Category: October 3 (page 2 of 4)

The Royal Society and Cavendish

Throughout the reading and the lecture, I was extremely interested in learning more about Margaret Cavendish and her accomplishments as a women in science during this time as well as the Royal Society and the influence she had in regards to it. It was apparent in the lecture and just through looking at history during this time and even when looking at present day, that women were not prevalent in science, and it was a field dominated by men. I thought that Margaret Cavendish was interesting because she was a woman who made herself well known and successful despite the field being mostly dominated by men. Continue reading

Origin October 3rd.

This week our origins lecture discussed the Royal Society and the Origins of the novel. The discussion started with questioning the term “Liberal Arts”. The original phrase was “The liberal arts and sciences”. Why did we cut of the term “sciences”? What does Liberal Arts mean? Where do the words Liberal Arts come from? Our speaker brought up his concern for the separation in buildings on a Liberal Arts campus. Why are the sciences and the humanities so clearly divided? He argued that the sciences and the arts and humanities belong together. He made the point that Liberal Arts ill be in charge of the digital world and it is very important that the humanities and the sciences work together.

Francis Bacon was part of the advancement of learning in 1605. Bacon expressed concern for the division in knowledge. He believed that if knowledge is separated it does not lead to anything good.

The Royal Society was founded in 1660 as a society for experimental science. The Royal Society still exists today Some of the members included Robert Boyle, a chemist, Robert Hooke, involved with the science of microscopy and John Wilkins, natural theologian. Other members included Christopher Wren, architect, Issac Newton, a specialist in math and physics. There was one woman who was involved. Margaret Carendish was invited to the 1667 meeting, but she was not allowed to join. It wasn’t until 1945 that the first female was invited. The motto of the Royal Society was “nullius in verba”, which translates as “take nobody’s word for it”. The Royal Society had a distrust of words. The Royal society not only distrusted words but they also did not trust the novel or fiction. The first novel origin date is debated. Perhaps it could have been in 1666 or as late at 1719.

What is the relationship between the Royal Society and the novel? Ian Watt lead to the rise of the novel. When people began reading the novel there was a huge expansion of the reading public. Other genres like the epic and romance were not for all readers. The novel differed because it depicted domestic life. The novel addressed things like possibility and probability, and social and societal individuals. The novels were finally about regular people, the day-to-day and acted as an instruction guide for readers so that they could learn how to do the right thing. The novel helped enforce morals; this lead to the rise in ideals regarding the control of young women, nationalists, maintaining class hierarchies.

I was a bit confused by the professor’s argument towards the end. Was he arguing for the scientific novel about real people? Was he arguing for “novelistic science”, the novel as a data narrative? Was his argument that the royal society fed the novel? I found that the biggest take away was that knowledge from different fields should be combined and presented together. I think it could be very beneficial if the humanities and the arts and sciences worked together to educate people.


Thoughts on the Organization of Knowledge

If I remember correctly, it’s Lewis Gordon who writes a good number of articles about how we interact with knowledge as a society. He takes particular interest in the division of inevitably overlapping disciplines into separate categories. Gordon has also outlined some problems with this model: Some scholars tend to judge the work of others through the lens of their own disposition. For example, a physicist might be inclined to brush aside the work of an economist because the economist presents a model to which there are exceptions and deficiencies (these are generally called “market failures,” and they tend to be inevitable in even the most meticulously planned economies). Of course, there are no “market failures” in physics: Gravity doesn’t turn off given a certain set of conditions, thermodynamic laws always hold true in closed systems, et cetera, et cetera. So one could see why a physicist might not want to accept a seemingly inadequately designed econometric model as a bona fide academic accomplishment.


Gordon, in an article whose title I cannot for the life of me remember, explained why this is not a desirable model for academia, and why the division of research praxes into “disciplines” is to blame. But he never really, throughout his immense body of work, specifically outlines any form of feasible alternative. I know that, at one point, he called for the “teleological suspension of disciplinarity [sic]” (, but that is mostly meaningless in the context of a college whose campus has to be pragmatically designed.


And that brings me back to Professor Hanlon’s talk. More specifically, the beginning of it. He went to great lengths to describe how Colby, and universities in general, are divided into disciplines, and those disciplines are relegated to their own spaces. This spatialization of knowledge does have some benefits: I know that my econ class will be in Diamond, and that my Spanish class is probably in Lovejoy. That makes my life easier in terms of memorizing schedules and getting from class to class without having to devote a whole lot of thought to where I’m going. However, there are drawbacks, too: I’m not very likely to run into any biology majors in the hall, and I’m almost certain to never stumble across a bulletin board that advertises a bunch of exciting developments in the field of astrophysics. This is for the simple–almost arbitrary–reason that I just don’t have any classes in science buildings. The closest I get is the four hours a week I spend in Keyes for math.


