Author: Jeff Endler

What Does it Mean to be a Revolutionary?

Listening to Marcos Perez deliver this fascinating lecture opened me up to what it means to be a revolutionary, particularly in this day and age.  Does it mean through changes in technology that all people, through their platforms of democratic social media, can be part of societal change despite not even having to leave their chair in their home? Or does true revolutionary change only come from those who still fight and protest on the ground and in the streets, arguing for what they believe to be right? By raising such questions, Professor Perez questioned the nature of revolutionaries, and when I consider such points today I would suggest that there is some validity to the idea that true revolutionaries will only find real success by putting some skin in the game and fighting for what they believe in.  Otherwise, by only tweeting about a certain issue, the only person you’re really helping feel better is yourself.

To be Revolutionary, or Not to be…

Professor Kieth Peterson’s lecture on whether we as a society have in fact ever been revolutionary was certainly one of the most thought provoking and also complex lectures I attended during this series.  It will always be seen as unorthodox to provoke such questions as these, but in doing so, Professor Peterson raised valuable points that can help us address problems we see within society to this day.  That being said, I did struggle during parts of his argument, as he at times ventured far deeper into the philosophical world than I was academically ready to understand, and at times lost his exact train of thought as a result.  Notwithstanding, I greatly enjoyed his lecture, and the valuable questions he raised throughout.

Revolutions in Monuments

Listening to Professor Jeffrey Schnapp speak about we as a society should view and appreciate the value of monuments was very fascinating, and opened me up to questions I had not previously considered on the subject.  Deciding whether people get any true benefits from constructing monuments and memorials is something seldom raised, and yet Professor Schnapp took a thoughtful and thorough approach to his analysis.   He also explained how to create monuments that not only do have relevant meaning, but also carry substantive justice for those the monument is intended to serve.  Forgoing such questions can result in a thought of inadequacy of monuments in society, and then a lesser feeling of need to have them in society.  By bringing up such ideas, Professor Schnapp opened me up to such questions that should continue to be raised in the future.

Revolutionizing Data

This was a fascinating lecture, and hearing from Professor Aaron Hanlon speak about changes in how we use and analyze data was truly eye opening.  As someone who has grown up in an age where technology surrounds us, it can be hard to reconcile on a personal level where we were as a society not long ago before such changes had ensued.  Notwithstanding, Professor Hanlon’s analysis of this phenomenon, and his critique on its changes to us as a society opened me up to how we must go about using the tools we now have at out disposal, and finding the most effective ways to do so.  Overall, I greatly enjoyed the lecture, and was intrigued by the issues raised by Professor Hanlon.

More Revolutions in Evolution

As professor of biology Judy Stone pointed out during her lecture, there have been a number of developments throughout the field of biology as well as society following the discoveries of Charles Darwin and other scientists who brought forward the idea of evolution.  While many of these developments have been positive, such as the study of genomics and such, other revolutions were severely negative, such as the use of Darwin’s discoveries to rationalize social and racial supremacy (otherwise known as social Darwinism).

Professor Stone made it clear that evolution is not simply the progressive trend of species towards a particular goal, making some members of the species superior to others, but rather the subtle change over time known as natural selection where species who happen to be more well adapted to their environment survive and pass on those particular traits.  Yet as these changes and adaptations occur, some can come to be seen as imperfections rather that simply variations.  This rational was what lead to the thinking behind social Darwinism in the decades following Darwin’s discoveries, and the idea that some humans were superior to others based on such “imperfections.” But thinking in this way is not only contrary to the scientific process of evolution, but made it possible for many to be openly racist by taking these scientific developments and morphing them around to fit ones own personal agenda.

I think what’s important to recognize and remember is that evolution is not moving towards a specific goal, or that our human race has some perfect manifestation of itself waiting for us to achieve sometime in the future.  What evolution is is simply the adaptation of organisms to their surrounding conditions.  By allowing for such negative ideas to persist within society, we push people away from each other rather than coming together as a single human race.  In doing so, we only create more problems that will eventually have to be solved as well if we are to continue to survive well into the future.

Revolutions in the Study of Climate Science

Listening to Professor Emanuel of MIT speak about the history and revolutions behind the study of climate science was not only enlightening and informative, but fascinatingly provoking as the subject matter in contemporary terms pertains to one of the most serious issues facing humanity now and going forward into the future.   Going from understanding how the earth revolves around the sun (which helped scientists discover the number of glacial periods our planet has seen) to understanding how the greenhouse effect works, we have accumulated a large swatch of knowledge over the centuries.  And as Professor Emanuel argued, many of those discoveries and subsequent revolutions came as a result of people simply being genuinely curious about why certain things occurred around them, and then went in search of answers.

