Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Week 14--Finale!

Anne Dalke's picture

We've assigned six groups for each day of our "final" week;
let's plan on not using more than 10 minutes for each group.

We'd be delighted to have a record here, of your script,
or your thoughts, or your reactions to others' performances,
or your thoughts, more generally about further evolution.
Looking forward to the show, and to what it provokes.
What comes after this?

Erin, Lillie and Katie R
Sophia and Keely
Liz N, Sarah E and Marina M
Jackie M, Lisa, Rina and Rica
Kate G, Evelyn, Morgan, Elizabeth O
Hilary, Lucie, Tim, Fatima

Julia, Arielle, Abby and Cynthia
Sarah B, Marina F and Laura
Ioanna, Dan and Jackie R
Rachel, Aybala and Saloni
Katie A, Adele and Elana
Tara, Jillian and Anisha

Hilary McGowan's picture

I couldn't believe how

I couldn't believe how wonderfully fun this entire course was. It really cinched it by watching all of the wonderful performances, discussions, presentations, and interpretive dancing.

The epic beards that graced the stage so many times really set in stone how we view these men that we read about. It's not just their minds and thoughts that provoked us into though, but the visual perception of everything they described and even their singular presence. 

ibarkas's picture

Final Presentation

Vice Presidential Debate between Walt Whitman and Charles Darwin

Moderator:  Hello and welcome back to the  Presidential debate between the Republican candidate, Charles Darwin and the Democratic candidate, Walt Whitman.  Our next topic is death and its societal implications.  As little as 100 years ago, death was simply when you stopped breathing.  Things have changed a lot since then and some very public cases, including Terry Schiavo, have raised the issue of what death is and how we should handle it.  Charles, you’re up first! How would you define death in the modern age?

Darwin: Well, Joanna, in order to understand death, we need to be able to define life.  And as anybody knows, who has read my book, the point of life is to pass on your genes to viable offspring.  If you are no longer able to pass on your genes then you are evolutionary dead whether or not you are still walking around.  

Moderator: How about you Walt?

Whitman: Well, Charles, I would have to disagree.  I would like to ask you a question-What is life?  To me, life is the experiences we have and the people we know.  It is so wonderful to look around us and see the flowers blooming and the sun shining and experience the world.  It does not matter if you have no kids, ten kids or octoplets.  You just need to sit down and have your cup of coffee and mull over life, what it’s all about and that is TRULY being alive.  And well Charles, you are getting on in the years.  Would you not say  that you get joy out of living every day of your life fully because us on Long Island-we live every day to the fullest! Do you suspect death?  If I were to suspect death I should diew now.  Do you think I could walk pleasantly and well-suited toward anniihilation?  Pleasantly and well-suited I walk. 

Charles: But Walt, it looks to me like you contradict yourself.

Walt: Very well then, I contradict myself.

Charles:  Well Walt, you do raise an interesting point though about the elderly contributions to evolutionary fitness.  While I don’t think running around chasing butterflies has any effect at all on evolutionary fitness, the elderly do have important contributions.  They contribute by passing down their life experiences and cultural knowledge onto their grandchildren.  Grandparents help to produce more worldly and societal well adjusted persons who are better able to succeed in the modern world and experience heightened reproductive success.  

Moderator: Interesting thoughts.  Walt, you have one more chance to speak if you like.  

Walt: Heightened reproductive success? That’s not what I want them saying about me at my funeral!.  To judge life by only what you leave behind when you’re gone does great disservice to the wonder of the world around us. It’s not all about you Charles-It’s about how you interact with the world around you.  

Moderator: Thank you both for your responses.  It’s time to move along and our next topic is gender.  The boundaries between genders are getting more and more blurred and there has been a lot of work done in terms of seeing gender along a spectrum. It has become more accepted for women to take on roles traditionally associated with masculinity and for men to take on roles traditionally associated with femininity.  How do you feel about this decline in the traditional boundaries between the genders?  
Walt:  We need to love each other and we need to love ourselves and if your self is not loved and if you can’t love your physical self, then I think you should do what you need to do to be happy.  I need not define myself- I contain multitudes and who is to say which of these components of me deserves the physical reflection of my emotional self?  Do you love yourself, Charles?  

Charles:  Frankly, Walt I’d love to know what you’ve been smoking.   Gender isn’t a societal  imposition.  It is a biological necessity for the exchange of hereditary factors.  This exchange renews the variability that is crucial to our species' continued health and success.  I have no problem with what people choose to identify themselves as, as long as it does not interfere with their ability to effectively reproduce and contribute to the next generation.  

Walt:  Well, you have a point there Charles.  In the age of technology that we live in, one would not need to worry about this interference that you speak of.  We have blurred these boundaries with the use of technology in the creation of life in the test tube.   

Charles Darwin:  Test Tube??…..

Walt: Shut it Charles! As I was saying, we have blurred these boundaries and it is time that we continue to move forward, accept each other and rejoice in our freedom to choose among the multitudes present within us.  Oh gosh, isn’t life so beautiful! That’s why I plan to start a new Vice Presidential Initiative-it will be called FLF-The Free Love Foundation.  

Charles:  Well doesn't that just want to make me hug a tree. I do not know how to respond to this.  I am appalled!  If you choose to remove yourself from the gene pool, that is your own prerogative and I will not stand in your way.  But before we were a society, we were a species and we cannot neglect that.  

Moderator:  Thank you for your interesting contributions.  We have to move on to our next topic.  Technology might be the underlying factor contributing to the  blurring of these boundaries that we have been discussing.  One of the current arguments is that technology is very isolating and has resulted in a disconnect between people.  Where do you see technology going and where is it taking society as a whole? Charles, you’re up!  

Charles:  I see technology as a form of evolution.  The most fit individuals in modern society are those that are best able to exploit technology for their own means. It is now just another factor along with physical strength and mental acuity that determines our evolutionary fitness.  

Walt:  Why bother with technology? We as human beings are spirit and soul. We do not need technology to reaffirm our position in the world or to better our progression through life.I'd say without it, we are better able to experience those things around us.  These things they call computers are not a real replacement for human interaction.  For instance, I recently learned that a young pretty friend of mine on Myspace was a 60 year old man.  Not that one of my multitudes wasn’t okay with that!, but nevertheless, it was unsettling and underlined the disconnect between technology and reality. The way we are interacting with our human beings is artificial and in my opinion, subtracts from the way in which we come to interact and understand each other.  It removes the human element and it is the human element which makes life worth living.       

