1 Mar
2021

Lessons in observation

first_img Related Education is pivotal, Faust tells Miami students In visit to turnaround high school, Harvard president, recent alumna tout what’s possible through learning What do the gold-plated skeleton of a wooly mammoth, an immersive art history class, and a pack of monogamous mice have in common?Plenty, it turns out, and those similarities can teach us about our past, our present, and our future, according to two Harvard experts who discussed the overlapping approaches to their cutting-edge work in the fine arts and genetics at a Feb. 16 Miami event organized by the Harvard Alumni Association.In the hourlong conversation, held at the Faena Forum before a crowd of more than 400 Harvard alumni and friends from Miami and beyond, Hopi Hoekstra and Jennifer Roberts said the humanities and the sciences share key goals and processes, including a steadfast commitment to the kind of close observation that can inform how we see, appreciate, and interpret the world around us.The faculty exchange, moderated by Susan Fales-Hill ’84, formed the centerpiece of the latest gathering in the Your Harvard series, discussions sponsored by the Harvard Alumni Association throughout The Harvard Campaign that take place around the world and bring members of the global Harvard community together to connect with one another and with Harvard scholars and experts across a wide range of topics and research.Roberts’ mantra, “just because you’ve looked at it doesn’t mean you’ve seen it,” is the central tenet behind her class “The Art of Looking” a humanities frameworks course in which she asks undergraduates to spend hours in front of a painting of their choice at the Harvard Art Museums absorbing as much information and detail about the work as they can. “At first the students are alarmed by this assignment,” said Roberts, Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities. “They think they can’t possibly see three hours worth of information on a flat surface. But it’s an inspiration for them to go through the process because they quickly realize how much they hadn’t seen in their habitual glance or scan of the work.”Pulled in all directions by access to endless flows of information, contemporary students aren’t accustomed to paying such close attention to things, said Roberts. In looking at one work for hours at a time, they learn to see “what they didn’t see the moment before, and the moment before, and the moment before. And so it becomes a kind of iterative exercise for them and it’s a skill that has to be at the core of all of the humanities, I believe.”For Hoekstra, an evolutionary geneticist, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, and a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard, “science starts with an observation.” Hoekstra, who studies the molecular basis of adaptation in wild mice, said one of the first things she does when someone new comes to work in her lab is ask them to simply watch the mice.“It allows you to deconstruct that behavior, which gives us insights into its component parts, allows us to think about the genetic changes that make it rise to those behaviors.”Observing mice in the wild, said Hoekstra, offers up “that connection between the organism and the environment that you just can’t read in a textbook, you have to be out there, in the field.”Among the mice she studies, Hoekstra has found that certain groups behave in two very different ways. She and her colleagues have noticed that some mice like to have as many partners as they can with little familial responsibility, while others are monogamous homebodies who prefer to stay put and to be actively involved in raising their offspring.“In recent work we’ve been able to identify a gene that contributes to these differences in male parental care. … The first question is: Does it have anything to do with human behavior? And if it does, what do you do with that information?”“What is the rapport between mice and humans,” asked Fales-Hill, an author, writer, and television producer.Humans share a surprising number of genes with mice and even fruit flies, said Hoekstra. What differentiates us “is the way those genes are expressed and where and when they are expressed.”“So at the genetic level we are incredibly similar to mice and I think there are certainly several behaviors that you can make analogies about,” she continued, “but I think [once] we really understand the neurobiological underpinnings of how those behaviors work, then we are going be able to say at a different level how similar those are.”Leveraging the unique setting, Roberts encouraged attendees to engage in a close inspection of the nearly 10-foot-tall gilded mammoth skeleton across the street in the garden of the Faena Hotel, a provocative product of artist Damien Hirst, who encased the sculpture in a giant glass and gold-painted steel box.“When I look at that piece … I see this as a question that has been posed to everyone who sees it about the meaning of extinction and the passage of time.”