FALL, 2003

Reconsidering Science, Biology, and Life

Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  Reflections ...
Date:  2003-12-08 09:56:53
Message Id:  7485
Many thanks for everyone's participation in our work together, a social process "in which the observations and tentative summaries are shared among individuals, so that each can benefit from the ongoing inquiries of others". For your final forum entry, how about going back to your thoughts at the beginning of the semester about science and life and reflect on what has (or has not) changed in your thinking since then.
Name:  Julia
Date:  2003-12-11 12:03:08
Message Id:  7506
At the beginning of this year, I was just starting to think about science as something besides "that subject I'm required to take."
I'm now sort of struggling with a couple of subjects I don't know what to do with. I feel like not taking any more science would be copping out, especially now that I've finally had a science class that wasn't dismally boring. So do I stop taking science and math courses because I'm not great at them and I'd rather do other stuff, or keep at them to make myself somehow better-rounded? Gaaaa!
I guess I have changed at least a little, because a year ago I would've been perfectly happy to chuck science and never give it a second thought. I suspect that what interested me most about this class, the discussions about race and the patterns between big things and small things and such, was more philosophy/social science than anything else.
So, final conclusion: Julia's even more confused now than she was at the beginning of the course, which is maybe a good thing.
Name:  Melissa H.
Date:  2003-12-11 12:46:42
Message Id:  7507
Proving something "less wrong". Having taken numerous science classes, I have never presented with science with such a mantra. By applying this to the study of biology, the steady, piecemeal progress or "bigger picture" starts to become clearer.

Biology, like many other sciences, breaks life down to the small levels. Processes of revisions to thought and understanding are fundamental to the reconstruction and syntheses of these procceses. Each time something is "rebuilt" or reformed, it configuration becomes more lucid.

The implications from "getting it less wrong" are the underlying ties to the progress of understand and "seeking" the truth. The constant cycle of revision propells thought and initates new perspectives, understandings, and tangential findings in the progress. While the finding "truth" is a dubious task, hopefully it will never be accomplished, as the desire to achieve it fuels this cycle.

From this semester, the implications to "keep looking" have given a new perspective to the concept of life, as well the applications in other disciplines.

Name:  Christina!
Subject:  thoughts on science
Date:  2003-12-12 02:01:33
Message Id:  7512
Wow. I can't believe the semester is over. I really enjoyed this class, and my perspective on biology and science in general has changed a lot since the first day. I went to a high school in New York City where there was an emphasis on math and science. Coincidentally, there was also an emphasis on "right answers." Whether it was a biology, chemistry, or physics exam, or even a lab report, I felt like our grade was contingent upon the "accuracy" of every word and step we used. Hence, learning science meant a lot of memorization and regurgitation of facts and formulas. Looking back, I didn't really think for myself in my biology, chem, and physics classes. Don't get me wrong, other than that I got a great education there, but this class has taught me that there really aren't too many "right" answers. Proving something doesn't necessarily mean proving it "right"; it means proving it "less wrong." I can't agree more with Julia. I never realized how similar Bio and Philosophy were until this semester! I have also become a much more critical "science reader". Before, I would read the NYT "Science Times" or some other science related article and pretty much believe everything that was said. Now, I have come to terms with the subjectivity of science, and know that what they say isn't 100 per cent accurate. Even if data was collected carefully, different people always try to represent it in a way that will best support what they seek to show. Finally, as cheesy as this may sound, I learned that it's ok to be wrong. Wait...not just that it's OK to be wrong, but that we should be wrong at least once a week (I think that's what was said on the first day of class...)! It is through the process of "being wrong" that we open ourselves up to new ideas and thought processes and learn to think more critically. If we were "always right", just think how narrow minded we would actually be. And this truly represents what science is all about: revision, and notions in the making (not facts, formulas and right answers!!).
Name:  Christina
Subject:  Back to religion
Date:  2003-12-12 02:40:35
Message Id:  7513
Patty and Anna,

I agree with much of what you were saying regarding religion. I am Catholic, and come from a very Catholic family. I don't agree with a lot of aspects of the religion. I find it in general to be very hypocritical. Sadly, I even find some of the most "devout" Catholics to be very hypocritical in their lifestyle and actions. Nevertheless, I think many people need religion in their lives as a source of support (i.e., somewhere to turn when all faith has been lost). I was reading some of the links Prof Grobstein put up, and this one almost brought tears to my eyes:

(read the post about the woman who was suffering from cancer). It was through religion, and specifically, Catholicism, that this woman was able to come to terms with her terminal illness. With the amount of suffering present in today's world, I think religion has become more significant than ever. I have a feeling that someone is going to say that as science and society progresses, there *may* be increasing proof that God doesn't exist. In other words, that as the years go by, there will be less of a "need" for religion because ppl will become dubious about it and the existence of God. However, I think the "existence of God" belief is just one of those things that has been around for so long and is so established and engrained in society that people would be VERY hesitant to even question it. I think most people would also fear that it's not their place or "immoral" to question something so sacred.

