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Week Four (Thurs, 2/10): Small Group Discussion


I. coursekeeping
papers due on-line by 5 p.m. on Friday: 
say "I," pursue your own question,
and/but locate it within our ongoing conversation;
use concrete, particular data to address a larger issue

will respond on-line; part of pedagogy of public intellectual work
would it help you to know what others are planning to write about? 
go 'round, name self and idea you're chewing over...

post your "last thoughts" on Darwin/arising from our
discussion of Darwin are also due on Sunday evening

II. Lead you into Tuesday’s reading, on usefulness of evolution for thinking beyond biology
part I of Daniel Dennett’s 1995 book Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
III. Naming: in relation to one another--how would you organize yourselves?

IV. Amazing refusal to answer the question on Tuesday: what is evolution?
what are the key concepts that should be taught in elementary school, middle school,
high school and college? --go round and identify them:
should evolution be taught? what is the story
of evolution that all biology teachers should be teaching??

V. Postings

OrganizedKhaos: I guess understanding what foundational truly means is also a problem  that many people share different meanings for. I too left class a little fuzzy on what foundational truly meant. What really sparked my attention was the discussion on chance and the comfort we share as humans in naming the unexplainable and leaving it as that. I too share a comfort in the unknown or as Darwin would suggest my ignorance and the way in which I allow or blame certain things on chance and out of my control. Being omniscient would be scary and I in no way strive to be that. I like to think that chance is sprinkled along the plan sketched out for my life, and i'm ok with it. Chance and destiny are twin sisters in my book cant have one without the other. why not?

Sarah Schnellbacher: Both your post and your name OrganizedKhaos remind me of a section of a Contemporary Physics course I took in  Spring 2010 with Professor Mark Matlin on Chaos Theory. During our discussion group we talked about how Darwin doesn't really attribute evolution to chance but says rather that chance is really just our own ignorance on all the contributing factors. In my Contemporary Physics class we looked at iterations and how they created fractal patterns. At a certain point the fractal patterns would become so complicated that the results of the iteration began to look entirely random, but really the results did follow a pattern; the pattern was just too complicated to appear to us as a pattern. Darwin says basically the same thing. He attempts to give simple observable examples in which as many variables as possible are controlled but fully accepts that nature is a chaotic system. There is a pattern as to who will survive and why organisms posses their current traits, but the infinite number of variables in nature make it impossible for us humans to ever understand the pattern. I like to think therefore that I do have a destiny in this sense but it is shaped by my free will in choosing which path to take at each node of a giant fractal pattern that is my life.

VI. Reading Notes (Chs. IX-XIV, pp. 269-398)
Several nice spots where Darwin analogizes biological evolution and cultural production:
288: "I look at the natural geological record, as a history of the world imperfectly kept, and written in a changing dialect; of this history we possess the last volume alone...Of this volume, only here and there a short chapter has been preserved; and of each page, only here and there a few lines. Each word of the slowly-changing language...being more or less different in the interrupted succession of chapters, may represent the apparently abruptly changed forms of life..."

357: he illustrates his "view of classification, by taking the case of languages."

377: he evokes etymologies: "Rudimentary organs may be compared with the letters in a word, still retained in the spelling, but become useless in the pronunciation, but which serve as a clue in seeking for its derivation."

What can you deduce about Darwin’s religious views  (a beneficent universe? a guiding hand?) from this text?
p. 200: To admit this view is…to reject a real for an unreal, or at least for an unknown, cause. It makes the works of God a mere mockery and deception….Our ignorance of the laws of variation is profound.
Cf. 336: "Nature, like a careful gardener, thus takes her seeds from a bed of a particular nature, and drops them in another equally well fitted for them.”

Considerable inconsistency re: direction, perfection, hierarchy, and benevolence.
"natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing...every variation...rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly the improvement of each organic being in relation to its...conditions of life" (146).

"the inhabitants of each successive period in the world's history have beaten their predecessors in the race for life, and are, in so far, higher in the scale of nature...organisation on the whole has progressed....old forms having been supplanted by new and improved forms of life" (309).

"I am aware that it is hardly possible to define clearly what is meant by the organisation being higher or lower" (368).

"Nature may be said to have taken pains to reveal, by rudimentary organs and by homologous structures, her scheme of modification, which it seems that we wilfully will not understand" (392).

We may look with some confidence to a secure future of equally inappreciable length. And as natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection (397).

Multiple references to his/our "profound" and "extensive" "ignorance" (347, 383)

How much focus on the language of war, the "battle of life”?

"the tropical productions were in a suffering state and could not have presented a firm front against intruders...a certain number of the more vigorous and dominant temperate forms might have penetrated the native ranks...The invasion would…have been greatly favoured by high land" (329).

But Malthusis  mentioned twice only, in identical statements:

"the Struggle of Existence amongst all organic beings throughout the world, which inevitably follows from their high geometrical ratio of the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms" (97).

"A struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase....It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms" (134).
"I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including...not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny"(133)--> sounds pretty collaborative and social!

Comes out balanced?
"the appearance of new forms and the disappearance of old forms...are bound together....we need not marvel at extinction...If we forget for an instant, that each species tends to increase inordinately, and that some check is always in action...the whole economy of nature will be utterly obscured" (294).

    NYTimes Darwin issue (scientists’ readings☺
Darwin many times turned his great idea of natural selection into a little god, who behaves like the Intelligent Design creator—but he clearly believed the causes of natural selection are utterly purposeless…deny all purpose, and use teleological language in describing natural selection.
    Darwin was conflicted about nature of species: On the one hand, he thought they were arbitrarily given for the sake of convenience, whereas on the other hand, he had a hard time explaining why they were so well-defined, since he considered evolution to be a gradual process.
    he said the point when a sub-species became a species was arbitrary…and paved the way for his theory of evolution by descent from common ancestors. Darwin thought species are tolerably well-defined objects.
    true evolutionary theory stresses adaptability to change rather than direct competition
    Darwin was way ahead of other biologists in connecting the patterns and history of evolution (Tree of Life) with the processes that give rise to evolutionary change (such as natural selection).
    Unity of type from common ancestry; diversity from natural selection on body plans

--“Darwinism” implies an ideology/belief, not science
--book is about origin of biological diversity
--humans contribute to species evolution;
see also our cultural evolution (populating entire globe)
--Darwin used the tree of life to think; impossible now to visualize:
Google Earth kind of problem: super/mega trees, to see details and general shape: branches rejoin in web, not tree (inherit from neighbor)
--non-scientific considerations affected biologists’ judgments: implied progress (but troubling purposelessness of natural selection); individualistic basis against group selection
--Darwin intuited how evolution worked w/out access to all subsequent sc-knowledge
-- Before Darwin, biology itself was nothing more than a vast exercise in catalog and description. After, all organisms became connected, part of the same, profoundly ancient, family tree. Similarities and differences became comprehensible and explicable.
-our peculiarly American failure to come to terms with what Darwin’s theory’s become since 1859 is a sign of something broader: our failure to come to terms with science and the teaching of science.

How would you organize this range of animal species?
What is like/different about each category?
How do they RELATE to one another?
How can we most effectively diagram those relations?

alexandrakg dolphin
AnnaP parott
ashley dragonfly
bee27 slug
EMS8140 dog (boxer)
ewashburn cat (1/2 grown)
hannahgisele dolphin
Hope whale
katlittrell lizard
Organized Khaos dolphin
themword cat
tangerines wolf
SarahSchnellbacher bird (owl)
Toan walrus
vlopez horse
Vivien Chen sheep
Anne kangaroo