Author: rdettm20

The Tipping Point

Inquires around the concept of a “revolution” are endless.  What constitutes a revolution?  When will we have a revolution?  When will we have the revolution?  Professor of Sociology Marcos Perez discusses why people choose to participate in revolutions, despite their limited success by asking the following question: are our current systems sustainable?  Although no system is sustainable in the way it is currently operating forever, when is a system flawed to the point where a revolution is inevitable?  The flaws necessary to spark a revolution not only have to upset people, but upset people to the point where they are willing to act, and sometimes, willing to die for change.  But if success is rarely guaranteed, why would individuals subject themselves to injury and possibly death?  Perez referenced the psychological term, the crowd mentality, suggesting that individuals, when grouped together, lose their individuality.  Individuals are not individuals anymore; they make up a large conglomerate of people fighting for the same cause.  Along with the crowd mentality, inhibitions, vulnerabilities, and even opinions are altered.  Although it seems paradoxical that one could be fighting and potentially dying for something that he or she doesn’t actually believe in, the crowd mentality erases this.  The group has opinions and objectives reflective of the movement itself, not individuals within the movement.


Although the psychology behind why people join movements has been discussed, it is imperative to consider why the movements begin in the first place.  Perez discusses two theories discussing society and revolution: Functionalists, and Rationalists.  Functionalists believe that protest was crazy: why would people subject themselves to violence?  Rationalists on the other hand believed that protest was inevitable: people were always going to be upset and if they had resources, protest would ensue.  Although neither postulate is correct on its own, bits and pieces from each theory contribute to the reason why revolutions and uprisings exist.  From the rationalist perspective, it is true that there will always be people unhappy and upset with how society hurts and detracts from them, however, rationalists are incorrect in assuming that just because injustice may exist, an uprising might occur.  In order for a massive uprising to take place, people have to be impacted to the point where they have reached their tipping point, that the injustice that exists is so great that people have nothing to lose, and thus have no other option but to rebel and protest.  The idea that groups of people have a threshold of injustice that they can endure before they take action also takes fundamental properties from the functionalist theory: people will not protest.  While people may protest, they will not take great action until they have reached their tipping point.


So the question remains: what is the tipping point and when is it reached?  If there really is an enormous revolution coming our way in America, what is it?  What will catalyze it?  As of today, the United States remains divided: a liberal revolution followed by a conservative backlash and counter revolution separates the country even further.  It is not a matter of if we will reach our tipping point, it is when.

Not Modern Data

First “coined” in 1646 by Henry Hammond, data first made its appearance, however, at the time, the definition for the word was ambiguous.  Throughout history, the word data and the materials that constitute data have changed drastically.  While most define data today as numerical figures that are quantifiable and comparable to other figures; historically, the word data had a much broader meaning.  Robert Hooke, a famous scientist during the 1600s considered data to be anything that reveals something, a greater truth.  Studying small organisms using a microscope, Hooke drew images of beetles and other microorganisms, distributing these images amongst the public and creating a portfolio of his work.  In addition, Hooke included lengthy descriptions describing these creatures.  Nearly comical, Hooke personified these species using language such as “the little enraged creature”.  As unorthodox as it may have seemed at the time, these beautifully drawn pictures, as well as their lengthy descriptions were considered to be data, however, can this truly be data?  Although Hooke was a fantastic scientist and contributed greatly to the scientific community, it is hard to consider hand drawn pictures accurate data.  Although he lacked the scientific resources we have available now, Hooke’s work, although telling, was not completely accurate.  Although many scientists argue that Hooke in fact did contribute, Hooke’s lengthy descriptions reveal the great difference between today’s concept of data and Hooke’s concept of data.  Although some of the descriptions Hooke published with his works contained some, it is imperative to note that these descriptions were opinions, Hooke’s own thoughts in relation to these discoveries.  While these may be helpful, options inherently are biased; simply writing in a language and interpreting something that one sees is not necessarily how everyone else might perceive that certain object or organism.  In this sense, Hooke’s descriptions and even his drawings are not a primary source because these findings are disputable, they are secondary sources.