Name:  Justine
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2003-12-12 09:49:42
Message Id:  7514
Religion and science. I wonder why so many people find them to be like oil and water. I come from a family where religion was highly valued so I guess you can say that I'm biased with that I can also say thatmy parents instilled in me a sort of fairness in attitude when it comes to this. I guess what I'm saying is that they said inorder to perhaps find the truth and begin to answer some of the unanswerable questions maybe there needs to be a merger of the two ideas. It seems to be that relgion alone can't (well unless you're a fundamentalist) every question and the same thing with science perhaps if we merged the two and called then 'relgience' that answers could be found instead of fighting over who says what and whats right. I don't know I'm spinning my wheels.
Name:  Justine
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2003-12-12 10:08:56
Message Id:  7515
Religion was I guess you could argue on of the founding things of society. I mean in like ancient times groups of human beings pulled together to become a group for various reasons and one of those reasons happens to be religion. I don't know if the fact that religion becomes more right or wrong but I think how the world used to be in the fact that people were forced to worship one thing or another which is why I think now that because that outside force driving people to do one thing or another in terms of religion has changed. I think we will go one debating this issue probably forver. Does that sound depressing yes possibly but I also think as the years progress whether one of the two is right our attitudes on the significance of wheter religion or science is right will be less significant. I think as a society we've moved out of the time were the two are completely seperate. Maybe part of the reason why people are so upset now is because there is no clear cut line on what is what because there has been a blending of the two. I guess humans need the distinction as much as we like the whole "seperate but equal" idea I guess i'm saying is that we need a clear cut decision. I guess that's still the problem with diversity maybe. Well what I mean is that diversity is based upon individual things that are different in some method what is interesting that sometimes one is not superior to another but instead the outcome of being diverse and its interaction with other things proves to be more useful and helpful. In in some cases the whole is greater than the sum of the parts...So, what does this mean in relation in relgion and science and I guess diversity? Not really sure but maybe instead of worrying about who said what we should wonder how/why that was said and possibly what is the significance of that statement on the surrounding thought
Name:  Ramatu Kallon
Date:  2003-12-12 23:09:44
Message Id:  7519
I learned alot from this class about society and what we consider to be the truth. There really is no truth, and I feel like we all sort of know that, but we try to convinvce ourselves that truth does exists. I have to admit, I was afraid to admit it to myself, but this class has helped me to accept that everything and everyone is not perfect in society.
Thank you all for helping me expand my intellectuality.
Name:  Abby
Date:  2003-12-12 23:55:44
Message Id:  7520
Wow, this semester flew! This has been the most unique class I have ever taken and I am so glad to have taken it.
I have long struggled with the whole theory of evolution because I had attended Christian schools up until Bryn Mawr. There, I was pretty much told that evolution is wrong and that it is something that we can study, but not without first making it clear that it is not something that we as Christians really "believe" in. Admittedly, I turned into a person who took the declaration and ran, and when faced with a debate on evolution, I would often shut down because I just did not feel there was anything for me to debate. But since I have been here, I have been forced to give my beliefs and thoughts closer examinations so that I might be able to support my opinions. This class has supported me in my ventures to be able to support my ideas and to come to a better understanding of how we have come to be where we are today. Our discussions about evolution and religion I found to be extremely helpful; I find now something that I just would not have thought of in high school; that is, that I can be a Christian and still see the logic in the idea that we have evolved. I am still not really convinced that we come from monkeys (and I know that no one was trying to convince me that we have), but I see how we as humans can have easily evolved so as to adjust to our environments. I can "believe" in the stories of creation AND evolution. In my mind, I see God creating both humans and monkeys, as one would read in the Bible, and I can understand how both species can have evolved over time to where they are today, and I can see how they will continue to evolve with our changing world. I think that these ideas have been the most forward-thinking for me as far as my growth this semester. The whole idea of getting things less wrong is a helpful way to approach learning. So often we get caught up with being right. We want to be right and to prove to other people that they are wrong and it puts a huge damper on the learning process. Getting it less wrong is the way to go! ;-)
Name:  Maria S-W
Date:  2003-12-14 21:29:13
Message Id:  7528
