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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Story of Evolution / Evolution of Stories Forum

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

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Getting started ...
Name: The Story of Evolution / The Evolution of Stories. This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to, but we hope you'll come to value it as much as students in other courses have.

The first thing to keep in mind is that this isn't a place for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts". Its a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Maybe simpler, imagine that you're not worrying about "writing" but instead that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking, so you can help them think and they can help you think. The idea is that your "thoughts in progress" can contribute to the thinking of others , and theirs can contribute to yours.

So who are you writing for? For yourself, and for others in our class primarily. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in (and might even add their own thoughts in progress, though that doesn't in fact often happen).

That's the second thing to keep in mind here. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughtsin progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people, particularly if you do the best you can to be clear to lots of different people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about. Glad to have you along,and hope you value/enjoy sharing the activity.

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-01-15 10:45:48
Link to this Comment: 7607

We're glad you're here, and hope you too are looking forward to an interesting and novel exploration, seeing what we can together make of the relations among story-telling, biological evolution, and literature. To get us started, have a look at the links under "Mars Landing" on the course web resources page. This is a very current "story in progress", the ongoing writing of a new chapter in the continuing saga of humanity trying to understand its own place in the universe. What do you think of this new chapter so far? How do you think it will come out, and how important do you think that would be for the larger story of which this is a part? Whatever your feelings, leave a few of your thoughts here in the forum as a way for us to start getting to know each other and exploring together.

Of Men and Mars
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-01-15 17:59:26
Link to this Comment: 7609

Hi. I didn't expect to be the first to post, but here goes... it's a great topic...and seemingly without end.

"What do you think of this new chapter so far?"
Well, I think it's not so new...Mars has long been interesting as the most likely other place where life might have existed, and it might have existed in a carbon-based form that might be linked to Earth life. About 8 years ago, Bill Clinton 'fessed up to such research when someone leaked NASA findings about a Mars meteorite that landed on Earth. Reportedly, years of exploration had preceded the leak. The scientists involved found carbonate patterns, but carbon is present in materials that have never been alive; they found hydrocarbons created by bacteria, but these could have been earth-based contaminants; they found "magnetite" globules in a shape that seemed to indicate they were created by bacteria, but not everyone is convinced; they found what looked like fossils but could just as easily have been mineral formations. So the research has continued and there has long been the need for more samples. So, the newest chapter, including Bush's latest proclamation of a Man on Mars program, brings a bunch of fascinating questions to the front bunner once again.

Say we do verify that carbon-based life form(s) did exist on Mars... does that lead to a revision in the evolution story that embraces the possibility of Earthlings and Martians as related? Is the rest of the evolutionary food chain then seen as separate from us? Does this then conveniently allow religion and science to call a truce and co-exist, i.e., evolution for all life-forms but not for man? Or does it mean that life is no big deal...that life can occur most anywhere, given the right (and relatively easy to implement) conditions plus time. That would really throw cold water on the notion of one or more supreme beings as our creators.

If Mars life existed, how did it die? Was it intelligent, advanced? Did they burn off their atmosphere and disintegrate any evidence of a civilization? Say man convinces himself that Mars life did itself we take any lessons to heart from that new belief? Do these lessons help us save ourselves from ourselves or do we become fatalistic? It's not even necessary for Mars life to have been intelligent. It could have inadvertently "traveled" to Earth as a simple life form and found a friendly climate and conditions in which to evolve. YIKES, things could even have gone the other way!

How do I think it will come out? Gosh. I think that we will eventually learn the facts regarding life or no life on Mars. I think that we will continue to hold hope about and maybe try to make Mars a second home for Earthlings in a bind—down the road. I don't think that the religion versus evolution (or versus science) debates will be resolved. They will evolve, but not complete. I do believe that Mars as an alternative eco-system would give us unimaginable clues and insights about our own. How we would use them is a anyone's guess.

I have two wishes of my own for this space venture. I wish that humans would mature beyond their need to be physically territorial (and aggressive), beyond their need to set physical foot on new ground in the process of answering the Mars questions. I have a strong hunch that much of the venture's work could be done by unmanned exploration, with technology acting as a virtual extention of man, by man. We would save so much money that's needed elsewhere—rather than have to pay for porting heavy stations through space. Seems the lion's share of cost is in how to deal with moving weight through space. More importantly, we might grow up a bit in the process.

My other wish is that the program's promoters would talk about the goals of this program as trying to find out whether there is/was life on Mars or not, with the understanding that it's just as interesting and important to know that Mars never had life as it is to find evidence of living organisms. I think we're denying the potential for valuable knowledge and fascinating implications (scientific and religious) if we don't acknowledge that it's equally OK to not find evidence of life there.

See you all next week!

starlit destiny
Name: orah minde
Date: 2004-01-16 00:18:38
Link to this Comment: 7610

Ro Finn wrote, "maybe try to make Mars a second home for Earthlings in a bind—down the road." In octavia butler's "Parable of the Talents" one of the characters says over and over "our destiny is in the stars." and though that might be true i hate it. it's as if we already beleive that this earth is destroyed and that to survive we have to find another home, whether it be on mars, or the moon or where ever. we're giving up hope. i don't care if it is a coincidence that we ended up on the most beautiful planet, or if some higher force put us here, but, man, look at this world ... there is no place more beautiful than where we are right now. and people are getting all psyched up about the perspective of having Mars as their address. have you seen the pictures in the papers? it ain't so pretty up there in the stars.

but, i'm not sure if that's completely accurate: that we are 'giving up hope.' i don't think that's what it is...i think it's that we're scared shitless ... and when we hear that the ozone is being depleated because of the SUVs that we're driving, when we hear that people are starving while we are padding our soft cusioned sofas with couchpotato crums, when we hear that in fifty years a HUGE number of species on our planet will be extinct because the way WE live ... What do you do when you hear that you are slowly, but most definatly, killing yourself? we freeze up and we don't know how to process this information. and instead of givig up our present lifestyles we say that we would rather move to Mars. But i don't think we know what we're talking about.
last semester i read a wonderful book called "the salt eaters"
in this book a woman has just tried to kill herself, her life is painful, and the way she deals with it is she leaves herself, she leaves her body, and floats over her own life ...
and i think that is what we're doing. things hurt down here and so we drink ourselves into a gadamn stuppor, we fill our glasses with our paychecks and our high falutent education and fancy degrees and long long resumes and we leave our world, our body, behind. and each one of us needs to be smacked in the face and told, 'get back down here, get the godamn hell out of the stars, get off of mars and look at yourself, look here!' we have enough problems right here and we don't need to be looking stary-eyes out into space. fix the here and now and if we fail i don't think we want to be living anywhere else anyways.
but again i am not accurate... it's not that we drink ourselves stupid, it's that we think that if we don't FEEL our own death then we aren't expereincing it. if we can float above ourselves and not feel our own death then it doesn't matter. we don't cherish life enough to realize that pain is such a minor part of life no matter how great. when it really gets down to it, when we are dying to most painful, ugly death we cling onto life so tightly. even in the greatest pain, the pain that is exclusive, WE STILL CHOSE LIFE.

but, silly me, i digress.

one more thing: i just saw the movie 'minority report' with tom cruise. in this movie there is an institution called 'precrime' that is able to see into the future and faultlessly predict a murder before it is about to happen. so, the precrime police go to the scene of the murder seconds before it happens and arrest the perspective (but sure) murderer. and the question is: can we change our desitny? is it moral to arrest someone who has not yet commited the crime, but whose destiny dictates what he is to do? do we have the choice in those last seconds NOT to kill? do we, NOW, have the choice NOT to destroy this world?

and i think our destiny is destruction, but can we change that????????? the only thing stopping us is that we already beleive that are destruction is imminent. we beleive that we have already died. and we are hopelessly bleeding to death. BUT WE AREN'T. This beleif is what's going to cut us. BUT WE AREN'T CUT YET.

Which way forward?
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-01-16 01:41:56
Link to this Comment: 7611

Ro, very interesting questions you raise, particularly about making Mars a second home for "Earthlings in a bind". This was certainly something at the back of my mind as I read "From Robot Geologists to Human Geologists on Mars", which talked about the life-support infrastructure being set up to make research on the planet possible.

I'm cynical, though: once all that is in place, how long will Mars be allowed to remain a laboratory? Special interest groups will spring up to stake their claims faster than you can blink. Our situation back on Earth is dire: daily we outgrow our means to live – let us in, let us in! What about the new Arab state? At last, a resolution to an age-old conflict! Ah, but we can pay our way to the red planet. Shouldn't we be first in line?

Shed a tear and spin a tale – we are, all of us, "Earthlings in a bind". How will we assess our 'rights' to Mars then? Who to let in, and who to keep out?

I wonder, will space exploration really deepen our appreciation of our own blue planet? Or will our technology cheapen it, creating other life-supporting ecosystems? Once we have begun to look further afield, will we ever look back? Will we choose to repair the damage when we have the option to simply move on? There is a great concern for the accountability of science – does this accountability (or the concern) lessen when we deal with something as infinite as the universe? Responsibility becomes threatened with triviality.

Then again, maybe my worries are themselves trivial, springing from an old story that is reluctant to be replaced.

So I confess a discomfort with the idea of an alien invasion of Mars. Given our track record with the planet we call home, and given that Mars is not, I find myself somewhat worried for the fate of our stoic little neighbour, and what may become the ghost of a planet from which we launched our grandest visions of exploration.

Mars, fiction and understanding
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-01-17 19:15:58
Link to this Comment: 7612

My first thought would be that there are too many problems on earth for the government to be spending so much to understand mars. I think that Ro's comment that "we would save so much money that is needed elsewhere [with unmanned technology]" is insightful and agree with Orah's feeling that "it's as if we already believe that this earth is destroyed and that to survive we need to find another home".

I think it is very important to explore WHY we are doing this just as much as what we are doing. It seems to me that "looking to the stars" is often what humans do to make sense of their own existence when things get particularly difficult on earth. The world situation right now seems somewhat similar to the situation that existed when we landed on the moon. It all boils down to a humans trying to create understanding- because I'm not quite sure if understanding is something the can quite exist organically. That's why writing and art are particularly valuable- they give structure and help to create an illusion of understanding- Maybe that's why we are doing this exploration- to create understanding. "How do you think this will come out?" I think it will inevitably make us think that we have succeeded in creating a "better" understanding. And better because the expedition is based in "reality" and confirmed by "technology". This is one of the reasons why this course seems interesting to me. I want to obtain a more expansive understanding of a relationship between science and literature- rather than seeing them as two distinct entities- one heavily based in reality and truth and the other rooted in the imaginative world. I can see already that it's much more expansive than that.

I think an interesting piece of fiction- something we "make up completely" could provide similar discoveries (just like the discovery of whether or not life can be sustained on mars, was there life etc...)if people had mindsets which were "inversely creative". I just made up that term- it's not the best :) By this I mean that people are creative enough to make up any story, to dream anything- but not "inversely creative" that is, creative enough to believe all stories to be valid and to believe stories as much as truth. We could just say that there was life on mars. We could say anything. Does there need to be proof? I think that 99 percent of people would say ABSOLUTELY! But I also know that the value of fiction is greater than people want to admit or perhaps want to explore- At any rate, the value of truth in the creation of and continuance of the story of evolution is something that deserves to be explored further.

However, there is a certain kind of excitement at the prospect of it all. I find the new discoveries and our relative success on Mars to be comforting. What we are doing there vaguely resembles an escape, like one of the undeniable functions that writing and reading can serve. I do think that there is a connection between the arts, the mind and space exploration which I'll think about more. I don't know why this in particular keeps coming into my mind. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with turning elsewhere- inventing an alternate future for ourselves, looking for an alternate reality. If nothing else it is an interesting mental exercise- the exploration itself and the technology that must be created in order to explore. The fact that we can do this does call to the forefront the power of the human mind. Just as one of the articles indicated that understanding mars would help us to better understand earth, I think that exercising the human mind in this vein could indeed help us learn to figure out various problems here. But that statement does frustrate me slightly because I'm not exactly sure how this would work.

The article about the clocks and Mars time being different from earth time was particularly fascinating to me because time is a human construct to begin with. Or at least I think it is. Is it? The fact that it would be important for us to measure Mars time seems to transcend technological significance. It makes me wonder what time is to begin with. And why humans made time. And why it is so important. Is it another instance of needing structure and understanding?

I think that the pictures of Mars are quite beautiful- because it seems so empty. I would love to do an art project with some of that imagery joined with the concepts of time and loss. It all seems like a very rich source for creative writing or artwork-

I loved reading the forum entries! Very interesting ideas- See you all soon!

Name: Lauren Fri
Date: 2004-01-18 12:43:54
Link to this Comment: 7614

Wow, reading everyone's postings really got me thinking. I think Orah makes a very salient (though grim) point when she says that "our destiny is destruction." While that idea is certainly troubling, that has always been my main concern with space exploration. Elizabeth pointed out that the state of world affairs right now is reminiscent of when we landed on the moon. People seem excited by the possibility of finding life on Mars (or elsewhere), but our world today (like our world at the time of the moon landing) is a total mess. If we cannot even find peace among our own species, what will happen if we discover intelligent life elsewhere? If we cannot stop destroying our own environment and depleting our earth's natural resources, what's to stop us from total destruction of another world?
Elizabeth also talks about fiction and the possibilities of discovery within fiction. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but there are those who argue that the whole Mars exploration is a big hoax. In "Sure, It May Look Like Mars," which appeared in the January 10th New York Times, Jack Hitt writes about the proliferation of people in online newsgroups who are screaming "fake." They point to what they call "obviously stitched-together quality of the panoramic shots" to try to prove that NASA is making the whole thing up, aided by some fancy special effects. Hitt points out that these people often lack a basic knowledge of high school science, but to them, the lines between science and fiction have blurred completely.
I know my thoughts are pretty disjointed, but I look forward to many more tangential discussions in class and on the forum. :-)

Reality on Mars
Name: Daniela Mi
Date: 2004-01-18 14:52:00
Link to this Comment: 7615

Hello all! That is an engrossing discussion.
Thinking about the quantum theory, Mandelbrot, Darwin, it seems to me that reality much depends on the observer. Isn't it true then, that we sometimes see want we want to see and then think up of certain logic to substantiate our findings?
On Mars people are looking for a form of life that corresponds to that found on Earth, because they don't know another form of life. Given the different conditions found there, who cannot prove there is some sort of life? I guess poeple will never be able to get rid of their subjectivity...

Whales and Mars
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-01-18 16:18:21
Link to this Comment: 7616

I think it's only fitting to have Melville's Moby Dick as one of our primary literature texts for this course, especially as we begin to explore the consequences of Mars exploration. My immediate thought was that of Captain Ahab and his monomaniacal quest for the white whale. While Moby Dick means many things to many people, I find it accurate to think of her as Ahab's imagined evil. And where Moby Dick is Ahab's imagined evil, Mars is Earth's imagined savior.
No tangible good ever came from chasing our imaginations.
To accept that there exists, or that there existed, the possibility of life on Mars changes Earth's role in the universe dangerously. No longer will we be subject to Earth's sometimes moody disposition – hurricanes, earthquakes, ungodly cold temperatures – but pushing nature aside and becoming masters of our own worlds, worlds that have the possibility of being more friendly once we figure out how to tweak the universe in our favor.
It is a dangerous thought, and one that I don't think the human species is capable of handling. There are some things that should be left alone to exist as they have always done without human intervention. Whales and Mars are only two.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-01-18 20:01:01
Link to this Comment: 7617

I think we need to focus on our reason for wanting to explore Mars in order to discuss the stories that will one day be told about us. I like Elizabeth's idea that our search is driven by the need for understanding. I like to think that much of what people do is in fact driven by an innate need for knowledge and understanding. Thats why we're all here, isn't it? And so, although I firmly believe that there are many other, more worthwhile places to put our money here on earth, I don't condemn the decision to explore Mars. The exploration refelect a curious, questioning society, however misguided we may be in choosing this endeavor. It is possible that we may be written up as an ambitious, somewhat intelligent people. But thats just my hopeless optimism speaking..

Name: Reeve Baso
Date: 2004-01-18 21:50:12
Link to this Comment: 7618

The capacity for imagination and wonder are beautiful, uniquely human traits and space exploration is a powerful manifestation of these qualities. But our reasons for exploring Mars seem to limit rather than promote the expansion of perspective and imagination. Searching for life on Mars has become a way of writing space into the human story rather than pushing the limits of human understanding to consider stories that are infinitely larger than our species. As others have touched on in previous postings, the conditions on earth are condusive to life and the condtions on Mars are not- it doesn't make sense to try to make an uninhabitable planet inhabitable so that we have somewhere to go when we make our own inhabitable planet uninhabitable. These misaligned priorities are reflective of another unique human characteristic, namely our need to be the center of our stories and, by extension, our need to feel powerful. It's about pushing the limits of our power, not our understanding. Space exploration exists on both sides of this line.

Name: emily
Date: 2004-01-19 16:55:22
Link to this Comment: 7620

humans have been fascinated with space stories/aliens for so long, that it would seem that the discovery of life-forms on mars would only confirm what many people would like to believe. humans don't want to be alone. part of this may stem from the facts that orah and others mentioned-- if we're not alone, then perhaps there is potential for some kind of salvation for our race.
in gloria naylor's "mama day", the title character watches a daytime TV program where people speak of their opinions regarding aliens. a woman asks the host if it is possible that aliens might be bent on taking over the earth. "Her husband beats her," Mama Day thinks, "...and that's what she wants explained." i agree with orah in that the escapist view of mars as a future home does bring into startling focus the fact that as humans we very seldom take the time to self-examine. what is going on in the landscapes of our own minds and living rooms? who are we blaming for our own shortcomings? what texts are we creating in our search for a greater understanding of the unknown? is it possible to think of our space exploration as an open-ended missive to the universe? and what would it be-- an invitation or a politely worded warning? an SOS or a love letter?

Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-01-19 18:09:47
Link to this Comment: 7621

Hellooo Emily!
good to 'see' you again...

your post made me think that, when I wrote about Mars as a possible alternative for "Earthlings in a bind down the road," (can one quote one's self?) I was actually thinking about that bind being caused by something out of our control, like the demise of our sun......but something that we might be clever enough to literally side-step, having started with "one giant step for mankind." It's interesting that those who've commented about the (good or bad) idea of Mars as a refuge have done so from the standpoint of man having ruined Earth and needing a fresh planet. What if it's just the next necessary step in the survival of our species? What if we were to clean up our act, take care of our planet, but still ultimately need to explore and develop Mars as a contingency plan?

World without end. Amen.
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-01-19 18:59:20
Link to this Comment: 7622

I'm really feeling sheepish here...two posts in a row, but that's how my brain works. Sorry.

But I wasn't thinking when I wrote the last post... if our sun becomes a brown dwarf or dies out, then Mars will be toast, as will the rest of this solar system. What we need to find--if we're serious about the notion of a "world without end" (in either a religious or secular sense) is another solar system with accommodations and the means to get to it. In the meantime, we are all bound by the same fate. It's a matter of when, not if. Even if we take really good care of Earth, we still need to get out of Dodge, not just to the next way station. So, going to Mars could buy us time, teach how to better take care of this planet, maybe prepare Mars as a spare, but it's really got to be about learning soooo much more in time to make a much bigger move. Or should we go for quality of life and focus on the immediate stuff around us...for as long as we have?

What's really beginning to tug at me is the notion of a virtual world...a definition of "world" as "where we are."

purpose of our mission
Name: Katherine
Date: 2004-01-19 23:55:01
Link to this Comment: 7626

I have a hard time believing that our interest in Mars stems from anything other than a desire to colonize it once we decard the shell that Earth will inevitably become. Just look at what scienctists are searching for on Mars. Signs that it can or has at one point supported life. The presence of oxygen. Water. Water is a big one. People already know that fresh water is one of our most rapidly disappearing resourses. It has been predicted that the next great war will not be fought over oil or land or religion, but fresh water supplies. And though no water has yet been found on Mars both the European and United States web sites seem sure that it can't be too far under the surface of the plant.

I also enjoyed comparing the European web site to the United States site. I thought that it showed the European scientists to be far more objective and scientific and less hopefull(?)...fictional. They presented the facts, on the geography of the planet, the environment, the purpose for the mars exploration mission. The United States web site, however, constantly wanted to make Mars a fun little game. There was a disappointing small amount of solid factual information on the planet. Instead all energy seemed to be turned to making Mars appealing to children. And what a good job they did in their Mars related storytelling: "The danger of Mars still lurks in our conscience, for Mars today is a hostile world, blanketed in toxic soil and zapped with radiation... We begin to brave the hardships because Mars is the only planet on which humans could one day settle, making it a place of hope as well as trepidation."

Name: Fritz Dubu
Date: 2004-01-20 01:00:27
Link to this Comment: 7628

The whole idea of going to Mars on the side of Americans reads like some great fairytale in the making. The government is willing to pour millions if not billions of dollars into what seems to be a dream. When the American mars scientists speak about going to mars, this dream seems more of a tangible concept. But when laymen speak of it it seems like some silly and fickle notion.
If the backing for the space programs were consistantly in the public eye like the war in Iraq, the notion of a moon base would not seem so far fetched. But these random spirts of interest work against any credibility that the government could have in the realm of exploring Mars.
The European scientist are working in the now. They are working to find out the comosition of Mars's atmosphere. Americans are planning what habitats and vehicles will be right. I agree with the European method of dealing with what is right in front of them now instead of already, this works to make a dream more of a reality.

Name: Emily Sene
Date: 2004-01-20 01:22:14
Link to this Comment: 7629

one way to muster public support for government spending on the space program is to put a sci-fi, fantastical spin on missions such as the mars probe. adding a dramatic edge to what can seem like a dry, scientific study makes it more accessible to the average person because it grabs their attention. however, it is important to distinguish actual data from the numerous predictions and assumptions which abound in reporting on mars.
i agree with previous posters who stated that the european website does a better job of doing this than the american.

Name: Heather Da
Date: 2004-01-20 01:55:49
Link to this Comment: 7630

My initial reaction to reading these articles, I have to admit, was "Who cares about Mars?...Why are we doing this/wasting money?" I was reading "Savage Inequalities" for another class, and just finished reading about a town that could not afford to pump leaking sewage out of people's basements and public buildings. Children in the impoverished area are getting diseases and asthma because they cannot afford to have basic services. Meanwhile neighborhood towns turn their backs. And then....robots on Mars, learning about how to grow food on infertile land, turning piss into water, get enough oxygen. It seems crazy to me. And not only because I am pessimistic about a race that turns their back on thier neighbor's problems to respect any life on another planet, or maintain any living capacity that Mars is found to have. But because I do cherish human's ability and drive for understanding. There is SO much to learn from whats sitting right in front of us. I would like to say that it is obvious that we need a deeper understanding of our neighbors. And there is so much more to learn about Earth. Why are people living in filth and contamination? The Earth is naturally self perpetuating and healing and cyclic. Why do we produce so much waste from things that would otherwise be naturally reintroduced into the "cycle of life"? Why do we think we can "throw away" things? Where does that concept come from? Much exploration needs to be done in how to make a self-sustaining livelihood, if that makes sense, rather than on how to, say, make convenient disposable wipes or something to that effect which bombard me when I watch television. Why is it than, going back to what I was talking about in the beginning, when feces can be a good fertilizer, does it all accumulate and end up contaminating a small population?

To end my rambling, and on another note.....In answer to Ro's question on whether we should put efforts into finding a habitat for a future when Earth's sun dies...I think not. I think we should concentrate on what we have, both on changing what we can and enjoying the Earth as we know it. Who knows if, even after much time and energy and resources, if there will be another place we can live in. This agian relates to religion, in a weird way.

The Mars Story
Name: Mary Ferre
Date: 2004-01-20 09:00:01
Link to this Comment: 7632

The Mars story is a continuation of the story about the human quest for understanding. Does Mars have water? Was there ever life on Mars? If so, what does this teach us about our own existence? We seek knowledge of our world with our Beagle paws, and our stereo cameras eyes. Less romanticized about, less spoken about, the exploration of Mars is a continuation of the story about the human quest for power.
Powerful nationalists investing billions for more power. Countries do not spend extreme money to gain knowledge for knowledge's sake. NO --- WAY! It's knowledge of nature for power's sake, Baconian-style! The reward of financial power, technological power, prestige, the reward of an optional place for the powerful to go when the earth is unsuitable. Perhaps all humanity could escape devastation. It depends on who has the power though and what they allow.
Although the huge reward of knowledge is the most-spoken-of reward on the websites, and in the media, -- knowledge won't pay the bills for this expedition. Knowledge is not the driving force for the super expensive Mars exploration. The silence in this story tells a tale about humans also. Why is the drive for power not outspoken loudly?
The knowledge of Mars is going to be harnessed and utilized for some humans benefit. This kind of power through knowledge and exploitation of nature was suggested by Francis Bacon in 1600, and these days, post scientific revolution, knowledge through science and its technologies can be power, big power. Mars—DNA— humans exploring inward and outward—humans reveling in the wondrous creations around them, but also some humans ready to exploit nature for its power. Which country will get there first? Who will be capitalizing on the information gained? Who will be going there when the earth becomes inhabitable?
Although seeking power is not necessarily bad, power for some and not all is! And power through irreversible devastation of nature is treacherous. That's the part of the human story that I wish would evolve towards human power equality. Wishful thinking yes, but wouldn't it be more naturally selectable? Especially, if we were to consider the universe an important part of human nature, that needs to be utilized for our benefit but preserved as well.
The story goes on: humans continue to act in ways that are destructive to each other and to the environment for individual power? It seems to me that it is due to a very large human insecurity, a fear of the big unknown. What is life? What is death? Who are we? First there was God and now there is science to try and find answers to give us security. The fact that science plays such a big part in this story will reinforce the holy reverence of science. Even if things start to go bad on this mission, the scientific technology of the robotic Rover "Spirit" (how romantic), stepping onto the Martian soil, leaving its tracks there, how awe-inspiring is that? And the images of the earth with its moon viewed from a non-earthly location. Wow! For the last few centuries, "Science" is our God, i.e., our divine authority, our belief system, helping us with our insecurities. But if we find life 'was' or 'is' on Mars, we will probably become more insecure, because we will become less special. We will become more frightened OF THE ALIEN OTHERS! God, I hope not! (Religion will resume its prominence along with science). Especially if I'm right that fear leads to selfish power focus. But maybe us humans would then unite against the bigger OTHER, instead of individually being against the human OTHER. Either way sucks. If only we could be for one and all. What a chapter that would be!

Can I send my Hummer to Mars too?
Name: Nancy Evan
Date: 2004-01-20 10:16:41
Link to this Comment: 7634

Mary's venture into the politics behind a Mars exploration ("it's knowledge of nature for power's sake") intrigues me. While I recognize the importance of exploration of the unknown as a means to learn more about the self, I see how the individual human implication of finding something extraordinary is a strong motivation tool. I will be the first to admit I am not a science buff, so I don't see what we might be able to learn from finding out that Mars used to have water. (Unless of course it means that one day earth will not have water, in which case I think I'd rather not know. Ignorance being bliss and all).

Su Lyn's idea of an Arab state on Mars channels my own idealism. If, in fact, Mars is to become a habitable environment, what a wonderful chance for the world to redeem itself... For Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, Kurds in Germany, decades or centuries of conflict over land rights may finally see a means to an end. Yet in the same breath, SuLyn deflates the peace bubble. We ARE the 'ones' with the power, the money and the need for trappings to prove ourselves to one another. Mars life will become the new status symbol, in the way that the cell phone was once rarely seen and oft envied. Which begs the question, at least in my mind, of how great a discovery this will be if it is only a means to take the disparity between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' to interplanetary status.

It confuses me, this human quest for tangible conquests. This is probably because I spend my time in college in search of some sort of momentary truth that is the least tangible and most fleeting, but what I consider the most desirable. Mars is not the solution for our overcrowding problems, our resource gluttony, our pollution creation. The red planet may risk becoming the next stage for the ongoing tragedy of the human nature of excess.

Name: Patricia P
Date: 2004-01-20 13:15:05
Link to this Comment: 7638

The following passage inspired me: "What a wonderful chance for the world to redeem itself... For Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, Kurds in Germany, decades or centuries of conflict over land rights may finally see a means to an end."- Nancy Evans

Unfortunately, I don't see any reason to believe that we will treat territory any differently because of its distance from the earth. All of the aforementioned groups of people have important things in common; they believe that their form of government is best and (crucially) that their God is THE God. These religious beliefs often require the belief that "the other guy's beliefs" are somehow satanic or in great disrespect or dishonor to their God. Not all nations are governed so strictly by their religion, but there are many that are. The cohabitation of these nations under one government may be so hard that we may either be forced to socially and emotionally catch up with technology, or technology may just have to wait for us. Inhabiting Mars may be an ability that we may technologically sense as quite close, but I don't know if each separate nation would want their nuclear weapons protected by the "other guy'" government. We're just not there yet. Mars will have to wait. Until then, we could put the money into schools, international education, and other types of international relations efforts in order to make this "exploration of the stars" worth considering as a venture for new habitation

Name: Patricia P
Date: 2004-01-20 13:25:50
Link to this Comment: 7639

On a lighter note, I wonder many little and trivial things about our hope to inhabit Mars: Would the climate and environment lead to changes or at least an interesting branch of the fashion industry? Would people who lived there consider themselves Martians? Even more interesting to me is the possibility that as generation after generation call Mars their home, would a distinctively noticeable new race of man emerge? For example, would people grow larger nostrils due to some environmental condition? Would people require different medicine to treat the common diseases that we treat on earth because of a morphing of human's biology due to environmental norms? How would this all change art, music, etc.? Will there one day be a love story written about the boy who had to leave mars to be with the woman he loved on planet earth and would their children write about the trials and tribulations of coming to terms with to different cultures? I don't really know. It's all just such uncharted territory.

Name: Lindsay Up
Date: 2004-01-20 13:45:37
Link to this Comment: 7640

I have a hard time getting excited about the reality of landing on another seems like a dream that belongs more to my parents' generation than it does to me. While I can see that humankind may benefit someday from the knowledge we gain by such a mission, I think that now is an odd time to be focusing so much on another planet when our own has so much we could be improving. I guess I'm a little conservative when it comes to the idea of exploration; I don't think going to another planet out of pure curiosity is quite worth the billions of dollars. I would be a lot more supportive of the mission if we knew there was something to gain by it, other than a sense of affirmation.

On a different note, I'm really curious about how people in the non-Western world feel about the whole thing. I mean, do all "Earthlings" have a stake in the Mars exploration or is it just the people of America and the EU? If my government wasn't a huge proponent of the mission, I doubt that I would feel I was part of this story at all.

Is it all that bad?
Name: bethany ke
Date: 2004-01-20 14:36:28
Link to this Comment: 7642

I think it's pretty obvious that one of our main motives for looking for life on Mars is to open that door for ourselves in the future. We've realized that we've screwed things up here, that our resources are finite, that we may eventually need to 'move'. But I think another important motive is our fascination with life, ourselves, and our nature as human beings. We jump at the idea that we aren't alone in the grand scheme of things. We're sort of like an only child, dying for a sibling. Not that we aim for discussions with bacteria, but if that were discovered, the potential for something far greater would be present. After all, our entire culture is based on communication; what would be more exciting than communicating with someone else when you've been the only one for so long? Maybe this isn't really a motive at all, and I'm just trying to be optimistic, but I really don't think we're entirely despicable...only sometimes :)

avoiding the not-so-wonderful side of evolution?
Name: Susan Will
Date: 2004-01-20 18:38:56
Link to this Comment: 7646

With this whole idea of using Mars as our "back up" in case of some sort of cataclysmic desaster, I get the impression that we are just trying to avoid what may be considered our natural evolution on earth. I mean, we as humans can't come to grips with the idea of the extinction of our own species. We are so focused on the idea of prolonging life that we don't ever really "live". This idea isn't only relegated to the Mars mission, but also encompasses the medical industry as well. I find it rather ironic that we are talking of Mars as a possible geographic area of salvation for the human race while at the same time continuing to destroy each other here on Earth. Something to think about.

science and story
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-01-20 19:53:52
Link to this Comment: 7649

Enjoying reading your thoughts here, and enjoyed hearing your reactions to my story this afternoon. Thanks for both.

Lots to talk more about (and looking forward to a semester of doing it) but one issue from this afternoon sticks in my mind particularly: the idea that "science" is different from "story", and is in fact something that one can appeal to to test the "validity" or "correctness" of a story.

I think that's lots of peoples' story of the relation between science and story, but its not what I was trying to convey in my story this afternoon. What I wanted to convey is the idea that science IS story, in the sense that it is nothing more (and nothing less) than something one makes up to make sense of observations. And then tests/revises (inevitably) by making additional observations.

Am I SERIOUS about this? As a scientist? Yep. Moreover, I think the story that science is a story is itself a GOOD story ("good" in terms we need to talk more about; perhaps, for the moment, "has a long lifetime"?). If you're intrigued by that story, here are a few other places/ways I've tried to tell it ...

Looking forward to talking more about this, among other things.

saving lives: telling stories
Name: orah minde
Date: 2004-01-20 22:25:22
Link to this Comment: 7654

in regard to the "validity" or "correctness" of a story:
recently saw the third lord of the rings movie in which gandalf, the white wizard, says (here, brutally paraphrased) that this world is one in which things are painted in dull greys and when we die we enter a world in which everything is made of beautiful glass. rilke writes in his second elegy, "if the dangerous archangel / took one step now / down toward us / from behind the stars / our hearbeats / rising like thunder / would kill us." and i ask you if these tales of the universe are less valid than the story prof. grobstein told us today? i don't think so. i think both forms of story are equally "valid" and "correct."
and after looking at those pictures don't you feel minute?! don't you feel ... i don't even know the word for it ... as small and inconsequential as can be ...
don't you hurt so much because you matter so little? ...
and isn't our only means of survival (our only means of escape from a death brought on by massive infiriority complexes) found in the telling of stories? it's the telling of the story that's the rub, not the "validity" or "correctness" of the story. the correctness of the story does not have consequence on our lives. the weight on our lives lies in the soothing voice of the story teller.
it seems that our primary mission as humans is to find this "unknowable:" what is beyond (life/the stars etc.) find the "unseen" because we know it's there. everyone spends her whole life trying to figure it out....and i love reading these beautiful images of "the after" "the beyond" but there is something in me that says, "orah, you can't know what's out there...why are you even trying to figure it out?" and then i am reminded how in so many religions the individual is pushed to "surrender." surrendering is the key. surrender to what??? i have always interprated the "surrender" to mean: surrender to the fact that you CANNOT know. but, i'm changing my interpratation and think that it means: surrender, beleive in something, be it prof. grobstein's story or gandalf's story or rilke's or whitman's or your own story. i think that is the key to a religious life. just relax and let the voice of the storyteller save your life.

Name: orah minde
Date: 2004-01-20 22:32:06
Link to this Comment: 7658

in regard to the "validity" or "correctness" of a story:
recently saw the third lord of the rings movie in which gandalf, the white wizard, says (here, brutally paraphrased) that this world is one in which things are painted in dull greys and when we die we enter a world in which everything is made of beautiful glass. rilke writes in his second elegy, "if the dangerous archangel / took one step now / down toward us / from behind the stars / our hearbeats / rising like thunder / would kill us." and i ask you if these tales of the universe are less valid than the story prof. grobstein told us today? i don't think so. i think both forms of story are equally "valid" and "correct."
and after looking at those pictures don't you feel minute?! don't you feel ... i don't even know the word for it ... as small and inconsequential as can be ...
don't you hurt so much because you matter so little? ...
and isn't our only means of survival (our only means of escape from a death brought on by massive infiriority complexes) found in the telling of stories? it's the telling of the story that's the rub, not the "validity" or "correctness" of the story. the correctness of the story does not have consequence on our lives. the weight on our lives lies in the soothing voice of the story teller.
it seems that our primary mission as humans is to find this "unknowable:" what is beyond (life/the stars etc.) find the "unseen" because we know it's there. everyone spends her whole life trying to figure it out....and i love reading these beautiful images of "the after" "the beyond" but there is something in me that says, "orah, you can't know what's out there...why are you even trying to figure it out?" and then i am reminded how in so many religions the individual is pushed to "surrender." surrendering is the key. surrender to what??? i have always interprated the "surrender" to mean: surrender to the fact that you CANNOT know. but, i'm changing my interpratation and think that it means: surrender, beleive in something, be it prof. grobstein's story or gandalf's story or rilke's or whitman's or your own story. i think that is the key to a religious life. just relax and let the voice of the storyteller save your life.

Name: orah minde
Date: 2004-01-20 22:50:53
Link to this Comment: 7660

in regard to the "validity" or "correctness" of a story:
recently saw the third lord of the rings movie in which gandalf, the white wizard, says (here, brutally paraphrased) that this world is one in which things are painted in dull greys and when we die we enter a world in which everything is made of beautiful glass. rilke writes in his second elegy, "if the dangerous archangel / took one step now / down toward us / from behind the stars / our hearbeats / rising like thunder / would kill us." and i ask you if these tales of the universe are less valid than the story prof. grobstein told us today? i don't think so. i think both forms of story are equally "valid" and "correct."
and after looking at those pictures don't you feel minute?! don't you feel ... i don't even know the word for it ... as small and inconsequential as can be ...
don't you hurt so much because you matter so little? ...
and isn't our only means of survival (our only means of escape from a death brought on by massive infiriority complexes) found in the telling of stories? it's the telling of the story that's the rub, not the "validity" or "correctness" of the story. the correctness of the story does not have consequence on our lives. the weight on our lives lies in the soothing voice of the story teller.
it seems that our primary mission as humans is to find this "unknowable:" what is beyond (life/the stars etc.) find the "unseen" because we know it's there. everyone spends her whole life trying to figure it out....and i love reading these beautiful images of "the after" "the beyond" but there is something in me that says, "orah, you can't know what's out there...why are you even trying to figure it out?" and then i am reminded how in so many religions the individual is pushed to "surrender." surrendering is the key. surrender to what??? i have always interprated the "surrender" to mean: surrender to the fact that you CANNOT know. but, i'm changing my interpratation and think that it means: surrender, beleive in something, be it prof. grobstein's story or gandalf's story or rilke's or whitman's or your own story. i think that is the key to a religious life. just relax and let the voice of the storyteller save your life.

