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Bio 103, week 1

Paul Grobstein's picture

Welcome to the on-line forum for Biology 103.  This is a place for thoughts in progress, a place to leave thoughts and questions that others may find useful and find ones that you might find useful, a place for conversation.  Join in, and let's see what we can make of life together.  If you're registered for the course, be sure to sign in before posting.  Others are welcome to join in as well but posting of comments will be delayed to check for spam.

At the beginning of this week, be sure to post an introduction to yourself, along with some questions you hope to explore in the on-line forum at the end of the course home page.  And then come back here during/at the end of the week to continue the conversation about what we've talked about this week.  You're free to write about whatever has struck you.  If you need something to get you started though what do think of the idea of science as story telling, of life as process?


Serendip Visitor's picture


Hi everyone,

I just joined this class last week. I wanted to let everyone know a little bit about myself. I am a psychology major and have interests in business. I had reservations entering into this course because one of the requirements was to "be responsible for the learning of your peers." I thought about that and did not feel I could adequately teach anyone anything abut Biology since I was coming into Bio 103 to refresh my biology knowledge from high school. But the more I gave it a thought the more I decided that even if one person gets to know me while I take this class, I guess in a way, I've successfully taught someone something.

achiles's picture

 This class will approach

 This class will approach science as analytical historians. Today, more than ever, it is so important to look critically at the history of the Earth and to really evaluate what we have always thought to be true. Science is cumulative and we have to ensure that we are not using faulty theory to build our modern observations. 

On the other hand, I worry about never truly reaching a mastery of the basic concepts of Biology. If we don't allow anything to be accepted and agreed upon, we will obsess over language and semantics to the detriment of progress. I hope we learn to reach a happy medium in this philosophical Biology class so that we can use knowledge, observations, and convictions about Biology to interpret and adapt the way that we and others interact with the Earth. 

achiles's picture

late introduction

Hi, I'm Anna Chiles from Birmingham, AL. I'm a junior Sociology major (concentration in African American Studies) and a double minor in French and Education. I came late to the class and the forum. I'm taking this class to explore Biological concepts from a subjective standpoint. AP Bio was a struggle for me in high school, but I am excited to come to this subject from another perspective. I am particularly interested in the role that environment plays in society and how that role will become more and more complex as carbon emissions change our ecosystem. I hope, among other things, to use my understanding of biology and earth science to help me adapt my lifestyle to the changing environment.

c.k.koech's picture

tell me a story

I like the idea that science is in many ways really just a story,everyones story. we all see the world from our own perspectives making it impossible for there to be anything conclusive about our observations in the sense that, I will always observe with my own eyes and how can someone else truly see what I see. There will always be truths in science and in life (science is life) but they will be the truths that we each have come to our own conclusions on never being able to become (T)ruths. Of course there are facts in science but those are because people stop asking questions and whoever has decided that their conclusion makes the most sense and enough people believe them bingo bango bongo you get yourself a $100 bio book.

With that said I really think this whole process is really beautiful although daunting that notion that we will forever be revising our "stories" I think its the reason we are all here in the first ask questions and never completely settle for (T)ruths.

drichard's picture

loopy science, accepting subjectivity and ourselves

I have thoroughly enjoyed this past week's discussion of loopy science. I believe that we should continue to combat the notion of subjectivity as pollution of "scientific data." After all, no human observation is made free of perspective. Furthermore, any observation made without the human touch of perspective would be useless. What good is an observation that does not apply to our actual lives? Isn't science, the study of our reality, successful insofar as it enhances our experience of it? Our summary of observations helps us to understand our world and thus better exist in it, whether that means coming to know the habits of a herd of buffalo so as to better hunt them or mastering the microscopic mechanisms of infectious diseases so as to prevent them.

Our acceptance of subjectivity also carries significant philosophical implications. If we conceptualize science as an experiential endeavor specific to the individuals doing it we can begin to forgive ourselves for natural human error; we can begin to better understand and love our humanity.

Lastly, the idea that "there is nothing that may not change" is instrumental when it comes to being responsible for our realities. "Science" could conceivably be defined as "taking charge of one's reality by actively engaging the world around oneself with a healthy skepticism/distrust ." We cannot take for granted any aspect of our existence as tomorrow that aspect could be completely different or backwards.

JPierre's picture

Last Week's Discussion

So far I have been really enjoying our class discussions as they have deconstructed many of my previous thoughts about science. For most of my life, I have had an immense fear of science, mostly because I was scared of being wrong. I felt that science was too rigid and didn't allow for mistakes. You had to be right and that was that.