“What art can do,” Roberts added, “is take something from the past, detour it into our current habitat and create a defamiliarizing set of new questions that make us think more deeply about the present.”Attendees at Your Harvard: Miami listen to remarks from President Drew Faust. Photo by Manny HernandezThe wooly mammoth suggested aspects of Hoekstra’s work. A close examination of DNA from the bones of a wooly mammoth preserved for thousand of years in Siberian permafrost has revealed the long extinct creature shares the exact gene mutation as the mice studied by Hoekstra, which leads to a change in the pigmentation of their fur.The discovery, she said, “raised the possibility that mammoths also came in multiple shades of color.”Following the faculty discussion, President Drew Faust outlined her vision for Harvard’s future. Promoting inclusion, community, belonging, and diversity at Harvard has been central to her presidency, as has the ongoing support of critical scientific research that tackles pressing challenges such as cancer and climate change, and her steadfast commitment to the arts.Faust outlined Harvard’s continued relevance to and impact in society today, as well as the many ways the University — through its students, faculty and alumni — will continue to make important contributions in coming decades. She began by listing the 12 Oscar nominations that had gone to films with which Harvard alumni had been directly involved.“Matt Damon, a member of the class of 1992, was nominated for ‘Manchester by the Sea,’ which he co-produced with Chris Moore, class of 1989,” Faust said. “Clark Spencer, who graduated from the College in 1985 — with a concentration in history — and from Harvard Business School in 1990, was nominated in the Animated Feature Film category for ‘Zootopia.’ Natalie Portman, class of 2003, was nominated for her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in the film ‘Jackie.’”“La La Land, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, Harvard 2007, was nominated for a whopping 14 Academy Awards, including two songs in the best song category written by Justin Hurwitz, class of 2008, who met Chazelle when they were classmates,” she continued. “Hurwitz was also nominated for best original score, as was Nicholas Britell, who graduated phi beta kappa in the class of 2003, for the score for ‘Moonlight,’ the achingly beautiful film set here in Miami.”(An important footnote: On Feb. 26, “Zootopia” won the Oscar for best Animated Feature Film, and “La La Land” took home six trophies, including Best Director for Chazelle, and Best Original Score and Best Original Song wins for Hurwitz. “Moonlight” won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay awards.)Beyond what the nominations said about the talents and successes of these particular Harvard-trained artists or the qualities of their films, Faust argued that the tally of honors also showcases the continued importance at Harvard of the arts and humanities, which foster, among other things, picking up on the theme of the earlier discussion, what she called “the art of noticing.”“Noticing: that is what I want to talk about for a few minutes tonight because it is at the core of what universities are about,” Faust said. “At their best, universities cultivate the art of noticing, in teaching our students to notice — to see differently— or in pursuing research, which is the art of noticing. Socrates’ ‘examined life’ — his ultimate goal for education— is in its essence about noticing.”Faust told the alumni gathered in Faena Forum, a spiraling amphitheater designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, a former Harvard Graduate School of Design professor, that their Harvard time had developed their ability to notice things large and small, and to see the world in fresh new ways.Harvard, said Faust, has “woven its way into us, become a part of us. It shaped who we are, what we see, what we notice.”Together, she continued, “we can enable Harvard to set an example, and signal the world about why universities not only matter, they are essential as centers of discovery, of progress, of possibility. These are the purposes of global research universities. Together we must continue to explain them, to defend them, and to achieve them so well that we continue to survive and to prosper, and to notice.”Fort Lauderdale resident and Harvard Kennedy School alumnus Kris Meyer M.P.A. ’15 called the event a great opportunity for the local Harvard community to connect and a chance “to take some of the ideas that we heard from President Faust and our speakers back out into the community and continue to be Harvard in the world.”Your Harvard: Miami was co-hosted by the Harvard Club of Miami and the Harvard Black Alumni Society of South Florida. The next Your Harvard events are scheduled for Singapore later this month, and for Minneapolis-St. Paul in June.last_img read more

