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Evolving Systems course, week 10: exploring stories of individual change

Anne Dalke's picture

As always, you're free to write about whatever came into your mind in class this week: your afterthoughts about formal systems? Your reactions to Logicomix? To the possibility of babies having "moral," "thinking" lives? What are you thinking now about the possibilities of, or hindrances to, individual evolution?

paige's picture

Digression: I am thinking


I am thinking about the style an eighteen year old should use when writing about something like the relationship between the brain and body. It’s funny because I feel that because I am so young, I do not have the right to try to say something profound. To clarify, profound to me is something that is true (as close to the bottom turtle as I can get at that point).

But I do have some “true” things to say. This forum might not be the best place for them. I find myself sort of fearful of posting something that I put myself into on this forum because it is so public. We will all read it and judge it. I want to write something largely meaningful but I am also not going to sit forever working on a treatise to post on the esem wall. That would be pretentious.

Fear of being perceived as pretentious is also a factor in my writing on this course forum. I just talked with my friend here about whether what I wrote earlier was pretentious. She said most of the things said in her esem are pretentious.

It seems unfair to fear being pretentious when I just want to write something without putting in a lot of qualifiers. So what if we are just 18, young things with relatively little life experience. That experience is worth something, isn’t it? I’ll never be 18 in November again; I should try to capture that moment now. All of us in class reading the posts know that the writing is coming from an eighteen year old, take that as you may. Hopefully when I am 34, I won’t have to worry about the perception of my posts on an online forum.


MC's picture

The end of our discussion

The end of our discussion today really interested me- the struggle of reaching intellectual heights or reaching social heights, if we might do both, and trying to come up with perfection. Perfection is such a funny thing-- we know there is no way we can really make perfection because it is impossible, but we try anyway. Perfection must be perfect to everyone but only certain people find certain things perfect, and we are imperfect beings so how could we possibly correctly identify and/or create perfection anyway? Why do we care so much? I think a little bit is that to many people perfection involves ease. It's hard to not want something to be easy (I know it is for me, at the very least), and to not want everything to just work itself out with minimal effort. That's half of what our society today focuses on: making everything as easy as possible. After all, if it's easy than everyone can access it and then there are fewer problems. But maybe we should be focusing on making more people capable of dealing with the complex, because no matter how much we want it to be otherwise, our world is complex. If all we know is easy, I don't think we can reach our potential or truly understand the world around us.

Which brings up education all over again. I think of the education system (in this country at least, cannot speak for anywhere else) as how we teach socialization, at least until the college level where theoretically we are allowed free access to knowledge. We can't get dessert or the cool toys until we learn how to play nice. Learning how to socialize is aggravating, from my experience. I used to continuously entertain the idea of how I would teach children, and most of the time it was just letting the kids loose on some books and stuff and hanging around to answer questions. This is partially based off of personal experience: this was how my educational experience began, and I always felt I learned better and was happier that way, so I want other people to experience the same. Who knows what's really right or good though?

Summer's picture

Babies & Research on Mao

     I love to talk about babies!!! They are adorable to study at and adorable to play with! I never doubted not only how smart they are, but also their morality. Some of us mentioned that the research results in the articles are not completely trustable. I agreed the writer from the very beginning because that's exactly how I think of babies. I believe that they know what are the right things to do and are definitely aware of their mistakes. However they don't have good self control. In the process of growing up, people gain the ability of self controlling. E.g, Babies know they shouldn't eat a lot of candies because their parents told them candies are bad for their teeth. Yet babies would do anything to get more candies. Candies are so tasty, babies don't have that strong self control to fight against the charm of sweets. It is human's nature to satisfy themselves. We know that to rob a bank is terribly wrong and the reason we don't do it is we know one could go to jail for that. What if one never had this "morality and law" education? There would be a great chance that he or she would rob a bank. Also, because of the self controlling that we learn as we grow up, the ways we think change. Babies can come up with all sorts of amazing things. They just let their minds go wild. The adults can't since they have too many "restrains" in their minds. Not having enough self control doesn't equal to immoral. 

    My research for this week's paper has been overwhelming. There is too much information about Mao in both eastern and western medias. It makes me think about the reliability of the medias. How many of them is "controlled" by some kinds of forces? For what purposes? Is avoiding some part of information the same as lying to the audiences? I'm amazed only by looking at the explanations about the word "Mao Zedong" in Bai Du Bai Ke (the biggest Chinese web encyclopedia) and Wikipedia. We were educated ever since kindergarden how great Mao is, as if he is the "perfect man" and everyman's spiritual mentor. Now reading about his marriages, his attitude towards personality cult, and his way of "protecting" our "country" disappoints me. I feel deceived. I was never told the somehow "ugly" things he did. Though he did accomplish many many great goals, and China would probably be different if it wasn't him, but I feel that I have the right to know. If the government wants us to worship someone, we should know the real him and choose whether or not to. 

