see only increase in magnitude in coming years. As information becomes easier to share, observations are easily digested in the form of imagery and videos, and our literature becomes increasingly atomic in nature (think tweets, Facebook posts, reddit headlines), the focus on constructing one’s own knowledge will only grow. Although this is an overarchingly positive idea, encouraging critical thinking becomes more important than ever with this trend. As information becomes more digestible and begins to require less energy to process, we must find it in ourselves to verify what we ingest. We should construct learning from the information around us, but must not forget ‘nullius in verbs’.

[In reference to the issue of trudging across a snowy campus (mentioned in the first paragraph) the truly interdisciplinary solution would obviously be contracting a network of interweaving underground tunnels which serve to connect the disciplines and function as modular spaces. Most importantly, such a solution would also keep us warm during Maine winters. Get on it, Colby!]

How do we define a new paradigm in Art

As a die-hard humanities academic, I was overjoyed to see the familiar face of an English professor standing at the lectern for this week. Though I have never studied the Royal Society, the topic of novels is a familiar one. I had never studied the specific origins of the Novel, though I am aware of many of the early examples which he mentioned. The Royal Society was a fully new topic of academic inquiry for me, as I have never so much as heard its mention prior to this lecture. As such, this lecture was a fascinating and invigorating ride. I found myself simultaneously understanding the topic more deeply than I ever had, but also having more questions that I never had even thought to wonder about. This led to a simultaneously satisfying, but frustrating experience of learning a great deal, while also becoming aware of how much I don’t understand. As I have found with many of these lectures, I leave with more questions than when I arrive. Having known very little about the origin of anything from the universe to Italian Poetry or Novel Writing, I am repeatedly exposed to a new corner of the world which I know little to nothing about. In the brief time, it is impossible to learn the origins of anything to a satisfactory level. However, opening up these corners of the world, and shedding a bit of light on them makes me more curious, and I find myself wondering about the finer points of origins often. Can we prove an origin, or separate it from an evolution? If we can prove that it happened, but we can’t prove how or why, then is this finding really significant? Does investigating this idea bring us more answers or will it lead to more questions, as the brief lecture on it has for me? How is is possible to define the first novel except by the definition used at the time when it was written? Is it possible to define the boundaries between poetry and music, or does doing so pigeon-hole a broad art form into a claustrophobically tight academic category? It was fascinating to learn so much about both a topic that I was previously very uninformed about, as well as a whole different method for investigating the topic. The origins of the novel was a topic that I found very interesting, as the lecturer indicated that he believed a bias to exist in the academic world, which identified the writings of male writers as the original novels, but does not recognize similarly formatted works by female writers. He indicated that if the female writers had instead been male, that the origins of the novel would be looked at in a fundamentally different manner. This points to a lingering question that exists in the world or art in a broad sense. Who determines greatness, and importance, and how is it determined? It is possible to have a truly objective understanding of who wrote the first novel, or are we doomed to interpret the origins of this art form based on our pre conceived notions of the authors.


The Elite Society?

English professor Aaron Hanlon separated his lecture and discussed the origins of the Novel and The Royal Society.  The latter captivated me the most.  The Royal Society of London was the elite science institution of its day. Science overtook religion as the dominant field in society. This was and a result of the scientific revolution that eventually birthed the society during the end of the 17th Century.  Professor Hanlon spoke on its first pioneers such as Robert Boyle who’s generosity helped see the society through during its early stages of formation. Francis Bacon who leadership and vision played crucial roles. John Wilkins and Christoper Wren whose inventions gave the society early respected reputation.

During its initial years, the Royal society was dedicated to the pursuit of objective knowledge. Tables however quickly turned and the society served to promote now larglely discredited sciences of racial and gender inequality through restricted memberships and various policies.

The state (British) chartered the scientific society in order to provide technical capability. The 15th Century saw widespread European exploration and due to the prevalent ignorance of the time, theories that claimed human variances owing to differences in geographical location were published and widely consumed. With the rise of the age of knowledge, Europeans became further dedicated to the possibilities of human difference, leading to new fields of study to promote the concept.

The need and motivation behind the creation of these new fields of study (the sciences of inequality) was to position the Europeans on top of the new human race hierarchy. The Europeans discovered already civilizations away from Europe in the new world, Asia, and in Africa, and firmly wanted to secure a superior status backed by scientific findings. Early enlightenment writers aligned their research to this cause.  The Royal Society  provided the much needed materials and equipment to prove racial differences, and  acknowledged and funded scientists who were committed to creating new content. The society’s fellows pioneered new fields of study such as craniology, phrenology and anthropological sciences to promote racial views.

The partnership between the state and science societies brought about a shift from the initial efforts to invent, experiment and discover non-bias findings. During this time, The British empire was on a mission to establish themselves as the hegemon of the world. The same period saw the rise of nationalism in Europe: Nations felt that they had to acquire colonies overseas for national prestige. Nations claimed superiority over others. They wanted to acquire colonies to prove superiority.


Altering the Acceptance of Truth

David Bercovici, an esteemed professor and geophysicist, discussed with both our afternoon section and evening seminar the fine details (well, maybe only detailed to us) of the Big Bang, dark matter, Red Stars, habitable climates and our struggle to prevent climate change, alongside a number of relevant topics of “time and space.” Bercovici shared the the evolution of the recognition of science – that many initially searched for religion through comfort and origin stories. As scientific discovery progressed, fact and science served as the new gospel and bible, offering reassurance in the surrounding world and its existence. However, while we continue to scour every last centimeter of the earth, turning over every rock and boulder in our way, we face the same struggle of acceptance that those before us faced. While 7 billion humans inhabit the Earth, many more billions and trillions of organisms co-exist, mostly of course with no care, comprehension, or even awareness of “what the next generation may look like.”


It’s not only important to discover the information and truth that we seek scientifically, but also to ensure that it is relayed and communicated properly and effectively. Climate change is real, yes, and it is widely impactful, yes – but how do we convince anyone to care? Issues of understanding, comprehension, and most importantly, empathy, plague the majority of (at least) the United States, as partisan conflict gets increasingly worse alongside the climate’s state. A discussion of morality is often ignored in the scientific world as we seek answers and understanding. However, this discussion of morality is glossed over, when conservative parties deny and ignore the suggestions, nay, mandatory actions, issued by leading scientific discoverers. Bercovici (at least in this chapter) doesn’t fully address this idea of getting the reader to care on the importance of discovery, an increasingly vital issue we face.


So how do we convince one another of truth? While we now know that the Earth is round, it of course took years and years of explanation and convincing, despite having had the scientific truth for time before society was able to culturally accept this. Blind faith and trust in “what came first” is often reason enough for humanity to accept what is true, however when scientific inaccuracies are widely regarded first, it is massively difficult to alter our beliefs. Today, we live in a culture and society where truth is disregarded and inaccuracies flourish (especially politically), however in order for progress and unity to exist, this is an impossible barrier that must be broken.

From scientific revolution to the interdisciplinary knowledge

Last Tuesday in class, we discussed the scientific revolution from the 16th century to the 18th century. Later in the evening, we had Professor Aaron Hanlon talked about the origins of royal society and origins of the novels which also took place in the same period. Prof. Hanlon began his lecture with the discussion on the liberal arts education at Colby. If we look at the distribution of the academic buildings, the sciences buildings are almost on the same side of the school, while the humanities ones are on the other side. This lecture was not the first time when I heard about this history of the distributions of campus buildings. As someone introduced about how women and men used to live on each side of the schools, this distribution seemed to fit with the contemporary anticipations on gender in the mid to late 19th century.

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