Story forms
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-01-20 23:13:18
Link to this Comment: 7668

I'm detecting some recurrent themes in our comments. Mars as savior, Mars as servant - these are the religious overtones to science that Mary pointed out. Though the actors in our grand drama change over time, the underlying plot appears to remain the same. They speak to what seem to be our unchanging desires in the effort to make sense of who we are, where we are.

And we continue to express these desires along certain lines, following the conventions of established forms. We can choose to see space exploration as "an invitation or a warning, an SOS or a love letter" (Emily).

At the same time, judgement is applied to how we make that choice. The comparison of the US and European websites indicate this value assignment in progress: "The whole idea of going to Mars on the side of Americans reads like some great fairytale in the making" (Fritz). Clearly, the fairytale is not an acceptable form for this particular story.

Which leads me to the question: why do we see the need to privilege certain forms and stories over others? As someone mentioned in class, it's not as if old stories crowd the imagination, so there shouldn't be a need to 'get rid' of them. But I think it's clear that stories don't exist purely for the telling. They provoke action. Action is necessarily constrained by our scarce resources. So perhaps this is the selective pressure acting upon stories - not the allocation of space in our minds, so to speak, but the allocation of effort, time, capital for acting on those stories.

saving lives: telling stories
Name: orah minde
Date: 2004-01-20 23:34:33
Link to this Comment: 7673

in regard to the "validity" or "correctness" of a story:
recently saw the third lord of the rings movie in which gandalf, the white wizard, says (here, brutally paraphrased) that this world is one in which things are painted in dull greys and when we die we enter a world in which everything is made of beautiful glass. rilke writes in his second elegy, "if the dangerous archangel / took one step now / down toward us / from behind the stars / our hearbeats / rising like thunder / would kill us." and i ask you if these tales of the universe are less valid than the story prof. grobstein told us today? i don't think so. i think both forms of story are equally "valid" and "correct."
and after looking at those pictures don't you feel minute?! don't you feel ... i don't even know the word for it ... as small and inconsequential as can be ...
don't you hurt so much because you matter so little? ...
and isn't our only means of survival (our only means of escape from a death brought on by massive infiriority complexes) found in the telling of stories? it's the telling of the story that's the rub, not the "validity" or "correctness" of the story. the correctness of the story does not have consequence on our lives. the weight on our lives lies in the soothing voice of the story teller.
it seems that our primary mission as humans is to find this "unknowable:" what is beyond (life/the stars etc.) find the "unseen" because we know it's there. everyone spends her whole life trying to figure it out....and i love reading these beautiful images of "the after" "the beyond" but there is something in me that says, "orah, you can't know what's out there...why are you even trying to figure it out?" and then i am reminded how in so many religions the individual is pushed to "surrender." surrendering is the key. surrender to what??? i have always interprated the "surrender" to mean: surrender to the fact that you CANNOT know. but, i'm changing my interpratation and think that it means: surrender, beleive in something, be it prof. grobstein's story or gandalf's story or rilke's or whitman's or your own story. i think that is the key to a religious life. just relax and let the voice of the storyteller save your life.

Name: orah minde
Date: 2004-01-21 00:12:21
Link to this Comment: 7679

in regard to the "validity" or "correctness" of a story:
recently saw the third lord of the rings movie in which gandalf, the white wizard, says (here, brutally paraphrased) that this world is one in which things are painted in dull grays and when we die we enter a world in which everything is made of beautiful glass. rilke writes in his second elegy, "if the dangerous archangel / took one step now / down toward us / from behind the stars / our heartbeats / rising like thunder / would kill us." and i ask you if these tales of the universe are less valid than the story prof. grobstein told us today? i don't think so. i think both forms of story are equally "valid" and "correct."
and after looking at those pictures don't you feel minute?! don't you feel ... i don't even know the word for it ... as small and inconsequential as can be ...
don't you hurt so much because you matter so little? ...
and isn't our only means of survival (our only means of escape from a death brought on by massive inferiority complexes) found in the telling of stories? it's the telling of the story that's the rub, not the "validity" or "correctness" of the story. the correctness of the story does not have consequence on our lives. the weight on our lives lies in the soothing voice of the story teller.
it seems that our primary mission as humans is to find this "unknowable:" what is beyond (life/the stars etc.) find the "unseen" because we know it's there. everyone spends her whole life trying to figure it out....and i love reading these beautiful images of "the after" "the beyond" but there is something in me that says, "orah, you can't know what's out there...why are you even trying to figure it out?" and then i am reminded how in so many religions the individual is pushed to "surrender." surrendering is the key. surrender to what??? i have always interpreted the "surrender" to mean: surrender to the fact that you CANNOT know. but, i'm changing my interpretation and think that it means: surrender, believe in something, be it prof. grobstein's story or gandalf's story or rilke's or whitman's or your own story. i think that is the key to a religious life. just relax and let the voice of the storyteller save your life.

story forms
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-01-21 08:05:00
Link to this Comment: 7688

One recurrent theme seems to be our perception of Mars as savior and as servant -- the vestiges of religion, perhaps, as Mary pointed out. Though the actors in our grand drama change over time, the underlying plot appears to remain the same. Maybe it speaks to the unchanging desires that underlie our efforts to make sense of who we are, where we are.

And we continue to express these desires in broadly familiar terms, in ways that allow us to recognize the conventions of established forms. We can choose to see space exploration as "an invitation or a warning, an SOS or a love letter" (Emily). At the same time, we pass judgement on which of these choices of form are appropriate. In comparing the US and European websites, we detect "some great fairytale in the making" (Fritz) and respond disapprovingly. Clearly, this is no longer an acceptable form for this particular story. We have grown more cautious about heralding science as the salvation of mankind. Priorities change and so do the ways in which we allow our stories to be told.

Which hopefully gives me something with which to approach a question that was raised in class. As someone mentioned, it's not as if old stories crowd the imagination, so why do we see the need to 'get rid' of them? But stories don't exist purely for the telling. They provoke action. Action is necessarily constrained by our scarce resources. So perhaps this is the selective pressure acting upon stories - not the allocation of space in our minds, so to speak, but the allocation of effort, time, capital for acting on those stories.

Science as Story
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-01-21 08:56:55
Link to this Comment: 7689

I think I agree that science is story.

My grandfather (and primary mentor) was a scientist (chemist and metallurgist) who, before that, bailed out of theological studies in his final year of preparations to become a minister, having decided that agnosticism was a whole lot more comfortable. He talked about his scientific exploration as if it were always entwined with his agnosticism, and maybe it was even vice versa. His hobby was the history of science--some of which he helped make as a researcher at the newly formed General Electric Company in the early days of the last century. After listening to you yesterday and reading your post, I'm remembering his and my conversations and beginning to think that he was always coming at his questions (and mine) by testing and tinkering in the context of his long views of religion and science--in order to "get it less wrong." I'm remembering that, for him, nothing was ever cast in concrete. Whatever his latest findings were, they just set up the next iteration of questions and 'tests.'

Thanks for some new thoughts about science and religion as maybe creating and maintaining a necessary tension--even as they seem to asymtotically converge.

Name: orah minde
Date: 2004-01-21 09:07:37
Link to this Comment: 7690

in regard to the "validity" or "correctness" of a story:
recently saw the third lord of the rings movie in which gandalf, the white wizard, says (here, brutally paraphrased) that this world is one in which things are painted in dull grays and when we die we enter a world in which everything is made of beautiful glass. rilke writes in his second elegy, "if the dangerous archangel / took one step now / down toward us / from behind the stars / our heartbeats / rising like thunder / would kill us." and i ask you if these tales of the universe are less valid than the story prof. grobstein told us today? i don't think so. i think both forms of story are equally "valid" and "correct."
and after looking at those pictures don't you feel minute?! don't you feel ... i don't even know the word for it ... as small and inconsequential as can be ...
don't you hurt so much because you matter so little? ...
and isn't our only means of survival (our only means of escape from a death brought on by massive inferiority complexes) found in the telling of stories? it's the telling of the story that's the rub, not the "validity" or "correctness" of the story. the correctness of the story does not have consequence on our lives. the weight on our lives lies in the soothing voice of the story teller.
it seems that our primary mission as humans is to find this "unknowable:" what is beyond (life/the stars etc.) find the "unseen" because we know it's there. everyone spends her whole life trying to figure it out....and i love reading these beautiful images of "the after" "the beyond." i am reminded how in so many religions the individual is pushed to "surrender." surrendering is the key. surrender to what??? i think it means: surrender, believe in something, be it prof. grobstein's story or gandalf's story or rilke's or your own story. i think that is the key to a religious life. just relax and let the voice of the storyteller save your life.

soothing voice of the storyteller
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-01-21 15:19:28
Link to this Comment: 7697

"The weight on our lives lies in the soothing voice of the story teller."- Orah

I think that Orah's sentence is wonderful.(beyond the sentence's implications, I really like the way the second half of the sentence flows) As for what the sentence made me think about...the idea that what really matters is the extent to which a story teller's voice can soothe people is fascinating to me. The only thing that I'd like to add to this is the idea that the PROCESS of finding a "less wrong" story through observation, imagination and story telling has been a process of tremendous anxiety and to a certain extent upheval. (causing in various "chapters of the story of evolution" the death of some scientists (story tellers), the creation of new technology, the re-thinking of the values of society etc.) As each new story is created, people must expand their minds to fit the new information which (as many people have indicated in the forum thus far) often does not conform to a person's "world view comfort zone." (religious or otherwise) In order to be ultimatley soothed by story (I wonder if this is possible- I think so because sometimes reading fiction gives me this sense) people need to be OPEN to the ongoing process of story telling in all of it's complexity. I do think that today people are more open to the implications of discovery and more willing to embrace a story which evolves rather than remains static. I guess the question is whether it is ever completely possible to find comfort in a story whose very basis is change... change...the story of evolution is a story about change.

Name: orah minde
Date: 2004-01-21 16:48:27
Link to this Comment: 7700

quick revision of what i said: i don't think it is our "primary mission as humans to find the unknowable" but rather it is our primary goal as humans to find a story that works for us. we know that we can't find the "correct" IT. we understand that. so we stretch our minds to find sometime that calms us. and that is why the voice of the teller is so important. all we want is to be comforted. right? and when we are comforted, when we have found our line, then maybe we have found ... IT?

Name: becky
Date: 2004-01-21 18:26:08
Link to this Comment: 7701

Perhaps what makes the science story so good(if it's understood as just one story) is that it, almost by definition, must evolve as we observe new things. Some variations of the "science-story species" naturally die out, but unlike religions, which don't seem evolve well, the science story is immortal! In evolution, more often than not if something does not evolve or does not evolve quickly enough, it dies out, as many religions do. Since religion can also be understood to be only one story, I'll have to re-think this point... Religion does not evolve anywhere near as neatly as science- aside from reformations and the fact that new religions must feed off the old in some way, of the two stories, science and religion, religion certainly is the more static.

Is creationism, for instance, going to be around indefinitely because (drawing from Orah's comment) it satisfies the need for a story that works for us and is comfortable well? Or (drawing off of Elizabeth) will it die away because "in order to be ultimately soothed by story...people need to be open to the ongoing process of story telling in all of its complexity"? It sounds like Plato&Aristotle vs. Democritus&I-forget-the-rest again! (surprise?)

Here comes my cop out though; I think that the religion story- the story that God, or Gods, is/are behind the backdrop of the universe and running the show, not the story that God made the universe in seven days or any other given example of creationism, serves a different purpose than the science story. For this reason I do not believe that the two stories are mutually exclusive or that they are necessarily in competition with each other.

Name: Perrin Bra
Date: 2004-01-21 20:41:44
Link to this Comment: 7702

I think that the implications of the possible success and failure of the Mars mission are fascinating (even though I guess the question is a little inconsequential in the grand scheme of things). Suppose that NASA does find life on Mars—what's next? If the Red Planet proves to be barren, how far into the universe would scientists probe to confirm that extraterrestrial life does exist (or for that matter, how long will Washington and the taxpayers allow them to go on searching)?

Back to a somewhat more relevant topic...I think that it's both a blessing and a curse for mankind to be inherently expansionist and curious in nature. We can never just be content with what we have, which forces us to search (however futilely or fruitfully) for better prospects while simultaneously rejecting at least a portion of our obligations for the Here and Now. For the time being, I am personally more concerned about the future of our species than that of some other extraterrestrial life form. Say we do stick either the Israelis or the Palestinians on Mars. Does that really solve anything or does it just add to more animosity and resentment? I guess that what I'm trying to say is that Mars is most definitely not our Messiah, although it is certainly awe-inspiring to know that the potential for the space program is endless, as are the possibilities for the discovery of extraterrestrial life.

strange bedfellows
Name: emily
Date: 2004-01-21 20:46:30
Link to this Comment: 7703

after a class discussion this afternoon in native american literature (and fritz can back me up here), i am not so sure that one story can be truly more "authentic" or "valid" than another. the phrase "getting it less wrong" has emerged, but whose standards are we judging right and wrong by? on tuesday, we were told a story of science that was pretty exclusive. i understand that for the purposes of the class and time that this perspective was chosen for the intro, but i am left wondering about all the other stories...
what i'm trying to say, i guess, is that i see no reason why the story of life beginning on the back of a turtle should be any less valid than the theory of evolution. or that we should call one constellation orion when there are probably hundreds of other names for it all across the world. so who are we to judge?
and just what makes the story of science "immortal", or cleaner than the story of religion? i do not mean to imply that i disagree or agree with any observations posted, but rather to nag with the same questions that have been nagging me.
maybe the best question should be: who am i to judge?

Storytelling IS Science
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-01-21 20:59:11
Link to this Comment: 7704

Yes, science IS story and (this will sound predictable, but I'll say it anyway): storytelling (well done) IS science. That is to say: if we acknowledge that every account is temporary (as we are temporary), that every account is unfinished (as we are unfinished), then all storytelling (like all living) is an endless predicting and testing and revising, as we ask ourselves repeatedly how useful our current accounts are for making sense of what we (and others) are observing and experiencing. I'm convinced that this process--Quakers call it "continuing revelation"--can happen in religion as well as in science.

And yes, one measure of a "good story" is that it has "a long lifetime"; but a better story does something else: it generates further stories. I got this idea from Michael Tratner: that the better stories are those with enough familiarity to be understandable, enough novelty to be surprising, and enough of both to provide a pattern for repeated variants.

I'd spoken publically about these ideas before this course began--but am already ready (you guys are GOOD!) to revise what I said there/then. Following Su-Lyn: the best stories are those which enable us to ACT. In preparation for a graduate seminar later this week on Explorations of Teaching, I'm reading Paulo Friere's Pedagogy of Freedom. Freire, the great Brazilian educator, talks about science and storytelling in just the ways we've been using the terms: as a permanent process of searching that involves what he calls "critical consciousness." Freire recognizes that the risk of establishing a genuine public sphere (like this one?) is that the outcomes of our storytelling are NOT guaranteed--AND that the point of the whole process is that it facilitates both individual and social CHANGE—i.e.: that it enables us to MOVE.

Here's the rub, I think, to Lindsay's observation that she could be more supportive of the mission to Mars if there were something to gain by it. Problem is, we CAN'T know, ahead of time, where the gains will lie. (See tomorrow's reading--Schwartz's NYTimes article--on this: we can't get there except by going there.)

And, know what? I feel well on our way, and most excellently accompanied en route. Thanks to all, and looking forward to more....

on having a stake
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-01-21 21:08:56
Link to this Comment: 7705

Oops--not quite done. One more query, stepping off again from Lindsay's question about whether "all Earthlings have a stake in the Mars exploration." What would be required--do you think it desirable?--to make this a "collective human story from which no one feels estranged?"

more on truth & authenticity
Name: Lauren Fri
Date: 2004-01-21 22:46:01
Link to this Comment: 7706

I too was in the Native American Lit class that Emily mentioned, and with the discussion in that class of authenticity and truth, I kept coming back to our discussion on Tuesday. In the N.A. Lit class, as we debated whether stories are history and history is a story, I was reminded of Prof Grobstein's reminder to us about his lecture: he never said anything about "truth" or "evidence" -- he was just presenting different "stories." So if history and science are nothing more than the most-agreed-upon version of a story, does that make them any less valid? What is "valid" anyway?

In "A History of Strange Bounces, a Future of the Unexpected," John Schwartz addresses some events that unexpectedly shaped history. His mention of the previously-ignored bestsellers of pre-Revolutionary France ("that made a tremendous difference") made me think of this history/story debate again. Until these books were rediscovered, a version of history was being told that didn't include the books, one that perhaps -- by ignoring the books' influence -- was forced to invent reasons for why things were the way they were.

We recognize certain events -- like the exploration of Mars -- as profoundly significant in affecting the course of human history. But are there smaller events we may not acknowlege that will send our future off on a trajectory we cannot even imagine? Sometimes even the possibility of an event is enough to change things. In "Be Careful What You Look For on Mars," William Broad quotes Dr. Drake, who addresses the concern of some people that finding life on Mars would cause "a planet-wide inferiority complex." I would argue that the very possibility of that discovery -- the very fact that we are forced to acknowledge that it could occur -- makes us question our uniqueness in this universe, and puts into motion the formation of a possible "inferiority complex," even if no discovery is actually made.

I don't really have a conclusion to that posting, though I know it lacks any sort of cohesiveness or direction (sorry). I don't even know if we're supposed to be posting about these articles yet, but I had some thoughts.

On a side note, anyone who's really into this whole Mars expedition might be interested in this site, where you can download a scaled-down version of the software they're using to operate Spirit and Opportunity (the robots). Not related to this class exactly, I know.

Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-01-22 08:37:54
Link to this Comment: 7708

Su-Lyn wrote, "But stories don't exist purely for the telling. They provoke action. Action is necessarily constrained by our scarce resources. So perhaps this is the selective pressure acting upon stories - not the allocation of space in our minds, so to speak, but the allocation of effort, time, capital for acting on those stories." And Anne picked up on this, saying, "Following Su-Lyn: the best stories are those which enable us to ACT....AND that the point of the whole process is that it facilitates both individual and social CHANGE—i.e.: that it enables us to MOVE."

I wonder if the notion that the best stories (the only good stories?) are those that provoke movement or action...change something in ourselves that causes us to change something outside of ourselves...and turn the story wheel in the process... I wonder if this notion feels good because our culture is pro-action. Reminds me of a twist on an old saying: "Don't just do something, stand there!" Stand there and think, be. This is not enough? Maybe we already suffer from a form of universal inferiority complex , keying off Lauren's post from yesterday. What does it mean to evolve? Can we actually get our own evolution more or less wrong? Does that depend upon the stories we make that move us along?

Name: meg
Date: 2004-01-22 12:30:41
Link to this Comment: 7712

I think, in response to the previous posting, that stories do not have to provoke action. People have different reactions to different stories, and the reaction is based on many factors. Your life experiences, upbringing, culture, beliefs... they all contribute to how you interpret stories, and how they affect you. A story that may provoke action for one person, may not do the same for another. Even in stories that are universal, people have different interpretations and reactions. It is difficult to have one type of story that can be the "best" when there are so many different stories and so many different people. I do agree that our culture is in a constant forward progression. In my opinion people are always striving to find new stories, and this drive varies from culture to culture. But is it previous stories that drive us to change ourselves or the world around us?

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-01-22 13:58:35
Link to this Comment: 7713

There seems to be a concensus that in order to be effective stories must provoke action, which concerns me. Perhaps we need to operationally define terms like "change" and "action" that are being thrown around here, or perhaps I am misinterperting what you all mean by them. However, I don't think a good story necessarily needs to bring about a change. Sometimes a mere comment on society/life/relationships etc. is enough to make a story worthwile. Reflection is, at times, sufficient. It is only after we organize imput from many different sources that we can make an educated decision to act anyway. It takes time and preparation. I find that when people become too active they tend to do things without thinking, and thats not the intent of the storytellers (I don't think!). Isn't thought, in a sense, action? It certainly should be what leads to action, although it doesn't always seem to be.

Mars and the capitalism of storytelling
Name: nancy
Date: 2004-01-22 14:30:20
Link to this Comment: 7714

An interesting note: In the late 80's George Bush Sr began discussion of a manned landing on Mars scheduled for no later than the year 2019. The price tag of $400 million dollars caused enormous criticism of the project and Bush saw the possibility diminish.

According to Gregg Easterbrook, a fellow at the Brookings Institute, "Present systems for getting from Earth's surface to low-Earth orbit are so fantastically expensive that... it could only be accomplished by cutting heatlh care benefits, educations spending, or some other important programs. Or by raising taxes."

He continues "The drive to explore is part of what makes us human. Dreams must be tempered by realism, however. For the moment, going to Mars is hopelessly unrealistic."

The idea that the individuals desiring a manned exploration of Mars would attempt to make that dream a reality at the expense of large numbers of the less priveleged just re-enforces my fear that space exploration is the newest conquest for the elite.

This transfers into the discussion that has been going on about the purpose of stories. The notion that stories provoke action, and that action requires time, resources, and capital bother me a bit. The essence of a story lies in its intangibility, its availability, the fact that it is so utterly a characteristic of humanity that ties together, through shared human experience, the prince and the pauper. It seems a slippery slope towards elitism to assert that purpose of stories hinge upon allocation of resource and especially 'capital'. I dont like the idea of storytelling to be in any way exclusive. I\

Provoking action
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-01-22 19:45:37
Link to this Comment: 7716

Meg and Diane, I may have too readily given in to rhetorical flourish when I said simply that stories "provoke" action. My point, if I still remember it, was that stories inform our decisions and therefore shape our behaviors.

A somewhat extreme example may be the way in which the story of animal rights "provokes" some to switch to veganism. But I'm thinking of subtler ways of going about our daily lives. It may be that you leave your room every morning without having to worry that, upon return, you will find it has been usurped by a jealous suitemate. Or you think nothing of stepping onto a gas tank on wheels. Maybe you buy insurance. The story, in the 1st and 3rd cases, is told by the legislature that has been written into our actions. In the 2nd, it's simply that "nothing bad has happened to me yet, and the chances of it happening are slim".

Thus, tip-toeing closer to my original statement, stories provoke the choices of action that we may unconsciously make. So when Diane asks "Isn't thought, in a sense, action?", I emphatically say yes, because some thoughts become common sense so that we cannot help but act according to them.

Name: Anne
Date: 2004-01-23 18:22:03
Link to this Comment: 7720

Friends— we had an awfully interesting conversation Thursday afternoon in my section of "Evolit" (Paul's term; I'm advocating for "Lito-eve" as shorthand/pet name for the course, but expect I'll lose on this one...) Anyhow: am recording here what I found of interest—along w/ an invitation to all of my students, and to Paul and all of his, to post what they found most intriguing in the areas they were exploring on the other side of the hall.

Very few of those in our room wanted to be on the first "wo-manned" ship to Mars in 30 years: most of us (if not actively protesting the use of resources/damage to the eco-system involved in the flight) intended to be engaged in caring for or exploring things on this earth. A number of us will be interested in what such a landing might discover, but either fearful for our own safety or of what damage we might do on arrival to actually go on board ourselves. There was some discussion about whether the resource question was that a "red herring"; a review, from Bio 103, of the signs of life as we know it; and much speculation about whether we could even recognize life—more interestingly, intelligence—if it differed from what we know. We also talked about the disjunctions between our own experience (of the world, of the sky) and the stories that science tells (actually, the one that Paul told us) about the nature of the universe.

But for me, the most intriguing question had to do w/ whether (and why) the discovery of life elsewhere would challenge (rather than re-inforce) our sense of uniqueness--esp. if that life differed from what we know and recognize. We kept returning to the question of whether our religious stories would be brought into question by the discovery of extra-terrestrial life; whether the experience of our own specialness is necessarily incompatible w/ the discovery of life on another planet (we weren't all convinced that it was); and if, so, whether we could hold in our minds, simultaneously, two incompatible stories.

We ended w/ a query about the limits of the analogy between the "story of evolution" (in which, Mayr will soon show us, many more species became extinct than survived) and the "evolution of stories" (in which, we speculated, all sorts of contradictory stories might occupy adjacent spaces, serving different purposes, w/ very little trouble at'all).

But that's just MY story of what was interesting Thursday afternoon.
What's yours?

comforting stories
Name: Mary
Date: 2004-01-23 19:25:47
Link to this Comment: 7721

All this talk about action. What about stories that comfort?
On holidays, I hear my parents, aunts, uncles my sisters and brothers, and the younger children all tell stories of their life experiences. Remember the time that Georgie ran into the flag pole, or remember the party where we danced all night? There are tales of children waking up earliest to get the best choice of clothes, or the one about how Grandmom was in an orphanage when she was little and had to take a spoonful of cod liver oil every night before bed...We 3 generations all sit around, and listen and share and laugh and learn and love. Mostly, we feel good. So good that every holiday, someone always starts the tales by saying, "Grandmom tell us about the time...". She always tells a good story. And its funny, the way that some stories keep getting told, year after year and everyone listens again and again.
The story itself is an action. Stories can deepen bonds between people. They can comfort, teach, nourish. Come to think of it, religion and science do these things too.

Thursday Thoughts- 1/22
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-01-24 05:22:52
Link to this Comment: 7722

Good morning;-)

Picking up on the invitation to post our Thursday Thoughts...
It also seemed that many/most of us who met in Paul's section would rather not take the Mars shuttle seat--for reasons ranging from fear of flying, the unknown, the time it would take away from higher priority concerns and interests, missing spring name it. Sarah was enterprising enough to want the seat in order to sell it--a cool idea that was dampened somewhat by Paul's proclamation that he wouldn't take it because, by then, most of what's to be known about Mars would be known by then (therefore, of less saleable value :-). Su-lyn and I would have gone on the ride (as anthropologist and writer) in order to experience the dynamics among the humans going with us--not so much for the Mars stuff. The story is still people--of, by, and for the people.

That segued into speculation about why we explore--why go to Mars or anywhere for that matter? We talked about a "need" to seek, to move "outward" and agreed that outward movement could be accomplished inside/inward, i.e., in our any movement away from the last mental or physical point of thinking or being or acting...which led to paramecia and coffee...and magnetospirillum who supposedly made the magnetite found in the Martian meteorite that landed in Antarctica thousands of years ago. I think you had to be there--in our session, I mean--to make cloth from this thread. The paramecia spread out when dropped in water. The coffee spreads out when dropped in water...aimlessly, so it seemed to me. Unlike the bacteria that create their own internal magnets...these little fellows engineer their movement for a purpose: survival. They create their magnets in order to be able to follow the perpendicular magnetic fields of the earth through the water to get at stratified layers of oxygen--for survival. Which has me wondering if we, too, spread out with our seemingly highly complex (and complicated) reasons for doing do in order to fulfill a basic instinct--survival.

One thought came up towards the end of our session--the notion that the phenomena of "expansion and contraction" seems to be a pattern in many aspects of our social and physical lives and also in our surroundings. For example, while the coffee expanded, it also fragmented/ Earthlings have done by expanding,then creating tribes, then nations and religions--all "inside/outside" stories (including literature) expand and contract...and the universe itself expands and contracts...all birth and death with movement in between.

Cheating death and those sorts of things
Name: spoon
Date: 2004-01-24 07:59:01
Link to this Comment: 7723

Crikey, Ro, I thought I was jetlagged! :)

One of the questions we thought about on Thursday was how much of what we know now will still be "known" in 100 years time. That led me to propose that there are two different aspects to this question.

There are things that we know we don't know, and these are much easier to speculate about. A reply to the question, then, may be that we will, in the future, fill these gaps in our knowledge.

But then there is a second kind of knowledge that is much harder to address. I refer here to those things that have become common sense and that we take for granted. That is, in a reversal of the first type of knowledge, these are the things that we don't know we 'know'. To be able to step outside of that and speculate about how such knowledge will change is quite beyond me. But many years down the line, we may look back and regard today's inescapable 'truths' as mere convictions.

What if a three-dimensional world is just a conviction? (Prof Grobstein)
What if death is just a conviction? (Ro)

PS: My apologies for sounding like Rumsfeld.

Part Deux
Name: spoon
Date: 2004-01-24 08:58:12
Link to this Comment: 7724

Hmm, thought I might add that I see what I listed above as two phases in knowledge production, rather than two necessarily different 'types' of knowledge. New observations raise new questions. They expose our inherited wisdoms and challenge them. Now we're uncertain: we know that we don't know. Over time, a new story emerges. It becomes a part of our lives, something that doesn't even bear thinking about (after all, it's all been done before). And the cycle begins again...

so its going to be like that, huh?
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-01-24 11:17:25
Link to this Comment: 7726

Alright, alright ... we'll do it YOUR way. YOU all say what we said and then I'll add MY story of what ACTUALLY happened.

As per Ro, what I came away with from our Thursday conversation with was the apparent and intriguing generality of an "expansion and contraction" pattern. The issue was, as I heard it, whether human exploration (movement out of Africa, relatively recent human movement to North and South America, Columbus (and lots of earlier episodes of conquest), moon, Mars) was economically motivated or whether there were instead or in addition other explanations.

Paramecia dropped into a lake will spread out, presumably with no "economic" or other cultural motivation. That in turn raised the issue of whether there was a "purpose" to the expansion, and led to the observation that cream spreads out in coffee, suggesting that expansion might not only occur without an economic/cultural explanation but perhaps even without any explanation in terms of a "purpose". The "contraction" part was that humans, while expanding, also exhibit a phenomenon of forming aggregates, ie tribes, clubs, ethnic groups, nations etc. So perhaps there is also something that opposes expansion, perhaps also without complete explanation in terms of culture, intent, or purpose? (a new Serendip exhibit may be relevant in this context)

What made all this particularly intriguing was the suggestion that the same expansion/contraction pattern seemed to be present in science, and in religion, and in biological evolution, and in ... literature? Which would imply ... ? Wonder if this has anything to do with the distinction between stories that motivate action and those that comfort?

Hmmm ... there ARE some advantages to being reactive rather than proactive. For the sake of the record, Paul didn't not want the seat to Mars because there wouldn't be anything "saleable" there but rather because there wouldn't be anything NEW there (for him). And, yep, there were some other things going on in the conversation as well, including a really interesting question of whether and how one might notice and alter that which one takes so much for granted that one doesn't normally think about it at all.

So, proactive or reactive, as Anne said

that's just MY story of what was interesting Thursday afternoon. What's yours?

Name: orah
Date: 2004-01-24 14:38:44
Link to this Comment: 7727

why do we tell stories? another idea:
we spend our whole lives trying to tell people who we are. our biggest concern is that we won't be understood. ts eliot writes in 'the love song of j alfred proofrock' about a woman about to die who says, "that is not it at all, / that is not what i meant, at all." and i don't think anything could be more heart wrenching. we spend our whole lives trying to convey ourselves to others. do we inevitably fail as eliot suggests?
and we ask, why do we go to mars? and i think it's because we beleive that we are extra-special in this universe and when it seems as though the universe doesn't care about us here on earth, doesn't care that we are going to kill ourselves, we try to press out and go to mars and tell our story and prove to them that we are extra-special. we want THEM to understand us, and know that humans are different. and it scares the crap out of us that relatively speaking, in relation to the universe, we humans are about the same size as those single celled organisms.
reading back over previous posts i am very intruiged by the idea ro brought up in contrast to the idea that we tell stories to insight action. she writes, "I wonder if this notion feels good because our culture is pro-action. Reminds me of a twist on an old saying: "Don't just do something, stand there!" Stand there and think, be." she's right, i think, that stillness is something that is NOT accepted in our culture. we are in a constant flow of outward or inward movement. we are always laboring: expanding contracting. what are we trying to push out?? what are we trying to do?? i think we are trying to scream ourselves. are are fumbling our way into dark space trying to find a receptive ear to listen and to understand us. are we alone here with no one else to appreciate us? we're scared that we are alone, here, in the dark and the cruel objective death blow of nature is going to take away our sun, our only means of light.
and i wonder if we're ever going to get tired of laboring. when does it stop? when can we rest?

Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-01-24 15:35:47
Link to this Comment: 7728

"Alright, alright ... we'll do it YOUR way. YOU all say what we said and then I'll add MY story of what ACTUALLY happened." ...and so began the TRUE story of Thursday's story :-) Hmm.

Having just finished the reading of Mayr for next week and still musing about the expansion/contraction thing, I started to jot down some of the "sets" that I think I see aligning with the notion of expanding and contracting. For example, "an evolving world" of cycles and flux; recapitulation as expansion vs. structures that become vestigial as contraction; a single cell expanding into multiple cells that then specialize in a sort of "division of labor," etc.

A pattern?...but what does it mean? The gradual, directional change of a population does not require this phenomenon, does it? Or is expansion and contraction the cyclical process of evolution...of populations, stories, stars and planets, literature?

Name: reeve baso
Date: 2004-01-24 15:36:22
Link to this Comment: 7729

I notice that we have been considering the role of stories in OUR CULTURE and I understand that space exploration is basically the product of a particular culture, but it makes me wonder how cultures/people that are less invested or involved in space exploration interpret this kind of project, this kind of outward motion and expansion. What stories do other cultures tell about the significance and meaning of humans in space and on Mars?
To what extent does science operate outside of culture and to what extent is it a cultural product ?

Game of Life
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-01-24 15:52:52
Link to this Comment: 7730

Paul wrote, "So perhaps there is also something that opposes expansion, perhaps also without complete explanation in terms of culture, intent, or purpose? (a new Serendip exhibit may be relevant in this context)"

...and this is very weird (the new exhibit contains a link to the Game of Life), because I was working in a compiler group writing an APL compiler in the early 70's when Conway's Game of Life was published. For fun and as a good exercise of the software, we programmed one of the first viable versions of the game and distributed it for free (not imagining the computerized game market of today)...but the weird thing is that I erased a paragraph about being reminded of this simulation game at the end of my last post and before I went to this new Serendip exhibit. I agree--it's relevant.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-01-24 20:25:53
Link to this Comment: 7731

Ro makes a strong point, one that was briefly touched on in Anne's section and one which I think deserves some development. It is true, the majority of us do not, as of now, wish to go to Mars. However, we are still "acting" and striving in other directions. For instance, consider Kat's decision to exploit the microscope rather than the telescope.

Initially I wasn't sure exactly why the trip to Mars was so unappealing to me, I just assumed it is because I know what I like. Life is so precious, it seems silly to me to chase after Everything I haven't tried on the off chance that some of it might be good while neglecting the things that I'm already sure that I love to spend time doing. But its more than that. I'll use an education analogy to explain my point. You wouldn't get a PhD before you complete your undergraduate work, would you? I think that so many of us are still mastering the basics here. To jump into something we aren't psychologically prepared for would be unwise. After having this revelation I was forced to reconcider the class' almost unanimous decision to stay on earth and while at first it seems like we aren't motivated I think that the decision to stay behing is courageous, we know ourselves well enough to gage our preparedness. I'm proud of us all, keep us the honesty and self-awareness, girls.

open/closed systems/evolution of planets
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-01-24 20:26:54
Link to this Comment: 7732

During Thursday's class Professor Dalke said that she wasn't sure if she agreed with the argument that there were too many problems on earth to justify spending money to go to mars and that maybe this type of response was hiding larger issues- other reasons (such as the potential threat to our uniqueness) which might occur if we continue with mars research and expeditions. (this is a very very general paraphrasing- I'm very willing to be corrected if I heard incorrectly). At any rate, this and what she said about not believing in closed systems really made me re-evaluate my thoughts after class. I think at this point I'd have to revise my thinking to say that spending for mars IS a worthwhile cause, independent of the things that are going on here on earth that need funding. Someone in our section made an insightful comment which was something to the effect that if we spend money on this endeavor, if someone discovered a cure for AIDS, there might not be enough money to fund that discovery. At this point I was almost re-convinced of my original conception that more money should be spent on earth than should be spent in space. But reading the first part of Mayr made me stick with my new opinion that all the money that is being spent on Mars is worth it.
This idea arose from a parallel that I saw in Mayr's book. He states in the first chapter that the concept of entropy dictates that evolutionary change should produce disorder. (If I understand correctly (which I may not), according to Mayr, this concept is not valid because evolutionary change does not produce disorder.) He goes on to state that "the law of entropy is valid only for closed systems, whereas the evolution of a species of organisms take place in an open system in which organisms can reduce entropy at the expense of the environment." (p. 8) I think that exploration (specifically on Mars) is something organic to human beings, a product of an open system, an evolutionary process itself, therefore there should be nothing that stands in the way of it, nothing at all wrong with it. Money can be likened to something which promotes entropy (a closed system) and because people on earth have created money, we have created our own closed system. Maybe money is what's going to cause us to ultimately dig ourselves into an evolutionary hole. The problem, then, is not the allocation of money but that there is money in the first place. Admittedly, I'm not quite sure of the exact right alternative to having money be a driving factor in life (there have certainly been many failed plans to do something about this in history) but I think that more people need to think about what in life stops us from living completely in an open system, (a system which promotes growth and change, fluid and complex evolution which is not limited or disorganized) In class I indicated that perhaps stories could somehow transcend money. Having read the first four chapters in Mayr and digested some of what was said in class, I think that this is because stories promote open systems. One example of how stories do this is that they allow us infinite possibilities including the opportunity to hold multiple ideas in one's head at the same time, even if those ideas are contradictory.
In chapter 1, Mayr writes, "what made Darwin such a great scientist and intellectual innovator? He was a superb observer, endowed with an insatiable curiosity. He never took anything for granted but always asked why and how." To me these are not just characteristics that make good scientists, but characteristics that make a very good story teller. I think that contemporary poets, memoirists, fiction writers etc... could be described in the same way. This makes me think even more that there is much less of a disjunction between science and storytelling- I know we've said this in class and on the forum but it is just beginning to sink in more, for me, at least.
Reading more of the Mayr made me wonder about Mars soil and whether scientists will/have been able to date it? It would be interesting to find fossils in different layers of soil on Mars.
Mayr describes the concept of finalism on page 75 "the belief that the living world has the propensity to move towards even greater perfection". I was thinking about the implications of rejecting this concept- according to Mayr, in terms of evolution, we no longer feel that this concept is valid. Yet I think that somehow it is still the way that many people perceive evolution to work. I was thinking about the implications of rejecting this idea. And that made a different "story" pop into my mind. I don't think I actually believe it but it was a really fun thought so I thought that I'd share it.In order to believe this story, the concept of time has to be rejected or perceived as something which is not linear and planets as whole units need to be thought of as living and evolving. Here goes...
Maybe all planets are essentially the same, but at a different stage of evolution. Planets do have key similarities... in terms of elemental composition and shape (just like animals of the same species) For example, maybe at one point earth looked like Jupiter and at one point earth will look like Mars. Or maybe Mars will evolve to have intelligent human life at which point Earth will become exactly like Saturn. The "intelligent life" stage could be a process that every planet goes through at a certain time... It could be a point in a very cyclical process that has been happening infinitely in the universe. However one of the many reasons why this might not be the best story is because of the fact that species evolve differently, a chicken is not an evolved frog just as earth is not an evolved mars. Unless they are. But they certainly aren't according to Mayr or Darwin.
Finally, Mayr indicated that " many more years of experimentation will likely pass before a laboratory succeeds in actually producing life..." This made me laugh because I pictured a scientist on Mars going up there and creating life there an experiment if no actual life was found there and then having to deal with the consequences of PRODUCING life on Mars.
Whew! O.k. so the last thing that I'm thinking about was a discussion from one of the links from the last forum... It was refering to metonym and metaphor and comparing one to science and one to storytelling. I remember thinking that this link was fascinating- I think it was also the one that compared scientists to simplifiers and storytellers to complicators... but I can't remember where it was or any additional details... if anyone knows or had any ideas about this that would be cool... if not that's o.k. too. And there was the one where you had to pick whether life would be a salt shaker or a ketchup bottle- again I don't remember the significance but I picked the less preferred option there.

