Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Descriptions v. Transformations

“Some areas of knowledge seek to describe the world, whereas others seek to transform it.” Explore this claim with reference to history and one other area of knowledge.

Knowledge is our understanding of the world around us; it is said that for a person to truly know something, they must first be able to explain it so that another person can understand it. In an attempt to obtain true descriptions of the world, different areas of knowledge undergo extreme transformations to try and include all relevant characteristics, qualities, or events that may have happened. It is knowledge assembled by a group of people (shared knowledge) that brings us our knowledge systems. Meanwhile, it is through first hand experiences and observations that create the personal knowledge that everyone attains. The topic assumes that all areas of knowledge are a binary, either describing or transforming, whereas all areas of knowledge perform both in one way or another. I contend that all knowledge is essentially a description, but it is the application of this knowledge that transforms the world. In particular, I explored this claim through the question “To what extent do descriptions transform what we as a society ‘know’?” with reference to history and natural sciences.
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Natural Sciences are currently transforming the medical field with the use of stem cells found in adult blood. Awaiting approval, doctors are now changing transplants by imputing the recipient’s stem cells into the designated organ awaiting transplant to minimize the danger of the body rejected said organ. Therefore, people on the transplant list will not have to wait for a long time, they will have a higher chance of getting an organ safer and faster. Alongside transformation, Natural Sciences are currently describing the process of how diverse landscapes are more productive and adapt better to climate change. Wonderment about scientific analysis has been in the human thought process throughout history. Essentially, science concerns the description of the world around us: inquiring the techniques of each advancement, doubting the obvious, and constantly delving into nature to interrogate further. Superstitions inundated the intricacies of nature in the Middle Ages. Aristotle attacked the most perplexing issues of the day, and was actually able to convince the masses of his most advanced ideas. Objects in outer space, for example, were drawn to the Earth because they “yearn to be united with the Earth” (Kaku). His expository that objects slow down because they are “tired” seemed plausible and Aristotle’s simplifications were accepted as valid for almost 2,000 years, but they didn’t seek to transform the world, they primarily sought only to illustrate natural phenomena. Of course, as years progressed, Aristotle’s assertion about the motion of objects failed to produce transformation, not because of lack of intention, but, in fact, the ideas were simply wrong. Not until the beginning of modern physics was the true power of science realized. Then, and only then, did the scientific description finally produce transformation. It wasn’t until Isaac Newton’s discovery of the Law of Gravitation that the mysteries were solved of the motion of stars and planets. Even modern day scientist still use laws instilled by Newton to calculate the motion of rocket ships blasting into space, airplanes circling the globe, or the trajectories of missiles being fired. His discoveries set the course for some of the grandest transfiguration in history, starting with the industrial revolution, then the invention of modern machinery, to the start of the modern age. Even Newton himself, with his open minded, vast imagination and thought process, could not have foreseen the significance, or magnitude of the effort he put into his work causing such a metamorphosis in human civilization. Enlightenment of the world was achieved mainly because he set out to describe the motion of stars and planets. He succeeded in utilizing the discoveries in science that brought mankind to the realization that the potential of the practical study of science lengthens past description and right on into transformation.

It is seen that history can only describe the past, while particularly transforming the present, future, and our interpretation of the past. Historical knowledge can transform “the world”, but not the same aspect of “the world” that it describes. While a particularly superfluous philosopher could point out that all human beings eventually die and decay, it would not change the fact that it happens. Knowledge of a phenomena is necessary to consciously transform the world, but it does not guarantee this ability. During the era of the British Empire, there was an uprising created by the African people of Kenya. They called themselves the Mau Mau, they were trying to drive the British people out of Kenya. Yet many of them were captured, tortured, and taken to “Prison” camps, and during this time the people were oppressed and their story was never truly spoken, until now. Just recently the Mau Mau gathered a case against Britain, telling the unspoken truth that hurt so many men, women, and children. There was no hard evidence that this atrocity had happened, until Hanslope Park was discovered. Hanslope Park was an unknown government facility that withheld classified information that would help the Mau Mau’s case. Not only was it just information pertaining to the Kenyan colonies, but also information that affected every colony of the British Empire. This secret building had tons of information that could rewrite history, and change the present shared knowledge about the past of the Mau Mau and the British Empire.