A similar argument could be followed for when looking at how we as humans understand our current issues facing us in the world of climate science.  We have known for decades now that climate change has been directly affected by the actions of humans, and that not only as the Earth continues to warm at an alarming rate, certain weather patterns have begun to change as well.  Large storms and hurricanes are starting to become more frequent, long periods of drought have been seen across the U.S. and throughout the world along with raging wildfires the likes of which have not been seen (particularly in California).  All the while the sea levels continues to rise and billions of people will soon be threatened by the fact that their homes near sea-level could very well be under water in the near future.  These are all daunting prospects, and they only seem to made worse off by the fact that so many people in our country not only see any reason to do anything about these issues, but even flat out deny the existence of them and of man-made climate change.

Despite this seemingly unstoppable combination of imminent threats from climate change and complete denial from one of two major American political parties, I have some hope in what Professor Emanuel pointed out during his lecture.  When humans are faced with certain challenges, they’ve become pretty good at finding ways to still not only survive through such adversity, but eventually thrive as well.  We’ve seen revolutions in this field of study for years, and it will only continue with such an urgent and pressing as climate change truly is to humankind.  Whether it be in finding ways to block the sun slightly from the Earth, change how reflective the oceans are to bounce some of the light back into space to help cool our planet, or who knows what, people will discover how to overcome this incredible obstacle.  For if that is not the case, humanity will surely suffer because of it, and this time period will be looked back upon as when humans had the chance to save our planet and our existence.

Revolutions in Evolution

As Dr. Janet Browne so humorously explained, contemporary society has bestowed a certain celebrity status upon Charles Darwin for his work and research in the field of biology, and discovery of the idea of evolution.  By presenting a series of pictures depicting Darwin on posters, banners, and other mediums for presentation, she backed up this claim and even touched on how this elevated status of a scientist is very much abnormal, especially when one considers the bulk of her argument which was questioning how much Darwin should really be credited with the discovery of evolution.

Dr. Browne pointed out that despite Darwin’s modesty when it came to his own discoveries, people around him still held him up as someone  meant to be famously revered.  However, due to the fact that many other scientists during that time period are not credited with anywhere near the amount of love that Darwin has received over the years is what made Dr. Browne question how Darwinian this revolution was.  As she stated, if it weren’t for some of those people, and in particular the later geneticists who truly reaffirmed Darwin’s theories long after his death, it’s hard to say how much praise should be going to people other than Darwin for their accomplishments as well.

On top of her questioning of how Darwinian this revolution was, Dr. Browne also questioned how truly revolutionary Darwin really was.  As she pointed out, this “revolution” lasted over 150 years, from when Darwin first made public his theories up until the mid 20th century when many of those things were proven true by advancements in genetics.  This extended period of time, she stated, is vastly different from our typical idea of how long a revolution is meant to in fact last, and therefore leaves the door open for whether time should in fact define whether something is truly a revolution or not.

Despite Dr. Browne’s fascinating claims, I still believe that the Darwinian Revolution is worthy of such a claim.  If it weren’t for Darwin, changes in human knowledge and understanding may not have been as clear cut as they ended up being on this time scale, and the challenges posed to many institutions because of it were certainly revolutionary.  From questioning what can or can not be taught in school to whether religion is not only true but should have any place in society were questions all raised subsequently by Darwin’s theories.  To an extent, Darwin set off a chain reaction of fundamental changes to our society and what we perceive as human understanding of our past and where we came from.  This act, therefore, no matter how much others may have aided Darwin in his discoveries, deserves the title of Darwinian revolution for that very reason.

The Social Media Revolution

Listening to Khalid Albaih talk about his work and his ability to connect and unite people from around the world showed me just how far the idea of social media has come.  I think it’s widely assumed that many social media outlets began as simple ways of allowing people to communicate across different mediums (text, photos, video), but the fact that those simple mediums are now able to inspire movements around the globe is truly revolutionary.  But what’s yet to be determined is whether social media can in fact aid in the completion of an actual revolution, or whether serving as a tool for inspiration is as far as its uses can go.

Albaih primarily focused his discussion on events that have occurred in the past few years in the Middle East, where he has been living.  In particular, he talked a lot about the Arab Spring and what occurred in Egypt during that time period.  It was fascinating, and even breath-taking, to hear a first hand account of not only what was going on there at the time, but what it felt like to be part of such a movement.  The way it made people, many being of the millennial generation, feel empowered and motivated by their ability to spread a message not only across a country but across the world must have been exhilarating.  And then to see, at first, the institutions they’d been fighting against begin to come crumbling down was surely a vilifying experience.  Yet it was all spurred by people communicating with each other over issues they were typically not supposed to speak about that led to such drive for change, and all done from peoples phones and computers.

