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Week Three (Thurs, 2/3): Small Group Discussion


I. intros
“how does Darwin define an elephant? →it has elephant parents!”
how does Darwin define a human being? →it has human parents!
what is essential to being a human being is our commonality of ancestry”—
but! we had ancestors different from ourselves!”
which “ancestor”/co-evolutionist do you identify w/?? (which animal?)
Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials: daimons/soul/spirit

II. Coursekeeping
finish Darwin next week (Chs. 9-14; to p. 398):
Post on Sunday night; brainstorm some prompts?
(missing this week: Hope, kairi, Sarah S—probs?)

finish our discussion of Darwin a week from today and surprise!
your first paper is due a week from Friday
not required, but happy to talk w/ you about it beforehand;
(will require that you come see me once before spring break:
after first paper, before second one)
General guidelines are on web syllabus; way to get started
is to ask yourself what are your questions are
(go back and re-read your postings/your classmates—>
do any of their questions interest you?)
How might you start answering them?
Good place to start is always what you don’t understand
(not what you do…writing as thinking)
not interested in your showing me what you know,
but thinking about what you don’t quite yet grasp….

III. So: where did we leave off?
after thoughts from last Thursday, this Tuesday’s discussions?

IV. Paul’s challenge: how much does Darwin emphasize chance? randomness?

V.  review the 3 kinds of storytelling: foundational (fixed, eternal)/narrative (in time, but w/ inevitable order)/emergent (in time, undirected)

VI. consider 3 ways of reading all stories...

Reading Notes from Chaps. 4-8
IV. Natural Selection
146:  natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing … every variation …silently and insensibly working …at the improvement of each organic being
147: many unknown laws of correlation of growth, which … will cause other modifications, often of the most unexpected nature

148: natural selection will ensure that modifications...shall not be in the least degree injurious; for it they became so, they would cause the extinction of the species [directed?]
157: all organic beings are striving ... to seize on each place in the economy of nature, if any one species does not become modified and will soon be exterminated

158: natural selection will always tend to preserve all the individuals varying in the right direction …
172: Owing to the divergent tendency of natural selection….
175: the more diversified these descendents become, the better will be their chance of succeeding in the battle of life
[how striking: the language of battle, war, extermination, competition?]

176: It is a truly wonderful fact ..that all animals and all plants throughout all time and space should be related to each other….

177: so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever  branching and beautiful ramifications.

V. Laws of Variation
** 178: variations ... due to chance … of course is a wholly incorrect expression, but it serves to acknowledge plainly our ignorance of the cause of each particular variation … deviations of structure are in some way due to the nature of the conditions of life
how important is chance, unpredictability, unguidedness, unknowing-ahead-of-time-ness? Is that “real” or due to the limits of our perception?
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.
What can you deduce about Darwin’s religious views (a beneficent universe? A guiding hand?) from this text?

209: early transitional grades...will have been supplanted by the very process of perfections through natural selection
220: Natural selection will never produce in a being anything injurious to itself, for natural selection acts solely by and for the good of each.

V. Your postings
alexandrakg: Darwin made an effort to reach out to everyone… to facilitate discussion…. His claims are so bold and so enormous that he requires a great deal of data and examples to back them up.  He cannot afford to focus more on the art of his writing because it would distract from what he is trying to get across…He wants to reader to understand that he came to these careful conclusions based on decades of research and they are not simply an old man's musings.

AnnaP: there is no frigate like…reason?

Ashley: Who am I, who are WE, to judge [incest/abortion/LGBT]?
bee27: I find myself taking what he has to say as the "be-all-and-end-all," which I know is not true or fair… I don't have much else to compare to Darwin's theory…. our discussion on religion and evolution also gave me a lot to think about this weekend.

dfishervan: science education→ pick your own books?

EMS8140: he seems to be personifying natural selection, giving it power and control similar to a human…. he was finding the clues to help him make his final conclusion or discovery.

ewashburn: many members of the class described the positive aspects of evolution from an entirely human perspective… the ability of this text to shake our species' sense of itself strikes me as astounding.

hannahgisele: education as “fitting” me to environment


jhercher: species should really be visualized in a much more fluid way than is typical. …

what's beautiful about ideas like Darwin's concept of evolution…or like Einstein's theory of relativity, are moments when mankind looked beyond itself, beyond what used to seem like the limit of our minds and imagination, and saw something incredible.

Katlittrell:  I completely understand why Darwin keeps saying he doesn't have the space to list all the pertinent examples. The ones he does list are quite enough-- I agree with whoever said that they never want to read about pigeons again, because I never want to read the words "short-beaked tumbler" ever again.
"learning about natural selection is like having a premature orgasm. You think it will take a long time and lead to a tremendous climax, but then it's over almost as soon as it began!" -- a friend's bio text book


Organized Khaos: I find comfort in the idea that history cannot explain everything and that chance, opportunity and maybe even destiny are explanations for some occurrences. [question re: no free will in the GUT?]… viewing these "facts" in text books as very good stories that too with time may change…. I find much more comfort in questioning, striving to be wrong, and that change is inevitbale.

themword: I am led to believe that Darwin did not intend to change our beliefs, for he knew that is practically impossible.

Tangerines: I think it's often very easy to focus only on one's individual perspective, but …the perspective of others matter just as much….to expand one's horizons it's important to take a step back. There is no single correct opinion or perspective – only other stories.


1b4walrus: our constant technological advances has allowed us to become, in a sense, immune to the changes in our environment.

vlopex: In the case that we do not comprehend one another… it is extremely beneficial to bring yourself into the text in order to understand it… we would begin to create new observations.
I am a firm believer in evolution… But evolution can also be seen in a negative manner; where a species dies out

Vivien Chen: we feel we must maintain a certain "I'm right and you're wrong" persona. I find this characteristic of ours a bit ironic since we are learning about ways to "think evolutionary", yet we still sometimes have a hard time doing it ourselves.