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Spoken Word Performance: Understanding Reality





Somewhere out there we have

the truth:

An untouchable entity

we will never fully grasp.

That which happens

really does happen.

The sandwich has been eaten. The crumbs have fallen.

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Final Class Summary and Evaluation

                The original reason I had signed up for this course was so that I could take an evolution class that was integrated with a literature class.  Being a Pre-Med, Biology major, my mind has become wired to be able to understand things that are “true” and real, and that will have significance in my life.  For example, I enjoy taking science and math classes, such as Calculus, Physics, Biology, etc. for I believe that they have specific methodologies, procedures, formulas and mechanisms that one must memorize and learn to be real.  To me, they are the truth, for they can quantitatively and qualitatively be set before me and applied into my life and also in medicine to make a significant impact on others’ lives in the world.  However, taking this course and discussing the idea of evolution as merely another story of the origins of life was disturbing.  The beginning parts of the course were very interesting, and I loved getting into the Biology portion of Evolution and rethinking through some of the concepts that I had not looked at in quite some time.  At this point, the most valuable thing I could take from class was to realize that evolution really was just another story in our quest for finding truth and reality in life.  I also realized that medicine and certain topics in Biology were also merely stories that were getting things less wrong, and I became comfortable with this idea over time.

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Dynamic Homes: Representing Comfort in "Home," "Howard's End" and "The Fall of the House of Usher."


Dynamic Homes:  Representing Comfort in Witold Rybczynski’s "Home," E.M.  

Forster’s "Howard’s End,"  and Edgar Allen Poe’s "The Fall of the House of Usher."

               According to Witold Rybczynski, author of the book entitled Home: A Short History of an Idea, traditions are maintained in home environments to help individuals make meaning of their worlds and be more comfortable within their surroundings.  To argue his point, Rybczynski describes how certain designers such as Ralph Lauren create collections that “evoke the atmosphere of traditional hominess,” which is something highly desirable and comforting in the modern-day, progressive and technologically advanced world.  Thus, by buying Lauren’s home furnishings, consumers are able to create the traditional home feeling for personal comfort.  This fact represents the larger implication that one’s home brings a sense of comfort to individuals, as one can associate and make meaning of his or her own life through the home and family environment, and that people come together and are united in the home.  On the contrary, the loss of stability and comfort in the home can create an uncomfortable or uninhabitable home and lifestyle, or divisions and clashes between its inhabitants.  These viewpoints, stemming from Rybczynski’s textual framework, are portrayed in E.M. Forster’s book entitled Howard’s End, and in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher.  However, although these two texts confirm the ideas portrayed in Home, Rybczynski’s commodification of an idealized home setting only recognizes the varying literal and figurative meanings and functions of materials in the home, and fails to mention the fact that its inhabitants can equally change its hominess and comfortability as well.  Therefore, Forster and Poe’s texts also challenge Rybczynski’s generalizations, as they both represent the significance of the individuals and family on the home environment.  Nevertheless, Forster and Poe’s texts also complicate our understanding of the meaning of home, as the represented home situations are somewhat unstable, constantly changing and modified throughout the two stories.
                 From the opening of his novel, Forster represents the conflict between the idealistic and intellectual Schlegel family and the materialistic and wealthy Wilcox family.  The families differed between their materialism and idealism, their practicality and imagination, and their reason and passion.  When the Wilcox family moves from their country house, Howard’s End, into a flat in Wickham Mansions, across from the Schlegel’s home at Wickham Place, Margaret Schlegel and Ruth Wilcox meet and immediately become friends.  However, as Ruth soon dies from her declining health, her husband, Henry Wilcox, gets acquainted with Margaret and proposes a marriage.  The two very different people with different ideologies come together under one home in union and harmony. 
                Later in the novel, when Margaret’s sister Helen returns from a trip to Germany, she stays in Howard’s End, as it then becomes the location for all of the familial activities.  Because of her sympathy for Helen during her pregnancy, and the subsequent murder of Leonard Bast, Margaret becomes the caregiver of both Helen and Henry at Howard’s End.  And Henry then pronounces that after his death, his children will inherit his money and Margaret will inherit Howard’s End.  Margaret, furthermore, intended to leave Howard’s End to Helen’s child after her death.  Overall, all of these significant scenes in the novel occurred in Howard’s End, and the home was eventually the one thing that brought the very different Schlegel and Wilcox families together in unity.  This is represented in a specific passage in which Helen says, “at night, we squeeze up in this lovely house.  The whole clan’s here now – it’s like a rabbit warren.”  Thus, Forster’s text confirms Rybczynski’s views by showing that the home brings a sense of comfort to two sisters, and unifies the two families under one roof. 
                    Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher also confirms the implications we draw from Rybczynski’s text, demonstrating that the loss of control of the activities in the home creates an unbearable and uncomfortable living experience.  The story begins as an unnamed narrator travels to see a childhood friend, Roderick Usher, due to his recent letter expressing his sense of nervous agitation and oppressing bodily illness.  As the narrator approaches the house, he is surprised by its dark, oppressive and gloomy physical appearance, saying “I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow.  An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.”  The narrator continues to describe how he believes the physical appearance of the building must undoubtedly have an adverse affect on its inhabitants.  Poe gives us one extremely significant passage in which the narrator describes a thought he has as to why Usher experiences this bodily illness:
I had learned too…that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and has always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain.  It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises with the accredited character of the people, and while speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other – it was this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequent undeviating  transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation of the “House of Usher’ – an appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion.

