Wednesday, January 31, 2007

More on Pan - Hughes is disapointing me a bit

While I like Pan's Travail for the most part, I want to make a comment on Hughes credibility. Everything was fine until the 4th chapter, especially pages 52-59. I had trouble getting through it because of Hughes' reliance on secondary sources and the inferences that he pulls from them. I began to get a bit frustrated after reading sentences like "Thus he may have attempted to distinguish matter and energy as the primal entities" (p 58). This is the conclusion to a paragraph and a about the greek philosophers pointing to a lodestone and its attraction for iron. I'd say Hughes' conclusion is a sssstttttttttrrrrrrrettcchhhh. Another frustrating sentence: On page 56 Hughes says "though the nonceramic painting of the greeks is almost completely lost, it can be deduced...that it included portrayals of nature." Deduced? How many of them? The majority? One or two? What were the others of? I'd say this is not a very high quality point, and probably deserves little more that a sentence of analysis, let alone a whole paragraph. For most of the chapter I felt like many of the ideas were stretches so that Hughes could prove a point. (For more, check out the section on the orgin of the word pollution, views toward it, and most importantly, Hughes's interpretation on page 52.) I think a good editor would have improved the quality of this chapter greatly.

Aside from bringing in a skeptical editor, Hughes probably shouldn't assume things that cannot be based on fact. For example, on page 53: "Ancient religion recognized the essential oneness of humankind with nature" after which Hughes goes on to imply that all the ceremonies and gods that have to do with nature are the human desire to be closer to nature. I disagree. I think that all of these rituals and gods that have to do with nature are simply an expression of the human desire to explain the universe, regardless of how high or what type of a regard they hold nature. Once again, 7th inning stretch status.

I'm probably making far to big a deal about this, and I hate to pick apart a book like this that is full of information and logical thought. But it is important to remember that you can't believe all statements at face value, and some ideas in this book should be taken with a couple grains of salt.

Speaking of....
A tiny thought on something Professor Tantillo said in lecture today: The use of modern things in historical disney movies. If I understood correctly he was trying to imply that this is a current example of primitivism in the past, and that primitivism had no beginning and is a constant throughout human history. Well, that may be the case, but I think that disney writers throw in familiar things with no motive other than so 5 year olds can relate to what is going on in the plot. As if the catchy tunes aren't enough. : )

OOOOOOOkkkkkkkkkkkkkk Have a good day folks....


Monday, January 29, 2007

Some thoughts about Pan's Travail

I am finding it interesting to read Hughes' book keeping in mind the other articles we have read, particularly Proctor's article. Certain statements that Hughes makes--things which I normally would have passed right by--strike me. For example, at the end of chapter 3, Hughes says that the various crises he's described "represent a true ecological disaster caused by human actions" (35). Something about this sentence seemed odd to me when I first read it, as if it had a logical flaw. The problems he's describing--infertile land, basically--are problems because they render nature useless to humans. To turn around and say they are caused by "human actions" seems oversimplified and redundant because if humans hadn't acted on nature, then there would be no context for the problems in the first place. (Might it be more accurate to say the problems were caused by poor management of nature rather than simply "human actions"?) It brings back the whole idea of intrinsic versus instrumental value of nature--in this case, Hughes assumes a very instrumental view, here and throughout the book (as he probably should, since he is describing the role of the environment in shaping civilizations). I don't really take issue with Hughes's point of view at all, and I understand what he is saying, but it is something that jumped out at me in light of the Proctor article. Just things to ponder, I suppose.

I also noticed the superscript 2 on CO2 in the Marx. And I agree, even though it's kind of trivial, it really takes away some credibility. That's very basic knowledge, I would think.

Haha good point about the beans. I wondered why they ate leafy vegetables but not beans. Hmmm. I guess it has to do with eating the seeds, because that's the part that becomes new life, right?

