This week we had Professor Elena Aronova come to Colby to speak about the history of science in the Soviet Union and the West. She talked about how the progress of scientific knowledge was immensely impacted by technology. In the lecture, she first mentioned about the scientific revolution that took place in the 17th century. She also talked about how the Darwinism theory was not really about progress, but a change in science. She questions where did the historiography of science started, and she believes that it was modern history where science gains much of its momentum. Professor Elena Aronova believes that after the World War II that the progress of science has been growing exponentially. She mentions that the acceleration in arts and science was in the 18th and 20th century, which is astounding because it is relatively recent to the broader spectrum of world history.
Professor Elena Aronova connects the scientific revolution with political revolution. In the Soviet Union, the main ideology is born which is Marxism and under this ideology the fraction the Bolshevik. The second International Congress of the History of Science and Technology was held in London in 1931. Soviet Union intellectuals related Isaac Newton’s science to the emergence of bourgeois capitalism in England. This caused a political upheaval during this time in Europe. Another scientific revolution that came out of the Soviet Union as the Vavilov scientific expedition where Nikolai Vavilov went to different countries to collect food products to improve agriculture, but he was later arrested because he was thought to be a British spy. During the Cold War, there was an exponential growth in information science and technology in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union created an institute called the All-Union Institute of Scientific and Technical information. This was the start of the information revolution, and the All-Union Institute became a threat to the United States. During this time, United States were lagging behind in science. However, in the end, United States won the space race, and for the better, the world has benefitted enormously from the Soviet Union and United States race for new scientific knowledge and technology. It seems as though competition between the two world superpowers at the time has driven the progress of new scientific knowledge and technology. The new technologies that came from the Cold War are the satellite, manned spaceflight, advances in computers, the programming language called BASIC needed for every personal computer, long distance calling, and DARPA the predecessor to the internet. Although there was much destructive warfare technology that has been created during this time, such as advancement in the nuclear program, long-range bomber, lasers, and intercontinental ballistic missiles, I believe the good outweighs the bad in this case. The technology like the satellite and the predecessors for computers and internet have been the bedrock of the information revolution we have today. There would be no personal computers or the internet, and nevertheless, cell phones if it weren’t for technologies like the satellite, the BASIC language, and DARPA. This technological competition between two superpower nations had some negative sides to it, but the benefits that came from innovations in technology has surpassed the negative impact of the Cold War.
In this weeks lecture professor Aronova talked with us about the origins of science along with its history. She began her lecture with the topic of Darwin and his theory. She emphasized how his theory is not about progress but rather change. Professor Aronova stated that she uses Darwin’s theory as a roadmap and reminder that evolution is not about progress but rather change.
At one point in her lecture Professor Aronova mentioned that historians and every day people alike use history as a way to understand ones actions. This statement made me think if we use history as an excuse for our actions? Aronova mentioned patterns in history and while people say that history allows us to prevent past mistakes, there are also a lot of patterns in history. This brings into question if history lets us evolve or is rather holding us back. If we as a society were to truly learn from our history and our past mistakes one would assume that there would be no more atrocities among humans. However, this is surely not the case. In some cases people look at history and are able to recognize parallels among current and past figures. If anything this shows that evolution is not as strong of a force as it once was. Rather I think than man kind reached a peak of evolution and now is just in a point of repetition.
Another point which Professor Aronova made that stuck out to me is how political and scientific revolution during the Cold War in Russia was closely linked and interconnected. This statement made me think of the idea of political censorship. The Scientific Revolution as we know it was dictate by the government of the time. Had the government had a varying political standpoint would the scientific revolution be different, probably. This idea of political censorship, however, carries over to the idea of just how much were the people living in Russia exposed to new scientific discoveries. How much did the government of the time control the knowledge that the people of Russia obtained. One way of thinking about this is looking at the issue is to look at what was taught in the schools. Much of the Scientific Revolution was a time controlled by knowledge and knowledge of knowledge. The main way that one obtains knowledge is through schooling systems and their access. The control which the government had on the schooling systems limited the knowledge of the individual and let the government control the perspective through which an individual viewed the world around them. In our afternoon class Professor Aronova spoke about the idea of accessibility. While it might be subtle the information and knowledge of the individual is still controlled to this day. It is not through political censorship but rather through accessibility and the culture of ones uprising. In addition dependent on where ones position is in the world the history that they learn and obtain varies. Political upbringing and religion also plays a critical roll in ones obtainment of history and how it changes their perspective of the world.
Last week, Prof. Janet Browne from the Harvard University came to Colby to attend the seminar and give a lecture on the origins of Darwin’s origins of the species theory. While her talk mainly provided a bibliographical introduction of Darwin and his findings, I found the seminar discussion very inspiring for me to think about the word “origins” from different perspectives.
In this week’s lecture and seminar, we had Prof. Chris Gavaler from Washington and Lee University to talk about the origins of superheroes. Previously we have read two chapters of his book On the Origin of Superheroes: from the Big Bang to Action Comics No. 1 which talk about the evolution and eugenics implications of the birth of superheroes. Then in his evening lecture, Prof. Gavaler introduced this object by tracing back to the origins of the word “superhero,” the origins of the concept of the superhero, and the political and cultural implications of superhero.
After our lecture with Bercovici I began to think about who decides what is a fact versus what is a theory. While years of study and education gives an individual a better ability to speak on a subject with authority, there is no one true test in what differentiates a theory from fact.
At a young age society is taught about science and the scientific method, an attempt to test your hypothesis. The scientific method itself contains six main steps. The first step of the scientific method is to propose or as a question. Simply it requires someone to be curious about a concept which they do not understand. The second step is to conduct background research in attempt to make sense of something. In other words, trying to make order out of something which an individual may view as chaotic. Thirdly it to hypothesis. This idea of an hypothesis is the early grounds of a theory. It asks that one predicts what they believe might be the outcome of the experiment in which they will perform. The next step of the scientific method is record data regarding your hypothesis and then to later analyze the data. While this is something can be done in many cases, there are certain aspects in which it cannot be applied to. For example, when looking at the very very first moments of life, we have not been able to collect data from the very first moments and therefore we cannot analyze them. As a result there is still a lot for us as a society to learn about our own universe. The final step of the method is to draw a conclusion based on your findings. It is the belief that such a conclusion will help you to either support and reject your hypothesis. However, this is an impossible task because hypothesizes are constantly changing. Which leads me to my next point.
In a world where technology is constantly changing as well as beliefs it is hard to say for certain what the concrete facts of life are. For example when looking back in history we as a society one believed that the earth was the center of our universe. Obviously we no longer believe that because our culture and lifestyle no longer revolves around the bible and we as a people are no longer unitedly practice the teachings of the Pope and The Vatican. Galileo, for example, was put under house arrest and forced to recant his findings because they conflicted with the teachings of the Pope. It was not until after Galileo’s death that society began to accept his findings as the truth. When looking at this scenario it causes a sense of uncertainty. If one moment Galileo was wrong but the next moment he was right, how can we ever know for sure what to believe? The answer is that there will never be one hard truth. We as a people have evolved from a very simple lifestyle and we will continue to evolve. We will come to a point in which we are more sure in our findings both scientifically and culturally, however, there will always remain an underlying sense of uncertainty in life’s largest questions.