Thanks for reading this....I feel like so many things in my post are not quite accurate but I wanted to just get them out of my head to see what would happen. I'm very open to changing my mind about everything :-)I can tell that with everyone's ideas this is going to happen a lot for me. Looking forward to the next class!

Name: emily
Date: 2004-01-25 10:19:15
Link to this Comment: 7733

it seems i am going to have to revise my story. while i will be happy to be here on earth while the exploration of mars continues, i am no longer convinced that the exploration is such a bad thing.
my initial reactions were similar to many others voiced-- so much to accomplish here, money could be better spent, etc. last night i tried to step back and think big picture: how does nasa's budget compare to, to take Lauren's example, the national endowment for the arts's budget? or how does nasa's budget compare to our defense budget? (i also, reading the posts, think that elizabeth did me one better in terms of big picture by introducing the idea that it's not where the money's spent but the money itself.) that said, looking at these numbers could teach us a lot about our priorities. we're told the story that spirit and opportunity are really very exciting and important, but the real story seems to lie in unvoiced statistics... how many hidden stories are flowing along beneath above and around us as we walk sleep and dream? i want to listen to these subtle stories. what are they saying about us, and are we listening?

entropy and biology
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-01-25 11:27:07
Link to this Comment: 7734

Elizabeth, there are some ideas in your post that are fascinating. I also picked up on Mayr's comment (on page 8) regarding entropy. You wrote, "He [Mayr] states in the first chapter that the concept of entropy dictates that evolutionary change should produce disorder. (If I understand correctly (which I may not), according to Mayr, this concept is not valid because evolutionary change does not produce disorder.) He goes on to state that "the law of entropy is valid only for closed systems, whereas the evolution of a species of organisms take place in an open system in which organisms can reduce entropy at the expense of the environment." (p. 8)"

If I remember correctly (guys, please keep me honest here...)
1- According to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, energy moves from a concentrated state (to, from, or within some system of atoms and molecules plus the environment of that system) to a spread out state, as long as nothing impedes its movement, and
2- Entropy (change) is the measure of the tendency of energy to spread out—as a function of a difference in temperature—from the cooler to the warmer entity...for example, from cool cream to hot coffee.

I don't think of entropy as disorder or even measuring a degree of disorder. And I don't see how the 2nd law of thermodynamics is violated by or irrelevant to the on-going creation/evolution of more and more complex substances from simpler ones. If complex compounds have less energy than the simpler elements that comprise them, then doesn't the 2nd law of thermodynamics align with the theory of evolution? Perhaps I'm totally confused. Since one of the arguments used by "creationists" is that evolution volates this all-important law, I'd like to understand Mayr's reference to/dismissal of entropy.

Checking the dictionary definition of "entropy," you get these choices:
"1. Symbol S For a closed thermodynamic system, a quantitative measure of the amount of thermal energy not available to do work.
2. A measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system.
3. A measure of the loss of information in a transmitted message.
4. A hypothetical tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.
5. Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society."

I think that most of these definitions are surprising, given the word's simple root: "Greek tropT, a turning, change." Makes me wonder what stories are at work in the spins on this word's meanings. Elizabeth's notion that "stories promote open systems" is uplifting—although I can't say why I find it uplifting just yet...and not in light of a few of these definitions. Right now, I have only questions.

entropy--correcting what I wrote
Name: Ro Finn
Date: 2004-01-25 12:09:39
Link to this Comment: 7736

Arggh...I need to fix my definition of "entropy." It is NOT from cooler to hotter (duh) but from an entity with higher/more energy ... The energy can be thermal, kinetic, etc. Seems that innocent little paragraph on page 8 was a black hole for me. Still stuck in it. Sorry.

Name: Daniela Mi
Date: 2004-01-25 14:46:44
Link to this Comment: 7739

Well, I do not want to be sarcastic, but what I found most intersting on Thursday is that we all had our own stories and stuck with them till the very end of the discussion.

All of the stories, I think, were inextricably connected with the identity of the storyteller: they reflected the different way of thinking of the speakers and their unique experiences. As soon as we change, our stories (and consequently, our perception of the world) will follow suit.

The fact that no one of us seemed to budge from her original position seems to me in proof that we (as weel as many other people) need to impose order on the surrounding environment: that is to say that we need to explain clearly what is going on. It might be a scientific explanation, a religious one etc. Adopting 2 contrasting views at the same time does not, at all, contribute to such an aim. So, internally we resolve any conflicts that might have arisen at the promulgation of a new piece of information and try to incorporate it into our extant system of views.

Name: Perrin Bra
Date: 2004-01-25 21:17:12
Link to this Comment: 7745

Maybe it was silly of me, but I was actually surprised that such a vast majority of Prof. Dalke's class was adamant about staying on Earth. Granted, I myself would stay behind as well, and the reasons for not going to Mars were certainly valid, but it made me wonder just how and why humans have made such drastic psychological changes since the Age of Exploration. I guess that in the time of Columbus, people weren't hesitant to hide their ambitions or weren't as PC as we are now, but where would we without Europe's blatant lust for gold and land? Probably not in America...

In the case of the Mars exploration, I don't know if the ends will eventually justify the means, but I'm wavering in my choice in rejecting the opportunity to explore new horizons. Might it possibly enrich our lives in the end?

scrambled thoughts for midnight breakfast
Name: orah minde
Date: 2004-01-26 00:44:03
Link to this Comment: 7746

been reading some whitman for a religion class and got to thinking about his view of the ultimate expansion. he writes that when you die it is as if the body dissipates into nature, that the physical becomes unfocused to the point of nonexististance. this, i think, is the ultimate story of expansion. we are bigger than ourselves. "every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you." whitman is so 'expanded' that he leaves his SELF. but, in LIFE, as we said in class our pulse is one of expansion and contraction. we think big thoughts, we reach towards mars, but we contract back into ourselves and exclaim our individual uniqueness. and i wonder what the ultimate example of contraction would be. i don't know, but i think that contraction is a kind of comfort. we curl into ourselves in pain. but expansion too is a comfort...or, rather, a search for comfort, a search for someone who will verify our uniqueness. but in itself expansion is a risk; lest you lose your base, yourself, can't find your way home, lose you life to the blank, never contracting whiteness. loss of gravity, stability. loss of the solid stance: 'this is ME.' is expansion a venture from the self? the attempt to write a story from the outside looking in? isn't that the voice every writer tries to emulate? the voice that speaks so deeply from the inside that it speaks with a voice common to all? so is the contracted, kneeled over, movement of the writer a contraction or an expansion? is the searching eye of the scientist like the pen of the writer? they search for an objective stand point. an escape from the dearly cherished self. they risk so much. they risk losing themselves. there is no greater risk. what are they looking for so intently? lost loves? the ultimate search for a oneness with all?

in life both fail. the universe is too big. eventually we lose gravity and footing. lose ourselves in the blank darkness. and the writer can never lose herself enough to write in the universal voice. and ahab ventures too far. but is death a failure? or is it what we have been spending our whole lives tring to acheive and just don't know it. is it the exquisite STILLNESS of the ultimate expansion? do we keep pushing away our ultimate goal?
man, i don't know if that makes anyanyANY sense...hopefully, morning light will make it clearer.

Date: 2004-01-26 01:05:11
Link to this Comment: 7747

figured it out!!!!
death is when both the ultimate expansion and the ultimate contraction exist, in stillness, at a single moment. physically our existence is contracted into the unmoving body; while spiritually we are expanded into this ONENESS that whitman speaks of. and that's when we can rest.
aaahhh...much i can sleep.

the Graham technique
Name: katherine
Date: 2004-01-26 10:01:18
Link to this Comment: 7749

First of all, did anyone else notice the new announcement last friday? Maybe the report has changed, but last time I heard the little photographing Mars machine - Spirit or whatever- stopped sending in pictures and no one knows why.

I am really happy to draw on a few points from the earlier postings and perhaps make them very personal. I would like to comment on the ideas of expansion versus contraction- which really makes me think about Martha Graham and modern dance- and the comment that Daniela made, that none ofus changed our stories. I have to challenge that and say that we may have stuck to our stories and opinion in class, but notice how many people started waivering on their dissision once they thought for a while longer.

Now that I have just brought our attention to how many people are changing their stories I would like to say that mine has remained pretty much the same. I don't want to go to Mars, I do want to stay on earth. I feel that I am in a moment of contraction. I want to focus my life and bring the cream back to the center of the coffee. Maybe I am inhuman, but I am honestly- at this moment in time- not curious about Mars in the slightest.

This contraction and expansion idea is really beautiful. They go hand in hand. I see it as a math class, where you learn all of these complicated functions and feel frustrated becuase you are clueless to its application. Then someone explains where in life you would use these functions to solve a problem, or in some other way you are able to step back and see the big picture and then the usefulness of the math really makes sense. This is my image of a contraction and expansion. contraction being the focus, the detail, and structural support, the emotions and the expansion being the wider picture, the big story, the functionality. anyway, my life is sliding down the path of detail and emotion and since I don't see Mars exploration going that way, it doesn't interest me.

Name: reeve baso
Date: 2004-01-26 15:09:42
Link to this Comment: 7753

It seems to me that not only expansion, but contraction as well is infinite. We think of expansion as going beyond self, as Orah said- risking self in order to find oneness, but self may not be the endpoint of contraction and therefore isn't the self also made vulnerable by contraction? That which upholds life and the possibility of selfhood, the "atom belonging to me as good belongs to you," provides an equally infinite space in which to expand in the process of contracting. We understand our vulnerability by positioning ourselves along this spectrum and we move in both directions (contracting and expanding) in an effort to find a less vulnerable position. But ultimately, self IS vulnerability, it is a precarious point on an infinite scale. Maybe death releases us back to the infinite.

Name: meg
Date: 2004-01-26 15:24:11
Link to this Comment: 7754

I agree that both expansion and contraction are infinite actions. However, I 'm not sure that I agree that it makes us vulnerable. I think expanding and contracting ourselves both the physically and emotionally (or mentally) is human nature. We are not stagnant beings, nor are most things in nature. We do engage in risks in our expanding and contracting, but so does everyone. Expanding and contracting ourselves makes us stronger rather than more vulnerable. It helps us prove to ourselves that we are adaptable, and are not destined to be the same person our entire lives. We are able to change through expanding and contracting every aspect of ourselves, and I don't think that is vulnerability. I agree however that death does release us back to the infinite. Even though expansion and contraction have infinite possibilities, once life is over we are no longer seesawing between expansion and contraction.

i agree
Name: orah minde
Date: 2004-01-26 15:35:17
Link to this Comment: 7755

yeh, i think you're right, reeve. hadn't thought about it that way. both expansion and contraction can be brought to the vulnerable point of loss of self. the self is such a finite point of existence. and is surrounded by this much greater being. i can't say it better than you...but, yes, SELFness is vulnerability. whether we are traveling in outer space or in our own minds we risk drowning in a sea of oneness. our existence is always moving to this oneness. in time we move toward death, but also we are all both scientists (expansionists) and writers (contractionists) and our life pulses. life is the energy created by the movement toward oneness. life is the moment before two things meet. life is the flickering existence of the vulnerable unit. it cannot last by itself, we know that we will die. life is the fleating pulse, the trembling before the approaching unity.

Evolution of Man
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-01-26 20:16:36
Link to this Comment: 7757

It's hard not to think about creationism (or rather, essentialism) when reading Mayr, but one particulary interesting line in the book that caught my attention that essentialism fails to address (or atleast to my knowledge, fails to adequately address) is the existence of different races in humans. " was widely believed that the Negroes had black skin because they had been exposed for thousands of generations to the tanning effects of the tropical sun" (Mayr, 81).
Is this to say that race, as Darwin knew it, was nothing more than a gradual response to environmental influences? If so, does this change at all the way we identify ourselves?

point of contention
Name: kat
Date: 2004-01-26 21:43:18
Link to this Comment: 7759

In our original calss on thursday, someone suggested that the anti-pluralists believed what they believed because of a character flaw- a need to feel unique. However, couldn't the pluralist point of view also be seen as the extrapolation of yet another human emotion: loneliness? And did these men truly form thier opinions of extraterrestial life purely based on whether, at heart, they more longed to feel with or apart from other life? Honestly, the idea seems silly to me, to imagine that all of what we think and believe has to be so aligned along a central idea.

As for class on thursday, the idea that most stuck with me throughout the weekend was Lauren's suggestion that many people did not want to go to Mars because they were afraid of being affected by or adversly effecting whatever we found there. This fear of interaction and affectedness strikes me as particularly strange considering that almost all interactions, whether terrestrial or extraterrestrial, have at least some small effects on each of the involved parties. Why start being afraid of this now?

change and the unknown
Name: bethany ke
Date: 2004-01-26 23:51:31
Link to this Comment: 7765

The point that stuck with me from our discussion on Thursday was the point Stefanie made about the inevitablity of 'messing things up' on Mars, that there would be change there if we chose to go. The conversation then briefly shifted to address change in general; is all change 'messing something up'? And then it drifted to the next topic...BUT I think this concept has considerably more to it, especially in light of one of the articles we had read for Thursday, "A History of Strange Bounces, a Future of the Unexpected". It spoke of small, unnoticed catalysts creating big changes over time. We see their effects now, but may not have been able to predict them then. If we go to mars, it could have implications we might not dream of from where we now stand. Thinking about this concept again, after the Mayr reading, this is also a concept in evolution; tiny changes that gradually snowball into a big difference. What if something had gone differently? There are so many possible outcomes, and so many variables. As a part of our nature, humans hate not knowing (Another reason to go to Mars?). That, I believe, is why we have science, religion, stories. We need them in order to predict what we don't know (for example, remember the examples from Mayr of predicting how/when a certain specie would appear, and then later finding the fossils that confirmed these guesses). If we think of change as messing things up, which it really is, in a way, then everything seems so chaotic. There are so many possibilties, so many alternate stories/realities, that we just can't handle it. That's why we create tools for prediction. Through stories (including science), we can predict anything. Perhaps that's why stories are comforting, and why people find refuge in religion.

Name: Julia
Date: 2004-01-27 00:19:45
Link to this Comment: 7771

Well, the topic from Thursday's discussion in Prof. Grob.'s section that stuck with me was the persistence of the coffee metaphor that Prof. Grob. tried to develop. The idea was that when a population of anything, living or not, is dropped into a vast environment, the population spreads out.

The first example was a drop of Paramecium released in a lake, spreads out, as is also the case with simple life spreading into more complex life via evolution. The exemplified life and paramecium are obviously examples of living creatures, but the interesting element that Prof. Grob. brought up was that the nonliving drop of coffee also spreads when dropped into water. If the metaphor is valid then it implies that perhaps there is a consistent and omnipotent force (of which the source is unknown, of course) to spread out or expand beyond boundaries, and this force is not only impossible to control but also applicable to absolutely all elements of the world (perhaps the universe).

I don't know if I buy into this thought that eveything (living and nonliving) respond to the same forces; after all the examples of evolution as a whole and the drop of paramecium both represent elements with the power to "think" and/or respond to their environments and I don't know how plausible it would be to assume that the element of thinking and responding didn't have something to do with the expanding action in question. I'm not sure that living and nonliving entities can be directed in exactlye the same way when one has a distinctive power that the other does not ("thinking").

Perhaps this is not entirely what Prof. Grob. was really getting to with the coffe metaphor, however, it is where the thought took me and it raises some interesting questions to consider.

Affecting/being affected by our discoveries
Name: Jen Sheeha
Date: 2004-01-27 00:40:27
Link to this Comment: 7775

Kat wrote, "This fear of interaction and affectedness strikes me as particularly strange considering that almost all interactions, whether terrestrial or extraterrestrial, have at least some small effects on each of the involved parties. Why start being afraid of this now?" I think that fear of being affected by whatever we discover (in this case, life in space) is not really so recent; fear of /affecting/ what we discover, on the other hand, is.

Expansion beyond one's world (usually one's culture and society; in this case, an actual world!) has always been a source of fear for people. There's the old adage that people fear what they don't know, and Prof. Dalke brought up in Thursday's class an interesting example from a play about Galileo (and I apologize if I get the details off) in which a monk looks through the telescope and can see the Jovian moons...but refuses to tell anyone and risk destroying their entire conception of themselves as unique beings who are uniquely loved by their God. The monk feared how such knowledge would affect other people's worldview and self-perception, and I imagine that the possibility of discovering life on other planets -- which would be considerably more extraordinary than most average human interaction! -- holds a lot of fear for those who feel that such a discovery would damage their sense of self -- that they would stand to lose from any encounter or interaction with alien life.

As for adversely affecting anything we might find out there, I'd say that we are only now concerned with this because people rarely cared in the past; the conquistadores, for example, most likely didn't lose any sleep over how their presence would affect the natives. I DO think that it's very worthwhile to consider how human exploration into space might affect/alter what we encounter, and while I don't expect that any signs of life will be discovered on Mars, I do wish humanity could come to some sort of consensus as to how we would deal with the discovery of another sentient species should it ever occur. Such a consensus, however, would probably be impossible.

Thinking about stories
Name: Mary
Date: 2004-01-27 08:07:57
Link to this Comment: 7781

I'm thinking of how scientific stories transform slowly over time, and at the same time they have inertia that keeps the same story told over time. (Like expansion-contraction, action-comfort , phenomena that goes on simultaneously). And then other times --bam-- paradigm shift, the ratio between transformation and inertia drastically changes. A new story accelerates in and the old story begins to fall apart. Is this transformation of stories similar to biological evolution? In1859, after Darwin's pages hit the streets, away went fixed species, and essentialism and a lot of the creationism crowd. Not completely though, creationism still has a pull on some of us and finalism still has a pull on a lot of us.

This explanation of scientific stories sounds like biological evolution to me. Stories gradually changing and staying the same is like variation within species. A paradigm shift (a new worldview needing acceptance from a population in order to have the shift) emerges from the synthesis of the gradually transforming scientific ideas (genetic variation) like a new species evolves from the genetic variation that survives within a population. Biological evolution involves creation of new species that can't reproduce anymore with the ancestral species. Thomas Kuhn calls it lost science when old concepts can't reproduce anymore with the new paradigms.

Now, I'm wondering about literary stories? Do they transform/shift (evolve?) similar to scientific stories? Our stories definitely transform slowly but at the same time have inertia. Claryssa Pinkes Este's book Women Who Run with Wolves is an example of the transformation and simultaneous inertia of stories
She presents the history of certain long-lived myths over time and talks about how they change a little according to the culture that is telling them. Does literature ever have a paradigm shift?

Why do we replace stories? Biological evolution goes from simple to complex. Is that what stories do? Science, today's popular story is more complex than yesterday's popular story, religion.

One of my motivations for taking this class is to better understand the mechanism directing the evolution of social thought through stories? As in biological evolution, is it the same mechanism - natural selection? Does science help humanity to survive better? There's a chance, I suppose.
Marquis de Condorcet, one of les philosophes who led the French Enlightenment, writes, in his Sketch for an Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, of science advancing humanity firmly toward the truth and establishing a coming era of "reason, tolerance, and humanity". I think the stories of science can be a tool utilized for surviving on earth, be it for technology or as an example of freedom (towards the search for knowledge) that stimulates freedom in politics. But it must be coupled with ethics or else it could be a tool towards tyranny and devastation. Which brings me to my comment for class last Thursday. I think that the trip to Mars is unethical at this time when humanity needs food and resources to straighten out life here on earth before we go off for scientific research. I don't believe the open system as mentioned in class can accommodate both needs of aid to suffering people and Mars research at this time. There is immediate need. I don't think we can ever make everyone comfortable on earth but I do think its time to make an effort towards balancing the power to provide a more sustainable future for all. These days the way I see it, science does not have enough ethics. And it should because it is powerful. Will the evolution of scientific stories help humanity to survive better? There's a chance, I suppose. But it's only a tool. It needs to be coupled with ethics.

Name: becky rich
Date: 2004-01-27 11:19:13
Link to this Comment: 7785

well, im having trouble coming up with something new to say, but post i must, so here we go: i really like Elizabeth's thoughts on exploration, specifically to mars, being a result of an open system and important to our evolution. im still not sure that i agree though because, as others have said, there are still plenty of ways for us to evolve and change inwardly, in our own societies, and we do have the power, in a sense, and the responsibility, to decide where we want to evolve and how.
the theme paul came up with on thursday, that things are in a cycle of expansion and contraction, is something i'd like to explore further. so it seems we expand out of a drive to explore, or arguably, the drive to expand is inate~ the paremiseum/coffee example seems to suggest it's almost a law of nature. and the exibit demonstrates that people in an integrated society with even a slight preference to be around people similar to themselves eventually produces a segregated community... and i'd be interested to know where someone else might take that next!

you're messed up
Name: Stefanie
Date: 2004-01-27 12:58:33
Link to this Comment: 7787

A point which many of you, including myself, in Prof. Grobstein's section found interesting/relevant to the topic was that of change. I, as Bethany stated in her earlier post, brought up the idea that perhaps the idea that going to Mars might "mess things up" was inevitable, the introduction of anything new (a new catalyst) into the environment would bring about some sort of change. When I think of the coffee in the water example I think about those small molecules fundamentally changing the environment of the water. Change, not "messing things up", happens on a very regular basis and even on the smallest scale. But I wonder, if this is change or as we brought up in the Grobstein section and as Mayr made reference to in his book, merely a series of contractions and expansions. All change is cyclic on earth. But would that be true on a planet like Mars. If we were to inhabit it, and later in the history of a martian civilization "mess it up", is that just part of a greater cycle in all life/planetary systems?

meant to be
Name: Meg
Date: 2004-01-27 13:18:38
Link to this Comment: 7788

I agree with Stefanie, I think that everything in existence is destined to be changed. Change isn't necessarily "messing things up", it is an essential part of life, and the existence of non-living things. Change is meant to happen, otherwise nothing would exist. Going to Mars will change it, even in a small way, but it is something that was bound to happen. We cannot say that change in life, or planets, or solar systems is "messing up", it is the future, the next step, it can't be stopped or slowed. And if mars is "messed up" by humans, is that bad, or is that the next logical step in mars's existence, and our evolution?

from melancholy to biology....?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-01-27 21:23:03
Link to this Comment: 7792

Feeling somewhat melancholy and retrospective, I opened this afternoon's class with the story of Lot's Wife, as told first in Genesis and then (giving somewhat more weight to the power of grief) as re-told by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. But now I find myself wondering (this is a serious question) how that story might be re-told by a biologist. How would/could a human body "turn into" salt? What would be involved in that process of "concentration" and crystallization?

such an interesting talk today...thank you.
Name: orah minde
Date: 2004-01-28 02:02:19
Link to this Comment: 7794

the idea that the messying of one thing can cause the ordering of another seems so true in relation to everything. a war can cause a rise of nationalism within a nation. the blood of war causes a unity within a nation. great chaotic pain can cause us to hold tight to each other. the order lying in the clinging. the cool stillness before a storm. knowing the frantic ache of imminent destruction nature sits calmly. the ordered moment while sitting with the now cold sickened body. the silence is the order: a form of acknowledging the REALITY OF ENTROPY. the acknowledgment is the order itself.
prof. grobstein talked about not 'beleiving' in evolution. and yet i assume that he KNOWS evolution to be a truth. i think that beleif is a much much deeper form of knowing. yes, we KNOW that evolution exists but can we take this knowledge into our souls? can we LIVE this knowledge? we KNOW that entropy and death are realities. can we acknowledge them? can we beleive them? can we order them in ourselves? do you BELEIVE in death? (i'm really asking...i don't know the answer)is there a way of beleiving entropy? can we live beleiving that we will one day dissipate? i'd say no, except for that silence. that calming order makes entropy okay. it's the acknowledgment, it's that moment before the sun explodes. that order comforts me.

Woman of Salt
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-01-28 10:19:30
Link to this Comment: 7797

Anne D. wrote, "But now I find myself wondering (this is a serious question) how that story might be re-told by a biologist. How would/could a human body "turn into" salt? What would be involved in that process of "concentration" and crystallization? "

Gen 19:26 "But [Lot's] wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt."
Anne, I have no idea how to transform a body into salt, nor does this next thought diminish your question...but it seems to me that this biblical passage--and the definition of 'salt' in it and other places in the Bible- maybe should be interpreted figuratively, not literally. Consider this: "the Phoenicians used the phrase "pillar of salt" to mean "paralyzed" as from a stroke (thrombosis or aneurysm)." Could it be that Lot's wife became paralyzed (from the grief of losing her home?) instead of becoming salt?

More stories of stories...

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-01-28 13:05:34
Link to this Comment: 7800

Anne, I'm not sure that I have a proper biological explanation for what happened to Lot's wife, but it is certainly interesting that a biological explanation seems possible. I think this is one of those instances where science and storytelling go hand in hand. I don't think that a scientific explanation would, in this case, derail the story. Moreover, while the bible tells the more overt story a scientific explanation would offer a covert chain of events that occurs under the surface and makes us see what we see. It would help us understand, and perhaps appreciate it better. In this way the science behind it is also a story, or part of the bigger story. Sometimes the stories we can't initially see are essential..

salt and stories
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-01-28 15:30:01
Link to this Comment: 7801

I think it would be possible for a person to actually turn into salt. Why not! I do think that bible stories are meant primarily for metaphoric significance but somehow I think figuring out the biological way that a person might turn into salt might even enhance one's understanding of this more metaphoric significance- even if in our lives we don't encounter anyone who is turning into salt. I don't know what this biological explanation would be exactly but it brings me back to a link that was in the first forum. I am going to try and put the link here except I'm not sure how HTML works so it might not show up. Here goes. O.k. that won't work... so I'll just explain here what's on that page. There is a theory expressed on that page that "systems are alive based on the quality of order they manifest". It is followed up by a ketchup bottle and a salt shaker. The question was asked; which has the most "life" or "which is a better picture of the self". 80% of people choose the salt shaker which illustrated the point... I think people chose this because the ketchup bottle looked more disorderly... messy. I actually scrolled down and choose the ketchup bottle because I thought it was more interesting- had more life because it was more colorful and had the little ketchup drizzles on the inside of the bottle... and the red kind of looked like blood which to me indicated life (actually I think the part about the blood is a retrospective thought- they may all be retrospective thoughts). But at any rate I can most certainly see why people would choose salt... This is where I think this experiment relates to Lot's wife... salt seems like the most elemental reduction of something- that somehow salt reduces things to their essence and thus to order. This is if we assume that essence=order. Now, admittedly a salt shaker... i.e. salt contained is much different from salt dispersed... a loose pile of salt (Lot's wife). But, Lot's wife was looking back... perhaps to her own essence, memory (the things she looked back to were painful to her) Looking backward at life and where she had been somehow reduced her to her own essence which was... o.k. here is where I pause... there are two ways that this sentece can go. #1 Looking backward at life and where she had been somehow reduced her to her own essence, something fundamentally ordered (as manifested in salt) ... This corresponds to the web site. #2 Looking backward at life and where she had been somehow reduced her to her own essence, something fundamentally disordered (as manifested in salt).... This corresponds to our evolving notions of entropy... everything getting messy, spreading out in an effort to make other things less messy) Let's go with number 2 for a bit. If she didn't look back at what was messy (what was behind her), she could have moved on to what was less messy (disorder allowing for order)... the mess behind her could have propelled her if she did not stop to become a part of it (literally, by becoming salt). Is looking back what somehow promotes disorder? ------------------------------------------------------------------------ I was thinking about Prof. Grobstien's quote about not believing stories. I think the ideas expressed are quite beautiful and believe everything that he said (the WHAT of what he was saying)... for example I too think that one should "listen to stories, learn from them and use them when they are useful." But something about the idea of not believing stories was tremendously unsettling for me and I was just trying to understand why it made me feel that way. I think it really is just a semantic(?) thing... a question of words and meaning I don't know if I'm using the right adjective... Here is how I would revise the quote to reflect my beliefs (using Prof. Grobsteins language with a few additons and subtractions) but still saying something similar. "I believe in stories, wherever they are from. I listen to them, learn from them, and make use of them when I find them useful. To "believe" a story is, for me, to continue the process of "getting it less wrong". Obtaing a full and deep knowledge of the story and it's significance involves entering the world of the story without reservation- trying as best as one can to understand the story as if one had written the story herself. This is believing a story. Only when one fully believes a story can one propell oneself forward beyond that story and onto new stories, perhaps in conjunction with scientific observation. However, the creation of a new story does not preclude belief in the old story. Every story deserves to be belived in. Believing stories is what allows us to be expansive human beings. This is what allows us to change, emerge, evolve." Happy to change my mind about any of this! See you all soon :-) Does anyone know how to make the paragraphs come up as you type them... when I indent or space on the thing it doesn't come up on the posting- Thanks!

Name: Heather Da
Date: 2004-01-29 03:15:39
Link to this Comment: 7812

I have many disjointed thoughts. First of all, I'm having a hard time with the idea of science as a useful story rather than a search for "truth." When I was reading Mayr, it made me think of this one time when I was talking to a man who was sitting next to me on an airplane. He was studying to be a pastor, and mentioned that he didn't believe in evolution. I wanted to convince him that evolution was a fact, although I didn't really say that to him, and I ended up explaining it really badly. It was really frustrating. So, when I was reading Mayr, I was just thinking of all the proof and explanations I need to remember in case I ever come into that situation again. When Grobstein said in class that he tells people stories that he finds useful so that they may find it useful, I thought of this man again. I didn't approach telling him my story (although its not really MY story, maybe the one I find useful?) in a way that was reflective of what he was looking for to be useful. Although, could he have been open to gain anything from my "story"?(I'm still having a hard time thinking of evolution as story) For that matter, was I open to gain anything from his story? I guess we approached the stories as mutually exclusive, so we couldn't gain anything from each other. As to finding the story of evolution "useful," I found Orah's comment really insightful as to the difference between "knowing" and "believing." Knowing being a more logical maybe superficial thing, while believing is a personal thing, living life in a way that reflects that knowledge. I might be paraphrasing badly, but thats what I got from it. For me, evolution is a story that I "know" (as "truth"?) but do not "believe" because it doesn't jive with the way that I live my life. This thought brings me back to my rejection of the seat to go to Mars. I don't want humans to go to Mars because I think we need to work on humanity. I "believe" that we need to spend money on fulfilling basic human needs, ending suffering, ending the destruction of the environment. When I was reading Mayr, specifically about the history of the earth and early life, I found myself questioning everything. Why am I so concerned with humanity if it is destined to end? With the environment if, as Stephanie said, "messing things up" is just change which is inevitable? With the rights of animals when they are just one small branch of the abundance of life on Earth? I mean, the life of a bacteria growing inside my body, which of course I want to destroy, is as much life as that of a cow, right? And as much as I may know those things, I don't believe them. So, although I "know" the story of evolution, and I agree with what everyone is saying about human's exploration/expansion being good and even inevitable, I don't/can't live my life in a way that reflects that knowledge. I don't find it useful. I don't "believe" it..... I also wanted to add a couple of random thoughts. This may be far fetched, but I think that there could be a kind of "life" on Mars that we cannot see/understand because we are looking through our own lenses.....Also on a different note, life doesn't evolve, as Mayr says, to greater perfection. I don't know if he said this or not, but for me it is useful to think of life as not getting more perfect, but more "useful" for its surroundings. This is the same kind of idea as stories.

Name: Susan W.
Date: 2004-01-29 07:24:32
Link to this Comment: 7813

Alright. I can't sleep and its 7am. I might as well post, right?
It seems as though we all assume that one inherent aspect of stories is the fact that they all involve a second party; that is to say stories exist to be told to someone else. But is that really true? It seems to me that we create stories all the time that others dont see. Journals would be an example of that. Would the same reasonings for producing stories for others hold true for producing stories for ourselves?
And another thing that has been bugging me is the idea that stories are all "written". stories can take so many other forms! I think that as a child, one of the most moving stories I ever heard is actually in the form of music, and that would be "Peter and the Wolf". Stories can also be very visual, ranging from films, to painting, to photography, to theatre and all other areas of fine arts. Does the medium in which we tell the story effect the way it is recieved, and the impact it has on us? Would you use one method to achieve a certain emotion or action verus another method? What about Content vs. Medium? (I can't help but think of Brecht and his bizarre, yet wonderful take on how one should conduct a theatre piece: that it should not be a piece of culinary slop, but should instill in us motivation, yet at the same time a complete sense of alienation from our own senses). Just thoughts.

Blame it on the puppy
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-01-29 07:51:22
Link to this Comment: 7814

Good Morning,
I couldn't sleep either, Susan :-) The puppy got me up at just past 5am to go outside (YIKES, it is COLD)...

I"m still stuck in Mayr's muddy last full paragraph on page 8 of his book...I hope this is more amusing than annoying to you guys...

I tried to dissect that paragraph and come up with a succinct set of questions and bothers. Here goes:

Mayr wrote, "It is sometimes claimed that evolution, by producing order, is in conflict with the "law of entropy" of physics, according to which evolutionary change should produce an increase of disorder."

But in Paul's material (Chapter 1, on the link to "The Essential Link Between Life and the Second Law of Thermodynamics") it states, "The overall direction of change in the universe is from less probable (more organized) states to more probable (less organized) states."

My read: Evolution produces order? Evolution is the process by which the next higher, more complex, but not necessarily closer to perfect version of a population comes into being. Evolutionists have applied a scheme for ordering/categorizing that which they observe evolving. But does evolution move according to a predictable scheme? There seems to be a fair bit of chance (right conditions coming together) involved. Has science been able to predict the next turn of the evolutionary wheel on any population?

Mayr continues, "Actually, there is no conflict, because the law of entropy is valid only for closed systems,"
But I need to ask how it is that entropy applies only in a closed system when we know that it can be slowed down, i.e., altered? And how are we (Mayr) defining a closed versus open sytstem anyhow?

Mayr persists;" whereas evolution of a species of organisms takes place in an open system in which organism can reduce entropy at the expense of the environment..."
My issue: Entropy (physical) measures the tendency for change/movement in energy as a function of temperature. It is not disorder, nor is it disorderly, nor does it measure disorder...just the likeliness of a movement of energy...any kind (kinetic, thermal, etc).

Mayr finishes that paragraph with:"and the sun supplies a continuing input of energy."
Me again: Does "continuing" mean "endless"? If not, then isn't the solar system closed? Evolution would then be occuring in a CLOSED system. And entropy would then apply.

So why has Mayr deliberately gone out of his way to dismiss entropy (and therefore, the 2nd law of thermodynamics) as being applicable to evolution. What am I missing?

Date: 2004-01-29 13:55:33
Link to this Comment: 7818

Because Lot's wife looked backwards, she was turned into a pillar of salt. So, organic (living) matter was turned (again) into inorganic compound; in other words,the top branch of the tree of life returned back to its starting point. Having once turned into salt (some species highly value such inorganic substances), Lot's wife could help other living organisms emerge, thus closing the Cycle of Life.This raises interesting questions-the interconnectedness of species (in particular, the importance of human beings) and movement as an attribute of life.

Independence, on this planet at least, does not exist- nothing can be regarded as isolated from its environment. Species need other species for food, light, protection etc. All species need to extract/imbibe nutients/ oxygen etc from the inorganic world. Therefore, I think, there are no supreme creatures, only such that are well suited to a certain way of life better than others. Thus, living under certain conditions that are not as favourable to the other organisms, they avoid copmpetition, and consequently increase their chances for survival and reproduction.If it is the environment and subsequent adaptations that ensure a species' well-being, then is our re-shaping the environment an attempt to adapt to it? Is such adaptation justified?

Lot's wife was turned into salt. From my point of view, this can be seen as the transformation of living, moving cells, sometimes loose and not quite organized into something with regular structure where all molecules are located at approximately the same distance forming a highly orderly pattern. Preventing molecules from moving freely (contraction ) here means death.

Lot's wife was wistful of the past. She wasn't ready to "wipe off the slate" and start a new life at another place. Does this mean that she was not adapted to live elsewhere? That movement is one of the attributes of life is bolstered by adaptation. "Looking back" in biological terms means to revert to a former, usually not that advanced state, thus decraesing chances for survival. So, Lot's wife had to die...

Name: Daniela
Date: 2004-01-29 13:57:21
Link to this Comment: 7819

Sorry everyone. The above (titled CyCLES) are my thoughts

Re: Cycles
Name: Natasha
Date: 2004-01-29 14:23:37
Link to this Comment: 7820

I think I disagree with Daniela in the statement that Lot's wife turning to a pillar of salt closed the Cycle of Life. If the inorganic susbtances such as salt help foster other creatures, then i think her salt is in fact starting a chain reaction, where, as Daniela said, species are interconnected, and such that many creautres are living off of one creature needing the salt to live. I don't necessary think that looking back means reverting to a less advanced state of being. I think that part of the story was to show that humans must draw on past experiences in order to make their future ones more meaningful. And in the sense that humans evolve further, by being able to be retrospective.

