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Bio 103 Week One: Science? and Life?

Paul Grobstein's picture

Glad you're here, to share explorations of life. If you're registered in Biology 103, remember to log in before posting here. Others are welcome to contribute without logging in. Such comments though will be checked to avoid spam postings and so be delayed in appearing.

In any case, remember that this isn't a place for polished writing or final words. Its a place for thoughts in progress: questions, ideas you had in class (or afterwords), things you've heard or read or seen that you think others might find interesting. Think of it as a public conversation, a place to put things from your own mind that others might find useful and to find things from others (in our class and elsewhere) that you might find useful. And a place we can always go back to to see what we were thinking before and how our conversations have affected that. Looking forward to seeing where we go, and hoping you are too.

You're free to write about anything that came into your mind this week. But if you need something to get you started, what did you think of our effort to say what science is? Or of the idea that evolution is a story?  Do you think any of this has anything to do with life?  With trying to define it?


cushsb's picture

Life is...

I remember this class last few terms ago and it brings so much memories.
It is kind of weird to think about how we're all just a bunch of molecules and cells floating together and the actual thing that is holding us intact are intermolecular forces.

It makes me wonder though how does biology explain the soul?


eharnett's picture

Life: what is it?

As I looked at the picture of the desert before class and pondered about what life actually was, I came up with some criteria in my head.  Most importantly, I believed that to be alive the object must do some form of energy transfer, along the lines of photosynthesis or cellular respiration.  I believe that if we used this criteria, we could limit what is alive and what isn't.  When something stops transfering energy, then it dies (the opposite of life).  I also believe that being "alive" would mean something is made up of cells that are constantly interacting with each other. 
Ron C. de Weijze's picture

Life is touching

Ultimate pragmatism (Paul's walking with Rorty) indeed does away with objective truth, even though this was the underestimated Popper's cherished concept, that he seperately described from subjective truth. Consider what this means for learning. Why would you still want to learn anything, when it is all subjective, or objective but 'non-foundational'? You would continuously be excused to play internetgames for 18 hours a day. Scientific inquiry isn't all that linear, it is not at all! Compare it to someone coming home late at night and there is no light, no moon no stars, streetlanterns aren't lit and he has no flashlight. So he is wandering and wavering, meandering like a drunkard. Yet he finds his way. And when he is home and can turn on the light, he is aware that the road was straight after all or at least it now seems clear and 'linear'. And such is life as well: my old professor always told us that "all life is testing" (testing and touching are one word in Dutch).

ekim's picture

on life.

in class, we stopped at living things being defined by its "improbable assembly" and as having a "collection of properties." But then how many properties would qualify as being a collection of properties, and therefore a living thing? And if science has no right or wrong answer, does that quantity in defining a collection of properties depend on The Crack?
Kaitlin Cough's picture

What is life??

What is life?
I think to be "alive" in the sense of the word as we know it, (i.e. things that we say are alive on earth), an entity must satisfy several important qualities. It must:
-take in energy
-grow and develop
-respond, adapt, and evolve over time in response to its environment
-be able to die (then again, we can only define death once we have defined life)
-have the capacity to reproduce and/or aid in reproduction of its species at some point in its life (I'm trying to cover the "males can't actually reproduce so they're not alive/women over 60/etc. questions here)

I also like the idea that living things are ordered-if you grind something up it won't look the same, however, I think that's a bit broad. Because, again, you could say that's true for many, water bottles, etc. Also something that has cells...although I agree we can't observe that from the window of our spaceship, so we'd have to make observations for that in a lab. Those are the few criteria that I think of when I think of a living thing though.

I'd like to talk more about the abortion question though, because I'm unsure at what stage a fetus can do those things, or what things it can do at certain stages. That would help me form an opinion for the "is abortion murder?" question.

vcruz's picture

Stories and Truth in Life

As discussed in class, I agree with science being more stories than truth, and in relation to life, I think that only our pasts can have truth in them, our future or our presents are many stories in development. I love having the flexibility of figuring out my own story from what I observe rather than have something told and be forced to take it as the Truth. However, there are beliefs that take this whole idea of there being No Truth too far,-- so, is it that the Truth is that there is No Truth? Also, I could never take the idea of evolution as a Truth. Besides the fact that I do believe that only God could create something that the humanity still can't explain, I find it extremely hard to think that some unknown force made cells reproduce on their own and turn into different living creatures. It just doesn't fit in my head. I rather believe that a (spiritually) known God did it.

That's all I have for now, thanks for making this class so fun, and at the same time to challenge us on what we believe, take as truths, find out in our own... etc.


