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Many people studying the history and philosophy of science like to view it as a discipline on its own, situated between several disciplines but distinct altogether and with its own methodology and axioms.  Nonetheless it is difficult to separate one historical study from another even if they are for different ends and many who ultimately study the history of science first have to start with history.  History itself is seen as a rather useless pursuit outside of academia so who in their right mind would study it?

The Militarist

Their focus: The battlefield

This guy, it’s almost always a guy, is studying history simply for the battles and wars.  They are often, but not necessarily, enrolled in an ROTC program or affiliated with the military.  For them history is a story that could be completely told through battles and the generals who fought them.  In his spare time he is either playing Risk or cleaning his gun and/or replica sword.

The Ideologue

Their focus: Their ego

Arguably this is one of the more intelligent people on the list, they recognize the basic tenant that history is written by the winners and immediately seek to undo it.  They forget that most history today strives towards more objective conclusions but for them, no history is radical enough.  They will often argue with the professors they dislike, and corner any professor that shares their views for hour long discussions.

The Bourgeois Classicist

Their focus: Rome

They were raised well and come from money yet would rather pursue something intellectual rather than business.  Therefore they turn their sights on the classics to better understand high culture.  They can recite all the Roman emperors and famous Greek playwrights, and are currently learning different dialects of Latin.  When not with their nose in a book they will attend classical recitals.

The Husband-Hunter

Their focus: That guy three rows down, or that one over there, or over there…

It’s 2012 but some girls still go to college with the exclusive goal of finding a husband.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone looks for love during their studies but these girls use school as a pretext for creating a traditional family.  Often they are history majors, because despite being pretty dull in terms of wits, they do recognize a male-dominated field when they see it.  And there aren’t many male-dominated fields that don’t require vigorous work to progress.  History has no prerequisites so it’s pretty easy to graduate even if you nearly fail everything.

The Niche Culturalist

Their focus: Some third-world country

These guys and gals are the opposite of the classicist; somewhere along the line, either because of their roots or some other interest, they absolutely fell in love with another part of the world.  They’re a history major because their small liberal arts college doesn’t have a Burmese Studies department.

The Padder

Their focus: Whatever else they’re studying

The padders are probably the largest block of all people taking history courses, with many becoming all-out history majors.  These people use history as their second major because they feel like their primary major isn’t impressive enough.  And it’s not that hard for them either as all they really do is sacrifice all their free electives for history classes.  They might have a general interest in history but are rarely as passionate as the others.

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My horoscopes today have promised me a strong ability to communicate with others so I decided to write this post.  About 25-30% of people in the US believe in astrology while millions more don’t accept it yet still love reading about horoscopes or people’s signs.  Astrology is particularly popular with women and men are often encouraged to learn and talk about signs as a way to pick up girls.  Despite its popularity, astrology is roundly condemned in the world of science by such skeptics as Richard Dawkins and Penn Jillette ( I think Teller is also against it, but is unable to express an opinion since Penn had his tongue cut out).  While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the orbit of Mercury is dictating my happiness on a day-to-day basis, astrology’s fundamental conclusion may be more scientific than many skeptics may want to acknowledge.

What is Astrology?

I should start by asking what exactly is the theory of astrology and whether it can be dissected and broken into levels of understanding.  At its most literal interpretation, the correlation of the movements of distant planets and stars with events in people’s lives on Earth, astrology might as well be a Nigerian prince.  There is absolutely no evidence nor plausible scientific explanation for this type of silly action at a distance.  In other words, daily horoscopes are a ridiculous thing to believe in and studies have shown this over and over.  However, what about astrology that correlates personality with a particular constellation in the night sky?  This implication too, is very problematic as constellations don’t yield personalities based on the backgrounds and interpretations of the symbols.

A Scientific Foundation for Astrological Beliefs

If we abstract further and define astrology as the classification and grouping of different people by when they were born using markers in the sky, then I think there is a strong scientific case for astrology.  The different astrological symbols could just be taken as signs for the time of the year.  An explanation like this requires removing any causality from the heavens as well as any direct impact of daily events, yet does recognize perhaps a fundamental truth that astrology is based on.  Someone remarking about the compatibility between Cancers and Virgos might actually have a point as it can correlate to personality differences from different seasonal births rather than with patterns in the sky.  In any region of the world, astrological symbols will correlate with different seasons which bring different climates and weather.  This in turn influences daily aspects of life, like what foods are available, how much sunlight there is, and how much sleep people get.  Scientific studies in turn show that these factors translate into differences during pregnancy for the mother, and during the formative years after the baby is born.  Astrology may be seen as taking the simple question of how the time of year that someone is born affects their personality – a perfectly valid scientific question.  And indeed science has provided some answers already.  A study published 2 years ago notes a “seasonal imprinting” on our biological clocks that can account for personality differences between individuals.  While it does not dictate a person’s emotional state or personality traits, there is a significant correlation between seasonal birth and someone’s mental and physical health.  For instance, those born in the winter months are more prone to psychological disorders like schizophrenia.

