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Dealing with Change--and Creating Our Own Layers of Complexity

Towards Day 7 of Evolving Systems course


Instant Evolution: The Influence of the City on Human Genes

I. coursekeeping

continuing to name one another....

come to Wednesday's (and all future!) conferences w/ an agenda:
having reviewed & reflected on my responses to your last two papers,
what do you want/need to talk about?

please also always knock when you arrive!

(this week's revised schedule of meetings:
Erin, Paige, Meredith in the a.m.,
Karina, Summer and Olivia in the p.m. as scheduled;
Prianna moving to Thursday @ 11 and
Aimee to Thursday @ 4:10--thanks!)

in your third paper,
due Wednesday evening, reconsider and reconceive your thinking about creation, in light of the readings we've done, and the discussions we've had/are about to have about biological evolution. Why are things they way they are? How can you more effectively tell that tale?

Some things we learned from reading one another's excerpts,
last week, which you might want to keep in mind while writing:

During Thursday class, while reading others essays, I realized that there really is no right or wrong in how we want to write .... It is our own responsibility to choose if we write them creatively or analytically, first person or third person. There is no set prompt or specific way to how we should write in this class. We choose the direction we want our essays to go and we will not be scolded at our marked down if we decide to take a more unique/untraditional approach towards them.

Lemon Koala: I really want to mention the confident attitude for your own writing. I was really dumfounded when I read the student writing that “My story came from me, a layer of complexity in this universe. I am not small, nor am I big, but I am here.” I really want to thank her for letting me know or teaching this key point: Never depreciate your own work! There are so many stories in this world, and each of them has its own value, including mine .... It’s OK to be different and disagreements are allowed .... be skeptical for all the information received from the surroundings. From now on, I will tell myself that ... I am unique and I deserved the right to speak out loud and I must be confident and proud of my own work. I have the right create my layer of complexity the way I want.

Paige would like to share with everyone a marvelous book that is relevant to our topic. Written by Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters is fascinating and accessible. Ridley dedicates each chapter to an issue or gene “tied” to a human chromosome .... My thoughts are awfully jumbled on the topics we are discussing now and I’m experiencing that age-old temptation to be finalized, to know what I think about these issues, to have a final opinion. However, I can’t because ... we are always evolving.

a pack rat of a ridiculous and potentially disastrous scale ... put her nature to good use and shared some things she collected on the internet .... hopefully they'll be informative and maybe even help some people writing their papers

I'd like you all to begin using sources/incorporating citations in your papers; I'd also like to move from sentence-level editing to getting you to think about structuring and organizing your arguments more largely...

Some related things I learned in a faculty teaching
seminar led here by Ken Bain last Friday:

* research shows that people are led to take a deep approach to learning when they are trying to answer questions and solve problems they regard as important
* the problem is that in the formal educational environment, the learner is not in charge of the questions
* instead, students engage in surface or strategic learning: driven by fear and desire for recognition, they learn procedurally, not conceptually; won’t take risks; and seldom develop adaptive expertise (vs.mastering routines).
* our current "diet of assessment"--the system of grading that defines our educational objectives --is a very recent product of the industrial revolution: the result of a need to certify how much education has taken place
* manipulated by extrinsic motivation, students feel a loss of the locus of control: they are not in charge of their own education (and so cease to care about it)
* how to create "expectation failures" (when their existing models don't work) that students care enough about to construct new ones?
* our on-going faculty seminar project:
** re-defining American higher education
** paying attention to research about how people learn
** creating (promising/enticing) learning environments where students will define what will happen, and understand their own learning

On Thursday, we will be moving on from
I. Stories of the Universe to II. Stories of Culture

"Did you ever wonder how it is we imagine the world in the way we do....we are surrounded by stories, and we can trace these stories back to other stories and from there back to the beginnings of language .... these are ... the cornerstones of our culture" (Thomas King, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative, 2005).

Our first reading will be "Variables": an excerpt from Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (Norton, 1997, 2005), which argues--quite strongly and controversially--that "wealth and power are distributed as they are now ... because history followed different courses for different peoples ... due to differences among people's environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves"; it's a concrete cultural demonstration of the ramification of diversity, beginning w/ geographical differences.

Heads up about future (longer!) readings
: right after break, we will spend one week each looking @ two novels--Octavia Butler's The Parable of the Sower, and then the graphic narrative Logicomix--> so please plan to read ahead.

Last course-keeping question: do you want to go
to the anniversary cake-cutting @ 12:30?on Thursday?