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The Evolution of Thought Affecting Biological Evolution

                Looking at the evolution of thought and thought processes among many different cultures can shed light into a better understanding of our evolving world today and, albeit, our interpretation of the world, for over time, the two work hand-in-hand.  Our thought gives us explanations of how our world came into existence, and as life evolves and the story becomes more expansive, our world evokes the evolution of more thoughts on aspects of our culture, health, society and future. Thus, biological evolution creates a framework for understanding the evolution of many other things, such as the human thought process, as they continue to influence one another over time.  However, because human culture and society can also affect our thought processes, this complicates our understanding of the interplay between the many factors which can affect our overall biological evolution.
               Among humans, the evolution of thought is the long and slow transition from the earliest beliefs in myths and magic, to the implementation of science and reason, and continues to rapidly evolve today.  In the earliest of times, humanity’s knowledge of the universe was very limited.  Natural phenomena such as changes in climate and weather were poorly understood, travel was more tedious and difficult, communication between individuals in far off lands was rare, and there was an overall simplicity to life and lack of understanding of many of life’s processes.  When catastrophes struck the world or countries, such as Bubonic plague, the only thing that people understood could help them was prayer and religion.  In essence, these ideologies and poor medical knowledge caused the death of billions of people, affecting the course of biological evolution.
                   However, after the advent of movable type and the expanding Western Civilization, books became readily available to many, the opportunity to learn and be educated was more common, and humans became more interested in studying the physical world.  The blooming science and technology spurred the Industrial Revolution, creating a middle class, more education, many books, and a way for people to begin thinking freely and independently.  Increasing communication meant sharing medical information and publishing and reading medical texts, and increasing means of transportation meant more access to healthcare and faster assistance and treatment when needed.  Furthermore, technology advanced the tools necessary for medicinal practices, and a larger emphasis was made on cleanliness and hygiene.  These factors combined helped improve patient healthcare and prolong life, which in turn, affected biological evolution of human beings.
                  As civilizations further evolved in different countries and among different cultures, education, learning, and thinking were able to take on their own course.  Although there was expanding communication between human beings in different locations, different ideologies and philosophies of life still grew and expanded.  In a world filled with opportunities for many, especially with an increased acceptance of the freedom to choose, intellectual growth and stimulation developed in different subjects and among different people.  As Richard Nisbett, author of The Geography of Thought, puts it, “Leisure meant for the Greeks, among other things, the freedom to pursue knowledge.”  Thus, cultures varied in their intellectual pursuits, which to some degree, affected their respective biological evolution.  For example, in some countries, where modern conveniences were readily available, such as easier transportation, better health, access to healthcare, public education, prepared and packaged food, child day care and a modern civilized society, the time demands and ideologies used in the past life were replaced with newer thoughts and ideas and more time could be placed on pursuing science and medicine.  Consequently, more diseases are being cured, people are living longer, vaccines are created, women can choose to abort fetuses or use birth control, and overall, human beings are essentially affecting their own biological evolution through their advanced beliefs and emphasis on health and medicine.  In other countries, which have more ancient beliefs about healthcare and a different ideology and emphasis on education, older and outdated practices can be performed.  For example, the process of childbirth can render more fatalities and birth problems, whereas a similar birthing practice could be carried out successfully in other areas of the world.  This, too, affects those individuals’ biological evolution.  Conversely, the high-fat diets and over-consumption of pre-packaged foods in the US has caused a rapid increase in health-related issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  Whereas, other countries with limited food supplies which are nutritious, healthy and fresh have individuals who are more lean, slender and healthy. 
                      Currently, in the US, medical practices and technology are bringing us into an era of prolonging life and overall, enhancing the quality of our lives in our elderly years.  Reproduction has been more easily controlled, more vaccines are becoming available and imaging technology has helped us target certain tumors and cancers for more effective treatment and accurate diagnoses.  Pace makers allow our hearts to keep beating, transplants allow us to utilize others’ organs for survival, genetic counseling and testing allows us to abort fetuses which may end up with low survival rates and complications, and so on.  Laparoscopic surgeries help us become more efficient and cause less remnants of surgical procedures having been performed, and many medical practitioners work towards beauty enhancement and perform elective surgeries.  To continue, stem cell research, the future of science and medicine, has been working towards rebuilding organs and organ systems from scratch, and is growing among many other medical advances in the arena.  And when disasters such as the Avian flu or SARS may occur in the near-future, we are more prepared to tackle the problems and fight the disease, so as to promote our lives, build up our tolerance and immunity, and prolong our biological evolution in years to come.  Even things like cleaner water, purer air and safer infrastructure has helped change the course of biological evolution.
                        Overall, it is our inquiry, our thoughts and beliefs, and our desires to explore the world, science, technology and other worldly phenomena that help us understand things in more depth.   In essence, our reason and scientific inquiry bring us the current technology that affects our world and life, and in turn, this drives us to rethink things, inquire, and learn more, which ultimately affects our biological evolution.  Thus, there is a profound interplay between our thought, culture and society which all affects our biological evolution.   Today, the notion of ancient beliefs, traditional medicines, and old teachings connotes a deeper understanding of life and the world, as our modern thinking portrays the current understanding of our progressive world.  In sum, experimentation, rethinking, and learning through experience and observation continually change our thoughts, which in turn change our respective biological evolution, helping us to get things less wrong and continue to ask more questions, which may affect our own biological evolution throughout time.        

