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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Grad Idea 2002-03 Forum

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beginning and ....
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2002-10-16 20:30:29
Link to this Comment: 3273

Thanks to all, and particularly to the organizers, for an enjoyable and productive first session. And welcome to the forum area, which I hope people will find useful. The idea here is nothing more than to provide a place to continue conversation, in an arena where others can drop by and learn as well. The idea is not to make definitive statements, but rather to share thoughts in progress, with the idea that these may trigger interesting thoughts in others and they in turn interesting thoughts in oneself.

Along which lines ... two thoughts that I've had. One is the interesting issue of whether recognition of "emergence" in a social context precludes individual action in pursuit of social change. I'm convinced it doesn't preclude it, but does suggest that certain kinds of action are likely to be more effective than others. To put it differently, social activists need to be as aware of the critical dependence on distributed systems as social conservatives, and to think about their interventions accordingly.

The other thought is more of a pointer than a particular idea. "Emergent systems" is the topic of another, more specifically oriented SciSoc working group. Anyone interested particularly in this area might want to look in on Emergent Systems, and perhaps try and join their meetings in addition to sharing ideas with this group. All are welcome, there as here.

Re Pinker
Name: Sam Glazie
Date: 2002-10-23 14:55:27
Link to this Comment: 3326

Here is Pinker himself on NPR over the weekend:


Pinker plus ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2002-11-19 19:50:34
Link to this Comment: 3798

Thanks all for an enjoyable and stimulating conversation (yes, I DO think it is possible to achieve a culture in which difference is regarded not as indicating "better" and "worse" but rather as productive and valuable variation ... and we're not doing a bad job of showing that possibility).

Two thoughts that stick in my mind. One is that it is indeed valuable in the social work context to retain the idea that individual action during individual lifetimes IS meaningful/can bring about change. That is consistent with the genes INFLUENCE everything, don't DETERMINE anything idea (Genes and Behavior). The latter goes beyond it in calling attention to consider the possibility that, for a given individual, what needs to be considered is not only their cultural context but ALSO their "innate" (genetic) context. Different individuals, with quite similar experiential/cultural contexts, may display quite different behaviors and have quite different needs. It was interesting to hear that Judy had herself made an argument, in a different context against "norming" human behavior. That set of considerations/parallels is worth exploring futher.

The other idea on my mind after our talk is Pinker's failure to speak meaingfully to the issue of "morality". For the sake of the record, my argument about evolution was not to say that we are "born" with morality, but rather that evolution provides us with a possibly useful "metaphor" for THINKING (deliberatively) about what morality we want to adopt. This, incidentally, presumes "free will". The idea is that we can notice that biological evolution values variability, understand why, and choose to make THAT the key stone of a morality (Diversity and Deviance: A Biological Perspective. What particularly amuses me in this context is that the pragmatists seemed to have failed to appeal to large numbers of people (perhaps like Pinker?) precisely because they too finessed the idea of "morality". See The Metaphysical Club). This isn't a pitch for our reading that book (though I think its a good one) so much as a note to myself about an issue worth pursuing. Where DOES "morality" come from (a "common" story synthesized by lots of people, as we talked about) or somewhere else? Why are people willing and/or reluctant to assert a "morality"?

Negative/ positive factors and we
Name: sadashivan
Date: 2002-12-16 09:41:59
Link to this Comment: 4106

Extreme of positive gives effect of negative and when negative reaches its extreme some one comes to change negative wave to positive.

Fire (spark) is reaction, produced by friction of two substances in negative and positive (opposite) directions. Fire seeks help of substance for its extension. It is the substance that helps fire to become furious. So intensity of fire depends on power of substances. Unemployment, poverty and illiteracy are as substances that help terrorisms to gain strength and become furious

Role of negative and positive factors in our life is as truth as birth and death. We are controlled by their influence during our entire life span.
When we are borne our energy field is narrow. Expansion of energy field is by the environment around and experience we gain.
Negative environment can be minimized and changed to more positive environment but that depends !!!!! More the number of positive thinkers grater the strength of positive environment. So, number of positive THINKERS has to be more than the number of negative THINKERS for dominating environment.

