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Lynn's picture



            Initially, I signed up for The Story of Evolution because I saw that it was cross-listed for both English and Biology, and would give me a natural science credit; the course seemed a great way to fulfill a graduation requirement while managing to avoid dissecting anything. I didn’t know of anyone who had taken the course (although, as I’ve talked about it throughout the semester, I’ve discovered that several of my friends have taken it before), and I had no idea what to expect.

            The first few days of class, I was intrigued, but resistant. I still didn’t understand the purpose of the course – my notes from those lectures are covered in question marks and poorly organized, as I couldn’t figure out which topics should be grouped together and which were more tangential. I was willing to accept that evolution was merely another word for change, and I was even comfortable with the idea of everything, even those “facts” of life that I took for granted, was but a pleasant story, a single way of interpreting the world rather than the only way. I liked these ideas, and was quick to incorporate them into my way of viewing life, but I was much more hesitant to freely explore topics of purposelessness and randomness in discussion. I’ve fancied myself something of an Existentialist since the tenth grade, when I did a paper on Existentialism for my English class (I embraced the philosophy with all the pretension my sixteen-year-old self could muster), so I was actually quite familiar and comfortable with a universe devoid of ultimate meaning. That was fine. What disquieted me, though, was that we were discussing Existentialism and a sort of Nihilism so freely. I’ve been trying to understand why this was the largest obstacle for me in the course, but I still don’t know what it was that bothered me so greatly. Perhaps I was unprepared to tackle philosophy in what I had thought was a Biology class. Perhaps I still associated Existentialism with private research and library books whose spines had never been cracked. For about two weeks, though, I was uneasy, and once again confused about the purpose of the course.

            At some point, I overcame that uneasiness, although I don’t remember when or how. I won’t claim that I understand the material now – I’m still thinking about it, and trying to understand problems that have only just now occurred to me, after the class has ended – but I am much more receptive to it. I began this class with a definite idea of what I would and would not accept; now, I want as many ideas presented to me as possible, so that I can sort through them at my leisure and decide, after much consideration, what to incorporate into my beliefs and what to reject. I think that this course has made me more open-minded, and, if for no other reason, that makes me grateful that I had the opportunity to take it.

            I have also become a little – not a lot, I admit, but still a significant amount – more open with my thoughts. A problem that I have been facing all year is that Bryn Mawr expects open, easy discourse, and I struggle to vocalize my beliefs and opinions. Even Serendip, with its honesty-encouraging written format, presented a challenge for me. Sometimes I didn’t have the words for what I was thinking, and often I was simply too nervous to speak them, but the end result was that I didn’t frequently raise my hand in class. I really regret that I didn’t talk more. I allowed shyness, or something very like it, to prevent me from contributing to and developing in this class as much as I could have. I’ve improved since last semester, when I was so quiet a professor actually remarked upon it and coached me before a presentation, in that I have participated in discussion, but I was never one of the students who would hold an impromptu debate with the rest of the class, and I wish that I had been. I think that I would have gotten much more out of the discussions if I had been more active in them.

            I think that my written work was stronger than my class participation, though. My first essay can kindly be called a disaster; I was unsure what I was supposed to write, or what the professors were looking for, or even how far I could carry the idea of evolution. I ended up adapting one of the suggested prompts instead of thinking more creatively and selecting a topic I truly loved – I didn’t understand, then, that this class encouraged original thinking and specialization, and I thought that I was supposed to directly address a question that had been asked in class. My second paper was better; I wrote about the place that the soul has (or doesn’t have) in our model of evolution, and I incorporated a reading I had done before the class began, as well as the Dennet book the class read together. (By this time, I had learned to synthesize ideas from one class with another, the idea on which I based my presentation.) I had fun writing that second web paper, but I think it was still a little forced. The third web paper I wrote about how a favorite play had evolved in an entirely different direction from its source material. I loved writing that paper; it practically wrote itself. I discovered, in writing it, that I am more interested in evolution as it relates to the arts than I am in biological evolution, even though biological evolution is essentially the model on which the course is based. For my final project, I synthesized yet another discipline – math – with The Story of Evolution and, although the actual presentation made me nervous, I enjoyed it immensely. Taking this course has encouraged me to find the elements in any class that interest me most, and pursue them relentlessly; I love math, literature and philosophy, so why not find the commonality between them and biology and use that? I would not have done that before taking this course. I’ve been putting forth the same effort in each piece/project I have done, but as the course has developed, it has seemed less like effort and more like exploration; I’ve learned to have fun with my academics.




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