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Selective Observation

kgrass's picture

Selective Observation

          If a tree falls in the woods with no one to hear it, does it make a sound? Thinking about evolution and the evidence we have obtained has made me think about all of the facts we are still missing that may falling in the woods somewhere, shouting “here I am” with no one there to listen to them. If there are observations that we are not looking for, we may miss a key piece of evidence that is right in front of us. In the beginning of this class, I struggled with the fact that there is no “truth” in science. After reading Darwin’s The Origin of Species, I realized how easily only parts of the story can be told because not all of the pieces are there. For example, the discovery of DNA and the ability for genes to be passed on has helped paint a bigger picture for evolution and the source for mutations. Sometimes observations aren’t made because we don’t know to look for them or because we don’t know they exist.  

          The ability to miss what is going on in the world around us is demonstrated in two videos that I found on youtube. The first video (here’s the link: ) asks for the viewer to pay attention to how many passes a group of people make with a basketball. After watching this video, watch a similar video ( While watching these videos, you are told to focus on a specific observation, or you expect a certain observation and so you see it. If you don’t know to look for something, you may be blind to it! There are so many observations that we have been taught to look for, and we therefore see these observations easily. There are so many instances when I learn a new word and I see it used everywhere. It’s not that it’s suddenly being used more often. It’s that before I was blind to it because I didn’t know to look for it. It makes me think of all of the interactions and observations that are waiting to be seen. What is going on in the world that I am missing because I don’t know to look for it or I don’t understand its significance yet? Darwin tries to emphasize evolution through not observations of the natural world, but observations of domestic selection. Observations that people had been making on their own for a long time, but never really understood its significance until Darwin brought it to light. He is using people’s own observations to describe his theory of evolution and natural selection because it is more convincing this way. He has put this observation in a different light.   

          Selective observation is something that our class has even experienced. We all had to read The Origin of Species, but we came to class having looked at the text through different lenses. In class, Paul and Anne’s groups decided to focus on a different aspect of Darwin’s work every time. There was an overarching idea that Anne was able to pick out from each group from our online posts. Based the exact same letters, words, sentences, and story, different observations and interpretations could be made. This doesn’t make these observations or interpretations wrong. But it has led to two “populations” of ideas based on the “selection” of the two groups. We have witnessed literary evolution in action. 

          In The Origin of Species, Darwin points out observations and ideas without presenting them as the truth. He points out holes in his thinking, which is why I trust Darwin and the theory of evolution. The “theory” of creationism, however, tells others what to believe and that it is “truth” with no room for exploration. The difference between these two theories prompted me to do further research, and I was surprised to find that people who believe in creationism actually accept parts of Darwin’s theory. The Creation Museum, located in Petersburg, Kentucky, has exhibits devoted not only to re-creating aspects of the bible, but fossils of dinosaurs, and even an exhibit about natural selection. The website ( offers a virtual tour of exhibits, and describes what the museum has to offer. The exhibit, called “Natural Selection is not Evolution”, tries to incorporate the same scientific observations in its use to discredit evolution ( The exhibit “confronts common misconceptions and provides a biblical understanding of the process of natural selection” by saying that natural selection cannot cause large changes that would result in molecules turning into humans. The exhibit explains, “evolution requires directional change”. This first statement, as we discussed in class, is not true to the theory of evolution as it is understood today. Evolution is not directional, it is more opportunistic.  The notion that organisms can change over time is accepted, but they say “natural selection does not create completely new traits” and therefore the opportunity for a change from molecules to humans is not possible. This is true, natural selection does not create new traits. They are choosing to ignore that mutations in DNA cause new traits to be expressed, and Darwin never believed that natural selection caused new traits appear. If these traits are advantageous, they will be passed on to offspring, which can potentially result in a higher frequency of this trait in the population if it has a reproductive advantage. This process is known as “natural selection”.

     From my explorations through the museum’s website, I realize that from the same observations can come two very different stories.  Sometimes people will choose to ignore certain observations and focus on observations that support their own beliefs, which is where the selective observation demonstrated earlier can come into play. Whether by accident or on purpose, this happens. Hard evidence that we believe to be so scientific is actually very easily manipulated. Rather than speaking for themselves, we often give evidence voices that will spin a very different tail depending on who is interpreting them. 

     So far, this class has broken down my understanding of how the scientific process works, and I kind of feel like I did when I was little and realized that my parents aren’t always right. A little disgruntled at first, but then a new perspective on how the world can work. Science cannot progress without constant questioning and challenges of current knowledge. From this experience, I have learned that an open mind is key, but that I have to stay analytical as well. The fact that there is no “truth” in science means, to me, to be cautious about every story one is told. No one should be satisfied with one story, because there is always more to the story waiting to be discovered. This approach is not only valuable in scientific world. It is a valuable outlook on all aspects of life, whether in the classroom or out. People still treat others as inferior or see another culture as “backwards”, when really there is no one right way to live or be.   


Paul Grobstein's picture

evolution: biology, science, literature and beyond

 "We have witnessed literary evolution in action."

And its not so different from biological evolution, or scientific evolution?  The stories one is told, and one tells, are different if the observations are different but may also be different even if the observations are the same in all cases?  And that means we should give up the ideas of "inferior" or "backwards"?  Replacing it with "there is always more to the story waiting to be discovered"?  My guess is that would motivate/require changes in lots of ways we we think about biology and literature and science, and indeed other things as well.  It might be interesting to play some of those out and see whether one remains enthusiastic about the new perspective.