I hate when things end. It always feels sad. Except for Calculus, the end of calc wasn't sad at all. But the end of this class is very sad indeed. I've enjoyed it very much, and it seems sort of incredible to me that when I saw "Bio 103" in the course catalog at the start of the semester that I had no idea what this class would be like. I personally was thrilled that it was unlike traditional science courses. Instead of trying to tell us every single development that has occured in science since the start of time, I feel as if I now understand at a more fundamental level what science is and what it is trying to do. Thank god that was the case, I'm not sure I could have stood another semester of reciting the diffrences between plant and animal cells on command. Just to weigh in on the issue of evolution versus science, one thing that never really came up in class is that Christianity isn't the only religeon out there that provides a story for creation. I think that acting as though the choice between evolution and creationism is "either/or" is incorrect as 1) it can be both (as discussed at length in class) but also that there are endless other stories out there to account for our existence (basically, if you can find a culture that existed before the spread of Christianity, you can find another story) and maybe if we all knew a bit more about all the other stories we would be less of conflicted about accepting the idea that more than one story can be correct. I never felt terribly conflicted about creationism versus evolution (probably because I never put much stock in creationism, in all honesty) because I saw it as one of thousands of stories that groups have made up to account for us being here. I loved this class, I loved what it was about, I really liked the sheep lab. See you all around!
Name:  Laura Wolfe
Subject:  end of course
Date:  2003-12-15 15:48:35
Message Id:  7534
I agree with Abby in that the semester has FLOWN by and this has been the most unique class I've ever taken. I'm actually sad it's over. I've had to think about religion, diversity in people and races, the mortality of our sun, my own existence, the relative size of the earth compared to the sheer amount of space that surrounds it... all these things have been frustrating and hard to keep up with, but have all found their way into my thoughts every day this semester.
I can't acutally picture myself not having taken this course. Science now finds its way into a lot of my papers for other classes, even though I never enjoyed high school science classes. I did feel that inside of me was a scientific mind because I loved reading Discover Magazine and watching PBS science specials and everything... I just couldn't connect it all into my life, or intergrate those interesting stories into my own understanding of how things work. But looking at science from this new view - that everything is another story and we are trying to get them less wrong - makes all of science seem so much more approachable and flexible. It makes me realize the reality of forming a hypothesis, testing it, making new observations, testing them again...
Science seems less like a list of chemicals and more like a way to explain anything. And with so many dificult problems in life, I think any new tool that helps people sort through their existence is a helpful thing. This is how science has helped me to apreciate religion and science at the same time. I find it strange that my relgion never helped me to understand science.
I will always remember this course, and there are many individual lessons that I will remember very clearly, like changing molecules of a rock to an elephant...understanding the depth of the shocking similarities between everything we see around us... but the lesson that had the most profound impact on me was when we started at a lily pad and our view got bigger, and bigger, until we were seeing the entire earth dissapear into space, and then only the light from stars and galaxies were visible.
Altogether I am changed by this course and I am happy about this change. I wish I could start from the beginning again and realize all these changes as they happened, but now in this new place of understanding I feel I can't go back, and that I have to use what I know of science now for other areas of life.
Thank you for providing this insight into science for all students who, because of our majors, might not have ever taken a science class. It was really a wonderful experience...
Name:  Natalya Krimgold
Subject:  End of the Semester
Date:  2003-12-15 19:50:32
Message Id:  7536
Can't believe the semester's basically over, and there's still so much work left to do. This class has changed the way I look at science. It's easy to forget that scientist are only operating on the basis of available observations, and most scientific theories can never be determined with certainty. What was more important to realize, is that certainty may not be the point at all - instead, exploring, and uncertainty may be. Well, thanks to you, Professor Grobstein, for the innovative approach to the subject matter, and thanks to my classmates for contributing so much of your insight to the forum and class discussion. Ciao.
Name:  alison
Date:  2003-12-16 17:38:56
Message Id:  7545
who knew that science didn't have to be approached with the expectation of finding cold, hard, unchanging facts? by far the most imortant thing i've taken from this class is the fact that science is an always continuing, always unfolding journey of trying to get things "less wrong." i'll never look at science again as a subject of facts and figures, but rather as a subject that is always evolving and changing--for me, this is a big discovery.
Name:  Adina
Subject:  reflection
Date:  2003-12-18 19:33:08
Message Id:  7554
At the beginning of the semester, I was uncomfortable with the idea of science not having all of the answers, but I liked the idea of science being a combination of biology, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Now, I like the idea of having lots of different answers for everything, but I also like the way that all of these different answers work together. Not only do biology, nueroscience, psychology, etc. seem to have different "stories," but these stories seem to interweave and make up the bigger picture. In the same way, the different components of biology seem to be different interwoven stories. It is a combination of concepts like physics, chemistry, and the theory of evolution.

