Undergraduates present research papers at CEC Fall Conference

On the first day of the annual CEC Fall Conference, three undergraduate students, members of the CEC’s Sorin Fellows Program, presented research papers that related to the conference’s theme of “Higher Powers.”

Junior Kevin Angell began by presenting a paper entitled “Missionaries, Mechanisms, and Democracy.” In his paper, he explored how missionaries have had an impact on democracy in colonized countries, focusing in particular on Protestant missionaries. He named three predicted effects of missionaries—education, mass printing, and involvement in civil society—and then researched whether they made a difference in the colonized country.

Kevin’s research, which involved a complicated metrics system, showed missionaries had an impact on improving education in colonized countries, which in turn influenced democracy. Missionaries also increased mass printing, but this had less of an effect on democracy. Involvement in civil society, however, did not increase because of missionaries’ presence.

Next, senior Sofia Carozza gave her presentation, “Neurodevelopment and the Moral Individual: The Role of Relationship.” She argued against Locke’s theory of personhood, using neuroscience as evidence, and instead offered the Thomistic interpretation of personhood as a better theory. Locke believes in self-ownership and a radical self-sovereignty that is a priori to any social relationships. For Locke, the “I” comes first, and then other relationships.

Drawing from her neurodevelopmental research, Sofia portrayed how the development of the human brain, from conception well into the adolescent years, reflects how integral relationships are to our cognitive structure. The development of the brain, which leads to a sense of self-awareness, begins very early and is “fundamentally embedded in a web of relationships.” These relationships include maternal (parents), pair (romantic), peer (friends), and conspecific (strangers). An example of an early relationship with parents is bio-behavioral synchrony: babies mirror parents’ behavior, words, and even heartbeat or hormone levels. This is how they learn and develop the frontal lobe. Sofia gave several examples of neglected children who were unable to develop to normative cognitive, social, and emotional standards because of their lack of contact with caregivers in their childhood. In many cases, neglected children literally had smaller and less-developed cortices than well-cared-for children.

From this argument, Sofia turned from Locke to Thomas Aquinas, who argues that “I” is formed in a dialogue with “you.” In other words, who we are is constantly formed through everyone else in our lives. Aquinas adds that the main “you” is God, and that we should be forming ourselves through Him in our lives as well.

Lastly, junior Noelle Johnson presented her paper, entitled “Ratzinger, Polanyi, and Job: Analogical Science.” She began with a discussion of scientific positivism in the last century and how it contributed to such horrors as the communist gulags in the Soviet Union. Quoting Joseph Ratzinger, Noelle identified Marxism’s ability to coincide with scientific thought as the factor responsible for Marxism’s success. Science is now taken as absolute and objective truth, and anything like religion and ethics is placed in the realm of the subjective.

Noelle used Michael Polanyi to argue that science is not 100% objective but contains what Polanyi calls “tacit knowledge”—we can know some things without being able to say them, such as feelings and intuitions. She pointed out that even the most seemingly factual scientific papers have been researched and edited by humans, and that science has a “very human dimension.”

Lastly, Noelle used Job’s argument with God in the Bible to demonstrate that we cannot claim to know everything about the universe as humans. One would be hard pressed to think Noelle was arguing against scienceshe is a physics major in addition to her major in theology. Instead, she called for a union of science and theology, and a recognition that both can exist in the same sphere.

Monica VanBerkum is a junior anthropology major living in Cavanaugh Hall. Now that it gets dark at 5pm, catch her sitting under 3 blankets drinking decaf coffee. Email Monica at mvanber1@nd.edu.