Valentina's picture

Gosh, morality is so

Gosh, morality is so frustrating. Thinking about it makes me just wish someone would write a big book (no, not the Bible) that defined, for everyone equally, what is moral and what isn't. Then people would lose points for each rule from each category (some being more severe than others) they broke- kind of like a credit score. Finally, people would live with other people of the same level of morality as them and we could all be happy.

"The Moral Life of Babies" really intrested me. My initial reactions were "Looking time is bs" and that it would be easy to skew the results with bias researchers and that whomever made up these experiments is really smart or crazy or both. But towards the end of the (very lengthy) article, I became very intrested in what the results really indicated.

First, the results showed that a majority of the babies thought the same- choosing the good toys over the bad ones. For my purpose, I'll ignore the few who didn't choose the good toys as having been confused. Does this mean we are not just born with morality, but equal "amounts" of it? So is morality not like other traits, a combination of "nature and nurture"? In order for it to be so, the "nature" aspect could not be equal in all because if it was then it could be said we are only affected by our enironment. Therefore, thus presuming there is not genetic component involved with morality, we could be living in peace and harmony if only our environments would allow for it?

In biology, we looked at this: VP= VG + VE. I forgot what the letters exactly stood for but 'E' is environment and 'G' is genes and 'P', I guess, is kind of like the final product. If VG is equal to an arbitrary number, say, 10 for everyone- then this indicates we have huge control over what our societies could be like and there is nothing stopping us from living in a perfect world except for the cultures and environments we have already set up. If any of this is really possible, then I'd say it's time to set up some universal socialism and hope for the best.

Angela_MCA's picture


 The articles on babies made me feel really content.  My hopeful self has always thought that babies were born "good", or more knowing than we think. I realize that babies don't know everything and need to be taught manners (such as lying in order to not hurt one's feelings) but I always thought the innocence and honesty of babies and young children was so great, and that, actually, adults could learn a lot from them.  I feel like babies are born being true and innocent people, knowing all that is truly important, and it is adults shoving all these rules in their heads that sort of corrupts them.  If a baby could some how grow up without any adult teaching or corrupting them, without anyone limiting or inhibiting their creative possibilities, I wonder how they would turn out. They might explore things we would never think of and reach new conclusions we could never reach. People always think that you have to grow up and have experiences shape you to learn about the world, but I think that you can learn the most from the honesty and innocence of uncorrupted children.

schu's picture


We don’t usually say individual evolution, possibly because that people do not change physically despite the normal routine of aging, and that people’s thoughts are too hard to have a fixed definition of its nature. We can change our thoughts in one second only by one other thought or suggestion, but if thoughts still follow a certain pattern and if they are changing and developing in a collective way, the evolution of individual might come to light.

However, I doubt that frequent and random changes are the only left nature of thoughts. I tried to record my impromptu melody sometimes and listened to it after few months or even one year. It turned out that when I was listening to it, I could sing out the exactly the same melody synchronously with my record. This is not a famous melody or a rigorous composition, but it lies in my memory as a complete and fixed pattern, with my understanding of music. I could not remember it when you want me to sing, but as the first few seconds of my record rings out, I know it and I could sing it out. Is that a sign that thoughts could be a pattern which falls into a road to evolution?

Also, I don’t know if we are really focusing on one individual evolution while we have to give an extension to our in-class discussion. Which is more important? Maybe when we are trying to give proof that individual can evolve,  we still need more than one individual to show our point. I want to connect music and memory and Beethoven altogether, but the problem is how I can know about all aspects of his life, including his thoughts. And this leads to another question. Collection of data is required for a relatively objective empirical observation. We can see that in the evolution of one population. But when it comes to individual, which world and principles, like Russell’s student pointed out, are we referring to?

And what is more challenging is that, if babies can think and tell the truth, how do they do that without learning to have a human logic reasoning? Instinctions?  This may suggest a totally different understanding of reasoning, which is the foundation of all laws and regulations of human society. Or maybe the power babies have is just a prompt of nature suggesting that we can never be the smartest, and we could end up in involution or degeneration as we grow up.

Olivia's picture

Babies and interactions

I never doubt about how smart babies are. Just how babies picking up a language is amazing enough. In class, we talked about how babies are more creative than adults, and babies think more possibilities. Education seems like rules imposed on them, and it makes the possibilities shrink as a baby grow. The example we discussed in class is how professors guide us with our papers. We are taught to write papers in certain ways. And the comments on the paper sometimes limit the possibility of writing a paper differently. The "improvement" of writing a paper is merely writing closely following the rules. Why do we need to write paper in a particular standard way? Is education not good?

If we write a paper for ourselves, we can write whatever we want. But the problem is that we write our papers for other people. The audience is not ourselves. We need to explain things clearly in order to let other people understand. The interaction with other people causes us to limit our possibilities of writing papers.