Negative and positive are two different aspects of our universe with two different objectives, if one is night the other is day yet they are linked to each other because without night there is no day. Two features opposite to each other have to join together to form a shape. So relation of negative and positive is imperative for creation and its evolution.

Faster the growth sooner the extinction. Eucalyptus tree which has fast growth and goes as long as 60 feet without strengthening is base so it is defenseless to flood and storms thus its death is also fast. In the same time we have mango tree also, which grows slow but the growth starts from their root which penetrates below earth to make strong base to withstand heavy body and natural devastation

• Extreme of either is for beginning of other so Excessive of every this is bad
• Decomposition produces bacteria and bacteria is for new life. Is fungus not the first stage of creation on earth?
• Negative/ positive factors comprise in each living life. I will always say I am right, you too, because if I say I am wrong, will not commit. only you can perceive if I am right or wrong?
• Both negative and positive exist side by side. what is positive for me may be negative for you as difference of opinion changes from person to person. When a take a stick, what I face the end of stick is positive side and other end is negative, but, when stick is turned becomes opposiite what negative is now positive and what positive is now negative.
To gain something we loose something. To gains more and more materialistic is loss of spiritual.



Women's Ways of Knowing and Prior comments
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2003-03-21 11:43:49
Link to this Comment: 5123

Our GIF meeting on MArch 20 related in some ways to earlier thoughts about the development of morality and the role of gender in both moral development and in ways of knowing. Quite honestly, in the current world situation where many seem to feel that their own sense of morality (and a separate- if not separatist one at that!)is so "right" that it must be thrust on others, it feels dangerous to talk about morality and knowing. Yet, the WWof K book, couches it's highest stages of ways of knowing within contexts of connectedness and attempts to understand others' world views. It does seem that there may be a connection to the "Two Cultures" argument in all of this. It seems to me that the (false) dichotomy of science/ humanities, when pushed to its polar extremes mirrors the "separate knowing" and the "Connected knowing" Belenky et al talk about. It reminds me of Peter ?, the physicists' comments on the Two Cultures page that he tries to "remove himself" from professional papers he writes (a separate knowing strategy) that is in direct contradiction to Xenia's comments yesterday about how "expert's" share their sense of how they personally organize and integrate understanding and passion about their knowledge base. How might one share personal organization and passion without allowing oneself to "show" in professional writing? Is this something that is part of the division between science and humanities that that sort of selfless-ness that scientific objectivity assumes is antithetical to women's general ways of knowing if they are preferentially done in a connected manner? For myself, I know one of the more memorable assignments I ever did was to write a poem about some aspect of physical science (for a physics course I was taking). For me, it connected very objective (in my mind boring, cold "spit back learning") to something I began to feel and cared about. Anyway, this is a somewhat jumbled set of thoughts, but I want us to start utilizing this space more, so I welcome thoughts as jumbled as this, or as organized as Paul's and everywhere in between! Judie

Quantum Questions (and more!)
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-04-10 19:16:46
Link to this Comment: 5352

Judie et al--

thanks so much for the lively discussion today on science and religion. I enjoyed myself and learned some things (what's better than that?) Here are the various sites I mentioned: you'll find Paul's intriguing conversation w/ Jeanne-Rachel Solomon @; this is part of a larger site called "Science and Spirit" which Sharon Burgmayer and I created recently, which you can find @ and where you'll find a number of other folks talking about the intersection (or not) of their intellectual and religious lives. You can also find the Brown Bag conversations in which faculty and staff have been discussing related questions about science and culture, science and values, science and "conscience" @ .

I very much look forward to pursuing more of each of these threads w/ you in May--


the deep dark secret
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2003-06-01 13:17:37
Link to this Comment: 5741

Having spent a lot of my life earning the right NOT to be the bad guy (cf and, let me see if I can get this straight AND preserve my reputation.

Human behavior is NOT understandable/predictable from a knowledge of either atoms or neurons. It is ALSO not understandable/predicable from a knowledge of social/cultural forces/institutions. To "make sense" of human behavior one needs to appreciate BOTH the the influences of the parts which make up a human (atoms, neurons, etc) AND the influences of the larger systems of which a human is a part (families, cultures, etc). Among the things which knowing something about the parts makes clear is, for example, that human behavior is not in fact "predictable" (cf Hence, the use of the phrase "make sense of" rather than "predict". Humans (all organisms) are exploratory entities for which unpredictability is an essential component.