There are those who claim it is the transformation and where the transformation brings a person to accurately describe the world today. They say seeing a change in the world is the only way to truly describe the world. For example, in the Mau Mau case, the discovery of the new knowledge transformed what we knew about the Mau Mau. Now we have a better description of our history due to the transformation of what we thought we knew and what we now know. Also in the latest research pertaining to Stem Cells, the transformation from before to the future is truly a good description of the progress that our scientific field is making. However, it takes a description to know how to transform the world.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Uncanny Valley

1. And today was fair, hot, even; I woke and my fingers were hot and dry to their own touch, like the skin of a stranger.” (Dillard, 260)
2. “I fingered the winter killed grass, looping it round the tip of my finger like hair, ruffling its tips with my palms.”(Dillard, 264)
3. “And like Billy Bray I go my way, and my left foot says ‘Glory,’ and my right foot says ‘Amen’: in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise.”(Dillard, 271)

“Oh this is some delicious work”, “Look at that little butt of his don't you just want to eat it up?” Sounds strange right? Both of these statements my IB Literature teacher have said, it always felt weird when she would say it and I could never put my finger on it, but when we started reading “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”(and when this blog was assigned) I decided to do some research on it.  So, it’s called the uncanny valley, and what it means is adjectives or verbs by themselves or with the normal object or subject  seem alright, but when lines start getting crossed everything can get pretty hairy pretty quick.
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Think of this, when you were younger you probably had a teddy bear, right? Think of your childhood teddy bear. Now put human teeth on him/her, it seemed weird didn't it. Dillard does a lot of this in her book “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”. She describes things in her memoir with descriptions or words that shouldn’t apply to the subject/object that she is in the process of talking about. For example, in the last chapter of “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” she is sitting on a grassy in the winter and reflecting on her time at tinker creek when she says, “I fingered the winter killed grass, looping it round the tip of my finger like hair, ruffling its tips with my palms.”(Dillard, 264) Now, I don’t know about you but “fingered” and grass don’t seem to go together nor does the word fingered sound very pleasant. This goes right below the line of human likeness and at the tip of the uncanny valley.

Contact with others, it can be one of the scariest things for some people. Now imagine waking up and when you fingers touch together, it felt like the skin of a stranger. Feels extremely uncomfortable, right? Dillard does this on a day in December in her book, she says, “And today was fair, hot, even; I woke and my fingers were hot and dry to their own touch, like the skin of a stranger.” (Dillard, 260) You can look at your skin and see that it’s yours, but touching it it’s someone else. Now this is one the things at the bottom of the valley.

Dillard is pulling us out of the valley, and ends the book on a very good note. “And like Billy Bray I go my way, and my left foot says ‘Glory,’ and my right foot says ‘Amen’: in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise.”(Dillard, 271) This starts to get to the healthy human part. She says that she is walking and references the bible, I feel that this book took the uncanny valley "journey". In some chapters and in via negative areas, Dillard is very strange but I feel that she pulls it out and ends her "Godly" book on a very Godly note.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Sociology of Pencil Sharpeners

What is the best way to trim the core of a pencil so that we may be assured of the sharpest image of our intentions on paper? Pencil cores were made of lead, but even that has evolved over the years, due to the dangers of lead. Most pencils are made of graphite now, but the age old question of what to do to trim the middle of the instrument when it becomes too dull to function precisely remains. One thing is certain, it is not pleasant to write with an overly big point in your pencil. Not only does the finished product (i.e. paper) look less professional, but it can become smudged and actually dirty and unkempt. The desire for the sharpest detail has long since been the demand for these reasons. That brings us back to our original question: What is the most effective way to keep a sharp point on a pencil? It is constantly dulling with every mark made, so it is incumbent to have some type of sharpener available if any work at all is to be finished.

The earliest writing was called cuneiform It consisted of making specific marks in wet clay; these pictures were made using a reed implement. Reeds and sticks were used in sand, as well as writing with a person’s own finger. Knives, mostly makeshift, homemade knives, were the first tools used to produce a steady point on them.