So that’s my understanding of a practical application of what Professor Hanlon was talking about: the spatialization of knowledge. I’ll gladly concede that knowledge in the abstract does have a tendency to creep into places where it would seemingly be unwelcome (Case in point: The Royal Soceity, a body founded to maximize material research over oratory presentations, wound up being instrumental in hundreds of years’ worth of philosophy and novels). But still, isn’t it just a bit troubling that something as abstract and free as “knowledge” can be crammed into distinct spaces, as if one body of knowledge is never supposed to interact with other types of knowledge?

Abbreviations of Modern Science

A few words of Aaron Hanlon surrounding the origin of novels really stuck with me. The first being that early 17th century novels made a significant effort to simplify names and plots. Instead of “Hunt for the Red October”, they wrote “David Simple, the Adventures of, in Search of a Real friend. They connected with the reader, yet were didactic in nature. They taught, not through sophomoric monologues, but through an overwhelming sense of realism and great attention to the particulars. They created a discerning reader, and, above all, they produced rational expectations for rational thought. As Hanlon argued, they led to observational science linked to previous contextual understanding. In a ways, Hanlon argued, novelist helped shape the face of modern science.

Now, I care to argue that, through the birth of social media and ‘listicles’, society will begin to trend science towards the abbreviated and summarized. With forums and chats littered with acronyms like ‘rtfm’(read the friggin manual), ‘inb4’(before the obvious…), and ‘tldr’(too long didn’t read), previous research will be supplanted by ‘see above’ and ongoing research will gravitate to concise / abbreviated diction. Do note: I do not mean to say the modern science will deviate to improper, expedited methods abandoning due diligence. I DO mean to say I believe that the literature of modern science will follow the trends towards truncated and condensed writing — often referred to in academia as concise and controlled diction.

Twitter, limited to 140 character blurbs, is currently the foremost engine of contextualized observations. Daily, millions of individuals observe their surroundings and publish their findings for all to comment and react to — almost a peer review of twisted sorts. Facebook, with slightly larger posts, releases mass amounts of social and personal commentary into the public sphere for general consumption and scrutiny, often with abbreviated ‘Internet speak’. Even the diction we use in these posts have been reformed by this ‘literary revolution’, and words like ‘google’ have entered our dictionaries.

Will this inspire a new format for modern literature? I sure hope not. Will this impact how we perceive literature? The seems more likely. I wouldn’t argue that our attentions spans are on the chopping block, but it seems likely that our notions of a ‘long’ or ‘dense’ article may be shifting. Even in my own experiences in computer science, ‘man pages’ (terminal based plain-text documents explaining a command’s functionality in exhaustive detail and length) have been pushed aside by the now trendy ‘tutorials’. While, yes this does raise questions about work ethics in modern developers (myself included), I notice a clear shift away from all-encompassing bodies of knowledge, and towards easily digestible tid-bits of critical information.

That said, similar to Aaron’s assessment of how observational science marked by discerning observations of the particular impacted and informed 17th century literature, I argue that laconic diction in 21st century science may validate and promote our abbreviated communications. Call it impatience, but we seek a healthy serving of pertinent, applicable information without all the side-fixings; and modern science will soon follow suit.

The Origin of Interdisciplinary Thought

In his talk last Tuesday, Colby’s very own Professor Aaron Hanlon discussed both the origin of the Royal Society and the origin of the Novel. Throughout his explanation, Professor Hanlon not only outlined the independent value and influence of these two entities, but he also tied together many connections and overlap these two historical origins have had. He began his talk with a very classic image of Colby’s Miller Library, where he called attention to the functions that the buildings lining the green provide to the campus. On the one side of the green, you have Lovejoy, home to mainly humanities courses and majors: english, languages, history, etc. Then on the other side, you see Mudd, Keyes, Arey, and Olin; home to Colby’s science departments. This physical divide between the two fields was especially interesting to Professor Hanlon’s audience, as many of us are students of Science, Technology, and Society; one of the most interconnected fields of studies here at Colby. Furthermore, we are studying at a liberal arts school, institutions that generally argue for the value of interdisciplinary study at the undergraduate level. While the arts still appear to be the lesser priority of liberal arts institutions like Colby, we still have this broad based of idea of this interdisciplinary nature, despite some contradictory aspects throughout the physical layout of the campus.

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