Name: Perrin Bra
Date: 2004-01-29 17:15:40
Link to this Comment: 7824

Ok, here is my issue with the discussion in Prof Dalke's discussion section: I fail to understand the concept of no absolute truth, the absence of reality, and the denial of faith in general. I don't understand how people can deny reality, because if nothing is real, then why are we here? Do we have a purpose? If not, then why should we bother being moral and kind human beings? I can certainly accept people having different truths because I think that it is emotionally healthy to believe in something. Humans are definitely too mistrusting and I really don't see anything wrong with placing just a little faith in a power other than yourself--whether that power may be religious or scientific in nature, or simply trusting in the inherent goodness of your fellow man (however, I certainly don't mean to say that people shouldn't question their environment). I think that the denial of reality is some sort of psychological device people use to protect themselves against the unknown or things that they might want to know. At the very least, we can say that a flower is real if only because the purpose of its existence is for us to enjoy its smell.

Sorry if that was too confusing!

A bit long... sorry
Name: Patricia P
Date: 2004-01-29 19:14:14
Link to this Comment: 7829

I read through many of the comments and found them all to be so enticing that I want to say something about them all. But I won't. Primarily, I just feel very enlightened by this notion that we are contributing to, or neglecting stories in progress. We seek to abandon the idea of truth or proof and look more into the usefulness of stories. I think this is challenging, but powerful, and on the quest for knowledge BETTER than any other path. However, one must consider that some stories, by nature, require the end of storytelling, and so are those stories not as good by our definition. I may not be very clear, but hear is what I am getting at.

Religion: I am almost certain, but if you are a Christian, Muslim, Jew, you have to accept one thing, even though lots of other things are up for interpretation: The word of the "good book," (whichever good book you like), is THE STORY not A STORY. This is crucial. I agree with and respect the ideas introduced in class, but I believe that we are trying desperately not to address the greater complications of this particular story. The open nature of this story infinitely closes many others. If one of us has a "story" that there indeed can be many stories, and another one of us has a story that there can only be one story... don't we both have to fess up (especially those who believe in many stories) that we at least find that opposing view less true. I have struggled a great deal with this because I feel the topic demands that you give of yourself a great deal. I don't want to be the philosopher whose philosophy on life is not to philosophies.

I just want to make it clear that I am criticizing this approach so much because the better part of me violently wants to accept it. I think it's enlightened and the best "story" I have ever heard. And yet, the gut of me will not. And I want to end this controversy.

The best I can do for myself is this:
The story that was posted in class this Thursday about the girl (a woman in our class) who felt the desire to convince the man on the plane that his story was wrong was very moving to me. I have done that. A million times. I have a very close friend who is a devote Christian. I feel that... well I feel a million things in controversy with the bible. So we read the bible together, and argue. I EVEN went to church with her! And I did this solely to argue. And we did this in part to strengthen our own stories, to challenge wits, and to fight for our beliefs about our purpose here and what happens after we die. So this class has brought me to some conclusions that I was at the cusp of making during these debates but am now fully able to make. I will divulge this.

I think that we do have two different stories. I think that BOTH STORIES have a purpose, and they EACH serve us individually. But many times we cannot accept one person's story because it violates another. It invalidates another story. Even as Grobstien and Dalke infer that they may not have to, they do! And this is of ultimate concern. My friend is afraid that if her religion is wrong than her family is foolish and her purpose is lost. I am afraid that if I am wrong there is a hell for those who have certain stories. We may just be afraid. I'm not sure, it may sound cheesy, but it may be just that.

Historically we kill each other over this! Literally. This just blows my mind. How can I ever overcome this need to find one story if generations of people have died just for their story. And then we always look back, and for many of those situations, we think of how silly that was. To die for one story.

As many in this class have wisely said, this is so frustrating as it makes us look at our lives as not right or wrong but as another story.

bible, comfort, settling, religion, love affairs,
Name: orah minde
Date: 2004-01-29 20:18:08
Link to this Comment: 7830

really liked anne's explanation of lot's wife at the begining of class. how lot's wife was filled with such greif that she became tears, she became sorrow. it's poetic and reading back over the text, i think it scientifically can make sense as well.
lets open our bibles to ch19 of genesis. so the angels are trying to get lot and his family to leave the city. and the family keeps delaying. "as dawn broke, the angels urged lot on." and the family is so slow that the angels have to physically move them. the angels are in some kind of rush. they "seized his hand, and the hands of his wife and his two daughters." it is signifigant that they are in a hurry. why? i think it's because the sun is rising. why then would the bible state that they are being pushed out of the city just as dawn was breaking? the angels say that they cannot do anything until the family has arrived at this town: zoar... which is a certain distance away from the imminent destruction. and "as the sun rose upon the earth and lot entered zoar, the lord rained upon sodom and gomorrah sulfurous fire from the lord out of heaven." i think that "sulfurous fire from the lord out of heaven" was prabably pretty damn hot, and combined with the heat of the rising desert sun hot enough to evaporate a person's body until she was diminished to a pile of salt.
so if poetically she BECAME grief, if she BECAME TEARS and the heat of the sulfurous fire from heaven, and the heat of the desert sun hit her face-on then it's possible that she became salt.
its nice how the sciency part about the heat can be combined with the poetic part about her 'becoming greif.' :) and i like that image of 'becoming greif.' ((reminds me of JRobert Oppenheimer..."i am become death the destroyer of worlds."))
also, i changed my mind about why we tell stories. i don't think they are for comfort. if they were then prof. grobstein wouldn't have told us his story today. it's too distressing: our lives are fueled by the fact that we are one day going to die. that is not comforting. quite the contrary. it sucks. big time. people said that it was comfoting to know what is going on. but, nothing about that story comforts me. nothing. nothing. nothing.
but, alas, i still listen. and would have listened even if i knew what was coming. if all i wanted was comfot then i would have walked out. why did i listen? or a better question is why did prof. grobstein tell that story?
is being in a state of distress a 'useful' state in which to be?
i don't think that story is told in order to insight us to act. there is nothing we can do. our lives are fueled by the fact that we are going to die. and there IS NOTHING to do. so if it doesn't insight action (it tells us that action wouldn't do anything) and it doesn't comfort then why tell? i really really don't know.
(on that unsettling note)......wait! maybe stories are told to settle us. being settled and being comfortable are different things. we can be settled in uncomfort. i like that....hummm...
so (on that semi-settling note) another thing:
i'm taking a religion class in which the professor says that we have to broaden our definition of what religion is. he says that the act of questioning what it means to be human is the ultimate religious act. and i beleive it. really. so i have a hard time when people keep contrasting religion and science so so sharply because i feel that the questions we are asking in this class are religious questions. i don't have the words to explain it but i feel as though questioning my place in the universe, my place in regards to the diminishing sun is the most religious question. i mean (i'm trying really hard here) what is the point of orgonized religion? could it be in order to define the human in regards to a higher power? and isn't the point of science the same thing? to find our meaning in relation to nature? nature being a higher force over which we have no power? i mean the sun is going to dissipate. and i think both science and religion are pivoted on the reaction of the human to this fact.
and i'm reminded of a quote from my favorite novel 'franny and zooey' (salinger) ((and then i'll shut up))
franny is an actress. and she is distressed because she feels as if there is only ONE way in which to pray to God. so she says her 'jesus prayer' over and over. and she thinks this is THE ONLY way to be religious. but her brother, zooey, says to her, "the only religious thing you can do, is act. act for God, if you want to- be God's actress, if you want to. what could be prettier?"
i won't pontificate to you why i feel like this is so so true. but, i think salinger is broadening the common definition of religion. religion is passion. religion is the way in which we delve into life. religion is our love affair with this world, the universe, life, beauty and GOD. because we ALL have a love affair with all these things whether it be through science or litterature. this love affair is religion. and THAT is the way that we all MUST walk this earth. whether we walk it as biologists or poets or actresses ... and i think lot's wife became greif because she saw the end of this love. and no one can see this end and live. but that's for another posting....
g'nite friends.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-01-29 20:36:45
Link to this Comment: 7831

I had never been taught the 2nd law of thermodynamics in respect to the way that it affects life. It was always an abstract; I knew that something was becoming disordered while another thing was becoming ordered but I could not see the direct impact on my life. Its fairly disconcerting that I was comforted by todays lecture while so many were clearly upset. Learning about the law as a metaphor made me much more at ease with the way things are here on earth. Rather than seeing the down side (pollution, hunger, etc.) I'm reminded of the exceptionally wonderful things. Do not misunderstand, I'm not dismissing the bad. However now that I know the way in which the good and bad go together I feel as if the bad isn't in vain. As a long time student of Kabbalah I was reminded in class today of the ways in which science is undoubtedly linked to spirituality. I also realized that this background is the primary reason that I am more at ease with some of the topics that arise in class discussions than other people are (and am thus going to make a concerted effort to step out of my own shoes and relate to everyone a bit better). Today was an important class for me, Paul's "story" today affected me in the same way I imagine religion affects other people.

Happiness is...
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-01-30 07:43:26
Link to this Comment: 7834

In class yesterday (1/29) Paul asked me if I (given my visible struggles with the topic) was "happy" with the water wheel explanation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics (and entropy). I said that I was happy to know that I'm not alone...meaning that I had separately been banging on this discordant pot before having read or heard the explanation of the water wheel. It was good to know that my notion that the 2nd law applies to and enables evolution was not nuts according to Paul...even though neither of us is in sync with the venerable author.

But Paul, I gave you a bad answer. I am not happy yet. It was not the explanation of the science that had me hog-tied. My problem was that I counld not come up with the reason why such a knowledgeable and well-respected scientist chose to skirt this central issue for his topic. For me, whenever someone who is well-respected in his field does or says something so incongruous, my first thought is not, "What a jerk" or "He's just being a bit sloppy." My first thought is, "What am I missing?" Regarding Mayr, let's declare this a rhetorical question. But it's driving me slightly nutty in a new way now. Now that I'm into the second batch of Mayr chapters, it's taking me an inordinate amount of time to get through them, but not because they are more complex than the first batch (I have an adequate understanding of genetics, having bred animals). It's that I'm now second-guessing Mayr thought by thought. I'm no longer assuming that his writing is credible and unbiased. Bummer.

But that has led to a whole new set of thinking about stories...about stories that evolve/survive by adhering to some minimum set of criteria, just as science progresses (or not) according to a set of disciplines that help to make the progressions believable. I'm now beginning to think about a story as a member of a family of stories—a strain. I think that the minimum criteria for the evolution of a story-strain needs to include connecting backward with its history, "now-ward" with the sense and sensitivities that its readers will bring that will lead to their either accepting or rejecting the story (see Elizabeth Catanese's post re: believing in stories), and also connecting forward, i.e., that quality of good writing that triggers imagination in others, triggers others to host the story, incubate it and give it off-spring. If a story loads itself with ego, personal agendas, biases, sloppy reasoning, whatever—let's call these "mutations"—they might be lethal; they might lead to the quick demise of the strain.

I'm also thinking about the 2nd law—the water wheel transmogrified into being the sun—and how that law applies to the creation and evolution of stories...a spending of energy (thought-energy) in order to make order from disorder...

The Zebra Storyteller
Name: emily
Date: 2004-01-30 14:05:28
Link to this Comment: 7835

my friend sent me this story today, entitled "The Zebra Storyteller." it's was written by Spencer Holst in 1971, and i felt it connected to our discussion of the Purpose of stories and storytellers too well not to share it. here goes:

Once upon a time there was a Siamese car who pretended to be a lion and spoke inappropriate Zebraic.
That language is whinnied by the race of striped horses in Africa.
Here now: An innocent zebra is walking in a jungle and approaching from another direction is the little cat; they meet.
"Hello there!" says the Siamese cat in perfectly pronounced Zebraic. "It certainly is a pleasant day, isn't it? The sun is shining, the birds are singing, isn't the world a lovely place to live today!"
The zebra is so astonished at hearing a Siamese cat speaking like a zebra, why-- he's just fit to be tied.
So the little cat quickly ties him up, kills him, and drags the better parts of the carcass back to his den.
The cat successfully hunted zebras many months in this manner, dining on filet mignon of zebra every night, and from the better hides he made bow neckties and wide belts after the fashion of the decadent princes of the Old Siamese court.
He began boasting to his friends he was a lion, and he gave them as proof the fact that he hunted zebras.
The delicate noses of the zebras told them there was really no lion in the neighborhood. The zebra deaths caused many to avoid the region. Superstitious, they decided the woods were haunted by the ghost of a lion.
One day the storyteller of the zebras was ambling, and through his mind ran plots for stories to amuse the other zebras, when suddenly his eyes brightened, and he said, "That's it! I'll tell a story about a Siamese cat who learns to speak our language! What an idea! That'll make 'em laugh!"
Just then the Siamese cat appeared before him, and said, "Hello there! Pleasant day today, isn't it!"
The zebra storyteller wasn't fit to be tied at hearing a cat speaking his language, because he'd been thinking about that very thing.
He took a good look at the cat, and he didn't know why, but there was something about his looks he didn't like, so he kicked him with a hoof and killed him.
That is the function of the storyteller.

after two weeks ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-01-30 16:47:52
Link to this Comment: 7840

Looks like things are bubbling well here and neither Anne nor I want to disturb anything. So, just a reminder that everyone has a story and everyones' stories are of potential value for everyone else. If you've been thinking along lines or about things different from what's here so far, don't think that your thoughts don't belong here. That they're different is precisely why they ARE wanted/needed here.

Thanks for listening/reacting to my stories Tuesday and Thursday. Both Anne and I are looking for to hearing more of yours.

Adding to the Dalke group hot discussion of TRUTH
Name: Mary
Date: 2004-02-01 00:31:08
Link to this Comment: 7858

If science brings order (knowledge) out of disorder (ignorance), maybe that order can't help but help but turn to disorder again (hence our lack of belief), which will be the driving force for more order, then more disorder...all the time losing more order than we are gaining. If we stay conscious through this downward trend, maybe we will adapt to experience 'the prevalence of disorder' and realize that we can never, ever truly know. Come to think of it, we could never 'know that we cannot know, because then we would know something'.

Maybe we will dwell for milleniums, on whether we can know or not know and reach such a state of futility, that we will find it useful not to care about what we know, and what will come. Maybe our useful story will be silent, and teach us to focus on experiencing, and our curious nature will be put to pasture.

Why do we care what we know? Why do we want the truth? Some of us more than others? Me, I don't think I care, if I can attain truth, just living is awesome enough. But then why do I explore philsophy and the discoveries of science with a passion? Because the stories are awesome and useful.

Evolution is such a beautiful summary of observations, simply beautiful intricacies. We know so many details that fit together so well, that it makes me feel that we are getting some true knowledge, some part of the big TRUTH. Although the attainment of the "WHOLE TRUTH" seems dubious, not enough time. And then there is the question of whether we are getting any true knowledge at all, since our observation methods and our subjectivity, are intersecting with the observed and are part of the created story, --- creating it partially.

good storytelling
Name: katherine
Date: 2004-02-01 14:15:47
Link to this Comment: 7865

It seems that this class, difficult as it may be for me to "wrap" my brain around some of our discussions and ideas about science and religion, will be the perfect place for me. Perfect meaning it will not allowing me to sink into a comfortable, close-minded space with one story or another.
I used to want to study biology. I still do, but sometimes the study of science seemed so futile. everything that I learned in class was taught as an irrefutable truth: this is what an atom looks like, this is how genetics works. yet these truths were always changing. I would talk with my parents who were constantly shocked by the information in my text books. As students they had not learned the same truths. The new information in my books had, when they were studying, been unknown or told as a different "story". i always wondered why i should therefore learn these biological "truths" when in a few years they would probably be as out dated and disproven as the information my parents were taught. Maybe I would have been less sinical and reluctant if biology had been taught as a story, as we are now looking at it.
In this sense the way our class is attacking the problem of evolution as a story is very refreshing, and very helpful, though not altogether comfortable. i still want to hold on to some truths, some sense of stability. i still want a place to rest my mind and know that i don't have to question, but this is a trap, and some place i don't really want to be. Mayr's book is such an interesting and appropriate text to use in this class. it has taken me a while to not read in for it's information, as i am used to doing in my science classes. slowly i am beginning to notice word choices, and general moods. his convicion in his own logic attemts to keep us from questioning. take for example his naming "seven principles of inheritance." how can one argue with a "principle"? the very word evokes the pillars that hold up: moral standards, religions, and now science. pulling down and questioning these "principles" would ruin everything which they uphold and hurt us in the process, by naming them principles we know well enough to leave them alone. this is the very opposite of what we are attempting in class, and therefore it is the perfect text to bounce our ideas off of. Daniela talked of another reoccuring and uncomfortable Mayr-truth, or Mayr-keyword. Daniela says "there are no supreme creatures" and i would have to say that I agree. Mayr however uses the word "superior" constantly throughout his text. This word holds so much baggage- making us think of something unchallengable, always on top, golden- that i feel it is dangerous to use when talking about biology, where what is on top is always changing.
I want to briefly comment on emily's story, which I loved. In the end it says " that is the function of the storyteller." What is 'that function'? It seems to me to be saying that the function of a storyteller is to a) think up a great, entertaining story and then b) to kill the truth (or the cat). but in this case the story and the truth were the same. Is this saying that stories always in part come from the truth? Is Mayr a good storyteller? Perhaps not, because unlike the zebra who wants to just tell a story, Mayr wants to show us the cat. he wants the truth.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-02-01 19:34:43
Link to this Comment: 7875

"We are going to the moon, that is not very far. Man has so much farther to go within himself." -Anais Nin

This quote would have been more pertinent while we were still discussing Mars, but I thought it was very beautiful and hope that you can all still benefit from it.

On a similar note, Nin also explains that we write/tell stories so that we could "taste life twice." I think this is a terribly nobel idea. It seems like an idea the entire class could probably assimilate into their own ideas about why we tell stories. I like it because it is so far reaching.

Thanx for listening. Cheers!

Name: meg
Date: 2004-02-02 15:52:33
Link to this Comment: 7899

In reading the past few comments I find myself agreeing with Katherine, and asking the same question: "Is Mayr a good story teller". I suppose it depends on who you ask, but in my opinion he is. He takes a subject that is usually found in text book, and turns it into literature. In order to do this, he excludes other points of view, and enforces his own beliefs. Although this one-sidedness may not make good science, it makes a good story. It is interesting to read, even if Mayr needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

another story.
Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-02 16:56:44
Link to this Comment: 7900

been reading some william james for another class and am always so happy when i find materials that are relevant in different disciplines. things really are connected...anyways, here is james' story from his lectures on pragmatism:
"ideas (which themselves are bit parts of our experience) become true just in so far as they help us to get into satisfactory relation with other parts of our experience...any idea upon which we can ride, so to speak; any idea that will carry us prosperously from any one part of experience to any other part, linking things satisfactorily, working securly, simplifying, saving labor; is true for just so much, true in so far forth, true instramentally..." in other words if an idea has a function, if it "is not sterile," if "it affords such COMFORT," and it "performs a concrete function," THEN it is a truth. james' is telling us to return to the basic tools with which we tell our stories; james is asking us to reexamine our definition of the word truth. he goes on, "an idea is 'true' so long as to beleive it is profitable to our lives....the true is the name of whateer proves itself to be good in the way of beleif, and good, too, for definite, assignable reasons." (Lec.II: What Pragmatism Means. Dover Publications, inc. New York p.17-32)
so, james would say, i think, that the function of a story is it's usefullness, it's pragmatism. whether that use is to comfort or to settle or to insight action. so, is evolution a pragmatic story?
james would also argue (if i'm reading him correctly) that the story of evolution holds no more TRUTH than the story of the Bible in so far as both stories prove pragmatic to US. it's on an individual basis. if the story of evolution works better for you than it holds more truth than the story of the bible and visa versa. Absolute Truth, Truth beyond and independant of humans does not matter; what matters is what effects US, what effects the individual.

smart guy.

The story of no truths
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-02-02 19:34:39
Link to this Comment: 7907

Over winter break I decided to read The Da Vinci Code because it received so much attention and I wanted to see what all the ruckus was about. I will not ruin the story for those of you who haven't yet had a chance to read the novel (which I recommend if you like a good mystery), but in some ways it addresses the issue of story-telling and the power that some stories have over others. Nations, religions, racism, etc...are all founded on certain truths (or stories, or whatever), and to reduce a truth to a story (for example, to say that the Christian Church was only telling a "story" when referring to Jesus' ability to restore sight or cure leprosy) is to shake the foundation of certain associations that have enjoyed a comfortable seat of power for thousands of years. I don't think our Earth is ready for such a radical change in thought. And I don't think many of us in the class are ready for it either.
To debate whether there are truths vs. whether there are no truths (and if people who claim that there are no truths are not just telling a "story" themselves – the story of no truths) is not very useful. What is useful is to examine why we, as inhabitants of this Earth, strive to discover the "truth". I will not claim that I know the answer to that (it probably has more than just one answer), but I would be interested to hear what all of you have to say about why we need to believe there IS truth out there, whether we've found it or not.

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-02-02 19:51:38
Link to this Comment: 7908

I think I've wondered about the nature of reality my whole life. I remember playing on the swing in my back yard and trying to puzzle it out, and then giving up when I realized at some point it is neccessary to make basic assumptions about the nature of reality, such as, "My senses give me solid information on the world around me," that clearly aren't true. When I was a kid I just stopped thinking about these things. I knew I'd just end up chasing my tale and wondering whether or not anything was stable was, to put it lightly, worrying.

However when we had the discussion about whether anything could be real on Thursday with Prof. Dalke, I didn't get much of that anxiety that cut off my childhood philosophizing. I think that's because I found something I can have real faith in. As a child, "religion" was chocolate Easter bunnies and some medieval Christmas music around the time of year we put up a tree. I was taught that the nature of reality was shown by science, and that religion's opinion on the universe was a bit silly. Unfortunately, science and religion are not exact opposites, and one of the places science cannot replace religion is in giving you faith in, well, anything.

A good scientist doubts everything, up to and including the information her senses and instruments give her. In which case there's no reason to believe in any of what I think is real. Everything I think is red could really be green, but maybe since we all call red delicious apples red it doesn't matter if they're green or not. Or maybe the aboriginal Australians are right and this world is a dream. Or maybe it's someone else's dream, like the Red King in _Through the Looking Glass_ and when he wakes up we'll all disappear. Science can't disprove any of this, and as a child I found it terribly distressing.

So what's the difference now? What have I developed faith in? Well, the possiblility of nothing being real panics me. Instead, I've decided to believe in everything. I'm not quite sure where I encountered the multiverse theory, but it's always struck me as sensible. Basically it says that there are an infinite number of multiple dimensions. Therefore, with true infinity, everything must have happened somewhere. There must be a finite number of stars in this universe, there could only have been so much matter in the Big Bang, but there is an infinite number of stars in the multiverse, with an infinite number of planets around them and an infinite number of people on them. Somewhere in the multiverse is a universe that has already collapsed under entropy, and somewhere is a universe that doesn't have it at all. And somewhere there is a universe where I wore a purple shirt today instead of a blue one. I wonder how different that universe will be from this one, if at all?

The question here may seem to be, why believe in a multiverse, but my question is, why not? How can there not be infinity? Besides, I sometimes think that the mere telling of a story creates a universe, or at least proves it's existence. Even if the story only exists in our heads, it exists there, doesn't it? Why should that existence be worth less than another? How do we know we aren't a story, being told around someone's campfire, or drawn on a page, or filmed for 24/7 television like in the Truman Show.

I find this all incredibly comforting. Everything's somewhere. Whether or not my perception of the universe I live in is correct, it's certainly correct for somewhere. Somewhere we're all someone's dream and somewhere we're all dreaming someone else. Somewhere God created all the animals and somewhere they evolved unaided. So with the question of who's story is true out of the way, the question becomes what happened here in particular, which isn't too different, but it's different enough to comfort me.

Date: 2004-02-02 20:56:00
Link to this Comment: 7910

"Even if the story only exists in our heads, it exists there, doesn't it? ...I find this all incredibly comforting. Everything's somewhere...Somewhere we're all someone's dream and somewhere we're all dreaming someone else."

i agree...that is so so comforting.

Name: reeve baso
Date: 2004-02-02 21:51:53
Link to this Comment: 7912

We have spent a lot of (valuable) time using evolution as a lauch pad from which to bounce off into explorations of our ability to experience/understand/share reality. And we have heard time and again that evolution is just a story. But I think it is important to consider what makes it a good story, a compelling story, one that has in some sense been written in fossils, in genes, in ecosystem dynamics and that humans are reading. OF course, such reading is an interpretation of evidence (which I don't think is such a problematic word- evidence is anything that supports an idea, and often a story like evolution, or religion for that matter, is much more useful if there is "evidence" that supports it). Mayr's attempt to make the story of evolution accessible and convincing to the general public may be full of holes or unfortunate arguments, but evolution ismore than just a story to be told to and digested by a general audience. It has incredible complexity and extends itself infinitely into other stories and has the ability to predict future changes. I know other stories have some or all of these qualities, but shouldn't we be equally as interested in the power of a story as in its inherent subjectivity and inability to ever tell the "real truth?"

Another unrelated comment. We were talking about the idea that evolution produces directional change, the idea being that there must be some type of perfection or ultimate complexity in that direction. But if you think about the fact that there is a certain level of biological simplicity at which organisms cannot evolve to be any LESS complex, than all evolution necessarily exists as movement away from this original simplicity, directional simply because any change from this point requires additional complexity.

Stories and Genetics
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-02-02 22:56:39
Link to this Comment: 7914

I really liked Emily's post with the story on it as well. Like Katherine, I was wondering about the last sentence "That is the function of the storyteller." I wish I could draw some more concrete conclusions about that story... I think it is so rich... There could be multiple stories made up about the significance of that story. We should all write stories like that at some point. I think it would be a fun exercise to have to all write a little parable of sorts and the only restriction would be to write the declarative statement at the end, "that is the function of a storyteller." We all have different notions about what the function of the storyteller should be.

I was thinking about Mayr and the description about genetics. I was trying to think about how genetics might relate explicitly/metaphorically to stories. What are the genes of a story? Is the story a product of nature or nurture? I think that words are the genes of a story. I think that a story IS a product of nature (these words) and nurture (the culture into which the story is born and in which it is read.) Mutations are experiments in style or content, sometimes radical which are either viable enough to be transferred into the style of other stories or not. Professor Schwartz (my fiction class Prof.) was saying the other day that that using the present tense has become a convention for short stories. She said that she wondered how it got to be that way... There is probably an answer to that- a cultural need perhaps? Something that matches a human desire for immediacy... all sorts of explanations- Story conventions change, adapt, evolve as we've said. And like the whole process of evolution- stories are heavily dependent on the way things have evolved in the past. Every past story is in some sense both still alive AND a "story fossil" Variation in stories is indeed, most often, a recombination of certain story elements. Is a story's creation closer to sexual or asexual reproduction? I would say something closer to sexual reproduction- the union of thought from many places... but there is something that also feels slightly self-generative about stories.

yeah what she said...
Name: Julia
Date: 2004-02-03 00:42:28
Link to this Comment: 7916

Wow, I really enjoyed what Elizabeth had to say about the parallel relationship of stories and evolution, formed by units of genetic code (words), evolving over time and leaving "fossilized stories", and being a product of nature and nurture. It is a beautiful concept and the essence of this class I suppose, but it is extremely interesting that this principle of life/science can be applied to a human produced synthesis of culture, such as literature.

And what a fine story evolution makes as well. I particularly like when Mayr (while not being very objective) tells the story that "evolution is not deterministic" on page 121. I like the case that evolution is a constant story of change without a greater direction, just chance interactions which can lead to more change. While some changes seem to occur because they express a state of being better suited to continue in the story, it is actually just random happenstance that the right combination of trait and environment should arise. I find such complex randomness just mind boggling.

the genetics of stories
Name: Lindsay Up
Date: 2004-02-03 00:42:57
Link to this Comment: 7917

A long time ago, I read something that claimed that there are really only seven basic story plots in the world, and that those stories just keep getting built on, or varied. I think Margaret Atwood has something in her collection, "True Stories", that starts with the "boy-meets-girl" plot and complicates it to demonstrate the nature of stories to go anywhere—up, down, inward, outward, every which way. Anyway, I find myself both loving and hating the idea that there are only a few basic components woven through every story. I hate it because I would like to think that there are infinite possibilities for a story, just as there are an infinite number of stars in the universe. But I also love it because the organization of the concept relates to evolution so well. Elizabeth was wondering what "genes" made up a story. I love thinking about how stories give way to one another, for example the Pyramus and Thisbe myth to Romeo and Juliet, to West Side story and so forth. It seems to me that stories have parents just as we do. At least, there seems to be some essence, "salt" if you will, running through each one, just as we are all made up of the same basic components. We are all so LIKE our parents and yet, we're all little variations...

Last class we talked about clumpy diversity, which I think relates really well to the generation of stories. Maybe whatever it was I read about there only being a few stories really meant that there are a few clumps that plots, if simplified, could be grouped into. I guess that would still make it possible for infinite stories to abound, while sharing certain "traits" as living things do.

Function of the storyteller
Name: Jen Sheeha
Date: 2004-02-03 00:44:18
Link to this Comment: 7918

Thank you Emily, for posting that story ("The Zebra Storyteller"). I was reading it just as a story and so was a little jarred by the last sentence that read, "That is the function of the storyteller"; it made me go back and read the story over again to see what that function might be. As Katherine said, it seems that the parable is making a connection between story and truth -- in this case, story=truth. Does that mean that it is the role of the storyteller to uncover and relate the truth? And perhaps not just truth as in facts, but a kind of larger truth? Spencer Holst, the author of "The Zebra Storyteller," is obviously not telling the strict truth with his story; it's safe to assume that the incident he relates about the Siamese and the zebra never actually happened! But with his story, he's attempting to suggest a "truth" about what the function of a storyteller is.

I'm not sure I agree with his linkage of "story" with "truth," if indeed he is making that link. I can't remember who it was and I'm too lazy to check back in the archives, but someone wrote about comforting stories -- stories that are there not to educate or enlighten, but are simply a source of bonding with family and friends and a means of enjoying oneself. How is that role of a storyteller any less valid than the one Holst speaks of? I'm taking The Historical Imagination this semester and one text we just finished reading (History: A Very Short Introduction) took pains to demonstrate over and over that the notion that historians were to uncover "the true story of the past" may be romantic, but is simply not practical; there IS no one story of the past, and there are always different points of view. Can the storyteller ever really find THE truth?

Reading the story over again, it occurs to me that the zebra storyteller only seems to stumble upon the truth. He wasn't out there looking for it in the first place; he'd been looking for stories to amuse the other zebras, and his story just happened to be true. But even that -- the idea that stories intended for amusement can possess some truth -- brings us back to the question of what truth is. When you're speaking of "larger truths," it's not as straightforward as 2+2=4...

the genetics of stories
Name: Lindsay Up
Date: 2004-02-03 00:44:47
Link to this Comment: 7919

A long time ago, I read something that claimed that there are really only seven basic story plots in the world, and that those stories just keep getting built on, or varied. I think Margaret Atwood has something in her collection, "True Stories", that starts with the "boy-meets-girl" plot and complicates it to demonstrate the nature of stories to go anywhere—up, down, inward, outward, every which way. Anyway, I find myself both loving and hating the idea that there are only a few basic components woven through every story. I hate it because I would like to think that there are infinite possibilities for a story, just as there are an infinite number of stars in the universe. But I also love it because the organization of the concept relates to evolution so well. Elizabeth was wondering what "genes" made up a story. I love thinking about how stories give way to one another, for example the Pyramus and Thisbe myth to Romeo and Juliet, to West Side story and so forth. It seems to me that stories have parents just as we do. At least, there seems to be some essence, "salt" if you will, running through each one, just as we are all made up of the same basic components. We are all so LIKE our parents and yet, we're all little variations...

Last class we talked about clumpy diversity, which I think relates really well to the generation of stories. Maybe whatever it was I read about there only being a few stories really meant that there are a few clumps that plots, if simplified, could be grouped into. I guess that would still make it possible for infinite stories to abound, while sharing certain "traits" as living things do.

"Cogito, ergo sum"
Name: Daniela
Date: 2004-02-03 01:00:50
Link to this Comment: 7921

What I have learned from this class so far is that life is always illustrated by stories-the stories of the various sciences, the prejudices, moral beliefs etc. Are they true? Are they provable?

Listening to the class discussions about the evolution of people's perceptions of the outer world, I gradually came to the definition of a story as a batch of statements with certain logic entwined around them to form a coherent unit. Fear of the unknown that urged people at first to come up with an explanation of the processes in the outer world no longer dominates people's consciousness. Instead it is supplanted by a desire to have power. On an individual level, creating a story helps one express what s/he holds to be correct and use it as a guiding principle in life. So that a story empowers one to get hold of his/her life and not be governed by other people's stories. On a "population" level, presenting a credible story give the author much respect, and, hence, authority in society. Not surprising is it then that the best storytellers still maintain ascendancy over the majority of people (think of Darwin, Homer etc). Because people do not tend to adopt a story without first subjecting it to rational analysis, a sort of "natural selection" acts upon stories, treasuring those substantiated with the soundest logic.

"By searching out origins, one becomes a crab... eventually he also believes backward," says Nietzsche. So, should we seek the origin of stories or focus on their impact on the present moment?
If the plausibility of a story is determined by human logic, how can we determine that something is true? Can anything be proven to be true?
What is the aim of the stories we tell? How can we explain the presence of stories with no sound logic behind them?
These are the questions, for which, I hope, I will be able to provide a plausible answer before the end of the semester.

thursday continued
Name: Nancy
Date: 2004-02-03 02:06:53
Link to this Comment: 7927

After last Thursday, and now after reading many of the comments on the forum, I am still contemplating two major ideas relating to evolution. The first deals with the story of evolution from a more traditionally scientific approach. After the lecture last Tuesday (I believe), I couldn't let go of how ridiculous it is for Mayr to assume that humans have some sort of copyright on evolutionary perfection. Although we do exhibit characteristics of a higher level of being, I dont think this is cause enough to make the conclusion that evolution in a directional process. I think wondered aloud in class if evolution might be a cyclical process, just one that takes such a long time to complete its cycle that we have yet to document it. This idea comes implicit (to me, at least) with the idea of de-evolution. Maybe the cycle is completed by some sort of rounding out of diversity. Thats an interesting story, at least.

Also, here's something about evolution that bothers me. Maybe I just don't know enough yet, but wouldnt the fact that everything started out as the same type of organism throw off everything we have observed about evolved creatures? By 'everything' I mean things like food chains or resource competition. And if evolution occurs partially as a means to make sure that every existing organism isnt wiped out by some disaster, does this mean that if (when everything was the same organism) that the chance existed that something might have come along and wiped out everything (including the possibility for life) ??? If this is a valid question, it makes me less likely to buy into the theory of evolution. It just seems to shaky a basis to start EVERYTHING on.

In response to Thursdays class: I was in Anne's section, and towards the end of the hour, we all became involved in a wonderful conversation about the meaning of and the search for truth. Here's another question though: just because we know what we believe to be the truth (or a "good story") about something, what bearing does that have on anything? Just because we decide we believe in evolution do anything to alter its occurence. And even if we collectively decide to start a worldwide 'evolution lies' club, nothing would change. This really bothers me. In the humanities and the social sciences, I am conforted by the fact that my words, my explanantions, and my emotions could possibly change something or someone. But with science, even the most earnest show of emotion does nothing to stop the processes of life and nature. Why do we need to decide to believe or not believe in something that we have no control over? I have no answer what-so-ever, and so I am going to bed.

Name: Fritz
Date: 2004-02-03 08:53:11
Link to this Comment: 7934

Like many of the other thinkers in this class, the idea of truth has been tumbling about in my head. It seems to be the driving force between stories and living. We as readers of the story are looking for truth in meaning and at times it seems as if the authors are looking for truth in action. By writing or creating their version of the truth into a tangible space truth is created and acted out and made into...?

thinking more
Name: Lauren Fri
Date: 2004-02-03 11:46:07
Link to this Comment: 7938

Two things stuck with me most from Thursday's class.

The first is the idea that if there is order being created somewhere, there is messiness being created elsewhere. Professor's Grobstein's illuminating example of this was pollution. While we see human society becoming increasingly advanced, we're ruining our environment and building urban systems at the expense of ecosystems that can often never be recovered. To me, this idea also ties into the idea that Nancy brought up of de-evolution. She explored it as a cyclical idea (we'll evolve to some peak, then begin de-evolving back to where we came from), but is it also possible that these processes are occurring simultaneously? As we evolve more and become more orderly, is there a parallel process somewhere becoming less evolved and messier? Our environment is not an organism, but it is certainly an entity of sorts, and one that is descending into chaos as we fine-tune the inconveniences out of society to try to perfect an ever-broken machine.

The second idea that I kept coming back to was the thought that there are three answers to the question "Why is there such a diversity of living things?" People cite at least three different reasons: God (religion), "it's always been this way," or evolution. People talk about religion versus evolution, but people who believe "it's always been this way" (if people do in fact believe this) rarely enter this debate. History and science aside (those are two big things to throw aside, but oh well), that idea somehow makes sense to me. I can understand how it would be natural to believe that this is the ways things are, and this is the way they always have been. In fact, the simplest ideas are often the most popular, if only because everyone can understand them. Some might say that religion is an "easier" explanation than evolution, but try telling that to a Darwinist, who might find understanding Creationism the most difficult thing s/he's ever tried to do. Or... maybe not.

