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Is a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit?

Plus: The Future of Quantum Computing 🖥️, and more...

What’s up everyone, welcome back to UniScoops! Call us the apple juice of academia: crisp and refreshing.

Here’s a taste of what we’re serving today:

  • Philosophy: Is a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? 🎂🍪

  • Biology: Choose a functional character! 🐙

  • Physics: The Future of Quantum Computing 🖥️

  • Spanish: Franco and the Spanish Civil War: Did Spain ensure justice for the 500,000 victims? 👨‍⚖️

[PHILOSOPHY] Is a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? 🎂🍪

One of the classical debates that get people into philosophy is the following classic: is a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? Jaffa Cakes, manufactured by McVities, have a spongy base, and some orange goo on top, covered by a thin coating of chocolate. Does that make them a cake or a biscuit? This is a question in ontology, which is the branch of philosophy that revolves around being and how things should be classified. This is also a case of philosophy acting in the real world: in 1991, McVities was actually in a dispute with HM Customs and Excise in the UK over this very question…

Cookie Monster Eating GIF by Sesame Street

💡 Things to consider

  • Blurred Lines: Usually when we categorise things, we’re able to categorise them with a lot of certainty i.e. we can say that this thing should be in group X whereas this thing should be in group Y. For example, if I ask you to look at a bowl and I ask you the question ‘Is this a plate or a bowl’, you’ll be pretty certain just by looking at it that it’s a bowl. But, at what point does a bowl become a plate? Is there a point when we should classify a really tall-walled plate as a bowl, or a really low-walled bowl as a plate? How does this apply to our debate on whether a Jaffa Cake is a cake or a biscuit? It might help to delve into the Sorites Paridox.

  • A world where biscuits don’t exist: Scary, I know! But, why do we even have words for things like biscuits? Why do we not just classify them as a type of cake e.g. a small cake? Reflect on how language can shape the way we classify things, and the limits of our knowledge.

  • Law and Philosophy: The court decided that, legally, Jaffa Cakes are considered a cake. This was considered a big win for McVitie’s, as it meant they didn’t have to pay Value Added Tax (VAT) on Jaffa Cakes in the UK. Should the court’s decision actually have any bearing on whether we should consider a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? There have been many times in the past when legal systems allowed some pretty awful stuff (think racist segregation laws in the USA). Do you think that we should look to the law when trying to tackle questions in philosophy?

🔎 Find out more

[BIOLOGY] Choose a functional character! 🐙

The Ood from Doctor Who

Evolution has given us some crazy looking organisms! Refer to some of the drawings by 19th century zoologist and artist Ernst Haeckel to see some of the wacky yet beautiful forms of life in the animal kingdom! With all this diversity, no wonder artists find inspiration from the natural world for some of their creations. With an endless array to choose from - pick a functional character (one that isn’t a real earth organism!) and let's think about its biology as if it were real!

💡 Things to consider

  • Where does it fit in the tree of life?: Taxonomists are biologists that classify living organisms into groups. To display this we can construct a phylogenetic tree that shows how related organisms are relative to others. For example, us humans are more related to a cow (another mammal like us) than a salmon (a ray finned fish - a little side note incoming…)

    Anyways, where does your character fit into the tree of life? Perhaps it's more plant-y, but wait, what if it's a fungus that just looks plant-like? Is it an insect? But if it has more than six legs then perhaps it fits somewhere else in the arthropod group. If in doubt, draw an evolutionary tree of organisms that are similar and perhaps see where they join!

  • Body-ody-ody!!: What is its physiology like? If it's an animal, where would its brain be? Does it even have one/need one? What about its heart? If your character can speak, where is its voice box? How does it breathe? How do you think it reproduces? Does it always look the way it does or does it have some sort of larval stage (think caterpillars and moth/butterflies having a different larval stage than adult stage)? If so, how does it change?

  • Ecology: Now think of its Attenborough documentary. We can also consider its ecology! Firstly what type of environment does it fit into? Think biomes! These are defined by the plant life that inhibits it. If there are many plants, how do these define the niches (a niche is the role an organism plays in its environment) that your organism occupies? What other organisms (real or fictional) live in the same environment and how does your character interact with them? Think about its diet. If you already know it, how does it get this food source? If not, what do you think it will need to eat to get its required nutrients? How does your organism interact with its abiotic environment? Does it use tools or build structures? Is it a solitary species or does it live in packs (what is the collective noun for your organism)?