I think interactions between humans may have an effect on our loss of creativity and other abilities which we had as babies. For example, babies have the nature to tell the truth (like the child in the "The Emperor's New Clothes"). But as we interacting with others, we start to restrain that nature because we need care for others' feelings. If some words hurt others, we may not say them. Also because there are other people out in the world, we cannot do whatever we want as babies.

Thus, maybe education is a way to learn how to interact with others?

Erin's picture



Last week’s discussion is really interesting addressed the topics about moral lives of babies and book of Logicomix. There are several interesting points I want to point out.

1.       I am really fascinated bout the idea about the formal system. I am surprised to find that the term of everything which I use every day does not exist. No matter how big the scale of everything is, there is always something bigger. Notably, the ideal model of formal system which Russell spent most of his life to establish doesn’t exist. Because the fundamental way to establish it determined that such system can be the ultimate solution to solve all the conflicts in the world. The completeness and consistence can be satisfied at the same time. Some people may consider that Russell’s entire life as a tragedy because he “wasted” his life on something can be done. However, I think he has been passionate about his career and never stop explore the boundaries of human’s logic field. I think the process of pushing himself to the limits of the humankind has been a great reward for himself. Nevertheless, the work his has achieved has laid the solid for many modern science and played undeniable roles in our today’s lives. Sometimes, you can’t anticipate the outcome, as long as you are doing better than yesterday. I consider the process as progress and success.

2.       The interesting research about babies drives my attention too. I think this also related to the topic we had last week: born with evil? This two research paper supported my opinion about babies before. However, babies are better than I expected. I always believed that babies are like sheets of blank paper. Everybody around them, everything happened around him has an inevitable impact on the growth of babies. A baby raise in a good family is more likely to behave well. However, this two study show babies have the initial psychological development already. I am wondering if the level of morality of every baby is more associated with the genetic information of the affections and contacts they have before they were born. Babies are amazing, but I am sad to the diminishing potential in babies. I hope we can figure out a way to keep the period of high capacity to learn longer.

Aimee's picture


 On Saturday my father and sisters drove up from Maryland to visit me. My family and I love our carb-heavy, sauce-laden dishes, so we went to the local Bertucci's for dinner. While I sat at a booth beside them, dipping dinner rolls in seasoned olive oil, I happened to see a young family sit at a table near us. And who did this family bring with them? A baby, of course! But this was no ordinary baby. This infant was at least 10 months old, so she was developed enough to babble, play with a kiddie cup, and stare at passers-by. In particular, she stared at me. 

Babies hate me, and this tot was no exception. Her expression went from   =D   to   :O  when she caught my gaze. Thursday's article on infant morality suggests that babies stare for lengthier periods of time when someone or something surprises them. I suppose the baby's startled look was a clear sign that I had thoroughly shocked her. Why am I so surprising? I haven't a clue. But on a narcissistic whim, I will speculate that babies stare at me because they can sense my awesomeness. Yes, that's it. STARE IN AWE, TINY CHILDREN! KOWTOW BEFORE THE AMAZING AIMEE!

(You will have to excuse my rambling. I got 4 hours of sleep last night, and my brain is so starved of energy that it is consuming itself. I'm losing synapses by the minute.)

Anywho, I read Julie's post about St. Augustine, an early church father who contributed to the doctrine of original sin. "Original sin" might best be renamed as "ancestral sin." It is a heritable trait, like eye or hair color, passed down from our "first" parents, the biblical Adam and Eve. Those naughty nudes disobeyed God by eating a magical fruit, and so they were banished from Paradise. Adam and Eve's actions (or as Christians call it, "The Fall") released sin into the world, causing humanity to separate from God on earth AND in the hereafter. Thankfully, along came Jesus of Nazareth (100% human, 100% divine, and 30% lower sodium) who was crucified in order to take away the sins of the world. Behold! Righteous souls could enter heaven. Despite Jesus' status as the Redeemer of mankind, the Catholic Church believes that original sin still exists. St. Augustine thought original sin "consists of the guilt of Adam which all humans inherit." (Wikipedia) Strangely enough, neither Jews nor Muslims, who share a creation story, believe in original sin. And Eastern Orthodox Christians reject the notion that original sin is an innate tendency toward sinfulness; rather, they believe that original sin is death, which Jesus conquered. 

I suppose you think I'm implying that the Catholic Church is wrong. You'd be right. What can I say? I'm a heretic. In light of last week's articles, I have come to believe that babies have the rudiments of morality ingrained within them. People are social creatures; from an early age people know to favor the people and actions that benefit them and the individuals in their social circle. Morality is purely a social construct from which religion grew.

