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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.

Topic: Science and Culture

The relation between science and culture generally is a matter of concern to both scientists and nonscientists. This forum is open to everyone for discussion of thoughts arising from and extending materials in Serendip's Science and Culture section. Comments entered here will be automatically posted. Comments not meant to be posted can be sent by Serendip.

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Year: - Current Postings - 2000/2001 - 1998/1999- 1997 - 1996

Name: andrew gardner
Subject: blending of literary and scientific culture
Date: Mon Feb 2 22:28:09 EST 1998
Responding to the idea of bridging the gap between the traditional academic literary intelectual and scientists, we have a culture that is continually excited by scientific breakthroughs and the big questions. Beyond simple Clinton sex scandals and arms in Iraq, there are many stories on the news and such that address science. This summer when we got live pictures from mars, there was intense public interest. . .the NAsa website was jammed with millions of vistors. Since the cloning of Dolly I've gotten incredibly sick of the public debates over human cloning and the sickness of any individual who would want to do that. However no-one can deny that these stories aren't high on the list of priority for TOm Brokaw and the folks over at NBC, CBS or ABC (the suppliers of our common culture). Basically what I am saying is that there is plenty of excitment in America about the prospect of scientific breakthrouhgs. As long as the human genome project continues to flourish and people continue to question existence, science will continue intriguing the public . . . pick up John Brockman's "Third Culture" according to him science writing for the general public is the future of science. Richard Rhodes and Carl Sagan and Stephan J. Gould among many others provide opur culture with plenty of page turning books about science. They're often as much fun to read as something by say. . . Paul Auster. Just Thoughts
Name: Andrew
Subject: objectivity of science through culture
Date: Wed Oct 28 01:35:30 EST 1998
I am writing a paper on how there is no objectivity in science because of the diversness of culture. Any opinions on this matter would be much appreciated. (if before 10/29/98)
Name: Ethel Jean Saltz
Subject: culture/religion and science
Date: Sat Nov 14 16:21:47 EST 1998
I have successfully combined religion/culture and science in my own brain. The finale occurred yesterday and I am quite excited about my personal enlightenment. This is going to change my whole personality. (I'm 69YO). The whole subject boils down to this: Why was Maimonides not excommunicated in the 1100's and why is Baruch Spinoza (1600's) still excommunicated? This all came to a finale since I started studying music formally this past June and my class was Music Appreciation taught by Dr. Jerry Wallace who has a PhD both in Music and Neurology. It explains a black hole in my casual knowledge of the Middle Ages -- what is meant by the discovery of Western Civilization by the Muslims and through them, Maimonides. How did it all get lost? Theses on the the above problem about Maimonides and Spinoza's excommunications proceedings answers it all for me, with the history of Western Music included. BTW, I have no faith in any politician who cannot describe to me the way the Periodic Table of Elements, Direct Current Circuits and Electro-Magnetic Spectrum work. Otherwise, they simply are Medieval Thinkers. No, I can't. But I expect better brains than mine from my elected reps.
The following three postings originate in a forum for students in a course on Neurobiology and Behavior. To encourage broader contribution to a consideration of the issues being raised, they have been reposted here. The italicized reply to the third posting is from Paul Grobstein, the course instructor.

Name: Eric Banks
Subject: A pompous point of view
Date: Sun Jan 24 15:01:09 EST 1999

I am not taking this course, but am interested in this discussion.

What are all these thoughts concerning the nature/origin of behavior? It is amusing and interesting to entertain notions of some intangible forces having some control over the behavior of human beings. But, letís think for a moment. Actually, letís think empirically for a moment. If some "force" is not observable, it is beyond the realm of science. If you are in the proximity of someone who is physically ill, and then develop similar symptoms of illness, do you ask yourself if the person you were exposed to was possessed by "evil forces" or do you wonder how the virus/bacteria entered your system? Do you wonder over the infinite permutations and combinations of what is possible or do you use the principle of parsimony? Questioning whether or not there is a "god" is analogous to questioning whether or not you got sick from those dreaded "evil forces." If a thing cannot be observed, it cannot offer itself to scientific examination. Before the scientific method emerged, you may have had your arteries opened to cure your illness. Hell, it was "possible" that bloodletting would cure you. Our universe could be a speck of dust in an infinitely larger universe; which could be a speck of dust in an infinitely larger universe; and so on. All this is "possible", but it is most probable that such speculation is ludicrous and potentially dangerous. If there is no empirical evidence Ė nothing that can be tested with the scientific method Ė donít satisfy some emotional need to explain something that cannot be explained. Yes, it may someday be empirically feasible to know and explain everything concerning our existence, but until that day, letís not waste our time pondering untestable possibilities.

