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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....

phyllobates's picture

The Beauty of Scientific Writing

Last Thursday in Paul's section we were discussing how we felt about scientific writing.  The majority of the class seemed to agree that scientific is boring and not accessible to the public.  While initially I disliked reading scientific papers, over the course of this year scientific writing has really grown on me.  On of the things that I find important in scientific writing is the effort made to keep everything objective.  Personally, I have a really hard time reading something and interpreting  it in one way.  I often get lost on the connotation of words and I feel myself choosing the meaning I think fits best.

OrganizedKhaos's picture

a view on life

On Tuesday we were given professor Grobstein and Dalke's view of the semester and the course. through this we learned about the three spheres and the evolution that seems to be occurring. I was introduced to the noosphere  which compromised the evolution of human thought. This showed a growth from the inanimate, to the body, and then the mind. the idea that we continue to live on through ideas and thoughts.

mindyhuskins's picture

Playing the Devil's Advocate: Maybe the movies are sometimes better than the books?

So I know it is likely many people in class would be happy to bitchslap me after I post this (especially you Tolkien fans), but  I think this is incredibly funny and relevant to our arguments over book vs. movie. So is it a sin to say that some movies are better than their book counterparts? I think not.

jhercher's picture

Continuing Library of Babel convo...

What I like about Borges's "Library of Babel" is idea of randomness and connectivity that permeates the story and the construction of the library.  In a real library, we organize everything based on their genre: fiction, travel writing, childrens stories, etc.  However, these are superficial relationships.  True connections between literature are much more random (maybe a writer of childrens literature found inspiration in a science textbook, like Lewis Carroll being influenced by mathematics and producing Alice in Wonderland.  Borges is an author who is very involved in genre, and the evolution of genre.  Part of what's great about the evolution of genre is that one must accept random connections beneath the surface, going across all the genres.  This

dfishervan's picture

Reading Order

A few weeks ago, we discussed the criteria for selecting books for a course on the evolution of literature. Since then, I have been thinking about the elements of the stories we’ve read and watched that made them candidates for this course’s required readings. While reflecting on the books we’ve read and movie we watched this semester, I realized that their most advantageous traits were the ones that connected them to the stories read/watched and informed our reading of the next book. I suppose this makes sense in a class where we’ve learned that evolution in a biological and literature sense is endless.

cr88's picture

Anna and Krishnan, Final Presentation Images/Write-Up

 Attached are the word clouds Anna and I used for our presentation, and below is our outline for how we wanted to structure the discussion. We wanted to base our discussion primarily on the class's input, but as you may notice, many of the things we had planned to talk about or found interesting beforehand were also what people found interesting in class.


Project Presentation


ib4walrus's picture


 In Anne's discussion group on Thursday we touched on whether differing interpretations of what someone says or anything else they may put out there for the public and how to judge if any interpretations were "inaccurate".  This was not referring to outright lies and intentionally misleading others such as quoting "he hates _____" when the actual quote was "he loves ____".  Rather, we were trying to see if it is wrong to personally interpret someone's words as the original meanings may be lost during the process.  Personally, I feel that there are labelling it interpretations as wrong or right would not be very effective, rather it should be on a degree scale.

Lethologica's picture

The Libraries of our Mind

Alright, so I've noticed that people seem to be revisiting the idea of the Library of Babel, and thought that I would give it a go too. Despite everything that was explained when the idea was initially introduced, and everything we have discussed since, I still kind of like the idea of this all-inclusive Library. I might, however, have a slightly different image in mind when I picture the Library of Babel than the one that Dennett did, one that might account for some of the irregularities that we, as a class, picked up on for Dennett's model. Granted, this image has gone through several revisions since I first conceived of it, but I believe that I have settled on something (for now!) that I quite like.

dfishervan's picture

Self-Referentiality, Endlessness, and the Library of Babel

mindyhuskins's picture

Easter and the Library of Babel

Since today is Easter I thought it appropriate to mention something about it in relation to class. I guess this works because I've been thinking about this comparison for weeks. One of the reasons  I really like the Library of Babel idea is because it reminds me of an easter egg hunt. One in which you do not know how many eggs have been hidden or how much ground they cover. When I was little my parents would always forget how many eggs they had hidden and we would always end up finding a nasty smelly egg in July or so. But it was fun and exciting to find an easter egg so late, I'm not sure why.

Anne Dalke's picture

Final Presentations!

This week we will be hosting your final presentations about what-and-how you have been learning in this course. If you are performing alone, please plan a 5-minute presentation. If you are performing in a group, please plan something that will take less than 10 minutes.