So what is modern data and how can it be obtained?  Modern data is something that is both quantifiable and not disputable.  In contrast with Hooke, modern data must express no bias and be as raw as possible.  Such data would include spreadsheets of numbers, graphs or charts filled with indisputable numerical data, but could not include lengthy descriptions filled with superfluous adjectives lest the meaning of these findings be skewed.  While many argue that data is in fact conceptual and should not be limited to simply numbers and graphs, the distinction between data and portrayal of truth must be discussed.  There is little debate that Hooke’s drawings of beetles and other organisms educated many people, portraying a micro world that hadn’t been previously available to common people.  However, as stated above, Hooke fails to present concrete evidence that can’t be argued against because his drawing are filled with opinions.  In addition to the descriptions, Hooke may have favored certain parts of the organism’s body unconsciously and portrayed them with greater size and detail.  While Hooke heavily contributed to the scientific community, his drawings, along with his lengthy descriptions, can’t be considered “data” in the modern sense.

A Delayed Revolution

Although not necessarily an immediate revolution, Darwin greatly impacted the scientific and secular world, opening its eyes to the realization of evolution.  Despite many other scientists (Robert Chambers, Alfred Russel, and Herbert Spencer) besides Darwin proving and expressing convincing evidence for the theory of evolution, the idea of creationism was still generally accepted by the public as the only explanation for why life existed as it did: God is perfect, and he created these things in his perfect way; in fact, thinking otherwise would be blasphemous.  It’s imperative to consider the time period in which Charles Darwin and his colleagues lived: a relatively sacred and philosophically conservative world when compared to today.  New ideas that challenged the structure of the belief system that Christianity portrayed were dismissed, because only God and related works (the bible), contained true knowledge.  To go against the word of god was considered outlandish and crazy.  Although discussed in a different Revolution’s seminar, the philosophical question is again introduced: what is knowledge and how can it be obtained?  Does knowledge come from something that simply is?  Is knowledge considered to be truthful when it makes sense in God’s image?  Surely than, the Earth must be the center of the solar system because it contains humans that God made in his image.  Or, is knowledge measured with regard to data, with experimentation, with deductive reasoning?  Although may individuals in Darwin’s time seemed to believe in knowledge simply because there is no other explanation, Darwin challenged that long-lasting status quo.  Examples of this new way of thinking and obtaining knowledge are evident in his famous voyage aboard the Beagle and his close documentation of his finches on the Galapagos Islands.  It was here in which Darwin challenged hundreds of years of Christianity and reasons, and purposed his theory of evolution: decent with modification.


Although revolutionary, Darwin’s theory during the mid 1800s was not revolutionary in the sense that it drastically changed the way people perceived nature.  Although his book On the Origin of Species was successful, still only a minority of people bought into the idea of such a powerful concept overthrowing what religion had conditioned people to believe in.  Although evolution gained popularity decade by decade, even in the 1920’s, many still believed this “knowledge” to be blasphemous, evident in John Scopes’ 1925 arrest for teaching evolution in a Tennessee public school.  However, despite the backlash from religious groups, Darwin’s contribution to the scientific world was mammoth.  And, while Darwin’s contribution at the time of his discovery and publication may not have been revolutionary, the populace’s eventual acceptance of this knowledge proves that his findings are revolutionary.  Although Darwin contributed greatly to the understanding of our species’ history, it’s interesting to note how individuals abused this knowledge and twisted in order to justify persecution and the practice of “natural selection”, or rather, “artificial selection”.  World War II Germany and its persecution of Jewish, homosexual, and other “inferior” deemed groups is proof enough about how knowledge could negatively impact a society.  Although not explicitly mentioned in the lecture, Germany’s response and interpretation of this Darwin’s Revolution gives rise to another question: Are all revolutions beneficial?

Knowledge: What is it?

