Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Greek Highway Essay

Question: The Mediterranean is described as a highway that links Greece with many different regions, states, and empires. Why is this connection significant? How does it contribute to the Greek cultural legacy that is so valued today?

A popular saying among entrepreneurs is “Location, location, location!” Just as a good or bad location can make or break dreams of opening up a successful shop or restaurant, Greece’s central position in the Mediterranean and it’s access to access to the Black, Aegean, Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Tyrrhenean seas made it an ideal center for maritime and land based trade. As Greek merchants traded goods with distant civilizations of the Mediterranean, they brought back unique goods as well as scientific, philosophical, and religious knowledge. Over time, the Greeks adapted new ideas to their culture and expanded on them. Their continued economic success enabled them to export their new ideas throughout the Mediterranean.

Rocky and mountainous Greek soil discouraged the cultivation of grain; however, the landscape was excellent for growing olives and grapes. Because of the unfavorable agricultural conditions, it relied on foreign sources of grain to support a growing population.Because Greece was in the middle of so many different civilizations, it was able to serve as a prominent and crucial center of commercial trade. The Greeks began exporting fine olive oil and wines in exchange for precious food staples and natural resources like fish, grain and lumber. Still, others were able to transport expensive, lightweight items like precious stones and gems over land routes that linked eastern and western regions like Spain and Persia.

As they traded with different colonies, the Greeks learned foreign philosophy, mathematics, science, and religious beliefs. Over time, Greece became a melting pot of ideas. Greek philosophers and scholars combined their knowledge of foreign religion, science, math, and customs with their own. An important name in Greek philosophy is Socrates. He strived to understand human beings and their affairs, his colleagues were more concerned with the natural world. Greeks generally didn’t believe in a supreme deity, rather, they worshiped many. God’s like Demeter, Zeus, and Dionysus commanded the devotion of many Greeks. The myths and fables regarding the origin and affairs of the God’s they worshiped laid the groundwork for Greek literature which explored themes where morals were in conflict with each other.
As wealth and trade expanded and flourished, Greece began setting up colonies in distant regions like Sicily, western Spain, and Egypt. Along with their wine and olive oil, the Greeks were able to export ideas along with their goods. Distant colonies like Saguntum in Spain to Naucratis in Egypt helped to spread and preserve Greek culture, philosophy, and ideas.

As the Greek world developed, its economy became more and more dependent on foreign trade to build and maintain their wealth. They developed greater ability to trade and transport large quantities of goods across the Mediterranean. As they did this, the Greeks assimilated local cultures, customs, and knowledge of religion, science, and philosophy. Prosperous trading ventures encouraged the establishment of Greek colonies throughout the Mediterranean, and in turn, the Greeks were able export new Greek ideas and culture to distant lands.

Nifty Comics Warning!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Redefining Civilization Essay

There is only one problem with using the word civilization; it has been left open to interpretation and vulnerable to games of semantics. The word civilization should be a specific and concise term. Because of its deficiencies, this word has become more of a philosophical idea rather than a scientific classification. Controversy and disagreements over a particular group’s status as a civilization can be avoided if the ambiguity in its definition is rooted out.The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language describes the word civilization this way: “An advanced state of intellectual, cultural, and material development in human society, marked by progress in the arts and sciences, the extensive use of record-keeping, including writing, and the appearance of complex political and social institutions.” The first half of this definition becomes problematic with its use of the word advanced because it is a relative term and leaves a great deal of room for personal interpretation. Take, for example, judging the intellectual superiority of the United States, Mexico, and Mesopotamia against each other. If they were classified as civilizations based on this criterion, who would end up advanced, and therefore a civilization? To answer, there are three questions which must be asked: (1) what defines intellectually advanced? (2) Who meets this definition? And (3) are any of these groups too intellectually primitive to be considered civilizations? Is Mesopotamia intellectually superior to the United States because it was the first society to develop cities and a writing system, while the United States merely builds on Mesopotamian ideas, or is Mexico superior to Mesopotamia because it has reached a level of technology beyond the comprehension of the Mesopotamians? These are all valid arguments, and it is unlikely a consensus on this matter alone could be reached. Then there would have to be agreement about what constitutes an advanced culture? Is it how a culture treats its people as a whole? Does a system that accepts slavery and capital punishment imply a primitive culture, in which case Mexico, at least on paper, outpaces Mesopotamia and the United States? The American Heritage definition is not only too broad, but also too narrow because its definition is limited to humans. In Star Trek the Enterprise’s mission is to “explore strange new worlds, seek out new life, and new civilizations”. While not an official definition, this phrase provides insight into the general understanding of what a civilization is. It isn’t, as this phrase implies, a world, as an interplanetary nation, federation, or republic can comprise many worlds, nor is it life as life can consist of mindless bacteria and plants, and as the premise of the show implies, does not limit its idea of a civilization to consisting of humans.In order to move the word civilization into a solid, concrete idea and away from being a debatable concept, the word civilization must have a standard definition from which yes or no questions can be derived that test whether or not something is or isn’t a civilization. The best standard definition of a civilization is “a group of two or more life forms that consciously think and whose actions affect one another.” Now these two questions can be asked to determine if something is or isn’t a civilization: “are these things alive and thinking?” Does one life form’s conscious decisions affect another conscious life form? If the answers are yes, then you have a civilization.By not basing the definition of the word civilization on criteria open for interpretation and personal opinion, and not constricting the definition to humans, the controversies of something being or not being a civilization can be ended. Then it would merely be a simple matter of classifying these formerly debated civilizations, then labeling that civilization in a fashion similar to the way Nikolai Kardashev did when he classified the three different types of technological civilizations.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Questions on India / Short Essay

