As many environmental studies students come to know as they go through the program, the “s” of our acronym is often mistaken to mean “sciences.” No, we are not environmental science majors and minors–however, we do study sciences. It’s one of the many different perspectives incorporated into the interdisciplinary approach characteristic of the Lewis & Clark ENVS program. We take classes in the hard sciences such as chemistry, climate science, biology/ecology, and geology, as well as the social sciences such as economics. Yet our interactions with sciences go beyond the lecture hall in Olin 301 and the labs of Bodine–two important science buildings on Lewis & Clark Campus. The opportunity to discuss the influence and value of science with respect to environmental studies is available in a majority of our other courses offered through the program. ENVS students not only do science, but we examine what scientific study has meant (and means today) culturally, historically, politically, etc. What might this look like? Aaron Fellows ‘16, Hannah Smay ‘17 and Roan Shea ‘18 all provide different examples of how ENVS students are weaving the sciences into their studies.
In his post “The Value of the Scientific Method” Aaron Fellows writes about how conversations during a dinner with the LC Board of Trustees led him to new revelations about his senior thesis project and a new appreciation for the scientific method–a wonderful example of how life experience can connect with the thesis writing process. In Aaron’s case, these conversations were valuable because not only did they provide opportunities to practice condensing his thesis into quick sound bites, but he also gained immediate feedback from individuals who held fundamentally different positions from him. A fresh pair of eyes can do great things for a researcher when they are in the thick of their work, and in Aaron’s case all it took was the (seemingly) simple question of “Does your thesis have an hypothesis?” Reflecting on this question, Aaron discovered three things: the assumptions he was making within his work, that his project did in fact have a hypothesis, and a renewed appreciation for the benefits of the scientific method. Though the scientific method holds the unrealistic assumption that experiments always proceed in a straightforward fashion following their initial design, the experimental nature of the scientific method is very valuable and should not be dismissed. Its value lies in its methodical approach and that having a hypothesis can simplify answering research questions dealing with complex topics– your investigation leaves you with either a “status quo” result (null-hypothesis) or an alternative hypothesis.
Similar to Aaron, Roan Shea connects a reflection on the relationship between the sciences and environmental studies to his involvement in the LC Theater Department’s spring semester production of Love and Information.The play asks questions such as what in life can be broken down into information, and what transcends our logic, knowledge, and digital lives? and holds central “the message that love, while aspects of it can be grasped and simplified as information, cannot be viewed as merely scientifically derived data or facts.” He connects this distinction between something as spiritual as Love and something as factual as Science to class discussions on ecotopias and spirituality in Environmental Theory–an upper level breadth course aimed to ground environmental studies in theory. He was surprised by the fact that the most widespread belief commonly held by Pacific Northwestern self-titled environmentalists was the “sacredness of nature,” which is contrary to his typical approach to solving environmental problems through scientific fact and logic. Learning from the central message of the play, Roan ties it all together in concluding that when approaching environmental issues, we shouldn’t think only in quantifiable information and hard facts because it neglects the immeasurable complexity of human spirituality which is also in play. He reminds us that environmental problems are experienced and understood in nuanced ways just as one experiences love.
Finally, Hannah Smay eloquently reconciles science with the humanities within environmental studies in her post titled “Contact Improv & Constrained Constructivism.” Similar to Aaron and Roan, Hannah draws connections between content discussed in class and experience outside of the ENVS classroom. Yet what makes her context unique is the connections she draws across disciplines, connecting content from contemporary dance class with discussions on philosophy and the social construction of science in Environmental Theory (ENVS 350). She begins by introducing Steve Paxton’s modern dance technique of contact improv. Hannah stresses the importance of gravity in this dance technique and how the weight of one’s dance partner must be maintained while each dancer also retains their own agency. Next, she brings it back to ENVS in presenting Katherine Hayles’ theory of constrained constructivism, that carves out a a space between “objective” science and “constructed” science in recognizing that knowledge is acquired through human senses and is communicated via representation. She ties Paxton and Hayles together in noting that they share an aesthetic of bounded chaos. Further, she notes that “[w]hile Hayles and Paxton perceive gravity from vastly different academic and artistic lenses, they each manipulate the concept of gravity in language and movement to illuminate perspectives that science doesn’t necessarily touch or acknowledge.” She concludes positively at the end of her reflection that the upshot of constructivism is that is that no matter if things are socially or historically constructed, they still have real effects on lived-in experiences and the world at large.