I once read a book titled The Female Brain. In it, a neuropsychiatrist discussed the female brain in all stages of human development, noting the importance of an infant's gaze. Babies - especially baby girls - make eye contact and engage facial expressions, learning how to properly empathize with body language. Our article on infant morality showed the results of that early engagement - toddlers begin to comfort others. Despite enduring the burdens of original sin, babies are awfully kind.


Aimee's picture

 Look what I

 Look what I found!

Kirsten's picture


        I don't often think about babies, or how they think, but many of the points in each of the he articles we read last week did not come as a big surprise to me.  Through my life I have become familiar with a small mount of knowledge about infants.  With this knowledge I have depicted the mind of a baby as one that is like a sponge; a sponge that absorbs many things that human needs to know to make it, so to speak, in this world.  Among these things are emotions, language and the beginning of the understanding of "right" and "wrong". Seeing as I have constructed an image of babies' minds being sponges, certain things did not surprise me in the articles that were meant to amaze the readers.


        One last thing, unfortunately I cannot remember who it was that brought this up during last weeks discussion, but It was brought to my attention that the methods by which the for some of the findings may not have been too concrete of a way to gauge the babies reaction.  The method of determination of the babies confusion or interest in particular actions by way of seeing how long they stared seems like a method that is not good enough to base scientific findings on in my opinion.

kbonds's picture


   I wasn't in class Thursday of last week (boo.) and I'm really sad I missed the discussion about babies, because they're cute (did anyone see the movie Babies? Ohmygodadorbs). 

    Anyway, I really enjoyed reading the articles on how babies think. I remember way back when I was 13 and my little brother Arren was born. My parents would always try and get him to focus on one thing for a long time, but honestly there really wasn't much for him to focus on one he figured out the object's basic function, and he would move on. I was reminded of this when I read about the babies simply becoming uninterested after learning the function of a toy. Parents always freak out when their baby doesn't stick with one thing for at least 30 seconds, and they jump to conclusions and claim ADHD, but really this baby is just learning in the only way he can. My parents jumped to conclusions and they were entirely correct (my brother is 6 and has pretty legitimate ADHD) but I know of many parents who worry unnecessarily because they don't know that's how babies learn.


    Speaking of my parents, I'm writing about my dad this week. He had to undergo some ridiculously involved individual evolutions after I was born and has only just begun to settle down in his life and self. Actually, he told me the other day that the calm he feels is so unnatural and he doesn't know what to do because his whole life he has been changing and charging against the grain until around now. My dad is only 40, so I remember a lot of times in his life that many of you probably don't remember from your parent's lives because you were just too young when it happened. He really had a time raising me and I think he did a damn good job, myself. I really can't wait to elaborate in the paper, and if anyone wants to know I'd be glad to tell his amazing story to you over lunch or something.


     Logicomix was great because I'm a big fan of graphic novels, though defiantly not an artsy elitist or graphic novel guru. I like the idea of telling the story through conversation, and really appreciate the fact that they did that. It must have taken a lot of creativity. The actual subject matter was over my head much of the time, so I only got the basic ideas they were trying to convey (can logic solve human problems? no? ok then) but i still really enjoyed it. It's books like these that make me remember why I choose to no longer try and comprehend infinity or the 34th dimension. I don't wanna end up like those unreachable logicians.


ecollier's picture

Inherent Babies

I’ve never before last week thought about babies being born with morals. Although the evidence in the two articles is clearly supportive of the idea, I wonder about how much these babies’ parents were able to teach them before the tests were run. How could a baby, who traditionally has no comprehension of other being’s feelings, feel sympathy to one whom wrong is done? One article did mention, however shortly, the (past?) notion of babies being unable to understand that others have feelings of their own. I’m still yet unable to accept this so easily.

But then again, I believe that there exists inherent good and bad. If babies were not born with these morals, how could they be learnt as inherent?


LAJW's picture

Individual Evolution


I think last Thursday's discussion was really useful to me. After discussing the essay approach, I felt clearer about how to write this week's essay assignment. I think it is very helpful to discuss writing together in a group. We can improve by learning from each other. I think that we should have more this kind of discussion in the future. For my essay, I plan to write about Chairman Mao. 

The reason why I chose Chairman Mao is because that Chairman Mao is a controversial figure. Westerners who mostly believe in democracy usually depict him as a dictator who have organized many campaigns which caused many deaths and a huge amount of economic losses to China. In contrast, Chinese always regard him as an influential person who laid the foundation of modern China. Westerners usually think that Chinese from mainland China are radical communists. However, from my neutral opinion of our Chairman Mao, you can easily tell that we are actually liberal to ideas and we don't really care which kind of social structure we are in. As long as we can progress both socially and economically, we don't mind of accepting western ideas of capitalism. And in fact that China is working towards building a novel form of socialism with the incorporation of facets of modern capitalism in order to connect to the rest of the world. We are not ambitious of becoming the superpower and taking control of the whole world. The only thing that is on the top of our agenda is to improve our living standards, since nearly fifty percent of Chinese are still living in poverty. Moreover, as we can tell from the statistics, natural disasters occurred more frequently in recent years due to global warming. China is now trying its best to work together with other countries to achieve world peace. Maybe my idea sounds very ideal. However, this what my twenty years' experiences have told me. 