Rachel Tashjian's picture

As everyone else has said,

As everyone else has said, this class rocks! I spent most of my time in high school science classes reminding myself not to doodle in the margins of my notes. But now, I am finding science/biology engrossing, something that I want to know more about. I like the loopy-observation method because it challenges the traditional boring idea of the scientific method. But it also makes a lot more sense to me than the traditional method because I'm an English major. This way of looking at science is like the way I read a book or construct an argument in a paper. In high school science felt like something I had to take, that I should accept that I would never be good at it, but now I'm starting to think that I am able to relate to and understand science.

Sharhea's picture

Evolution- A Story

I think I prefer the idea that evolution is a story. There are many questions we cannot answer in this world but as the SAT instructions states, one has to find the best fit. My belief that there is one God that created us does not want to believe in the evolution theory but if I want to hear a good story I am open to this theory. I look forward to learning more things in this class. This class begins the thinking process, one we don't always use in our hasty life. Do anyone agree with me?
Kee Hyun Kim's picture

a different approach

To be honest, I was a little bit worried in the beginning. A typical science class (at least in my head) evolved around textbooks and lectures by the teacher.  Unlike humanities related classes, there were fixed answers and anything that differed from these set answers were shunned as incorrect. The occasional lab sessions existed only to strengthen the position of these set answers and when students had different results, they would be punished with a low grade.


Being accustomed to such science courses, I was a little bit shocked by the unique way this class was conducted.  There was Holy Grail of ultimate truth. The only certainty that seemed to exist was that everything is uncertain and science merely exists to classify the likelihood of each prediction.


One of the reasons why I became a political science major (instead of taking the math and science route, a very popular road for Koreans) was because I didn’t like how little room one had for creativity in this world of fixed answers. However, with this class I am beginning to realize that there is more to science than that and think that our class if off to a great beginning.

Kendra's picture

changing my thinking about science

wow. the last class was a little intense. don't get me wrong...class is EXCELLENT. its just that I've been taking science forever and being told that there is another way to think about it was kind of mindboggling. the traditional method has been drilled into my brain for years and thinking in terms of the Loopy Story Telling Perspective is a little daunting because its so new!

i really like the idea of science as a story and a summary of observations. at first i didn't really understand what that meant until we used to examples of 'the earth is flat' etc. This class is making me think in a whole new light...and i like that. 
kgould's picture

No More Truth

I took two years of biology in high school, one honors course and one AP course... and while I found both classes interesting, the discussions that took place mostly focused on finding a correct answer or identifying a solution or discussing the "right" answers to a lab we had performed in class.

I accepted that method and never questioned it until now.

I've always understood that science is tentative, that there's always room for growth and change; that's why theories are "theories" and not "laws."

(Nevertheless, it irritated me when other students dismissed theories as flimsy explanations for events science couldn't yet understand). 

But I never considered the fact that there was no "truth." This idea, coupled with the idea of science as storytelling, makes me even more excited to pursue Biology in college.

ekoike's picture

I completely agree with

I completely agree with everyone who submitted their opinions on this forum. I never thought that I was going to be experience a class where you approached science in a completely innovative way.

Being tied to only one answer (and to a textbook) was the way that I had studied science all throughout my high school years, but after beginning this class it's taught me to constantly question everything and to look for ways to negate current theories. I really look forward to studying through this new approach!


PS2007's picture

Until this class I had no

Until this class I had no idea that Biology could be a discussion class. The Biology class I took in high school involved memorizing textbook pages and multiple choice tests. I definitely like the format of this class better. I feel like I am being given the chance to actually think about the material instead of just repeating what the teacher says. The idea of science as a story is simple, and yet compared to the way I was taught previously it seems revolutionary. I'm really looking forward to examining science in a whole new way.
asavannah's picture

A new way of approaching science

The discussion in class on Friday made me think of science in a completely new way. I like the idea of science being a series of stories that can’t be proven true. Going back on the ideas of the earth revolving around the sun and the story of the earth being round and not flat have been ideas that many of us have believed because these are things we have been taught in school. There was never a time when I really ever questioned or thought to question these beliefs until now. I feel that I am really going to enjoy this class because it is not the traditional biology class, with this class, we will be able to question many theories and come up with our own conclusions.   

Catrina Mueller's picture

I have to say, I quite like

I have to say, I quite like the idea that science is not a set of concrete set of rules and facts. "Facts" are constantly changing. Many years ago, it would not have been absurd to say that creatures spontaneously generated from rotten food. Technology that we have now could only have been described as magic way back when. It's interesting to imagine what we take as "fact" right now in 2007 may well be marked as absurd as spontaneous generation in the future. It really makes you question everyday life and your beliefs, since a single observation may disprove a "fact".

I also like the notion that there is bias in science. All through childhood, we were taught that science is "The Truth", but how can something that comes from humans be the absolute truth? It is impossible for anything to be perfect, so why should we claim that science is the perfect truth? We all have opinions and it is easy to let our partialities influence our works. Science is not as rigid and consummate as some may think. There is room for error, in fact "true" science embraces it. There is no perception that there is one "right" answer and that everything else is wrong.

