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Evolving Systems Course: PGnotes10

Paul Grobstein's picture

Making sense of ourselves in an evolving universe

Paul's notes - Session 10


Course subject: evolution (physical, biological, cultural, individual)

Course method: co-evolution, co-constructive inquiry, evolving by telling/hearing each other's stories, using them to create new ones, individually and collectively = co-constructive dialogue

Course arrangements:

  • By Monday evening, post in forum your thoughts from this week's conversations
  • By 6 pm Wednesday, write and email me a 3 page paper in which you build on your prior characterization of cultural change to consider why cultural change occurs.
  • Perhaps also of interest
  • Individual meetings
    Thursdays Group A Group B
    9 am Elisa Genesis
    9:30   Julie
    2:30 Ilana Christine
    3:00 Angela  
    3:30 Hillary Aijingwen
    4:00 Eva Valentina
    4:30 Mattie Kayla
    5:00 Carolina Jordan

Writing ... progress?

open assignments: find in general area something interesting to you, something you want to think more about, think you might come up yourself with something interesting/novel, set it in context of other peoples' thinking

methodology: brain drain, write whatever comes to mind without worrying about style, coherence, etc, then read, see what point is, redraft to think more about that, convey clearly/compellingly/interestingly to general audience, writing both as conversation with self and conversation with others

find in your own thinking/writing a problem, something that hadn't occurred to you before or that you don't know quite how to think about rather than writing about what you already know/believe/understand/think is obvious; one route, notice what you think is obvious, try inverting, otherwise changing it

should have intro paragraph that makes it clear what is in paper, how parts relate to some broader theme, and also encourages reader to read rest of paper

I'm a bit disgruntled with Prof. Paul for continually pushing academic writing on me. Is it not possible to come to college as a creative thinker instead of an academic one? ... ecollier

Course transition:

  • are there a diversity of cultures?
  • can we make sense of them/their relationships in terms of history?
  • have cultures changed over time?
  • what causes cultural change?  what is the relation between biological change and cultural change?  do cultures evolve like living organisms or ... ? 

From the forum: what is "culture"?  why are there different cultures? 

    a certain waist-to-hip ratio is a desired trait in a female partner. Women with a ratio close to the perfect ratio (.7, I believe) are more likely to find a partner and thus will make children with better ratios as well, assuming there is a genetic factor that plays in to the WHR. However, the question arises… is this male preference for a certain WHR biologically programmed or does it tie into a cultural/ society-based idea? ... Valentina

     By discussing cultural evolution, we are flirting with some dangerous beliefs: racism, ethnocentrism, and nativism ... When we focus on cultural evolution, we must be mindful of a key point - no culture is superior. We might be tempted to call our society "superior," or more evolved ... But that is superficial. All cultures evolved ... some cultures have evolved differently from others, but each adapted to meet its needs with the resources it had available. No culture that has survived into modernity is primitive, backward, or unsophisticated. If we begin to think of cultures in terms of "modern vs. primitive," or "advanced vs. limited," then we fail to recognize the importance of every culture, and the influence culture has had on humanity's development ... Aimee

    there isn’t anything in the world that is completely flawless. Everything has its strongpoints and shortcomings. So does every culture ... it is the convergence of different culture that makes continuous process in our world ... elisagogo

    The last question on the prompt motivated me to think about how or if there are similarities in cosmological, biological and cultural changes.One thing that I think of when think of the similarities between these changes that occur in life is that they all spread out. Culturally, animals have spread out throughout the world.The universe is constantly expanding, and biologically people have traveled, married other people and spread their genes throughout the world ... Kirsten

    From inside, the culture is determined by the genes. Different people have different likely character in the first place. Then, in different geographic condition, they develop in different ways. And the history and environment they create exert impacts on themselves too.  Even luck plays a role ... an individual powerful in region, can make a random choice. The choice has been made and no one could change it as time goes by. The randomness become definite ... Schu

     I find it so interesting how the geography of a culture's land can affect almost every aspect of that culture's way of life.  The animals and the conditions of the land can lead to so many differences. With all these environmental differences it is easy to see how many culture's stories can be so different.  But, at the same time it makes me feel like we are even more similar.  Because the only reason for our differences IS because of our environment ... We all try to make sense of the environments we were placed in, evolve, and develop traditions along the way that work well in our environments ... Angela_MCA