What was the role of the vedic texts in creating/enforcing the caste system? Refer to the excerpt from the Bhagavad-gita on p. 234.
The Vedic texts provide rewards and punishments which encourage conforming to the caste system. For example, the Kshatriyas had a duty and obligation to fight “righteous battles”. It reasons that even if one should live or a die in battle they shouldn’t worry because if they win, they have Earth as their reward, and if they lose they will not be shamed from desertion of their duties and they will “obtain heaven”.

India is seen as a hub for trade. With what routes does the trade of India connect?
Indian trade routes run from the bottom of the Himalayas to Bactria. They split off into eastern and western roads that link the Persian Empire with the east. They also established shipping routes that link the tip of the Indian subcontinent and the island of Ceylon. Shipping routes also reach into Burma, and Modern day China.

What motivated Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism?
Legends speculate that Ashoka was “dazzled […] with supernatural powers.” However, the combination of a guilty conscience from brutal war he waged against the Kalingans and Buddhism’s potential for uniting his nation were probably the more likely reasons for his conversion.

Against what were the religions of Buddhism and Jainism reacting? What does this tell us about society at that time?
They were reacting to the spiritual monopoly the Brahmins possessed. This also indicates that they were hungering for deeper and more meaningful spirituality as the religious rituals of the Brahmins became mechanical and lost meaning.

Psychology 101 Essay: Classical and Operant Conditioning

Note: This essay was done in a scramble to put something together for grading.

Joe, a five year old boy who didn’t regularly brush his teeth as a child went to the dentist. Unfortunately for him he was diagnosed with four cavities which had to be filled immediately. The dentist walks up to the dental chair where Joe waited and tells him “you have four cavities little boy.” After some prep work the dentist drilled into John’s teeth and made a distinctive high pitched screech. Less than a minute later Joe clenched the arms of the dental chair and started whimpering. After it was all done Joe’s mother said to him “If you Brush your teeth and stop drinking soda you won’t have cavities next time.”

After a week Joe is brushing his teeth religiously and rarely gives into the temptation of drinking a Coke. During his next dental appointment Joe is nervously waiting for his turn in the dentist chair and hears the signature screech of the drill he knows all too well. Joe cringes and whimpers like he did when the dentist drilled out his cavities last time. It’s his turn and Joe slowly walks to his chair. The dentist walks in and tells Joe “All your hard work paid off, no cavities this time, we’ll just do some cleaning and you can go home.”

Joe’s response to the dentist’s drill and his newfound zeal for brushing his teeth illustrates the learning process. It’s defined by psychologists as “a process through which experience produces a lasting change in behavior or mental processes.” Joe’s case demonstrates two key types of learning known as operant and classical conditioning. The main difference between classical conditioning and operant conditioning is that classical conditioning involves a neutral stimulus like light and noises that elicit involuntary reflexes like eye blinking and salivation, whereas operant conditioning involves an operant or voluntary behavior engaged in by an animal that is discouraged or encouraged by reinforcers.

