Fighting over Martin Luther King Jr.’s memory

Knowledge Questions: How is history shaped by our present beliefs? To what extent can we accurately construct knowledge of the past? How do we decide what is an “accurate” history?

Below are three articles discussing the different ways and the consequences of how Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered today. Each shares ideas about the fact that many times our memories of the past and our histories are created to serve our current agendas. For some, history is not about a sincere desire to accurately understand or make meaning of the past. When we interpret the words and memories of our historical figures, can we say that one interpretation is better than another?

Restoring King

King’s radicalism is lost to the obfuscating fog of memory. In American culture today, we have several Martin Luther King Jr’s: the Commemorative King, the Therapeutic King, the Conservative King, and the Commodified King. Each of these Kings competes for our attention, but each of them represents a vision of King that he himself would not have recognized.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/restoring-king/

The Consequences of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Canonization

Pence, of course, is doing only what the current version of the holiday demands. Across the ideological spectrum, politicians must seek to fit themselves under the aegis of the Kingian legacy. That means a contingent of Americans who surely oppose the positions King held in his life are compelled to contort him into something friendly. Columns must wield King to attack everything from “identity politics” to the very act of “politicizing” King’s life itself. Democratic presidential hopefuls must employ King in order to make the case that each of their disparate platforms is the natural heir to his legacy. The sound bites evoking King are stretched like skin over the bones of existing debate. The figure celebrated looks nothing like the leader who lived—and who was killed—but like a granite-chiseled modern founding father, a collection of axioms by which our age is defined.

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/01/martin-luther-kings-legacy-and-those-who-claim-it/580903/

The War Over King’s Legacy

So who was the real Martin Luther King Jr.–the integrationist preacher of the summer of 1963 or the leftist activist of the spring of 1968? The question is not just academic. Its competing answers shed light on enduring–and urgent–tensions between white and black America over race, class and conspiracy. Most whites want King to be a warm civic memory, an example of the triumph of good over evil. For many African-Americans, however, the sanitizing of King’s legacy, and suspicions about a plot to kill him, are yet another example of how larger forces–including the government that so long enslaved them-hijack their history and conspire against them. In a strange way, the war over King’s legacy is a sepia-toned O.J. trial, and what you believe depends on who you are.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/mlk/legacy/legacy.htm

What magicians can teach scientists about skepticism

Knowledge Questions: What is the impact that knowledge has on the knower? What are our limitations in acquiring knowledge? What are the limitations in our abilities to reason? What is the role of skepticism in acquiring knowledge?

As I read this article, it reminded me of a passage from the novel, The Three Body ProblemLinked here is the passage that pass about pseudoscience and magicians.

Below is an article about related issues.

The episode shows how human fallibility can lead scientists astray, even when they appear to be conducting valid experiments. And why not look to magicians for insights into the blind spot in our perceptions? Many of them are experts on ways people can be fooled. As Benvensite showed the world, an advanced degree in something like immunology does not make one immune to self-delusion.

As the famous Richard Feynman quote about science goes: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

https://whyy.org/articles/what-magicians-can-teach-scientists-about-skepticism/

 

The reliability of oral histories in constructing knowledge of the past

Knowledge Questions: How do we construct knowledge about the past? How reliable are oral histories when learning about the past? To what extent do oral histories need to be independently corroborated in order to be believed?

The Underestimated Reliability of Oral Histories

As an archaeologist, if I have to dismiss the veracity of Native American oral traditions simply because they are not written down, then simple logic forces me to dismiss some of the accounts written in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which also began as oral tradition. To do anything else would be to maintain a racist double standard.

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/09/dead-sea-scrolls-oral-written-history/571039/

How science and First Nations oral tradition are converging

Science is finally catching up to oral traditions passed down through generations of First Nations cultures

While the convergence of science and oral history is important, Kimberley TallBear, associate professor at the University of Alberta’s Native Studies, says that it’s important that such investigations be a collaborative effort. She’s concerned that Western culture has always dominated that of First Nations and that it could do so again.

“I think it’s good, and I think it’s progress,” TallBear said. “But Western knowledge … [is] privileged over Indigenous knowledge.”

https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/science-first-nations-oral-tradition-converging-1.3853799

Ancient Sea Rise Tale Told Accurately for 10,000 Years

Aboriginal stories of lost islands match up with underwater finds in Australia

Without using written languages, Australian tribes passed memories of life before, and during, post-glacial shoreline inundations through hundreds of generations as high-fidelity oral history. Some tribes can still point to islands that no longer exist—and provide their original names.

