Interdisciplinary conference explores science via culture
Science is a method of understanding nature, as such, it can only be fully understood through analyzing the art, literature and culture of the world’s inhabitants.
The Rutgers British Studies Center had this understanding in mind when they invited like-minded professionals to speak at “Scientific (R)evolutions” last Friday in Alexander Library’s Teleconference Lecture Hall.
Erin Kelly, coordinator of the event, wanted to break boundaries between disciplines to achieve a higher understanding of science’s impact on society and vice versa.
Kelly, a graduate student from the Department of English, said the conference proved the continuities between seemingly unrelated subjects. They put a lot of effort into organizing the panels into unrelated topics.
“Even if the person is [in] a completely different field than your own, you can have conversations that link different texts,” she said.
They had people talking about contemporary poetry and creating coherent threads with science, Kelly said.
John Tresch, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed the impacts of spirituality and multiculturalism on the progress of science. He said these other forms of thought are constructive for science.
“The Society for Psychical Research from the late 19th century was a moment when loads of physicists were very convinced by spiritualism, as it existed then,” he said.
On the other hand, he said, scientists frequently draw borders with what counts as believable, excluding ideas that have no concrete material manifestation. Many scientists will scoff at theories of spiritualism that require invisible forces.
In the earlier 20th century these ideas had more leniency, he said. While it is easy to find cases of simple opposition, his interest is in studying spiritualism and different cultures and its effects on mainstream science.
Negative occurrences have birthed progress in science as well, he said.
Human zoos, which were meant to display people of different cultures as marvels of nature, emerged around the late 1800s, he said. These zoos, although inhumane, birthed cultural anthropology, which set the ground for multiculturalism.
He said he does not believe in hierarchy of cultures. Each culture needs to be placed on equal footing and studied.
Similar discussions occurred throughout the day, including a panel with graduate students Kristen Tapson, Heather Cammarata-Seale and Adam Colman.
Tapson, a graduate student at New York University, discussed her interpretation of Clark Coolidge’s “Quartz Hearts,” a poem centered on sentence structure, time and cyclotron magnets and a sort of particle accelerator.
“Coolidge is obsessed with something like how his temporality is different from something else — such as his cat,” she said. “Their time isn’t adjusted by routine and they live shorter lives than we do.”
Quartz and the heart are both examples of timekeeping, she said.
A routine can trick someone into going back to the familiar, she said. Finding a pattern and predicting its outcome, only to discover something new, is the difficult dynamic that makes routine and time both dangerous and rewarding.
Cammarata-Seale, a graduate student at Rutgers University, studied Mark Dion’s “Scala Naturae,” a piece of taxidermy art demonstrating the ordering of nature in the eye of man.
“My project, dealing with taxidermy, is messy,” she said. “Nature is completely messy, but we try and order it because we have this ability to order things to understand them.”
Humans have the tendency to order everything, even if it is seemingly impossible, she said. Her concern is answering the open-ended question of how humans classify and how classifications change over time.
In order to build on multiple perspectives and interpretations, one must understand and appreciate all different time periods and forms of art in art history, Cammarata-Seale said.
“Mark Dion views the [museums like] the American Museum of Natural History as this authoritative presence — he’s trying to knock down this presence bit by bit,” she said. “He’s trying to re-combine science and art.”
Adam Colman, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said the scientific method is a structure of habitual behavior that may even be considered an addiction.
“There is a sense of morality that doesn’t want to punish addiction, but learn from it,” he said. “Addiction reveals a connection between the self and the outside world.”