“We Are All Matter, and We All Matter”

In class last week, Melody pointed out her love of a sentence on the final page of the paper.

By Alex Hanson

This semester I have been granted the absolute highest honor of taking a class with my friend and HERpothesis collaborator Melody Xu. Our class focuses on feminist science studies,  science and technology studies, and tinkering in technoscience. Last week, we read a paper called “Animal Performances: An Exploration of Intersections between Feminist Science Studies and Studies of Human/Animal Relationships,” by Lynda BirkeMette Bryld, and Nina Lykke. The title is a bit intimidating, and the text offers theoretical concepts that required me to reread several paragraphs, but it is overall a really interesting look at the way feminist science studies can apply to human’s relationship and perception of animals. (If you’re interested, you can find the paper here!)

In class last week, Melody pointed out her love of a sentence on the final page of the paper: “We are all matter, and we all matter.” In the context of the paper, it is addressing each individual’s ability to blur the separation between humans and animals. On it’s own, I think this quote is beautiful because it connects humans to the rest of the universe as “matter”— that inanimate “stuff” that makes up everything but also feels very separate from us as human individuals— and addresses the individual power we hold because we are made up of that matter. Since Melody brought it up in class, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. I made this image of the quote in order to do its some justice with bright colors and a bold font.

Cyborgs and Technofeminism: The World of He, She, and It

This is far from just a simple cybernetic love story.

By Melody Xu

Collage by Alex Hanson, using the cover art from He, She, and It

The year is 2059. After the Two Week War of 2017 which nearly destroyed human civilization as we know it, the world is now run by twenty-seven enterprises — commonly referred to as the multis — which have formed their own social hierarchies and standards of living. However, most of the population lives in the barren and nearly destroyed world (the glop) that exists outside of the multis’ enclave, a place that is overrun by poverty and crime. Despite the huge gap between the rich and the poor, technology has never been more advanced. People in this new world communicate by plugging themselves into machines and projecting themselves into Cyberspace. This is the world of He, She, and It.

In this 1991 cyberpunk novel by Marge Piercy, the story starts with artificial intelligence expert Shira, who lives in one of these multis, Yakamura-Stichen (Y-S), losing custody of her son Ari to her ex-husband in an emotional custody battle. Afterwards, she decides to live the heavily controlled confines of Y-S in order to return to her hometown of Tikva (which means hope in Hebrew). Tikva is one of the few last “free towns” left in the world, remaining unallied with any of the twenty-seven corporations. However, in Piercy’s future world, where information is even more precious than gold, Tikva has been under the attack of “information pirates”, dangerous computer programmers set on unlocking the secrets of the town’s mainframe. The cyborg Yod was illegally created for the single reason of combating these attacks. However, before Yod can protect the city to his full capacity, the cyborg must be able to pass as a human and Shira is tasked to help it with its socialization. During their time together, they eventually fall into a romantic relationship and become allies in both fighting to protect Tikva and for custody of Avi again. Continue reading “Cyborgs and Technofeminism: The World of He, She, and It”

Spatial Sounds and Pikachus: An Augmented Reality Appreciation Post

“Even though the future seems far away, it is actually beginning right now.” – Poet Mattie Stepanek

By Melody Xu

Collage by Alex Hanson

The world has been taken by storm by Pokemon Go. If you don’t know what Pokemon Go is (you must be living under a rock), you’re missing out! Definitely go check out the App store and download it because your life will never be the same again. If you’re one of the millions of players already enjoying the game (please stop, you’re the reason the servers are crashing), good for you!

Regardless of whether or not you’ve already caught them all, Pokemon Go serves as a fantastic example of a game that implements augmented reality, or AR for short. By definition, any technology that inserts “digital interfaces into the real world” (according to the Salem Encyclopedia of Science) is an example of augmented reality.

People often group augmented reality together with virtual reality, but there is a stark difference between the two. While virtual reality attempts to create, in essence, a separate reality apart from real life, augmented reality aims to add (or augment, hence the name) the real world. While the fundamental concepts for augmented reality have been around since the early days, the actual term itself didn’t appear until the 1990s. Creators who utilize AR are unique in that they use the technology to enhance what users experience, rather than creating a whole new world for them. Continue reading “Spatial Sounds and Pikachus: An Augmented Reality Appreciation Post”

The Devil’s Violin

He would give up everything, destroy his own precious violin and forsake music forever, rather than have to give up the feelings and emotions that the Devil’s music had invoked in him.

By Melody Xu

Illustration by Alli Lorraine

There’s a story that my violin teacher used to tell me.