In short, I refuse the label of "naive reductionist" (cf One cannot "understand" humans from the "bottom up", by studying neurons. But I equally reject the purely "top down" approach; what humans are made up of is demonstrably relevant. In an old article (unfortunately NOT on line) I argued for the "from the middle out" or "boot-strapping" approach. Start from wherever you are and get less wrong by BOTH trying to make sense of things in terms of their parts AND in terms of that which they are a part of. Yes, one CAN do useful things by staying with one perspective and many people do. And one might, by taste or background, PREFER the top-down OR the bottom-up approach, but the most effective stories emerge from exploring both the parts that make up a given whole and the structures of which that whole is a part.

So far, so good? Everyone comfortable, and my reputation intact? In fact, so far no "asymmetry" and no "deep dark secret" either. So, let's now acknowledge the "levels of organization" presumption I'm using, explain why THAT yields asymmetries, and hope I can still come out smelling like roses. The presumption is that EVERYTHING is both a whole and a part, so EVERYTHING is best understood both by looking at the parts which make it up and the larger assemblies of which it is a part. Since "science" has historically been both preoccupied by and quite successful at making sense of small parts, and small parts are what larger wholes are made of, "scientists" are likely to have useful contributions to make to the understanding of anything/everything. People lacking that familiarity are frequently handicapped by being able to work in only one direction. It is easier to work in both directions, with regard to almost anything, if one has a comfortable working familiarity with "science". This is NOT a "valorization" of either science or scientists, but simply an acknowledgement that the characteristics of smaller things are relevant in trying to make sense of larger ones, and one's intellectual repertoire is more limited if one is not familiar with smaller things (yes, one's repertoire is also more limited if one is not familiar with larger things, and some scientists suffer from that deficiency, but larger things are in general more accessible/familiar as part of ordinary human experience). Moreover, this particular asymmetry is very much historically contingent. People have been working on/thinking about "larger" things for thousands of years whereas it is only in the past several hundred that information about "smaller" ones has become available. As this new information/perspective gets assmiliated, and people generally become more comfortable/familiar with "science" (, the asymmetry will lessen and disappear.

There is, though, a reason to suspect a deeper asymmetry giving a small advantage to bottom up over top down approaches that will not disappear. Just as parts influence wholes, so do wholes influence parts. Hence causal relationships are grossly bidirectional and symmetric. One can unquestionably contribute to making sense of parts by thinking about how they are influenced by wholes and the role they play in them. The subtle issue though is whether at the deepest level it is from parts or from wholes that "meaning" derives. Is "reality" something in which the parts exist because of some larger design or plan, or is it instead something which reflects nothing more (and nothing less) than a process of exploration of what can be assembled (at successive levels of organization) from playing around with parts? There is, of course, something of a chicken and egg problem here if one considers the question in the abstract. But looking at both biological evolution and modern physics/cosmology, it looks a lot at the moment as if one starts with parts and plays with them, that there is in fact no plan or design or larger "meaning" but only the continual emergence ( of wholes from the interplay of parts. If so, those who try to account for things in terms of some higher order significance/pattern will always find themselves at a slight disadvantage relative to those who try and make sense of things from the bottom up.

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-06-01 14:42:26
Link to this Comment: 5742

Nope. No roses yet.

Paul says that "The subtle issue ... is whether at the deepest level it is from parts or from wholes that 'meaning' derives."

I'd say that meaning arises always and ONLY from the interaction between wholes and parts (what literary theorists call "synecdoche," for which see Theorizing Interdisciplinarity).

I'm deep into a new and riveting book (which--although it's 750pp!!-- we might also consider for our discussions): Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which is also arguing "right now" (I'm on p. 49) that it is the interplay between top-down and bottom-up procedures which give us meaning. Hofstadter introduces here the concept of an "isomorphism" (when two complex structures can be mapped onto each other, so that each part of one structure has a corresponding part--plays a similar role-- in the other structure). He then goes on to say,

"It is a cause for joy when a mathematician discovers an isomorphism....such perceptions...create meanings in the minds of people....This ...correspondence has a name: interpretation....[but] we can have a meaningless interpretation...under which we fail to see any isomorphic connection...."

Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2003-06-24 18:03:16
Link to this Comment: 5776

Oy vey (where there's an oy there's a vey?) ... I stand revealed as not only a reductionist (however small the edge) but also as a male chauvinist pig (however small the ... ?) Anyone got a spare bathrobe? I'll just go quickly change into something more comfortable.

Alright, let's see if I regain some dignity. First off, Liz was of course right. We WEREN'T necessarily trying to find ONE way to think of the "natural science"/"social science" difference. And in various ways all the the various scales that came up in conversation (quantitive/qualitative, seeking understanding/chance agency, explanation/interpretation) are interesting and useful additions to thinking about "two cultures" tensions and their alleviation. So TOO, I think, is the new one taking off from Corey's concerns and characterization of her professional inculcation. Some people believe it is useful to be specific/concrete enough to make it possible to conceive a possible set of observations that would establish that a particular way of thinking about things is wrong in a particular way. Other people start with the presumption that ANY way of thinking will be wrong and so try instead to establish that there are lots of different ways to think about things. I'm a little afraid, right at the moment, of discussing in public what I think of as the pros and cons of each position but might be persuaded to do so on some future ocassion.

Sam .... (did you ever notice how she seems to be sitting there quietly and suddenly WHAM?) ... oh alright. YES, it probably IS true that the idea of science as proving things WRONG is more likely to occur/seem sensible to your average male than your average female (no, I have no interest WHATSOEVER in discussing here why that might be so). And I LIKE Sam's own construal of scientists (in a subsequent brief conversation) as people who "make connections among things". Important as I think that is though, I don't think that discriminates science from other spheres of activity; indeed there are many others in which making connections among things is a MORE prominent activity than it is in science. So, how about the following. Science attempts to connect things one to another in patterns which ALSO can be disproven, and THEN it goes out and tries to disprove them. Individuals may (irrespective of gender but consistent with personal preference) contribute meaningfully to science by either or both activities.

The article I was referring to about all this is "A Vision of Science of Science (and Science Education) in the 21st Century: Getting It Less Wrong Together". And, yes, it includes some thoughts about the importance of distinguishing "science" from "research". But these too I will, in my current fragile state, leave for future conversation, noting only that are not unrelated to some discussion in the Brown Bag series this past year.

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-06-24 23:25:50
Link to this Comment: 5777

Okay: I did NOT very much appreciate today's conversation. I was so quiet largely because I very quickly found myself disengaged by our seeming to go repeatedly 'round a dead horse: I'm not the LEAST interested in valorizing one methodology, or one-direction, over another, however "small" the difference between them. Won't, can't, and am hugely DISinterested in conversations which keep... trying to.

(See one of my recent postings in the Emergence Forum about the dangers and disabilities of pursuing a single path); see also countless works in contemporary educational theory (closest to us is Belenky's Women's Ways Of Knowing) which argue that we should be taught, both as a professional and humanizing principle, to entertain many different methods and directions of inquiry.

I was PARTICULARLY disinterested in the dynamic Judie noted, which Gould identifies and which our conversation was repeatedly re-enacting in a wierd sort of "parallel process": that of the "privileged" presumptions of "science" and the "yeah-but" response of "not-science." VERY tiresome. And NOT moving us forward in any direction that I could see...or even join in on exploring.

As I found myself more and more disengaged from the conversation around the table, I became more and more engaged in the one going on in my head, two pieces of which I record here, for whatever use they may be to others:

Anyhow, I look forward, in the next session, to getting beyond the sort of stand-off and debate we seemed locked into today. I hadn't heard of Toulmin's Return to Reason before this afternoon, but the reviews suggest that he may help us move beyond today's way-too-dogmatic assertions of difference, towards a consilience of equal regard.

A-dogmatically yours,

More thoughts on yesterday
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2003-06-25 11:31:35
Link to this Comment: 5779

While I find Paul's and Anne's thoughts compelling, I'm going to add some that are only peripherally related. When Corey talked about science as developing a sense of Truth, often based on use of numbers ("See, it must be true because it can be measured") and social sciences/ humanities as not believing there is any one truth (capital t or not), I found myself agreeing and disagreeing (after all, that's what the "yeah-but" is all about). I agree that social scientists are likely to look askance at anyone claiming to know "t"ruth- even if it's that neutrinos exist. But the other thing is that we tend to believe that many different stories have accuracies- so that may boil down to not believing in any one truth, but also believing in the accuracy of many "truths".

