Author: Mantis

Big Data, Big Problem

Since the invention of the internet, big data has completely changed the way we live our lives and view the world, for better or for worse. We have to accept and respect Moore’s Law, the idea that technological advances are occurring at an exponentially increasing rate because new technologies improve research that leads to newer technologies. This has allowed us to further our understanding of the sciences and have set us on the path to curing the biggest pathological threats to humans. It has also allowed us to further understand the nature of our atmosphere and how climate change can be induced by human industrial activity. There is no doubt that more data can bolster scientific findings and bring theories closer to truths accepted by the political side (it often takes a long time for science to meet politics). But we have also seen, especially in my Biology discussion seminar, that an overload of data can inhibit scientific progress. Thanks to the internet, paperback scientific journals have been replaced by online journals. Due to this decrease in publication costs, it is far easier to have your article published. The level of editing and pruning of articles for errors and falsehoods has decreased resulting in a wealth of bad information on the internet. During my biology seminar, we discuss scientific articles found online, and the discussion often focuses on how the authors created a bad figure that doesn’t not explain their points well, or that they provided no new information and simply cited past works that could easily be found on the internet.

Another interesting side of the data revolution is how statistics have become such a large player in politics. I think data and polling has taken away from the true importance of politics and media. If there is a presidential election in two years, we already get bombarded with polling results and what we’re left with is a election that completely diverts Americans from actual events occurring in the country and around the globe. News is turning into just politics and politics is turning into statistical analysis.

Whether we like it or not, computers are only becoming more integrated into every aspect of our lives, and as usual (even though we tend to not do this), when given a new technology or a new use for data, we have to think about how we can use that safely and responsibly and predict the possible negative side affects. In general, I think data is best used for science because it often leads to clear, black and white conclusions about a question or hypothesis. Too often is data used in an ambiguous manner to fit one’s unique message that is probably aimed for profit. Data is useless without the integrity of those who use it, but in today’s world, we rely can’t count on the integrity of many people, and therefore, we must approach every statistical argument with questioning and a different perspective. Don’t just nod your head to every graph that tells you what the presenter wants you to believe.

The Hatian Revolution, New Perspectives

History shows us that there is no one true history. No matter who researches it, there is an unavoidable bias in every investigatory effort because no one can truly capture the entirety of a historical event with the written word. History can be improved however. With every return to a historical era, there are new perspectives added. The most basic form of history we can as is that which tells the story of the transition of nationalities and state boundaries, wars and treaties. This is often supplemented with background information of the political leaders and revolutionaries that inspire these events. This is not the complete picture. History must account for the experiences of the common men, women and children through a certain time in history. We can learn just as much from the politicians as we can from the behavior of the masses.


This brings us to one issue discussed in our Tuesday night revolutionaries talk: the separation of memory from history. Memory is obviously a major constituent of our historical understanding of human civilization, but there are some cases where memory has blurred the true events. For Americans and Europeans, we are lucky to have well documented histories of our revolutions, giving us first hand accounts of the Battle of Lexington, or the Oath of Tennis Court, or the Storming of the Bastille. In the case of the Haitian Revolution, we have a nearly entirely undocumented revolution that was led by black slaves against their white owners. Since many of the revolutionaries were illiterate, there are more emotionally charged accounts of the Haitian Revolution and key events such as Bois Caiman in 1791 rather than less emotionally written documents. For this reason the origin of the slave uprising is obscure. All we know is that we have falsely linked the Haitian Revolution with the French and American Revolutions, bundling them all together as the “Age of Revolutions”.


This exemplifies another problem with history. Not only do we fail to find the proper balance between memory and history, but we are too quick to draw conclusions or neglect a piece of history that is significant to many. In an increasingly multi-cultural world, there is greater need to approach history from a broader perspective. History should be somewhat of a source of identity for people. In this sense, how can we understand each other and ourselves in a multicultural society if people are not taught about the origins of their own people? While the Haitian Revolution is one mere example, there are countless shortcomings of the American schools’ history curriculum that limits our society’s understanding of racial, cultural and national identity. At the end of the day, there is only so much you can teach a young student and there is only so much time you have to teach history on top of other significant courses to a child’s development. The fact that the majority of people do not have an understanding of the true nature of the Haitian Revolution leads me to believe that we need to take another look at our nation’s history curriculum.

