Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Paradigm Shift of the Hellenistic Period

Prompt: Many historians characterize early Greek science, from the Presocratics to Aristotle, as a golden age of physics (despite the fact that early Greek physics was not quantitative in character). For the Hellenistic period, in contrast, the discoveries of mathematicians (including mathematical astronomers and mathematical geographers) stand out more than those of the physicists. Do you agree that there was a general shift from physics to mathematics in the Hellenistic period? If so, what might have caused or contributed to it, and why is it significant?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Selected Readings on Food, Agriculture and the Environment

The following are responses and summaries of various readings related to Food, Agriculture and the Environment. 

The Eco-Foods Guide: What Does IPM Mean?
IPM, integrated pest management, is a middle ground between organic and conventional agriculture.  IPM uses complex planning and processes that are biologically, chemically, and culturally different than organic and conventional growing.  IPM attempts to rid crop fields of pests, only using chemicals as a last resort.  IPM is a multidisciplinary approach involving agronomy, pathology, entomology, weed science, agricultural economics, and much more.  Much of the work involved in IPM is in planning: preparing for the coming pests and making attempts to prevent their inhabitation.  A commonly used mechanic is the use of insect pheromones to confuse a population.  The pheromones can distract the insects enough to keep them from destroying a harvest.  Also, with using “bait” crops and inserting predator bugs into a field, an even greater reduction of chemical use is achieved.  Though IPM seems to preach the reduction of pesticide use, it seems that often its practitioners merely try to limit the negative effects of its use such as the use of planting vegetation along stream banks to prevent runoff.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Aristotelian Teaching Method

"Aristotle prevailed through persuasion, not coercion." (David Lindberg, 1992, p. 68; 2007, p. 66.) 

Arriving at the first day of class most students, having not previously encountered their professor, will likely not know what the class will be like or how it is going to be taught.  I believe that there are three methods of teaching which one can expect as being the primary form of the class.  The professor may, upon entering, go right on in to lecturing his personal beliefs or that of the majority consensus without mention of opposing views.  A second possibility is a professor who does not really lecture at all.  You may find this teaching method used in many of the philosophy classes on campus.  The professor will often bring up a subject and then require the class to proceed to teach themselves with the occasional prod or redirection via designed questions.  While this method does have its benefits, it has often-times seemed like a much better approach would be method three in which the instructor presents his own and other varying viewpoints and allows the students to make up their own minds on the subject.  It is my belief that people cannot be taught like the contents of a high school history book.  “It is this way” or “This is how it happened”.  When people learn in that context they lose the capability to reason for themselves and they never acquire the ability to question the norm.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What's Science Ever Done For Us?

            The science that appears in the episodes of The Simpsons is often times a dumbed-down, simplified, or petite version of “real world” science.  The Simpsons is not a substitute for classical education, an AP Physics class or an astronomy lab, it is merely an open door to a new world of experience and perhaps even providing the push necessary towards a formal learning.  The Simpsons has, until recent years, been pushing the boundaries of the television censors.  It pretty much perfected the social commentary and political satire that saturates every adult themed cartoon. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Selected Readings on Food, Agriculture and the Environment

The following are responses and summaries of various readings related to Food, Agriculture and the Environment. 