In an article about the current proposal in Georgia (to strike the word "evolution" from the curriculum and replace it with "biological changes over time" -- supposedly a move that would allow teachers to teach evolution without head-butting Creationists [CNN article]), the writer questions the now painfully familiar conflict between Creationists and "scientists." He says he sees a compromise:

Biblical passages state that man and life came from "the ground" or "dust of the ground" (Genesis 2:6-7). Evolutionary theory teaches that life may have originally come from the ground, and that after millions of years, single cells evolved into multicellular organisms, which evolved into -- among many, many other things -- primitive primates, which evolved into humans... Evolution leaves room for God, but extreme creationism does not leave room for evolution.
I completely agree with this idea. I think people who believe opposite things about the creation of life and diversity should try to compromise, to see the "truth" in each other's stories.

(Sorry for the super-long posting, I was having trouble synthesizing my thoughts.)

Give Blood! :)
Name: bethany ke
Date: 2004-02-03 14:36:39
Link to this Comment: 7944

Sorry for not posting earlier in the day, but I was still processing. In fact, this is still probably a really messy idea, but oh well, I'm just thinking outloud! So, I was thinking about someone's (sorry, don't remember) idea that stories are like fossils, even though there is evolution going as a part of the story as well. This really is true, when you think about the way our language and ideas change over time. One phrase or word now may have had a different connotation previously, and will probably have yet another meaning in the future. So specific contexts or time periods are the intangible equivalents of the type of rock a fossil is found in; they give us a hint as to the 'meaning' if you will, of the fossil. But then, our context/realities change as time passes, prompting different interpretations (meanings? truths?) of the same thing over and over. It seems there are many possible truths to a story. Take Lot's wife, for example. Is every point of view here one of many possible truths or meanings? What does one reader take from it? Another? Is my interpretation different from yours? What about the difference between my interpretation and the author's intention? Within the story, I'm sure Lot's truth was different from that of his wife's on the levels of their emotions/reactions/decisions. Is anyone's truth more valid at any given point? Essentially, this is why things take faith. In a sense, we are all doubting Thomases, which I think is not necessarily a bad thing. We are just in a different, comparatively small context (which is EVOLVING), and so have a hard time trying to piece together the entire puzzle.
Where does this idea of an absolute truth come from? Is it innate? Or do we pick it up from our culture? If we do get it from culture, then how did it get there?
I was reading something the other day, and one of the main ideas of the text, as I took it, was that our constantly-evolving context constantly creates new meaning, or "Meaning is context-bound, but context is boundless." This creates an interesting parallel, as I saw it, between stories and language.
>> Using language, we can create an infinite number of sentences, or even an infinitely long sentence.
>> Because context is boundless, we can infinitely derive different meanings/truths from a single work
On this note, then, is context sort of like a natural selection process for ideas? If we are a certain way, or are in a certain mindset, are we more likely do derive, say, these meanings rather than those meanings?
One last thing...I think as humans, one role we tend to play is that of creator, specifically, creator of something that is ordered, and are generally uncomfortable with states of disorder (part of the reason Lot's wife looked back?). Perhaps that is why we want to create the story of evolution, or even create stories in general, to try and give a meaning to our context, and why I must apologize for my rambling. I'm afraid it was rather disorganized. But then I suppose that helps me make my point.

story of a story teller: appreciation
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-02-03 19:38:05
Link to this Comment: 7949

Thanks all for your contributions to my telling a story today different in significant ways from how I've told the story before, and very likely to affect the way I tell it in the future. For details, have a look at the green box in my notes.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-02-03 20:07:56
Link to this Comment: 7951

I am begining to experience some distrust of the text that other students have expressed. Despite feeling jaded and cynical I am benefiting from the reading in a way that I don't think Mayr even intended. On the surface it obviously has made me a more critical reader. However, what I really think is so amazing is that I feel like the story of evolution (or George or "biological changes over time," snicker)is really Our story. I'm not only reading the text as a story but also primarily as a metaphor (albeit at times its a stretch). Some of the minescule biological processes Mayr speaks about can really be generalized to the way in which people live (i.e. the concept of nonrandom mating, etc.) Evolution affects all aspects of our lives at all levels, perhaps unconsciously.

to keep the pot boiling...
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-02-03 22:35:27
Link to this Comment: 7954

so, friends, @ least one of the questions you had today
(it was nancy's, i think: "what is the catalyst that MAKES prokaryotes evolve into eukaryotes, eukaryotes into multicellular organisms?" ) got an answer:
all this continuing change and exploration is for the sake of...

--just want to be sure that, along w/ what's gotten recorded in paul's green box, we have on the table for thursday's class the rest of the questions you asked (or didn't ask, but were thinking inside) during today's storytelling session....
would you record them here, please?
and thanks for doing so--

expanding into what?
Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-03 23:21:40
Link to this Comment: 7956

so i think we said at the begining of class that the universe was a closed system that was expanding. right? i guess i don't really understand the concept of a "closed system," because i don't understand what we are expanding INTO.
((in my years of jewish education i was always taught that the concept of GOD was something that the human mind could not PHYSICALLY conceive...In the begining God created something from nothing. IMPOSSIBLE! (though there are issues with translation and i have come to beleive that the text actually says that God 'ORGANIZED' the universe...but that's besides the point.) this is just something that we're asked to beleive. it makes God a lot more powerful if he cannot be contained even in the mind. it's comfortable to be dominated by such a powerful being. puts the universe in his power, at his will.
and this idea of an expanding (closed) universe could make sense just as this concept of God makes sense. if the universe is ever expanding then it is endless...and the human mind cannot conceive of something that is endless...because what is beyond the endless?????there MUST be something. science is asking us to do the same thing that religion asks us to do...just beleive. i'm not sure if this makes science more powerful as it makes God more powerful. for some reason i think people will be more "bummed" in a science class if the prof. said, 'just beleive me.'(man, i really don't know what i'm talking about when it comes to this stuff so if i am off my rocker just ignore this, please.)))

Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-02-04 07:59:27
Link to this Comment: 7959

Morning ;-) ...the sun has not risen yet, but it will. Normally I don't even think about it. Being pragmatic, I expect it to happen. And I expect that I (all of us) will expire before the mechanics that make sunrises and sunsets falls apart. Physics (science) and history both support this expectation. So now I can shift my attention away from what I depend upon happening and expand my thinking with stories about ideas and observations that still seem incongruous, knowing full well that any one of these new incongruities, once explained to my satisfaction, might unravel my most comfortably held, most basic expectations. So, actually I do BELIEVE in something. I believe in the meta-story that questioning, tinkering, revising stories works--no matter their content.

Orah wrote, " for some reason i think people will be more "bummed" in a science class if the prof. said, 'just beleive me.'" In a way, I agree with you, Orah. I think that people convince themselves that they need to seek truth by following a set discipline that allows us to repeatedly convince others (prove?) that a scientific proclamation is or is not "TRUE" (at least in the mathematical sense of "true" or "false"). But think about the difference between science and engineering. Whereas scientists test their theories in artificially pure environments in order to be able to repeat their proofs, engineers deal with tolerances, pollutants, and other aspects of being organisms on earth or in this solar system, this universe. They test the efficacy of their products (not theories) where those products must function--under murky, inexact conditions. We learn firsthand when engineering products are "true" or "false", i.e., when they work or fail (the weak bridge, the wrong drug, the haywire spacecraft). Where am I going with this? For engineers, "SEEING IS BELIEVING." They are pragmatists who tinker and revise until they get to a story that works...and then they improve upon it for the next round of products. Scientists, on the other hand, are beginning to look a lot more like believers. Would they believe this? We're back to your question :-)

Name: emily
Date: 2004-02-04 17:19:58
Link to this Comment: 7964

in response for the request for questions, i wanted to post a little bit on something i've been musing for a while. it has come more and more into focus during the span of our conversations about truth-seeking (and also georgia's renaming of evolution)...
a couple years ago i was in the midst of some important decisions... and during this time i was fiddling around with the word evolution and came up with the term "evolition". this term became useful to me because it helped me realize that i was trying to make my decision under the influence of too many outside sources. the decision making process was evolving, but it was not much of my doing. in this sense, i wanted to coin the word evolition (and perhaps it's already been coined) to bring myself back to the center, to my self. when i think of volition, i think of free will: "i did it of my own volition." meshing it with evolution conveyed that development of the ability to make my own choices: it made sense to me at that point in my life.
the term continues to be relevant, though, especially in terms of our truth-seeking discussions: if we are to allow everyone to have their own stories, shouldn't we allow everyone to have their own search for truths (and likewise their own truths) as well? shouldn't the process of evolition be extended to everyone?
in this sense, i think i am constantly learning to settle my self and my stories in amongst the others in the class (and, i suppose, in the larger picture, the world); learning to let the stories breathe, and stretch, and smell each other. in this sense, i am feeling more comfortable accepting the sacredness of each story because of its intense relation to the teller. it is a relation that is constantly evolving, like any human relationship: child, lover, friend.

Name: becky rich
Date: 2004-02-04 18:20:48
Link to this Comment: 7965

should we look for any significance in the way things seem to change faster and faster as they evolve? for instance, it took 2 billion or less for life to come around after the earth formed. then after that it took about the same, 1-2 billion years, for eukariotes to develope, but then only aprox. 4 million years for multicellular life to form. in the past six million years diversity has gotten much wilder (in my mind) than going from prokaryote to eukaryote (which took 1-2 billion years). and the same thing in terms of humanbeing's cultural evolution. it also reminds me of the way one can explain learning, how we learn and learn (expansion/disorder) and make connections between the things we learn, wich makes it possible to distill ideas that strech across different things into one concept(contraction/order). and this keeps going, and the big picture keeps getting bigger (...ani d. said that ;P)
it feels like momentum, however if evolution occurs for the sake of nothing, which is something i can readily accept, i'm not sure if this thought is very helpful.

Name: becky rich
Date: 2004-02-04 18:36:51
Link to this Comment: 7968

ps. since i beleive in a creator, my personal story about evolution is that God is the ultimate artist/scientist, and the universe is a lab, a pallette. there doesn't nessicarily have to be a reason for developement, it's just a fantastic experiment and work of art. this jives with evolution and the story that the world is to God's glory- and my observations are my feelings (undeniable to me,) of awe and joy for the world; there must be someone to thank, or some reason for all this!

~this is quite sermon-y i know, but i thought i'd throw a bone to anyone who shares my feelings/ideas/(upbringing).

Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-02-04 20:23:38
Link to this Comment: 7969

In response to Prof. Dalke's request for questions, I have been struggling with one since the end of the last class. I understand the logic behind the story of evolution, of the physicality of evolution, but how do evolutionists explain the introduction of thought/self-awareness/soul that humans exhibit? What were the conditions that allowed for our branching ancestor to acquire the ability to think (to think and therefore to be aware of its existence)? Can it be explained by evolution?
Somehow I feel it can't. Is this where the story of God becomes useful?

Simply nothing...
Name: Daniela
Date: 2004-02-04 21:02:25
Link to this Comment: 7970

Can we verify anything? With every story we tell we assert that the only think we can prove is that we can't prove anything. An absolute barrier exists between man and nature. We can never cross it, so we try to imagine what is beyond and produce a plausible imitation. But this imitation is just a human artifact. Is nature visible then? Does nature exist?

The story of the inflationary theory claims that the universe originated "as a quantum fluctuation from absolutely nothing." If we came from nothing (our stories also originated from nothing), then are we nothing? If what fuels evolution (proding prokaryotic cells to merge creating a highly organized, complicated structure with numerous compartments, membranes, chromatin, histones etc) is nothing, why then we have exactly those patterns of life? Is it a playful impulse? A quirk of a superior force? If it is, then it is still something...How can we define nothing?

In conclusion, I want to quote a question raised O.B.Hardison: "We are such things dreams are made of (Shakespeare, The Tempest). But who is doing the dreaming?"

none, really
Name: Natasha
Date: 2004-02-04 23:44:59
Link to this Comment: 7976

i was re-reading some of chapter 7, and this thought struck, irrelevant of course, to chapter 7, but i suppose relevant enough to the discussion that i wanted to mention it. it is all well and good to accept the theory of evolution, and heck, even "believe" in it. but what if you don't believe in natural selection? maybe there is a prescribed method and survival of the fittest is not the most precise prescription of the madness behind evolution. Paul was describing the ways in which we compare organisms to see what is missing in the species list. and even at that point i thought, "how much random natural slection paired with survival of the fittest had to happen for us to have the millions of different organisms we have today?" to me that is a mathematical impossibility, an infinity if you will. in people we see what happens when we have one extra gene, and to think on the most minute level of the structure of DNA, what if the sequence is TGGCAT instead of TGCCAT? that might be enough to cause a whole new species? who knows? the infinite possibilities of just 3.5 billion years to evolve all this way without a clearly defined structure is something that i find incredibly hard to believe. maybe i just can't think that big, but still, the diversity of organisms is hard to miss, and its hard to comprehend that bacteria started us down the 3.5 billion year road at a breakneck pace so we arrive at this destination today. ....puzzlement....thoughts, anyone?

Art History/Evolution
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-02-05 00:49:20
Link to this Comment: 7978

I'm taking Contemporary Art and Theory now with Professor Saltzman and was reading articles by Leo Steinberg about contemporary artwork (for example, the work of Jasper Johns). One of his articles called Other Criteria chronicles art work from very early on in order to get a broad perspective on several themes such as Art as work and the canvas as a space for action. I think that visual art needs to be brought into the discussion... Many scientific stories come from observation/photographs... stories often come from pictures and pictures are, in and of themsleves stories. Somehow, I think that talking about the evolution of images and art history in general could help to more concretely illuminate the story of evolution- It would be interesting to trace the trajectory of the earliest art which was not meant to be aesthetically pleasing but to tell an important story... somehow early art work could be compared to prokariotic cells, and then maybe even think about Abstract expressionism and contemporary art installations... fragmented video projects etc. as a sort of entropy... I think in terms of art right now, it is the convention to have more disorder. And maybe this parallels what will happen in terms of the earth... maybe art is just representing a faster evolutionary process...

Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-02-05 07:31:49
Link to this Comment: 7984

Becky wrote, "should we look for any significance in the way things seem to change faster and faster as they evolve?... it feels like momentum, however if evolution occurs for the sake of nothing, which is something i can readily accept, i'm not sure if this thought is very helpful."

I had similar thoughts at the end of Tuesday's session. The rate of change (at the level we discussed change) has not been linear. It has accelerated over time. (We haven't talked about a "molecular clock" that seems to have a constant rate of change for the evolution of a molecule, but even that has different rates for different types of molecules/proteins.) Seems to me that as the quantity of different phenotypes AND the complexity of phenotypes both increase, the opportunity (and probability) for RANDOM Something's to click increases.

What really got me thinking is how this might apply to/effect thought or the "parts" that effect thought in a thinking species. For example, coming from a corporate background I've spent a lot of time dealing with competitiveness among organizations that, in aggregate, could be considered a virtual population in the way we are using that word. "Co-opetition" has been the buzz for quite a while: the entities that compete with each other also cooperate with each other, even merge ("breed"?) to create a new entities in order to better survive in their environment. What others and I have noticed and applied is that, today in many businesses and certainly the entire high-tech industry, the absolute topmost differentiator effecting success is SPEED. The faster an organization (organism) can adapt to accelerate conceiving of, producing, and getting its product or service to its market, the more likely it will thrive. And there are definite organizational characteristics/dynamics that have "evolved" to enable more and more speed. Seems to me that this is germane...still thinking

Name: Heather
Date: 2004-02-05 12:44:17
Link to this Comment: 7989

After class on Tuesday, I was talking with Katherine about science, and she said that what she likes about science is those "Aha!" moments, where everything makes sense, which Mayr isn't really doing for her because he isn't explaining in detail (but just expecting us to "believe"?). While reading Mayr a couple nights ago, I had an "Aha!" moment, but one that didn't relate to what he was trying to convey so much as the idea I've been struggling with: "truth" and science as story. It occured to me that transmutationism and transformationism "make sense," and if reading it in a textbook could produce an "Aha." So, if I took these theories which make sense to me as "truths" which I am leaning towards doing with evolution, my thoughts could never have evolved and made sense of evolution. Darwin, had he "believed" anything as "truth," if he hadn't kept questioning, could not have made sense of the world the way he did, told his story.

more relevant stuff
Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-05 13:53:10
Link to this Comment: 7990

found some more relevant stuff in my religion class today that ya'all might find interesting:
been reading an article called 'civil rights-civil religion: visible people and invisible religion' by charles h. long.
the article talks about how there is a sort of racism ingrained in our very language as americans. and if we want to exorcise racism from our lives we must change the very language that we use. the way in which to do this is to live with a brutal self-consious. in american history we tell a certain story and there are peoples who have become invisible. as ellison states in the begining of 'the invisible man,' "i am a man of substance, or flesh an dbone, fiber, and fluids and i might even be said to posses a mind. i am invisible understand, simple becuase people refuse to see me...the invisibility to which i refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom i come in contact. a matter of construction of the inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality." THIS is not the story that has been told. and what Long suggests-demands- is a certain kind of self-consiouness in which we defy our PHYSICAL makeup (as ellison describes it) to SEE that which we do not see. Long COMMANDS us to retell history, retell the american story, go back into history, dig up the dead, and breath life into those who where unseen, those who were never allowed breath, give them another chance to scream what they needed to scream. and Long writes, "the telling and retelling of the american experience in this mode has created a normative historical judgement and ideology of the american experience." Long says that the problem with american culture lies in its epistomology, the way in which we have come to form the stories of our culture, the way in which we have come to know what we know.

what are the stories we tell in order to BE ourselves????????????????
and how by being ourselves do we disallow others from being themselves by telling our stories, by allowing ourselves to be?

Long writes, "the invisibility of indians and blacks is matched by a void or a deeper invisibility within the consciousness of white americans. the inordinate fear they have of minoriteis is the expression of the fear they have when they contemplate the possibility of seeing themselves as they really are." the white writers of history have constructed the stories we hear today because of this deep seeded, physical, emptyness within themselves. and they have told the story of american culture in a brutal attempt to comfort themselves. WEB du bois writes in a section of this book 'the souls of the black folk,' "from this must arise a painful self-sonsciousness, an almost morbid sense of personality and a moral hesitancy which is fatal to self-confidence."

i don't have any more time to talk this out because i have to go to class...but maybe people have responses. though it is not starkly science i think it is relevant. hope you agress.

two hours later (continuing last post)
Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-05 16:15:05
Link to this Comment: 7991

this idea is still throbing in my head so i will try to clarify and continue...thanks so much for baring with me (if you are).

my main point/question from two hours ago was, "what are the stories we tell in order to BE ourselves? and how by being ourselves do we disallow others from being themselves?"
i think, quite litterally and simply, that the stories of evolution and creationism are two of the stories that we tell in order to explain our existence/justify our existence. and by ingesting one of these two stories into our beings and saying that only one of the two stories is the TRUTH then we disallow others to be themselves/to justify their own existences. by constantly critisizing creationism, mayr is saying that the story of creationsm does not justify our existence. he's going into a creationist's life and saying, 'find something better because with YOUR story your very existence is NOT justified.' but what good does this do except to get mayr off on the idea that his story is better than my story? it is more practical, it is more pragmatic, to LET BOTH BE. the beatles say it, 'let it be.' shakepeare says it (hamlet), 'let be.' it's all about PRAGMATISM. let live. beleive what you want to beleive and let others beleive what they want to beleive. whatever is USEFUL is TRUTH.

so maybe the reason we tell stories is to justify our existence.

and (i'm so sorry for ALWAYS being so long winded...*cringe*) but one more idea from james:
he says that pragmatism is "a mediator and reconciler" and that it "unstiffens our theories." pragmatism gives the label of TRUTH to both religion and science and as a culmination of so so much of my thought processes james writes, "IN SHORT, SHE (pragmatism) WIDENS THE FIELD OF SEARCH FOR GOD."

wow. that blows me away. because james realizes that EVERYTHING is a search for this thing that we call GOD. that's why stories are told. we are all searching DESPERATLY, i mean our whole existence is this godamn desperate search for something. and i think that something is GOD. and please don't get all turned off by this word and yell and scream because i'm saying that everything is religion. I don't have a definition of what God is, but rather i think that our search is what defines God. God is that which aches within humanity, it is what EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US is searching for. and we obviously don't know what that is yet because we haven't and can't ever find it. but it is God.

Name: Perrin
Date: 2004-02-05 18:42:55
Link to this Comment: 7997

To elaborate on Orah's last comment, I don't know if I can necessarily say that everyone is searching for their own personal god, but we are indeed searching for something, and I think that something is security and knowledge. I mean, humans haven't historically searched explored their surroundings so passionately in order to find a god, but rather to take comfort in the fact that we know what is out there. Otherwise, we would always be stuck--wondering and yearning. Or maybe security and knowledge is what god really is?

But back to a more tangible subject...I don't really agree with what I'm about to write, but it's just something to think about: could the perfection that Mayer describes as the goal of evolution be defined by extreme self-sufficiency? In Prof Dalke's discussion section, the example of the mollusk was frequently invoked. Most people probably think of mollusks as "low" organisms, occupying the last rung of the evolutionary ladder, but humans are definitely more dependant and needy beings than the mollusk is. I'm not an expert on the subject, but mollusks definitely have less physical and emotional needs than we do. Does that make them "higher" or more perfect than we are? 'Perfection' is a pretty scary word and I've actually only heard that word seriously used in reference to god, not a mortal organism. So can perfection really exist on this earth?

Out and Up and Uut and Uup...
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-02-05 21:24:55
Link to this Comment: 7999

I've said several times that this class is only one of many sites on campus where stories are being written and revised. One PARTICULARLY relevant other site you are invited to visit/might want to watch on-line is the working group on emergent systems (which you are welcome to drop in on in person, too--though it DOES meet @ 8 a.m.!). In the first two sessions this semester, in which Paul led the discussion, we have sounded a number of the themes of this course. This morning, for instance, I heard in particular three keynotes of this week's class discussion:

  • Jen's description of the storyteller who, looking to amuse, stumbled on just the story he happened to need (=the productivity of random exploration);
  • Becky's comment on how the pace of change has increased/picked up momentum over time); and
  • Fritz's observation that the telling of stories might actually enable us to create something new in the world...

In my class discussion section this afternoon, we explored (along with those self-sufficient mollusks Perrin mentioned!) one current example of this last idea: ways in which our understanding and then revising current stories can actually alter the shape/state of the universe--that is, the recent creation of two new chemical elements, which both fill a gap in the periodic table and hint @ other yet-to-be discovered elements.

Evolution in the Classroom
Name: Roz
Date: 2004-02-06 10:31:53
Link to this Comment: 8002

I've been dwelling on the question as to whether or not evolution should be taught in classrooms, and if it should even be called evolution. I feel strongly that evolution should be taught just as mathematics and literature should. Evolution is a scientific theory with the same qualities that are upheld within mathematic theories. Evolution is also a story with the same qualities that are upheld within great works of literature. In english classes, books (as well as plays and poems) are read, discussed, and analyzed; and not everyone learning in the class agrees with, or understands, what is being said about the work. I remember my senior year in high school we read Hamlet and had to do a character anaylis. I chose Claudius who was very complex and had a lot of meaning in the play. I thought I had proved my points clearly but when my paper was returned it was covered in red ink that said most of what I believed was wrong, but they were my thoughts and my drawings of his character. Students don't have to believe everything they are taught, and teachers don't have to teach with an air of you must believe this, because this is what I say attached to their lecture. Teaching evolution is another form of educating children and allowing them to decide if they believe in creationism, evolution, or a mixture of both. Taking the theory of evolution out of the curriculum is as harmful as taking out religion classes.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-02-07 12:47:03
Link to this Comment: 8008

Aia raises an interesting point. I too am curious about how evolutionists explain thought. I am more curious, however, about how evolutionists explain culture. It seems culture acts as a bridge between thought and biology. This raises the question of whether thought or biology have a stronger hand in the development of culture, similar to the nature nurture debate. But it seems that we cannot even delve into the question of culture without a better explanation of the origins of thought, which leads us back to Aia's original question..

this week
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-02-07 13:36:06
Link to this Comment: 8009

Forum seems to be bubbling along quite happily without explicit direction from me or Anne. That 's fine (more than). If you've got something on your mind, add it to the mix. But if someone needs something to get them started, an interesting issue that came up in our section on Thursday was the question of whether biological evolution is inevitable. Suppose that one were to start the proccess over again, would it come out the same? Or if life evolved in different locations, would it be the same or different? Suppose it were the same in some ways in different locations, how would one account for that? That last question has some interesting resonances to story telling, in that there are similarities in myths between quite different cultures. How come?

Evolution of Stories
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-02-07 15:10:43
Link to this Comment: 8011

Professor Grobstein raises an interesting point. This course has been primarily concerned with the evolution of species, of biological life, but what about culture (as Daniel points out in her last posting) or even religion? We have yet to discuss the evolution of stories and, I admit, this comment may be a little premature, but are trends (if we may call it that...perhaps phenomena), such as modern-day culture and religion, really just products of social evolution? Products that have "adapted" to accommodate a change in population thinking (ex. Women's rights)?

There are similarities in myth/truth between different cultures. For example, all three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) share similar prophets who are recorded to have told similar stories (there are few exceptions, of course. Changes needed to be made to satisfy the population, maybe?). But even before the birth of these religions, ancient cultural myths (such as Ancient Greek myths) told similar stories. If life is thought to have evolved from a common ancestor, does the same thought hold for our stories? Did they evolve from a common ancestor?

Name: meg
Date: 2004-02-07 18:48:54
Link to this Comment: 8016

I like to think that stories evolved the way humans did. We spread out all over the globe, and still managed to evolve into the same species. I think that stories are the same way. It is hard to picture stories having a common ancestor though, because despite the fact that the same stories appear across cultures, there are many of these instances. The stories are so diverse, for example many have a Cinderella story, but many cultures also have a flood story similar to Noah's. There is very little chance that these two stories have a common ancestor. I think that the stories told reflect the basic human qualities, and show that people think very similarly. It is another example of how we managed to evolve separately and turn out the same.

What if God was One of Us?
Name: stefanie
Date: 2004-02-08 00:57:57
Link to this Comment: 8023

orah orah orah!
so orah and i had dinner the other night, and i definitely get where she is heading with her posts about the notorious G.O.D. she has the right idea.

God is a loose term that we have given to "truth". all people seek truth, but some people call it God. Perrin is on the right track, but i think it should be recognized that our search for truth is less about security as it is about the innate human desire to understand.

In Grobstein's discussion section on thursday i wondered whether with globalization/technological advances there would be a resurgence of evolution after generations of reproductive isolation.

i think it is fair to say that there is already a great degree of cultural evolution in many societies, and that this evolution will in turn lead to biological changes. orah made a point the other night, which i had been pondering myself, and that is whether this return to evolution is like the contraction and expansion we had spoken about in previous weeks. there is contraction and expansion in literature, science, and all aspects of why not evolution?

Name: reeve
Date: 2004-02-08 13:57:22
Link to this Comment: 8027

Orah's posting about racism and language touches on something so important. We may be able to chose to believe in some stories and not others or to believe in a story so far as we find it useful, but there is a kind of story that we are a part of just by virtue of our membership in society, the kind of story that structures society and the systems that produce and disseminate knowledge. The stories that we tell, the way we interpret stories, and our ability to believe or dismiss stories is constrained/informed by other stories that are perpetuated by our unconscious participation within them. For example, I strongly believe in social justice and active antiracism work, but the systemic racism of this society affords me power and privilege as a white person - the fact that I benefit from this privilege means that I participate (even though it is unconscious participation) in the perpetuation of the system (story?) that upholds white power and privelege through the marginalization of people of color. I can disbelieve in the story that upholds racism with all my being, but I am also complicit within this story because something larger than my individual agency is using me as part of the story.
I'm sorry if this is convoluted or unclear. It's something I struggle to think about and struggle even more to articulate. Again, similar to something Orah said, I feel somewhat constrained by the language we have to talk about race and racism.

Name: Julia
Date: 2004-02-08 15:01:43
Link to this Comment: 8029

Wow, this thought of repeating the process is racing through my head. If we were to go back in time to a point where there was no life on earth but given the same circumstances, would the process (creation of life/ evolution) occur again and have the same end result? Is it all part of a greater plan, and therefore repetition inevitable? or could a whole new set changes occur over time resulting in something totally different (perhaps no life as we know it at all)? I'm sure we all can remember a time, i know i can, when we did something, said something, hesitated, etc..., and wondered after, what would have happened if we had taken a different path. So much of our personal evolution is random spontaneous actions that are often taken for granted. It seems that the same goes for much of biological evolution as well.

And on a similar more universal note, could other planets be different examples of evolution, like our own Earth story, but with different changes made over time and/or different paths taken? Are other planets the "what ifs" that we wonder about?

Mind boggling.... I shall have to continue thinking about this one.

stories structuring societies
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-02-08 15:11:16
Link to this Comment: 8031

Reeve's post: "the kind of story that structures society and the systems that produce and disseminate knowledge". My tangent off of it:

Stories structure our societies by acting as a locus for story-tellers. So, with regard to the story of science, we have practicing scientists, science teachers, science journalists, philosophers of science, and sociologists of science. Where we stand in this web depends on the extent to which we believe in the story: whether it's worth devoting one's life to acting by it or sharing it with others, whether it says enough by itself, whether it says anything at all.

Then again, think about it this way: Teachers can now teach science, journalists write about it, philosophers think about it and sociologists study it. Stories aren't just creating story-tellers, they're creating connections with other stories and their story-tellers.

And along the way, of course, these stories are getting changed by the tellers too...

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-02-08 15:27:54
Link to this Comment: 8032

Julia, don't know how familiar you may be with the mass extinction at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, but here's how one story goes:

Cretaceous. Big dinosaurs with furry four-legged bite-sized creatures getting in between their toes. "Mmm, that one looks deliiiicious!".

At the boundary. Something bad happens. Dinosaurs swear they didn't do it. (If not them, then who?) Dinosaurs, along with 45% of all genera, push up daisies. Bite-sized creatures survive.

Tertiary onwards: Bite-sized creatures get bigger. Invent the wheel and IKEA.

The End.

Moral of the story: The bolide did it. A 10-km-wide big fat rock smacked into Earth resulting in a nuclear winter, devastating all plant life and destroying the food chain from the ground up. If it hadn't hit Earth, we'd still be bite-sized.

So goes the story, anyway.

Name: katherine
Date: 2004-02-08 15:37:17
Link to this Comment: 8033

I haven't even read all of the posted comments, but i just finished reading Orah's GOD posting. I instantly thought, this girl and I are so similar. I have often felt that god is really a universal feeling or searching that all humans experience, maybe love, and not a being who conducts our lives. Still, I am uncomfortable with the use of the word "god". I feel like ever time I say "god" people think of a man with a white beard sitting on a cloud. I feel like "god" instantly suggests one accepted coarse of action, a pre-determined path, finalized right and wrongs. You know, the untimate christian higher being. Maybe most "religious" people don't picture god this way anymore, but i am still weary that they do. therefore I shy away from using the word. I have to laugh because then I feel much like the woman in Georgia who wants to strike "evolution" from the text books and replace it with an alternate phrase. I am so uncomfortable with people missinterpreting my meaning of "god" that I need to find a new word. a safer word, but can that really happen? Just as changing "evolution" to something else was laughable to us, is finding a new word for god laughable too? Is it just an obvious side-step if I say "love" or "spirit" or "common consiousness" to replace the G-word?

Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-08 19:40:22
Link to this Comment: 8040

i call it Love, too!!! call it whatever you want, just as long as we realize we're talking about the same thing. and we don't even know what this same thing is...all we know is that we're all on this crazy trip searching for the exact same thing. isn't that wonderful? that we are all here, telling our own unique stories, all doing the exact same thing. and we spend our whole lives trying to find someone who will understand, trying so so hard to find a person who will justify our existence....we inevitably fail, but i think if we all realized that we are all looking for the same thing: God, Love, Truth, Eachother... whatever abstract word you want to use....if we realized that we all want the same thing, even though we don't know what it is...........
words only limit things. they are shabby equitment. they are what we use to capture and yet the only thing they succeed in capturing is US. they are just vague categoizations, keeping us apart from the things we see, preventing us from seeing things for what they ARE.
we inevitably want to capture the world, the universe. i think it's in our nature. we want to control. the first command that given in the bible is, "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and SUBDUE it." and that's what we try to do with words. we throw our dull spear-words at everything, trying to capture the essence of thing....we fail....words collapse....."words strain / crack and sometimes break, under the burden / under the tension, slip, slide, persih, / decay with impercision" (eliot).....and we sink with them.....and the the sea and all of time rolls on over us ..... so let's not talk about it.
been thinking about what reeve wrote and, yeh, it's scary scary stuff...because we condemn racism and we scream and yell for equal rights and democracy and i hate capitalism and yet we are in the matrix and can't get out. and we are told that we have freedom of choice and all that BS, but those stories are the shakles that keep us tightly bound in this matrix. it's interesting to think how stories have such a PHYSICAL power over us....don't they? and as i said before it isn't just the stories that keep us bound it's the words themselves.

and i ask again,
what are the stories we tell to BE ourselves?
and how by being ourselves do we disallow others from being themselves?

Of Myths and Mayr
Name: Daniela
Date: 2004-02-08 20:38:29
Link to this Comment: 8045

As I wrote in an earlier posting, nature is a human artifact. Human myths are sort of proof thereof. People tend to superimpose their way of thinking, observations of the human society, mores etc on the surrounding world. Not surprising is it then that the Sun and the Moon, for an instance,are often represented as either brother and sister or as man and wife in various cultures all around the world. The Sun travels from its house in a carriage drawn by winged-horses, while the Moon awaits his return at home. I think these myths reflect the one of the primary roles of storytelling-to disperse the fear of the unknown. By molding the mysterious into familiar notions and, thus, giving comprehedible explanation, people were no longer frightened. Using their everyday experience, primeval people (and some afterwards)told those stories. So, because those people knew no other faster way of transportation, the Sun was purported to travel in a carriage (also symbol of wealth, and authority in many societies).

Also, I find it striking that most gods are in the shape of humans (or bear human resemblance). Observing the natural world, people gradually came to the conclusion that no other known species is superior to them.(true, some are stronger, but none of them can come up with ruses and srtategies for hunting, harnessing water etc). This observation makes me wonder whether peole can worship something they can't imagine. Can human imagination beget forms no one has ever seen? Or can people only collect various pieces of the world they see and simply improvise on putting them together?

Furthermore, people have always tried to take some advantage of nature. Because trade/agriculture/the well-being in general of a society often depended solely on the nearby river/sea/ocean, why not try to propitiate the Spirits that control them? That natural objects are controlled by a superior force is beyond doubt for the primeval societies. From their observations of the regular patterns of natural events they could deduce that somebody/something must be in charge of them. So, if a society's well-being depends on this somebody/something, why not try to propitiate him/her/it?

Myths make me reconsider the role of Ernst Mayr's story. He is not telling a new story, what is the aim of the book then?

Your toes, by any other name would still smell lik
Name: bethany ke
Date: 2004-02-08 22:34:34
Link to this Comment: 8049

I think this may be relevant to Grobstein's half of the discussion from Thursday, the question about evolution taking place in isolated communities (Sorry, I know it's a bit long, but I think it's really interesting. There is more on the site if you are interested, with more relevance to the origin of language than to biological evolution, behind which theory, ironically? is going undergoing the same process as the study of evolution. Linguists look at word roots from different languages and try to group the similar ones (CLUMPY DIVERSITY) to organize hypothetical language families. Theoretical/Historical Linguists then try to trace back along the branches in hopes of recreating the (what is thought to be) the mother of all languages spoken now. There are some freaks of nature as you will see if you continue...):

PETER THOMAS: But sometimes, regardless of approach, historical linguistics is faced with an unsolvable puzzle. There is one language in Europe which has baffled scholars for centuries. Sarak looks like a typical French village, but its graveyard holds a linguistic secret. Inscribed alongside the French is the mysterious language of the Basque people. The language is called Euskara, and it has resisted any classification so far. It is called a language isolate, an orphan among languages with no known relatives. The land of the Basques straddles the borders of France and Spain. No amount of analysis has been able to link Euskara to French, Spanish, or to any European language, nor, in fact, to a language anywhere in the world. How could this linguistic isolation come about? Perhaps it was the fierce independence of the Basque people, their resistance to outside invaders and their strong history of oral tradition. But, whatever the reason, the Basque language has withstood centuries of influence. Scientists have wondered whether a biological comparison between the Basques and their Indo-European-speaking neighbors would reflect that isolation as well.
LUIGI CAVALLI-SFORZA: What we ordinarily do in biology is, really, bilateral comparisons, but we do them all, all the possible ones.
PETER THOMAS: Geneticist Cavalli-Sforza of Stanford University was a pioneer in the search for notable biological indicators.
LUIGI CAVALLI-SFORZA: They must realize that there is a degree of relationship, and that it's very important to take that into account. Otherwise, you cannot do anything.
PETER THOMAS: Cavalli-Sforza was interested in exploring historical relationships among different populations by examining their genes, rather than their languages. Would his research team find the Basques as unique as the linguists found them? If the Basques are as isolated as their language suggests, this isolation might also show up in their genetic makeup, blood groups, DNA patterns, and so on. New techniques now make it possible to carry out much more detailed analyses of individuals and populations using just a few living cells, in this case, cells from a hair follicle. The DNA pattern not only distinguishes the Basques from their neighbors, it suggests they must have been among the earliest people to settle in Europe.
LUIGI CAVALLI-SFORZA: Basques were recognized as genetically different a long time ago. Basques are so different that they must have been proto-Europeans. Basques were probably the descendants of cultures that have made all those beautiful painted rock paintings in the southwest of France and in the north of Spain.
PETER THOMAS: These cave paintings, many of them located in Basque country, were painted fifteen thousand years ago. Since the genetic data suggests the Basques have been a distinct group for thousands of years, isolated from other peoples, it may have been their ancestors who painted these caves during the last Ice Age. Although this conclusion is speculative, Cavalli-Sforza is trying to use these techniques to solve other linguistic puzzles, including Greenberg's controversial classification of Native American languages. DNA samples from may different tribes in North and South America were collected and analyzed in Cavalli-Sforza's lab at Stanford. He believes his results provide a strong confirmation of Greenberg's groupings.
LUIGI CAVALLI-SFORZA: When we took all the data from American natives, they clearly fell into three classes, and they correspond exactly to the linguistic families that have been postulated by Greenberg. Not only that, but the family which is most heterogeneous of all genetically is the one that is linguistically more heterogeneous of all.