Monumental Revolutions

A monument, when first observed and understood, is a object frozen in history. It is a physical object that is there to teach of past events and evoke emotions about their impact on the individual’s life. Professor Jeffery Schnapp spoke about an interesting paradox that has arisen with modernity. He explains that modern monuments cannot exist because one half of the term undermines the other. A monument cannot be modern because modernity itself is defined by movement, dynamism, and change, whereas monuments are stuck in the past.


This paradox is not entirely true, however. There is another type of monument, one that resembles a regime, campaign, or event that is no longer accepted by society as a positive thing to be celebrated. These are what Professor Schnapp refers to as “uncomfortable monuments”. This is an interesting case where a monument can actually outlive its original significance, and then has the potential to take on a new symbolic role for the society it exists in.


Monumento alla Vittoria is Professor Schnapp’s primary example of the success from “reimaging” a monument that was originally built for a cause no longer accepted by its society. By far the most intriguing factor of this monument to me was the large LED “ring” placed around one of the columns of this large, square, and symmetric monument. While physically a relatively small object compared to the monument’s size, this modern component placed on a now historical structure creates an uncomfortable disagreement to the eye. In fact, this LED ring was the cause of much dispute between Italian citizens, believing it to be a disgrace to the nation’s history. In the end however, this LED ring, along with a museum beneath the monument, have proven to be a monumental success.


Monuments are an excellent revolutions topic. They mark a major event, solidifying its place in history and often granting some historical event the status of being revolutionary. It is also a fitting topic because of this reinvention of the meaning of a monument I discussed earlier. Like the planetary revolutions around the sun, with the passing of time, the objects and their significance change since they are one small part of an interwoven history.


I think an interesting question to be asked after this presentation is the role of Confederate artifacts in the southern United States. The objects are symbols of slavery and racism, but many southerners still protect their place in society, arguing they hold value to the culture and heritage of the south. While I believe that the last thing we should do as Americans is celebrate these objects, I do believe there are better solutions for the proper use of them other then destruction. They should be able to serve as reminders of a past that we are not proud of, and a display of the roots of civil rights, an effort that still should be placed at the front of political and social action.

Social Media as an Instrument of Change

The 2016 Presidential Election is flooding our televisions, radios, facebook pages, and every other form of media with arguments on the better candidate of 2 candidates from the two parties that have governed our country for decades. We as Americans give a huge amount of attention, arguably too much, to this race that occurs every 4 years. Each time around, people debate and bicker about what issues are more pressing in America, and how we can solve them, and while some tend to get very heated and passionate about these issues, at the end of the day, the problem solving rate of the United States is very slow. While many people wish our government would take quicker and more drastic action, at the end of the day, the slow nature of our political system and the passive bystander citizens are proof of our nation’s political stability, and the general well being of the population as a whole.

Khalid Albaih’s talk last week gave all of us a new perspective on an unstable political and economic climate, how quickly societies can erupt into radical protests, and how powerful the relatively new tool of social media can be as an igniter of revolution. Khalid Albaih, has produced many works of art that are of little monetary value. But if you walk through the streets of major cities in Muslim nations, you will find his work reproduced as graffiti on the streets. Through social media, Khalid has been able to exercise a uniquely powerful voice and be a source of inspiration for the oppressed citizens of the Arab world.

Khalid also gave us a new perspective on our good friend Facebook, a tool many of us have used since 6th grade to post funny videos and photo albums on our walls. The way we think of Facebook as a social tool is very different from how people from the Arab world use Facebook as a social tool. Before the internet, people of the Arab world were socially oppressed through strict national boarders, no freedom of speech, and a media controlled by the government. The rise of social media gave people a voice and means of connecting with others that they never had before, and it opened many social and political doors, mainly, in the form of sharing ideas and organizing demonstrations.

Today, we look back on the spring of 2010, now known as the “Arab Spring,” where citizen uprisings occurred widespread across the Arab world, with major uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain. With free communication on the internet, citizens could finally organize and group together to protest the horrible living conditions and social regulations that their governments do nothing to fix. There is still much work to be done to raise living standards in these nations, but people of this region have discovered the fact that they cannot and will not be oppressed by their governments anymore.

Khalid is living proof that social media is arguably the most powerful instrument of change that we have today.

World War Volcano

Most of history is attributed to the actions of man, which often overshadow the big picture of history. If someone asks you what happened in a particular year of historical significance, they will probably answer back confidently with the start or end of a war, or a political era dominated by a certain leader. We attach these pieces of history to their dates, but often lack a true understanding of the interconnected nature of how major events develop.