Once again, the idea of being “modern” is torn apart by means of simple logic.  Just as Schnapp discussed the paradox within “modern monuments”, portraying how once something exists, it is inherently part of history and a relic of the past, Professor Peterson expresses how because we aren’t modern, we can’t possibly be revolutionary.  In explaining his interpretation of being revolutionary, Peterson compares the varying definitions of the information required to cause a revolution or be revolutionary: knowledge.  From a sociologist’s point of view, knowledge is defined as whatever a community believes in, while scientists see knowledge throughout analysis of experiments and tests.  Together, both of these definitions form a “dualistic concept of knowledge”.  It’s important to understand that while neither definition is by itself a correct and holistic representation of what “knowledge” is, the dualistic concept allows knowledge to be malleable and representative of the population as a whole.  Because scientists can prove and disprove certain theories and concepts by collecting data and analyzing trends, samples, and observations, current knowledge that may have existed in society can now be altered and redistributed in its correct form (reflective of new discovery).  With this, knowledge is not concrete, but constantly changing as discoveries are made; however, it’s imperative to also note that knowledge can’t exist without the social aspect.  Even if scientists are making discoveries, the only way these findings can translate into community knowledge is if people are made aware of them.  If discoveries are kept secret and limited to only a small amount of the population, this is not truly knowledge because the community as a whole does not know or believe in this given concept.  Knowledge within a population is obtained only throughout vocalization and publications of these findings.


Although not directly related to Prof. Peterson’s talk, it’s interesting to argue whether or not blatantly wrong information, despite being accepted by the general public, is in fact “knowledge”.  Is knowledge knowing something, or knowing something that is correct and proven?  The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines knowledge as “facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education”.  According to the definition of knowledge, knowledge can be obtained by education, even if that education is not giving correct information, while a fact is defined as something that is proven indisputable.  An excellent example of how this unstable definition of knowledge took place in America this year was during the presidential campaign.  Although blatantly wrong, both democrats and republicans have been overcome with the “fake news” that has littered social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter for months.  Although the information portrayed was often not correct, many misleading posts were able to manipulate many citizens into believing certain things that about candidates.  From claims that the FBI agent investigating Clinton’s alleged email scandal was found dead, to blatant lies told during presidential debates, bogus stories coined as “knowledge” played a role in the election.  Are these false stories truly knowledge?  Is knowledge something that is true in nature or true to the individual thinker?

The (Relatively) Unknown Revolution

America’s revolution for freedom from the British crown in 1776 was a fight for liberty from foreign tyrants, while the French Revolution in 1789 was a fight for liberty within the country.  But what about the Haitian Revolution?  While countless publications of America’s fight for independence as well as France’s domestic revolution exist, little information on the relatively unknown Haitian revolution circulates amongst historians.  In order to address this discrepancy between revolutions, Popkin boldly stated that the Haitian Revolution was in fact silenced by historians themselves and deemed to be “not comparable to the great events in the US [or in France].”  While Popkin gave many reasons for why historians might not favor the Haitian Revolution, he emphasized that Haiti was not fighting for the same “liberty” that the United States or France were fighting for; instead, Haiti favored a monarchy-like government structure, something America and France dreaded.  Hypocritically, the speaker noted that while the “not-so-relevant” Haitian revolution did free its slaves following its victory over France, the United States as well as France failed to liberate their enslaved people.  This point gives rise to another argument Popkin made: Historians, especially those in the United States, have tried to silence the Haitian revolution because the liberty that it achieved was actually much greater than that of the United States’ fight for independence.  Although the US did achieve liberty from Britain, it did not liberate its own people, and would not do so for nearly 90 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.  In terms of true freedom achieved, the Haitian revolution belittles the United States’ revolution.  While nearly one hundred percent of Haiti’s population was freed, an entire race of people within the United States were bound to the land, forced to work under the white man.  With the true identity of these revolutions revealed, perhaps the US government itself has attempted to censor and suppress the amount of attention the Haitian revolution receives lest people begin to realize how liberating the fight for independence against Britain actually was.

The portrayal of these revolutions also vastly differs within historic documentation.  While the revolutions in France and America are often shown to be relatively strategic with the unfortunate cost of violence as a by-product, historians documenting the Haitian revolution paint a portrait filled with violence and destruction.  To illustrate this point, Popkin included several paintings of the Haitian Revolution, as well as the American Revolution.  While an image of George Washington peacefully praying in the forest represented the US’ fight for independence, artists portrayed Haiti in a savage manor: a landscape of people running around and homes being burned to the ground in the foreground.  It’s interesting to note that while death was common and necessary during the Haitian revolution, more individuals died during the American Revolutionary War.  In order to maintain the idea that the American fight for independence resulted “great liberty”, historians have down-played the truly liberating revolution in Haiti.  Despite achieving liberty for all of its population, the Haitian Revolution has been silenced.