Thinking about it now again, there are more similarities between these two stories. It's possible, even likely, that language was 'invented', so to speak, simultaneously all over the place by groups of people who had moved around, as it is possible that different forms of life sprang up simultaneously in different places at the very beginning. For both ideas, it's possible that this process, or a process involving only one starting organism/language happened several times with the species dying, no life, and then a new one created. How many origins could there have been? Is this science? Philosophy? both...
I'm so glad that Orah and Katherine and Stefanie(and others?) feel this way about GOD/LOVE/UNDERSTANDING. It really strikes a chord (I've always wondered, is it strikes a chord, or strikes accord?) with me...I've always loved those 'AHA' moments when you find a parallel, a pattern, what in physics, I think, has come to be known as the theory of everything, how we feel that there is some answer that will make all of our questions obsolete, that everything is connected. I think we can feel it all around us, and yet it's so invisible and elusive, . I think that when we feel most fulfilled, it is perhaps when we come closer to understanding these connections, viewing at the same time these exapansions and these contractions, these fluctuations of IT, whatever that may be, God, Love, ultimate Understanding, George...
I think that's all I have for now...still brewing.

connecting the dots?
Name: emily
Date: 2004-02-09 09:04:00
Link to this Comment: 8062

i was talking with my good friend over the weekend, and we were talking about fear. for a moment there was a shifting of the contents of my brain, and then i was thinking-- i know why i tell stories. i know why i tell the stories that allow me to be. i tell the story about the little dark-haired baby with the moon face who scowled out of the womb because of fear. i tell the story of the girl who saved a hornet from drowning only to be stung because of fear. listen-- if i don't have these stories, what do i have? i don't have my self, which is a very scary proposition. it's not nail-biting, wide-eyed fear, it's the kind of cosmic twisting of the guts that makes me run towards defining my self. if i can tell these stories and show that i know my self, maybe i can set about telling stories about other things that scare me-- things like racism and homophobia and AIDS. so i guess i'm asking: could fear be the flip side to god? or is it just another factor enabling the search for truth/love/understanding/god? my friend thinks i should lighten up, but in truth, i am not upset to be realizing all this. in fact, i am comforted. is this a function of the new story i'm telling my self?

Name: katherine
Date: 2004-02-09 10:05:04
Link to this Comment: 8064

Bethany- I think that it is "a chord".

There are some really mind-bending things being bounced around this week. Hard to keep track of it all, hard to find my own deep-down opinions about some of this stuff. If life on earth started over again, we went back in time to the moment when the rocks and gases first fused to make this planet, would evolution happen in exactally the same way with the same results as now? I must say flat out, No, I don't beleive we would find the same exact results twice. Evolution and life itself seems to be a matter of chance. (Especially if evolution is really not directed at any purpose, the purpose is nothing, why would it ever follow the same path twice?) Random mutations have no logical order, they just happen. So I think that it would be more likely to have a different random mutation and evolutions the second time around than the same one.

Um...what are the stories we tell to be ourselves? I take this to mean, how do we imagine ourselves? What do we bring together in our minds to create an image of who we are as an individual, and how is that reflected in our actions, and how do these actions affect people around us? I am not ready to divulge to this forum exactally what stories I tell myself to make me who I am, that's a bit personal, but what stories to Bryn Mawr students tell themselves, how does that shape the image of a Bryn Mawr woman? I think that we like to tell a story of strong womanhood. We like (but perhaps I am wrong) to imagine an instant link with each other because of our sex. The story of the Bryn Mawr woman includes free-will, free-expression, an excellent vocabulary, etc. And who do we esclude by creating this story of ourselves as Bryn Mawr women? Do we exclude raically, sexually (yep), or along class lines?

scattered thoughts, as usual
Name: Lauren Fri
Date: 2004-02-09 15:51:16
Link to this Comment: 8070

I have a couple of thoughts which I'm having trouble tying together in a neat little bundle, so I'm just going to address them separately.

First, Orah's questions ("what are the stories we tell to BE ourselves? and how by being ourselves do we disallow others from being themselves?") really got me thinking. Her questions take me back to some discussions we were having previously, regarding the absence of "truth" and how important it is to be open to other people's stories, even if they contradict one's own. "Being ourselves" can disallow others from being themselves only if we refuse to open our minds to the stories of other people. By putting all stories on equal footing, we don't lose our own identities, and we don't trample the identities of other people either.

Second, we've been talking about whether a name makes a difference (i.e., does it matter if we call evolution "biological changes over time"? Does that really change anything?). I think that sometimes a name can have a huge effect on how an idea is received. For example, my pet cause in high school was gun control. I started up a branch of a national organization and flyered the school with startling statistics. I got in trouble when the national people found the website I'd made for my local branch. Apparently, "gun control' was too controversial, and they demanded that I remove it from the site. The appropriate terminology, I quickly learned, was "anti-gun violence." The idea was that people could say they were against gun control, but what maniac would claim to be pro-gun violence? We see a similar idea surrounding the abortion debate (pro-life implies the other side is anti-life, pro-choice implies the other side is anti-choice), and the debate surrounded same-sex unions (many more people support civil unions for same-sex couples than marriage, even though they are essentially the same things with different names). Anyway. This was just a very verbose way of saying that calling evolution "biological changes over time" might actually make more people open-minded to the idea.

Sorry for another long-winded posting. See you in class.

Stories and Fear
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-02-09 18:40:06
Link to this Comment: 8072

"listen-- if i don't have these stories, what do i have? i don't have my self, which is a very scary proposition."

Reading this (and re-reading this over and over again) I couldn't help but feeling that Emily had struck a nerve with her statement. Where Emily tells stories out of fear, I realized that I believe in stories out of fear. If I don't have the "story" of God, or the "story" of religion, or even the "story" that somehow, in the cosmic existence of things, my life does really matter, that my life does hold some purpose, if I don't have these "stories" then I don't have my self. And if I don't have my self, then I am left with nothing but a story of myself...and why would this story be any different from all the rest?

We tell stories, and we believe in them, because this is what shapes our existence. Last week I was concerned with the evolution of thought, but more importantly, it was the introduction of thought that set us apart from all the other species of the world. And what did we do once we began thinking as a species? We began to tell stories. Without these stories we don't exist. And to not exist is a very scary thing.

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-02-09 18:48:41
Link to this Comment: 8073

I've been thinking about the word "perfection," and why Mayr keeps using it, and why most people use it.

I think most people who like to say that humans are perfect, or at least more perfect than anything else, or at the top of the food chain or what have you mean that we are the best at what we do. Most Americans like to think of themselves as above average, and to some degree this attitude is visible in all humans, visible in that we almost always think of ourselves as better than all other living beings.

Obviously we're the best; we speak, build cities and use complex tools, reason out how the universe works, do so many things that place us far above other animals. True, they can often run faster than us, or hear better, or live in better harmony with the world, or do something that we can't do at all, like fly. But those things just aren't as good as talking, right? Well, I suspect that if, say, eagles can think, and are pondering the nature of the universe as they turn lazy circles high up in the air, they're thinking about how they are obviously superior to all other beings, especially us humans who spend all our time running around for no good reason and can't even fly.

My point here is, when most people say humans are the best, they mean we're the best at what we do, which is the most important thing to be able to do because we can do it and we're the best.

Mayr, of course, talks about levels of perfection of all creatures, not just humans, but I think he's just expanding that same thought process to all creatures. A creature that is "perfect" in some way is a creature that is very good at something it does. Maybe it's the best of all creatures at that thing. So when he says things are perfect he doesn't mean they've reached some goal, have found some evolutionary nirvana; he just means they're very good at what they do.

Probably this isn't the whole reason Mayr calls things perfect; there's no reason to use such a touchy word when he means something relatively innocuous. But I feel that' s part of the reason he describes things that way.

Mayr's use of "perfection"
Name: Jen Sheeha
Date: 2004-02-09 19:34:31
Link to this Comment: 8074

I think the idea of a scientist like Mayr using the term "perfection" -- such a loaded term! -- disturbs us because it strikes us as being a kind of value judgment. The terms seems to imply that a particular species is superior to all others, or that it has reached some sort of shining pinnacle and can evolve no further...and like the "hierarchy of races" established by racist 19th century biologists, in which they ranked different races according to how "developed" and "evolved" they were (by European standards), it causes us tremendous discomfort because it seems so arrogant and presumptuous. Who are we to say that we are more perfect than other species, or that we have reached such a perfect state that we can evolve no longer?

But I didn't get the impression from reading the book that Mayr was implying such a thing. I found myself nodding in agreement with Elizabeth in her estimation of Mayr's intent: A creature that is "perfect" in some way is a creature that is very good at something it does. Maybe it's the best of all creatures at that thing. So when he says things are perfect he doesn't mean they've reached some goal, have found some evolutionary nirvana; he just means they're very good at what they do. On Thursday when we were divided into our sections, Anne commented on how Mayr's rather careless use of "perfection" might have simply stemmed from a scientist's natural awe at the world, and a biologist's appreciation of just how amazing it is that life has evolved into such rich diversity and adaptability. I remember when I was in the rainforest in Costa Rica two years ago and looked around me, thinking to myself, "This is so perfect" -- and I didn't really mean "perfect" in the strict definition of the word, but just how all the flora and fauna and even the accompanying weather (a tremendous downpour of rain, followed by bright sunlight filtering through the trees) seemed to be in such a wonderful balance and state of "rightness." Every plant was suited for that environment; so was every animal.

And yet, it didn't have to happen that way; Prof. Grobstein asked in this forum "whether biological evolution is inevitable. Suppose that one were to start the proccess over again, would it come out the same?" I believe that evolution in inevitable, but if we started the process all over again, I highly doubt it would come out exactly as it has in our world. Perhaps Alternate Earth would have life even better adapted to its environment...but life on this earth is pretty impressively adapted itself. And that, I think, is part of what was in Mayr's mind when he spoke of "perfection." I wish he didn't use the term, but I can understand his reasons for doing so.

career and evolution
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-02-09 19:46:28
Link to this Comment: 8076

I'm very intersted in Orah's idea that we are all searching for something... all in persuit of the same basic goal which can be defined, in an abstract way, as God or the follow up posting which said that it could be defined as "love" or as "another abstract word" etc... That's a very reductive synthesis of all of that great thought, but I was really taken by these ideas. I think it's absolutely right, for me, at least... but maybe not for everyone. I guess everyone subconciously is searching for this "[abstract word]" but I think some people are more concious of it than others... I think Emily's idea that fear is the flip side to God (abstract word equivalent) is an interesting one too and that we do often tell stories because we are afraid. I think that fear is equivalent to the PROCESS of finding God (or abstract word)... becoming concious of what exactly we are doing here is scary... the more we think, the scarier it can get and also the more complex the ways that we can try and come to understand the world. Some people though try and understand less so as not to have to confront it at all. Which is a choice also... I'm not sure how many people make that choice.

Julia said "so much of our personal evolution is random spontaneous actions that are often taken for granted." I was having a conversation with a friend this weekend. She is a BMC senior who has taken science courses for all of her life and is pre-med. She has always wanted to go to med school and become a doctor... but just recently she has begun to reevaluate that and has started thinking that she might want to be an architect instead. This is causing quite a bit of anxiety on her part because she has spent so much of her life headed in this one direction and does not find anything terribly wrong with the direction where she's going. She said that she never would have even considered doing something other than med school if there had not been several things which happened in the past two years, one of which (the factor particularly relevant to this particular forum entry) was deciding to take architecture courses at Bryn Mawr because she had never done that before. So I guess the point is, that this random act of taking architecture classes may have a lasting effect on her future. I think it's wonderful that she's open enough to re-evaluate... (to let different prokariotes bump into each other to speak metaphorically) because something really wonderful and unexpected may evolve. My friend and I taked for a long time trying to figure out what she should do and in the end, I told her that it didn't matter too much what she did because there are an infinite number of "whats" in the world but only one "who"... that she will still be essentially who she is at the core whether she becomes an architect or a doctor. I hadn't thought that this was much related to evolution but I do think that it somehow is, especially with Professor Grobstein's lecture... that a large part of evolution did in fact happen by chance... I guess what matters is not so much how it happened as the fact that it happened. But as individuals, we somehow need to know how it happened to exist happily within the realm "it did indeed happen." Frightening, exciting, necessary, perplexing... Here we all are.

Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-02-10 07:10:04
Link to this Comment: 8087

I'd like to weigh in on the discussion surrounding Mayr's unexpected and, to some of us, disturbing use of "perfection" as an explanation for where evolution of a population is heading as it changes randomly over time. In one way it's just one more example of Mayr's inscrutable notions sprinkled here and there throughout a fair bit of otherwise easily digested logic. But why don't we expect scientists to think about perfection? Do we think their intentions are to only observe? Or are they observing in order to understand and to then apply what they learn "improve" things? (We could certainly question the definition of "improvement" as it's comes about over time—to a number of things and situations). But if we can accept that science has produced improvements, doesn't that suggest a movement towards perfection?

In our discussion we may be shifting our own definition of something that sounds brittle and inflexible (perfect) to something that's iterative and if all that happens happens on two interacting axes—like the earth rotating around the sun, combined with the earth spinning on its axis—both of which contribute to the changing seasons. Maybe this is a universal formula that applies at both the macro and micro levels in our realm of reality.

Maybe we're recognizing that nothing may go in a straight line from simple to complex (or good to better to best of all). The relevant geometric shapes for evolution seems to be the circle, the sphere.

BTW, does any of what we're thinking about--or the way in which we're thinking and talking--remind anybody of Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass"?

when an economist tells stories
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-02-10 10:35:57
Link to this Comment: 8089

In the "bridging" which this course attempts between science and the humanities, the areas and ways in which social scientists work are also directly relevant (and perhaps brought into question?). For instance, the business section of y'day's Philadelphia Inquirer (2/9/04), featured an economist, Sophia Koropeckyj, who describes what she does (analyzing trends in labor and industry for Economy.Com) as "finding the story among the statistics":

her "work stands for a psychologically reassuring idea in a world that seems all too chaotic. 'There is an assumption that you can identify patterns and that there are predictable relationships'....In other words, life is orderly and the future predictable as long as the proper patterns are discerned, then applied....She sees a storyteller, someone who weaves together the patterns in the numbers to provide a coherent story about the state of the world."

David Ross, of the Econ Dept. here @ BMC, has also spoken quite strikingly and probingly about the consequences of the work he does as a storyteller; see "Bucks, Values and Happiness": When Counting Changes What We Are Counting.

stasis vs. the virus of time
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-02-10 10:38:56
Link to this Comment: 8090

It's hard for me to pick up any newspaper or journal these days w/out seeing echoes and extensions of our class discussions. My breakfast reading this morning was the 2/12/04 New York Review of Books, which featured an extensive discussion of Tony Kushner's Angels in America. I haven't seen the new TV film (which prompted this review) but seeing the play @ the Annenberg years ago was a profound experience for me. In the language of this review (and this class?),

"The ability of human beings to evolve and change in time stands in stark contrast to ... God, [who was] bored by the sempiternal stasis that was life in Heaven, and 'bewitched' by man's ever-evolving ingenuity, curiosity, and forward-moving aspiration....The angels want to turn back the clock, to reverse the 'virus of TIME'.... what [they want is]...'STASIS!' Kushner, in other words, has created a cosmic model of the conflict between beautiful abstract systems and the unruly, illogical energies of lived life."

More of the same, soon.

Projecting the story of a single individual onto t
Name: Simran
Date: 2004-02-10 12:34:57
Link to this Comment: 8097

In response to Orah's comment: "what are the stories we tell in order to BE ourselves?
and how by being ourselves do we disallow others from being themselves by telling our stories, by allowing ourselves to be?"
AND to Reeve's comment:
"I can disbelieve in the story that upholds racism with all my being, but I am also complicit within this story because something larger than my individual agency is using me as part of the story."

I would like to direct you to two cartoons that were published in the New Yorker.

I found these on the internet, please refer to only the first two images.

The first image is the well known, "She's all I know about Bryn Mawr and she's all I need to know," while the second refers to the rebirth of "rugged individualism." This second one depicts a Mawtyr adhering to the impression of Bryn Mawr as an elitist school in the early days! However, it shows that the student adhering to the "traditional" dress is being shunned by her casually dressed peers.

There are two impressions of Bryn Mawr being portrayed here. The first shows that the behavior of a Mawtyr in public is assumed to stand for the entire picture or story of Bryn Mawr (not that I mind in this case!!) The second shows Mawtyrs themselves ogling at their peer who chooses to dress in a certain defining way.

The two Mawtyrs these cartoons focus on are telling stories about themselves by the way they act or dress. However, in the first case, this behavior is projected onto a larger group and the "outside world's" belief in this story immediately results in their disbelieving the story the girl in the second cartoon is telling.

I feel like I'm being really cryptic here. Just trying to answer the question as I see it, by showing the disparity behind the acceptance of a single story as a portrayal of the whole, and also the inherent irony behind such acceptance and belief!


The catalyst?
Name: Mary
Date: 2004-02-10 14:16:58
Link to this Comment: 8099

It (??? what is it??? who knows? nonone?) exists.

It exists, we know.

and it does things.why???

The metaphysical questions exist too. Plenty of them.

We pull out patterns particularly and we tell, listen to our stories.
the catalyst, you ask? What is the catalyst of what???

Name: Natasha
Date: 2004-02-10 14:27:56
Link to this Comment: 8100

Julia said "so much of our personal evolution is random spontaneous actions that are often taken for granted." I was thinking about this when I went to my Law and Sociology class at Haverford, and was thinking about Durkeheim's idea of organic solidarity. Here, he is stating that people come of a collective consciousness and evolve independently, while fillinng specific functions and roles, thus making them part of the larger organism. (i'm drawn to the biological, organelles as a reference point for people) and that in her saying personal evolution is random and spontaneous, I feel like I don't agree. I think personal evolution is something we want to claim all on our own, our actions, not what someone else did to us, to make us reevaluate the way you see a cognitive expectation. So i feel like our own personal evolution is intrinsically linked to that which is based on general human interaction. Thus not rendering it our evolution but collective evolution. hmmmmm

Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-10 17:42:46
Link to this Comment: 8104

been trying to control my hyperative posting instinct, but when i read anne's post about angels in america....please, please see it.
oh man, i watched the whole thing in two sittings over break when i had my wisdom teeth out.
it's just sublime.
and then at the end when the prophet goes to heaven and he says that if God ever tried to come back to earth he'd get sued. SUE GOD!
just exquisite!

Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-10 22:31:20
Link to this Comment: 8110

exterpted from angels:
"it's just...we can't just stop. we're not rocks- progress, migration, motion is...modernity. It's animate, it's what living things do. We desire. even if all we desire is stillness, it's still desire for. even if we go faster than we should. we can't wait. and wait for what? God...
"he isn't comeing back. and even if He did....if He ever did come back, if He ever DARED to show His face, or his Glyph or whatever in the Garden agian...if after all this destruction, if after all the terrible days of this terrible century He returned to much suffering His abandonment had created, if all He had to affer is death, you should sue the bastard. That's my only contribution to all this Theology. Sue the bastard for wlaking out. How dare He."

and then the intensity reaches it's peak when this man, dripping with the sores of death, this man who has just been told that life is only pain and ultimate destruction, this man says,
"i want more life. i can't help myself. i do. i've lived through such terrible times, and there are people who live through much much worse, but....You see them living anyway. When they're more spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they're burned and in agony, when flies lay eggs in the corners of the eyes of their children, they live. Death usually has to take life away. i don't know if that's just the animal. i don't know if it's not braver to die. But i recognize the habit. the addiction to being alive. we live past hope. if i can find hope anywhere, that's it, that's the best i can do. it's so much not enough, so inadequate but...Bless me anyway. i want more life."

and at first i started typing this because it is so beautiful and i thought ya'all might like it, but as i type i realize that it is relevant.
grobstein said today (if i understand correctly) that life is driven not by competition, there is no means acheived, no underlying reason WHY we want life, but rather it is ingraned in the very definition of life to want more (and this desire is random???). life = not having enough. why do the single celled organisms move outward? because the very definition of their beings DESIRES.
(shoot i'm sorry guys, but i have to keep going...)
and i think maybe the word perfection should not be taught as a goal of evolution...evolution is random...but! i think this desire to live for humans is rooted, cemented deeply this yearning toward perfection. we won't acheive it. and this fact is the driving force behind human life. ((saying that the driving force behind life is random just doesn't work for of no use TO ME.) and salinger writes in franny and zooey, "an artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms." and i think we are all artists: poets, scientists, mathmaticiens, football players. because WHAT MAKES AN ARTIST IS THE DESPERATION, and we all have it.
(this is just my story...i'm not asking anyone to agree...i realize i might sound preachy...i'm not trying to... just desperate :)
and the reason that we all WANT MORE LIFE is because we never acheive this never reaches it's goal.

Name: Patty
Date: 2004-02-11 17:51:14
Link to this Comment: 8118

I found this particular piece of a site that pertains to what we have been talking about. I do not claim to know the credibility of this site, but I found it very interesting. Please click on this link to check it out. It discusses the 2nd law of Thermodynamics and it's relation to evolution.

Name: Roz
Date: 2004-02-11 21:27:55
Link to this Comment: 8124

I'm slightly disturbed by Vincent whatshisname's painting "Cocaigne." The oral tradition of Cockaigne was not meant to be seen as a gluttoness and slothfull place, but rather a paradise for the starving and poor. Cockaigne was told in the streets, in all countries throughout Europe, to all of the peasents who could not afford the food and luxeries that they knew the upper class had. It gave them hope for a better life than the one aristocracy forced them to live.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-02-12 09:45:48
Link to this Comment: 8134

I began the Dennet reading last night..and finished all 145 pages. Needless to say I'm really into what he has to say (and besides, he refers to Richard Dawkins, whom I adore).

Very early into the first chapter Dennet expresses a need to protect Darwin's idea in the same way that the creationists need to protect religion from iconoclasts. However, I cannot sympathize with this need to protect Darwin. The notion of evolution, for me, stands on its own two feet, whether we help it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not..

While reading this I was immediately reminded of my decision to come to Bryn Mawr. I had been accepted to both of the schools I applied to: Sarah Lawrence and Bryn Mawr. It was a seemingly impossible decision. I was very excited about both, and I thought that both would suite me perfectly. In the end my decision came down to one thing. I could easily say yes to both acceptances, but WHICH ONE COULDN'T I SAY NO TO. Darwin is Bryn Mawr.

why NOT?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-02-12 18:51:43
Link to this Comment: 8142

On Wednesday afternoons, my daughter Marian works as an aide at James Rhoads Elementary School. When I drive her in, I have the remainder of the day for exploring West Philly on my own. Yesterday I stopped in at the Institute of Contemporary Art @ Penn, and found myself in the Yoshitomo Nara exhibit, "Nothing Ever Happens." I was struck both by the echoes of hearing my own children (on occasion) say that, and by the sharp juxtaposition of our conversations in this course with this bit of catalog copy:

"Nara's figures... remind us...: We are limited by the fact that our experience... is a less-than-small part of the factual and experiential world, and an even smaller part of the infinite possiblities that could and will occur. Then why not have a pissed-off look forever stuck to our over-important-and self-expanding about-to-blow-up big head and eyes? Why not?"

I thought, @ the end of today's class discussion, that we had traced out a whole range of useful and exciting reasons "why not." Like: realizing our smallness gives each of us SO much space to move into....

Very much looking forward, next week, to hearing how each of you sees herself in relationship to the story Paul told about the story Mayr told about the story Darwin told about multiple observations made by himself and others....

Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-12 19:46:40
Link to this Comment: 8143

intense class today. much enjoyed. thanks, guys.

changed story: the definition of life is wanting more life, not wanting death. but according to the first law of thermodynamics death is inevitable. so as CONSIOUS beings the only way to exist is in desperation because the make up of the world in which we live forbids us from aquiring our " directional movement" as living beings.( this directional movement being the attempt to escape always have more life.) so what do we do with this desperation? we create "the after."

damn consiousness.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-12 22:37:15
Link to this Comment: 8144

and so when the sun dissipates. and there are no memories and no dreams: no place to inhabit and exist when we are dead....
"the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago." (moby dick) there are no footprints in the sea.

but, those aren't pragmatic thoughts...(i don't know if i'm a very pragmatic thinker...alas...)so lets think things like: this is such a beautiful world and even if it is fleeting how wonderful that we get a chance to be IN IT. it's kinda romantic to be in this finite droplet of exquisite beauty...

Name: Perrin Bra
Date: 2004-02-12 23:14:37
Link to this Comment: 8146

When re-reading Mayer for more of his linguistic faux pois, I noticed that on page 4 of the text, he said that "the beliefs of creationism are in conflict with the findings of science." I know that there are schools of thought that manage to incorporate Genesis and evolution, but can such a happy medium be reached or is the conflict too readily solved? For instance, is it too easy to take a liberal interpretation of the Bible and say that the six days of creation are equivalent to millions of years since god is supposed to transcend time?

I was thinking about the discussion of consciousness in Prof Dalke's discussion group today. Guilt is defiantly one of the primary signs of self-awareness/consciousness because it demonstrates that an organism is aware of right and wrong and the repercussions of its actions. Psychology tells us (somebody correct me if I'm wrong) that a pathological sociopath is biologically wired not to feel any guilt and therefore does not realize that stealing, raping, etc. are morally wrong. So maybe our blessing/curse as a species is feeling guilt?

this week ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-02-13 08:32:29
Link to this Comment: 8148

Let's not stop talking about whatever's on y/our mind, but add to it for Tuesday's conversation: Find a phrase or sentence in Mayr that you think is either particularly important for your understanding of biological evolution or particularly puzzling to you. Post it with a brief comment by Sunday evening so it can contribute to organizing our Tuesday discussion.

Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-02-13 10:39:22
Link to this Comment: 8149

Guys, THANK YOU...for yesterday's discussion in class. I'm right now nose-deep, wallowing in the first paper, AND REALIZING THAT THIS IS SO connecting to other big areas of thought. Good stuff starts with being concrete and then becoming abstract (science first). I'm appreciating this more--as a result of this course. Now I just need to remember to eat, sleep, and shower '-)

BTW, I was surprised to learn (regarding Paul's story about the word "serendipity") that Walpole coined it from the old name of Sri Lanka. According to American Heritage, "this name was part of the title of "a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of . . ."

"help me see the part of me that lives inside of y
Name: em
Date: 2004-02-13 13:47:42
Link to this Comment: 8150

i am absolutely fascinated by vincent desiderio... and now i am worried that i'm becoming one of those cultural bulemics who devours his images and wants only more. however, i found this on a site about his work, and it seemed to present an intriguing parallel to our class and perhaps the trajectory we've launched ourselves on:
Check it out!
(i only wish the pictures were bigger-- sorry)
so i guess this can be connected to elizabeth's fascination with art's evolution as a parallel to human evolution. and perhaps even to orah's "big picture" revelation re: desperation-- we're all in this together, and though even the very act of studying evolution means accepting that we too shall pass, we can still be involved in the continual awe that living here encompasses. we can have this reverence for the smallness, and we can possess the self love to say, "we are here, we are small, but we're still a part of this big messy and random process whether we like it or not."

its all okay.
Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-13 19:18:47
Link to this Comment: 8152

had a conversation with prof. grobstein, sarah and natasha after class on thursday...i posted some of what came after it, but thought the rest was too distressing....but grobstein said it wasn't and i was thinking a lot today and made it okay in my maybe you guys can find the redeeming/useful factors in it.....
i don't think it is possible to live beleiving that when we die we
completelly cease to exist. even living in memory and dreams is a form of existing.(even if it's not as an autonomous, consious, independant's existing.)i don't know what comes after life and for all i know the heaven of the dead is in the memory and dreams of the living....and so when i dream about those i've lost it is in that space that they continue to BE. so even if we beleive that we are just going to rot, and there is no conscious god and no heaven then the beleif that we continue in the minds of others is a form of "the after." but how can we live knowing that one day the sun will explode and there won't be an after? no minds to inhabit? how can we stand living in a world with the first and second laws of thermodynamics that say that LIFE WILL END? we create this idea of "the next world," "the after" that will continue after the end of life on earth and the universe....we create it because we need it. but it's all pretend, isn't it?
but today i realized that i am, at least partially, a jamesian, pragmatic thinker...and these thoughts of utter futility just keep me from relishing this world. and ya know what? there is a whole lot to relish here........... and i really think it is romantic to think that we are doomed from the begining and yet look at what the human race has created; our very desperation is's kind of like sand art.... just think of some of the beauty out there and think that when the sun is gone it will be gone too, leaving absolutly no trace.... have you ever thought about about what you look like standing absolutly alone...where no one can see you? and when you are standing alone do you ever think that when you leave that spot no one will ever know that you were there, or what you looked like standing there, alone? that's humanity. if we are the only consious beings in the universe then it's as if we are standing utterly alone and yet we choose to sing. even though there is no one listening. we choose to make beauty just for the sake of making purposless beauty.
that's the best there is......i think.
have a splendid weekend everyone.

Date: 2004-02-13 22:09:21
Link to this Comment: 8154

"if i can find hope anywhere, that's it, that's the best i can do. it's so much not enough, so inadequate but...Bless me anyway. i want more life."

let's talk about sex
Name: em
Date: 2004-02-14 09:38:19
Link to this Comment: 8155

"The isolating mechanisms of species are devices to protect the integrity of well-balanced , harmonious genotypes." (170)
one of mayr's definitions of an isolating mechanism: "(c) Copulation attempted but no transfer of sperm takes place (mechanical isolation)" (171)
questions raised by mayr's text:
what does birth control mean in terms of evolution? in creating our own mechanical isolators, what are we messing with? where does human sexuality have a space in evolution?
i realize that this may seem like quite a clinical question, but i think it has some larger ramifications relating to some of orah's (and other's) posts: by using sex as something in addition to the process of reproduction, what story do we tell about ourselves as humans? what are our bodies saying? i think it also connects to this fear/search for god/truth/love piece as well-- when we talked about self-sufficiency in class on thursday, i couldn't help but think that while we may look for self-sufficiency as a race, as individuals we look for interdependence, you know? there is that longing for connection, for life, for that electric bristle of another human's touch.
toni morrison describes the relationship between a book and its reader as a kind of lovemaking. i'd like to propose that this exists between a story and its audience as well. there is that intense connection that draws us closer when we tell stories. it brings us under each other's covers-- being the audience means giving your full attention to the absorption of the storyteller's tale-- a complete involvement in listening that leaves one vulnerable and open.

on its being ok and sex and thermodynamics
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-02-14 11:08:15
Link to this Comment: 8156

Too rich a conversation not to join in myself. So ...

Orah and I had an email exchange relevant to her recent posting. Here's a perhaps relevant bit of what I wrote to her:

I suspect its only humans (and perhaps a few other fuzzy animals) for whom the issues you raise are comprehensible, much less a problem. And there may be a useful lesson in that.

Plants don't worry about dying (I don't think); they just go about their living business until it stops. And, like us, they too tend to leave traces of their existence after their dissolution (image of a tree trunk bearing the mark of a vanished vine that had once grown around it). In fact, we have (in our DNA, as plants have in theirs) traces of untold millions of ancestral organisms and, in one form or another, we too will leave traces of ourselves long into the future.

So, the "worrying" isn't a property of life; its a property of a particular evolved form of life, a form (ourselves) which has the capability to conceive of "death" and both the first and second law of thermodynamics. But, interestingly, it also has the capability to conceive of eternal life and of transcendence. Given that these are all "stories" and that part of what stories do is to give birth (unpredictably) to new stories, I'd say that ... there is no way to know whether the notion of "eternal life and transcendence" is "just pretending" as opposed to one of the ingredients out of which emerges a new story in which the first and second laws of thermodynamics turn out to be less significant than they appear to be in the current story of stories.

In any case, the current story of stories puts the problem many billions of years into the future, at least insofar as one is willing/able to be comfortable with the idea of becoming and having others become at some point a "trace".

Let me also add my thanks to those of Ro for a particularly rich discussion on Thursday. The idea from there that seemed important (to me at least) to share with everyone is the idea that the FIRST law of thermodynamics (rather than the second) is actually the one that speaks most directly to the fundamental importance in evolution of death. Its the first law that says that the total amount of "stuff" never changes, and hence that all that can happen is to transform one organization of stuff into a different organization of stuff. From which it follows that to make new stuff one has to get rid of old stuff? Maybe what life represents is the discovery of how to maintain traces of the old organizations in the new organizations? (This actually relates in an interesting way to a conversation Bethany and I had yesterday about time that I hope she'll say something about here).

Finally, I heartily endorse Emily's "let's talk about sex". Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia is a very funny and very wise exploration of story telling (better even than Big Fish) in which he suggests an equivalence between sex, randomness, and the second law of thermodynamics.

Thomasina: Well! Just as I said. Newton's machine which would knock our atoms from cradle to grave by the laws of motion is incomplete. Determinism leaves the road at every corner, as I knew all along, and the cause is very likely hidden in this gentleman's observation.

Lady Croom: Of what?

Thomasina: The action of bodies in heat.

The second law, Stoppard suggests, is what generates randomness ("heat"), which is in turn the fundamental significance of sex ("heat"): it is a way to scramble things up so as to create the novel (to transform from one organization to a new one?). And yes, it is apparent in reproduction but is also separable from reproduction, both in biology and otherwise.

Speaking of which, thanks to Emily and others for a smashing production of the Vagina Monologues.

Name: Susan W.
Date: 2004-02-14 12:38:05
Link to this Comment: 8159

Wow. What an amazing class Thursday guys. Really awesome.

Okay so lets see if I can put some thoughts of mine down in writting. I am not very good at this.

First off, this idea of death, and how it relates to our theory of "niches" (spelling?). It seems to me that in life, we are constantly providing new "places" for other things to inhabit, new areas for things to emerge and grow. Death in my opinion isn't just "the end" but provides us with another "niche" another "doorway" into something... i dont necessarily mean that it is a spiritual place, although it COULD be. I dont doubt that we will cese to exist as we know it. At the same time, its easy to see how this idea of filling another space gave rise to the spiritual idea of an afterlife. I am thinking of Jonathan Livingston - the seagull. I think it was all based on some Greek philosophers conception of life and death and truth (was is Aristotle? The cave analogy?) Anyway, Jonathan's goal was to be able to accomplish great feats of flying that was baned by the flock of seaguls he was in, and as a result, when he would accomplish one task (like flying at the speed of light) he would "die" and pass onto another "level". In other words, according to the author, death was just another level, another niche that we have to live in. I dont know if I am making any sense, but that's what's been on my mind.

Secondly if evolution is a random process, why is it that our thinking or consciousness is something that goes forward? Randomness vs. linear thinking, how is this possible?

Name: meg
Date: 2004-02-14 13:00:40
Link to this Comment: 8161

I'm looking over Mayr again, and I find myself stuck on the section near the end that discusses altruism. Mayr brings up the controversy of human ethics in the human evolution discussion. He says "Is not selfishness the only behavior that can be rewarded by selection? What is altruism and how can it be defined? Is altruism due to a genetic disposition or is it entirely due to education and learning?". Mayr then goes on to define altruism, and describe different ways in which it is used. He says that altruism is doing something beneficial for another idividual that costs you. I don't really understand how this plays into human evolution. If there is no real goal, and evolution is random, why then would our treatment of others affect our evolution. Doesn't that mean that we have some vision for our lineage, or that we do not fear death as much. I guess I'm just confused as to why Mayr feels that altruism has anything to do with our evolution as a species, I don't think that it has any affect on our lineage. I'm happy that there is an aspect of altruism ingrained in us, but I do not think it is their as an evolutionary aid. Mayr says that being nice to strangers goes against Natural Selection, but as we discussed in class, it is random. I don't think we are consciously trying to deprive other members of our culture so that we can survive, and our lineage will be passed on. I think that random acts of kindness are part of our nature, and have nothing to do with our evolution, or preservation.

Name: Charles Da
Date: 2004-02-14 13:25:47
Link to this Comment: 8163

Susan said, "if evolution is a random process, why is it that our thinking or consciousness is something that goes forward? Randomness vs. linear thinking, how is this possible?"

No, consciousness goes forward and backward, you can even say it transcends time and space. And yes, this process appears sequential but it is random.

An exp: relax and look at a cup for about a minute (remembering your thoughts). Walk away for a while, than come back to the cup and do the same. Were your thoughts the same?

If you did not "intend" on thinking the same thoughts, your thoughts will be different; and if you hand no "intent," it is random – what you will think - unless your mind is being dominated by a strong attachment.

AND looking at the big picture, the events in life are somewhat random, however, you can plan what you will be doing today, but there is no guaranty that your plans will be fulfilled, especially without unplanned events.

Name: becky rich
Date: 2004-02-15 14:26:56
Link to this Comment: 8173, there's so much going on here on the forum it makes me dizzy :)...
the most important thing i've taken away from Mayr, with alot of help from our class discusions, is how, "owing to the two-step nature of natural selection, evolution is the result of both chance and nessecity." (p120)The chance side of things being underemphasized in my education up until now. Mayr goes on to say "There is a great deal of randomness ("chance")in evolution, particularly in the production of genetic variation, but hte second step of natural selection, whether selection or elimination, is an antichance process." (p120) I definatly dont want to downplay selection too much, but i dont nessicarily agree with Mayr that selection is "anticance". Mayr himself aknowledges how natural disasters and the like take out otherwise extremely viable organisms- my feeling is that so many of the circumstances in life are random. shit happens.
which brings me to my next question about how Mayr insists that the enlargement of the Australopithecene/Homo brain occured because of "severe selection pressure" (p254) how might we mediate this with ideas about random change or expansion into a "niche of the mind" so to speak, through language and culture? especially since our brains are SO big we only use a fraction of them (i wish i know what it was...) Granted i'm sure there were plenty of head injuries to go around back in the day, but you'd think Australopithecene moms gave birth standing up and just let the little suckers fall :)

Imperialism and Evolution
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-02-15 14:45:12
Link to this Comment: 8174

"The importance of competition is demonstrated most graphically when a species becomes extinct as a result of an alien species successfully colonizing its range. Darwin called attention to the extinction of many native New Zealand species of animals and plants when introduced European species successfully established themselves there and outcompeted the natives." (Mayr, 125)

How strange would it be if the sentence read: The importance of competition is demonstrated most graphically when...the extinction of many native New Zealand [Aborigines] when European[s] successfully established themselves there and outcompeted the natives? Is imperialism a subset of evolution? Are we innately programmed to compete with other peoples for the sake of our own survival?