Classical conditioning requires an unconditioned stimulus (UCS), an unconditioned response (UCR), or something that always causes an uncontrollable reflex. In operant conditioning a UCS is linked to a conditional stimulus (CS). This link produces a conditioned response (CR) which is essentially the same thing as UCR except that it can now be provoked by a formerly neutral stimulus. The discovery of classical conditioning is credited to Ivan Pavlov who found that a dog would salivate upon hearing the steps of the person that fed him without the presentation of food.

The basis of operant conditioning was founded by a psychologist named Edward Thorndike who documented how hungry animals would work diligently to earn a food reward, which he called the law of effect. This type of learning encourages or discourages consciously made decisions or behavior by the use of consequences in the form of positive or negative reinforcers. (In this case positive and negative refer to the mathematical sense of the words which denote addition or subtraction of stimuli rather than pleasant and unpleasant stimuli.)


There key differences in acquisition between classical and operant conditioning are: classical conditioning pairs a previously neutral stimulus with an unconditional stimulus before or during the UCR and is always paired with an old behavior; operant conditioning attempts to elicit new behavior through use of reinforcers.Joe’s dental experience demonstrates the acquisition of both operant and classical conditioning. Classical conditioning took place when he associated pain; (the unconditional stimulus) was paired with the whirring of a dental drill (the conditional stimulus). His response to the UCS was a typical response to pain (whimpering, clenching of teeth and fists), which we can label the UCR. It is important to note that the whirring of the drill came before and while he was crying. The end result is a conditioned response, one that can be provoked with the mere sound of a drill. Operant conditioning took place when Joe realized that the consequence of not brushing his teeth and drinking soda was a painful trip to the dentist. In this situation brushing teeth and drinking soda is the behavior, getting his teeth drilled was a positive reinforcer, meaning a consequence was applied for his failure to brush his teeth and drinking soda. On his subsequent visit to the dentist a negative reinforcer was used, in this case his teeth weren’t drilled, sparing him considerable pain, encouraging him to continue his good dental hygienic habits. It can be said that the behavior came before the stimulus because his brushing and drinking habits came before his trip to the dentist.


Generalization occurs when a stimulus similar to a CS is provokes a CR. Going back to Joe’s example, Joe could potentially begin reacting to noises that produce sounds similar to a dental drill like the screech of a buzz saw or the sound of a regular drill. Joe might also begin associating other sweet drinks like Sprite or chocolate milk with the cause of cavities and start avoiding them also.


Extinction means that the learned reaction to a stimulus is lost. To extinguish a conditional response in classical conditioning the conditional stimulus must be presented without the unconditional stimulus. Joe’s fear of dental drills will probably go away if he keeps up his good habits and doesn’t get anymore cavities. As he goes to the dentist, hears the drill, and isn’t drilled himself, his UCS will become extinct. However, if in spite of Joe’s good habits he still gets cavities, Joe’s model dental hygienic routine will probably begin to fade. The essential difference between extinction in classical conditioning and operant conditioning is that the stimulus must be presented in a benign way whereas operant conditioning must completely withhold a stimulus.

Spontaneous Recovery

Let’s say that Joe is now 16 and has not been to the dentist for 5 years and his conditional response to the sound of a dental drill is extinct. A friend asks him for a ride to the dental office where he received his first fillings. After walking in, sitting down, and picking up a magazine he hears the dentist drill, causing him to slightly jump and clench the arms of his chair. This is called spontaneous recovery, because although the CR has long been extinct, it spontaneously reappeared in Joe 5 years later. Let’s also say that Joe keeps taking his friend to the dentist once every six months and his CR becomes extinct soon after he leaves the dental office, the next time he goes, that CR can be spontaneously recovered, but it will be weaker. Similarly, in operant conditioning, if a stimulus is completely withheld, like in Joe’s case, it doesn’t matter if he brushes his teeth or drinks soda because he doesn’t go to the dentist anymore. However, he still may choose not to drink soda and brush his teeth more often out of habit simply because he is used to doing it, something known as the “mere exposure effect.”

Operant and classical conditioning while similar, maintain several fundamental differences as well as similarities. They differ where Classical conditioning requires a stimulus to be presented with or during a response, and only links a CS with an old UCR and operant conditioning, introduces a stimulus after behavior and encourages new behavior. They are similar to each other in that they are both forms of learning, their responses can both be extinguished and spontaneously recovered.