There is No Such Thing as a Contemporary Monument

Jeffrey Schnapp opened up with the paradoxical existence of a “modern” monument: “if it is a monument, it can’t be modern; if it is modern, it can’t be modern”.  Although a monument is meant to represent or commemorate a certain group of people or an event that took place, the passing of time is inevitable.  As time passes by, ideologies and cultural norms change; and as a result, structures that once seemed to appropriately and accurately representative of the nation as a whole are outdated.  Schnapp implied that all structures, once constructed, are inherently out of date because they are historical objects: something that is built one day, is out of date the next.  Although certain structures, specifically monuments, might be out of date as time passes, the issue of what to do with the piece of architecture still exists.  Is it right to destroy a piece of architecture that may hold some cultural value?  Is it right to leave a structure that represented past “evil” untouched?  Although this decision varies case by case, the speaker gave an interesting example, citing the Bolzano victory monument.  Despite potentially having a “bad” meaning, the monument in Bolzano itself is beautiful.  Instead of destroying the monument, which would potentially take away from the cultural identity of Italy, the structure was kept; however, certain features were added as a “compromise”.  A ring attached to one of the columns was intentionally added to throw off the balance of the structure.  Although this seemed to be a suitable compromise for the population of the city, Bolzano was divided.  Because the city has both a high density of citizens who are Italian, as well as individuals of German decent, reactions to the “new” monument vastly varied.  For the native Italians, the people were furious.  As Schnapp noted, this monument was constructed out of Italian pride for their country; with their beloved structure vandalized by a “ring”, countless articles and editorials were published in protest.  While much of the Italian population of the city was frustrated and viewed this as an act of “delinquency”, it’s interesting to view other demographics of the Italian population and their response to the “vandalism”.  Germans, many of whom were descendants of World War II veterans, living in Italy responded accordingly: they loved it.

Schnapp ended his presentation with a few closing thoughts about monuments and their legacy.  According to the speaker, many monuments that once flourished seem to generally lose their meaning as time goes by.  Generation after generation, people become less attached, as the story surrounding the monument is lost and manipulated.  So what will happen?  Will these monuments disappear into the landscape?  In all likelihood, yes.  While landmarks do play an important role in shaping the culture of a certain nation during a certain time, all landmarks have a time limit.  As the speaker stated, architecture must serve for the living, not the dead: cities can’t be tombstone.  Instead, architecture must be continually updated and revamped to fit the culture, yet at the same time, preserving the memories of the past.  Paradoxical.


Even since the very first scientific articles and journals were made available to public view, information, ideas, and themes have all been twisted so that the content being portrayed is more relatable and easier to understand.  However, as Dr. Stone notes, much of science is often oversimplified to the point where it is in fact incorrect.  An example of this misinformation is apparent with the community’s perspective on the “classic” portrayal of evolution.  As depicted in the transition from gorilla to monkey, the image suggests that the “original” species, the monkey, has the goal of eventually becoming a human, step by step; however, this is not true in the slightest.  The concept of evolution deals with a species and its ability to best survive and adapt to its current environment.  In contrast with the image, the “original” is not striving to become human, rather, humans happen to be one of the many branches which share a common ancestor.  To further emphasize this point, Dr. Stone noted that humans are not the species.  However, throughout millions of years of mutations, humans came to rise and are best suited for their environment, but not necessarily for all environments.  Suggesting that humans are the most advanced species on earth would be incorrect.  While humans may be best suited to the environment they inhabit may be correct, compare humans with bacteria that live in hot springs or bacteria that flourish in stomach acid.  Humans would be scorched and killed instantly when exposed to the high temperatures in hot springs, while being dissolved in the high acidity of stomach acid.  Evolution is not a ladder, but rather occurs through mutation, by chance.