Here's the schedule:

poppyflower & alexandrakg
SarahSchnellbacher & vlopez
AnnaP & cr88
katlittrell, ashley, bee27
eleman, rachelr, Hope, skindeep & hannahgisele


Lynn's picture

Unfamiliar Ground/Brainstorming

 In the past, all of my class projects have involved PowerPoint and nervous stuttering. I don't have a nice history with presentations, and I don't yet have a good idea for the presentation next week. 

Lynn's picture


Almost this entire semester, I've been going back and forth about some aspects of this course. I came into EvoLit something of an existentialist, and I feel (mostly) certain that that has remained constant, but these past few lectures in particular have made me unsure how comfortable I am with that existentialism. I'm not going to argue whether randomness implies a meaningless universe - I believe that it does, and for the purpose of this post (this ramble, really), my belief is the important thing. I accept that evolution is random; thus, I believe that our world is essentially meaningless; thus, my existentialism is also my last vestige of purpose.

katlittrell's picture

The Library of Babel = Choose your own adventure?

While thinking about evolutionary forms of literature, one of the ideas which came to me was choose your own adventure. This got me thinking about the concept of the Library of Babel - is the Library of Babel more like a choose-your-own adventure where, despite the title, all choices have been pre-conceived and written, or more like a write-your-own adventure, where the reader eventually becomes the author and writes the next segment?

ashley's picture

On Conjuring Up Ideas for Presentation...

Having met with my group to discuss what shape our presentation would take form, I chuckled at the evolution that took place even within our generating ideas. The progression that occurred until landing on an idea that we all liked and agreed on was a journey in and of itself. The evolution I saw was in regards to the way in which we started from one prompt, with one possible answer to that prompt, and from there spiraling into a variety of options. The majority built off of a previous idea, either to a large extent or with only an inkling of resemblance. For a second I even considered that that could be a presentation, the jumping from possibility to possibility and how the ideas evolve.

ems8140's picture

Is this the end?

The concept of “the end” was discussed in Professor Dalke’s section today. We talked about whether or not something can officially end, or if a person or event carries on once the literal end has come and gone. I believe that by carrying on the feelings, beliefs, customs, and ideas of those who have passed we help to keep that person from “ending.” I think there is no end to an individual if he or she has made an impact, even on just one person. If this one person is able to incorporate what he or she has learned from interacting with the deceased individual, then that person will live on. Based on this interpretation, there is not a definite “end” to a person after their death.

kgrass's picture

Erasing a Line

The line between literature and science has definitely blurred for me after this class, and I may go so far as to say it has disappeared. I think that, as Laura said, “boxing and compartmentalizing” aspects of academia and the world can sometimes just hinder us. Literature and science are just two ways of telling stories about the world. Some people had trouble with the idea that science is a “story”, but I think that is only problematic if we assume stories are all lies. We have this notion that there is more truth in science, when stories contain truth about the human condition. Emotions people experience, life experiences, the sense of past and future—these are all things that we can account for, that we know exist because we have felt them. Just because

Poppyflower's picture

Is it a coincidence?

As I was looking up information for the film "Adaptation," as is per usual on any wikipedia search, I started to follow links that would feed me potentially interesting, though not particularly useful information. When I clicked on the link for orchids, I was somewhat surprised to find that Darwin, in his later years, had done research on the cross-pollination of orchids, featured in his book, "Fertilisation of Orchids," from 1862. While I do think it is interesting that a prevalent theme of the film revolves around orchids, I do not think it is a coincidence that they were featured in the movie, and that Darwin, who even makes a sort of 'cameo' appearance, studied them.

kgrass's picture

Reflections from Last Thursday

In class we talked about the philosopher Richard Rorty, who was an American philosopher who had a childhood fascination with orchids and was also passionate about social justice. His goals for college were to find a framework for how these two could be related, but he couldn’t find one. Paul discussed how Richard spent the rest of his life focusing on the fact that there is no fixed truth or reality, which is why he could not find a fixed framework for these two subjects. Some passions just may not mix perfectly together or there may not be a reason for liking two very different things. What I find interesting is that rather than pursuing either of these passions, Richard focused his life on trying to figure out the meaning behind it. In this case, the pursuit o

katlittrell's picture

Waiting for Godot?

While watching Adaptation, as soon as we were introduced to Charlie and Donald they reminded me so strongly of Estragon and Vladimir from Waiting for Godot or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (take your pick). Charlie is the thinker, the brain/head of the two. Donald is the feet, evidenced by the fact he's always eating and by his position on the ground, sliding around on his back when he first meet him. Their faults/virtues also stem from their relative head/feet position. Charlie's issues with adapting Orchid Thief seem to come from his over-thinking things: his concept is that he wants it just to be about flowers. His issues with women are also from over-thinking.