Monthly Archives: June 2013

Personal Essays

Two personal essays in the style of Michel de Montaigne

Rebecca Hamilton: On Power

Thinking back throughout my childhood, I was unable to ignore, no matter how hard I tried, the four years I spent in middle school. It’s safe to say middle school universally sucks. My grade was ruthless to each other, holding contests to see who could make who cry first, or who was the crowned queen of bitch. It got me thinking to the meanest thing I ever did in middle school:

My best friend, Casey Scarano, grew up down the street from me. She and I were more of sisters than friends. Being so close, we naturally got into arguments like any siblings would. In one case, I got so mad at her that I made everyone in the grade pretend that she was a boy. And for seven days every single person in the grade used masculine pronouns and acted as if they never knew she was actually female. Unlucky for me she was equally cruel. When her threatening text messages to me were not enough to get me to tell the obvious truth to everyone, she resorted to something she knew wouldn’t fail. She took my bunny out of my backyard and held it captive until I told everyone the truth. Nonetheless, my bunny ruled and I had to tell everyone that Casey Scarano was a girl.  Continue reading

Montaigne Essays

Personal essays in the style of Michel De Montaigne by the students and teachers of Topics in Literature: Montaigne’s Personal Essays

Olivia Cohen: On Good and Evil

As a human population we would like to say that certain things are deemed universally good or evil but experience and persuasion can change this in the mind of a person. In Hamlet by William Shakespeare the main character is discussing his feelings of aversion towards Denmark and declared that “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Here the point is made that in the world there are no true good or evil things but through thought we create our own personal opinions that may not fit those of others.

Opinions also come from manipulators, those who force their ideas upon someone else. These ways of making a person lose their opinion and acquire one of another is an art. This takes an amazing mind as well as social skills but in some situations can become detrimental. For example, teenagers, including myself, experience peer pressure to do something “bad” like drinking, smoking, having sex, etcetera. A more corrupt example of this in our society is the suicide, a tragic and horrible thing to do, and is even punishable by “Hell” in some religions. Reverend James Warren “Jim” Jones, the leader of the Peoples Temple, a religious cult, convinced 909 people that it would be good to take their own lives by drinking cyanide laced Kool-Aid. By using his power of extreme manipulation and rhetoric he changed the way people thought about an evil action to a glorious and dignified way to end their lives in the name of God.

Continue reading

On My Next Year

A personal essay by James Earle, Cultural History teacher

On my next year

It seems that mathematics and culture constantly communicate with each other. During the golden age of Islam when parables had hidden meanings and divine laws were analyzed to discover the mind of an unseen God, the mathematics of algebra attempted to discover the nature of an unknown quantity. During the 17th century when European culture experienced dynamic motion (like the heliocentric model of the Universe, compounding interest, and exponentially growing number of books), the mathematics of Calculus gave humanity the tools necessary to understand these changes.

More recently, in 1968, the meteorologist Ed Lorenz entered data into a computer and arrived at a result.  When he entered the same data into the computer again, to check his results, he arrived at a drastically different result. The cause was not human error, but a minor shift in how the computer dealt with rounding the never-ending decimal places created by the data.  The small change in the initial conditions set by the data had resulted in a large change for his system. Ed Lorenz went on to write his famous paper on the Butterfly Effect in 1971, and gave our culture a better understanding of mathematical Chaos. This mathematics taught us to look beyond proximate causalities, with the knowledge that small differences in initial conditions lead to drastically different results.

Humanity was then forced to consider again what it had ignored after Poincare’s investigation of three bodied systems at the turn of the century. There can be no control over complex systems with numerous variables by some ubiquitous structure. To think our financial, political, or ecological systems can be controlled entirely by man made institutions is a foolish paternalistic trend in human intellectual history. If a butterfly’s wing could be a tipping point, then we are all extraordinarily helpless, and, paradoxically, we are all extraordinarily powerful. Continue reading