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Week Eight (Thurs, 3/17): Small Group Discussion


I. coursekeeping

most mid-semester evals focused on increased co-construction;
post your comments responsively this weekend;
talk more about what went on in this smaller group....

go around and tell one another about your papers (I have 5 left to comment on);
any general patterns about the usefulness/limitations of thinking evolutionarily beyond biology?
any comments about exploiting web resources?

II. turning to literature

What does the practice of science look like in this novel? (Is it recognizably the same activity Paul has been describing?)

"To look on a thing that had been true since the start of creation but never grasped until you made it euphoria...could match it....Science fit the very folds of Tom Kurton's brain....the goal of scientific exuberance ...was to replicate itself. And so his life... has spun out endless living forms... each a turbulent attempt to lay bare the order in things, and all of them variations most wonderful" (p. 46).
"'This whole thing is bogus. Nothing as complicated as feeling can possibly reduce to genetics ... this isn't good science'" (p. 159).

What does evolution look like in this novel?
"the secret of survival is forgetting. If evolution favored conscience, everything with a backbone would have hanged itself from the ceiling fan eons ago, and invertebrates would once again be running the place" (p. 20).

"Enhancement. Why shouldn't we make ourselves better than we are now? We're incomplete. Why leave something as fabulous as life up to chance?" (p. 21)

"we've been remaking ourselves for ten thousand years....We simply can't know our upper limits. All we can do is keep exploring them.... We are collaborators in creation" (p. 25).

"the massive structural flaw in the way the brain processes delight. The machinery of gladness... is an evolutionary hangover.... Back on the savannah, stress kept us alive. Natural selection shaped us for productive discontent" (p. 43).

What is the relation, in this novel, between the "two cultures" of science and the humanities

"The novelist's argument... a story with no end or impediment is no story at all. Replace limits with unbounded appetite, and everything meaningful turns into nightmare."

[The scientist's response:] "genetic enhancement does force major reconsiderations, starting with the boundaries between justice and fate, the natural and the inevitable. 'But so did the capture of fire and the invention of agriculture'.... For most of human history, when existence was too short and bleak to mean anything, we needed stories to compensate. But now... it's time for art to lead us beyond noble stoicism" (pp. 149-151).

"The world's two camps of readers, split by inborn temperament, need two inimical things, and each has long ago decided to love or loathe this man according to those needs" (pp. 246-247).

Are you rooting for or against biotech researcher Thomas Kurton and his projects?