Lastly,  for Logicomix, I would like to say that I like the idea of the book. Science and logic can do wonderful things, but they also have limits. I think that nothing on earth has been proven the cause of everything.  Hence, that's why some people do not believe in science, but religion. It is because that in religion, God is the cause of everything. I think to someone this fact is satisfying and heartwarming. Whenever people come across difficulties, they can always seek comfort from God and, thus, do not feel so discouraged and disappointed.




Bingqing's picture

I really appreciate one of

I really appreciate one of the opinions of the author of How Babies Think. “Brain is a kind of computer designed by evolution and programmed by experience.” It is long time evolution that decides human beings to become the creatures born with consciousness and cognition. Then, during people’s whole lives, they change, adapt, and modify due to their experience. I always regard evolution as something that brings about the positive change and it does. In macroscopic range, species on the planet have accomplished the evolving process from aquatic to territorial, from simple to complex, from lower level to higher level. In contrast, according to Thursday’s reading, it seemed that in the personal evolution people are losing some of their abilities and some of people are losing their natural goodness. Does it contradict the evolution in macroscopic scale?

Why do people care the question about babies’ ideology? If we people can finally figure out how babies’ cognition and moral develop, we will find the best period for education and shaping their intelligence and morality. We human beings always wan to have things under our control because we are the creatures born with consciousness. We want to obtain a kind of certainty by erasing the unknown as much as we can.

As our class goes so far, a sentence jumped into my mind that the only unchanging thing is change and the only certain thing is uncertainty.


elisagogogo's picture

after reading "babies"...

   I really have to say our Esem is awesome before giving my afterthoughts. I had a discussion with two girls about Esem yesterday during dinner. Hearing them saying bad words about their Esem, I could not even say a single sentence except I enjoy my Esem so much. Anyway, it’s good to feel out of place at that time and I’m so glad to have such a class. Love you guysJ

Now, back to our topic in the class. We talked about competition and cooperation on Tuesday and it makes me think a lot. If asked to choose from competition and cooperation, I think I will definitely choose cooperation because it is more likely to mutually benefit people. But my unconscious choice amazed me when I was told that a piano recital will be held next Sunday in my piano class. My professor wants us to show what we’ve learnt, comment on each other and try to make progress by playing for others. Obviously, he wants us to cooperate to get improved, while I was so stressed after hearing it. It was embarrassed but I have to confess that I feel stressed because I am afraid that I couldn’t play as well as other people. It is weird that under such a relaxed atmosphere, my willing to compete is more than my desire to cooperate in some extent. Why do we, or at least I, prioritize competition?

I read the article about babies that night. It was so interesting because it relates to what I’ve learnt in psychology recently. In the class, we talked that research shows infants in every culture are able to perceive all phones when they are very little so they are equipped to learn whatever language they hear in their environment. By 12 months, when expressive language acquisition usually begins, they no longer can discriminate sounds they do not hear in languages input. So they become more efficient at processing functionally meaningful contrasts in their language and at ignoring irrelevant ones. And phonemic categories that are going to matter in their language are those they continue to discriminate.

I’m thinking about if this psychology theory contributes to the interpretation of competition and cooperation. Say, we were born with equal tendency to compete and cooperate. While as we grow up, the stress in this competitive society forces us to compete with ourselves and to defeat others to get better. Babies learn to walk by overcoming imbalance. Children study hard to get into a good school. It’s not to say we don’t want to cooperate, but since we are more exposed to a competitive environment, we are more likely to process competition thought rather than cooperation.

FluteSound4's picture

Oops, here we go again


I forgot to sign in when I posted this. Here it is again everyone.

I have to say that I found the two articles on the babies both incredibly interesting. I love kids, I love babies, and I used to babysit a lot back in high school so I was able to relate some ideas from the articles to my babysitting days. I have to say that I've never really thought deeply on the concept of how babies think. I was so interested to read about how they actually analyze and come up with theories! I've never really thought babies were stupid, but I also never thought of them as being intelligent. Maybe it's because when I see a baby I'm mostly thinking, "aww what a cute baby!" rather than the level of their intelligence. So what do I think of babies now? I'm not quite sure and honestly I'm a little confused. I don't want to call them stupid, but then again I don't want to call them scientists either. I just think of babies and being babies. We have to be there for them to help them grow, learn, and be socially inclined. On another note: One thing I'm curious about is that, like nina stated in her post, one of the articles said that babies prefer faces of their own race. So what about racially mixed babies? Would they prefer the features of the two races that they are made of?