Yet, this class has made me more confident in my sometimes silly and simple observations. My simple summary of observations could lead to something greater than I had originally envisioned. I appreciate that even the greatest scientists must go through the same "loopy" process that I do in order to obtain results. Most importantly, this "loopy process" removes the fear of making mistakes. I no longer fear making mistakes because I know it is integral part of the process; I need to make mistakes in order to modify and improve my summary. I know now that the goal is not be right, but instead to be less wrong.

I also found the discussion on Truth and science to be particularly interesting. This way of thinking seems more exciting than just simply believing what others before me had discovered. This mindset of not taking science as truth forces me to always be inquisitive and question what I have been taught or told. It forces me to search beyond texts and find the observations that led to those proposed thoughts. This method is asking me to constantly question, think, formulate, and reformulate ideas. I find this  method far more interesting and challenging then just taking everything I hear for face value. Most importantly, it allows me to contribute my ideas and thoughts to science, with the goal of crafting a better, "less wrong" idea.

Terrible2s's picture

Truth vs. Falsehood

We learned in class that there are no "facts" and that there is no "truth." Therefore how can there be any falsehoods? It seems that if science is not trying to prove truth but instead to find falsehoods how can there exist an absolute wrong but not an absolute right? There are no truths so there are no falsehoods.

I wonder also about the doubting nature of science in general. Why must it be half empty? In the American criminal justice system one is innocent until proven guilty. Science (or at least the loopy version) seems to be doomed to be wrong until it is proven such. It's depressing. Can't there be facts? And if there can't be then why are we making "summary of observations?"

skindeep's picture

thinking out loud

Maybe the fact that there are no facts doesn’t have to be depressing and can instead be liberating. we make observations because in science, like in almost every  path of life, we are searching for an ultimate truth and as we walk on the path to discover that, we pick up some concepts and disregard others, hence making out own trail of falsehoods. No one is bound by what we see as false unless they allow themselves to be conditioned to believe it. 

From what I gathered during class, science seems to be as interwoven into human experiences and thought processes as say philosophy or psychology. Science, like the human mind doesn’t doubt as much as it questions. You present an idea to yourself and then investigate it. See how you feel about it, look at it from all angles and see if you agree with it. Isn’t that what we do for everything? When we search for our own beliefs or reasons, we questions things - ourselves, our circumstances, and our thoughts. And it circulates in our head until we make peace with it. I think that science works the same way; you see something, believe it for the moment, then play with it, tease it, compare it to other things, and if you make your peace with it, stick to it. Otherwise, you keep looking.

The concept of truth is so subjective. What’s true to you or I could be insanity to a third person. I don’t think that science views the cup as half empty in the pessimistic sense. I think it’s half empty because there’s always room to question more, search for more etc

the same goes for the way it treats facts, observations are regarded as 'true' until proven otherwise, making it quite like the American judicial system.

This isn't a harsh outburst though I realise it might look like one, it's just random ramblings from my mind.

jmstuart's picture


 I think the part of our class that most struck me last week was the idea that the general public views science as Truth, and how potentially dangerous this may be. For example, with evolution, you can find scientists that support completely opposing viewpoints. The problem with establishing science as the ultimate answer to our questions (as it normally is presented in elementary school), is that it's hard to convince people that some scientists might just be wrong. 

Also, at what point do we accept that a concept has "enough truth" to act upon? Since our loopy view of science asserts that we can never be completely right, how can we make the best decisions on pressing issues such as global warming or controversial vaccinations (i.e. Gardasil)? This is a concept I would like to explore more in our next class.

heatherl18's picture

Truth vs. truth

 One thing that really struck me during our discussion last week was this notion of "truth." Truth is an abstract concept that we believe in and have convinced ourselves is real because we have a very human fear of the unknown. I like that we refer to scientific "truths" as little t, because the elusive big T will probably never be uncovered, no matter how much we as a society conflate little t and big T. Everything is true until it isn't. Like the example we used in class the other day, with the story of the Earth being flat vs. the story of the Earth being round. For a while, it was true that the Earth was flat. The only reason it's no longer true is because new observations became available with new technological advances, requiring a new summary of observations to explain that particular phenomenon. This new summary of observations led us to what we now regard as truth. We have dismissed the old summary in favor of the new one. However, as 100% certain as we all like to think we are that the Earth is flat, we cannot prove that beyond a doubt. Conceivably, further technological advances could open up a discovery of an even newer set of observations, which relegate our theory of a round Earth to the pile of ex-truths where we can find a flat Earth and a sun god. Or maybe it is True, and we'll never know. My point is that by subscribing to this idea that there is a definitive Truth, we are missing out on all the little truths we could be ruling out.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Along with everyone else, I