I found myself particularly convinced of this after PAul's comments about psychoanalysis. I was trained as a psychoanalyst back at Columbia, did it for myself and then provided that service for a number of years. Now, in the psychotherapy and counseling I do, I use aspects of that training, aspects of cognitive behavioral work and even explanations of brain chemistry and structure. I've come to believe that when issues are mild to moderate, often people are just struggling to understand and make meaning from their discomfort. Each explanation provides a different story for their discomfort (from "it must be the way your mother potty-trained you" to "it must be that you aren't doing your thought catching and re-framing in effective ways" to "It must be an imbalance in your serotonin reuptake system"). Each story has different salience and obviously it's own implications about treatment/intervention. And each can be effective. In my mind, this supports the idea that inquiry- whether we want to proclaim that it's "science" or call it something else- requires understanding that there will always be different interpretations, different stories and that no one of them is correct.

When Xenia talked about the chloride process that she's clarified and helped others to see as inaccurately interpreted, for scientists, that seems to be difficult, because they tend (I think) to believe (despite protestations about wanting to falsify) that once soemthing has been deemed accurate through scientific method, that it must be true. Social scientists can be just as culpable, however, many take the view that of course any theory will have inaccuracies- none of it will hold true always.

Maybe it goes back to Anne's thoughts about complex systems. We tend to want to assume stability in the hard sciences (as Xenia was saying- and seemingly accurately), but with social systems, there's constant change from multiple directions. Not only are there then multiple explanatory stories, the stories have to keep changing to explain new constellations of empirical findings.

Anyway, I've come to wonder if much of the priviledging of scientific discourse is because it claims one truth; it's not so confusing if one story is told; multiple stories are both confusing and make the hearer wonder if truth exists- an uncomfortable prospect best handled by grabbing a hold of one truth and pushing it on others as the authority (maybe the best example of this dynamic isn't science itself, but the same kind of dynamic as exemplified by Bush)(Not to at all suggest that any of our beloved scientists in GIF are like the Pres in any way). Anyway, having rambled too long, I hope others jump into the fray so we develop many stories right here- each explanatory or intriguing. Judie McCoyd

help me out please!
Name: Xenia Mori
Date: 2003-06-25 14:18:50
Link to this Comment: 5781

Well...I'm not sure Paul needs a new robe...but I do know that I need to take this conversation down a few notches, because I'm losing track of the arguments, definitions and conclusions. So please help me out.

Do we have a definition for the two groups that we are claiming are divided? What is science? What is the humanities? I think that this has been implicit in our discussion but that it is now time to make things explicit. Who are scientists and who does science? And who are the humanists and who studies in the humanities? Are we discussing this from only an academic standpoint, or are we going to define these things more broadly? Can we start here? Unless these definitions are clear, I don't see how I can proceed.

does this help?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-06-25 17:24:34
Link to this Comment: 5783

Xenia (and anyone else listening in!)--

this is probably more "help" than you wanted,'s where your question takes me; come along if you'd like.

In Theorizing Interdisciplinarity, Liz, Paul and I suggest that the "two cultures" divide is between "scientists, focused on simple and unifying relations that capture key aspects of an object under study" and "humanists, who think in terms of many variables and complicated relations in illustrative but unique situations." Judie suggested something similar yesterday, when she distinguished between those (humanists, social scientists) who attend to the "outliers" and those (scientists) who attend to what is common and replicable.

