At a time when diplomacy was less governed by abstract rules of protocol and formal representation, role play sometimes took on a very concrete form. In 1664, the English ambassador in Moscow, the Earl of Carlisle, requested a private audience with Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich. Carlisle wanted to put pressure on the negotiations by assuming the character of the English king, rather than simply representing his sovereign at the meeting. Instead of addressing the Russian monarch merely on behalf King Charles II, the ambassador switched his voice to the grammatical first person »I« during his speech and spoke as if the king himself delivered the words. The illusion of the monarch’s direct presence allowed the two sovereigns to look one another in »their clear eyes« in order to reassure themselves of their brotherly love and friendship. Such a role change may seem comic and strange to us today. However, early modern international relations were often expressed as social and personal relationships between rulers, and the play and manipulation of symbolic representation formed part of political communication at princely courts.Jan Hennings

Jan Hennings is a historian and associate professor at the Central European University (CEU). He joined Die Junge Akademie in 2016.

Every now and again, black holes make the cover pages of international newspapers – most recently in spring of 2019, when an international team of scientists managed to capture the first image of a black hole. Astrophysicists have good reason to believe that our galaxy (and others) are simply teeming with black holes, something that would come as quite a surprise to the scientists who worked on a theoretical description in the first half of the 20th century. Due to the nearly unimaginably high density needed for a star to collapse into a black hole, they were long considered a mathematical curiosity. This belief remained in place until the doctoral student Jocelyn Bel Burnell discovered neutron stars – a precursor to black holes – and turned this crazy theory into an observable normality.Astrid Eichhorn

The physicist Astrid Eichhorn joined Die Junge Akademie in 2018. She is a professor at CP3-Origins at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense.

Humans acquire new knowledge by integrating it with what they already know. That’s why learning is easier when new information can be actively tied to existing knowledge and mnemonics can be used. Sometimes a shift in perspective is also helpful, as the following experiment shows: Participants were asked to memorise pairs of faces and words for a later test of their recall. Some of the words were last names, while others were job titles. The trick was that some of the last names were also common job titles (e.g. Cook). The experiment found that test subjects were far better at recalling the corresponding words when they thought that the word referred to the person’s profession, as they could better use this information to make connections (Could he wear a hat? Doesn’t she look like the cafeteria cook?). So the next time you meet a Mr. Cook, think of him as a cook!!Garvin Brod

Garvin Brod is a professor for psychology at DIPF and at the Goethe University Frankfurt. He joined Die Junge Akademie in 2020.

From the very beginning, robots have been modelled on humans. Robotic arms mechanically carry out their programmed task with repeat accuracy. Often these are tasks that would be too strenuous for the human body to perform over and over. But when a task involves an application that is difficult to access and requires the robot to travel through many narrow passages – for example when performing a visual inspection of the inside of a turbine – the established approach of using joints to connect a series of rigid limbs reaches its limits. Elephant trunks, anteater tongues, worms and tentacles are impressive examples of unarticulated organs whose flexibility and coordinated muscle control allow them to reach even the most inaccessible locations. This shift in perspective from humans to the animal kingdom inspired the revolutionary idea of building jointless robots. Known as continuum robots, these machines use elastic materials and soft bodies that are intelligently combined and controlled.Jessica Burgner-Kahrs

Jessica Burgner-Kahrs is a professor at the University of Toronto, Canada, where she researches and teaches continuum robotics. She joined Die Junge Akademie in 2016.

Published in 1787, Oluf Gerhard Tychsen’s Interpretatio of a cathedra with Arabic inscriptions in the church of San Pietro di Castello near Venice caused quite a stir throughout Europe. According to local history, the bishop’s throne was brought to Venice in the 9th century as a gift from the Byzantine emperor and belonged to the Apostle Peter. Tychsen, an Orientalist scholar at the universities of Bützow and Rostock thought otherwise: »It was high time to bring to light these horrible lies […] so that youths may see with their own eyes and wanton scholars may learn to beware of fictions«, he wrote to the Danish scholar and statesman Ove Høegh-Guldberg after the publication of his work (Tychsen’s papers, UB Rostock, 23 August 1787). Tychsen had identified the throne’s Arabic inscription as a direct quote from the Koran. Of course, this discovery required a thorough reinterpretation of the fictitious relic of St. Peter – his erstwhile throne became a Muslim tombstone. Isabelle Dolezalek

Isbelle Dolezalek is a junior professor for art history at the University of Greifswald. She joined Die Junge Akademie in 2019.