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30 Dec
2020

Power of the Peak

first_imgI spent last week trekking across big, beautiful mountains, and their pull on me was powerful as ever. It prompted me to wonder: Why do we seek out mountains and, in some cases, challenge ourselves against them?I was hoping to find answers in science. Biologist E.O. Wilson argues that we’re hardwired to feel a special connection with natural systems, something he calls “biophilia.” Because of how we evolved, he says, certain natural settings can be inviting at a deep, biological level. These settings embody the “connections we subconsciously seek with the rest of life,” connections Wilson believes are literally rooted in our blood. For example, Wilson suggests that we are drawn to the African savannah because our species originated there. But this certainly doesn’t explain why mountains—which can be dangerous and forbidding, and often lack life—wield such a visceral effect on us.Next, I turned to the intersection of natural science and math, where there is longstanding evidence that humans are attracted to symmetry. This can be traced back to ancient Greek times when Plato wrote of golden ratios and shapes like rectangles were held in the highest regard. The Greeks believed in three prongs to beauty: symmetry, proportion, and harmony.Modern experiments confirm the Greeks were on to something. Numerous psychology studies show that babies are more attracted to symmetrical shapes than non-symmetrical ones, and that we rate people’s beauty based on the symmetry of their faces. Scientists hypothesize this strong preference for balance is borne out of the fact that symmetry may represent superior genetic quality and also symbolize a lack of stress during development.Mountains, however, are anything but symmetrical. If anything, their inherent asymmetry—jagged edges, undulating ridgelines, and steep pitches—is the very result of continuous stress throughout their development, including earthquakes, monsoons, and other natural disasters. If mountains were humans, they’d be disfigured and malformed, the oldest, most battered of us all.Physics was easy to cross off the list. Its fundamental force, gravity, says that what goes up must come down. Yet mountains tend to have the opposite effect, bringing what is down up, elevating the spirit and soul of those who stand below.A neuroscientist might argue that the sensation mountains elicit is related to a lack of oxygen in high-altitude air. While altitude definitely has real and formidable effects—I can attest to these effects personally—feeling drunk is different than feeling moved. Mountains continue to take our breath away long after science says it should have returned.Although science may not directly answer the question of why we are drawn to mountains, it is beginning to uncover the benefits of such a draw. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found that awe may be related to good health. Experiencing awe is associated with lower levels of interleukin-6, which is a molecule that encourages inflammation. In other words, more awe is likely associated with less inflammation. Dacher Keltner, senior author on the study, told the New York Times that although awe can be hard to define, one of the emotion’s primary qualities is that it “passes the goosebumps test.”Perhaps we are drawn to mountains because they elicit awe, and awe makes us feel good. But this still does not explain why mountains inspire awe in the first place.Could it be that mountains affect us so powerfully because they are big and remind us that we are small? Especially in today’s tumult of Facebook and Twitter and customized newsfeeds and on-demand everything, it is very easy to get lost in our own little worlds—little worlds in which it is easy to feel pretty big. While there is a power to feeling big, there is an equal and perhaps even greater power to feeling small.Dasher Keltner seems to agree. He wrote that “vastness” and “self-diminishment” are typical characteristics of awe. He even called out mountains as emblematic of an “awe inspiring entity.”George Mallory, a British Mountaineer who partook in the first three expeditions on Everest (and ultimately lost his life trying to summit), famously said of why he climbed Everest, “Because it is there… Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part of man’s desire to conquer the universe.”But perhaps Mallory wasn’t completely correct. Yes, we want to conquer mountains, but maybe not because we long to “conquer the universe.” Rather, it could be that the act of climbing a mountain tends to have the opposite effect—not conquering the universe but connecting us to it, reminding us how vast the universe is and how small a part of it we are.last_img read more

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6 Oct
2020

Brisbane penthouse is the one you’ve been waiting for

first_img1310/54 Hudson Rd, Albion.THIS penthouse in the heart of Brisbane is the inner city home you’ve been waiting for.Never lived in before, the home has three bedrooms, three bathrooms and two car space home and is at The Hudson in Brisbane inner city suburb Albion.Agent David Treloar of Ray White was marketing it as perfect for the executive looking for an inner city home, or for downsizers who’ve been waiting for the right “one” to come along.With high quality fixtures and fittings plus broad views over the surrounding area and out to the city, the penthouse at 1310/54 Hudson Rd, Albion, is just three train stops from Brisbane’s CBD. 1310/54 Hudson Rd, Albion.More from newsMould, age, not enough to stop 17 bidders fighting for this home2 hours agoBuyers ‘crazy’ not to take govt freebies, says 28-yr-old investor8 hours agoAhead from the main entrance is the open-plan space, with the kitchen including new Miele appliances and the living and dining area opening to the balcony.The apartment’s second bedroom also opens to the outdoor space, with walls of glass ensuring plenty of natural light and a built-in wardrobe providing ample storage. 1310/54 Hudson Rd, Albion.Near this bedroom is the main bathroom, featuring a combined shower and bath, while the third bedroom is located to the rear of the apartment, also with built-in wardrobes and a wall of glass along with an ensuite. Other features of the residence include carpet and ceiling fans to all bedrooms, ducted airconditioning, two side-by-side car spaces and a large storage cage. A range of resort-style facilities are also offered at the building, including a gym, entertaining area and pool on the ground floor. 1310/54 Hudson Rd, Albion.Ideal for central living and those looking to downsize, the apartment has three bedrooms and three bathrooms, an open-plan living, dining and kitchen space with timber floors and white painted walls and a covered, tiled balcony boasting the best of the expansive urban outlook.On entry, a hallway leads left to the main bedroom where grey carpet adorns the floor and sliding glass doors open to the balcony. There is also an ensuite with a stand-alone bath positioned against a glass wall to take in the views. 1310/54 Hudson Rd, Albion.Mr Treloar said the apartment was sure to impress with its quality design and city views, along with its convenient location only three stops by train to Central Station.He said potential buyers would also be most impressed by the apartment’s low body corporate fees. “This property is perfect for executive day-to-day living or anyone that has been waiting for ‘the one’ to downsize.” Inspections are by appointment.last_img read more

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