So, Iím an empiricist. I think the reader understands my thoughts on the subject of "god" and what is possible. Trying to be as arrogant and pompous as possible (while still being correct!), the only realistic viewpoint for an intelligent and educated human being to have regarding the existence of such possibilities is that of agnosticism. Because there is no direct evidence that supports or denies the existence of a "god," it is not rational to be an atheist or a believer.

Why is there such an emphasis on the unobservable when it comes to discussing human behavior? I guess we like to feel that we are somehow more important than we are. It is comforting emotionally to think that we are all part of some "plan." Iím more interested in the observable "truth" than feeling good.

Back to the brain/behavior conundrum. Everything that we can observe; everything that science has to offer regarding this immense, leviathan of a brain-teaser points to the brain being the source of all behavior. We must, however, have a biological support mechanism for the brain. I would think that it would be obvious to most that if we yanked the brain and central nervous system out of any individual human being, there wouldnít be much "behaving" following such a procedure. The brain needs its support mechanism in order for it to remain "functional."

Sorry for the sarcasm and arrogance of my writing but the mere idea of debating whether an unobservable "god" is responsible for our behavior is intellectually repulsive to me. We are not far removed from a time in our history when "witches" and other "evil" forces were viewed to affect our behavior. Human beings were persecuted or killed because others believed that they were "possessed" with unseen forces. And it was fear of the "unknown possibilities" (and probably the search for power) that drove their tormentors. Letís not revert to those "glory days."

I am now thinking of Carl Sagan. I wish I could be as articulate and eloquent as he was in his defense of science and rational thought. In his book, "The Demon Haunted World," he stressed the importance of logic and the scientific method. He also warned of the pitfalls of believing in such "mystical" things as the power of crystals and "ESP." I feel that I am doing Sagan a great disservice just by mentioning his name. I know I am not as persuasive and mellifluous as he was. (Yes, I looked up "mellifluous" in the thesaurus!) But, in any case, Iím getting tired of this. Why donít we all just go out and join a cult? Thats a form of behavior.

Name: Patricia Kinser
Subject: "truth" and "reality"??
Date: Sun Jan 24 16:13:47 EST 1999
In response to Eric, many people who have posted admit that a belief in a soul/mind/God is rather comforting. However, it is important to note that many people who have posted that they believe that there is no soul say that they are more comfortable with having the scientific "answer" that brain simply equals behavior. You accuse those who have a believe in the soul to not be in search of the truth, but rather to only want to feel good. I don't think it is as simple as that. In my search for "truth" I would like to keep all of the possibilities in mind; what if in our "scientifically" based searching we neglect to pick up on an idea because it has been presented in a religious fashion?
Name: Eric Banks
Subject: response to Kinser's "truth" and "reality"??
Date: Mon Jan 25 07:32:52 EST 1999
Again, I'm not a student in this class. And, Jason, I'm a friend of one of the students in class.

Ms. Kinser's response to my first commentary is correct. It's "possible" that schizophrenics are in touch with a more "correct" reality than "normal" people are. But I think she missed the main point of my first argument: without the constraints of empirical verifiability/testability, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!

Ms. Kinser would like to keep all possibilities in mind - or at least the religious ones. She wouldn't want "to neglect to pick up on an idea" because it had been presented religiously. I know it is difficult for most people who have been socialized by a Christian culture to accept that our notion of a "god" is simply another variant of what is untestably "possible." The belief in a "god" is no different from believing in any one of an infinite amount of untestable possibilities. So why give the notion of a "god" more intellectual weight than any other untestable "possibility"?

I am distrustful of those who base their behavior and views on that which cannot be tested empirically. Religion - or really its use - can connect people together, can serve as a great solace in an otherwise hostile environment, but it can also hinder and harm. Both Galileo and Darwin faced tremendous opposition for their empirically derived theories from those entrenched in religious doctrine. "Heretics" and "witches" were burned at the stake.