One of the things we focused on in class was size. In biology, little things are all components that together make up bigger things that together make up even bigger things and so on. In the same way, biology is just one story that works together with other stories to make the big picture and helps us to get things "less wrong."

Name:  megan williams
Subject:  final thoughts
Date:  2003-12-18 20:54:41
Message Id:  7555
This biology class has really changed my outlook on science. The topics that are really interesting, like religion vs. evolution, nature vs. nurture, genes, all the "taboo" or controversial topics that we never broached on in high school, we got to discuss in this class. Our labs were actually stimulating.

As far as personal thoughts, I now realize that science doesnt have all the answers or all the truths. Experiments aren't done to be right, they are done to find all the wrong answers. Dialogue about science doesnt always have to be so boring. And science does apply to our everyday lives.

Name:  Nomi
Date:  2003-12-19 11:47:58
Message Id:  7558
I think the main thing I've learned (aside from how much thinking you can do when you set aside the piles of facts) is that the principles of life and of our universe seem to apply on so many different levels. Maybe, in some way, on ALL levels!

It all started with comparing science to life itself. Both involve making and testing observations, formulating new stories. Life is a scientific process!

And then we have clumpiness and the tendency towards it -- which occurs with atoms and universes and, of course, life (cells, organisms, societies), in between.

The trend toward increasing complexity -- this goes hand-in-hand with clumpiness, and applies to molecles, cells, organisms, societies, the universe. In fact, if hydrogen was one of the first atoms (was it?) and

we know it's also the simplest, helium, too -- this may have at one point applied to the formation of atoms, as well!

Ditto for the trend toward increasing diversity -- which goes hand-in-hand with the others.

The trend towards increasing boundedness goes right along with the trend toward increasing specialization; both occur in life and in non-living matter of all sizes.

If you ask me, all this is bloody amazing. I carried it with me to my other classes: we dicussed architecture in c-sem, and I thought, "Here we go, the tendency toward increased boundedness and compartmentalization." In anthropology, we learned about the rise of hominids, and I thought, "Aha! Increased brain complexity;" we came to the rise of city-states, and it was, "Oh, yes, increased clumpiness and specialization."

I alway knew life was governed by laws. What I didn't know was that non-life was governed by some of the same laws. That the only thing distinguishing life from non-life, perhaps, was the speed at which changes took place -- because of enzymes.

That we are not so different from the rest of the universe, after all. That no exceptions need by made for us just because we are living.

I hope I remember this always. It puts every aspect of my life into a new and more logical context. I know we learned about uncertainty and about the inevitability of change, but I do not feel unsettled. What has struck me most is this overarching pattern.

Name:  Flicka
Subject:  overview of what I learned
Date:  2003-12-19 14:28:16
Message Id:  7560
Before I took this science course, I was sure that biology was just a bunch of facts that one was expected to learn in school. However, what I learned from this course is that there are no truths in science. Science is just a way to constantly explore new ideas and new theories. It is also a way for people to keep learning about the world we live in. I really enjoyed this philosohpical approach to biology because it made me question the things I took to be "true" and "real".

Before I took this class, I never gave much thought to the evolution vs. creationism debate, but we discussed it at length in class and it was very intense. But I think it's important for people to question what they believe is true, because everybody has a different opinion and you can learn a lot from others by listening to their opinions. Therefore, I enjoyed listening to what other people had to say on the subject, and trying to come to my own conclusion.

Also, I realized that life is much more complicated than I ever imagined. I find it amazing that so many different cells in the body need to perform complex functions in order for us to live. I also find it fascinating that although each cell or group of cells performs its own task, it does so without a director or leader. This makes me think that cells are more advanced than humans since we need a person in charge to establish order.

Another thing I learned this semester was about diversity. I learned that not only is diversity beneficial to organisms, it is essential. The whole discussion we had about reporduction with variance and genetic expression made me value our differences as people and as a race.

Throughout the course, not only did I learn about biology and science, I learned about how to get things "less wrong" and how to search for a way to summarize observations in the most accurate way without labeling it as a "truth". I realized that while science is not truth, scientists will continue exploring the universe to see what new observations they can make. And that while we will never come to the "truth", we can conclude certain aspects of life which are useful to us to study. That, I think, was the most valuable lesson I learned from this course.

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