    I believe there was once one language and culture, but due to circumstances that humans could not have controlled there was a need to separate. This caused there to be two different cultures and the reason for the change of the culture was due to their natural environment. This would happen over and over again until eventually all the languages and cultures were suited for their environment ... CPara

    I remember feeling mind-boggled the thought of agriculture arising in the fertile crescent and spreading laterally, enabling the rapid growth of civilizations in Eurasia. I also remember thinking how unfair this seemed to me. I want to hold to the belief that the harder one fights for something, the greater the reward. It makes sense, but seems so unfair that people born in areas with arable land, domesticable animals, and farmable crops benefit far more from their labors than those who come from areas with arid land, animals that cannot be tamed, and low-yielding crops. But perhaps this is further example of the "randomness" that we had talked of in class with physical evolution; fairness and justice had nothing to do with it. Yet, when humans are involved, it seems as if they should ... Julie G.

I've never thought of randomness as the absence of explanation, although I realize now that there's a word for everything. And I do indeed believe that its relevant to life ... ecollier 

Diamond's observations - some samples

"At the heart of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel are the stories of apparently commonplace things, such as wheat, cattle, and writing. Diamond believes the uneven distribution of these simple elements shaped the course of global history and played a vital part in the epic story of continental competition.  Diamond also focuses on the physical geography of the world in which we live. For instance, natural impediments such as mountain ranges or bodies of water created isolated civilizations.  He argued that continents which were easily traversible, such as Europe encouraged trade among different people and stimulated development."

Chinese, European, North and South American cultures are different?  Why?

"Continents that are spread out in an east-west direction, such as Eurasia, had a developmental advantage because of the ease with which crops, animals, ideas and technologies could spread between areas of similar latitude.  Continents that spread out in a north-south direction, such as the Americas, had an inherent climatic disadvantage. Any crops, animals, ideas and technologies had to travel through dramatically changing climatic conditions to spread from one extreme to the other ... China is essentially a fertile basin, enclosed by a ring of insurmountable geographic obstacles – ocean to the east, desert to the north, mountains to the south and an enormous, man-made wall to the west. This centrally-organized culture, which could expand rapidly for thousands of miles right up to its natural borders, could exist quite happily in isolation providing irrigation agriculture was maintained. It had no need to compete with neighboring states. In fact, the basin of China was so vast, there were few neighboring states, and for thousands of years the Chinese empire progressed along its own isolated path ... Europe, on the other hand, with it four mountain ranges, five peninsulas, dozens of rivers, islands, and proximity to the coast of north Africa, was geographically destined to become a cultural melting pot. Independent, organically grown states emerged cheek by jowl, and were separated by distinct, but not insurmountable, geographical barriers ... In 1492, rejected by the King of Portugal for lack of funds, Christopher Columbus simply travelled to Portugal's neighbor and rival, Castile, and instead pitched for exploration funds there. Fuelled by the desire to compete, patrons and princes throughout Europe were prepared to invest in outlandish ventures, and provided Columbus with the necessary capital to explore new lands ... In China, the greatest treasure ships that the world had ever seen, were disbanded one day, on the whim of an Emperor. Unlike Columbus, the Admiral of the Imperial fleet, had no rival princes on whom he could call. There was little incentive for China to seek its fortune outside of its heartland – the Empire had everything it needed, right in its own backyard."

Accounting for diversity of cultures in terms of a narrative story involving differing adaptive responses to differing environments ... cultural evolution

Cultures are patterns of behavior/thought/aspiration shared among groups of people?  They both influence individual behavior and are influenced by it?  Stories? 

There are a diversity of cultures, just as there are a diversity of organisms.  As with the diversity of organisms, there is no "hierarchy" of cultures, each is a distinctive adaptation to differing historical circumstances: descent with modification (randomness) plus selection?  And cultures would be expected to change in the future as they have in the past?  Why the propensity of culture to cause humans to fight with one another?

Culture as consequence of biological evolution?  Addition to biological evolution?  Differs from biological evolution in what ways?

See also:

Cultural change may involve genetic change but also occurs more rapidly, without genetic change.  Still similar in involving descent with variation and selection?  More dependence on "lateral spread," on "economics," on .... ?

Continued discussion in forum

  • Post early and often, by Monday evening at latest
  • Paper due Wednesday
  • Hand out reading for next Thursday from Colin Renfrew's PreHistory