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Elise Niemeyer's blog

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Story-making and “The Crack”

In the realm of “Loopy Science” the summary of observations used to make stories constitutes a fundamental aspect of the scientific process.  However, what may be even more important is the “crack” of personal bias and culture through which this process operates.  The same can be said about literature, which is influenced perhaps even more heavily by the “crack.”  Many of the same factors are at work in both fields, influencing their generativity and the theories, discoveries, and stories that are produced.  Nothing can be created in a vacuum, and analysis of the personal and cultural influences on both scientific and literary stories can lead to a creating understanding of the story-making process itself.

Elise Niemeyer's picture

Endings as Mirrors of Evolutionary Growth in Literature: Howards End and On Beauty

All works of literature are the results of an evolutionary process.  They have been influenced by many works that came before, selected for through publication, and generated new elements that make them unique and successful.   There is also an evolutionary process at work within the book itself.  The story develops over the course of the narrative, drawing on past influences, selecting for elements that move the story along, and generating an ending that is indicative of this particular evolutionary journey.   Where the end product of a biological evolutionary process is the creation of a new species, the end product of a novel is literally its ending scene, words that must resolve, or not, the preceding action of the story, incorporating the evolution of the plot, characters, and themes throughout.  On a larger scale an adapted literary work is the end product of an evolutionary process inspired by a generative original.  On both theses levels it is helpful to analyze the results of the evolutionary processes, the ending of a story and the adaptation of an original work, in order to understand the process itself.

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Extending Biological Evolution as a Metaphor for Cultural Development

           Patterns of cultural development are far from predictable.  Innumerable factors affect the growth of cultures and contribute to their unique qualities.  There is, however, an organization, or pattern, that can be observed in the development of human cultures over time.  It can be useful to discuss this development in terms of Darwinian evolution in order to understand some of the motivations and outcomes of cultures as a whole.  While a strict application of biological evolution may not be appropriate (Dennett 345), exploring the metaphor can provide insight into the distinct combination of human ingenuity and natural pressure that has driven cultural development into the modern age.

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Randomness versus Intent: the Lure of Security in Darwinian Evolution and Intelligent Design

           The debate between advocates of intelligent design and Darwinian evolution is one that not only permeates modern legal arenas, but also reflects an underlying dispute about the nature of science, and the innate appeal certain scientific stories over others.  Randomness is at the heart of biological evolution.  It is integral to natural selection and genetic mutation, two of the cornerstones of the modern understanding of the evolutionary process.  While the bulk of scientific observations seem to support such randomness, many people find it unnerving and even improbable.  In an article in the New York Times in 2005, Christopher Schönborn articulated a position held by many people both inside and outside the scientific community, "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science” (“Science as a Story”).  This stance on the evolutionary process has come to be recognized as “intelligent design,” a subtle mixture of Darwin and religion.  It is compelling that both explanations seem to provide security to some and anxiety to others.  While many are reassured by the “hard facts” that support biological evolution, others see this enforced randomness as lacking in meaning and thus undermining human purpose.  Conversely, the supernatural beginnings of intelligent design provide security through order, while causing some people to question its narrow view of human potential and attending religious connotations.

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