Other misconceptions Dr. Stone noted were issues in science that seem hypocritical, yet are still used as proper scientific terms.  Anyone who has taken a high school biology class is familiar with the term “wild type” of a species: the allele that is found in nature, however, this widely unchallenged definition suggests that there is only one “allele” or version of the species that exists in the wild.  As stated before, mutation occurs in every offspring.  While a fruit fly might mostly contain red eyes in the “wild”, there is still a relevant amount of insects that contain white eyes or other traits that are not “orthodox”.  This hypocrisy in current biological terminology was possibly derived from Plato’s Theory of Forms.  According to Plato, every object or species has an idealized form.  This conflicts greatly with the research Darwin conducted during his career.  If every species truly did have an idealized form, then all species would be the same.  Having an idealized form suggests that species don’t in fact undergo evolution, but instead, undergo the ladder process depicted and improperly believed to be evolution.  Each species does not strive to be a certain form, instead, it acquires adaptations that best allow it to survive in its given environment.

Revolutionary Cartoons

“The internet has no borders”.  Khalid Albaih expressed how any why the internet, specifically social media, acted as a catalyst for political unrest.  However, in order to truly understand the rise of the political internet, it’s critical to examine why it gained immense popularity.  In hopes of suppressing any outside view or criticism of the current government, Albaih noted that even in his own country, newspapers were written with a very narrow perspective, one that agreed and complied completely with the government and its policies.  These sources of news were not newspapers, they were propaganda, targeted at citizens as to lessen their horizons and strengthen their loyalty to the government.  With a corrupt system in play, change was necessary in order to give knowledge to a suppressed population with little access to outsider opinions.  With the failure of newspapers to deliver trustworthy, unbiased opinions and information, Albaih and many others turned to the internet in order to spread their message through unfiltered and uncensored lens: the movement takes off.  Albaih specifically noted the example of the businessman working the streets of Egypt who set himself on fire, resulting in a massive response; however, if social media was not available to cover this event, the story originally titled: Man Sets Himself on Fire in Response to Awful Governmental Treatment is now titled: Botched Suicide Bombing.  Luckily for the people of Egypt and around the world, this story was not mangled and twisted by the mainstream governmental-propaganda newspapers.  But instead, this event was recorded and posted on internet, helping to spread the word and expose oppressive governments.  Proof of this viral video’s impact is evident in the fact that thirteen videos of people setting themselves on fire in protest were posted within a week of the original one.

While articles and videos can be helpful in demonstrating an idea, Albaih noted an obvious flaw in some of these forms of media: the boarder of language.  Although revolutionists have set out to translate and decode messages to allow people of all tongues to take in the information, Albaih claims that a strong way to spread a message is through a cartoon.  Unlike English, Chinese, or Arabic, “art is a universal language”, a message that needn’t contain words in order to spread an opinion to others.  Albaih has claimed to draw a cartoon every day for the past few years, some of which have gone viral and have stirred the long standing opinions upheld by many.  Most notably was his cartoon of Honsi Mubarak, the current president of Egypt at the time.  While the cartoon itself has a strong message, more importantly, the cartoon spread quickly.  Albaih notes that the cartoon was spray painted and drawn on walls all over Egypt.  Simply by designing an image and publishing it on the internet, Albaih had started a chain reaction: his work had gone viral, and his message had been spread.  By initiating a tidal wave of new perspective and thrusting it upon others, he had rebelled against censorship and exposed the faults in the current president Mubarak.  The internet has opened doors that were previously locked due to the government’s influence on mainstream media.  With countless new perspectives and unfiltered criticism, social media has lifted the curtain of ignorance that the government has draped upon them.

What’s Tambora?

If there has been any single naturally occurring event that has been overlooked, it was the eruption of Mt. Tambora in 1815.  As Prof. Wood claims, the eruption had countless ecological, social, and economic impacts; however, the famous eruption seemed to be outcompeted by “more alluring” events, including Napoleon’s defeat, as well as the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The mixture of the enormous Tambora eruption and little global attention resulted in a catalyst for change.  While the eruption of Mt. Tambora itself was not necessarily revolutionary, the series of events following the explosion altered the stability and function of many societies.  Although the inhabitant of Mt. Sumbawa felt the wrath of the volcano first hand, those living on the island were only a mere fraction of those effected by this eruption.  Prof. Wood repeated time after time that “teleconnection”, how one event impacts other events around the globe, was the major theme surrounding the eruption of Tambora.  A classic example Wood gave was the increased human vulnerability to disease, specifically cholera.  Because of the change in global atmospheric behavior caused by the eruption, deadly cholera was spread to regions of the globe that had not yet been exposed to the disease, resulting in a large death toll accompanied with global-wide grief.  Despite the horrors caused by the outbreak of cholera, this pandemic had a silver lining that is tele connected back to the eruption of Tambora.  As a result of the eruption which caused cholera, the modern sewage systems were developed to combat the unsanitary environment many people were living in, a huge step forward in terms of scientific innovation.