In another draft paper, still circulating among contributors and so not yet available on the web (though I'm happy to send e-copies to any one who's interested!), Paul and I are reflecting on what we've been learning from a couple of years of collaborative teaching in the College Seminar Program. The essay is called "The Loopiness of Thought and the Braidedness of Being: An Exploration of Teaching Reading, Writing, and Beyond," and begins by saying that

we discovered three starting points for bridging our field-specific disparities:

  1. The concept of "two cultures" is most usefully understood as marking a division not primarily between sciences and humanities, but rather between two intellectual styles that coexist within each of the disciplines making up these larger frameworks. These correspond roughly to a preference for, on the one hand, focus, precision and "objectivity," and, on the other, breadth, allusiveness and engagement.
  2. Language is used quite differently in different contexts, ranging from science, where it is intended to be quite precise; through day-to-day exchange, where it is used to communicate and elicit information; to literature, where it is intentionally ambiguous, playful, and inviting of engaged interpretation.
  3. While most of the work we do in college classrooms both originates in and is evaluated in terms of deliberative language use, in which focus and precision are the desired characteristics, much creative work is not carried out in these terms. Much of the ongoing acquisition of new understandings occurs rather by acting and observing its consequences, or by observing the actions of, and their consequences for, others. Such creations (enacted, for example, by dancers, painters and scientists gathering observations) draw largely on tacit understanding and are not readily (perhaps never completely) describable in language....

At the end of the essay we return to this point:

Snow's analysis of the "two cultures" was motivated by what he saw as a "mutual incomprehension, sometimes hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding" between two groups of humans. Snow identified the two groups as humanists and scientists, but we have come to think that one might equally identify them as women and men, as conservatives and radicals, or as believers and atheists. The commonality, we suggest, is a contrast between two styles of making sense of the world, one broader and more intuitive, the other focused and more analytic. Associated with this difference in style is a difference in attitude toward "progress." On the one hand, there is a desire to leave nothing out, to conserve all there is, and hence a skepticism about the meaning and significance of change. On the other, there is an inclination to move on, to see the past as preparation for the future, and an optimism that change is, in some sense, improvement....

Scientists advance understanding largely by "moving up and down" (inferring from experience, testing by experience, then abstracting from it); humanists do so more commonly by "moving laterally" (inferring from comparing stories, testing by comparing stories, then seeing patterns in the comparisons). This difference in intellectual style, with its associated preference for different language usages, is a difference in how one is inclined to go about using and telling stories. But it is a serious mistake to oppose the two. The grist for scientific inquiry emerges from story-comparing; the products of science in turn become a part of the story-telling comparisons that fuel the humanities. The take-home messages are two: that understanding is fundamentally not an individual but a social activity; and that understanding has two sources: limited personal experience and comparisons of one's own stories with those told by others.

Does this help @ all?


the pursuit of truth?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-06-25 22:25:29
Link to this Comment: 5785

I'm juggling obligations @ two concurrent teaching conferences during the next two days, Friends' Association of Higher Education (of which I am a long-time member) and The International Association for Learning Alternatives, where Alison-Cook Sather and I will be talking w/ "unschoolers" about the "radical pedagogy" going on @ Bryn Mawr these days. So...

I should get to bed. But, frankly, friends, the conversation going on here interests me too much; I can't seem to stop talking w/ you guys. For instance, Judie, look @ Paul's Chicagoland talk for one counter to your suggestion that science is privileged because it offers "truth":

"Conceiving of science as the pursuit of 'Truth'...permits scientists a posture ... of assumed virtue neither carefully thought through nor genuinely earned."

So: what happens --both to science, and to all of us to look to it for the "truth" (=certainty?) we think it offers--if science gives up that posture?

Yes, that helps! but what about Snow?
Name: Xenia Mori
Date: 2003-06-26 13:51:28
Link to this Comment: 5787


I am most appreciative of your reply to my request and I am happy to come along for the ride. Having sat in on several of the talks you refer to (such as the Brown Bag Lunches), I finally feel that I have a little more insight into the broader discussions that have been visiting the GIF roundtable, and now recognize that there has been a greater conversation and level of inquiry around our table than I had previously seen--although I had suspected that they would be revealed at some point. Perhaps I missed the references to this work at some other time? With Anne's posting I think we can all find ourselves close to the same page rather than all over the place as we were last time. I will need to digest this information and get back to you.