[PHYSICS] The Future of Quantum Computing 🖥️

Quantum computing is a new and rapidly developing field of technology. Quantum computers have the potential to revolutionise many industries, including medicine, materials science, and finance. However, one of the main challenges facing quantum computing researchers is the development of stable and reliable qubits.

Qubits are the basic unit of information in quantum computers. They can be in a superposition of states, meaning that they can be both 0 and 1 at the same time. This allows quantum computers to perform certain calculations much faster than traditional computers. This means that quantum computers can be used to solve problems that are too complex for traditional computers, such as simulating the behaviour of molecules and designing new materials.

However, qubits are also very delicate and prone to errors. This is one of the main challenges facing quantum computing researchers.

💡 Things to consider

  • Potential implications of quantum computing for the future: We’ve seen that quantum computing has big potential to shake up a lot of industries. For example, quantum computers could be used to develop new drugs and treatments for diseases, design new materials with improved properties, and create new financial models. What are some specific examples of how quantum computing could be used to improve people's lives?

  • Ethics: Quantum computing is a powerful technology, and it is important to consider the ethical implications of its development and use. For example, it is important to ensure that quantum computing technology is used for good, and that it does not fall into the wrong hands. What are some specific ethical concerns that need to be addressed as quantum computing technology continues to develop?

  • Sharing the benefits: Quantum computing is a new technology, and it is important to ensure that the benefits of quantum computing are shared equitably. For example, it is important to make quantum computing technology accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or economic status. What are some specific ways to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from quantum computing technology?

🔎 Find out more

[SPANISH] Franco and the Spanish Civil War: Did Spain ensure justice for the 500,000 victims? 👨‍⚖️

The death of Franco in 1975 marked a significant turning point in Spanish history. It signified the end of a very difficult period, a period which saw a stagnant economy, increasing inequality between social groups, and tumultuous international relationships. Spain was so desperate to move forward that it forgot to look back, some say, until more recent years. So, what measures were taken in the aftermath of Franco’s death? Were they a force for change, or simply a convenient way of covering up a very uncomfortable period of history?

💡 Things to consider

  • El Pacto del Olvido (The Pact of Forgetting): Spain was mortified by its recent past, and wanted to have as little to do with it as possible. So, at least to both right and left wing politicians at the time, it seemed a sensible idea to distance themselves from their history as much as they could. As the Communist Leader Santiago Carrillo put it, “In Spain there is only one way to reach democracy, which is to forget the past”. They wanted the dictator’s death to be a pivotal moment of change, and for Spain to finally be seen as a country of change, not one of stagnation. How did they go about achieving this? By forgetting the dictatorship ever happened. Quite literally, in fact. And legally, too: the “Pacto del Olvido” (The Pact of Forgetting) was legally recognised in Spain’s 1977 Amnesty Law. The Pact made any acknowledgement of the Franco dictatorship very unwelcome, and made it impossible to prosecute human rights violations from the period. No one was held accountable, and public memorials dedicated to Franco remained throughout the country. How significant was this in stopping so many victims’ and their families receiving closure or a sense of justice? Could it be argued that this was almost like censorship from the Franco era, just in a different form?

  • Moving Franco: In 2019, Franco’s body was removed from El Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), just outside of Madrid, and placed in a family graveyard. After years of backlash, the Spanish government listened to calls for the former dictator’s body to be moved from the memorial, acknowledging that it was highly inappropriate for a man who was responsible for up to 500,000 deaths during his lifetime to be commemorated in this way. The move was seen as a huge victory for Pedro Sánchez and his government, who had been strongly against such glorification of Franco. The Valley of the Fallen is now reserved exclusively for those who died during the Spanish Civil War. Should this have happened sooner? What are the socio-cultural implications of this?

    El Valle de los Caídos

  • Remembering: In 2020, Sánchez first announced his plans to readdress the Franco dictatorship. This included compulsory teaching on the dictatorship in schools, the removal of Francoist symbols and memorials, and exhuming and identifying the bodies of victims of the Franco regime placed in unmarked graves. The law also offered Spanish citizenship to any descendants of Spanish immigrants who were driven out of Spain because of the Franco regime. Although largely supported, the move was heavily criticised by the far-right party Vox, who promised to repeal the law if they came into power. Why do you think they would want to do this? Do you think the law is important?

🔎 Find out more

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That’s it for this week! We’d like to thank this week’s writers: Gabriel Pang (Philosophy, Physics), Tariq Saeed (Biology), and Holly Cobb (Spanish).

Till we meet again (i.e. next Monday) 😉

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