Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Evolving Systems Course: PGnotes13

Paul Grobstein's picture

Making sense of ourselves in an evolving universe

Paul's notes - Session 13


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

shared group meeting, dynamics?, thoughts about individual creativity, role in cultural change?

Course arrangements:

  • No paper due Wednesday
  • Finish
    • Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower for Thursday
    • Apostolos Doxiadis et al, Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth for a week from Thursday
  • Paper for next Wednesday: think/write about future of cultural change, is it going somewhere?  why?  what role does individual intentionality play in it?  Discuss in re specific case rather than in general
  • Individual meetings
    Thursdays Group A Group B
    9 am Elisa Genesis
    9:30 Aijingwen Julie
    2:30 Ilana Christine
    3:00 Angela  
    3:30 Hillary  
    4:00 Eva Valentina
    4:30 Mattie Kayla
    5:00 Carolina Jordan


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

diversityloopscales biocultdiffs evolfashion
the whole course? evolution biological and cultural: similarities and differences? fashion: a test case of cultural evolution as descent with variation and selection?


From the forum:

What I found particularly amusing about Thursday's class, though, was our own E Sem's experiment. We took ourselves out of our comfortable, cozy classroom and temporarily tried to integrate into the other section's class dynamics. We found this to be difficult--we didn't feel nearly as comfortable as we had become in our own little class. Now we were around people we didn't know, most of whom had not yet developed their judgements of us. Julie even raised her hand in the other class, which is something we rarely do in our section. Then we came back to our room and everyone seemed to relax significantly. Our usual, familiar dynamic was back and our attitudes about our environment changed. We suddenly became aware of our appreciation of our own class's particular dynamics. Observing this, I was amused because it demonstrated perfectly how a simple change in environment can bring out change in a group. Perhaps it would not be considered "cultural" change (as I wouldn't necessarily refer to our class as a culture), but it was a noticeable group change in attitude and behavior. And from a psychological and sociological perspective, that's pretty cool ... Hilary G

What I found particularly interesting was how Emily's art had formed itself.  She spoke of this huge gap, about 9 months I think it was. During this gap she had done nothing with the image she had in her head, then nine months later it all spilled out and she was inspired by something to paint.  So what was it that exactly happened in this gap of nine whole months? A similar thing happened to homo sapiens. All the genes and capability that we have now were there millions of years ago, but there was a significantly large gap between when we evolved, and when our "culture" began to come about. What was going on during that time? ... Angela_MCA

During our discussion with Emily the week before Fall Break I was able to relate to an interesting point. Emily had said that she needed time off to finish her art. Time to just sit there and take a break or ponder the art and it's meaning without really physically working on it. I could relate to this in my writing. I'm not the kind of person who can start and finish an essay in one sitting. Or at least if I do, it comes out as a bad essay. If I do something like that, it feels like a tornado went through my head, and then my thoughts come out unclear and confusing ... FluteSound4

“We adapt and endure, for we are earthseed, and God is changing.”  I liked this sentence when I started reading Parable of the Sower. I especially liked the word “adapt”. Being so insignificant, we, human, have to constantly adapt to the evolving environment, the changing world in order to survive and flourish. But as the reading going on, I am now wondering why are people always busy preparing for future? Since the changes happen so quickly and unpredictably that we could never really know what will happen next, why don’t we cherish the present instead of working for unpredictable future? The book reminds me of the intensive earthquake happened in my hometown, in which people whom you talked with in the morning forever left the world hours later. I admit that my thought might be a bit extreme, while if I were the author, I would definitely spend the time having a cup of tea with my family in a sunny afternoon instead of writing interesting but fearful story that does not make much sense about the future ... Elisagogo

Over break I thought a lot about whether or not the concept of "competition" implies a winner and a loser, how much it necessitates a zero sum game.  My primary concern with the issue is that competition seems to be the most prevalent cause for cultural change, and the idea that cultural change might be dictated intrinsically by a series of games like that violated much of my basic philosophical sensibility. I wonder if perhaps communities of people compete against and objective, rather than each other. Perhaps everyone has an understanding of how things should be and they work to get there, and when people come in contact with each other they expose one another to the other's goals, so that competition is an interaction and not necessarily a race to gain control of certain resources, at least in terms of culture. I don't know .... Mattie

...Well should we not all try to become more equal? Its possibly the only logical answer to one with a strong sense of compassion for others. But, as always, not quite the response we would see. I believe that instead, people would push harder to better themselves in fear of being pushed down themselves. Or pure greed. Fear or greed. I'm boiling my assumptions down into one loathsome soup ... ecollier

Is there never going to be a world where the present is what we are happy about and not looking forward to the future and remembering the past. Are humans so spoiled that they are never fully satisfied. ... CPara

It's not really the ideas behind Earthseed that bother me as much as the religious aspect.  Why create a "religion" behind change? ... Imittelman

another interpretation could just be the concept of having a goal at all. A goal beyond survival. Or hope. The argument that religion, belief, faith provides motivation, hope and strength during otherwise unbearable circumstances is not a new one. It's a way to make sense of things ... Julie G.

I don’t think I can quite pinpoint how cultural change occurs or predict when it occurs, but I can tell you how I experienced it myself. I remember when 9/11 occurred. I was probably in third/fourth grade when our teacher stopped everything to watch the news. I remember the smoke, the fire trucks, the chaos, and Death, who ruled that day. For some reason I don’t feel things have been the same ever since    I believe that many would agree with me that things were never quite the same since then. But then again, it’s always been that way. I know that history tells us that this mindset has dwelled for centuries. So are catastrophes catalysts for cultural change? ... genesisbui

The relation between individuals and cultures

"There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.  There is another theory which states that this has already happened." ... Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (thanks to Sarah Ann)

"science itself will teach man... that he himself is something of the nature of a piano-key or the stop of an organ... so that everything he does is not done by his willing it, but is done of itself, by the laws of nature....even if this were proved to him by natural science and mathematics, even then he would not become reasonable, but would purposely do something perverse out of simple ingratitude, simply to gain his point.... the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key!" .... Fyodor Dotoevsky, Notes From Underground, 1864

Patterns of cultural change over long time scales - Renfrew

"If the genetic characteristics of our species .. emerged as many a 150,000 years ago in Africa, and if the humans who dispersed out of Africa some 60,000 years ago were closely similar to each other but also to ourselves in their genotype, why did it take such a long time before the emergence of those distinctly more modern behaviors that became apparent at the time of the agricultural revoution?"  (p 80)

Within the tectonic phase, the evolution that is taking place is essentially cultural evolution (p83) [and is different in different places]

the shared ideas, concepts, and conventions ... specific to each trajectory of devleopment ... guided and conditioned further innovation .... it is necessary to try and outline a prehistory of mind, a cognitive archeology (p87-88)

Cultural evolution influenced by biological evolution but not determined by it, additionally influenced by its own internal organization with propensities for stasis/change, by its own interactions with physical/living environment, but individual creativity/agency?


There is nothing new under the sun ... Ecclesiastes 1:9

The only lasting truth is change ... Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower