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Evolving Systems Course: PGnotes23

Paul Grobstein's picture

Making sense of ourselves in an evolving universe

Paul's notes - Session 23


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:

  • No papers due this week, no individual meetings
  • By Monday, post forum thoughts on disussion this week
  • For next Tuesday, read Jonathan Haidt, "The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgement." Psychological Review 2001, 108, 814-834 (go to Haidt's webpage @ and request the article;
    it will be e-mailed to you)
  • Paper due next FRIDAY
  • Individual meetings next week
    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?


Culture and cultural change

  • What similar and different cultural practices have developed in our two esem section meetings?
  • What new cultural practices might evolve from the intersection of the two?

Moving on to individual change

  • Biological change influence cultural change and vice versa
  • So too cultural change influences biological change and vice versa?

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth

Despite ongoing cultural change, ongoing individual change, there is only evolution

Individual life begins as babies, what do we start with?  before culture/individual experience?

"Morality" as another aspect of evolution, biological/cultural/individual?  To be continued, after

A look at the brain

  • Phantoms in the brain
  • Ramachandran TED video
  • The Brain - is wider than the Sky -
    For - put them side by side -
    The one the other will contain
    With ease - and You - beside-

    The Brain is deeper than the sea -
    For - hold them - Blue to Bue -
    The one the other will absorb -
    As sponges - Buckets - do

    The Brain is just the weight of God -
    For - Heft them - Pound for Pound -
    And they will differ - if they do -
    As syllable from Sound -

    Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Experience, understanding, morality as construction of brain

The bipartite brain as a constructor of stories

Finding the bipartite brain in language

Stories evolve, the brain evolves, we evolve ....

From the forum:

It worries me when I'm trying to remember this concept of "brain bipartiteness", decide to google it, and only get links on Serendip. Hmmm. Paul, did you make up this word??? .... Valentina

When will society look at us funny? What is the point of no return? How much of my brain can I control? Or is there no me and everything is my brain. I may think I have a “soul” but that is my brain telling me. This whole mess has put me in a whole ... CParra

The biggest thing I learned this week was the idea of the unconscious as separate from the conscious. I mean, now that it's been presented to me it makes sense, but i never thought of it that way before. Denial is a good example of this, where the unconscious knows one thing but the conscious can't seem to grasp the idea ... Jordania

Another thing that made me think a lot was the “flashing dots”. It lets me connect the physically existing brain with culture: people are born with incredible imaginations and various perceptions. While as we grow up in certain culture environment, some perceptions are accepted by other people while others are faded away because of disagreement. It’s not necessarily that those interpretations are wrong, but the conversation between consciousness and unconsciousness intelligently selected certain interpretations that people all agree on ... elisagogogo

 What I liked best about the optical illusions was that not everyone would see the same image first or perceive the ambiguous images in all that similar a way. I like to think of our brains as all being very different. I think it's really awesome that they basically all carry out the same task but not to the same end. I wonder how different our realities are from one another. They could be radically dissimilar and we would never know. I guess that's a little upsetting, but mostly I just think it's intriguing ... mwechsler

I also loved (yet was unsurprised by) Paul’s comments about art being an illusion. “There is no woman, no skull, only black and white on the screen.” How have we moved so far into our postmodern world that we no longer question the effects of images upon us? They are only colors on a T.V. screen. Why are they capable of so much?  Thinking about the art in this way is interesting and new. New and interesting .... ecollier

we discussed whether we were fascinated or afraid by the fact we aren't actually in as much control as we believe we are.  I can see why initially that would be scary, but in a lot of ways I also find it comforting. Sometimes what you think you're seeing isn't comforting at all.  It's upsetting or frustrating and sometimes the sole comfort one can have for themselves is that they're misinterpreting the situation and their brain is merely playing tricks on them ... Imittleman

Even though scientists are able to give very logical reasons to explain how brain functions, all the seemingly logical explanations are just stories to me. I am still quite confused about how scientists study the unconscious part of our human brain. I guess that scientists use the conscious part of their brain to study other people's unconscious mind. Am I correct? ... LAJW

 It seems to me that this operation of stimulus, unconscious processing, conscious acceptance or rejection and potential unconscious reprocessing describes the pattern of every evolution that we have studied thus far. (see diagram from Paul's class) Everything is reciprocally influential. Therefore, evolution is both reactionary, controllable, random, and inevitable. And it's not only useful, but important that we continue to explore different logics, or modes of storytelling, to continue to expand our explanations of evolution. Our explanations of evolution help us to situate ourselves within the world around us, and even inside our own heads...which are our worlds. ... Julie G.