Along with everyone else, I really enjoy the idea of science as a loopy process. My grandfather was a biochemist and always tried to encourage my brother and I to think of science as a creative subject, something that was always open to discussion and revision. Unfortunately our schools didn't quite it the same way that he did. But still, I've always liked the idea that science does not need to be so cut and dry, that not everything has to be fact.
The idea of subjectivity in science really intrigues me, especially since currently so many scientific debates are also moral debates (ie, stem cell research). I think its important that as young people who so often fed scientific information from the media that is "fact", we learn to dissect it, to understand where the subjectivity in the so-called truth lies, and to draw our own opinions about it.

ED's picture

The door is totally open

Well, I couldn't agree more with what everyone who's posted has to say. I too am bad at memorizing dry facts and I hate the lack of creativity that goes into the lab reports I've written ("the shorter the better" my physics teacher said last year). Having been inspired by our class, I wrote a ton in a document outside of serendip about a few things-- including thinking about the earth being flat/round and whether the sun revolved around the earth or vise-versa from a totally "uninformed"/raw point of view, which was a refreshing exercise. I found a cool website that reminds me a lot of our class (yes, I did google one thing while doing my "raw" thinking about the heavens):  I would post everything I wrote, but it's really a lot, and I'm assuming serendip is to be used as more of a summarized-writing sort of "place" (?)

I also wrote about how any question of "why" -- including everyday, casual whys like, "why do I always feel so groggy after eating pancakes" or "why isn't he calling me" or "why did she leave without telling me" are all observations that, despite sounding like questions in a sub-par romance novel, have the potential to be explored "scientifically", i.e. they all are observations that could be experimented on. I realize nearly anything you observe can be experimented on. However, I do have one issue with experimentation--- you can never exactly recreate a set of conditions or a context to "retry" something in... you can mimic the original scenario you observed, but simply because time passed, the original scenario has changed. But I guess that's why you only experiment on things that are recurring... a hypothesis is a summary of GENERAL, recurring observations ("the sun rises and sets everyday"). 

I really look forward to this class. On a totally different note (I will bring this up again in person to you, Prof Paul Grobstein): I think it would be excellent if we could have this class around a table instead of in theater rows. It's hard to have a conversation with my classmates about all this interesting stuff when I can't even see them. Do you think it would be possible to have the class in a different room??


Karina G's picture

Week 1 comment

 When professor Grobstein said that we were all scientist and that we had been making science since we were babies, that really struck me because is true. I never realized that we do things and try out things just like scientist. Truth is we all have the capacity to do science. I think we forget about this because the experiments we do as babies and now adults are simple and an everyday activity.

I like this way of looking at the scientific method as a Loopy process. Seeing it as a loopy process makes science less rigid as we are used to looking at it.


Terrible2s's picture

baby science

I like it too. It makes questioning things seem natural (sorry I know that word is something we're supposed to stay away from) because we've been doing it since we were little.

dchin's picture

Week 1

I've always thought of science as something very rigid and fact-based, which stands in opposition to my humanities-oriented interests. The idea that science does not have to be that way is very welcome, but is also a slightly scary discovery. While I've never been especially interested in science, its structure was comforting because the idea that there are definite answers to our questions is easier to accept than the idea that we'll always be searching for new answers. Once I began looking at science as a story, I saw that while there are no absolute Truths, there are truths that we can accept while we search for better answers.  It is strange to think of science as something that evolves and matures with the interests of scientists, as opposed to something that is carved into high school science textbooks, to be memorized but not questioned. I look forward to asking questions and making mistakes.

paoli.roman's picture

Reflection on Week 1

 Once I heard Professor Grobstein say that science does not deal with creating Truth but creating mistakes and having success failing I thought he was going crazy! It is interesting how all that is needed to create a breakthrough in science is to simply create observations and hope to be wrong to then come up with a better and stronger idea/ observation. The idea that experimenting within the field of science is an ongoing process of simply telling "stories" makes the "natural world" around us a playground full of adventures waiting to be discovered. With this incentive we as scientist can figure out was is wrong and create a better social communities. This week I came to understand that biology is a very useful tool to help create new ways of thinking and analyzing ideas. Although it might create skepticism, this is the beauty of science. Being constantly in question of the observations and summaries that one has created to create satisfaction in theories. The "loopy" scientific method has helped me embrace with more confidence the idea of what science is and how it is a process.  

dchin's picture

I agree with your statement

I agree with your statement about using science to create better social communities. I've always thought of science as something very much separate from my life and daily routine, despite being aware that most of my daily routine is made possible by past scientific breakthroughs. However, if we are all scientists, even without white lab coats, science is much more accessible, which provides greater incentive for the entire community to contribute to it.