Darwin: Well Walt,  you are definitely freaking me out a little bit.  I don’t know what you guys are thinking over there across the pond.  I’ve been on some boats for a very long time and you’re still scaring me.  Shockingly though, I do agree with some of what Walt is saying.  Technology has evolved so quickly and become such a pervasive factor in our lives that we really haven’t had the time to see how this will play out in the long run.  As a society, we are so thoroughly invested in technology that any future human evolution will be inseparable from the evolution of technologies.  Do you disagree?  

Walt:I do agree with you Charles and although I think that technology can be detrimental to the future of society as a whole, I do see the positive aspects of it as well.  For example, technology allows us to be our true selves and allows us to represent any of the multitudes within us.  Even though it can be isolating, it can allow you to connect with others all over the world.  This allows you to get a glimpse into the multitudes of others as well as those within yourself.  The internet allows us to explore these inner selves.

Moderator:  And on that note, a quick word from our sponsors.     

aybala50's picture

Final Presentation

he final presentation group I belonged to wanted to have some fun and engage the class in our presentation. We also chose to go the same way alot of other groups did, we chose to end up with an image of an evolutionary tree. We came up with note cards with scenarios on them that were meant to be a person's future. We aranged it so that there was a hat with everyone's name in it from class except for our own and Paul and Anne's. Anne pulled names from the hat which made the process of choosing the names random. Everyone that got pulled out of the hat had their life told to them and then a new name was chosen signifying moving on to the next generation or level on the tree. Randomly people either died, or survived. Those that survived either reproduced or did not.
Anne Dalke's picture

Office tree

I've been enjoying the (tip of the) tree of evolution, now rooted in my office, though it's meant lots of explanations for visitors!

Anne Dalke's picture

tangled alphabets

I went to NYC yesterday to see an exhibit of Latin American modernism @ MoMA: how I wish I'd gone on this jaunt while our class was still in session! The exhibit, which featured the work of just two artists--León Ferrari and Mira Schendel--was entitled "Tangled Alphabets"; it was a wonderful exploration of what might happen if you think about words as images, if you paint and draw and sculpt words--in typset, or in abstract calligraphies--as images. So much for our much-vaunted distinctions between them!

Some passages that caught my attention:

  • "language is transparent, only complete through public interaction"
  • "Escritas (Written)": "time passed, but nobody can read time"
  • "not a readable text: visual rhyme, abstract patterns..."

    (I found myself wondering here about the applicability of the Islamic injunction against representing things/the works of God/the natural world, while allowing the representation of words, the works of people. What happens when words are made into things?)

  • "babbling": individuals are composed of endless layers of time-based experiences and memories
  • the desire to make a tower collaboratively, working together without looking @ one another's work...
Anne Dalke's picture

"Luminous Darwin"

I went into Philly y'day to see "Dialogues with Darwin” at the American Philosophical Society Museum. The exhibit itself was very bibliographic--lots of 19th c. books by Darwin, his commentators and predecessors (think: Lyell).

The real delight, for me, was four large whimsical display cases constructed by Eve
Andrée Laramée, entitled "Luminous Darwin," an attempt to recreate "the sense of wonder the Victorians once felt for science." It included four fictional "lost" notebooks of Darwin's:

Notebook X: The Dreams of The Plants--
If a veritable analogy
exists between the
sleep of animals and sleep of plants,
it seems therefore, advisable
to consider the dreams of the plants...

A field of grass might dream collectively, or
each discrete blade of grass may
have its own nocturnal reverie.

Notebook Y: The Memories of The Stones--
as inscribed in the fossil record, the volume of mnenomic material...
makes it only possible to capture fleeting glimpses....

and Notebook Z: The Awareness of The Cells--
I see no reason to doubt the sensitivies of these creatures....

The cases also included a whole range of entirely fanciful, beautiful handcrafted Victorian-ish apparatuses for extracting these dreams, memories and awarenesses of from minerals, vegetables, animals. As I was laughingly making my way around the exhibit, taking notes and chuckling, one of the curators came over and said, "You realize, of course, that these are not real?"...

and I thought: little does she know!
How real the work of the imagination.
How unreal the residue of the intellect.
How laughable this matter of reality.

Anne Dalke's picture

science and poetry--an invitation!

[From Judith Mendelsohn, of Network for New Music]
I am contacting you to invite you to visit the new Charles Darwin exhibition at the American Philosophical Society Museum in Philadelphia, “Dialogues with Darwin,” and to participate in this Poetry Project related to the exhibition. The Poetry Project is open to any and all poets (students, amateurs, professionals) in the Philadelphia region; I would appreciate it if you could take a moment to forward this email to any colleagues, students, or friends who might also be interested! Here are some details about the project:

Network for New Music, in collaboration with the American Philosophical Society (APS) Museum is pleased to announce the Dialogues with Darwin Poetry Project.

Dialogues with Darwin , the current exhibition at the APS Museum, draws from the Society’s own rich Charles Darwin archive—the largest outside of Cambridge, England—to display Darwin’s own letters, as well as rare first editions, sumptuous illustrated books, and manuscripts that follow the evolution of Darwin’s big idea—evolution through natural selection.

Network for New Music invites poets to begin their own dialogue with Darwin. Interested poets should first attend the Dialogues with Darwin exhibition at the American Philosophical Society Museum. Poems are to be written in response to the writings, illustrations, or ideas of Charles Darwin that are on display in the APS Museum's exhibition. Poems should be submitted via the Network for New Music website ( by June 1, 2009.

Then, a group of 12 - 15 young composers drawn from six area universities (the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, University of the Arts, the Curtis Institute, West Chester University and the University of Delaware) will choose poems from among those submitted, and will set them to music; some of those works will then be performed on a pair of Network for New Music concerts at the Society’s Benjamin Franklin Hall on February 19 and 21, 2010.