However, looking at many of those same countries in the Middle East today, we see equally difficult situations in many countries, and in others such as Syria, far worse.  So why is that? If social media and the ability to communicate easily with others clearly has the ability to start and spur changes and revolutions, then why isn’t it able to finish them?  That’s not a question with an easily definable answer, but one thing I think social media may take away from traditional uprisings and protests is the fact that although many things and events can be shown easily to a large audience, that large audience doesn’t always feel compelled to then step in and take part in the actual demonstrations and protests and demand change.  It just means there’s a larger audience of people who know and may care deeply about the issue, but may not actually act on it.  Due to this, social media may not have quite the power to complete a revolution people may be pushing for; however, it certainly has the ability to inspire and motivate people around the world to act, as it has for Mr. Albaih.

Climate Change and the Tambora Revolution

Gillen Wood’s take on the eruption of the Tambora volcano was one that I found deserves more appreciation and focus than it is currently given, not only because I knew so very little about the event prior to his lecture, but because what I think we as humans can and must learn from events such as that volcanic eruption if we are to continue to survive as a human species in a world increasingly threatened by the dangers of climate change.

As Wood discussed, the Tambora eruption sent the world into multiple years of increased heartache and difficulty of survival.  The volcano sent massive amounts of particulates into the air, causing the average global temperature to drop by a whole degree, which led to the summer of 1816 being called “the year without a summer.”  Massive crop failures ensued, people starved, disease was rampant, and many people resorted to things such as infanticide in order to keep themselves alive.  The effects of the eruption could be felt around the world, but were particularly noticed in places such as central Europe, where those living at higher altitudes in particular suffered greatly.

But from this historic event arose humanity’s instinctive push for survival, which in turn caused a series of revolutions of their own, particularly in the realms of political, social,  and technological advancements.  If it weren’t for the fact that many horses died as a result of an inability of their owners to feed them during those years, the bicycle may not have been invented during this time to counteract the fact that people could not, for a period of time, get around as easily as they used to.  Or if so many people hadn’t starved to death, the idea of a government actively working to protect the general health and welfare of its people may have not been born during this time.  Or even if the high mountains in Switzerland were not plunged into months of cold and rain, would Mary Shelley have come up with the idea for her acclaimed horror story of Frankenstein, a book still read today.  Without such a terrible event such as the Tambora eruption, these and many other developments may not have taken place when they ultimately did.

This brings me to final argument, which is this: if we as humans know our history and know of the power of nature and what it can do to human life, as it did to humans during the years following the Tambora eruption, then we must also recognize that we have an ability to counteract such events in order to move past them and continue our survival.  But only this time, when it comes to climate change, we are in fact given a gift, which is that of time.  Compared to the volcanic eruption, which altered the Earth’s climate in a matter of months, climate change (despite speeding up exponentially) is still moving a bit slower than that.  However, we can still see its effects on us and our planet clearly, and can adequately predict where we might be heading should nothing be done.  This is why I urge all of humanity to recognize our window of opportunity to at least try and prevent a catastrophic change in our climate from happening before it’s too late, because it’s hard to say whether this time it’ll be easily, or quickly reversible.

The Scientific Revolution, and Why it Mostly Deserves that Title

The Scientific Revolution that took place in Europe between roughly the 16th and 18th centuries has been questioned for years for its validity in answering the statement that is its title.  Sure, one could easily point out people in different parts of the world at different times who’d taken part in greater scientific discoveries, or others who’d revolutionized thought in relation to the natural sciences to a greater extent than those typically mentioned in conjunction with the Scientific Revolution.  But as I would argue, and as even Professor Cohen pointed out, the Scientific Revolution was still pretty unique no matter what one may think of it, and I think that in and of itself makes it more of a standout to start.

The sum of the work of many during this time period led to a collective revolution in science and philosophy, and being that back then the two were far less distinctive than today, a revolution in thinking about the natural sciences.  One example could be how we aren’t taught the thought process concerning certain movements based on the theorizing by an ancient Greek or Roman, we’re taught Newtonian physics and the mathematical approach to how and why things move.  No, Newton didn’t just stumble upon such equations, but rather was probably influenced by the knowledge collected by his predecessors. But the fact that he took that thinking and brought in the element of math to answer his questions was revolutionary.

When it comes to the idea that the Scientific Revolution is undeserving in its name because other scientific discoveries were equally, or more, revolutionary than those that took place during the Scientific Revolution, I would still argue that it was the collection of this change in approach to thought during this time that rendered the name appropriate.  Should it be given the high pedestal to stand on that some believe it deserves? Probably not.  But should it be downgraded simply because we know of other discoveries prior to this time period that may have been more revolutionary? I don’t think so either, because if it weren’t for the thinkers of this time who changed their approach to things in pursuit of greater knowledge, it’s possible other things following such events may have taken longer to be discovered or understood.  And for that reason, I (mostly) stand with the idea that it’s acceptable that we mark this time period in history as the Scientific Revolution.