Science in Society

Bryn Mawr College

Grad Idea Forum

30 May 2003
The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox: Mending the Gap Between Science and the Humanities (2003) by Stephen Jay Gould

Additions, revisions, extensions are encouraged in the Forum.

Attendees: Paul Grobstein, Anne Dalke, Cheryl Selah, Corey Shdaimah, Liz Shea, Sam Glazier, Roland Stahl, Judie McCoyd

The book The Hedgehog, the Fox and the Magister's Pox, by Stephen Jay Gould was the focus of discussion, inspiring passionate discussion about the nature of essentialism and disciplinary power/status. Discussion began with an observation of the irony that Gould is ostensibly countering a tendency toward dichotomy and polarization, and yet spends the later half of the book polarizing his views in opposition to Wilson's. The personal and psychological implications of the father/son dynamic (of Oedipal propotions) was a continuous theme throughout discussions.

Much discussion was devoted to the idea of dichotomy and its relevance at the time of paradigm shift as a way of forming new questions and calling older paradigms into question. The Hegelian strategy of infinite generation of oppositions to allow on-going discussion was brought forth as possibly explaining this dichotomy. However there was some contention that this polarization of dichotomous stances actually can remove dialogue and promote a lack of dialogue as one position becomes privileged over another.

Notions of niche displacement were applied both in the terms of Gould positioning himself for Wilson's place (who had done similar displacement with Ernst Mayer previously) as well as new ideas and disciplines functioning in ways to niche displace. The critical notion includes an ability to either "Create more pie" or more space, or to use what is there more efficiently to enable existence of both. Therefore, polarizing may serve the function of amplifying difference to create more conceptual space for dialogue.

The privileging of voice became an issue for discussion as we wondered about why both Gould and Wilson are viewed as legitimate providers of social commentary. Ties to their evolutionary biology roots were explored. This led to questions again of why the "hard" sciences are seen as more status-worthy and credible than most social sciences and humanities. Paul suggested that it had to do with ideas that it is easier to work up the material ladder (neuron to atom to brain to creature and up through social structures) than it is to work backward. This contentious perspective was challenged , but with little time for development due to the end of our time.

We agreed to meet June 24th (Tues) from 1-3 to continue the discussion, starting with questions such as:

What model of understanding might we each prefer for our own intellectual life?
Why do people jump when considering the idea that some disciplines are privileged?
Why do we assume working up is easier than working down?
Can we truly separate larger structures from smaller entities in ways that leave meaning intact?

Home | Calendar | About | Getting Involved | Groups | Initiatives | Bryn Mawr Home | Serendip Home

Director: Liz McCormack - | Faculty Steering Committee | Secretary: Lisa Kolonay
© 1994- , by Center for Science in Society, Bryn Mawr College and Serendip

Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 11:57:05 CDT