For more information and detailed guidelines, visit

Feel free to email or call me with any questions or comments about the project! I hope you will take a moment to forward this to any friends, colleagues, or students who might also be interested – we would love to hear from poets of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of experience.

Thanks so much! All the best,

Judith Mendelsohn
Program Associate
Network for New Music

6757 Greene Street, Ste. 400

, PA 19119
(215) 848-7647


Jackie Marano's picture

Some last thoughts

    I just wanted to say that I very much enjoyed our class this semester; I never would have otherwise thought about the deeper meaning of evolution (in the general sense) and its implications, so it was very to discuss it and consider it beyond the biological and cultural contexts. The choice of readings was very broad in scope, and I am grateful that we were able to choose any topic of interest for our webpapers or to lead some of our class discussions. Coming to class not knowing what might happen or what might be said or where we might go would be considered risky in many other contexts, but for this course I think it worked perfectly. Our discussions and webpapers derived from pure personal/class interests, and what is a better way to delve into something than to start with an interest, or at least to have such a broad set of thoughts to choose from or reflect on?

     Many of my reflections and thoughts are not really my own, I just put them together based on what others in the class had said or referred to. In this way, as I wrote and recounted my own stories on and about the various forms/implications of evolution, I knew that I couldn't have gotten there without evolving in thought myself. Thanks to all for a very rich and rare conversation; most people would not think about evolution in this way and may never do so, and that's not necessarily a problem, but it's another reason for us to recognize that no matter what each of us may have liked or disliked about this course, having the opportunity to take it has really been a privilege.

L.Kelly-Bowditch's picture

Puppet Show Script

Marina Fradera

Laura Kelly-Bowditch

Sarah Bechdel

Setting: Darwin’s 200th birthday. Postmodern setting. The table is set for four. On each dish there is a card.

Whitman enters.

Whitman: “An unseen hand also passed over their bodies/It descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs…” It seems I’ve happened upon a table! Why am I here? Perhaps it is the feast of life! …But where is the food?

Dennett arrives via crane.

Dennett: Ah! Smooth landing.

Whitman: How did you get here?

Dennet: Isn’t it obvious?

Whitman: … No.

Dennet: It’s crane, you fool!

Whitman: But it’s not attached to anything.

Dennet: It’s based in the design space. Cranes can do the lifting work our imaginary skyhooks might do, and they do it in an honest, nonquestionbegging fashion. They have to be designed, built, located on a firm space in existing ground. Skyhooks are miraculous lifters, unsupported and insupportable. Cranes are no less excellent as lifters, and they have the decided advantage of being real.

(They stare each other down.)

Whitman: Logic and sermons never convince; the damp of the night drives deeper into my soul.

(Siri arises.)

Siri: (yawning) That was a really weird dream…. Wait a minute. Am I still dreaming?

Whitman: Welcome to the Design Space!

Dennet: (signing) No you fool! This isn’t the design space! It’s the space where the Library of Babble is built. You know; probablilities, algorithms, cranes. It’s all there.

Whitman: You have truly seen wonders! Would you like to hear about my multitudes?

Siri: This is all very interesting, and I’m sure unconsciouslly I will recall this later, but I really must be waking up from this dream. Is there an off button or something?

Whitman: Isn’t it miraculous that we all arrived at the same place, at the same time?

Dennett: It’s not miraculous at all. Clearly it’s been logically determined that we all arrive at this specific place for a specific purpose.

Siri leans over and discovers her name card.

Siri: My unconscious must be playing tricks on me…my name is on this card.

Dennett: That’s not possible! I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical reason that your name is on this card. …And my name is on this card…

Whitman: Me too! It’s destiny!

Dennett: There’s no such thing as destiny! We weren’t meant to be here…

Whitman: But you just said there was a reason…

Dennett: Yes! A logical one!

Siri: Do you contradict yourself? Very well then, you contradict yourself.

Whitman: No! No! I contradict myself!

Siri: You’re kind of crazy, but I like you.

Whitman: I like you too. Maybe you’re one of my multitudes. I think I remember you…

Siri: You know, Danniel Dennet once proposed that dreams might not be real, that they aren’t experiences at all, just false memories that flood us when we wake up…

Dennet: Yes! In fact, I did.

Siri: That’s discredited now… THOROUGHLY. So maybe we did meet. Maybe we didn’t.

Dennet: Has anyone seen my crane? I think I’ve lost it. It was just there a second ago.

Siri: And I was just asleep a second ago.

Whitman: And a new blade of grass emerged from the Earth a second ago. What lovely China!

Siri: Yes. The table is set for four. But we’re only three. Odd.

Dennet: And it appears to be someone’s birthday. It’s not my birthday. Is it either of yours?

Whitman: Every day is my birthday. Each day a new beginning, the birth of multitudes.

Dennet: Enough with this multitudes crap!

Sir: Hey! Don’t talk like that to him! At least he’s not trying to make sense.

Dennet: Okay. Okay. I’m going to overlook that last comment. If it’s not any of our birthdays, then whose birthday is it?

Siri: The fourth plate.

Dennet: Exactly!

Whitman: Grand! A chance to celebrate!

Dennet: But who is this fourth person?

Siri: Maybe there’s something we all have in common and fourth person does too. Let’s share what we know about ourselves. We can all listen for patterns, strains of feeling and associations that may… lead us to figure out who the fourth guest is.

Dennet: Excellent logic. I’m a professor at Tufts, a grandfather and an avid fan of campfire songs.

Whitman: I’m originally from Long Island, but I’ve been traveling across AMERICA, drinking in my surroundings and the symphony of human life!

Siri: No, no, no. I mean what do you KNOW about yourself? For instance, I’ve come to think of consciousness as a continuum of states, from fully awake cogitation to daydreaming to the altered consciousness of hallucinations and dreams. Like the one I was having before I arrived here.

Dennet: I hate people who talk about their dreams like they’re reasons for things. That’s just a skyhook. Cranes on the other hand serve better purposes.

Siri: Didn’t you lose your crane?

Dennet: I’ve just misplaced it! Why must you discredit me with all your psychoanalytical babble? If a ... brain were truly capable of non-algorithmic activity, and if we have such brains, and if our brains are themselves the products of an algorithmic process ... an algorithmic process (natural selection in its various levels and incarnations) creates a non-algorithmic subprocess of subroutine, turning the whole process (evolution up to and including ... brains) into a non-algorithmic process after all. This would be a cascade of cranes creating, eventually, a real skyhook! ... The position is, I guess, possible, but ...