With Logicomix, sure, Bertrand Russell spent 10 years coming up with "Principia Mathematica" only to fail. Is this really a failure? For Bertrand Russell, yes. But it led the math world somewhere important. "Principia Mathematica" led to Kurt Godel's idea that "There will always be unanswered questions." Would Godel have come up with this concept without Principia? Well, no one really knows. All we know is that Principia and it's failure invented more ideas that helped shape the math world.


CParra's picture

Our class "A Culture" ?

What I noticed on Thursday,is that none of us like change. We had the opportunity to change location, teacher, and peers but none of us want that there was a lot of resistance.

Why is that? If we want to evolve then we must experience change. Many of us, a couple of weeks ago said, that change is much more common in culture than in biological evolution. If that were true then wouldn't our culture change after our experience with a new class. I still see the same things occurring.

I am now very interested in what will happen to this culture we have created.

In my head,

culture is a group of people with certain values or ideas or just a similar agenda that run away from change.

I actually think that our class has become a culture.

Well in my definition.


SoundsLikeBanana's picture

Babies and Condi

I really enjoyed our conversation on Thursday because it covered a topic that I’ve been really thinking about for the last couple of weeks: are we inherently evil?

While I am an optimist and think that babies aren’t born evil, I do not necessarily think they are born with morality. I believe that morality is learnt from society and the environment that the child is raised, and not “in the package.” While heredity may play a role in a child’s affinity for good or evil, I think that it is much more likely that how the particular parents raised the child will affect his or her attitude. Babies may not be completely a blank slate, for they understand quite a bit concerning their needs and how to pacify themselves, but in the case of morality they have no prior understanding of what it is.

That reminds me of what someone mentioned in class about how the Chinese believe that babies see the world clearest but don’t have the words to express it.


For my evolution of person paper I chose Condoleezza Rice. I chose “Condi” as her friends call her, because of what her struggle shows us the determination and education necessary to accomplish great things. This relates back to the question we posed at the beginning of cultural evolution: “can one person change a culture?” One person can. Rice was born in a middle class family, in a segregated world where most people her race and gender had very little chance of going anywhere with their lives. Yet because of her parents drive and her own willingness to learn and fulfill her dreams she became one of the most powerful people in, not only the country, but the world.

Although I may not always agree with her political standpoints, I am always drawn by her confidence and her intelligence. I care about her because of what she stands for: female and colored empowerment. I know this is a strong statement to make, but looking at her life and all that her family has been through, gives me hope. She has all the makings of a good role model, and in her I see the good that humans can accomplish. For although she was raised in a society that didn’t favor her race, she stayed strong, not swayed by the evil that could have harmed her. She is living proof that people have the propensity for good, even in evil times.


Sarah Ann's picture


So I don't really want to post my research on here (as was suggested as a posting option in class), but I feel like the person I'm researching bears mentioning, because her evolution and its result has affected all of us in this class. I'm researching M. Carey Thomas and what may have molded her into the headstrong woman she grew up to be.

I just started thinking about nina44's post and her point about babies preferring to look at faces of their own race. If we take the evidence gathered by the researchers as valid (going back to the whole can-we-really-tell-babies'-thoughts-by-their-gaze-time business), what does that tell us? I mean, is it just the simple fact that those faces clearly do not belong to mom, as babies first recognize? Does this whole thing suggest that not just racism, but fear of the generally unfamiliar are qualities we're born with? And are we really "born with" anything more than a blank slate, a brain with all of the physical and biological potential to be molded into the thinking organs we use as adults? I don't know. It's 1:30 in the morning right now, so everything's kind of out there for me.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Babies and Culture

I have to say that I found the two articles on the babies both incredibly interesting. I love kids, I love babies, and I used to babysit a lot back in high school so I was able to relate some ideas from the articles to my babysitting days. I have to say that I've never really thought deeply on the concept of how babies think. I was so interested to read about how they actually analyze and come up with theories! I've never really thought babies were stupid, but I also never thought of them as being intelligent. Maybe it's because when I see a baby I'm mostly thinking, "aww what a cute baby!" rather than the level of their intelligence. So what do I think of babies now? I'm not quite sure and honestly I'm a little confused. I don't want to call them stupid, but then again I don't want to call them scientists either. I just think of babies and being babies. We have to be there for them to help them grow, learn, and be socially inclined. On another note: One thing I'm curious about is that, like nina stated in her post, one of the articles said that babies prefer faces of their own race. So what about racially mixed babies? Would they prefer the features of the two races that they are made of?