II. But we're not done yet w/ biological evolution!
As a warm-up for your next paper,
and a nudge towards further thinking:
why does change occur over time? What motivates it?

Serendip Visitor recommended Your Inner Fish

I always want there to be a reason, and when there isn't one, I always think it's simply because we haven't discovered it yet. Am I naive? Are there things in this universe that simply happen, or exist without cause? Can I even conceive of such a notion as possible? If it is possible, how does that affect the way I make sense of things?

our class discussion had focused on
natural selection as the cause of change;
Paul's demo, Evolution as Reproduction with Variability,
focused instead on descent with modification,
and emphasized the role of randomness in evolution

nina0404: last weeks discussion ... felt like more of a biology review than anything else. I know about Darwin and evolution. I am ready to move on to something new! Cultural evolution sounds so much more exciting.

SoundsLIkeBanana: we can explain evolution without using the phrase natural selection, because that's only part of the story.

schu: the properties in this population tend to be diversified over time ... by free and random separations and combinations of genes

Lemon Koala:  natural selection ... is eliminating the possibilities being created by all the biological reproductions.

my questions about the demo:
* change was built into its starting conditions;
* claim was not "why change occurs," but rather that
diverse initial conditions lead to increased diversity
* if we say that evolution has no "driver"(=no "architect," no "motivation," no "plan"), does this just mean that no conscious intention is @ work? what is the role of the sexual drive?

Let's look @ some more of your reflections
(reviewing first how to activate links and add images;
also a reminder to all "Serendip Visitors" to log in!)

Serendip Visitor: we talk a lot about the “open-endedness” of questions, stories and the world in general. The vastness of this open-ended world may be what is beginning to confuse me about our conversations.

Olivia: The scientific stories give us a sense of uncertainty, which makes me feel that it is almost impossible to know the real origin of the universe. It is really annoying for me that I will never know the truth .... However, when we now read those creation stories, we feel certain .... because we know the stories are 100% wrong .... Now I believe that creation stories evolve into scientific stories .... No boundary is between the creation and scientific stories .... some day, science will be myth .... when I looked back at the name of our ESEM: making sense of ourselves, I felt like I have now reached the door of that topic ...

Lemon Koala: I still have some questions about the evolutions. What drive the change of the environment where the natural selections took place? Also, are the eliminated species or individuals really meaningless and useless?

schu: There can hardly be an exact beginning, for no one could name the time when the first organic molecule came into being. There can hardly be an objective observer, who can stand out of any species in the world to judge or record everything. But eternity stands in a different way of living .... one life couldn’t last forever .... But genes, the records and proofs of their ancestors’ lives, are there.... When life is gone, but the cells and genes are there, who generates/carries the soul?


Aimee: I want to take a step back and analyze who we are, not where we come from .... If evolution is correct ... then we and chimpanzees diverged from a common ancestor, some 5+ million years ago. Where in this timeline of evolution did the soul arise?... Without a soul, what is the purpose of music, and art, and literature? Why else would humans possess a sense of aesthetics, an altruistic streak, and a near-universal belief in a higher power? Did our powerful brains invent the soul to explain our uniqueness? Did the soul evolve through our invention? Questions to ponder...answers I don't know.

Summer: If we are just a "random product", why are we "ruling" the world now?  .... It has always bothers me to think about the concept of being a human and self. Even the question that why am I even thinking about this kind of abstract things. What is "me"? After taking off our names, who are we? Is each one of us unique? What about after life? Can I still feel "myself"?

Bingqing: if human beings really gradually evolved from a same species of ancestors as chimpanzees, how could the two species have such “a profound gap” in intellect? The fact I see, opposing Darwin’s opinion, is that the gap between human and nonhuman mind is one of kind and not of degree.
Biologically, any living being’s meaning in the natural world is to reproduce, pass its genes and traits. Human beings seem to put too much emphasis on subjectively interpreting the world and ... breaking the rules of nature ...

Paige: What happens when adaptations are no longer useful?.... the world and its species should co-evolve, keeping pace with each other, though this is clearly not true and impossible .... our consumption and other parts of our cultures are maladaptive to living on the Earth. It feels ... strange that we are now endangering ourselves by endangering the earth. It comes back to evolutionary processes as being somewhat laggy, like videochat with a bad connection, perpetually responding to something that ... was happening eons ago ....

SarahAnn:   I love biology, but I'm looking forward more to the philosophical side of all this, rather than the scientific .... Philosophy in science is where new theories and ideas come from .... Anyways ... thoughts on the coexistance of philosophy and science?