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Evolving Systems Course: PGnotes14

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

Course arrangements:

  • Finish
    • Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower for discussion today and Tuesday
    • Apostolos Doxiadis et al, Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth for Thursday (two classes together)
  • 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:

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

"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


Parable of the Sower as narrative story

  • Is there change over time?  in culture?  in individuals?
  • Does the present follow from the past?  Necessarily or .... ?
  • What role do individuals play in change?

Let's retell the story together, focusing on those issues ...

Can we predict the future? (Parable of the Talents)