With Logicomix, sure, Bertrand Russell spent 10 years coming up with "Principia Mathematica" only to fail. Is this really a failure? For Bertrand Russell, yes. But it led the math world somewhere important. "Principia Mathematica" led to Kurt Godel's idea that "There will always be unanswered questions." Would Godel have come up with this concept without Principia? Well, no one really knows. All we know is that Principia and it's failure invented more ideas that helped shape the math world.

nina0404's picture

babies and comics

Before the other day I had never really thought much about babies except for how cute they are. During our discussion it was interesting to see how their were different opinions about babies and how some of us felt they were in a were evil and other felt they were good. I never thought that a baby was evil, I just could never look at one and believe that.

One thing about the article that is really interesting is that it tells you that babies have a preference to look at faces of their own race. Does this in a way instil in us early on some racial prejudice? Hmmm food for thought I guess.

As for Logicomix, I just wanted to say that I found the book very interesting, and was very pleased with my first reading of a graphic novel. This story is something that I never would have come across on my own and I felt like the graphic novel setting was great as a supplement to the reading. It made it more interesting and understandable for those of us who never knew there were such things as logicians and the study of logic.

Julie G.'s picture

St. Augustine of Hippo

 Have you ever read St. Augustine's Confessions? He wrote in the fourth century and is credited by some scholars of Christianity for generating the "born with sin" concept. He talks about how babies are only interested in their selfish needs, how they have no understanding or caring for others. Until I had read his book, I was familiar with the "born with evil" concept, but hadn't really understood its origins. Like you, I'm guessing, I saw babies as entirely innocent and dependent creatures. Does this perception alter the way we treat/teach babies? If we suspect that they are predisposed to cruelty and selfishness, do we approach them differently than if we feel the opposite? Is this a reflection on how much perception matters in human interactions?

Anne Dalke's picture

cultural clashes, continuing...

As a follow-up on Julie's observations, below, about our "little cultural clash between each section writ large in modern day clashes," see Name Debate Echoes an Old Clash of Faiths.

Julie G.'s picture

Mosque/church/synagogue/temple etc.

 I just read the article. If I had read it before our merging of the classes, I might have been tempted to lambast those who want the building to be renamed, or those who want its purpose to be reassigned, whilst praising those who thought the debate was a lot of nonsense. But I've tasted a sense of subtle righteousness. I still want to make those allegations, yet I have to bite my tongue and remember the fiery defensiveness and swelling pride I felt as our differences were judged, and as I judged them. I am also thankful that somehow, we all seemed to realize that the sense of "betterness" was destructive, even if we all kind of felt/feel it still. I think this attempt at understanding or at least accepting the positions of others is key to solving these insane (aren't they?) debates.

Has anybody else ever read/heard of Sam Harris? I read his book The End of Faith last year. He has the opposite notion and feels that moderation in organized religion facilitates fundamentalists' actions and beliefs. In other words, by acknowledging that religion is open to interpretation, one acknowledges and gives credence to extreme and dangerous interpretations. Harris feels that "reason" (of a scientific variety) clearly negates any organized religion today. It's an interesting stance, but, as we have discovered, scientific reasoning is hardly an agreed upon logic. It ends up sounding as if "Scientific Reasoning" is just another god contending with all the others in their self-imposed zero-sum game..."we can't all be right!"

An interview of Neil Gaiman that I read a while ago popped into my head as I was writing this. So I leave with this quotation:

"Given that we’re living in a universe in which religions and mythologies and semi-imaginary things, depending on where you’re standing, the level of imaginariness…. There are definitely people who look at the entirety of what’s going on the world today as a couple of people fighting over whose imaginary friend likes them better. And then you’ve got people who say, “No, no, this isn’t an imaginary friend, he’s actually the real thing. But that guy over there, he’s an imaginary friend.” And it’s huge and it’s responsible for an enormous amount of worry and difficulty and it’s why I’m not allowed to travel with eight ounces of shampoo."

Neil Gaiman, Bookslut Interview, October 2006


Julie G.'s picture

Small culture clash

 Hi All! I do feel excited to write in here after our integrated classes; I feel as if I have a little more familiarity with all of you.

In PG's class today we discussed how our little cultural clash between each section can be seen writ large in modern day clashes between "the East and West," or "Christianity/Judaism and Islam." Whereas ours proved to be an uncomfortable clash with minor tension at most, it is easy to see how ideals of normative values can expand to cause death and destruction. I'm not attempting to simplify these wars, understanding that meshed in with the ideals are competitions for resources and land. Yet the ideals certainly count.

I'm very interested in this concept of knowledge as divided between expressible and inexpressible depending on the form of logic being employed. It seems to allow us to level the playing field of truths. I am scared, however, of the extent to what that can be taken. There are some things that seem to be intrinsically wrong, or right. For example, I cannot imagine a situation when rape would be okay.

I mentioned in class today that I'd be interested in seeing babies from other cultures and seeing if they displayed the same traits as the American babies in the articles we read. Are there universal "human" rights and wrongs that all babies learn early on? Like not hurting others?


