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The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories: EvoLit

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Anne Dalke's picture

Welcome to The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories, offered in Spring 2011 @ Bryn Mawr College. This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to. The first thing to keep in mind is that this is not a place for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're not worrying about "writing" but instead that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking, so you can help them think and they can help you think. The idea is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.

We're glad you're here, and hope you'll come both to enjoy and value our shared imagining of the future evolution of ourselves as individuals and of our gendered, scientific, technological world. Feel free to comment on any post below, or to POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE....

tangerines's picture

The “Free to be you and me” Style of Education

On Thursday we discussed the idea of integrative learning. Most of us seemed incredibly resistant to the idea of an integrative approach to education. I think this idea deserves some further consideration, however. We have previously debated the lines between science and the humanities, and the blurring of those lines. There are more similarities between the two fields than we usually care to admit. It is because of this that I think an integrative education would be so much more helpful to people unsure of what they want to study. I always thought of myself as a “humanities” person, until I took science classes that challenged me in new and exciting ways.

hannahgisele's picture

Is randomness really random? Or are we being outsmarted by nature?

This week had me thinking again about the kinds of things we consider to be ‘random,’ and what our reasoning is for labeling them as such. Do we define things this way because we simply cannot understand them? Or is ‘randomness’ really the appropriate title? In Professor Dalke’s section on Thursday, we attempted to compile a list of basics that should be included in any generic high school level syllabus about evolution. After considering the basics, we contemplated ‘order’ as a final topic. As a class, the consensus seemed to be that the order of evolution is, in fact, random.


ib4walrus's picture

Oh why must you torture me so Darwin?

 I've always wanted to read Darwin's On the Origin of Species ever since learning about evolution in biology class.  It only seemed right that I had to read one of the most influential texts that had ever been written or else I felt that I couldn't have truly said I love biology.  However, once we started reading the actual book for class, my sentiments towards Darwin and his book started to change.  What was once admiration and curiosity soon turned to annoyance and impatience.  Every page simply dragged on and on and on and on, I just couldn't help but only give a cursory read over most of the book.  Why did his summarized work seem so much more interesting than what he actually wrote?  

themword's picture

The Future of the Darwinian Revolution

Dennett says that one "the Darwinian Revolution will come to occupy a similarly secure and untroubled place in the minds of every educated person on the globe" as the Copernican Revolution (19). While I agree that this is true, I believe that it will take much longer than the Copernicus. I think that, while both Copernicus and Galileo provoked a strong reaction from the Church, evolution is much bigger deal than whether the earth revolves the sun. While I agree with Dennett that Darwin has helped make answering the question "why?" easier, believing that human were not put here without a specific purpose by a divine being is disturbing to some. I guess in some ways, Darwin doesn't completely make answering this question easier.

Cremisi's picture

Perfection in Environments

 I think now i'm starting to see it--the moment where our tightly-focused readings is starting to branch out and pollinate other aspects of life. We spoke about what is perfection...we came to a conclusion that perfection on a tropical island will be very different than perfection in the chilly arctic. One environment does not require that its species be more doesn't require its species to be more resilient, faster-moving, harder only requires its species to be somewhat suited to it. The tango of species to the environment is, in itself a bit of trade off at times. There can be more fluctuation in the environment which creates more fluctuation in the organism. And that is not to say that all organisms work perfectly in their environments.

Poppyflower's picture

Influence vs Control

 This past Tuesday, we discussed how if people believe that everything is controlled by something which an individual has no influence over, then that person cannot play a casual role in the world or whatever is being controlled. But, then we also said that people can play a role in life when everything is not controlled. These statements really got me thinking- while this might be the obvious way of looking at life, is it the most sensitive? If people believe that life in general is under the total control of something and that nothing they do can change that, then why do people pray to God if they believe that He has control over everything. Are they just hoping to convince him with a persuading argument via their prayers? Or is this contradicting the earlier statements?

mindyhuskins's picture

Darwin has an awful lot of issues

Everything that we have learned over the past month or so has led me to one conclusion: Darwin has issues. I almost feel really bad for him. His personal life was depressing and his entire life's work is still misunderstood and hated. Plus we just spent the past month tearing many of his ideas apart. Evolution is not progressive or reliant on selection or competition. I really do think that Darwin is among the ranks of the dead who had groundbreaking ideas that have been grossly overshadowed or disproved by developments in modern science. While Darwin is an extremely important historical figure, I can't help but think that in the science community he is just a washed-up old windbag.

Lynn's picture

Hope for Education

I’ve nearly finished the reading assigned for this week of class; I found myself, only a few pages into Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, so interested in the author’s argument that I didn’t want to put the book down. (Alas, other classes demand my time as well.) I’m not sure, in retrospect, that Dennett has told me anything that I didn’t already suspect – nothing groundbreaking, at least – but the way in which he presents his conclusions fascinates me, and I find myself agreeing more often than not. (I particularly enjoy the analogies that he employs, even if I do suspect that they are included in a sort of fan-boyish emulation of On the Origin of Species.)

kgrass's picture

Comfort Sometimes Triumphs over Fear

 In the book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Dennet brings up an idea that I had pondered in my first web paper. The idea that there are observations, revelations, and discoveries that are out there that may be key to understanding or enhancing a theory, but no one has connected it yet. Dennet talks about Mendel’s pea plants and the idea of heredity, and how his paper had been published without much attention in 1865 and then was found to be a key piece to the theory of evolution in the 1900s (Dennet, 20). 

the.believer's picture

Evolution & entropy?