If it is possible for religious "believers" to contain their faith within their private lives - then I have no problem with their beliefs. But if they attain positions of power and attempt to legislate or influence others based only on those beliefs - then I do have an objection. Dr. Anthony Fauci (I hope I spelled his name correctly!) is a practicing Roman Catholic. He is also a scientist and was/is the director of a governmental agency (NIH or Center for Disease Control - I think). In any case, even though he is a Roman Catholic, he recommends the use of condoms to control the spread of HIV. Dr. Fauci is able to separate his personal beliefs from his public responsibilities as a scientist. Hopefully you, Ms. Kinser, and the many other intelligent and educated "believers" like you, can do the same.

I can't resist responding, but if we're going to continue the dialogue, let's do it in a more appropriate forum, ok? I'm copying this note of yours and my reply to our Science and Culture Forum, where any interested others can find it and any continuation, and contribute themselves.

Yes, of course, "religion - or really its use - ... can also hinder and harm". The same, unfortunately, is true of science as well. "Distrustful of those who base their behavior and views on that which cannot be tested empirically"? This would be paralyzing if taken to an extreme. For two reasons. First, life frequently demands actions which require judgements beyond those for which one has a firm empirical base. Second, without pre-existing views the grounds for which are uncertain, empiricism itself has no base from which to grow (and continue to develop). "Separate personal beliefs from public responsibilities"? I don't think anyone every fully does this (or could do it). Empiricism itself is based on a view that cannot be validated empirically: the view that what empiricism leads to is necessarily in some sense better than what non-empiricism leads to.

Don't misunderstand. I am, I'm pretty sure, at least as much of an empiricist as you are. Empiricism is though, for me at least, a means rather than an end, a tool justified as the best available for the continual testing of given understandings, and as providing a resulting impetus for more comprehensive understanding. For this reason, I'm perhaps less inclined than you to insist that people need to be avowed empiricists to be taken seriously. Significant candidate understandings may arise in a variety of ways; some may in fact arise only in brains which are not wholely constrained by an empiricist perspective. What's important (to me at least) is not the origin of the candidate understanding but rather its usefulness in the process of continually deriving and testing broader understandings.

Name: Michael Bland
Username: See website.
Subject: The reconciliation of the Two Cultures.
Date: Mon Mar 1 10:02:37 EST 1999

Something wrong with human nature?

Name: Richard
Subject: Definition of God in response to several postings
Date: Fri Mar 5 19:27:54 EST 1999
I see (hear) some tacit knowledge in the thought that there is a distinction between untestable possibilities and "god". Culturely was not the concept of "god" not invented to get some label and organization for these possibilities? They can either all be separate (polytheism) or grouped (monotheism). What do you think?
Name: mo
Subject: Homicide canceled
Date: Mon May 17 10:59:14 EDT 1999
As far as I know, NBC has not made the official announcement. They will tomorrow. There is still time to bomb them with e-mail. Maybe I'm naive, but if the Nielsens don't tell the story about how many fans Homicide has, perhaps massive e-mail numbers will get the message across. Don't just resign yourselves to a Homicide free existence. Contact the addresses below and pass on this list to other message boards. They won't ban you for doing it just a couple of times. Join the cause and post this message on your favorite board. BRING BACK THE BEST SHOW ON TV--HOMICIDE, LIFE ON THE STREETS Email: Snail Mail: (Snail mail is preferred over email when dealing with more serious matters than simple fan mail) NBC Televison Network National Broadcasting Company 30 Rockefeller Plaza New York, NY 10020 or: Warren Littlefield, President NBC Entertainment 3000 West Alameda Ave. Burbank, CA 91523 or: HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET 1701 Thames St. Baltimore MD 21231 : Join the cause and post this message on your favorite board.
Name: Jim Barrass
Subject: Science v Superstition
Date: Fri Oct 29 14:18:52 EDT 1999
Against science: You can't prove it..
For superstition: You can't disprove it..
Science: All the evidence points to it..
Superstition: You don't have all the evidence..
Science: There is no evidence to support that..
Superstition: You don't have all the evidence..
Science: I rest my case on the evidence..
Superstition: I rest my case on the lack of evidence..
Science: We study what is there..
Superstition: We know what is not..
Science: We don't.. yet..
Superstition: We do..
Science: You do not..
Superstition: Prove it..
Science: You prove it..
Superstition: That's your job..
Science: What's yours?..
Superstition: wouldn't you like to know..

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