Katie Hansen
Ok, so like Kara, I found the the questions that Prof. Tantillo points out that Gilgamesh forces us to ask to be quite intriguing. Some of those questions include: what does it mean to be human? Are humans divine? Are humans animals? How do we become civilized? etc. I think it is in human nature to embrace civilization and progress. In the story Gilgamesh, Enkidu originally is "wild" and he eventually becomes "tame" and civilized. He accepts his role as a human and he therefore recognizes his superiority over other critters in the forest (critters that he used to protect and defend when he was wild). As the story continues, Gilgamesh and Enkidu go onto cut down the cedar wood forest and use the wood. Additionally, it was believed that humans must domesticate animals. The belief of superiority is also recognized by Aristotle in the "Concepts of the Natural World" chapter of Pan's Travail. Aristotle believed in a hierarchy, "plants exist for the sake of animals, animals for the sake of man, and that inferior men are natural slaves of the superior. This doctrine supports human use of nature in any way that is conducive to human good..." (p. 60 in case you want to look at it). Of course this is just one view of the ancient Greeks, and there are many who did not agree with Aristotle and the idea of superiority per se, but still anthropocentrism was present even in the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans. How could it not be? It is difficult for humans to not view the world with an anthropocentric viewpoint. A side note: the idea of superiority is also touched upon in an excellent book called Ishmael (I thank Meaghan Black, who is also in 232, who recommended it to me). In the book, it is proposed that because many humans believe creation ended with the birth of man, the world was therefore made for man, and because of this, the world belongs to man and he can do whatever he wished with it. It is quite interesting, I highly recommend you read the book if you are interested. Now I know that it seems as though I am rambling and I probably am, but the whole concept on man doing what he/she wishes with the world is something that has been going on for hundreds of years now (as shown in the times of Gilgamesh, and the ancient Greeks and Romans), and I find it to be quite fascinating. So I guess getting back to those questions raised in class--are humans divine? better than animals because of brain capacity and ability to reason? Certainly everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I myself find the whole hierarchy thing to be a bit ridiculous and unnecessary. I am not saying we need to abandon anthropocentrism, I just think it would be good to re-examine it and re-evaluate our current views of what nature is and how to improve the relationships humans have with nature.
I also found "The Ambiguous Role of Science and Technology" the most interesting of the readings so far. I struggle with the idea of how science is (or should be) viewed by the greater public. I agree that philosophy and other humanities will play an important role in how we treat our environment; to tie it in to Proctor, perhaps the role of humanities scholars is to evaluate the public's values towards the environment, while scientists provide the facts to back these values up. However, as a science student, one thing bothers me when philosophers try to assert their knowledge in the 'scientific' area: They don't know what they're talking about. Did anyone else notice that Marx wrote CO2 with a superscript 2, not a subscript? I know it's petty but it's the kind of thing that clues me in to the fact that I know more about science than this guy, and that makes me less likely to listen to him talk about science. Scientists probably need to be less dismissive of the humanities, but humanities scholars also have the responsibility to try to understand any environmental problem before they claim to know how to fix it.
Overall, though, I think Marx is right about the beneficial role that the humanities can play in resolving environmental issues, since science alone hasn't proven very effective. Scientist after scientist has come forward with proposals for how to reverse the effects of problems like global warming, but many people seem unwilling to make simple changes like switch to cars with higher gas mileage, conserve energy and water, etc. Perhaps the role of humanities scholars is to help the public evaluate which steps towards sustainability it is willing to take.

Professor Tantillo was wrong

I was reading chapter 4 of Pan's Travail and realized that something that Professor Tantillo said in lecture today was wrong. He said that Pythagoras was a vegetarian and ate a lot of beans. However, according to the book, that is incorrect; the Pythagoreans "forbade killing animals or plants, as well as eating food 'that had had life'...they banned eating beans and many other plant foods along with meat" (55). So, Professor, Pythagoras may not have had excessive flatulence after all because he did not eat beans.

Response to Steve some more of my thoughts on the first 5 readings

First I thought I'd respond quickly to what Steve had to say, so he knows that other people care about his opinions and his time and effort spent blogging were not wasted. : ) Hi steve

Teaching Philosophy and HPS to Science Students
I also felt like the first article was a load of very big generalizations and really quite pointless. I consider myself a well-rounded student of science, able to grasp (and enjoy) concepts and information in other fields. I also believe I have the ability to integrate both sides of my brain and come up with cohesive thoughts. Furthermore, I believe that my views regarding the value of science and data are part of the majority view here at Cornell, and probably in the "real world" of scholars as well. Always good to see an article that shows a different side though...

