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)”

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”

Four-Dimensional Snails Could Take Over the World

The idea of a point of omnipresence existing is something that fascinates me.

Writing and art by Charlotte Southall

Recently I have been finding a lot of inspiration for art projects in my maths/physics background and a concept that I am currently exploring has to do with four-dimensional space. I first came across the idea of there being more than three dimensions years ago in a maths class where a teacher mentioned it briefly— I remember being told that 4D snails could take over the world (which I later learnt was in reference to this study). This year I have decided to delve deeper and see what the higher dimensions have to offer me artistically, and if there are any snails. It is said that if you were to float in an unimaginable four-dimensional space you would be able to view every perspective of a three-dimensional scene at once; this idea of a point of omnipresence existing is something that fascinates me. Continue reading “Four-Dimensional Snails Could Take Over the World”

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.

Steps to the Scientific Method

How has the scientific method come to be the process that we know it as today? Has it always been the same?

By Melody Xu

Art by Alex Hanson

Everyone has heard of the scientific method. It’s mentioned in practically every high school science textbook, presented to students as some sort of divine method to conduct experiments. In a way, the idea of the scientific method has been black-boxed for us; we know that it yields results, but do we know how it works? How has the scientific method come to be the process that we know it as today? Has it always been the same? In order to gain a better understanding of the scientific method, the history of it must also be examined.

There have been many different variations, where some steps may be combined or implied rather than explicitly stated, but the underlying concept, I would argue, remains pretty consistent. The steps are to (1) ask a question, (2) do background research, (3) construct a hypothesis, (4) conduct an experiment to test the hypothesis, (5) analyze the data, (6) draw a conclusion, and finally, (7) determine whether your hypothesis was correct or not. There are a plethora of different cultures and people that have had an influence on our modern scientific method, but I will be describing just a few of the earliest contributors: Aristotle, Ibn al-Haytham, Francis Bacon, and just briefly, Isaac Newton. Continue reading “Steps to the Scientific Method”

Time Will Tell: The Stories of Prague’s Astronomical Clock

I can’t ignore the fact that observations of our universe and storytelling are still inseparable.

Writing and photos by Alex Hanson

Walking through Prague’s Old Town Square is like diving into the pages of a gilded storybook. The wide spaces between the tall, elegant, centuries-old buildings gives the impression of a purposeful manipulation of what pedestrians on the street can and cannot see— as though you were one of many dolls in a very large dollhouse, subject to the story being told around you by an unseen player. It is this feeling that makes the square’s famous astronomical clock seem so mystical.

The medieval astronomical clock, created in 1410, is on the side of a tower of Prague’s Old Town City Hall. It is a huge clock face surrounded by statues, with two windows and a golden rooster above and a calendar with zodiac details below the astrolabe. In a realm lined with gray cobblestones and bronze statues, the clock’s bright blue face and gold details make it one of the most eye-catching parts of the square. Every hour tourists and passing locals gather around the clock to watch its hourly toll, comprised of ringing bells, statues becoming animated, and the two windows opening to reveal statues of the apostles rotating in and out of sight of the crowd below. Continue reading “Time Will Tell: The Stories of Prague’s Astronomical Clock”

STEM and the Arts: Why Choose?

The foundations of science rest on good artistry, just as good artistry depends on good science.

by Lynn Wang

Illustration by Charlotte Southall

A great deal of the way we talk about education and careers has to do with this implicit understanding that STEM and the arts—liberal and otherwise—are at odds with each other. You can hear it in the way your history teachers rail against your high school’s devotion to the arts, scornfully dubbed a “waste of resources.” Maybe you’re an art student who is amazing at what you do, but can’t fathom yourself sitting in another math class because x is just too hard to find. Or maybe you constantly have to listen to grumpy uncles who blame our generation’s unemployment on lazy millennials who all pick up English majors because they’re too stupid to hack (haha, get it?) an engineering or computer science degree.

Maybe it’s your classmates who reinforce the divide. It’s easy to spot in the way your engineering friends sneer at English majors, and vice versa. Or you’ve noticed how all your liberal arts-oriented peers on your semester abroad started to treat you differently when they found out you were a biochemistry major. The message are all the same: MATLAB doesn’t get along with Matisse, and that’s just the way it is. Continue reading “STEM and the Arts: Why Choose?”

To Be Science or Not To Be Science

What exactly is science?

by Melody Xu 

Cartoons by Alex Hanson

What exactly is science? What, if anything, makes it different from the humanities? There is no definitive answer to these questions. For the sake of discussion, however, let’s draw the line between science, which I’ll define as having the goal of discovering the true nature of the world, and other academic fields. I’ll recognize three different distinctions between science and other academic fields: the role of empiricism, the role of mathematics, and, finally, the role of peer review. Continue reading “To Be Science or Not To Be Science”