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Evolution And Creationism In The Educational System

                  Education is the process of providing all facets of knowledge to students as a means of stimulating mental growth.  As such, it should not be an educator’s job to tell students what to think, rather, to encourage them to think and develop their own theories based on all of the presented information.  An example of a controversial subject with more than one possible theory of explanation is the origins of humans and the universe, of which the two most accepted explanations are creationism and evolution.  Although one of these explanations could be potentially less wrong than the other, as seen through many ongoing debates among science educators, religious leaders, parents, and school and government officials, both are still the most prevalent explanations for the story, and as such, should be taught in schools today.  And although I personally believe that the theory and observations explaining evolution are less wrong than those presented in favor of creationism, both should still be taught, as those who believe in creationism have their own evidence and belief in their version of the origin of human beings and life.  Thus, both evolution and creationism should and must be taught in the curriculum, provided that both the evidence supporting and disproving both theories are equally presented and left for the individual interpretations of the students.  In addition, all schools, regardless of their religious affiliations or their public or private nature should teach both topics in the classrooms, as both explanations should be presented and left for the students to interpret and understand.
                   In his book “What Evolution Is”, Ernst Mayr describes the modern thinking of human beings as being profoundly affected by evolutionary thinking, despite the fact that many still follow the creationist view.  As Mayr states, “I do not expect to convert this kind of reader [ creationist] but I want to show him or her how powerful the evidence is that induces the evolutionary biologists to disagree with the account presented in Genesis.”  According to Mayr, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence supporting evolution, such as: the fossil record, branching evolution and common descent (homologous and analogous structures), the study of embryology, vestigial structures, and the study of biogeography and molecular evidence, among others.  The aforementioned evidence is largely accredited to Charles Darwin, author of “On the Origin of Species,” which lays the foundations for the study of evolution today.  Darwin’s theory of common descent proposes that all groups of organisms have derived from an ancestral group, postulating that the progression of the simplest prokaryotic cells to more complex eukaryotes and more multicellular organisms is due to the phenomenon of evolution. 
                    On the other hand, creationists, including Christians, believe in the literal truth of the creation stories that are found in the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures, (3).  If creationists don’t refer to the book of Genesis, then the most popular alternative is to say they believe in “intelligent design” from a force that is commonly accepted to be God, for man was created in the image of God, and all of life itself was created by God (2). Some specific beliefs that fall under creationism are things like determinism, for “whatever human actions or decisions seem to indicate the operation of a free will, or a freedom of choice, can be shown, on closer inspection and analysis, to be based on unconscious determinism,” (4).  In other words, under creationism, things like free-will, determinism and essentialism do not exist.  Nevertheless, as stated above, all of creationism is merely based on the book of Genesis, which clearly does not surpass the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution. 