On the Search for a Root Cause
It was interesting to think about the role that finding the root cause of a problem can have in finding a solution. I believe that humans have been very reactive (as opposed to thinking through consequences first) in dealing with the environemnt. And humans are VERY good at being reactive because we are so good at coming up with a technological solution right before we have a serious problem. (I believe we will have no problem developing other sources of energy, and that it could be done now cost effectively, but I'm pretty sure this won't happen until about 2 minutes before we run out of fossil fuels.) So yeah, Steve, I think technology and our ability to create it quickly play the biggest role in our ability to devastate the environment.

Whose Nature?
I don't think Proctors point was to give a solution to the debate ivolving owls vs. loggers (although I kept waiting for it and looking for it, and I too got annoyed that he didnt'd provide it). His point was to explain the role that ethics and values plays (or should play) in environmental debates.

Ambiguous Role of Science and Technology
This article has been the most interesting to me so far. I am still grappling with the idea that human beings progress just for the sake of progressing. It is like we just move to the next step with technology. The article made me think of my views about President's Bush's policies on stem cell research (He's almost completely against it in any form for those of you who have lived under a rock for the past 5 years or so). Whether or not you agree that stem cell research is a good or ethical step in our society, it's going to happen sooner or later simply because it is the next step in the direction that medical research is heading. You can't just stop a point in progression, or skip over it for that matter. But this article questions why humans inherently feel that progression is inevitable AND that progression is always a good thing. Yay, more thinking to do!

Ok so on to Pan's Travail. So far I like it a lot. I love history and I have never been given a historical perspective on the environment up to this point. The style of the book annoys me a little bit, because as he says in the Preface, it is written assuming no background knowledge in science. But it makes the book nice and simple, which is better than the other extreme, and I appreciate the organization of the chapters. However, sometimes I feel like he makes assertions and assumes our agreement for statement that he does not back up. Maybe he'll back them up later; the first couple chapters are probably just meant to be an over view anyway.

So, on to content and ideas and such....
The main theme that struck me in the first three chapters is the transition in human history from dealing with nature and adapting to what it throws at humans, to controling nature as best as humans can figure out. This is a theme that ties into some of the subject matter in class today regarding the role of humans on earth. Are we closer to our animal ancestors, or do we more resemble the Gods that created us? Animals adapt, Gods control. To me this raises another important question. If we are not adapting to our environment, then we have no reason to evolve physically. I would really appreciate your thoughts.

Well thats all for now.....enough deep, analytical, interesting thoughts for the day...time for chemistry.

: )

See you all wednesday
~Kara Capelli

Saturday, January 27, 2007

First Post

Ha! I am the first one to suck up. Here's my thoughts so far on the readings:

1. Teaching Philosophy and HPS to Science Students

Does anyone feel slightly insulted by this article? I consider myself a "science student," and have no problem keeping up with the reading and writing in humanities and social sciences classes. Sometimes I enjoy it and I've taken humanities classes for fun. I think Cantor is taking a few students (Cornell engineers) and generalizing for all science majors.

2. On Search for a Root Cause....

This was my favorite reading. I enjoyed reading about the debates within in the environmental movement instead of the usual fights between environmentalist vs. developers. I think I find myself more on Commoner's side, saying technology is more to blame than population growth (Who wants to start a debate?), but population is still a contributing factor.

3. Whose Nature?

I did not like this reading. I found Proctor to be uncourageous in that he won't take a side himself. The whole reading seemed to be "the loggers/owl-savers are right, but they also aren't right." By the end of the reading, Proctor does not come up with a better solution to the problem. Sometimes, instead of sitting on the sidelines, complaining about both teams, you have to pick a side.

4. Ambigous Role of Science and Tech

This article was slightly boring. I don't know what to think about his view that the humanities need to step it up in the environmental field ("But the avoidance of the aesthetic, religious, or metaphysical motives... do not figure in the work of scientists and engineers, but are among the potent resources in mobilizing popular support for environmental action.") I feel like I'm always reading stuff (especially so for this class) about environmental philosophy, environmental history, etc. What I thought was interesting in the article was Pastorlism and Thomas Jefferson's veiws.

5. Pan's Travail

I'm reading it now. What's with the suggestive photo on the front cover?

Steve Zelno

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Welcome to the blog for Nature and Culture, the course formerly known as People, Values, and Natural Resources.