The vegetation on our planet can take on two roles and switch back and forth between them. Vegetation is either primarily dependent on heat or it is especially thirsty for water. This means that either water or heat is critical for plants to thrive – and to fulfil their function as, for example, a carbon sink or a heat buffer. We found that despite their sometimes deeper roots, water-dependent plants suffered more and longer during summer droughts than energy-dependent plants. Since water-dependent plants produce less cooling through evaporation, they also contribute to higher air temperatures, while energy-dependent vegetation supports further cooling. In addition, we showed that forest and bush fires were more likely to develop when energy-dependent vegetation experiences drought and becomes flammable – or when additional rain spurs the growth of water-dependent vegetation, which later serves to feed fires. The climate, soil and species of plants help determine which of the two roles vegetation assumes. Forests, for example, are typically more energy-dependent than meadows. Generally, we can assume that climate change may prompt a shift in these roles – with associated effects on our weather and our food security. We hope that our future research will provide further interesting insights in this regard.René Orth

René Orth is leader of the group Hydrology-Biosphere-Climate Interactions at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Jena. He joined Die Junge Akademie in 2020.

In 1988, Umberto Eco – known as the author of the bestselling novel The Name of the Rose, which was later filmed with Sean Connery in the title role – published his second novel, Foucault’s Pendulum. In both works, Eco not only drew on »high« cultural sources such as literary theory, philosophy and historiography, he also turned to popular culture for inspiration, with his novels quoting Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and various comic books. Three years after the publication of Foucault’s Pendulum, the creators of the German comic series Lustige Taschenbücher, turned the tables. In a tongue-and-cheek role change, Eco’s novel became the basis of a story featuring Donald Duck and Gladstone Gander. Entitled »Das Pendel des Ekol« (Ekol’s Pendulum), the story recounts how both nephews work as reporters for Uncle Scrooge and nearly reveal the secret of the philosopher’s stone. A paper written in invisible ink points the way. The two ducks hope to decipher it using a candle, but the paper goes up in flame – just like the library in Eco’s The Name of the Rose.Erik Schilling

Erik Schilling is a literary scholar who teaches at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. He joined Die Junge Akademie in 2018.

Science studies examines, with sociological, historical and philosophical methods, how science functions. As the 20th century drew to a close, the discipline was consumed by debate on a question that seems like a meta-commentary on the topic of role change: what constitutes a »proper« role change? Michel Foucault’s work on how science makes its objects of study – how it puts order into reality while also always marginalising other objects and perspectives – served as one point of departure. This critical (self-)knowledge inspired science studies to take these historically marginalised aspects as a central object of study. Authors like Bruno Latour describe the process of making scientific knowledge as a complex configuration of subjects, structures and objects that are interwoven and intertwined. Objects in particular undergo a fundamental role change in Latour’s book, The Pasteurization of France. No longer perceived as passive things at the mercy of human actions, entities such as cows and microbes become actors (»actants«) in their own right. But this interest in non-human actants is still oriented towards a single scientific order. Susan Leigh Star argues that it is not enough to simply deconstruct heroes like Louis Pasteur. Another shift in perspective is needed: The object of science studies has to change, and the reality of the marginalised has to become the centre of attention. To study how science functions, then, would mean to explain the conditions and effects of scientific orders on the basis of their exclusions. Lara Keuck und Oliver Rymek

Lara Keuck is Branco Weiss fellow at the chair for the history of science at the Humboldt University of Berlin; she joined Die Junge Akademie in 2020. Oliver Rymek is a cultural theorist and academic coordinator at Die Junge Akademie.

Jan Hennings, Astrid Eichhorn, Garvin Brod, Jessica Burgner-Kahrs, Isabelle Dolezalek, René Orth, Erik Schilling, Lara Keuck und Oliver Rymek

Role Changes – 8 Vignettes

JAM #27 — Role Changes

> Other Essays

Editorial
Astrid Eichhorn, Michael Saliba, Erik Schilling

Dare to co-design?!
Anna Cord

It is time to rethink the role of leadership (in science) – a polemic
Astrid Eichhorn

Shifting roles at home? Division of labour within families during and after the coronavirus pandemic
Lena Hipp

Pure curiosity? Why the public is interested in science
Lukas Haffert

The art lies in finding the balance
Miriam Akkermann

Shifting roles in psychotherapy
Philipp Kanske

Role Changes – 8 Vignettes
Jan Hennings, Astrid Eichhorn, Garvin Brod, Jessica Burgner-Kahrs, Isabelle Dolezalek, René Orth, Erik Schilling, Lara Keuck and Oliver Rymek