(During this rant, Siri falls asleep and Whitman wanders about, eventually discovering a strange device

Whitman: What does this button do?

(A GIANT image of Darwin appears. He speaks.)


Siri: Dear GOD. WHAT THE HELL? … Papa? Is that you? Far?

Dennet: No you idiot! It’s the most important man of the past 200 years! It’s… it’s Charles Darwin!

Whitman: Oh Captain! My Captain! Rise up and here the bells!

Siri: 200 years…? Wait. Is it your birthday?

Dawrin: Oh gracious me! I completely forgot! Yes! Indeed! It is my birthday. Thank you for all arriving at my little soiree.

All three: WHAT?

Darwin: Yes. I’ve invited you all here to celebrate!

Whitman: I celebrate myself! Why not celebrate you, too?

Siri: I’m failing to see the logic here.

Dennet: Quiet woman! How dare you question Darwin! You should be bowing!

Darwin: Get up you groveling idiot! They’re only theories, after all.

Siri: I note my growing irritation with you. These are the pieces that won’t fit: Why did you invite US specifically?

Darwin: You haven’t guessed yet?

Siri: It must be the beards right?

Darwin: No! No! While we’re on the subject, you two must really stop copying my style. Next you’ll be floating around in a Beagle feeding finches in the Galapagos Islands!

Whitman: That sounds like it would be lovely.

Siri: I didn’t mean to get us off track, but could my question, please.

Dennet: Yes! Please, oh great one! Why are we here?

Whitman: I thought you said the crane…

Dennet: Shut up!

Darwin: All of you shut up. We four are a grand experiment to explore how diversity is fundamental to all levels of organization, in both biological and cultural systems. You see, we’re all talking about the same things we’re just telling different stories. Walt, you find the connections between all people. Siri, you find the connections within yourself. And Daniel…

Dennet: Yes? What is it I do?

Darwin: You’re… really excited. But you also find the connections between evolution and humanity’s place in the universe. You see, you are all bridges. You tell different stories to create coherent narratives to unify the many thoughts, feelings, many genes and many memes that make up LIFE.

All three: (look look to each murmuring understanding)

Darwin: Now, this IS a birthday party, so I’d like to employ my favorite aspect of human cultural evolution. Walt, if you please.

(Walt presses the button, linking us to Youtube. A smashing number begins to play and the four have an awesome dance party.)

mcurrie's picture

The End Comment

Well I can't really post the content of my group presentation since I was a dancing tree with no lines so instead I will comment.  I really enjoyed watching everyone's presentations and how each one differed from the others.  Especially in each group that used the four different authors, it was interesting to see how they made fun of them or if they only decided to make fun of only one.  The puppet show was a great ending to the presentations especially because it used Professor Grobstein who did well playing Darwin.  After all the presentations I am ready to end my thought process after finals are done, maybe stall the evolution of myself or my thoughts to just rest.  I guess I can only think of getting home and so I am just trying to get as much done as possible.  But I will remain questioning information and myself and now can't wait to write my paper.  Great job everyone with presentations and showing the character of all the authors and happy continuing to evolve.

Lisa B.'s picture

Presentation Script

*Below is the original script. The dialogue transformed during the actual performance.
Evolution Jeopardy!
Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rina (Darwin):
Welcome to tonight's special evolution episode of Jeopardy. I'm your host, Charles Darwin, and am replacing Alex Trebec for the night. For the next 10 minutes I will be taking you into a world of random motion, cultural transformation, unconscious "truths", and abstract realities. Our guests tonight are three well-known celebrities from the Evolution of Stories and Stories of Evolution class. It's my pleasure to introduce our returning champion Daniel Dennett, the psychoanalytical Siri Hustsvedt, and the ever-so-popular Walt Whitman.
[Characters briefly introduce themselves]
Welcome contestants and let's begin this exciting evolutionary game!
Our categories tonight are...
Dennett since you are the returning champion, you get to go choose the first category. What shall it be?

Rica (Dennett): Stories of Evolution for 100.
[Darwin reads question]

Dennett: What is Tree of Life.

Dennett: Unconscious for 200.
[Darwin reads question]

Jackie (Whitman): What is "Blooming buzzing confusion."

I believe it's what is BOOMING! NOT BLOOMING!

Darwin: Correct Dennett! You may now pick the next category...might I suggest, picking the optimal category...Darwinian Evolution?!

Dennett: Darwin for $300.
[Darwin reads question, Whitman buzzes and stares]

Walt, um you buzzed...? We need your answer Walt!
[Whitman reads Leaves of Grass (pg. 42)]

Darwin: Excuse me? You poet folk are just too much for me. Let's move onto the answer.

Lisa (Hustvedt):
Excuse me Darwin! I think you need to get in touch with your feelings. To quote Kierkegaard from my recent best-selling novel, "maybe you've kept a secret in your heart that you felt in all its joy or pain was too precious to share with someone." Think about it. My answer is what is Natural selection...I don't know why we aren't focusing more on literature and the depths of the unconscious more...

Darwin: Well, you do have the next pick.

Hustvedt: Literature for $200.
[Darwin reads question, Whitman makes comments about the literary canon]

Darwin: Oh what do you know Walt? You like on the other side of the ocean.
[Whiman disrupts conversation]

I believe the answer to this question is my novel The Sorrows of an American.

NO! I believe it's Darwin's Dangerous Idea.

Darwin: Um, my idea is dangerous? What rubbish!

Whitman: Charles, I don't think you contain multitudes.

Darwin: Oh Whitman, pipe down! You all are wrong! The answer is, of course, The Origins of Species!


Darwin: Oh my, I believe we've run out of time...

What is time?

Walt! That sound means we've reached double jeopardy! Let's tally everyone score so far: Dennet $300. Hustvedt $300. Walt $700.
[Whitman tangent about money, Darwin reads question, Jeopardy song plays, all contestants write their answers)


Darwin: Oh that ungodly sound means it's time to reveal your answers. Hutsfedt? What say you?

