It’s maple syrup season up here in New England, which means I spent most of yesterday in my brother’s sugar shack watching sap boil and teaching my son things like how to carry logs, stack wood, and sample the syrup. Maple syrup making is a fun process, mostly because there’s enough to do to make it interesting, but not so much to do that you can’t be social while doing it.
During the course of the day, my brother mentioned that he had found an old stack of my grandfather’s textbooks, published in the 1940s:
Since he’s a biology teacher, he was particularly interested in that last one. When he realized there was a chapter on “heredity and eugenics” he of course had to start there. There were a few interesting highlights of this section. For example, like most people in 1946, the authors were pretty convinced that proteins were responsible for heredity. This wasn’t overly odd, since even the guy who discovered DNA thought proteins were the real workhorses of inheritance. Still, it was interesting to read such a wrong explanation for something we’ve been taught our whole lives.
Another interesting part was where they reminded readers that despite the focus on the father’s role in heredity, that there was scientific consensus that children also inherited traits from their mother. Thanks for the reassurance.
Then there was their descriptions of mental illness. It was interesting that some disorders (manic depressive, schizophrenia) were clearly being recognized and diagnosed in a way that was at least recognizable today, while others were not mentioned at all (autism). Then there were entire categories we’ve done away with, such as feeblemindedness, along with the “technical” definitions for terms like idiot and moron:
I have no idea how commonly those were used in real life, but it was an odd paragraph to read.
Of course this is the sort of thing that tends to make me reflective. What are we convinced of now that will look sloppy and crude in the year 2088?