Another, but less obvious example pertaining to the teleconnection evident in the eruption of Mt. Tambora includes the invention of the bicycle.  While it seems that the invention of a two-wheeled vehicle and the eruption of a volcano on a remote island could not be alike in the slightest, Prof. Wood noted that these two events were in fact tele connected: Following the explosion, the growing seasons worldwide were shortened drastically, leading to a global famine.  As result of this famine, people became desperate for food, killing and eating anything in order to survive, including horses.  Lacking the ability to travel by means of now non-existent horses, the invention of the bicycle rose from the ashes: an efficient means of transportation capable of replacing the horse.  Although puzzling at first, the rise of the two wheeled vehicle emerged because of the eruption.  And of course, the development of the modern weather map came to be because of the unorthodox weather patterns caused by the eruption.  While the weather map itself was not necessarily a ground breaking invention, it led to the development of climate science, drawing attention to a rapidly growing field of study.

The eruption of Tambora itself was not a revolution by any means, however, the mountain’s explosion acted as the catalyst for many other events which would occur around the globe. The seemingly unknown eruption of 1815 led to a drastic change in the scientific, social, and ecological makeup of the world.  Prof. Wood emphasized the idea of teleconnection, a theme that embodied Tambora.  Tambora was not revolutionary; The reaction Tambora catalyzed was revolutionary.

The Revolution of Thought

The “Scientific Revolution” wasn’t a revolution in the sense that enormous truths were unearthed.  Although some information was learned during this time period, the “Revolution” acted as the catalyst for a new way of thinking: modern thought and processing.  Information discovered during the years of the revolution seem to be obvious facts: The sun and the rest of the solar system does not revolve around the earth: the earth, as well as the other planets in the solar system revolve around the sun because it’s mass is greater than that of the other planets.  As Dr. Cohen noted, the revolution was not entirely scientific, but rather, the revolution opened the gate to a pathway of modern scientific methods.

Having been dominated by theological reasoning for hundreds of years, philosophers and thinkers began not only asking questions, but instead, challenging questions that had previously been answered.  As Cohen noted, during the time of the middle ages, it was generally accepted that there were only seven planets in the solar system.  The reason why?  Seven was a holy number and because God created the perfect universe, this was considered to be sufficient proof.  Despite Galileo literally discovering an eight planet through his telescope, theological and untested evidence was considered to be ample evidence for the negation of this ungodly eighth planet.  The revolution, however, changed this way of thinking: measurements, instruments, and the scientific method all contributed to the goal of challenging pre-though notions often based off of a theological prospective.  The Revolution, while answering some questions, asked even more; answers to complex questions were not answered through a religious lens, but rather, universal truths would be unveiled throughout the collaboration of mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers in the future.

The scientific revolution, despite not being especially scientific, introduced a way of thinking and reasoning that would lead to the discovery of the greater knowledge of the universe. It was people like Bacon, whom, despite holding very questionable views at the time, were able to formulate new ways of thinking that would lead to greater truths.  Although Sir Francis Bacon was not a scientist by any means (he believed the earth was flat), he developed a certain way of thinking: “thinking about thinking” as Cohen puts it.  Led by the means of collaboration amongst fellow scientists, Bacon preached hypothesizing, testing, and comparing results with others.  In this way, Bacon very much represented the Scientific Revolution.  Although he did not truly answer the question of whether or not the Earth is flat, he paved the way for future people to conduct tests to determine whether the earth was in fact round, a universal question that would eventually become answered as a result of “the new way of thinking”.

By asking questions and challenging common beliefs, The Scientific Revolution’s greatest contribution to society was not the material information it supplied the general public with.  Dr. Cohn continually stressed that “the most important factor of the Scientific Revolution was the metaphor”, the idea that thinking was revolutionized and changed to allow for the great scientific advancement in the coming ages.