Gillen Wood came to Colby last week to tell us about his idea of how history should be studied and told. An English professor at heart, Wood has recently followed a different academic trajectory into writing about his own theories and ideas about the interconnectedness of history. More specifically, he has focused on a untold but major event in history, the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. While this year is often overshadowed by the end of Napoleonic Era, the eruption of Mount Tambora was the event of greater global impact.

Also called, “The Year Without a Summer,” 1815 was the beginning of health crises all around the globe. Since the Tambora eruption was possibly the most powerful eruption in the last 10,000 years, it was powerful enough to deter the normal weather patterns. Sulfur Dioxides thrown into the atmosphere blocked out sunlight that was vital to agricultural production and caused widespread famine. Accompanied by famine was an epidemic of cholera. In general, this year and the following few years was the time of one of the worst global public health crises in human history. So why do we care?

Times of crisis have historically been the incubators for social, political, and technological development. Gillen Wood believes the Tambora eruption was responsible for a large number of advancements made in this time period. One example is the very idea of “public health,” which was not considered a responsibility of governments of this time because they adopted a Laissez-Faire philosophy where it is every man for themself. For the first time, governments began to implement whatever system of welfare that they could to help the suffering population. Another example is the invention of the bicycle, which was invented as a solution for the lost population of horses that also suffered from famine and disease.

Wood says that these advancements come out of a type of social shock that occurs in times of crisis. This shock is class dependent. The lower class experiences “Flight into Hell.” This is the life or death scenario that involves heinous crimes such as infanticide, where people do just about anything to survive or protect their loved ones. The second level is proto-revolutionary violence, and the final, belonging to the upper-class, is creative sympathy. Creative sympathy comes from those who don’t need to fight to survive but see the suffering of the majority which inspires them to create, be it literature, art work, an invention, or a political idea. The atmosphere cannot be described in one location, but depends heavily on events in the atmosphere as a whole. Wood wants people to understand that history works in a similar way.

Circles and Lines

Anyone who has taken some philosophy knows that Aristotle takes two or three reads before you actually understand what he is saying. That is because he assigned different meanings to some of the more ambiguous terms in the English language, such as being. Similarly to translations of Aristotle, we have two seemingly opposing ideas of the meaning of the word revolution. On one hand, we have the revolutions of planets, which orbit in the same oval shape every day and change very subtly over huge time scales. This definition implies little to no change, or rather, continuation. The other understanding we have of the word revolution is periods of great change, be that of societies, governments, knowledge, or all three. The French Revolution overthrew the long-standing monarchy and created a republic. The American Revolution severed colonial relations with the British Empire and created a new, independent nation. This use of revolution does not imply a continuation, but rather, a progressive step in the forward direction. The two definitions of revolution have more in common than they seem to on the surface, and this is revealed by aspects of the Scientific Revolution, and how it can be understood from both ideas of what a revolution is.

The Scientific Revolution was the beginning of a new era for the human race. The great thinkers of the Scientific Revolution invented modern science, and created a competition between medieval and modern ideas. The modern ideas won, and western society was placed on a track to become the leader in the scientific understanding of the world as well as the leader in technological development. But what is funny about the scientific revolution is that many of the discoveries had already been discovered by some civilization in the past. In fact, at this point in time, multiple ancient civilizations had already compiled a great wealth of scientific knowledge that was later destroyed in war. Examples include empires of the Middle East, Greece, and the Roman Empire.

So how is the Scientific Revolution any different from other times that a great wealth of knowledge was discovered and documented? Well, for one, there has been no great erasing of loss of the knowledge gained during the scientific knowledge and it has only been built off of. Secondly, after enough time, the scientific revolution caused an international agreement of what science is and how it is conducted. So on one hand, the scientific revolution is similar to planetary revolutions. We made the same circle as a human race that we had before, a great discover of the natural laws that govern our world and universe. But on the other hand, the conditions of this particular revolution were fit so that the knowledge gained would be preserved and improved on and still are today. Perhaps the use of revolution in the Scientific Revolution is as a metaphor for the patterns of history. While we understand history as a straight line with forward and backward, we can also stand history as a series of recurring patterns that happen in different eras. This type of understanding of history could be useful in guiding us into future and solving the newest problems of humanity, which may be modern versions of problems in that occurred in the past.