Science is a story, as stories are as close to the truth as we can humanly get. We may not always tell our stories correctly or we may embellish them according to our tastes and styles. Science, itself, is the neverending, always changing story.

andrelle's picture


The idea that science is like a story is very interesting and a little hard to wrap my mind around it because we've always been taught that science is truth.  I actually like the idea that sceience is not complete facts because when you think about it in that way, then there is no reason to feel the need that one needs to choose between their own personal views and the ideas that science presents.

I really like the notion that one cannot believe in science, i think that it is a mistake that a lot of people make.  I believe that one is able to be a better scientist when they regard science as something that should not be believed.  It allows the scientist to continue making observation and be open to new ideas without sticking to one concrete belief.  Science is about questioning to me and so one should always be questioning and making new observations.

Elizabeth Harnett's picture

A new mantra?

In my high school science courses I remember that we were always told "science can never be proven, only disproven". It soon became a mantra that everyone had memorized and was taught to say, even if they necessarily may not have believed it or understood it. While I did understand some of the basic concepts behind this idea, I never got to study it as in depth as we have in this class so far. The discussions that we've had and the idea of science as a "story telling" process is very different to me, but also seems to make more sense. Though in some ways it is still hard for me to believe that nothing is necessarily "true" (how can the world be anything but round, for instance), I am trying to open my mind up to this idea of storytelling, and so far it seems to be working for me.

MarieSager's picture

At first I was actually a

At first I was actually a little scared of looking at science like this-it seems so indefinite and up in the air! But the more I think about it, the better it seems. In a way it reminds me of the quote "The only thing you can depend on is change," in that a new story/new summary of observations can always potentially be found. Evenmore, if nothing can really be proven to be true, it means that things must always be in motion and always be changing (or have the potential to change. And the more things change...the more we can learn!

Also, Im a history major and Im beginning to see history as a summary of observations. People see and experience different things and therefore they have many different summaries of observations that shape the way they view and understand the past.

Paul Grobstein's picture

History as "story"?

OrganizedKhaos's picture

Stories vs. Facts

The discussion we had in class on Friday really opened up a whole new meaning of Science to me. At first science was always just about these experiments that had been done and proved something to be "true". But since we've established that there can be an alternative observation in a certain situation we cannot simply prove anything to be right. In addition to the other side of the story is the crack which i believe definitely exists and may be a major deciding factor in deciding whether the summary needs replacing or not. I believe approaching science in this manner will lead us to seeing science with better understanding and a more open scope to new ideas.
kharmon's picture


After the discussion we had in class on Friday, I realized how much sense the non-traditional scientific theory made to me. I had always considered science to be a bunch of facts, and was often shocked when I listened to the news and heard of breakthroughs and changes that disputed these "facts". When I completed experiments for myself in high school and got "abnormal results", I always assumed I had done something incorrectly or just simply was wrong. Now I understand that the entire basis of science is OBSERVATIONS. For several of these observations, there are little to no observations that serve as evidence against them, but it would still be naive of me to accept them as authority without making any observations of my own.
Shanika's picture



Looking at science as a set of observatons that can never prove a conclusion right, but consistant, makes me ponder: why do we live by certian rules, laws and beliefes? I am convinced that everything is a story, and a story is made by ones observations and beliefes, so how can we live by what another believes to be the right observation?

Who am I to answer the question "what is life?" I am a humanbeing that has many observations and plenty of stories of what i think life is, personally i believe that it is struggle. It consists of struggles, which makes it struggle right? well atleast for me...from experience. Evoltution....i do not think the definition of life consists of evolution. How do they tie together? I do not know.

When i think about my stories of what i think life is, I still can not tackle the notion of what it is? Its proably a set of observations that can never be truth.....but we live it so it has to have some truths.

Why can't I answer the question with confidence, when i experience what it is every day? 

Shanika Bridges-King
LaKesha's picture


I am really really enjoying this class. I was afraid of taking a science class because I thought it was going to be learning from a text book and there wouldn't be a lot of discussion. I got completely the opposite and I LIKE it. I am really enjoying our discussion that science is a bunch of stories, not about TRUTH!! There is no conclusion, you can only make more and more observations. Whenever I did something in science, there was a right answer and a wrong answer, which made science seem like there was no room for error. I mean in high school, everytime we turned in lab reports, we pretty much all turned in the exact same assignment, so BORING!! We have already learned so much in class about science and ourselves. I mean I never thought I would be able to say that, "I am a scientist and I have been since I left my mother's womb." I am glad to be in a class where it is good to be wrong sometimes. In fact, it's better because then you get to go back and find your mistakes and try to fix them and if you're wrong again, you just have more and more observations to make.
Kaitlin Cough's picture

Science as Fact or Storytelling...