It’s about a composition officially known as the Violin Sonata in G minor by the talented Italian composer Giuseppe Tartini. A brilliant piece, split into four movements, it’s known for its complexity in sound and difficulty in playing, but it is not those qualities that made it stand out to me. Instead, it’s the story behind it. Apart from its official title, it’s also known amongst musicians as the Devil’s Trill.  

Allegedly, Tartini has made a deal with the Devil, his soul in exchange for servitude. One of those nights, he had commanded the Devil to play his violin and the sounds that had escaped from the musical instrument had left him enchanted, enthralled, enlightened. He was so captivated by the unworldly sonata that the Devil performed for him that Tartini immediately tried to capture what he had heard into a composition of his own. Although it ended up being his favorite and best sonata, Tartini later admitted that what he had composed paled in comparison to what he had listened to. He wrote that if he had been forced, he would give up everything, destroy his own precious violin and forsake music forever, rather than have to give up the feelings and emotions that the Devil’s music had invoked in him. Continue reading “The Devil’s Violin”

The HERpothesis Golden Record

Photos and songs for the alien civilization that finds this addendum to the Golden Record.

Featuring photos by Julia Arciga, Alice Liu, Alex Hanson, Megan Harger, Katie Smythe, Shelby Traynor, and Melody Xu

Playlists created by Savana Ogburn, Jo Guelas, Kylie Obermeier, and Megan Schaller of Sonic Blume Zine. Playlist graphics created by Savana Ogburn.

To The Alien Civilization That Finds This,

Greetings from Earth!

My name is Alex Hanson, and I’m the editor of HERpothesis, the website that created this Golden Record addendum: a collection of music and images to show you what life is like on Earth, our home planet (and currently the only one occupied by humans, although we have our sights set on Mars). HERpothesis is made by young women inspired by the intersections of STEM and art, and this Golden Record is our way of showing you how we see and interact with our planet today. Continue reading “The HERpothesis Golden Record”

Technoscience and Scallops: Actor-Network Theory (ANT)

As a framework and approach to social theory and research, A.N.T. is centered around science and technology, but is by no means limited to it.

By Melody Xu

Illustration by Charlotte Southall

The traditional view of science and technology holds that what the two different fields hope to achieve are in stark contrast: Galileo “discovered” the phases of Venus, but these phases existed prior to his “discovery.” Diesel “invented” the diesel engine, which did not exist before his invention. However, the foundation of actor-network theory (A.N.T.) stands on the claim of technoscience, which claims that science and technology share the same type of processes rather than having inherently different methods. In this sense, then, what would be perceived as a discovery (science) or an invention (technology) are constructed by the same type of processes. Both can be mapped out by actor-networks. As a framework and approach to social theory and research, A.N.T. is centered around science and technology, but is by no means limited to it. Continue reading “Technoscience and Scallops: Actor-Network Theory (ANT)”

Iron and Vibranium: Science of the Avengers

Melody and Alex hash out the science behind their favorite Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America, respectively.

The Marvel universe is heating up with Captain America: Civil War coming to screens on May 6. While it is undeniably going to be distressing to see my favorite band of superheroes become divided, I also can’t wait to see them battle it out while wearing 3D glasses and shoving popcorn in my face. In the spirit of true nerddom that accompanies all Marvel premeire weekends, Melody and I hashed out the science behind our favorite Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America, respectively. -Alex Continue reading “Iron and Vibranium: Science of the Avengers”

Testing for the Freedom Quotient

What if you could numerically measure the amount of free will you have?

By Melody Xu

Illustration by Charlotte Southall

The concept of F.Q., or freedom quotient, originated from a 2015 article by popular philosopher Stephen Cave in his article “The Free-Will Scale.” Like any other quotient test (ex. intelligence quotient or emotional quotient), the freedom quotient would ideally work as some sort of standardized test that people could take. In this case, the construct that is being measured is simply the amount of free will that someone possesses.

There are, of course, many definitions of free will. Speaking of free will at a dinner table with a handful of philosophers is most certainly going to be a different kind of free will discussion than you would have in a court case with a prosecutor. To make things simple, we’re going to stick with one definition that is outlined in Cave’s article. He suggests three major components that should be used: the ability to generate various options, the ability to rationally choose between them, and the ability to follow through with that decision. These three qualities most certainly do not have clear-cut, black and white lines drawn between them but certainly do an effective job of giving an outline of what the general consensus of free will is when used in the context of popular culture. Continue reading “Testing for the Freedom Quotient”

A Brief Tour of a Synesthetic History

Synesthesia, like many other puzzles, should always be examined through an interdisciplinary lens.