Hustvedt: Say wager and "what is American literature."

Dennet: Say wager and "what is a crane."
[Whitman ponders question without speaking]

Darwin: What in the world does that mean?
[Whitman reads poetry]

I'm sorry you all fail! The correct answer is evolution. In tonight's game we have a tie! Watch next week as both Dennet and Hustvedt battle it our to see who's psychoanalytical and evolutionary theories win them more money.

kcofrinsha's picture

Week 14

This will probably be my last post (apart from my paper) and so I am taking some more time to reflect on the class as a whole. This class has really given me the chance to think in a way that a lot of other classes don't. Sure, all classes get me to think about our readings, but this class got me thinking about life (of all kinds), myself, the universe. Abby's post reminded me of when we looked at the optical illusions.  Grobstein told us that we can ask our brains to create a new way of looking at things and that stayed with me because I immediately understood that. I realized that the optical illusions were illusions, so when I didn't see it at first, I asked my brain to try to look at it a different way in order to find the illusion.  I felt like knowledge had been opened up to me because I had never realized that I did that before and it occured to me that I might be able to do that in the larger world also.  I think that is a good example of what this class did for me, it gave me new ways of thinking about all kinds of topics. Basically I'm just glad I got to take this class because I know that it will affect my thinking for a long time, certainly during the rest of my time at Bryn Mawr.
Paul Grobstein's picture

more evolit pics

and more


amirbey's picture

Personal thoughts

As said in the script, this class changed my point of view on the world and my way of analyzing things.  I don’t look for a single answer anymore but for a multitude of them and whenever I feel bad, I try to look at the world in a different way in order to feel better!  I believe this class was great even though it was hard to get into it at the beginning of the semester.  However, now I can look back at everything that I have learned and I am very grateful I took this course because it really affected me in a good way!  This class helped me become more mature in my ways of thinking and I feel like it also brought more questions to my mind that I will answer eventually in future classes.

amirbey's picture

Evolution of our own project

Katie Apelian (K), Adele Mirbey (A), Elana Peck (E)

K: This is our final presentation, we’ll be doing a skit for you…

K: So…what is our project going to be about?

A: I don’t know, we’ve learned a lot of interesting and deep concepts…maybe we should pick one and develop it?

E: Like definitions of science like loopy science, Dennett’s ideas about skyhooks, cranes, algorithms, all of his crazy metaphors, foundationalism and non-foundationalism, “the crack”?

K: Development of literary canons, other canons, the question of free will, divergence and convergence?

A: The functioning of our brains, cultural evolution, literary evolutions, of course biological evolution?

K: Instead of these concepts, maybe we can just talk about the four authors we read, Hustvedt, Dennett, Whitman and Darwin?

E: I really loved Whitman’s ideas. Can we do something like just go outside and experience nature? He would have LOVED that. We can all go out and talk about life, our experiences….it’ll be great!

A: Ehh, I don’t think that will go over so well, plus I have my allergies…What if we compare Hustvedt with Whitman, or maybe apply literal concepts from Darwin to any of the other books we’ve read. Or we can use my paper topic and try to prove that literary writers are actually scientists in their own ways.

K: I feel like it might not be great to use your final paper topic…but I like the idea of comparing some of the authors we’ve read. I really thought Darwin was the most interesting, because I actually knew nothing about evolution before…

A: Oh, I was disappointed in Darwin, because he doesn’t even touch human evolution. He just kept on showing us his observations. It got tedious, and when I was younger, I really thought Darwin was about how humans descended from apes…

K: Yeah well that was probably so he wouldn’t get killed by religious mobs, or ostracized from the scientific world…maybe we can talk about modern evolutionary theory. Even that has evolved and changed with new research, experimentation, and discoveries.

E: So, how do we put all of this into our project? It seems that we have a lot of divergent ideas, which makes sense considering our different backgrounds…

A: Yeah, because I’m French, I have a bit of a barrier in explaining myself in English, a language that is foreign to me. And of course, there’s a big cultural difference, in education for example.

K: Well, I mean I’m an American girl from suburbia. I bring whatever I learned about evolution in my public school.

E: Did you learn anything about evolution?

K: Almost nothing.

E: See, that’s interesting because I also went to public school in suburbia,

A: Oh. Me too…

E: but I learned a lot about evolution. So I guess, even though we think we don’t bring personal knowledge and experience, we all do.

A: Hmm…we could do a project on the differences in education. We all go to a public school, yet our educations have been so different, depending on so many factors…

E: Oh, I don’t know…I like the idea, but I think we should focus more on what we actually talked about and learned in the course.

K: Yeah, these are all great ideas, but how can we relate all of that together and make it into an interesting project that would get us a really good grade?

E: But Katie, we don’t get graded in life…let’s think about this project more along the lines of what was interesting and important to us in this class.

K: That’s true. This class has always been so open-ended…I guess every class changes your way of thinking, but this class has really examined how we think and since we’re so focused on it, our views have been changed a lot.

A: Ok so if we do our project on our own personal evolution and experience throughout this class, I would talk about the way this class has changed me, and my way of analyzing things.

E: You’re a math major, right?

A: Yeah, and for me, I always had just one answer to a problem, and in this class I’ve learned to see that there’s not just a single answer to a problem. Most problems can have several solutions depending on…For example; Whitman’s work has so many meanings. “He creates multitudes”

K: gag

A: No, really…he merges into the world and he makes his readers merge with him. But then divergence is created for each reader, although we’re all reading the same text. Basically, we converge to diverge. This class was such an evolutionary process for me. We were trying stuff and we stopped doing what wasn’t interesting and picked another path, when that stopped being useful, we moved to another path…just like evolution.

K: We spent so much time talking about how evolution was non-foundational, how it didn’t have a strong starting point or end point…and this class was very similar. We all started with different backgrounds, but all in this class…and then we learned all sorts of stuff and analyzed everything form Darwin to Whitman. It didn’t really seem to have a goal because at the end of the day, everyone took different things out of it. Even between the two small groups, the class diverged.

