Ivory Soap will rise from the ranks of household commodities to play its annual role in national politics for the last time today. After the 9 a. m. class in New Lecture Hall, Government 1b students will relinquish to history the 25-year-old lecture on how political partics, and Ivory Soap, influence public opinion.
Arthur N. Holcombe '06, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government, has used the popular slogan, '99 and 44-100 percent pure--it floats," since the '20's to illustrate how irrationally people think. "After all," he argues, "no one knows what the other 56-100ths percent is. It may be ground glass."
But Holcombe stops teaching Gov. 1b this spring after 30 years, and the lecture leaves the list of unusual talks given annually by professors in the College. These lectures, ranging in subject from glass-enclosed Victorian halls to hunting sea otters, are often remembered by students when the rest of the course is just a dim recollection.
In Gov 1b, Holcombo concedes that part of the Ivory Soap slogan is true. "It floats," he says, "Is a perfectly reasonable claim, the truth of which anyone can find out by putting a bar in water. But the question of its purity is never answered."
Selling A Candidate
The same method, Holcombe continues, may be used to sell a candidate to the public.
In addition, he takes another common example. In baseball, Holcombe says, there is a difference between a curve ball thrown across the plate, and one thrown at a man's head. The former is a rational action, the latter an instinctive one. A voter is subject to the same reactions, Holcombe concludes.
Using a less emphatic style, David E. Owen, professor of History, has also seen one of his annual lectures achieve local fame--the "Crystal Palace" talk.
Owen has given it in History 142b for over ten years to illustrate English Victorian tastes during the mid-19th Century. In 1851, England gave an exhibition of furniture and interior decoration, and housed it in an enormous hall made entirely of steel ribs and plates of glass.
Manufacturers at that time, according to Owen, catered to the "elegant tastes of the middle class," and developed what he calls the "horticultural school" of ornament. "Art was modernized until every common article took on the air of a tortured gas-pipe."
Paper Mache Chairs
A will to better his fellow producer in making anything out of any material, caused the craftsmen to turn out objects such as paper mache chairs and pianos.
Along with this movement, Owen says, came exaggerated Victorian design in which "dead fish, partridges, cupids, and rapes of Sabine women paraded across an otherwise innocuous table, trying to look as natural as possible."
"Victorian maids," Owens comments, "must have been expert navigators to be able to pass by a sideboard without knocking the horse out of a hunting scene."
Results of this marriage of nature and technology, he concludes, could be seen in every drawing room in England, "where leaves and snakes spewed out gas light."
Another annual event is the lecture by Frederick Merk, Gurney Professor of History and Political Science, which has been dubbed Otter Catching by his students.
Merk gives the valuable for of the sea otter as a reason why white men wanted to open up the Oregon territory, and then procedes to explain how the Indians used to catch this elusive creature.
A band of them in their kayaks, he says, would form a circle about the sleeping otter, and shout and beat the water with their paddles. The otter would awake, dive under, and the Indians would widen the circle. When the animal reappeared, they shouted again, under went the otter, and the Indians closed in once more.
This went on, Merk explains, until the otter was so tired, he could barely dive, when all the Indians shot arrows at him. The fur pelt went to the man whose arrow lodged closest to the otter's ear.
Edwin G. Boring, professor of Psychology, uses a somewhat different method to illustrate the main idea in his course, Psychology 1, at the beginning of his first lecture every year.
Philosophers, he asserts, allege that human thought in action is free. He warns the class that they are about is undergo an experience they cannot escape. With this he pulls out a gun and fires it.
"Everyone jumps," claims Boring.
Then he tells them not to be startled because he is going to do it again. He advises the students to think of something else. He fires the gun a second time, and again claims that everyone in the class jumps.
Illustration of Weakness
To further illustrate the weakness of most people's power of concentrates, Boring asks the class to count the number of clicks ticked off by a machine. He starts the machine, then tries to distract students by miscounting with them, He turns off the device and asks for the total. Most people offer the wrong number, Boring says.
Those that count correctly, he emphasizes, experience a "fierce muscular exortion." It's easier to be led astray, he concludes.
In a Social Relations 1a annual talk, Gordon W. Allport '19, professor of Psychology, specializes on thousands of people who were led astray. For one hour, he plays a recording of Orson Welles' famous 1989 broadcast "War Between the Worlds", which simulated as on-the-spot news story of the invasion of Earth by Mars. Part of the next hour he spends explaining why the program caused panic, riots, and evacuation of cities when first heard in this country as that October night.
Rale of Rumor
He illustrates the part rumor had is exaggerating the story to even more enormous proportions. Allport says that he unstable conditions of the country and world affairs at the time might have had something to do with it.
But he ends by relating the story of a worse panic which occurred in Equador when the same record was played over the air there in 1949, a year of comparative peace, leaving his class with a puzzle and vague promise of an answer before the course is finished.