All entries for Tuesday 09 January 2007

January 09, 2007

Science And History

Guess I should put up a few more of those lousy Warwick Boar columns which I spew out from time to time (I have no idea what to write about at the mo, I need ideas!). This one is a good reason why historians shouldn’t buy New Scientist.

If there’s one thing that’s inherently adorable about scientists it’s that they are, by and large, made up of the more optimistic members of the species. Coming to university with big ideas about changing the world, discovering cures for stuff, and theories for making the world better and improving humans with laser powered implants. Those who continue in science after bachelors are the real optimists, remaining in possession of a faith in science despite all the 9am lectures and lack of reading weeks that university can throw at them. Want proof? Try the latest New Scientist magazine. Celebrating 50 years of the magazine it invited scientists to make predictions for the world in 2056. The vast majority are optimistic, some wildly so. Some talk excitedly of the imminence of the discovery of life on Mars, healthy people over 100 being the norm, and we can all talk to animals and become vegetarian as a result. One dementedly optimistic man thinks we’ll be able to buy a tee shirt with the equations from the unified laws of physics printed on them, though let’s be honest, even in 50 years we’re not going to be that geeky en masse, are we? Are we?

Naturally, in response to this wave of forcast innovation, the Boar has decided to allow a historian (easily the most cynical and pessimistic sort of student you will find on campus) to write about this event. Believe me, it is hard to handle when you realise that, in contrast to science and its remaining aura of loftiness and difficulty, the most profound thing to be uttered about your subject was in fact uttered about ten years ago by Dame Shirley Bassey. She’s seen it before, and she’ll see it again, it’s all just a little piece of history repeating. And we have. Everyone loves making scientific predictions about wonder inventions but the truth is most advances are rarely foreseen, and when they do arrive most people’s first instinct will be to see how they can a) break them, b) write sarcastic articles about them, or c) use them to distribute porn.

We don’t make many predictions in the Humanities but in the spirit of things here are some. One of those pseudo-scientific humanities like Psychology, or Sociology, or both, will have a unified theory of why people act like berks in groups when they are so reasonable as individuals (the Football Crowd/Armchair Fan Theory). They are also hopefully going to find out how the human mind adapts to difficult challenges like finding a room in Social Studies. Actually that might be one for the scientists, can they work out just how many dimensions are at work in that warren of corridors?

The Philosophy department are looking forward to the first entirely post modern degree in which it really doesn’t matter what mark you actually get, if you think you got a first then that’s as valid a mark as what your tutor gave you. Attempts to start the first Foucauldian degree were actually began about three years ago but then the department involved were told off for causing unnecessary suffering, not all of it physical. The History department will be combing forces with the Music Centre (which is expected to cover at least 80% of campus by 2056) to produce the first module in the utterings of Welsh divas. And all courses will have laser powered seminar tutors rather than phd students, mostly because undergraduates are less likely to complain about someone who can melt their face with a glance.

It’s the future and it’s coming. As for myself, I am going to go and look forward to the future by discovering alien life, unifying the laws of physics (it can’t be that hard, surely?), and eating bacon whilst I am still incapable of empathising with it.

January 2007

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