In class on Tuesday, we discussed evolution as a process that strives to get to newer places, exploring new possibilities rather than having a goal or aim. Life forms become progressively more complex over time and instead of this progression reaching perfection, it is simply moving forward with a single goal/aim in mind. When Professor Grobstein mentioned evolution as part chance and part causal relations, I think of entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorder and is also nature's way of creating the most probable outcome in a given environment or situation.

vlopez's picture

Knowledge is power

In our discussion group on Thursday, we were discussing the differences between the differences in teaching.  Whether there is more benefit in a varied education with very little boundaries between the subjects, or in an education system in which students are tracked into a certain field.  I find it very interesting that different countries and cultures choose differently.  I personally believe students should all be exposed to all subjects, but later on be allowed to choose whether or not they would like to specialize or continue to explore.  This would allow for academic expansion and the students would be exposed to different fields and would be able to choose later on what they want to specialize.  After specialization, they would have had the exposure to ot

ems8140's picture

"Science" versus "Literary" Mind

In the discussion with Professor Dalke on Thursday, we discussed whether or not evolution and social Darwinism should be taught in the same class in high school. We also talked about how a student may be a “science person”, “history person”, “literary person”, etc. Coming into this class as a “science person”, I initially thought that these two topics should absolutely be taught in different classes. Evolution is more objective, whereas social Darwinism and other topics are more subjective and could be allowed for interpretation. However, as our discussion progressed, my mind was changed and I think these two subjects would work well in a class for high school students.

KT's picture

Stream of Consciousness

On Tuesday, Professor Grobstein talked about how evolution doesn’t strive to get to a place, it strives to discover new places. To compare this to creationism, this conjures up analogy for me: creationism is when your honey tells you to get dressed up for Valentine’s Day because he’s taking you somewhere nice. You don’t know the specifics of where you’re going, but you know that your sweetie cares about you is taking you somewhere that you enjoy. Evolution is packing up the family truckster and just getting on the road…no particular place to go. In the truckster, all I would be able to think about is what route to take, and in particular, how do I make my decisions if there’s no goal and therefore no framework on which to base them? Maybe I should just take

ems8140's picture

What are the odds of that?

Lisa Belkin’s article, “The Odds of That,” presented ideas comparable to a non-foundational story, mainly based on the fact that life is variable and not inevitable. As described by Belkin, this concept that life does not have a certain path may lead people to be “discomforted by the idea of a random universe.” It is possible that these people feel a loss of control when thinking about life or the world in this way. Many people tend to lean towards the idea that they have some control over their lives. Therefore, when an unlikely series of events happens, such as the two twin brothers being killed in the same way only hours apart, people want to blame something or someone. In this case, the men’s sister felt that their deaths happened because of a plot to kill them both.

alexandrakg's picture

Week Four

 I begun the Dennet reading, which really plays into what we have been discussing in class, basically what is evolution and what does it mean.  He brought up an interesting point in the beginning, that it took Europe a century to accept the idea that the world was not the center of the universe.  Copernicus and Galileo were the Darwins of their time, and their theories definitely rocked the general religious thought of the times.  No one could comprehend, or would comprehend the idea that the Earth was not the center of everything, because if it wasn't, then where is heaven?  Where is everything else in relation to the Earth?  People had to start thinking about their worlds differently, and it was terrifying, rightfully.

hope's picture

Darwin's Grandpa

so I started to write my paper about the history of evolutionary theory, but then i got distracted...anyway while researching i came across this poem that i wanted to share with the class. it's by Darwin's grandfather:

Organic life beneath the shoreless waves
Was born and nurs'd in ocean's pearly caves;
First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass,
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These, as successive generations bloom,
New powers acquire and larger limbs assume;
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,
And breathing realms of fin and feet and wing.

Erasmus Darwin. The Temple of Nature. 1802.

AnnaP's picture

Disciplinary vs. Interdisciplinary (and other tricky dualities...)

Yesterday in Prof. Dalke's discussion section, we talked about whether it was more effective to conceive of our eduction in terms of defined, separate disciplines or in terms of an interdisciplinary approach. We seemed to have a very difficult time coming up with an answer; some people, for instance, thought that we have the responsibility to teach people about "social Darwinism" (and the ways in which Darwin's theories have been co-opted) in a biology class, and others felt that that should be the territory of a history class.

Anne Dalke's picture

Monkeys, Hedgehogs and Foxes

As part of our discussion, y'day, on what/why/how to teach evolution to elementary, middle and high school students, I shared a final project made by a student in this class a number of years ago. It's called "My Great Grand-daddy was a Monkey." Enjoy (or, Hope, correct)!

Also, as part of our discussion of how "large" the scope of a K-12 science classroom should be--how much historical, cultural, social context should be provided?--as well as to organize some of our observations about how different brains make sense of things, I mentioned

ckosarek's picture

Why Don't Horseshoe Crabs Evolve?


We were talking in class today about how random change is inevitable in a species, and how changes are "selected" by the environment and thus end up being found in future generations. That's well and good, but we have a problem: horseshoe crabs (someone also mentioned alligators in class). Horseshoe crabs have been around for half a billion years, at least, at haven't really changed since them. Why, if random change is inevitable, have certain species (seemed to) have avoided it? 

ewashburn's picture

Bringing order to the randomness

 Lately, as a class, we've been discussing the idea of randomness, and how it and it alone guides what happens in life. There is no divine order; there is no "goal" of progress. Everything happens by chance, including the events of our genetic variance.