Terrible2s's picture

Yes yes yes. It makes science

Yes yes yes. It makes science seem interdisciplinary, like never before. It seems like other attempts to bridge gaps between disciplines has been more "science=fact" and so science would bring "proof" to other "weaker" disciplines. This just makes every discipline science!

cejensen's picture

Science: Not Cut-and-Dry

Truth be told, I have in the past thought of science as Truth (capital t). Though I always approach ideas with skepticism, I always assumed that there are Truths in science, and regarding issues we have not come to conclusions about, that there is a Truth out there.

I think it is these assumptions about science that caused me to view science as inaccesible to me, or somehow above me. Although I understood that science was extremely relevant to my life and appreciated it's importance in the modern world, I thought that I, as someone who tends to lean towards humanities and social studies, was not cut out for science. I thought that science, while extremely interesting, was too cut and dry for me.

After this weeks discussions, I understand that in science there isn't a single right answer to a question or an issue. It is a never-ending process, it is subjective, and it can be interpreted different ways. These are all aspects I love about, say, interpreting literature or considering history.

Now I realize can think about science using the same mental tools I use in my humanities classes, and that's a big step for me.

JJ's picture

on class discussion

I think that the idea of science being subjective is a crucial idea to any progression we might have in the scientific world. On a basic level, subjectivity might allow a particular scientist to focus his/her study on a subject that they might have personal experience with, whether it be interest or some connection to that subject. This would drive them to "dig" deeper, creating new observations that could lead to a new(er) story. As was mentioned in class, being subjective also means that there would be several different points of view relating to one observation, which helps to make a new observation seem more legitimate. Where one scientist could have a personal experience, interest, or background in his/her subject, another could have none of the previous with it, creating two completely different views that could eventually form observations into a true statement in their part of the scientific story.

cejensen's picture


I completely agree with you here. I used to think science was just a completely objective study of facts, but after this week's discussions, I realize that science can be subjective, like other fields of study that I am more comfortable with. I always have found biology interesting, but now that I realize that I can think about it in a subjective manner (and that that's a good thing), I think I will get more out of it, and have more to contribute.

Serendip Visitor's picture

continuing class discussions

I think that the idea of science being subjective is a crucial idea to any progression we might have in the scientific world. On a basic level, subjectivity might allow a particular scientist to focus his/her study on a subject that they might have personal experience with, whether it be interest or some connection to that subject. This would drive them to "dig" deeper, creating new observations that could lead to a new(er) story. As was mentioned in class, being subjective also means that there would be several different points of view relating to one observation, which helps to make a new observation seem more legitimate. Where one scientist could have a personal experience, interest, or background in his/her subject, another could have none of the previous with it, creating two completely different views that could eventually form observations into a true statement in their part of the scientific story.

heatherl18's picture

 I think you're right, that

 I think you're right, that the subjective nature of science can lead to versatility within the field based on personal biases. I also think that this is important in terms of maintaining balance. Despite the fact that we have talked in this class about the subjectivity of science, many people look to science as objective fact. Here, this subjectivity is both a cost and a benefit. The drawback is that because of the disconnect between the public conception of science and its reality, a opinion-tainted "fact" will be accepted as truth by the average person, and in that regard, a scientist has a dangerously important role in determining what truth is in a given society. The benefit, however, is that with so many people doing science from their own biased perspective, the individual biases will hopefully cancel each other out and we will all have a variety of truths from which to choose.

Paul Grobstein's picture

loopy science: getting it less wrong

Thanks all for interesting conversation this morning re "loopy" science.  Yes, there is an "inference" involved in making a "summary of observations," an inference that the summary will always hold, is "universal."  And so the diagram should probably say "generalized summary of observations" instead of just "summary of observations."

Serendip Visitor's picture


Hey, I'm Lili and I'm a freshman at Bryn Mawr. I don't really have specific questions yet, but I'd like to learn more about genetics, evolution, and anatomy so that I can develop questions later on.