I like the notion that science is constantly being written. I'm a little uncomfortable with it being "story telling," though I couldn't really say why exactly. I guess I'd like to think of it as a more tangible truth? Maybe that's just because I'm afraid that if science isn't factual and "truthful" then what is? It was always so dependable. So if I observe that there is a desk in front of me right now but it's gone tomorrow am I not allowed to say that it's true that it's actually there? But I can touch it. It's true that it was there...for awhile. Maybe I'm just taking this too far. But that's all I was wondering. And as for what we talked about yesterday, basically Evolution vs Creationism and how maybe there aren't as many observations for Creationism but it's still a possible story because it can't be disproved...How far do we take this? That's a story that's based on faith, and if faith is accepting and believing in something without proof or without observation where does it fit in with science?

Jen's picture

I'm enjoying this class a

I'm enjoying this class a lot because there is an element of discovery to it that was never present in my other science classes. The labs we did in those classes only served to prove someone else's point. Rarely did we understand what we were doing; we went through the motions. Rarely did we develop our own experiments to question problems we had thought up. And we never had class discussions for the purpose of inquiry or to try and learn from one another.
Samar Aryani's picture

The class discussions have

The class discussions have brought about a new understanding and realization about science for me. The 'loopy story-telling' perspective makes so much sense especially when compared to the traditional perspective. The idea that science as a process is not linear but rather loopey is very true because you never know as to what will happen the next time the observation is tested. That is why you can never prove a summary to be true but you can prove it to be false. I never even thought to take this type of understanding into account because I have grown up with the traditional method of either you got the right answer or you got the wrong answer. This class has taught us that science should actually be looked at as a set of stories; a good scientific story motivates new questions and summarizes all previous observations. Even though a summary of observations may be proven false, it does not necessarily mean that it was a bad story, it paved the way for another story.
LuisanaT's picture

Maybe its best to enter college with an empty slate

We are first taught that a hypothesis is "an educated guess" in elementary school. Then in middle school "an educated guess" escapes our lips like word vomit and we're corrected. Finally get to college and the concept of hypothesis is thrown right out of the window. The few things that remain burned in our minds after years of schooling are constantly being redefined. Another example, the 5 paragraph essay format is abolished once you step onto college grounds. All of the years of formal education prior to college seems like a waste of time.

The majority of kids are not even concious of the unproductiveness found in their classroom. They have just been conditioned to just get the "right" answer so that they can erase it from there memory and move on to the next subject.

The only reasoning I can come up with for such an unproductive way of teaching is......I'm lying, I can't.

Ruth Goodlaxson's picture

Have you taken any

Have you taken any education classes? So far I'm really liking this course because it practically employs a lot of the theories we read about by people like John Dewey and Paulo Freire. Educational theorists talk a lot about the need for education to be the joint discovery of knowledge between a teacher and a student, but this rarely actually happens. I would say a lot of the "unproductive" teaching has to do with meeting standards set by standardized tests, which really require memorization of things like a standard experimental procedure and the "Scientific Method." But yeah, if you haven't taken an ed course, it sounds like it would be up your alley.

Kaitlin Cough's picture

Live Long, Die Young

Very interesting class today. What a different approach. I like it a lot-it seems like it will help with critical thinking and analyzing material, not just memorizing a textbook. A new way to think about science. Really loved the bit about observations being summary rather than truth.
I've just finished the Live Long, Die Young article (sorry I'm a bit behind maybe this isn't the place to post stuff about that?? I missed Monday's lecture...)...about to go on to the others, but thought I'd comment first. Just a few questions I had...
Why do entire populations seem to live longer than Americans? Italians for example. Their rates of smoking are higher, their cancer rates are way lower. Why is that? Are stress and over-working ourselves factors?
Why are the longevity rates so much higher for women than men? Eight years seems like a pretty big difference.
Okay so I'm about to go try and find some answers to those questions and read the other articles. If anyone has any thoughts on all this though...

eurie kim's picture

about science.

I liked what we talked about in class today, especially when we were bashing the traditional scientific method because I agree.
The traditional scientific method, as I learned it back in high school, was so procedural, and I feel like I never really got anything out of it.
When we were in lab partners/groups, we had to try so hard NOT to make even the tiniest mistakes to get the RIGHT answer. I was more worried about following the rules than figuring out what happens.
But shouldn't it be okay to make those tiniest mistakes in experiments in order to see what happens when something isn't right? Aren't inconsistencies what makes someone think for themselves, and as Dr. Grobstein said, prove something wrong?
As we talked about in class today, science isn't the truth nor is it right, it's just less wrong.

I'm liking this class already.