Julie G.'s picture

Charlie Chaplain

Charlie Chaplin lived a tumultuous life – much of it in the public eye. I have chosen him for this research paper because, not only did he undergo discernable evolution as an individual, but also he was influenced by, and in turn influenced the co-evolution of society. Given the nature of this course in its quest to explore the connections between cultural and individual evolution, Charlie Chaplin seems like an ideal candidate for exemplifying this connection. Here is the research I have compiled thus far:

Chaplin was born the son of vaudeville actors in 1889 London, England (Huff 10). He is reported to have performed since a very early age, encouraged by his thespian parents (Huff 11). It might be deduced that performing was the only sort of encouragement that Chaplin received by his parents: his father was an alcoholic, rarely present, and died from the disease when Chaplin was still a young boy (Huff 11). At age five, Chaplin’s mother, Hannah, fell ill (Huff 11). We know that four years later she was diagnosed with syphilis (Weissman 440). At that time she lived in a poorhouse in Lambeth, just outside of London and was moved to an infirmary (Weissman 440). At that time, Chaplin’s schooling had been sporadic, and he had already performed for a year in a touring troupe. At age nine, with his mother in an asylum, Chaplin was homeless; he remained that way until his brother, Sydney, returned from a sailing job in Africa (Huff 12; Weissman 440).

In his early teens, Chaplin and his brother Sydney found work on the stage in England, until getting a gig with an American touring group, “The Karno Company,” from 1910-1913 (Huff 12-15; Hayes 125). In all of my research that dealt with Chaplin’s early career, he is described as desiring a dramatic repertoire, but having such a penchant for and success with comedy, that he ended up focusing on the latter. In 1913, Chaplin moved to California to honor a contract he had signed with Keystone films for $150 per week (Huff 21). A year later, after enormous success on the big screen, Chaplin moved to the Mutual Company for a weekly paycheck of $10,000 (Hayes 125). This marked the beginning of the icon Chaplin who set the tone for modern filmmaking.

 One very basic and obvious individual evolution for Chaplin is his transition from extreme poverty to extreme wealth. It would be possible at this point to detail his various films and mark how each one, or at least a few particularly significant ones, affected society, however, in terms of Chaplin’s evolution, I am more interested in explaining his use of “The Tramp” character, investigating his portrayal of women, and describing his expulsion from the United States.

Charlie Chaplin is most known for his character the Tramp, from his silent black-and-white films in the early half of the twentieth century. The Tramp was in many ways a vaudeville and pantomime character, which is not surprising, given Chaplin’s background. However, the Tramp was not only an entertaining and comedic character, but also, in many ways a social commentator. As Evan A. Lieberman states in his article “Charlie the Trickster,” the Tramp “fulfills the all-important societal role of the disrupter of order and instigator of change” (Lieberman 22).  Lieberman goes on to say that from the chaos instigated comes creativity and a new order (Lieberman 22). In other words, the Tramp (and Chaplin as his creator) disrupts, and influences the same society from which he evolved. Naturally, parodies have been made between Chaplin’s own experiences in society and the comments that he makes about it through his films.

Another parody that has been drawn between Chaplin’s earlier and later lives has been his portrayal of women and how that might have derived from his experiences with his mother. It has been noted that in many of Chaplain’s films the lead female role was a woman of disrepute who somehow needs saving (Weissman 441-442). This chivalrous role contrasts with Chaplain’s early reputation of being a womanizer (Weissman 441). Yet three of his four marriages were with women who were in their teens. Mildred Harris is quoted as saying that Chaplain was “fatherly” and “acted to [her] as though [she] had been a mere child,” indicating that he did desire to protect and nurture women as he had protected and nurtured his mother (Huff 88).

Despite the clear anti-Nazism that he displayed in The Dictator, Charlie Chaplain was exiled from the United States of America in 1952, under suspicion of being a Communist. There was little evidence that Chaplain was, himself, a Communist, but he refused to deny friendships with people who were, essentially declaring that he did not base friendships upon political beliefs (Sbardellati 502-503).

Works Cited

Hayes, Kevin J., ed. Charlie Chaplin: Interviews. The University Press of Mississippi. 2005.

Huff, Theodore. Charlie Chaplin. Henry Schuman, Inc & H. Wolff. New York. 1951.

Lieberman, Evan A. Charlie the Trickster. Journal of Film and Video, Vol. 46, No. 3. Fall 1994. pp. 16-28

Sbardellati, John and Tony Shaw. Booting a Tramp: Charlie Chaplain, the FBI, and the Construction of the Subversive Image in Red Scare America. Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 72, No. 4. November 2003. pp. 495-530

Weissman, Stephen M. Charlie Chaplin’s Film Heroines. Film History, Vol 8, No. 4, International Trends in Film Studies. 1996. pp. 439-445.



Julie G.'s picture

For some reason my research posted twice!

but it won't let me delete the post, or post an empty post, so I'm hoping this works!