E: So, for our project…it sounds like we want to talk about the evolution of the class or our own evolution…but since we have about ten minutes, we could probably talk about lots of different things – we seem to have a lot to say…how can we narrow it down to just one subject for this project. We all have such different interests. Maybe we can talk about the divergence between us…Katie wrote a paper about the evolution of comics, so you could talk about cultural evolution. Adele, you can talk about the divergence you bring to the class, being from France. And maybe I can talk about the more biological elements, like natural selection among humans. Or, just look at our conversation – it’s so similar to the course.

A: Oh, interesting, I see it too.

K: What do you guys mean?

E: Well Katie, we started all at the same point. Needing to create a project for our class. Then within our one group, we diverged onto different directions relating to what we each found interesting. I find it interesting that this project is evolving just like everything else.

A: It’s basically following the same course of evolution. We start with lots of ideas and divergence. We have a bunch of different paths to take, try each one out and elaborate on it, and then converge again into the project of our own project.

K: Oh, so our project is undergoing evolution in the same way that we are through the class, and the class has throughout the semester? This project is like the descendent to this class…

A: So, what are you suggesting here?

E: Let’s do our project on the evolution of our own project.

K: I feel like if we do a skit about our project, it will be specific and go in a straightforward direction. But the last thing this class is about is a straightforward direction…

E: Oh! That’s good! Let’s put that quote in our skit.

A: Ok, now that we have this idea, how do we start it?

K: I know! I’ll just say: This is our final presentation, we’ll be doing a skit for you…

Sophiaolender's picture

I am going to do my

I am going to do my presentation by using ideas from the book All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren that connect.
Throughout this class I have been reminded of the book
The book deals a lot with the issues of past. Repeatedly, Warren reminds us that if we cannot understand the past, we will never change the future.
A quote fro the book goes, “I tried to tell her how if you could not accept the past and its burden, there was no future, for without one there cannot be the other, and how if you could not accept the past you might hope for the future, for only out of the past can you make the future.”
This idea links strongly to evolution, and more specifically, how we can manipulate evolution. The idea that we must accept the past to have a future always stuck with me and I think the theme ties in well to this course. We have a definite past, present and future in this class, and it mirrors the biological evolution of our world. Our biggest issue in this course was making sense of our past in order to evolve in the present, creating a future.
We talked continually about the importance of the past and argued whether it defined us. We never agreed unanimously on an answer, but we can all accept that at least understanding the past is necessary.
Now, as Keely talked about the web, I want to talk about the web as it is defined in All the King’s Men.
In the book, Warren talks about the metaphorical spider web.
In the book, he writes, ”Cass Mastern lived for a few years and in that time he learned that the world is all of one piece. He learned that the world is like an enormous spider web and if you touch it, however lightly, at any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter and the drowsy spider feels the tingle.”
I think this idea is so relevant to our course. This quote is talking about how all people effect each other. I felt strongly throughout this term, and I think most people will agree, that the learning I did in this class was not solely through my interpretations. Everyone’s contributions influenced my ideas and even, sometimes, changed my mind.
We all effect each other – be it an offhanded comment or a well-phrased idea from the forum. Everything will be interpreted by everyone in their own way, and that is where the real learning and evolution takes place in our course.
kbrandall's picture

Branches of evolution

I'm sorry that there's really no way to put up here the "trees" that the first group made out of sticks and cards (although we do have the pictures that Professor Grobstien took). I really enjoyed that presentation-- at first it just seemed fun, and also funny, and I wasn't sure how it would take ten minutes. But I didn't get bored with it, because the longer I looked the more I saw there. If it had been shorter I wouldn't have had a chance to read and look at as many of the cards. While I don't think it covered the whole course (becaue none of the presentations could) and it wasn't an idea I would ever have come up with, I like that it brought us back to the biological evolution, which is where this course started, and reminded up of the complexity of that.
kbrandall's picture

Here's our script/ selection of quotes...Enjoy!

Lillie: The aim of a liberal education…

Katie: is to unsettle presumptions, to defamiliarize the familiar, to reveal what is going on beneath and behind appearances,

Erin: to disorient young people and to help them to find ways to reorient themselves.”

L: Is our story not a shared one? You can look at us all as readers. Scientists are trying to interpret and form conclusions about the world, just as readers of poetry are trying to do the same with words on a page.

K: both the author and the critic are similar to scientists. They base new writing/ experimentation upon an older tradition, whether the end result is confirming it or rebelling against it.

L: “When on board H.M.S. ‘Beagle,’ as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past in habitants of that continent.”-Darwin

E: As this class continues I find that the gap between science and literature is rapidly closing. Science is a story, literature is a tool for looking at the world; I can't lie when I say that I find all of this to be quite disconcerting.

L: Poetry is never fiction: there's always an underling truth. The poet writes from observation as does a scientist. No matter how this observation is conveyed, through verse or scientific narrative.

K: Dennet seems to suggest that we create the meaning of our acts by acting.

L: To me it is obvious that Dennett is essentially a philosopher… Could the story of evolution, in fact, rid life of its meaning? “I need a reason to live” even if their were no greater meaning, no skyhook explanation for why we are here… should we not find a crane solution?

K: I think that a similarity between science and religion is that they both require this dynamic-- to learn something, to question further, to learn something new.

E: Neither can be refuted, who can say that the world was randomly created or not?

L: poetry can easily be as abstract or non-representational as some art.

K: If art is something new, if its purpose is simply to be something new for you to experience, what good is writing about it? What good is discussing it?

L: have I come up with an answer?

E: What's the use of the subconscious? At the very least it creates beautiful works that enrich our lives and put into words or pictures the very stuff of thoughts.

K: ...writing, unlike painting, must be read in a chronological order. We read a word, then the next, then the next. We can only really "see" one word at a time. I think this is another reason that writing is less abstract than other forms of art.

E:I do see myself as a piano key, constantly being played upon by forces outside my control. The question is, if we still get to enjoy the wonder of this world, if we are still capable of creating beautiful things, does it matter?

L: We may be taking linear tracks, but we have other requirements that help us to make our own personal connections between the courses. This is the way we evolve from our classes.

L: What if the writer were the architect, the book the apartment building, and the reader the apartment dweller?

K: (about Lillie's analogy)This fits both with my experience as a writer of constructing something-- something almost tangible-- and my experience as a reader of being in a new place.

