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Final Class Summary and Evaluation

J Shafagh's picture

                The original reason I had signed up for this course was so that I could take an evolution class that was integrated with a literature class.  Being a Pre-Med, Biology major, my mind has become wired to be able to understand things that are “true” and real, and that will have significance in my life.  For example, I enjoy taking science and math classes, such as Calculus, Physics, Biology, etc. for I believe that they have specific methodologies, procedures, formulas and mechanisms that one must memorize and learn to be real.  To me, they are the truth, for they can quantitatively and qualitatively be set before me and applied into my life and also in medicine to make a significant impact on others’ lives in the world.  However, taking this course and discussing the idea of evolution as merely another story of the origins of life was disturbing.  The beginning parts of the course were very interesting, and I loved getting into the Biology portion of Evolution and rethinking through some of the concepts that I had not looked at in quite some time.  At this point, the most valuable thing I could take from class was to realize that evolution really was just another story in our quest for finding truth and reality in life.  I also realized that medicine and certain topics in Biology were also merely stories that were getting things less wrong, and I became comfortable with this idea over time.
                 Transitioning into the literature portion of the course, however, was a little frustrating for me.  Our transition from talking about Biology for a few months and then reading literary novels of Howard’s End and On Beauty was a bit abrupt, but we quickly got into the groove of things.  Not being an avid fan of literature, for I believed it serves no purpose and reaches no ultimate goal, I still went through the class with enthusiasm, reading the novels and engaging in classroom discussions whenever I could.  From these continuing discussions, I finally was able to accept that evolution could be applied to stories as well, as I saw with the two novels we read and the various topics we discussed, such as the evolution of morality, irony, and contingency.  Furthermore, I have accepted that stories can be made from both evolution and literature, for each are giving accounts of different things.  However, finishing up the course, I am still not convinced that literature serves a strong purpose, for it doesn’t reach any ultimate goal.  In other words, I can see where biological evolution and science aim to find cures and vaccines, etc, but I don’t see literature as anything more than telling a story, stimulating creativity, and reaching an endpoint.  Thus, the story of evolution still seems like one that is more significant to me than is literature, for with literature I believe that many different opinions and interpretations are acceptable and in science, there is most often one generally held theory or belief that is taught and believed to be the “truth.” In Sum, the fundamental difference I see between biological evolution and the evolution of stories is that with biological evolution, we can legitimately get things less wrong and perfect our story, but with the evolution of stories, (which are still up to more interpretations than one), we are not necessarily getting it less wrong, rather than adapting stories or changing them over time.
                         Overall, these classes made me re-think and re-question my previously held beliefs.  Through my three papers this semester, I feel that I have covered a range of topics that I was both interested in and also personally struggling to better understand, and I used the writing process to help me put together and formulate my own thoughts.  Furthermore, having used Professor Grobstein’s comments, I have improved my work and have a solid finish to my revised papers.  My first paper, arguing that both evolution and creationism should be taught in schools, helped me question the educational system and realize that each topic is just another story and attempt at explaining the same phenomenon of human existence, and this also made me value differences in opinion.  My second paper, looking at the evolution of thought and its affect on biological evolution, helped me realize and appreciate the fact that biological evolution could be used as a framework for understanding the evolution of other processes in life, something which I am now more consciously aware of.  Finally, my third paper helped me look at how the theme and topic of home was represented in three different books.  This final paper made me realize that houses inevitably are ubiquitous constructs in our literary traditions and are so crucial to human identity that they themselves can define a story, and I learned that the house and its meaning and function proves to be something that is extremely variable in nature and in the evolution of literary stories, and that its meaning and purpose can evolve over time. 
                         Having the online Serendip exchange has also been a valuable component to this course, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone’s comments each week.  Sometimes I found myself a little mind-boggled by reading so many comments and various opinions, but it made me think and learn.  The stories we shared with each other helped me find meaning in my own questions and interests.  I enjoyed posting multiple entries each week, some my own thoughts and others in response to other students’ posts.  To culminate the class, my group presentation was largely focused on the topic of truth.  This theme came out of the combined course emphasis on biological evolution and the evolution of stories.  My group’s spoken-word presentation aimed to demonstrate that science’s goal is to make observations based on our realities and to try and make stories that get things less wrong.  Our classroom activity was also meant to demonstrate that each individual observes/pays attention to different things and interprets things differently, so that no one truth can exist.  This is how we have been studying biological evolution and the evolution of stories.  We have learned, throughout the course that biological evolution is just a story that we are getting less wrong, based on our observations, and we are creating our reality of the subject as we progress though life, as each individual’s interpretation is different.  And we used our application of evolution to the evolution of stories to conclude that everything in life is just a story, evolving over time, with the intention of getting things less wrong, yet never really reaching the unattainable “truth.”
                          Overall, this class has made me re-question many of my previously held beliefs, particularly those of medicine and science.  Even now, when reading a scientific review article or passage from a science textbook, I find myself in the mindset that everything I am reading is just an attempted story of getting things less wrong, and that no matter how good the story is, there can always be more to it which we have not yet understood or discovered, so in essence, it is never a definitive reality.  Thus, science never seems to be getting anything “right.” Sure, scientists can come up with drugs for certain things, but those are just improvements.  They can solve something and rule things out (getting it less wrong), but it seems like there will ALWAYS be more to solving the puzzles of the brain and the world in general, and there is still so much to learn and so many things that do not have answer yet.  To me, it is unsettling, but exciting, for I know that I will be able to keep questioning things, learning about it, and making up stories about it so I will learn from it. Furthermore, while I definitely still appreciated the concept of evolution before taking this course, now I have been able to apply it in a new context and subject matter, something which has made me more appreciative and aware of its existence in our everyday lives.  Overall, I thought this was an amazing course, and I’ve learned so much through my professors and peers (through lecture, class discussions, forum discussions and reading the web papers!) from each and every class I have attended.  It was very satisfying to constantly participate in classroom discussions, especially the Thursday group sessions, by responding to others’ comments and also bringing up new topics and issues, and also participating on the online forum.  Everyone’s comments made me learn and think about things a lot more and in different ways.  It’s been a memorable semester, and many thanks to everyone for their contributions!