History of Pencil Sharpener

Historians believe the pencil was invented in the 15th or 16th century. Whittling the wood away with a knife was widely used in the early years to bring the lead to a fine(like me) point. However, it took far too much time, and was very hard to match all sides of the pencil. It was evident, as pencils became used more and more, that a sharpener was needed to be more efficient. A mathematician from Paris, France, patented the first actual pencil sharpener. It was made of two small metal files encased in a block of wood. The files were held securely at ninety-degree angles to grind, or scrape, both the wood and the core of the pencil. This certainly proved to be less dangerous and saved many fingers; however, it was still a tedious task and still took time. Evidently people were so satisfied with the new instrument that little change was implemented until a full ten years had passed. Then, the next pencil sharpener was described in much the same way as the first, “ two sharp files neatly and firmly set together in right angles in a small block of rosewood.” Keep in mind they were hand-held appliances, that were portable and compact. Shavings could be housed inside the block of wood for neat removal, or could actually be peeled directly off into a trash receptacle for easy disposal. The size of the well inside for the waste was indeed limited, and was the greatest problem of these initial sharpeners. They wouldn’t hold enough; plus, still they took both hands to use. The results didn’t last long enough to warrant all the work involved. How can a sharpener of something as narrow as a pencil point be held in place and be made more convenient for the writer or mathematician? There must be a simpler way to get the job done.
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It would be the early 1900’s before the next breakthrough came. The writer would insert the pencil tip into a cylinder designed with two disks which revolved around their axis with one hand, while turning the handle with his other hand. A firm push gave a clean cut with the blades. This manual pencil sharpener had a vast space for pencil shavings and could be used many times daily, and emptied weekly in a typical schoolroom of twenty students. This was a delight for teachers. They became available and popular for home use at this time.

In 1910, the pencil sharpener was brought up to date again by using electricity. Nothing could be easier than plugging the machine into an electrical outlet and pressing the pencil slightly into the provided opening. The motorized cutters grind the core into finer shavings than the older more original knives were able to provide. These models provided huge areas for the leftover trash. They were sleek, like the times! Today, it seems we have come full circle; we are back to a slimline look, compact and portable. It is convenient to use battery-operated sharpeners, which only need the application of slight, steady pressure. They are lightweight and come in many fashionable colors, as does everything these days. 

A writer needs a point on his pencil as sharp as the point he’s trying to make in the article he’s writing! The mathematician, likewise, needs a point as precise as the decimal point in his work. One might say that the more prolific the artist is, the more necessary it becomes for him to STAY SHARP!

Sunday, March 5, 2017


“Knowledge gives us a sense of who we are.” To what extent is this true in the human sciences and one other area of knowledge?

Without knowledge, do we know anything? There is a village that is deep in the jungles of Africa, that is not privy to access information; therefore, they do not know some of the simple things, such as colors. They have six colors that describe every one of the 16.8 million colors. I know it may sound like a dumb question but, does this mean that they can only see six colors? If you cannot describe the colors do they even exist? How is it possible that there could be so many different shades, yet these people can only identify six? How do they account for the extra hues, or tints?

Human sciences are studies of society, rather than being on a personal level. They are considered a soft science compared to natural sciences. Human sciences deal with the mind and human interactions, such as economics, anthropology, or psychology; whereas, natural sciences deal with nature and the logical facts, (often called cold, hard facts because there is no disputing them), They basically tend to be proven with evidence, having more “backing.” The brain adjusts to what it sees, which is one reason people say “seeing is believing.” There may be a lot of truth in that, but how can you explain two people seeing the same accident and giving totally different scenarios of what happened, and in what order? I have often heard of people saying their eyes played tricks on them (meaning when they looked the second time, things didn’t seem to be what they thought.)
The battle of “who we are” is being fought between “materialistic” and “psychological” descriptions. According to Biology, a natural science, “a human being, or human, is any member of the mammalian species Homo sapiens, a group of ground-dwelling, tailless primates that are distributed worldwide and are characterized by bipedalism and the capacity for speech and language, with an erect body carriage that frees the hands for manipulating objects”(Source A). So by being described by the natural sciences, we are just cells that have clumped together and formed a tissue, which formed into an organ, then an organ system and so forth.  However, a sense of identity appears early on in life as the infant begins to separate themselves from their mother(through birth).
Human sciences, Psychology in particular, do attempt to answer questions about why and how people think, feel, and behave as they do. In a sense, they do attempt to give humans a ‘sense of how they behave, but it doesn’t really give us a sense of who we ‘are’. A sense of personality comes from being able to break the societal norms. When French philosopher Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” in the early 1600s, he gave us our first look at the sense of identity or a sense of self. He clearly couldn't handle “doubt”, and came to find the only impossible thing to dispute is “I exist.”A certain culture of humans may have a sense of nationalistic or cultural identity; however, each individual is free and entitled to his own rights, opinions and being unrestricted in his thoughts. He is a product of his total sum.
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Debates such as this can go on forever. The question of “nature vs. nurture” comes to mind. While there seems to be plenty of evidence for both sides of the argument, when it comes right down to it, many points cannot be confirmed. Is a child more influenced by the DNA in his body (nature) or by his personal life experiences and childhood (nurture) that may be provided by adoptive parents who are presumably happy and loving? If a child is removed from his parents(such as criminals), early enough, would there be a greater chance of learning the correct behavior and an accepted way of life? The environment of a child’s youth would surely shape him in the right direction.