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Diversity: cultural and biological

Paul Grobstein's picture

Another interesting conversation in my freshman seminar section.  We were talking about Frankenstein and it was suggested that the message of Frankenstein was opposed to that of Brecht's Galileo and of Flatland, earlier readings in the course.  Frankenstein seemed to be a warning about science/exploration, while G and F seemed to be in favor of them.  As we talked more about it, though, a slightly different picture emerged.  F is largely about the tension between friendship/comradeship and being different/marching to one's own drummer .... and G and F are arguably about the same thing.  And this, of course, in turn connects to discussions of culture, and of culture as disability.  Could one perhaps imagine societies/cultures that base comradeship/friendship not on similarities but rather on valuing differences, in which case the tension that G, F, and Frankenstein all illustrate might go away?   Its an older thought of  mine, but one that seems to be coming up recently in a variety of contexts  (cf  Risk and Innovation and The Brain as a Learner/Inquirer/Creator).

Among them, probably not coincidentally, is in the other course I'm teaching this semester, Biology 103.  We were talking about multicellularity and many of the students were surprised by noticing for the first time that a multicellular organism is not actually a single/unitary living thing but actually a coordinated community of many different living things.  I'd been thinking a lot about the brain as a model for social organization and the discussion extended my sense that biological models of interacting diverse elements may be relevant in thinking about social organization.  The brain provides one model, but it has special characteristics and it may be useful to think more generally about cellular diversity and coordination (see the penultimate paragraph of The Brain and Social Well-Being, Follow Up).  And this might in turn relate to some problems others have had with the brain approach (see Modeling Warm Supportive Exchange  and comparisons: odious or useful?).  Is/should social organization be more fully distributed, like interacting cellular diversity in general, or is there a need for the more differentiated brain-like organization with special story tellers and a partial observation/story distinction?  To think more about.