 

By Melody Xu

Art by Alex Hanson

When people hear the term synesthesia, the image of an individual who sees the number “3” in maroon or thinks that “purple” tastes salty usually appears. However, the term serves as a term for sensation interconnections that are even more complicated— violin music will lightly stroke against a person’s cheeks, the days of the week are carts on a ferris wheel. So what exactly is synesthesia?

Synesthesia, as explained by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the production of a sense impression relating to one’s sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body”. Deriving from the Greek term “to perceive together”, the phenomenon of synesthesia can come in many different shapes and sizes; some may be able to smell pain, others may taste shapes, some might be able to do both and even more. While there are countless types of synesthesia, without any two cases being exactly the same, there are some common types of synesthesia that occur within the human population, especially grapheme-color synesthesia, which is when a person may see individual letters and numbers in different colors.

Synesthesia, like many other puzzles, should always be examined through an interdisciplinary lens. For instance, synesthesia can also be seen as a gateway for creativity. When a novel’s narrator says that they see the rainbow when they hear the deep, soothing voice of their favorite singer, or when a painting’s harsh oil strokes clearly evoke a feeling of anger— these are all examples of creativity at its finest. Taking a deeper look reveals that these are connecting experiences primarily focused on one sense with another sense, which certainly can be considered an attempt to replicate the experiences that come with synesthesia. Whether the platform for examining synesthesia comes in the form of literature, music, art, or neuroscience, it’s an experience that has been the focus of human intrigue for all of history.

For scientists especially, synesthesia presents an interesting issue. Studies have been conducted that confirm that the phenomenon is in fact biological, happening automatically and without having any learning process behind it. It is neurologically distinct from hallucinations and is unlike metaphors, but the estimation for how many people have synesthesia (from 1 in 200 people to 1 in 20,000) and the causes of synesthesia has been a prevalent problem in the scientific community. The issue of the huge disparity between the estimation of people with synesthesia in the population is so prevalent in part because of the fear of judgement that people who have synesthesia have. The fact that the term itself is a blanket term for so many different variations of the phenomenon also has an impact on the wide range of values.

Modern technology and tools, including brain-imaging and molecular genetics tools, have allowed to scientists to look at the future of examining this phenomenon, along with the organization of the brain and the way we perceive and recognize the world around us, with promise. However, this was not always the case. Long having been dismissed of having neurological basis, synesthesia had been misunderstood by people for a large part of human history. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the world was swept up in a flurry of excitement over examining this phenomenon, but it also experienced a harsh dip in interest in the middle of the twentieth century. One of the incredible scientists responsible for the establishment of synesthesia as a major research area was Simon Baron-Cohen, a prominent psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist. In the 1970s he led a team who first found evidence that synesthetes have consistent experiences over periods of time, as well as established a method of measuring synesthesia through neuroimaging techniques. (Here is some info on Baron-Cohen’s book on the project.)

Despite all of these major steps forward in synesthesia research, the actual cause for synesthesia remains shrouded in mystery. Some theories claim that all newborns are born with synesthesia, with the division of sensory blocks appearing as the individual and brain mature. Other theories involve the opening of previously closed channels of communication after being exposed to “the light of consciousness,” hence why people who are under the influence of certain drugs and have these passageways coming into awareness can experience a sense of induced synesthesia. Regardless of what theory you choose to believe in, the study of synesthesia allows cognitive scientists a truly unique chance to learn about how perception is formed in our brains.

The Quest for Science’s Holy Grail (Through Falsification)

Just because there are grails or theories that are false does not mean that the one true Holy Grail or the one true scientific theory is impossible to find.

By Melody Xu

Illustration by Charlotte Southall

A common theme through science (and any field, honestly), is to set it apart from other fields. Perhaps more so in science, there is a desire to separate the “imposters,” the so-called pseudosciences, from being included underneath the scientific umbrella. This is an issue that has plagued philosophers of science for years, sparking debate and existential crises since the beginning of time. Surely, there is a common theme along the pseudosciences that links them together and sets them apart from the actual sciences. But what is this difference? How is pseudoscience different from science?

One of the most well-known theories for this demarcation problem comes from Karl Popper. Hailed as one of the best philosophers of science of the twentieth century, the Austrian-Brit rejected the traditional model of the scientific method which had prevailed since the time of Francis Bacon, choosing instead to turn to the concept of empirical falsification. The concept of falsification serves as a filter for hypotheses; the core of the concept states that a hypothesis is scientific if and only if there is a potential to refute it through observation. The underlying theme is that science is and should involve risk-taking. Hypotheses and theories, such as astrology or Marxism, that are all-encompassing and can explain any new data that is found, are in a sense unworthy of the title of science. Continue reading “The Quest for Science’s Holy Grail (Through Falsification)”