The Eco-Foods Guide: Don’t Worry Buy Local
The further our food travels, the more costly it is to both us and the environment.  With the advent and widespread use of transit technology farmers, in the 1800s, began to see the financial benefits of producing for the major metropolitan areas in the northeast.  As this sector grew, so too did the number of hands which the food went through before reaching the consumer.  With the passing of NAFTA in the early nineties more and more farming operations are being moved south into Mexico and other Latin countries where the chemical restrictions on farms are much less strict.  Often food bought from the supermarket has taken weeks to reach the shelves, whereas purchasing from a local vendor can see product that is only hours to days off the plant: with more time comes less flavor.  The support of local farmers also keeps that land from falling prey to urban developers.  Once it’s been turned from farmland into housing or business, there’s no way to change it back.  The cash which we use to purchase local produce often stays within the community; going to local shops, utilities, and banks. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Stem cells are cells that can be found within all multi-cellular organisms and which have the ability divide and turn in to an array of specialized cells.  In other words, stem cells are blank pieces waiting to be stamped with a purpose.  While all human bodies contain stem cells, in some number, the majority within the developed person lie in the bone marrow and in afterbirth and birth-organs, though it is believed that skin cells may someday be used as stem cells.  Most adult stem cells, which include those cells removed from juveniles, are of the multipotent brand.  Potency is the potential for a stem cell to differentiate into different cell types.  Multipotent cells are limited in that they may only differentiate into the cells of a closely related family (Scholer 28).  So adult stem cells derived from muscle tissue would only be able to differentiate into those cells which are closely related to the tissue from which they were derived.  However pluripotent stem cells have a much greater potential as they are able to differentiate in to any cell of the three major germ layers: those being the endoderm, ectoderm, and mesoderm which are the basis of development in almost all animal groups more complex than worms (Scholer 28).  The greatest source, according to most, for pluripotent stem cells are from the undeveloped fertilized human embryos.  These embryos are often obtained from in vitro fertilization clinics due to their excess or soon expiration and as such are planned to be destroyed anyway.  “The embryos from which human embryonic stem cells are derived are typically four or five days old and are a hollow microscopic ball of cells called the blastocyst.  The blastocyst includes three structures: the trophoblast, which is the layer of cells that surrounds the blastocoels, a hollow cavity inside the blastocyst; and the inner cell mass, which is a group of cells at one end of the blastocoels that develop into the embryo proper” (U.S. DHHS).  The inner cell mass is removed to divide in a culture dish; if successful the dish will fill and the fresh cells will be divided up to be placed in new dishes for further ‘subculturing’.  “The original [few] cells yield millions of embryonic stem cells” (U.S. DHHS)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Flat Earth Falacy

Who really thought that the Earth was flat?  Although Aristotle’s physics fail to make mention of what gravity exactly is or why it functions in the way it does his belief is that the Earth is the center of the universe, because that is the most natural of places for it, and that all earthly material comes towards this center from all sides necessarily implies that the earth would form in to a three dimensional rotund shape, though not necessarily a sphere (Magruder Page 7).  If the Earth is flat is taken quite literally, then there can be no up and down, or no left to right.  We must all exist in a plane; we are all elements of two dimensions, with no depth.  Is only the underside of the Earth flat?  If so, then why? Why do these unearthly objects fall from the stars? Do they not reach the other side?  And, also, can we dig through the Earth to the other side?  If up and down are absolute then could we eventually dig a well into the abyss or would there be turtles all the way down? 

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Body Electric

The following is an analysis of the book The Body Electric.

            At the beginning of the 19th century society was still mostly split between the upper-class elite and the working class, but as machines became more and more prevalent in places of industry there became less and less of a divide between the two classes.  The white-collar worker became a reality as machines began replacing what had previously required the work of men.  So with machines now doing the work there was a great increase in production at factories.  Increases in production lead to a need for an increase in sales and marketing and from there the widespread of the white-collar job was initially formed.  These white-collar business workers no longer had to spend upwards of twelve hours a day shoveling coal, molding iron, or working in textile mills.  This left them and their families, who were now making a greater salary than their ancestors had received, with much leisure time: a concept that had not even crossed the minds of the generations before.  No longer did the patriarch arrive home after a long day and immediately seek the sanctity and comfort of the bed.  Families went out together, socialized with other families, and mostly shopped.  They had acquired all this money with which they had previously not be privy to and what better way to rid oneself of excess than to exchange it for the goods which one desires.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Chemicals of Karma & Effect

            Many of the greatest threats to human health today are products of our own creation.  Chemicals in our water and foods breed cancer.  Air pollutants clog our lungs and deplete the ever ominous ozone layer.  Our ever expanding cities and industries encroach on areas never before inhabited by man, potentially holding diseases which could spread as a pandemic across the world.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurveda is an alternative medicine deeply rooted in the Hindu religious tradition of northern India and established over 5000 years ago.  According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “Ayurdevic medicine continues to be practiced in India, where nearly 80 percent of the population uses it exclusively or combined with conventional (Western) medicine” (Ayurvedic Medicine: An Introduction).  While it is a tradition of medicine with a long history, it is believed that much of Ayurveda’s practices were lost, at least in the West, until the early 1980s when they were reborn through the work of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Barrett).  Ayurveda is a combination of two Sanskrit words: ayur, meaning life, and veda, meaning knowledge; so Ayurveda is the knowledge, or science, of life.  The Ayurveda is completely based on the Vedic literature and as such is very much spiritual.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Presocratic Scientists