L: an image comes to mind of a wizened man on the deck of a boat suddenly having a moment of epiphany as the wind blows his hair.

E. Imagination, rather than mere intelligence, is the truly human quality" (12). Literature comes up with creative guesses (some absurd but some accurate) while science responds with even stranger theories.

K: Have you worked so hard to be original? Have you pushed away awareness of your own precursors?

E: Leaves of Grass is Walt Whitman, an extremely persuasive Whitman who (in his presentation of himself) makes sure to whisper sweet nothings in our ear in the hope that we will hear him and join in.

K: What you create is new... the combination is new and no one else could have made it and no other time could have made it

And what you create is old... its components are old and they are gathered in you from your parents and from all experience

L: Hustvedt's merging isn't quite the same… the search for answers and meaning as well as the attention to the unconscience are important themes.

E: We have the divergence of languages, the evolution of a language, and the merging of languages

L: Which is the sound of the land

Full of the same wind

That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,

And, nothing himself, beholds

Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

-wallace Stevens

E: Either way, this enlightenment is only accomplished by depriving yourself of sights sounds, of input of any kind.

K:”It was snowing… it struck me as a moment when the boundary between inside and outside loosens, and there is no loneliness because there is no one to be lonely.

L: In order to understand the nothing we have to be ready to make our ‘selves’ nothing too.

K: A recent list was published of “new classics”

E: The Road , Cormac McCarthy

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling

Beloved, Toni Morrison

The Liars' Club, Mary Karr

American Pastoral, Philip Roth

L: Mystic River, Dennis Lehane

Maus, Art Spiegelman

Selected Stories, Alice Munro

Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami

K:Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer

Blindness, José Saramago

Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers

E:The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez

Rabbit at Rest, John Updike

On Beauty, Zadie Smith

Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding

E: There is such a deification of science in this country that I never would have considered myself to be a scientist before attending this class but now, well, I think I'm beginning to discover that science is simply what you observe and what you get from those observations.

L: Long long ago God descended to earth and made a man and a woman out of clay.

K: The question Darwin sidesteps is whether God first created one form of life, or several, and has very little to do with current arguments over how life could have spontaneously evolved on Earth

L: And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

K; Do we contradict ourselves?

Very well then... we contradict ourselves.

E: Science and religion are both far more similar then some would believe. Two men observe a garden, they both see that it is beautiful, full of flowers, fruit and tangled weeds. Both men declare that such marvels have been created over time by an incredibly powerful, unthinkably immense force. One names this force God and the other evolution.

K: The shift in meaning of the word “skyhook” was not a blind, random process. We as a class selected with a purpose. We selected a meaning or meanings that interested us and that furthered our ongoing discussion.

E: there are always alternative stories to everything. No concept is fixed, no universal truth can point us towards the most accurate story, we must observe the world around us and make the best story we can.

L: Isn’t that something that Evolution may ask us to do? Evolution may take away our meaning or our own singular importance in the world in exchange for an understanding of the world itself.

E: Remember, we are the storytelling species, no other form of life on this planet writes dissertations or sees bulls and heroes in the stars. As long as we continue to gaze in wonder on the beauty of this universe we will write stories. And, as long as we continue to be a dynamic, evolving species, our stories will evolve with us.

K: This lack of a resolution, a definite ending, could also be related to biological evolution in that it is a process without a definite endpoint

Anne Dalke's picture

a meandering river of discussion

Liz, Sarah and Marina's turning (a relatively orderly) "tree of evolution" into a totally meandering "river of discussion"--stable because of (rather than despite) change--put me in mind of something Mark Twain said in Chapter 10 of Life on the Mississippi. The chapter is entitled "Completing My Education":

piloting becomes another matter when you apply it to vast streams like the Mississippi...whose alluvial banks cave and change constantly, whose snags are always hunting up new quarters, whose sand-bars are never at rest, whose channels are for ever dodging and shirking, and whose obstructions must be confronted in all nights and all weathers..

Paul and I have heard this analogy applied before to the ways in which our classes operate; participants in a summer institute, a few years ago, described it as "the Mississippi River, also changing but always still .... "focused", coherent in some way."


enewbern's picture

Our River

I think that Mark Twain's description of a river really does fit the sort of river that I was thinking fit for a discription of this class. It has to be navigated and there are all kinds of unforseen turns and bends. There is convergence and divergence of streams of thought in relation to the large river as a whole. It is a path that you begin not knowing where it will take you. He conveyed succinctly what I was trying to do when I was explaining our river.
Marina's picture


I really like Mark Twain's analogy of the Mississippi river and I think it really shows why we decided to have our final project be a river rather than the tree. The river conveys more of a feeling of creating its own path, rather than a tree that seems to be forced to move upward. A river flows freely creating streams, creeks, and brooks in its path. I think these creeks and brooks that the river can create are representative of the divergent thinking of this class. The river may be flowing in one direction headed straight for the ocean (representative of overarching biology/lit theme of class?) but on the way to that ocean it allows the freedom to explore new areas and in the case of our class, new ideas.
Anne Dalke's picture

Photos from our Finale, Day 1

sustainablephilosopher's picture

Script of The Island of Mystical Mystique

The Island of Mystical Mystique
by Hilary McGowan, Fatima Quadri, Tim Richards, and Lucie Steinberg

Narrator: Charles Darwin, Walt Whitman, Siri Hustvedt, and Daniel Dennett mysteriously find themselves on a beautiful tropical island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Dennett: My oh my, it seems we've somehow reached across the fabric of space and time to contemporaneously inhabit this quaint little island! Whatever could have brought such an odd gathering of us here together all at once?

Hustvedt: I have this memory of watching gilligan's island...maybe thats what this is.

Darwin: Look at all this plant life! Say, does anyone see any finches?

Whitman: Oh Charles, who needs finches when we have each other to study? Oh the beauty and life within us, isn't it wonderful?!

Husvedt: studying each other is obviously the best way to get off this island. lets make a couch out of coconuts and we'll each lie down and talk about our childhood

Darwin: Of course we can study each other, but it is the entire world in which we humans interact with the environment. From the tiniest earth worm to the largest elephant.

Whitman: But we are the worm and the elephant as well! Nature is us and we are nature, don't you see that?