Name: daniela
Date: 2004-02-15 15:48:08
Link to this Comment: 8177

"But it is now realized that many animals also show that they have emotions of fear, happiness, caution, depression and almost any other human emotion." (256)
What does Mayr mean here by labelling those emotions "human"?
Humans are the only species that have developed languages with grammar and complicated syntax, allowing them to articulate their perceptions into ideas and notions. If animals have only systems of giving and receiving signals, can they have ideas to express through emotions? Is it indeed happiness or depression that animals show? The other possibility is that animal behaviour is simply reminiscent of those human emotions. Devoid of corresponding notions to account for them, humans tend to impose their ones on animals.
Furthermore, can't these behavioral traits shown by animals be some sort of instinct shared by numerous taxa? Because emotions sometimes do undermine, at least in the case of humans, strength and determination, they exert pernicious influence on the ability to survive. So, are emotions an ancestral trait that will eventually be selected against?

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-02-15 16:19:48
Link to this Comment: 8178

There are so many interesting questions on the forum that I'd like to discuss some of them before I delve into my own. First of all, I'm really turned on to Susan's ideas. But I don't think consciousness is necessarily linear. Rather I think that it Seems linear to us because we only have the capacity to precieve things directionally (although we may know spiritually that existance is far more complex than what we can access at our level of existance). Linear thinking is just ow we organize ideas/daily routines etc. You all might be farmiliar with the psychological term chunking, which is a way of grouping sets of 7 to memorize. This is a vary concrete example of the ways in which we try to organize the world and make sense of it. It is a tool. Linear thinking is the same type of tool. This animal type of directional mind set, complete with all of its tricks to help us stay on track, is probably the very reason that it is at times difficult to grasp the randomness of evolution. Evolution is unending and stretches in all directions, just as consciousness does. But we aren't able to know this true form of consciousness all of the time. We are only given glimpses of it, our minds at times become clear, and we feel humbled and at peace. Evolution is scary because it hits too close to home and we cannot impose the force of our minds to control it. Does that help with the question at hand?

Anyway, on to my question. I don't have a page number to refer to, but I would like to know how Mayr and Darwin feel about death. There were allusions to it in the book, and at parts where I thought Mayr was heading towards some great philosophical explanation for its meaning it would fizzle. Its like an elephant in the room that no one is talking about, probably because we've all skirted the issue of religion. Do the two go so hand in hand that we can't talk about one without the other? Does evolution assign a meaning to it as religion does? If not, prehaps this was the sole reason religion is still going strong-it does assign a meaning. Or, perhaps it is unfair to demand such an explanation from the evolutionists.

fitness and smarts
Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-15 17:01:04
Link to this Comment: 8180

mayr (page 252) "it has long been appreciated taht it is our brain that makes us human." does that mean that brain capasity can measure levels of humaness? that's dangerous.
"waht is perhaps most astonishing is the fact that the human brain seems not to have changed one single bit since the first appearance of Homo sapiens, some 150000 years ago." so evolution is limited. it does not go into the sphere of human intelligence. it's not as if we are getting smarter because that would make it easier to survive. its not like smart people live longer because they are 'fitter.'

Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-02-15 19:00:25
Link to this Comment: 8181

Questions regarding Mayr:
1- pg 282 "The human species is highly successful even though it has not completed the transition from quadapedal to bipedal life in all of its structures. In that sense, it is not perfect." is it that we have not become fully bipedal? (except for when we're looking under our beds for missing socks)... he seems to be suggesting that this would complete us so? I mean, what selection pressure are we under that is threatening our extinction if we don't, stand up straighter!?

2 -pg279 "Stasis apparently indicates the possession of a genotype that is able to adjust to all changes of the environment without the need for changing its basis phenotype."

I realize that he sort of avoided the genotype in this book...but to then explain stasis by saying that it's due to an above average genotype is confusing. Add to that the observation made by many in his field that prolonged stasis of a species is followed by a rapid descent to extinction seems to suggest that stasis is not a great strategy. Do we know what role stasis plays in the life of a species?

3- last question...not directed to any particular page in the book...I'd like to understand extinction better...are all species destined to become extinct? What would preclude that? (I'm not asking about mass extinctions imposed by things like meteorites)

Mayr Questions and Thursday Thoughts
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-02-15 19:58:29
Link to this Comment: 8183

Here are some things that I was thinking which carry over from Thusday's discussion:

A rather simplistic thought but I was thinking that if we take the idea of perfection to be "well adaptedness", then perfection is fully attainable and if we take the idea of perfection to mean "self-sufficiency" then perfection is not possible.

We were also talking about the dangers of answers as well as throwing around the idea that maybe humans can never be entirely happy in their quests for knowledge... there seemed to be a general anxiety about obtaining answers, a frustration being expressed. I've recently come to think of answers simply as waiting places for new questions or if not waiting places then bridges to new questions. And in that sense i think that answers are absolutely crucial... which may or may not lessen anxiety about the human search for truth.

Here are some questions from Mayr...

page 254 "The expectation of a smooth continuity of transitional stages in homonization is based on typological thinking."

I am having trouble understanding what this statement means in and of itself and, on a more broader scale, what typological thinking is, on page 165, Mayr says that it is species which are from a well circumscribed class... I don't understand this either. Does typological thinking relate to essentialism or population thinking? Maybe someone could help me out with this sentence... I think it is really just something small that I'm not getting (distinctions in words.) So Mayr is saying that typological thinking is not the way to go for anything?

Also, Mayr says that evolution happens so slowly because "thousands of generations which have undergone the preceeding selection, a natural population will be close to the optimal genotype. The selection to which such a population has been exposed is normalizing or a stabalizing selection" I can't fully grasp this... what is a population's optimal genotype... does this mean that in the begining, things evolved very very quickly because things were not close to their optimal genotype? From what Professor Grobstein has said, I don't think that this is true... evolution has always been slow... What is Mayr saying is the reason for this?

Finally Mayr talks a lot about adaptationism (p. 229) which we did not talk that much about in class. I read the last paragraph on page 229 and was wondering (with Prof. Grobstein's lecture on chance and the primary importance of chance in evolution) if this last paragraph would coincide with Prof. Grobstein's story... Here is the paragraph-

"One can conclude from these observations that evolution is neither merely a series of accidents nor a deterministic movement toward ever more perfect adapatation. To be sure, evolution is in part an adaptive process, because natural selection operates in every generation. The principle of adaptationism has been adopted so widely by Darwinians because it is such a heuristic methodology. To question what the adaptive propertises might be for every attrivute of an organism leads almost inevitably to a deeper understanding. However, every attribute is ultimately the product of variation, and this variation is largely the product of chance. Many authors seem to have a problem in comprehending the virtually simultaneous actions of two seemingly opposing causations, chance and necessity. But this is precicely the power of the Darwinian process."

So does Darwin's story take in both chance and necessity as equal partners? Where does adaptation fit into random chance/ creatures occupying niches.


Mayr thoughts
Name: Julia
Date: 2004-02-15 21:54:46
Link to this Comment: 8185

There were a few "ah ha" or "hmmmmm..." moments for me in reading Mayr. One such moment ocurred on page 260 in regards to what I thought was going to be a "humans = perfection" thought but nicely turned into a humbler statement of realization, "No other animal was ever able to exist successfully on all continents and in all climates. No other animal has ever acheived the same relative dominance over nature. But in the last 50 years it has become evident that we are still thoroughly dependent on the natural world and that our efforts at dominating carry a high price." He then continues to mention this price as being exploitation of resources and pollution. While he doesn't really dismiss the thought that humans are closer to perfection than other creatures, at least he is pointing out human flaws. But then again, there is always the possibility perhaps these aren't actually flaws, merely a result of our linear perception of the universe. Well, regardless, I liked what Mayr said there.

My second, and unrelated thought, on Mayr but really evolution in general involves the actual mechanism of these changes. I understand that many many many many generations are needed to see evolution of new traits, and all changes are initially random but then selected for via natural selection... but I think I am still a little baffled by HOW mutations or gene interactions in a SINGLE ORGANISM result in the change into an entirely new species... how does the change stay "uniform" among all members of a species if it only starts in one? I think I get it and perhaps it is just hard to truly grasp the amount of time and generations, but it seems fairly unbelievable that one organism's genetic information could spread to a whole species soley based on selection of those genes in reproduction. And for that matter WHY are the changes always selected over the original anyway?

Sorry, I think I may just be confusing myself and others now.
Toodles for now.

Name: bethany ke
Date: 2004-02-16 00:00:13
Link to this Comment: 8190

ok...I'm afraid this is going to be another choppy post...sorry! I shall try and keep things clear, though they are separate.

Some interesting quotes:
"Such a new gene is called a 'paralogous' gene. At first it will have the same function as it's sister gene. However, it will usually evolve by having its own mutations and in due time it may acquire functions different from those of its sister gene." - Mayr, 109

"Actually, survival is not a property of an organism but only an indication of the existance of certain survival-favoring attributes." - 118

"Elimination does not have the 'purpose' or the 'teleological goal' of producing adaptation; rather, adaptation is a by-product of the process of elimination." - 150

"...the niche is the outward projection of the needs of a species." - 152

also, an ironic, funny quote from Ro. - "I don't know if I can keep the thought long enough to get it out..." - This makes it seem as if maybe thoughts undergo a process of elimination, of natural selection as well...

Ok, so what I REALLY wanted to talk about was something that was sparked during the conversation on Thursday...It was when we were imagining a situation in which there was no death. It hit me that this type of arrangement means no second law of thermodynamics, and then, what was more interesting to me at the time, no natural selection. Ultimately, no death means no weeding out, no 'fit' category. EVERY possible combination is VALID. If death were obsolete but then evolution carried on, we would have present every single organism ever to live, and those that did not make it even to the point of living. We'd have all the missing links, all the previously unsuccessful recipes.

I suppose in a way this gives me a good bridge to talk about my time's definitely still in the works...I just thought of it on Friday afternoon, and I don't know if I completely understand it yet...just a hunch :) Anyway! so>>

I was having trouble you see, with two theories that were floating around. One came from language working group, and it deals with the way our minds work. Basically, the point of the theory is that for the brain and the nervous system, there is no past, there is no future, there is only now, this moment, here. *pathetic attempt to explain* It's as if you have a computer, which has a program. This program requires an input, which makes the computer go into a state to create a certain output. so, we have this sequence of inputs creating states creating outputs which are the inputs that create the states that create the outputs and so on and so forth. For the computer, there is no past, there is no future, there is only the current state, which causes the next current state. We see the pattern of inputs and states and outputs, but the only input for now that the computer needs to create the next output is the now input. SO! This implies that past and future are in fact all contained NOW! (scary implications for fate, perhaps?) So yes, I can definitely see the sense of this theory. (If I made it hard to understand, which is the most likely situation, ask PG, he'll explain it for you, and then you can laugh at my mess of confusion above)

But then, contradiction? We were discussing general relativity in physics, and the point was brought up that we tend to think of time as a distance...for example, it takes 16 hours to get to my house. We have timelines, time is, for us, a spacial entity of sorts. But oh no! This implies past and future! I can remember, I can predict. How on earth to reconcile these two theories???

Possible answer:
I wish I could draw on this thing...

Ok, so maybe the physical brain is, in a way, a reference frame. This is the reference frame for us in which time is CONTRACTED>> we are ALWAYS HERE, we are ALWAYS NOW. No past, no future, just present. Perhaps this is the unconscious mind?

Then, we have a second, SEPARATE reference frame, in which time is EXPANDED. From this reference frame, we can look at ourselves in the other reference frame, and we see time expanded as the spatial entity. Past, Present, Future. Is this the conscious mind?

It's almost as if these are dimensions. The first starts out as a line, perhaps, and then the second, a perpendicular, is added to make the next dimension, the next expansion. Where's the next perpendicular?

Also, and interesting thought: When we dream, we are unconscious. When we dream, time is 'warped, distorted'.

Ok. well, I think that's about as much as I want to say, and I am sure more than you wanted to read. I dunno. Maybe it's worth a look, maybe it's trash. Your thoughts?

Name: Jen Sheeha
Date: 2004-02-16 02:26:38
Link to this Comment: 8195

Meg discussed her impressions of Mayr's passage on altruism in her post, expressing a confusion that was similar to mine. I had never conceived of altruism being in any way related to evolution, especially given the randomness of evolution. Mayr, after establishing how natural selection should not be invoked as an explanation, goes on to say (on P. 259), "Genuine ethics is the result of the thought of cultural leaders. We are not born with a feeling of altruism toward outsiders, but acquire it through cultural learning. It requires the redirecting of our inborn altruistic tendencies towards a new target: outsiders."

In Anne's group on Thursday, Elizabeth brought up (and I can't remember the exact context -- sorry!) how the quintessential quality of self-awareness and consciousness is guilt...and how self-aware a being or species is can be determined by the extent to which that being/species experiences it. I've always seen an inextricable connection between guilt and altruism, given my belief that there is really no such thing as pure altruism. When you help an old blind lady across the street, aren't you at least in part motivated by the desire to maintain your conviction in your own goodness, and the knowledge of the guilt you'd feel if you failed to live up to certain moral standards? When you help work at a soup kitchen, aren't you at least in part motivated by the desire to make yourself feel better, and by a sense of guilt that you have so much compared to the homeless and poor?

I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this, other than to explain (rather simplistically) the connections I'm seeing. Human altruism is a byproduct of guilt. Guilt is a byproduct of self-awareness, and an ability to conceive of a more fluid time than simply the present; it's our awareness of the past and future that makes us feel guilty about past actions and how we should behave in the here and now. Our self-awareness is a byproduct of our species' evolution, though of course this leads back to Aia's question of where did consciousness come from in the first place. In any case, I know this isn't what Mayr was getting at when he linked altruism to evolution, but that's the link I saw.

I would have liked Mayr to discuss more aspects of human evolution -- how our species attained the level of self-awareness and speech it did, and why. Would he consider these characteristics to have come about mostly by random chance or by necessity (adaption)? (On P. 228, he asks that question with regard to overall evolution, and I'm curious as to how it would apply specifically to those aspects of humans which make us "unique")

More on altruism
Name: Mary
Date: 2004-02-16 03:58:01
Link to this Comment: 8197

One of the topics in Mayr's book that I wonder about is human behavior and it's relationship to genetics, more globally phrased, culture and its relationship to evolution.
On pages 257-59, Mayr's states that an altruistic tendency towards family and close insiders is innate, although an altruistic tendency towards outsiders is not automatically produced by evolution. According to Mayr, we redirect our genetic tendency, of altruism towards family and close insiders into altruism towards outsiders, because of cultural teachings. Can we redirect our genetic tendencies??? Can we learn behaviors in response to the environment without having genetics directly spell out this behavioral tendency? Might culture develop separately from genes? It always seemed to me that all behaviors have a bit of nature (genetic dictation or predisposition) and nurture (environmental influences). Maybe Mayr is right though. I find further support for his argument in the fact that humans sometimes choose not to have children. This seems to be a behavior going against what the genes would dictate. It intrigues me to wonder about how evolution and culture interact. I always thought of culture as a direct extension of our evolved physical nature. But if Mayr is right, there is room between evolution and culture for free will.

during the tango of objectivity and subjectivity,
Name: Mary
Date: 2004-02-16 04:16:31
Link to this Comment: 8198

I enjoyed Mayr's version of the Evolution story. He weaved observations together masterfully, even if he had his beliefs interjected here and there. I thank Professor Grobstein for pointing to some of Mayr's belief systems. It will make me a more observant story reader in the future, one that listens to the story -- not just as it is told, but also listens to the story and wonders -- why it's told the way it is.

Mayr's interjections of his beliefs into his story, reminded me that all science stories are partially based on observation, and partially author imprinted. Mayr's contemporary mindset, needs and culture embellished his version of evolution. Although perhaps there is some truth in this scientific story, and maybe we can account for a small amount of bias (like in statistics), and claim that this story represents an accurate estimate of the truth. The story of Evolution does have a ton of observations and rationality supporting it. Oh, but then I think of the principal of uncertainty, the theory that we cannot 'simply observe' and report truthfully what an observation actually -- IS--because our method of observation always infects the observation. Well, I guess then, that we will have to account for a bit more bias. As well, we, readers contribute to the story of Evolution, embellishing it along the way with our own mindsets, etc.... We create the story as we learn it, recall it and retell it.

QUESTION: I wonder why the majority of stories on evolution
that are being told
and remembered,
use competition as the dominant pattern of Evolution? It is a story being told as 'survival of the fittest'.
QUESTION: Why not think of evolution as survival of the luckiest random change? Not a good enough sound bite? No, I bet there is more to it than that.

Are scientific stories advancing humanity firmly toward the truth? The way I see it, the scientific story of Evolution is a great story. It has biases and belief systems intermixed, but it does seem to have truth mixed in as well.

Name: reeve
Date: 2004-02-16 09:33:14
Link to this Comment: 8202

Before commenting on Mayr, I just wanted to weigh in on the discussion that we've been having about using a different word or phrase to describe what has been taught as evolution in schools. I agree that there is so much in a name- powerful associations, assumptions, etc., but if we are trying to disassociate innacurate assumptions from the story of evolution, it seems to me that changing the name of what is being taught is a cop out- if the way evolution (by a new name) is taught does not change to more accurately represent the story, then the new name will eventually become just as frought with the same old problematic associations.

Two things from Mayr. 1) What did you think of Mayr's explanation of human races (pg. 262-3)? I'm not sure I'm satisfied with his version. I think there is a lot more to understanding the social construction of race and the absence of a biological basis for race.
2) In appendix A Mayr lists one unanswered question that persists within evolutionary theory. This question has to do with the complexity of genotypes and various levels of resistance to recombination. I would like to better understand this persisting question and the extent of the unknown that it represents in evolutionary theory.

Name: Susan
Date: 2004-02-16 15:40:08
Link to this Comment: 8215

I guess my question encompasses all of page 230. I don't get the point he is trying to make... it seems as though he is contradicting all that he says about evolution being random... how can man be "more or less and accident" but not really an accident at all? This is not as well thought our as some other questions posed here on the forum, but he why he is phrasing things in this paragraph really bugs me.

This book...
Name: Nancy
Date: 2004-02-16 20:30:23
Link to this Comment: 8229

Well, I guess first I should say that I am not a religious person at all. Having said that, I am surprised at how this book treats the idea of formal religion. One of my pet peeves is when academics decide that they not only exist in direct opposition to an idea (ie creationism), but they create a stigma such that anyone who does believe in the idea (in this case, some christians) seems pedestrian or beneath them. As if their belief is not just a notion they subscribe to, but rather something that one MUST come to if they are intellectually capable.
I HATE THAT I think Dennett and this professor would become fast friends.

I guess because I am from small town, bible belt, Georgia, I know a good lot of people who go to church every Sunday and thank God for creating them, the grass, their dog. I think Dennett's approach to creationism (saying that in its most basic form it is something that only an insane, deluded person would believe in) is exactly the kind of 'othering' (organizing categories to delineate who is in the outgroup vs who is 'right') that keeps more people from venturing into the world of evolution.

The Copernicus analogy, (near the very beginning of the book), seemed to hint that religion is 'behind the times', so to speak, and that in a hundred years or so, new scholars will be scoffing at the ridiculousness of the naivite of it all.

I suppose thats all for now. I''m not sure about this book; I feel suspicious if it and almost as if I'm being tricked. Maybe I will think of a better way to explain this later....

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-02-17 00:29:53
Link to this Comment: 8238

When Mayr talks about the probability of life other than us existing, somewhere out in the universe, he seems quite confident that it does. He also seems quite confident that it isn't anything we can talk to. This seems awfully bleak to me. It also seems somehow related to his beliefs on religion.

Perhaps it's odd to view belief in aliens in the same way as belief in God, but there are parallels. You get your hard-core contingent, the religious fundamentalists on one side and the SETI people on the other, and you get your more casual believers, people who celebrate Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny or think Star Trek is really cool. Mayr, skeptic about everything except science as he is, thinks they're all being silly.

This brings up a lot of questions for me. For example, what does Mayr believe in? Does everyone have to really believe in something other than the cold hard facts around them? That one's a yes, of course, he has to believe what his senses, unreliable as they always are, tell him. Is it silly to believe in God or intelligent aliens? Is one sillier than the other? How about believing in fairies? I suppose fairies are closer to us, easier to disprove, not as flexible. By flexible I mean that if we find out God didn't do something people used to think he did, like create each and every species, He's still God, He just did something different with His time. If there aren't aliens on Mars, they could still live on Alpha Centari (small furry creatures from Alpha Centari for evah! Okay, I'll stop). Fairies, on the other hand, can be more easily disproved since they're supposed to live closer.

Of course, just because something is disproved to one person doesn't mean it's completely disproved. Mayr is clearly convinced through and through that Creationism is disproved, but I bet you could get a religious fundamentalist to read through this book and they'd still be convinced that all the creatures were set down as they are now six thousand years ago in Eden.

Name: Fritz Dubu
Date: 2004-02-17 01:43:09
Link to this Comment: 8243

On page 239 Mayr states that there is no real fossiil evidence to act as the backbone of understanding human evolution. Does this lack of information create a need for compensation. By not having a full documentable history are humans then guilty of over compesation?

time and ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-02-17 10:07:50
Link to this Comment: 8248

Bethany and I had a great conversation the other day about the whole time matter. Here's some of what I wrote to her after:

My version of your new story, inevitably now with my spin on it, for you/me/whatever (I find it helps me to write these things down, like you did, but of course that also changes them, so ... this is to see where we go next):

If we think of the brain as working in terms solely of the present producing the next present, then the past exists only insofar as it is represented in the present and the future doesn't yet exist (more or less from language group, right?)

Therefore, only the present is "real", and the notion of time as a location, standard in physics, is odd (your notion from physics class, anticipated in last year's time symposium; see for the "block model" vs "naive model" distinction and for my thoughts about this in re brain).

Importantly, this inference presumes a non-deterministic universe, ie there is nothing "odd" about the block model if the every present absolutely determines the next future and has been absolutely determined by the previous past. In that case, knowing the way the brain works just illustrates a limitation of the brain; that the brain is locked in the present is the problem/limitation for humans; that is the oddity, not the notion of time as a location. That's interesting in its own right ... it matters a lot whether one starts the story with the brain or with physics.

Things look different from different reference frames, so maybe the two ways of seeing time are the same thing represented in different reference frames (you from physics, yes?) Two diverging (?) tracks from there, one you started down from physics, the metaphor from physics of time differing in different reference frames .... perhaps still worth pursuing but we ran into a block since those time variations occur to a noticeable extent only at large relative velocities.

The other the flatland (csem, story evol) idea that new spaces can come into being/be created by drawing a perpendicular to existing spaces. If the brain had a way of noticing that the state of locations in itself were particular values out of an infinite array of possible values, then it would bring into existence a perpendicular for some (all) locations, and, in so doing, lay a groundwork for subsequently creating the idea of time (in pursuit of finding an explanation of the particular state it observes in itself in the present). Along this track, one part of the brain creates the block model of time as an offshoot of its effort to make sense of changes in another part of the brain; time as a location is a by-product of story telling.

Lots of possible routes of exploration, new stories, seem to be to be radiating out from all this. Thanks to Bethany, all for bringing it into being.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-17 13:19:46
Link to this Comment: 8249

regarding bethany and Prof. Grobstein's ceonversation:
TS Eliot writes that 'time past and time future all exist in time present.'The only reality is in the present; the past and the future are both imagined. the only thing that exists separate from the human mind, the only thing that is NOT spacially limited is the present, while the past and the future are 'caught in the form of limitation,' caught in a vocabulary, caught in the human mind. but this present moment is fleeting and you cannot 'catch it' if you are thinking to yourself, 'i want to catch the present moment,' you'll miss it, because by the time this thought is formulate and fit into words and vocalized to the self the moment is gone. the only time the present is caught is in the unconcious moment. in the flash of winter lightning. in music heard so deeply that it isn't heard at all. when you 'lose yourself in the music: the moment.' in this present moment exists all possibility of the future and the past.

thank you for such an interesting topic... can't wait to talk more about it... :)

MORE about sex
Name: Kat
Date: 2004-02-17 14:35:24
Link to this Comment: 8251

Mayr states that: "It [asexual reproduction] has evolved independently, again and again, in unrelated groups, but soon becomes extinct. No matter what the selesctive advantage of sexual reproduction is, that it must have an advantage is clearly indicated by the consistent lack of success of asexuality."

My interest in this quote became stronger when I began to think about sexual reproduction as representative of interaction/togetherness and asexual reproduction as isolation/uniqueness. Isn't it interesting, then, that a tendency towards interdependence would be biologically prefered, despite the drastically increased "efficiency" of asexual reproduction?

some poetry for ya'all
Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-17 16:47:02
Link to this Comment: 8254

most interesting part of the class, for me, came in the last -minute, high-speed explanation of consious existence. damn! scientists beleive that there are two sections of the brain? one that makes us do what we do and another that tells stories about ourselves to explain what we do? oh man. so so many question come up....
does that mean that what we do is not consiously thought out, rather our actions are interprated by our consiousness? so there is no free will? so everything is impulse? and we do things on a whim? and we tell stories about why we did these things after the fact? and we might interprate it as something that we had been thinking about doing and 'consiously' did, but really that's only a story about why it was done? in that case are we responsible for anything that we do?

also, when in the human evolution did this consious part of the brain evolve? and is this consious part the part that as mayr says defines us as husmans? or is it the other part?

and i like the scientific definition of consiousness, but then what is self -consiouness? it seems as though there is not a diferentiation between the two.
and did grobstein say that the primary mind (the one without consiousness) is the one that does not have a sense of time? or is it the consious mind?
and i'm wondering if time is a manmade construction that doesn't actually exist.
and TS Eliot is a god.
and i'll just quote to you for a while:

"time past and time future / what might have been and what has been / point to one end, which is always present."
"at the still point of the turning world. neither flesh nor / fleshless; / neither from not toward; at the still point, there the dance / is, / But neither arrest nor movement. and do not call it fixity, / where past and future are gathered."
"Time past and time future / allow but a little consiousness / TO BE CONSIOUS IS NOT TO BE IN TIME."
or is it that time is what is and consiousness, this second brain, is not real? is this second brain manmade?

and then he writes, "words move, music moves / only in time; but that which is only living / can only die. words, after speech, reach / into the silence."
we move, we evolve, we tell our stories, say our words to escape this "only living" which "can only die." there is something else that i am missing. we live for meaning. and we are always scrambling to acheive this meaning. we are under the impression that more life may enable us to acheive this meaning. if i were convinced that my life had meaning NOW then i would be content to die. but, no one is content to die, no one feels as though their life has meaning.
life is not 'just wanting more,' change is essential, movement and breath are essential. words cannot just pin, they move in the silence, are digested and processed, and destroy US.
oh man, please read eliot's four quartets, i am forced to paraphrase for the sake of space but he talks about how he (the god of writing in the past century) has waisted his time trying to be precise with words and he inevitably fails because time moves and when he tries to peirce the moment with words the moment is already gone. he writes that words are 'shabby equitment always deteriorating" and his feelings are left as "undisciplined squads of emotion" - IS THIS LIFE WITHOUT CONSIOUSNESS? IS THIS LIFE WITHOUT THE SECOND BRAIN? are words a tool we use to discipline ourselves?
we tell these stories and they inevitably fail because ourSELVES, and words and moments move and are never stagnant enough to capture. but FOR US THERE IS ONLY THE TRYING, for us there is only the story telling.
and i think what he is argue is that we tell stories, we try to discipline, we try to live out of time and this is our futile attempt to make meaning, but the only place to have meaing is "the unattended moment, the moment in and out of time, the distraction fit, lost in a shaft of funlight, the wild thyme unseen , or the winter lightning of the waterfall, or music heard so ddeply that it is not heard at all, but you are the music while the music lasts. "
LIFE=MEANING. we are the meaning that we are searching for.
((i have not idea what that means, but i trust elliot.))
thanks for helping me to think all that!
ps sorry for all the englishy stuff...this class is crosslisted...

this actually makes a little sense, i think
Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-18 11:43:54
Link to this Comment: 8263

reading over my last post i realize that i didn't proofread enough (i unually don't proofread...but, this last one was incomprehensible) so, a cut and pasted, highlighted version of my mind for you: could eliot be telling us to contract evolution, return to a time when we are only impuse? but at the same time he is the master of indulging in self-consiouness. we are desperate for contraction (damn consiousness), but since life disallows us to contract we are forced to expand. we reach out in a desperate search to find what is within.... we desire commonality.... someone to understand and relate to our individual story...there is no middle ground between contraction and expansion. no stasis. we can't "just live," we are ever expanding and contracting, always breathing and pulsing.
also, i realize that my little outburst of "and i'm wondering if time is a manmade construction that doesn't actually exist" might not make any sense. an explanation:
if, eliot is correct in saying that all reality exists in the present moment: if the possibility of the future and the memory of the past are the only aspects of time that truely exist, then eternity exists in the present moment. and how can time be linear if everything is in the NOW? what is time if it isn't linear..... ((i don't have any clue...just thinking)). also, last nigtt i went to this beauty symposium and was thinking in relation to our class. i think we all tell stories about what we think is beautiful. a chemist tells her story, a biologist tells his, a psycholanalyst tells hers, a writer tells his. and we all tell different stories. but, when it really gets down to it we are describing the same feeling. we might not have the same ideas of what beauty is and we might not be describing the same thing, but the feeling we all get is the same (maybe?). i listened to a chemist talk about the beauty of molecules and didn't see that beauty in the computerized molecules that she showed, but i listened to what she was saying and realize that i'd say the same thing about what i find beautiful. and this bring me back to the question from my religion class that is ALWAYS on my mind: what stories to we tell our selves in order to be ourselves...and i tell the story in the beauty of words, and you tell the story of the beauty of molecules, but i think we are all feeling the same thing. and maybe this feeling of beauty is the mind without consiousness. we FEEL something and REACT, relate this feeling to the outside world, try to control it with words, or computerized diagrams or charts ....

freud and the brain
Name: nancy
Date: 2004-02-18 20:58:12
Link to this Comment: 8275

So, I'm taking this psych class about personality and we have been reading nothing but freud so far, and its really interesting. So freud basically thinks of thoughts as being organized into separate parts as well. We have memories that we can easily access (the conscious), those that we cannot access, except by psychoanalysis of dreams etc (the unconscious), and then something called the preconscious, which we can't readily access, but we can get to it when something jogs our memory.

The other day, in class, as I was mulling over things from my corner, I was struck by an interesting idea for my paper. I run the risk of admitting I haven't formally begun my paper yet, but I think it is going to be some sort of synthesis of evolution/freud/and the idea of a shared or collective nature of the unconscious that contains enough similarity to allow us to evolve. I know its kind of foggy, it is to me at this point, but i think I can get somewhere with this!

I guess I am writing this because it's strange that scientists recognize the parts of the brain that control the unconscious, but in a completely different way. I guess it may just be the way I am prepared to use 'conscious' and 'unconscious' right now. hmm.

ps-- I hate dennett less. hes pretty smart, i guess

Name: Heather Da
Date: 2004-02-19 02:38:08
Link to this Comment: 8286

I found the subject of altruism, which was brought up at the end of class, very interesting. From what I got, people used to say that altruism doesn't make sense because the more selfish people would survive more and therefore contribute more to the next gene pool, therefore becoming a greater and greater percentage. This is assuming that altruism/selfishness can be inherited. Buy now people don't believe that altruism has anything to do with personal survival? Or maybe it contributes to it? I don't know. But it made me think of a conversation I had this weekend. My friend asked me if I thought the human race is fundamentally flawed. I questioned her definition of perfection(moral perfection?), and told her that because I don't think perfection exists, that yes, humans are "flawed." But we were talking specifically in the context of race relations and segregation. Can we hope that things will ever get better? I say yes, but I don't know. That is a "story that I tell myself to be myself" to qoute Orah :). And this brings me to a different conversation I had with the same friend. (this may be completely off topic, but interesting)...We talked about Friere, who said in a nutshell, that you can never count on the "oppressors" to free the "oppressed" because they only want to help so much as they are still in the position to help, they want to be charitable only to the extent that they can still be in the position to be charitable because it makes them feel good to be in a dominant position with an ability to help. They don't want to give up their position/power of charity-giving. My friend was telling me about this activity she did with a group of volunteers. They had to play tug-o-war, but were put into one group of three and one of one. They wanted to make it more fair, so the leader said they could add more to one team only if they added more people to the other. So, one person was added to each group. The fourth person refused to go to the stronger team because she didn't want to make it more unfair, and so they played, and the bigger team won, and won a bag of smarties. It might have been because they were in the context of a volunteer group, but the winning group decided to share the smarties with everyone. Then they discussed how this related to the world and what they were doing as volunteers. They said it was their responsibility, as people with more power/priviledge to share their smarties(metaphor for knowledge etc). So, we talked about how it was interesting that they never discussed the resposibility of giving up power rather than giving up the privelidges that come with that power. So (sorry for the long story), maybe this relates to evolution in that there are two different types of altruism, one still being fundamentally selfish, and perhaps that is the one that has evolved, leaving a world of "altruistic" people that don't really want to see dramatic change.

ps-I found this definition of Altruism interesting: "Instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental to the individual but contributes to the survival of the species."

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-02-19 20:51:55
Link to this Comment: 8298

Hey, Paul, could you cover memes in class? I feel like it is an essential concept in the Dennett text but I fear that I don't fully comprehend it. I find that the most useful part of this week's reading has been the summary part at the end of each chapter because I keep getting bogged down by his use of metaphors throughout the rest of the book. I need the stripped down, concise version of the meme.

Thought and Language
Name: c. sante
Date: 2004-02-20 01:08:14
Link to this Comment: 8304

At the end of class today, in between the beautiful wedding ceremony between profs. dalke and grobstein and the let's impeach the bryn mawr president speech, a question was raised that continues to puzzle me: Are thought and language inextricably linked? My initial response is that, yes, they are. This response comes from my inability to conceive of my own thinking indepedent of linguistic ties. I understand the arguments raised such as the fact that language is learned and thought is not, and so therefore it should follow that thought can (and does?)exist prior to language acquisition. I can see how babies have thought processes before they are able to articulate experience through words; i understand how experiencing a tree as the mere existence of the physical manifestion that has come to be known as a tree is possible, however, i still cannot conceptualize developed human thought independent of langauge. I am sure that the difficulties I am having stem from the fact that I cannot seem to remove my own experience of thought (and its seemingly inherent link to language in my own mind)from the more philosophical question at hand. I was wondering what other people thought about this...

Errors in Dennett...according to Dennett
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-02-20 06:47:48
Link to this Comment: 8305

Found this link to Daniel Dennett's own list of errors (as of 6/97) in Darwin's Dangerous Ideas.

the evolution of a creation story
Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-20 10:26:37
Link to this Comment: 8310

yesterday grobstein's section talked about creation stories in which things started with consiousness, an intention, a wish, and stories that started with an impulse, without consiousness.
grobstein mentioned the begining of the christian story of creation, "in the begining was the word and the word was with god and the word was god." i emailed him a quick clarification after class tha this is not the jewish creation story. the jewish creation story starts with "the world was formless and void." quite a difference, but i didn't think it was quite relevant, this being a sciency class and the differentiation between religions cannot be so important.
BUT, i thinking last night i realize that this is as relevant as it gets when it comes to THE EVOLUTION OF STORIES. Before the common era the jews and christians were one sect...the creation myth of this sect was "in the begining the world was a formless void." there was no word. like what stef and i mentioned about annie dillard: it was as if everything was seen through the eyes of an infant who has not yet learned words and therefore does not verbalize upon immediate sight.
but then the gospel of john was written c.80-90ce and the writer wrote that in the begining was not a formless void, but rather, the most formed thing there is: the word.
i'd argue that this word signifies that there IS absolute truth in the beginning of the christian creation myth. while in the jewish one there is no absolute, rather there are color patches
.....................still mulling over the implication of this.

have a wonderful weekend, friends! (( especially the froshies ))

the evolution of a creation story
Name: Charles Da
Date: 2004-02-20 15:40:49
Link to this Comment: 8319

Orah, your post Date: 2004-02-20 10:26:37 (Message Id: 8310) was very insightful to me. So I must ask:

Could these two accounts be of two seperate beginnings? AND
Could the genus beginning have brought about somethings that were not "selected", therefore requiring a new beginning? OR
Could it be argued that, together, they allude to part of the evolution of "GOD"?

Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-02-21 07:31:36
Link to this Comment: 8328

Thoughts without words...At first, I was sure that I couldn't imagine any, but then the thought that my field of inquiry was limited to one measly brain (mine) was unsettling...

I found an abstract of a book called "Thinking Without Words" by José Luis Bermúdez. He begins with a familiar phrase, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" and uses it as the springboard to discuss inference and presumption as an aspect of thought. As an aside, I don't even think the quote needs a question mark.

Which led me to thinking about games of chess and tennis (or even complex, real-time negotiation maneuvers in cross-cultural settings...), where I don't think I think in words before making moves. Or what about when we enter a classroom and pick where to sit—do we think in words before picking our spot?

But, but, but...did evolving abilities to speak lead to further refinement of the brain and to the capacity for thought, or vice versa? Is "internalized thought" different in some important ways from thought without out words?

Speech is food for thought. Thought is food for speech...and what is it with proverbs?

Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-02-21 07:59:03
Link to this Comment: 8330

Me again...

Altruism according to American Heritage: (1)"Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness;" OR 2) "Zoology. Instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental to the individual but contributes to the survival of the species." The word can be found in both Greek (allos) and Latin (alter) root words, which mean "other."

It's the second meaning that got me going and posting again. Zoology. Animals exhibit altruism: bees die when they sting in order to their hive, ants go to war to protect their colony, mama bears protect their cubs.

Then there's that word, "INSTINCTIVE"...