“Philosophy began with Thales” – Bertrand Russell
The fundamental questions persist today: What is everything made up of, or what is matter?  Why does matter move or appear to move in the way it does?  What causes it to move?  Does matter really move or is this merely a trick of the mind or senses?  These are the fundamental questions the presocratics sought to answer.  They created many of the philosophical arguments which continue to this day: Monism vs. Pluralism, Materialism vs. Idealism, Plenism vs. Atomism, Chance vs. Necessity, and Finite vs. Infinite.  (Magruder).  The presocratics are important because they laid the foundations of modern scientific thinking.  They had grown tired of the application of divinity to the functioning of the world and as such decided to begin thinking not so much in a religion as applied to science context but science as a fundamentally necessary being all in itself.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Seeing in the Dark

The following is an analysis of the book Seeing in the Dark
            “The foundations of modern astronomy were laid largely by amateurs” (Ferris, Seeing in the Dark, p. 33).  Most of the men whose work in astronomy is found throughout the history books saw it merely as a pastime not something that could pay the rent, including Copernicus, Kepler, and Halley.  For one to study the skies he usually needed to have a large bank account and not until the twentieth century did astronomy become a career.  Yet, “even in the twentieth century, while they were being eclipsed by the burgeoning professional class, amateurs continued to make valuable contributions to astronomical research” (Ferris, Seeing in the Dark, p. 35).  The amateurs lagged behind the wealth and technology afforded to the professionals until the 1980s when, specifically, the Dobsonian telescope, developed by an American Buddhist monk, much cheaper CCD light-sensing devices, and the Internet.  The Dobsonian allowed amateurs to view nebulae and galaxies that otherwise before would have only been accessible to the wealthy and the professionals, and at merely a few dollars cost combined with much labor, should one be so inclined.  The affordability of charge-coupled devices, which can absorb light much more feint than is possible with photographic plates, and their ability to digitally store images of the universe allowed for much more exchange of information.  Combine CCDs with the Internet, along hundreds of millions of people instantaneous access to information and images, and the age of the amateur had returned.  The Internet also enabled much more collaboration between amateurs and professionals than ever before.  Although, “the amateur approach had its limitations.  Amateurs insufficiently tutored in the scientific literature sometimes acquired accurate data but did not know how to make sense of it.  Those who sought to overcome their lack of expertise by collaborating with professionals sometimes complained that they wound up doing most of the work while their more prestigious partners got most of the credit… But many amateurs enjoyed fruitful collaborations, and all were brought close to the stars” (Ferris, Seeing in the Dark, p. 41).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Disease, Its What's for Dinner

No human practice, other than the overuse of antibiotics and international travel, has a greater effect on disease transmission than agriculture and food processing.  Many of the disease related byproducts created by the agriculture and food processing industries could be easily avoided through the application of the practices of the old ways.  Throughout the pre agricultural revolution era, disease existed in our food supplies, just not on the scale that is seen today.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

White's Science v Religion

A.D. White’s War upon Galileo
            The premise behind Andrew Dickson White’s argument is that the Church conducted a Holy War against the works of Galileo and against the man himself in order to keep secure its socio-political position in the hierarchy of seventeenth century Europe and to prevent the spread of anti-papal and Reformist sentiment.  White believes that the Church stands for all that is superstitious and against logic and reason, while Galileo, and his contemporaries, represent the March of Science through the use of rational, philosophic thinking.  White believes that the Church has intentionally attacked “almost every man who has ever done anything new for his fellow-men” through the use of weapons such as “infidel” and “atheist” (White 135).  According to him, the betterment of man has been continually betrayed by the Catholic Church and that the story of Galileo’s silence is the pinnacle of this dark treachery (130).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What Quantum Theory says about Physical Reality

Is there a physical world, and if there is, what is it like? In other words, what is the nature of physical reality? Although this may seem like an obsessively philosophical question, our best current scientific theory about the basic stuff that makes up the physical world, quantum theory, seems to force us to try to answer this question. Even the scientific founders of this theory were driven to address this issue.

There is no quantum world ... only an abstract quantum description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.  (Niels Bohr)

This may look like an attempt to avoid engaging in “metaphysical speculation”. But it does states a view about the nature of physical reality. It seems that no one who takes physics seriously as an attempt to account for what the world is like can avoid such issues.