Dennett: Say, how the hell did we get here, anyway?

Husvedt: i can't say how you got here daniel, but i got here because my great great great grandparents immigrated to this island.

Darwin: Now, as it seems we are stuck on this island together, and it appears that we are most alone at this point in time, we must try to find a way to survive. We can use our intellects and the bodies that God has willingly given us to try and combat
You, good sirs and ma'am, must be able to find food and shelter to survive, or we, errrr, may not be able to continue our distinct human race on this isolated island.

Whitman: Why does it matter Daniel? Just enjoy life as it is now, that question is not important. And Charles, we are never alone, we always have nature as our company. Why don't we meditate first? Perhaps we will find the answers there? And then we proceed to working on your suggestion Charles.

Dennett: Charlie, I like where your mind is, but say, you never did answer my question. How do you think we got here?

Darwin: I am not sure, to tell the truth. But it seems that we have somehow spontaneously all arrived at a single location together. Am I right in this assumption?

Dennett: Indeed, that seems to be the case, though our origins hitherto seem rather obscured from us. Might you offer any conjecture as to our genesis to this strange place?

Darwin: Origins? You said, Origins? Hmmmmmm.... *writes in notebook and looks very thoughtful* Perhaps our lives began at a certain point, a point at which we developed the notions to all think in some way that transported us to this invariable location.

Whitman: (not really paying attention) Oh this place is so beautiful.... And we are so beautiful. This world is so beautiful....

Husvedt: Clearly not, charles. we are the products of the political, social, and economic structures that informed the experiences of our ancestors.

Dennett: Why, Siri, that just seems ridiculous! One might as well say that a giant apparatus descended from the sky and supplanted us here! Your explanation is clearly unsupported and insupportable. However, Charlie here is really getting at something with his speculation on Origins... he is quite grounded in something firm and real, it seems.

Husvedt: there is no beauty in being stuck, as it seems we are gentlemen...

Whitman: Oh come on Siri! Being stuck is a part of life! Life is wonderful and so is the art of being stuck. It only gives us something new to discover about this world and ourselves.

Darwin: Some would even venture to say that my ideas are dangerous!

Dennett: Oh Charlie, your ideas are dangerously delicious. It really is a shame that members of the same gender of our species cannot procreate... perhaps we should evolve to be able to do so. However, in the absence of that capability, I sincerely worry for the fate of our species given tha
t Siri is the only capable vessel for our progeny - I, for one, abstain from this duty

Husvedt: and why do you feel compelled to abstain, daniel? why do you think you need this wedge between us?

Darwin: *coughs* I hope that the most successful of our male representations would be able to further on our species, but there are times when it certainly seems like lady luck decided for us. Hmmmmmmm... I do not feel that I am compelled to abstain, I would rather think about this for a while.

Whitman: There is no wedge. We are all connected in nature's harmony. Right Daniel and Charles?

Dennett: Well, yes, conceptually. I would not, however, desire to merge with Siri. But moving on, instead of focusing on what I will not do, we do need to address just what we are going to do while we are here, and how we will get ourselves out of here (if escape is indeed our goal)

Darwin: Well, there could be a wedge. Again, I am not really sure. What do you think about our being here and how to possibly get back? I was having a nice cup of tea that I would like to get back to.

Whitman: Why should we escape? If this is where we were brought then let us create our world here! We can live in harmony and bask in the glory of a Utopian society. Mother nature would be so proud!

Husvedt: Of course escape is our goal! and the way to do that is to look to our past. Now, who dreamt of what last night?

Whitman: I had tea with the trees and leaves from my backyard. We talked about our day and discovering our multitudes, it was lovely. But can I ask how that relates to our escape Siri?

Husvedt: walt, we may only move forward by looking to the past. and it is only in dreams that we may truly see our pasts...

Darwin: The past is certainly how we are formed to be created today. The origins of life have changed and manipulated themselves to what we and every other species is today. Although I think you're talking about our most recent past, Siri.

Whitman: And by looking into our unconsious?! Brilliant! More multitudes to be uncovered!

Dennett: Well, I for one would not like to remain here - perhaps I would spend some more time with Darwin another time, but these other two are a bit much to digest. Whitman, this creator idea you talk about is deeply problematic.

Darwin: Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being which she tends.

Whitman: I appreciate the wonders of the universe. What exactly is problematic Mr. Dennett?

Dennett: Well, I don't much want to belabor it now, but it is a fantastical idea that comes out of nowhere. Charlie has a much better account, methinks

Whitman: Out of nowhere sir? It isn't out of nowhere, its from within us. Just because you cannot see it with your "crane" doesn't mean that it does not exist.

Husvedt: Listen, guys. I want to get out of here. This is bringing up traumatic memories of tv dinners and my parents' bickering. So, in the interest of moving on, i think we should all share about our familial ancestors and the past.

Darwin: Crane, what crane??? I've only seen a few skyhooks fluttering about.

Whitman: Oh dear, he sees skyhooks... Who's the crazy one now?

Dennett: But soft! I've found here a treasure chest! I am opening it presently, and there is a scroll of sorts inside. Let us see what this says forthwith..."You are all here marooned on the island of Dalke and Grobstein. You have been convened for the purposes of educating the youth of Haverford and Brynmawr Colleges on Science, Literature, and the Meaning of Life. You are to separately write texts that will be used in service of this end, and when you are done you will reconvene with all of your ideas to present a convergent summary of your disparate ideas to show the youth what you have learned." I daresay, we may be here for a reason after all!

Husvedt: sigh. i'm so lonely.

Whitman: No one is lonely Siri. We are all in this together! Me, you, them, and everything around us!

Darwin: Yes, we are all together!
This scroll is most interesting, let us go off on our own ways now and explore this island.

Whitman: Siri and I will go in one direction and Charles and Daniel in another....perhaps we may meet again?

Husvedt: of course we will, history is doomed to repeat itself--we will meet in our dreams!

Dennett: We will converge and diverge again and again without rhyme or reason... but I for one will enjoy the ride, and keep comforting stories in mind along the way.

Darwin: What crazy creatures we are who have evolved. See you soon, my most interesting island friends!

The End

This was our script that emerged spontaneously and simultaneously over the internet through Google docs.