But before I do, I need to add one more question, and perhaps Paul can answer this one? Why is C.P. Snow's "Two Cultures" so compelling as a starting point for our discussions? I don't find it a useful tool to me (yet?) because I am not sure that I buy his arguments or his premises because I see great misunderstandings, or perhaps better put, lack of understanding, between the different disciplines of science. Ernst Myers' This is Biology, I believe tackled the hetergeneity of biology very well. So in my mind, it would be a logical extention to me that additional misunderstandings exist elsewhere such as between scientists and humanists. Snow's science vs. humanities, is only one example of a greater problem: overspecialization,in part due to the depth of the stories we tell ourselves or the technical requirements of our disciplines. Our intellectual training, and perpetuation thereof in academic institutions such as ours, are the natural consequence of intellectual life being consumed by every increasing specialization at the expense of balancing this with a greater understanding of the whole. Snow gets it partially right but I think misses a much bigger issue: we have all become too specialized for our own good.

I am curious to know what others think about Snow's work?


Ongoing discussion
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2003-06-28 11:24:19
Link to this Comment: 5788

First, on the simplistic level, I have to agree with both Xenia's comments: First, I too find Snow a little pedantic and simplistic about the supposed dichotomy between science and the humanities; second, I have a concern that we've become so specialized that "Re-writing stories" as Paul refers to it in the article referenced by Anne above seems difficult when our jargons are so different. Maybe that's part of this too- scientific language (as Gould argues) has become so opaque while the language of humanists purposely includes greater parts of the human race by striving for clarity and readability (at least until they become enamoured of tropes, discourses and such- no offense, Anne:)). I've come to believe that part of why students like my classes so much is that I have the ability to speak in the language of an academic social scientist, but I always turn my language into the language I would use to explain the issue/problem etc. to a client or other reasonably intelligent human. I teach them the jargon, but tend not to use it a lot.

As I read the "Getting it less Wrong" piece, I finally understand what Paul was trying to say by distinguishing research from science-when he was proclaiming that Xenia and her husband etc were not scientists, it seemed he was narrowing the definiition of science when he , I think, was actually just trying to make the point that science is what we humans do to create meaning in our lives, not how we apply those applications. And see, for me, that's exactly why I went into social work after a science eucation- I found that chem and physics and bio- particularly as combined in medicine, did not give me the kinds of potential explanations I wanted about what makes humans tick and why they do the things they do. Certainly, the attitude Paul's ideal-type scientist has (skepticism of "Truth") resonates with me as a social scientist.

Nevertheless, it still doesn't answer the priviledge question for me. I don't think it's all about feeling unable to know the science and so deferring to it through intimidation. I know the science (not at the same high levels as my colleagues in GIF, but it's a working knowledge), but still find that if a hard science person says something, it feels like I'm supposed to accept that while in the social sciences, it's assumed one will argue any particular statement put forth. (That's why we phrase practically everything with "tend to" and "may'- words that by their removal reduced my dissertation by 3 pages!).

I still think Corey's observation about the power of numbers plays a role here too. Hard scientists tend to report numbers (see there's that tend again); anyway,there's a classic piece on Medical School socialization process by Becker- it's a qualitative piece, but he went back and added numbers (truly meaningless in the low number and unrandomized sample that he had) but that made the difference in getting published or not. There is a definite cache that numbers offer- rewriting the stories without numbers carries less weight. Well, I've put my kids off for too long and need to go.

Just one final irony- I got a job as a research associate on a big NIH grant study PI'd by Temple, but using BMC to assess a small aspect. It's run by cardiology to assess cardiac patients willingness to accept medical monitoring and advice over the web, and also how it may be used to persuade them to adopt more heart healthy behaviors (interestingly, a low income, inner city population). My job is to turn all of the behavioral stuff into numbers, via validated scales. So I've come full circle in that I[m assessing something (that I think I can already predict), but it must be turned into numbers (and as many of those as possible), while I expect we'll have a hard time getting the qualitative messages to be heard.

Date: 2003-07-02 22:48:22
Link to this Comment: 5801

You all might be very interested in the discussion of pedagogy held in this morning's Emergence group.

un-trade-able non-objects
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-07-06 09:32:29
Link to this Comment: 5803

More on Pedagogy today @

Two Cultures Redux
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-07-24 17:51:06
Link to this Comment: 6175

see what rabbit hole I fell down, after our most recent discussion:
Emergence Systems Forum: Two Cultures Redux.

"The Inevitable Incompleteness"
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-07-26 11:29:05
Link to this Comment: 6183

Still chewing. What's here described as emergence seems to me absolutely congruent w/ what Toulmin, and many others, have called "pragmatism."

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