                      To refute the aforementioned ideas of creationism, Darwin developed new theories and concepts, such as population thinking, natural selection, chance, and the history in relation to time.  Darwin replaced essentialism with population thinking, explaining that species are composed of variable populations and individuals or organisms within each population are also variable in their nature.  Overall, populations change gradually through constant variations. Darwin was also able to refute the idea of determinism by explaining how the universe is ever evolving, over time.  Furthermore, his theory of Natural Selection revolutionized evolution by explaining that the available resources on earth are limited, creating competition, from which those individuals who are best equipped to adapt to their environments will survive and pass on their genes to their offspring.   Leading on this theory, evidence from the study of genes has also shown and explained the variation among human beings, as recombination has evolutionary importance for sexual reproduction.
                       Overall, educating students on the tenets behind these two theories is significant for it forces them to think critically about subject matter to formulate their own hypotheses and beliefs.  While I believe the story of creationism should still be taught, it has more or less stayed the same since its origins and does not have enough supporting evidence.  The theory of evolution, however, has itself evolved since its origins with Darwin, causing it to constantly generate new questions, theories and observations in addition to its already well established set of evidence.  Nevertheless, the aforementioned theories are still the most popular and accepted in today’s culture, and so therefore, they must be taught in the educational system. Furthermore, perhaps the only distinction that needs to be made is the time allotted to the study of each topic; because evolution has more evidence and subject-matter to cover than creationism, it should be more strongly emphasized in schools. While many other possible theories may exist, not all can be taught in schools, most importantly for the sake of time, and also because they may lack the practical applications that we see with evolution and creationist views in life today.  For example, we use evolutionary theories and thinking in our everyday life, like with the study of antibiotic resistance by pathogens, pesticide resistance in crops, controlling disease vectors, human epidemics, producing new crops with evolutionary genetics, and much more.  Evolutionary studies have also enriched the sciences in areas of developmental biology, the study of the human mind and consciousness, behavioral studies and so on.  Therefore, the study of evolution is a crucial and integral part of adolescent education.  Creationism has also been essential to life today, as it has given many individuals some values and foundations upon which they live their lives, a sense of spirituality, and an overall sense of richness of humanity.  It is a means of uniting people together under one cause and belief, and strengthens the sense of identity and culture in individuals.
                       Unfortunately, however, the aforementioned conflicts are calling for more evaluation of the separation of church and state, a long-standing issue of historical politics.  By making this a political issue, we may lose sight of the wonderful level of human curiosity (and the many possibilities of varying explanations for life’s phenomenon) and may fall prey to indoctrinating our students on certain concepts alone, especially at such a young age.  If only certain principles were taught, so as to make students integrated into particular cultures and society, we would lose the flavor and creativity that comes with having a diversity of viewpoints and beliefs.  Also, why exhaust ourselves in engaging in this cultural war pitting the conventional sciences against the evangelical faiths?  The ramifications of the dispute on education are remarkable and can be foreseen as causing many conflicts in the future.  Perhaps the future generations will develop a universal system of education, having reached a middle-ground in order to deal with such differences among educational systems.  Teaching students to be aware of all possible theories, time-effectively, will not only make them more educated, sophisticated and intellectual, but will help them make their own decisions and stimulate their own personal mental growth as well-rounded citizens.  Therefore, all schools should teach these same core theories of evolution and creativity so that all students have the same basic knowledge on the principle issues of interest among our nation, and as the US becomes a larger melting pot, these types of questions involving faith and religion will undoubtedly be broached in the near future.

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