“It’s quite gobsmacking to think that a story could be told for 10,000 years,” Nicholas Reid, a linguist at Australia’s University of New England specializing in Aboriginal Australian languages, said. “It’s almost unimaginable that people would transmit stories about things like islands that are currently underwater accurately across 400 generations.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ancient-sea-rise-tale-told-accurately-for-10-000-years/

Good riddance: Americans need to set aside icons like Robert E. Lee to live up to our potential.

Knowledge Questions: What is the role of historical monuments in learning history?  What is the role of history in society? How does history change over time?

screen shot 2019-01-06 at 5.33.17 pmWhen we choose how we view history, we risk mythologizing events and people, reducing them to two-dimensional stories. It takes nothing away from Abraham Lincoln’s heroic stewardship of our nation through the Civil War, for instance, to admit that he was still a creature of his era. For most of his career, he saw slaves as rival laborers for white wage-workers and thought they should go back to Africa. Frustratingly, our instinct to sanitize history ensures that we are always looking backward for our better angels, struggling to meet a standard that remains forever out of reach.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/11/21/feature/good-riddance-americans-need-to-aside-icons-like-robert-e-lee-to-live-up-to-our-potential/?utm_term=.2d7c7ab31918

How a Dubious Forensic Science Spread Like a Virus

Knowledge Questions: What separates science from pseudoscience? What are the characteristics of “good” science? To what extent can we expect scientific knowledge to be “certain”?

From his basement in upstate New York, Herbert MacDonell launched modern bloodstain-pattern analysis, persuading judge after judge of its reliability. Then he trained hundreds of others. But what if they’re getting it wrong?

Although the reliability of blood-spatter analysis was never proven or quantified, its steady admission by courts rarely wavered, even as the technique, along with other forensic sciences, began facing increasing scrutiny.

In 2009, a watershed report commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences cast doubt on the whole discipline, finding that “the uncertainties associated with bloodstain pattern analysis are enormous,” and that experts’ opinions were generally “more subjective than scientific.”

Still, judges continued allowing spatter experts to testify.

https://features.propublica.org/blood-spatter-analysis/herbert-macdonell-forensic-evidence-judges-and-courts/?utm_source=pardot&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=majorinvestigations

‘They had us fooled’: Inside Payless’s elaborate prank to dupe people into paying $600 for shoes

Knowledge Questions: What role do expectations play in our sense perception? To what extent can our judgments be objective?

But the prank also points to a reality about the human mind: Consumers are not capable of discerning the quality and value of the things they buy, said Philip Graves, a consumer behavior consultant from Britain. Slap a fancy-sounding European label on $30 shoes, and you have an illusion of status that people will pay an exorbitant amount of money for.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/11/30/they-had-us-fooled-inside-paylesss-elaborate-prank-dupe-people-into-paying-shoes/?utm_term=.dab90144f733

 

This is similar to a prank Penn and Teller did at a restaurant telling people they were drinking fine waters but were actually drinking water from a garden hose behind the restaurant.

 

Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.

A world famous violinist, Joshua Bell, set up to play in the middle of a busy train station in DC.

“Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/pearls-before-breakfast-can-one-of-the-nations-great-musicians-cut-through-the-fog-of-a-dc-rush-hour-lets-find-out/2014/09/23/8a6d46da-4331-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html

Banksy Has Unannounced Art Sale with Genuine Signed Canvases in Central Park, Sells Almost Nothing

What is the value of artwork? How do we determine? Why did it matter whether people knew or didn’t know whether these were original works?

“For his 13th day in New York, Banksy pulled a fantastic prank on unsuspecting passersby in Central Park yesterday by setting up an unannounced art stall with dozens of 100% original signed canvases. In a world where copies of unlicensed Banksy works are available for a dime a dozen, it’s not inconceivable for somebody to peddle cheap knockoffs for $60 apiece. To further camouflage the artwork the booth was labeled simply “SPRAY ART” and manned by an unsuspecting old man who seemed completely uninterested in what he was doing.”

http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2013/10/banksy-art-sale/

Planet Money Podcast: What causes what?

Knowledge Question:  What are the limitations of our abilities to reason?

What causes what? The human brain is programmed to answer this question constantly, and using a very basic method. This is how we survive. What made that noise? A bear made that noise. What caused my hand to hurt? Fire caused my hand to hurt.

But sometimes, we use these simple tools to solve complex problems. And so we get things wrong. I wore my lucky hat to the game. My team won. Therefore, my lucky hat caused my team to win.

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/10/17/658119019/episode-453-what-causes-what