If astrology is re-interpreted as correlating personality with seasons, by way of constellations in the sky, then I see no reason to call it unfounded.  However, the methodology that bloomed from this basic understanding is certainly unscientific and unfounded.  Stars and planets have no determinative effect on our daily lives on this planet and anyone preaching such a message is either a fool or a charlatan.  Yet often pseudoscientific enterprises are based on some basic truth and in this case maybe Robb and Jeyne’s relationship simply was doomed from the start based on which season they were born.

If you’ve been watching any of the olympics on NBC then chances are you have been bombarded by commercials for their upcoming show “Revolution” in which people try to survive in a world without power.  From the teasers the show looks more or less like a post-apocalypse survivalist story years after the world suddenly lost power, perhaps something along the lines of The Walking Dead.  However, unlike your typical zombie apocalypse there’s no real reason given as to how the people found themselves in this situation.  Zombies and robots destroying society is understandable but how does power just suddenly go out?  At first people were explaining it as a world-wide electromagnetic pulse that would render everything electronic useless.  After reading a bit more about the show I found that it couldn’t be the case; the show takes places 15 years after the initial outage and in the mean time nobody has been able to generate electricity at all, not even from batteries, and one source describes it as a world without “advanced technology.”  Therefore during the show, people are fighting with medieval style swords, crossbows, and longbows.

The show’s producer, J.J. Abrams, has defended the show by saying that answers as to why the apocalypse happened will be provided yet unless those answers involve an entire reworking of the physical laws of the universe nothing can be answered.  An EMP or something that would similarly disable electricity would not stall all cars or cause planes to fall from the sky.  Nor would it make guns useless or instantly kill off anyone with a bachelor’s degree in physics.  Advanced technology is only how we define it.  Does it include anything after the Industrial Revolution?  Diesel engines apparently are off limits in the world but what about steam engines?  People can certainly still build fires for energy.  Maybe the show plays by Amish rules where only a certain level of technology is allowed, but like the Amish it can only be established arbitrarily.

Here’s my guess about this show: Abrams and others saw the popularity of post-apocalypse shows like The Walking Dead and saw the popularity of Medieval-themed shows like Game of Thrones and said, “I think we can somehow combine the two.  What  if there’s an apocalypse where afterwards, people live like it’s the middle ages again?”  Someone else would undoubtedly counter with, “Well what kind of apocalypse could possibly lead to that scenario?”  J.J. Abrams would calmly respond, “Who the fuck cares about that, we’ll just make it like Lost.  We don’t need to answer anything, we’ll just trick the audience into thinking we’re great writers and just make up shit as we go along.”  In other words, this show will be another Ponzi scheme; they don’t have answers because no natural ones could possibly exist, they could appeal to the supernatural, but at that point the show will lose all meaning as everything becomes possible.

The point is that in the history of technology there are no distinct episodes of technological eras.  There’s not one key that will take us back to a previous one, nor could we even return to an earlier technological time if we wanted to.  Technologies are interacting webs of hardware, technical knowledge, tacit knowledge, and cultural significance.  Chemists today struggle to recreate alchemical experiments because of impurities in the original substances those in turn caused by different mining methods in different regions.  “Advanced technology” is almost without meaning in the history of technology and can really only be measured as to how recently it has been developed or used.  Most modern farming techniques can not even be broken down by individual technologies but comprise a whole inter-related system of knowledge and hardware, completely different yet still vaguely related from crop production 200 years ago.  Destroying the more modern one will not take it back to its predecessor but will create an entirely new system, and so if it is not going back in time, then the new system could easily be called more advanced than the modern one we know.

We’ve all seen movies use loose conceptions of science to further a plot along, whether it’s time-travel, radiation, or being able to clone dinosaurs and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Evolution has also been used in the movies, sometimes with a benign portrayal like in 2001: A Space Odyssey or Disney’s Fantasia.  Other times the movies portray something that would make Darwin murder finches.  These movies fall in the latter category and help explain why only about 10% of high school students understand the idea of a common ancestor and why the general public doesn’t do much better.  Here are the top five movies and the evolution myths they present.

Read the list here

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