Which got me thinking about aggression as the flip side of the coin. Darwin certainly allowed for aggression...survival of the fittest, struggle for survival at the level of the species. He speculated that the altruists in a species would die off (taking this trait with them) because of their selflessness. For example, think about a collective of animals that slows reproduction among its members when food supplies are short for a long period of time. Bet ya it's the altruistic ones that elect to curtail reproducing themselves.

Is altruism different in humans? Do thought and speech play a role? Is it also physiological, e.g., testosterone contributing aggression from some versus altruism from others--as two very different ways to achieve the same goal, i.e., "contribute to the survival of the species"?

Correction to last post
Name: ro. finn
Date: 2004-02-21 08:09:23
Link to this Comment: 8331

Hit the post key too soon...The last paragraph in the message above is confusing. It should read:

Is altruism different in humans? Do thought and speech play a role? Is it also physiological, e.g., the level of testosterone in a person (both men and women have and use testoserone) that tips a person's instinct towards aggression or altruism --as two very different ways to achieve the same goal, i.e., "contribute to the survival of the species"?

thought and language, science and religion, physic
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-02-21 08:34:55
Link to this Comment: 8334

Want to toss into the mix two reviews from the 2/26/04 New York Review of Books. The first speaks to the questions several of you pose above about the relation of thought and language (see "the redemptive power of language" for a review of a just-republished book by Helen Keller). The second is a new book by Richard Dawkins, A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hopes, Lies, Science and Love, which pushes the idea of a selfish replicator beyond genes to cultural entities (those "memes" Dennett talks about at such length). Dawkins is a well-known science-booster/religion-basher; this reviewer tries to get him out of that bind/binary by saying that "scientific beliefs are propositions about the state of the world; religious beliefs are an attempt to attach meaning or value to the world. Religion and science thus move in different dimensions." I think the questions so many of you asked this week--about how we can move from biological changes over time to altruism--suggests that we, as a class, are not quite ready to dis-attach the study of the phsycial universe from discussions of meaning, value and ethics. Understanding the first DOES seem to us to have important implications for the second...

keep on reading Dennett. And stay tuned for further discusion of altruism on Tuesday--

My current state
Name: Mary
Date: 2004-02-22 03:27:29
Link to this Comment: 8346

Wow, what beautiful ideas are floating around in this forum! Thanks for the TS Eliot too!
I was sparked by Bethany's talk of input and output, and the lack of the past and the future in the current state. It made me feel like a current of electricity moving through a wire. My past did exist but it was played out in a current state before, but now I am moving on, a smooth three-dimensional soft object of energy, along with and part of the vibrations and movement of everything else. What a dynamic current state it is! We are so capable of feeling it. These emotions and consciousness we have evolved are pretty intense. And we use our words to capture these fleeting moments. Orah's TS Eliot says it well for me "words move, music moves / only in time; but that which is only living / can only die. words, after speech, reach/ into the silence. we move, we evolve, we tell our stories, say our words to escape this "only living " which "can only die."

Words try to capture the fleeting moments, and some wonderful poetry does slow it down for us to take a better look, ...but we continue to travel as electricity, and continue to experience. More words come. Words also on a continuum of time, the past words effect present words, which affects future words. (What you have all said in the forum is effecting my present words which will somehow effect the future words). We move, we evolve, we tell our stories...and the stories move and evolve because they are part of us. They are a function of our structure. I think the function of speech/storytelling has evolved because it helps us to survive better when we work together with others through communication. It just so happens that we have these other adaptive functional components called emotions and they have the ability to intertwine with speech/storytelling, hence storytelling's search for meaning, or expression of beauty, or fear, or happiness. And it all happened by chance. Quite remarkable isn't it? Of course, this is the way my story goes.

c. sante asks: Are thought and language inextricably linked? ... is thinking independent of linguistic ties ...

Ro gives her examples of thinking without words –tennis and chess, etc.. Makes me think of that 'in the zone feeling' when I am focused deeply with the experience of the current state. I've been there in tennis also Ro. And I've been there in the zone of thought and no language at other times – like when I read Orah's question from a previous posting – "How can we live believing that we are going to die someday and be nothing – not exist?" My mind responded by going into a deep place where I could feel some weight of the troublesome unknown. I could also feel the inhibiting force of shock that occurs when something is too painful to realize. Death........................Basically, I was just feeling. I was having a thought formulated by my emotions. Really there are no words to adequately relay how I felt. (I'm no TS Eliot). I feel like that a lot though. That my words are inadequate to describe the depth of my thoughts/feelings. So I guess, c. sante, I do feel that thought and language are separate from one another.

swimming with(?) the tide
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-02-22 11:10:53
Link to this Comment: 8347

Yep, as per Orah and following, a number of interesting issues arose in our thursday section, in and around the question of whether we did or did not need to presume an "intention" at the beginning of the evolutionary process. Leaving aside the issue of whether there WAS one or not, does there NEED to be one to account for what has happened since? And THAT led in turn to the question of whether "intention" or "meaning" depended on language (the WORD)and THAT in turn led to the question of whether thinking can occur without words (a question for which Helen Keller's experiences, among other things) is relevant.

So, seems to me that we need to talk a bit more not only about altruism, but also about where "word" comes from and how it relates to intention/meaning ... and consciousness (and "memes"?). Let's see what we can do with all that on Tuesday. Feel free, of course, to add whatever thoughts you're having, on that or anything else, between now and then.

music heard so deeply...
Name: em
Date: 2004-02-22 12:48:56
Link to this Comment: 8350

i like mary's idea of a current... but i feel in a lot of ways, our lives and how we view time relate to heisenberg's (?) uncertainty principle (oh, how ironic...): if we are in the moment, then we cannot know anything except that moment. however, if we are looking at context, then we can never truly be in the moment. i find this most strikingly in my musical activities-- in one concert last spring, i found myself so totally focused on the individual notes that i was playing that i lost all sense of continuity. all that mattered was the note and the vibrato and the timbre: when i finished playing, i had no idea how the performance had gone because i had no context, only that intense electric (there's the current...) moment of finger to string.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-02-22 14:53:37
Link to this Comment: 8356

Let me tell you a story..

Two cars pull up to a red light. One car has a Jesus fish on the back, the other car sports a Darwin fish. The car with the Jesus fish revs its engine. The light changes and the cars speed off in competition. After a few moments the cars reach a cliff at the edge of the mountain. The car with the Jesus fish tumbles down the side and crashes. Simultaneously, the car with the Darwin fish coasts off of the side, sprouts wings, and flies away.

My friend is making a short film using this narrative. When she told me this story I immediately thought that I needed to share it with all of you. Do with it what you will, I'm only asking that you consider it. It speaks to me because I often observe this type of arrogance in devoutly religious people. I don't mean to attack Christianity at all, I of course think that this attitude is just as prevalant in my own religion. What do you all think? Do you read this story the same way that I do?

on jesus, eliot, swimming, and absolute truth
Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-22 16:47:03
Link to this Comment: 8359

let me continue your story, diane....
the darwin car keeps flying...he flies higher and higher, he flies so so high that he realizes that all there is up there is space, there is nothing that loves him or wants him to succeed and so he tries to come back to earth where there are people and things that care about him, but he's stuck up there is space, alone. meanwhile, the jesus car crashes to the bottum. he is very severly wounded and might die at any moment. he falls into a pained sleep and dreams of jesus his savior coming down. jesus is with this man as he dies. ((just an alternative)).
mary wrote, " I'm no TS Eliot." if you feel like a failure when using words you are a TS Eliot. he writes, "So here i am, in the middle way, having had twently years- / twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres- / trying to learn to use words, and every attempt / a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure / because one has only learnt to get the better of words / for the thing one no longer has to say." he says that words are "a raid on...undisciplines squads of emotion." so, i guess, no one is eliot, himself, but we feel what he feels, right? not too shabby.
also, i think it's interesting how prof. grobstein titled his posting, "swimming with(?) the tide." and the first thing i think of is the last line of gatsby, "we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." and i also think about michael cunningham's book "the hours" he writes of a man dying of aids whose friend is trying to convince him not to commit suicide and she says: you still have good days, right? the dying man responds,yes, "but there are still the hours, aren't there? one and then another, and you get through that one and then, my god, there's another." and there is this sense in living of being innundated with time, and sometimes it feels like we're choking on it, there's just too much, and i wish, sometimes, that it would just stop and let me catch my breath. and now i wonder: what is this that we drown in? i think, most definatly, that we are not swimming with anything, current or tide. rather, the future continues to receed before us and we continue, borne against this something (is it time? or nature? or god?).
and finally, i've been thinking a lot about absolute truth, and talking about it in a lot of my classes. and it seems that the politically correct academic response to absolute truth is that there is none. but i am very resistent to that idea. there must be absolute truth. i said in one of my religion classes that an absolute truth is that the holocaust was WRONG. that's it. it's just true. people argue that though i'm right in saying that it does not mean it's an absolute truth. what the hell else is it? i don't really know what this implies though. i just know that there must be some law in nature, that science can't reach, that says genocide is wrong. period. that's one of the reasons that i beleive there must be a force outside of science...because there are things about this world that are so terrible and so wonderful that i cannot conceive of their not being recognized. i don't know. this is probably just a human defense mechanism on my part, but i cannot stand to live in a world where the sublime is not recognized. maybe it's not rational. but i think it's true.

((ps get involved in your community for traditions))

oh yeah ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-02-22 18:47:30
Link to this Comment: 8363

p.s. to my earlier

Forgot to mention another interesting idea that arose this week: the notion that origin myths might have but don't NEED to have a time dimension to them. Some explanatory stories account for things in terms of patterns in the present instead of by history. Something is here because something else is there and some other thing is in a third place and the original something therefore has to be where it is because that's the PATTERN by which things are organized (this is another way to think of essentialism, of the story telling style favored by Plato and Aristotle, as opposed to the atomists).

So "story" (as per conversation with Anne in which this subject came up) can exist either with or without a narrative (ie time organized) form. And that in turn relates to an earlier conversation about differences between scientific and literary story telling. Science actually has an historical preference for the non-narrative story (don't tell me how you got to this view; tell me what the view is and what would most easily help me see it). And that's interesting because much of modern science (not only evolutionary thinking in biology) is being forced to deal with historical explanation. Despite which, it still attempts (in the sense just described) to "flatten" the story.

And THAT, of course, is interesting in re the earlier discussion of the brain and ITS flatness. So maybe flattening is the equivalent of "abstracting" and is essential to turn an historical explanation into something that can be "generalized", ie representing in a flat (no time axis) brain?

Yeah, a little cryptic (flat?). Maybe Anne will expand it.

Thursday notes
Name: julia
Date: 2004-02-22 20:46:30
Link to this Comment: 8366

While my notebook didn't get very much use in Thursday's class, I sort of wanted to toss around the few but very interesting thoughts that did get noted amidst the madness. Perhaps others will find them interesting too. First was the idea of telling a story in the present... is it possible?... Prof. Grob. thinks he could do it in his description of the clock on the wall. but I didn't feel like that was really a story or at least not a good one, it felt more like an observation, but perhaps we would say an observation can be a story.

Another topic of interest was that we have no real memories; if i understand it correctly, we only have an imprinting in our mind of our body's state (emotional, physical, etc...) at the time of the memorable moment. It sounds like our brains are always piecing together and comparing imprints in order to translate into a "memory." So if we have no TRUE memories, only pieces and pieces that other people tell us, I wonder how much of my memories are untrue, and I know that they are fragmented. confusing.

Thirdly was this idea of having thoughts without having words. Possible? Immediately my mind goes back to the person that was brought up on Thursday, Helen Keller. Helen Keller must have had thoughts, she had emotions for sure, but they weren't words, or at least not words as we know them. Words as we know them... makes me think that so much of our knowledge must be somewhat limited in a way because of our need to translate everything to words. It seems to all come back to the wondering of what is being lost in this translation (excellent movie by the way)?

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-02-22 21:06:37
Link to this Comment: 8369

Werner Heisenberg [in Michael Frayn's play Copenhagen]: "you have no absolutely determinate situation in the world, which among other things lays waste to the idea of causality, the whole foundation of science--because if you don't know how things are today you certainly can't know how they're going to be tomorrow....."

Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea (p. 408): "the indeterminacy that...others see as a flaw in Darwininan account of the evolution of meaning is actually a precondition for any such evolution....Meaning, like a (typically gradual) shift of circumstances...."

As we turn our heads, w/ Dennett's assistance, towards questions about the relationship between the stories science tells us about the nature of the universe, the new things science's stories can bring about in the universe, and the moral and ethical questions that these stories and these newly-made things raise for us...

I want bring into the discussion a production I saw last night by Lantern Theater Company @ St. Stephen's Theater (10th and Sansom, in Center City). The play was Michael Frayn's Copenhagen, which is a performance of multiple "drafts" (=re-enactments) of a famous encounter in Copenhagen in 1943, between the great German physicist Werner Heisenberg and his one-time mentor/also great physicist, the Danish Niels Bohr.

Heisenberg (evidently) asked Bohr something along the lines of, "Does a physicist has a moral right to work on the practical exploitation of atomic energy?" Bohr was (evidently) horrified @ the question--and what it "meant" (was Heisenberg working on an atomic bomb for the Nazis? did he know that one could be made? did he not know what critical mass was needed to sustain an effective chain reaction? had he not done the calculations, or done them incorrectly? had he done them correctly, and hidden the knowledge from others, so the Nazis could not produce a bomb? was he trying to get information from Bohr about what the Americans were up to?)--all these possibilities still exist in the realm of speculation, and the play begins w/ Heisenberg, Bohr and Bohr's wife Margrethe, long dead (!), but still playing and re-playing all the possibilities....

There's a way in which the play, though very VERY cleverly written and adroitly performed, struck me as ultimately "closed"--a constant re-shuffling of the same bits of matter, the same characters, that didn't really invite (it may not even allow) the audience to bring new questions to it--and you know how I feel about closed systems!

On the other hand, some of its central ideas seemed to me wonderful extensions of our class discussion, and I want to record two of them here, as bookmarks we may want/I hope to return to as we get deeper and deeper into cultural and ethical questions (as extensions of science) in this course.

One of the things that Margrethe brings to the conversation is a very concrete, grounded and personal dimension (Carol Gilligan long ago, in In a Different Voice, named this perspective "a woman's voice," and I found myself wondering how different the play would have been w/ two of these rather than one of them....) Anyhow, Margrethe is continually applying the understandings of theoretical physics to matters of psychology, in ways I found quite illuminating. For instance, when Heisenberg says that "measurement is not an impersonal event that occurs with impartial universality. It's a human act, carried out...from the one particular viewpoint of a possible observer...the universe exists only...within the limits determined by our relationships with it. Only through the understanding lodged inside the human head, " Margrethe asks just who the man is whom he puts @ the center of the universe, and insists that the answer matters:

"If it's Heisenberg at the center of the universe, then the one bit of the universe that he can't see is it's no good asking him why he came to Copenhagen in 1941. He doesn't know!" [She then goes on to tell her husband,] "That was the last and greatest demand that Heisenberg made on his friendship with you. To be understood when he couldn't understand himself. And that was the last and greatest act of friendship for Heisenberg that you leave him misunderstood." This idea that NOT knowing another--allowing them the privacy of NOT being known--can be an act of friendship--intrigues me, and intersects strikingly w/ a just-gotten-very-lively discussion in the Graduate Idea Forum (also fed by Carol Gilligan) about the dance of human relationships: our complimentary desires both to be known and not-to-be.

Margrethe makes "psychological" sense not only of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle but also of Bohr's complimentarity principle (in shorthand: particles are things, complete in themselves; waves are disturbances in something else; the behavior of an electron can be understood completely only by descriptions in both wave and particle form, but we can't see both @ the same time, or, in Margrethe's words,) "If you'd doing something you have to concentrate on you can't also be thinking about doing it, and if you're thinking about doing it then you can't actually be doing it...."

Also known as tacit knowledge, what we know without knowing that we know it, what we CAN'T know by looking @ directly... which is a topic for another day....

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-02-22 21:52:35
Link to this Comment: 8373

Maybe Anne will expand it.

ALWAYS a dangerous invitation.

Picking up from Copenhagen, I'd say you could think about it this-a-way:

every idea can be understood either as a particle, a thing complete in itself (a scientific abstraction: concentrated, just what it looks like on the mountaintop, a birds' eye view), or as a wave, a disturbance in the universe (a humanistic expansion: a diffusion, an account of the whole landscape traversed to get there, seen from on-the-ground). So: when I explain an idea I have, I like to give a full account of how-I-got-there: I tell an elaborate story of where I was when who asked me what and why she said it and what I said back...that's the in-time account, one w/ a long history and lots of dimensions, lots of peaks and valleys. I'm not always sure just what should be foregrounded/what left in the background: it's not very selective, not "flattened" out @ all: it's not always clear which details in the story are the most important, so I keep them all in the telling, which is organized sequentially. (For an example, see Trees and Rhizomes.) In contrast, when Paul gives an account of an idea he has, he likes to begin just by saying what it IS and what's important in it, and then fill in w/ the observations/supporting data. All the historical details of how he got there/account of his journey/steps up the mountaintop aren't important in this sort of "flattened," out-of-time account, which is organized according to the pattern it makes. (For a contrastive example, see Emerging Emergence.)

This could be a scientist/humanist split, a male/female split, a conscious/unconscious split, an out-of-time/in-time split, a Platonic/historical split, a flattened/multi-dimensional split...or just (following Neils Bohr): complimentarity.

Two different ways of telling the same tale.

Sometimes the in-time narrative makes the better (=more useful) story;
sometimes it's the timeless numbers.

Language and Thought
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-02-22 23:25:48
Link to this Comment: 8379

I've thought about the connection between thought and language before. My uncle is a neurologist of some sort, and he spends a lot of time studying language and whether animals have it, which is why I occasionally spout large amounts of theories on that topic. My uncle thinks they don't that they merely have a few sounds or ideas attached to a few concrete objects and can't string together different ideas, and adjectives and verbs and thus into philisophical discourse on their own minds which we humans do, which would seperate us from them.

On human thought and language, though. Language is definitely a boost to thought, at least to some point. At another, later point, it is a constraint on thought. As a boost it gives us a way to clearly define foggy thoughts and feelings and using these clearly defined ideas, move them around and see how they relate to each other, and see if they might relate better in a different way and what it would mean if they did. This is, in my opinion, the basis of basic communiaction and higher thought, including everything that contributes to college.

Language is also a constraint, though. This is visible in the fact that some languages have words that there is no equivalent for in other languages. For example, what exactly does schadenfreude (sp?) mean? Or frisson? You may comprehend the idea behind those words, but if you tried to explain those ideas solely in English you'd have a hard time of it. So, then, what would you do if you wanted to discuss those ideas but didn't have the German or French word to help you out? And what of all the ideas that have no word to describe them in any language? I know there must be some, must be a lot. Languages are finite and I don't think ideas ever can be. Languages are compartmentalized into words and suffixes and prefixed; ideas are huge, multidimensional continuums. And our minds, used to thinking with the relatively clear, modular parts of language, have a hell of a time trying to handle all those ideas without words and we often give up, leaving those ideas left alone unless we can come up with a good enough definition to assign a new word to, which only sometimes works.

So language is not the perfect aid to advanced thought, but it seems to be the best we've come up with so far, and it must be admitted that it does a fine job, as far as it goes.

words words words
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-02-23 12:32:51
Link to this Comment: 8391

I'm thinking about Howard Gardner's ideas about multiple intellegences in conjunction with Ro's thoughts (then followed up by Mary and others) about whether or not language is needed in order to make certain decisions... the decisions in tennis, the decisions in chess, where to find a seat in the room, etc. In a Dennett approved fashion I'll tell my "waiting place for new questions" (answer/conclusion etc.) first and then work back to say what made me get to that place. I think that the unit of meaning common for all humans is the story. Humans tell stories but not necessarily with language... And that for someone with extreme kinesthetic intellegence, a gesture, rather than a word would be a unit of meaning. A story unit is brushwork on the canvas, a musical note, a look... i.e. a glance at a person etc. Certainly people get fixated with language because it is something which distinguishes us from animals but I think to focus so highly on language is not entirely productive... because we are also about non-verbal units of meaning. So after reading Ro's post about whether we think in words about where we are going to sit in class, I let my mind travel back to about five of the last classes that I had been too. I pictured myself walking into the classroom (almost always thinking about something other than the class content...), listening to the conversations that other people were having or in the examples where I was the first person in the class, looking out the window and thinking about light reflections or tree bark (if you're interested, I recommend looking outside of the EH lecture hall window at one large tree with this foliage growing on it... it exists that way in my imagination as the tangible representation of Tuesday evolution class but i wonder what about it. Am I just imagining it vividly now... when i go into class tomorrow is it going to be dead/changed?)and I was picturing room layouts and what things looked like and processing and thinking a lot but was I thinking in words about where I could sit? All I could conclude was that I was absolutely sure, every time that where I sat was not random; it was a DECISION (what is the role of decision human cultural evolution?) but yet I could not know for sure whether words like "I should sit here today because it's closer to the front and here because i want to walk out and talk to Ro about NIMBUS after class..." ever entered my mind. Was I thinking anything with words? I feel that all decisions have to be made based on units of meaning. But the units that I used were more spacially based... the story that I could recall about where I chose to sit in each instance involved pictures of room layouts and the color of the walls. Going back to Gardner I wonder if people have different units of meaning which they use more frequently... does someone with more physical/kinesthetic intellingence "think" in units of touch... does someone with intrapersonal intelligence think with deep, intuitive feelings... None of it's very clear cut but I do think it's important to know that there is so much more than language... which most likely works with language... they are units which work together in everyone, I imagine.

Feeling Thinking Language
Name: Lindsay
Date: 2004-02-23 12:36:33
Link to this Comment: 8392

I agree that thoughts are inextricably linked to language. What I don't know is whether this is the nature of the way we think or how we are taught to think...I am leaning towards the latter conclusion because I'm fairly certain we can all agree that we have feelings for which there are no words. Maybe we are taught to separate these two ways of "understanding" in our speech. You can say "I feel" or "I think" but in a story the two are beautifully united. I'm not sure if "understanding" is the best word to use because I don't think two people can ever comprehend a story in the exact same way. We cannot know exactly what a storyteller was thinking, as Orah demonstrates gorgeously as she struggles with Eliot, but I think that is what generates the evolution of stories. We fill in the gaps of language with new thoughts, and the stories change.

500 meter mark
Name: katherine
Date: 2004-02-23 12:53:49
Link to this Comment: 8393

"And what of all the ideas that have no word to describe them in any language?" -Elizabeth C.
That, I believe, is where TS Elliot and other poets come in. Poetry is the route that we humans can take to most closely define the undefinable. Maybe that's why we rarely understand poetry, and when we do it feels to fresh and satisfying.

Tagging on to the question: does language and thought have to go hand in hand, or can we have one without the other? I am reminded of a similar question posed in a novel, The Art of Motorcycle Maintainence, which goes as follows: if there were a child born alive, but without any of our five senses- no sight, sound, taste, touch, smell- and if this child, through care from others, lived to reach its eighteenth birthday, would this child be able to form any thoughts?
This hypothetical question makes me think about where my own thoughts come from. After pondering this for a while I begin to think, aren't my thoughts just responses to the environment around me- to the sights and smells, etc? If I didn't have any senses I conclude, I would not have any thoughts. I would just be a machine taking things in and spitting them out- as in food turned to waste.
But does thought need language? Do our mental processes always need articulation? How many of you (us) think in pictures instead of words? I often think to myself in pictures. If I am preparing for something, going through the phases of a boat race in my head, seeing the 500 meter markers, feeling the pull of the oar and the slide of the shell, I don't need words, I need images. But, if I am preparing someone else for a race, I need laugauge to prepare them, to describe exactally how dead tired they will be at the last 500 meters, but how they will- must- keep pushing anyway. Being such socially dependent animals we need language, but that doesn't mean that though needs language. Language, however, is used to communicate an idea, so yeah, wouldn't that NEED a prior thought?

Name: Perrin
Date: 2004-02-23 19:48:43
Link to this Comment: 8401

In a psych class, I learned that children use subordinate clauses with 'because,' 'although,' and the like long before they are able to comprehend the meaning that is associated with this syntax. Would this serve as an indication to mean that grammar comes before thought?

I was also wondering about our definition of 'thinking.' To me, the word implies a means of reasoning and judging, but do we need to reason in words? For example, chimpanzees and other such animals don't (I think) have a structurally formal language like ours, but they are able to solve problems that occur in nature, which demonstrates their ability to do simple reasoning. So have chimps and other animals been able to think without words? In a way, could that make them "higher" organisms because they don't need to rely on extraneous/verbal thought?

The Language of the World - Alchemy
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-02-23 19:53:53
Link to this Comment: 8402

All this talk about language and words has evoked memories of my readings of The Alchemist. The book speaks of the Language of the World, in which words and pictures actually function as a distraction from the language of the universe. In the preface of the book, Coelho gives a beautiful example of the language of the universe:

Our Lady Mary, with the Baby Jesus in her arms, decided to come down to Earth and visit a monastery. The monks proudly joined in a long queue, each eager to pay their respect to the Virgin and her Child. One read poetry, the other showed paintings, another read the names of all the saints, one after the other praising the Mother and Child.

The last monk of the monastery, the humblest of them all, who had never studied the learned books of the time, came for his turn. Ashamed, conscious of the disapproving looks of the monks around him, he took a few oranges from his bag, tossed them into the air, and began juggling.

It was at that moment the Baby Jesus smiled and started to clap his hands. The Virgin reached out her arms, inviting him to hold the baby. (Paraphrased from the original)

Coelho states that the language of the universe can not be captured in pictures or words. (Earlier postings talk of this phenomenon...not finding the words to describe a situation, feeling that language is actually a limiting process), and that, as humans, because we are so fascinated with language and words we forget about the language of the universe. I think language as we know it has an intimate relationship with our thoughts, but only because we have made it so. When a baby cries, before s/he is able to articulate its feelings, we know it is because s/he is scared, upset, hungry, etc... Aren't these emotions also in an intimate relationship with the thought process? Regardless of the absence of language?

In the above quotation, Santiago has to turn himself into the wind or else he will be killed by Bedouins in the desert. He succeeds in turning himself into the wind only after he abandons his earthliness and gives himself up to the universe where he is able to "talk" to the desert and wind, convincing the both of them to help him.

beginings without intent...absolute e
Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-24 16:44:04
Link to this Comment: 8461

so, there is a basic rule in nature that causes things to organize ((finally learned how to spell orgAnize)) themselves. this fits so so nicely with the first creation myth, in genesis. there is no word, no intent, there is an action: "in the begining god created the heavens and the earth; the earth having been formless and void."as mentioned before this word CREATE is interchangable with the word ORGANIZE in the ancient hebrew. SO! the only difference between the stroy grobstein told today and this creation myth is the word GOD. and i really don't think that word (GOD) makes much of a difference.
i am very interested to hear if people think that these laws of nature, this law of organization is an ABSOLUTE TRUTH? are the laws of nature absolute truths? they are as telling a story without time: when stood in relation to certin other things, absolute? and in calling these laws of nature absolute truths can we call them, also, GOD.
can GOD equal absolute truth?
there was so much info. today i can't think it all out here.
but, one thing: a plant does not do as it does with the intent to live. but the things it does HAPPEN and the plant lives as a result of these actions. so, the happenings of the plant must be as a result of the "knowlege" of what is needed to survive. yes? no? if not then whose to say that the plant doesn't open at night and close in the snn and therefore die? can we say that the plant does not have intention, "knowledge," but the laws of nature enable it to live...becuase of some kind of "continuance of life law" or a "knowledge" of some sort distributed in the laws of nature? not because of an intention, but because of an ABSOLUTE ?? a law??
.................................begging for an explanation................................

Name: ro. finn
Date: 2004-02-24 18:53:01
Link to this Comment: 8464

IMO, their is no such thing as absolute truth.

IF we are the product of a serendipitous process which, itself, originated serendipitously , AND we have evolved to being capable of creating and evolving stories, and therefore, our own story, THEN we can and probably will (have already? e.g., cultural evolution, evolutionary epistemology...) reshape the process that created and shaped us, which will shape new things that may affect us...etc, etc, etc....including what we view as absolute truth, and this,too, may change. It's all in our heads.

The game of life progresses from chaos to order, but never in the same ordered configuration.

Time to feed the dog, who knows nothing about such things and depends upon the same monotonous structure '-)

go with me here...
Name: em
Date: 2004-02-24 21:51:42
Link to this Comment: 8470

ok, so i had this thought. can we connect time and language (or lack thereof)? because it doesn't take too much of a leap to go from "being in the moment" in sense of cognition of time-- to that wordless space where we act from instinct-- i.e. chess, tennis, music, what have you (i suppose it's different for everyone). could a lack of words or language for a specific moment just be our way of finally being completely and fully in the substance of time? i'd like to think so, for it's only when we pull back that we engage in wordplay to describe the activities that were, in a sense, timeless only moments before. also, i wanted to share this poem by jeffrey skinner, as it seems relevant:

"Many Worlds"

A physicist proposes time does not exist, only an infinite number of dramas, grand or banal, in different locations: a Wyoming ant hefts a leaf and begins the blind trek home. Nancy nicks her thumb chopping arugala in Manhattan. Sheets of rain batter the empty head of a seagull hunkered down amid blonde grasses. A Sudanese teenager takes the first of nineteen steps toward a landmine he will, or will not, trip with his left foot. A star in a tri-folded galaxy sputters and implodes. And so forth, ad infinitum. I read about this while drinking a steaming hot Columbian blend on the day we call, for convenience sake, Sunday.

But if there is not time, I wonder as I take antoher sip, why do I keep needing stronger glasses? And, if time is to be summarily tossed onto some landfill, wouldn't we be wise to hire a caretaker, an experienced force to guard the perimeter? One would not want the Spanish Inquisition leaking into Stonington, for example, where I currently reside. And I do not like to imagine walking the frozen streets of Buffalo, New York, and bumping into myself at the age of two, bundled in my mother's arms as she hurries me into the hospital, my appendix burst, my time running out.

How immediately I bend the poor physicist's notion to my own fears and wishes... Why must I understand every idea in terms of myself, my own little life and death? In all probability I misunderstand him completely and do not, as usual, know what I'm talking about. I wish I could step outside, into one of the many worlds to the left and right of me. The boy recovered, in time, and lived. But if time does not exist then why, as I continue sipping, does my sorrow deepen?

Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-24 21:52:42
Link to this Comment: 8471

i thought, up until now, that maybe there is no essential difference between the humanitites and the sciences. but maybe this is the difference: the beleif in absolute truth. i cannot and refuse to beleive in a world in which the holocaust is not an absolute evil. maybe according to the changing laws of science some will beleive that the holocaust, though evil now, is under the laws of change. (octavia butler: GOD IS CHANGE.) i think the sublime (utterly horrific and utterly wonderful) is unchanging. humans have power to brand events into existence. even if all of time dissolves (past present and future) these events are carved deep into everything that is.
random house dictionary defines absolute as, "1. being fully as indicated. 2. free from any restriction, limitation, or exception. 3. not comparative or relative. 4. utter or outright. 5. without constitutional restraint. 6. certain. 7. pure. 8. relatively indepenedent in its syntactic relation to other elements. 9. pertaining to a system of units based on some primary units of length, mass and time." ... and i truely beleive with all my soul that there are things that exist like that. i refuse to think of a place without them. maybe that is the religious, the desperatly seeking nature of my soul speaking, begging for there to be something for which to live, to cling .... but, hell, i'm a bleeding human soul, like we all are. so you answer me, please, this is a serious question: if you don't cling to absolute truths to what do you cling? and if you don't cling how do you live? seriously. i need to know. it's upsetting.

ps i don't think life is a game and i don't know what IMO stands for.

Date: 2004-02-24 21:55:08
Link to this Comment: 8472

and what is the point of doing anything if it does not have the possibility to be molded in as sublime? isn't that what we are all clawing for? the creation of a perfect beauty? why live if you aren't clawing madly for something.

Name: emily s.
Date: 2004-02-24 22:52:40
Link to this Comment: 8478

the conversation on tuesday regarding the relationship between language and thought reminded me of two books i read for another class- "pilgrim at tinker creek" by anne dillard and "desert solitaire" by edward abbey. both are non-fiction travel narratives. each of these authors struggled with the limitations that human consciousness places on their perceptions of their surroundings. and also, the task of balancing verbalized descriptions of nature with how nature actually IS.

dillard was preoccupied with the idea of simply existing, as opposed to assigning cultural, or verbal, meanings to her surroundings. she describes this as "...less like seeing than like being..." and strives to attain this state throughout the book. according to her, "consciousness itself does not hinder living in the present. in fact, it is only a heightened awareness that the great door to the present opens at all. even a certain amount of interior verbalization is helpful to enforce the memory of whatever it is that is taking place...self-consciousness, however, does hinder the experience of the present. it is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest." dillard has an interesting perspective on the interaction of humans with the rest of nature- she believes that it is preferable to abandon some of our evolved self-consciousness in favor of experiencing the rest of the world with fewer filters, including language. for her, the condition of being in what she terms "the present" is simply thought without language.

abbey as well struggled with the limits of verbalization versus purely experiencing nature. in particular, he resisted personification of natural phenomena, animals especially. "i am not attributing human motives to my snake and bird acquaintances. i recognize that when and where they serve purposes of mine they do so for beautifully selfish resons of their own. which is exactly the way it should be." this is another way of saying that snakes and birds are "model makers." to really understand them is to avoid language which will incorrectly assign them consciousness. of course, this is incredibly tempting for humans, who cannot imagine life without self-consciousness. especially story tellers such as abbey who have very few other options if they want to give readers an idea of what a snake or a bird seems to be.

in his introduction, abbey states that "it will be objected that the book deals too much with mere appearances, with the surface of things, and fails to engage and reveal the patterns of unifying relationships which form the true underlying reality of existence. here i must confess that i know nothing whatever about true underlying reality, having never met any...for my own part i am pleased enough with surfaces- in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance." in a way, abbey is right. do we really need to give verbal and conscious significance to the rest of the world in order to appreciate it? what is the benefit of analyzing nature and determining the "true underlying reality?" abbey as well seems to believe that thought can exist in the absence of language- on the surface- and that this condition is preferable to becomming bogged down in rhetoric.

Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-02-25 08:20:21
Link to this Comment: 8484

First, the easy question: "IMO" is internet shorthand for "in my opinion." I apologize for using a cryptic abbreviation. Sometimes, I feel the need to say that what I'm writing is just one person's opinion. I don't mean to push ideas.

Orah wrote: "if you don't cling to absolute truths to what do you cling? and if you don't cling how do you live? seriously. i need to know. it's upsetting."

I wish there were something I could conjure that would allay your angst. What works for me may not work for anyone else. I cling to absolute possibility. Discontinuity creates space. It thrusts us forward and keeps us on our toes. I like that. Intuitively, it feels safer to keep moving, to accumulate more adaptive traits. In my mind, stasis attends absolute truth, and "just believing" in something may be the ultimate risk, even if —in the beginning— certain truths was not manmade. Perhaps that's why so many of us have questions we cannot shake. Maybe a questioning mind is a trait that has been 'selected for' for our own survival.

em--thank you for skinner's poem.

thank you, ro!
Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-25 09:07:37
Link to this Comment: 8485

all i really care about is the clinging ... "to what" doesn't really make a difference, does it? just as long as we're all doing the same thing, we're all in this together..... we all hold on. *releif*

and on ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-02-25 10:08:14
Link to this Comment: 8486

Enjoying very much the thinking together, in class and here. Tuesday was a new chapter of a story I've been working on for a while, very much informed by conversations we've had together and inevitably to be reshaped by further conversation, like the above and following.

I made in fact already a few small changes in the Tuesday notes (in the "altruism" subhead of "language based culture") to bring out a point that was in the background (my brain) but not probably not explicit enough. Remember that this is A story (one I'm working on), not THE story, so others can use or not use it and any piece of it insofar as it is useful in their own story writing. And yes, it is a story of ongoing (eternal?) change, with some perhaps troubling implications.

It is NOT, though, a story of purely random change, nor of aloneness, nor of "meaninglessness". It is a story of the ongoing exploration of what can be, of a present whose richness (and limitations) are built from the past and that it turn serves as the basis for future exploration, all endowed with whatever meaning we individually and collectively wish to give it (or not give it). It is (for me at least) a story of space, of room and wherewithal, of connectedness to each other/other organisms/the universe, and of opportunity to bring into being what has not been and what one dreams might be.

People are different from one another, and that's in fact an important part of the story, an ingredient without which exploration would (at least by humans) be much less generative, the future much less spacious. I for one am more than willing to trade in "absolutes" and whatever benefits they offer for the room created by their absence. But others need to make those kinds of choice/write their stories in their own ways. That's part of the story.

smart friends, another revision, and a question NE
Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-25 16:28:57
Link to this Comment: 8492

i have a philosophy blog with some of my friend and some of them responded to my posting in response to ro's "there are no absolute truths." some of what they said was really insightful, thought ya'all might like to read:
friend 1: "why do we need ALL to answer yes to these questions? can't it be that WE see it this way and WE keep searching and seeking and yes talking about it every so often, etc. why do we need an ANSWER? i understand the desperation, but in the "desperate" feeling of your comments there is some solace that i am not alone and that there is room for manuvering, mistake, seeking and discovering because in a way, your truth is not an absoleute because are you ever going to define exactly what that is, do you you need to? or is it enough to just BELIEVE? i think maybe some problem we run into is that we have this desire for everyone to be so stuck to life as we are, to have something to hold onto and live for and we freak out when people can operate on the basis of scientific process and truth. is that maybe part of feeling so desperate when those around you start speaking in terms of proofs and everything? i don't know, just a thought, because i know i sometimes feel that way, that it's such a WONDERFUL feeling to believe in something so powerful and strong that i just want everyone to share in that warm-fuzziness...but maybe they have their own and it makes their heart race just as much..."

friend 2: "I do think there has to be some kind of universal constant that connects all of us. I don't necessarily think we can prove this is the case, but neither do I think we can prove it is not. To me truth is equated with God in many ways, as if there is no absolute truth how could god exist? I think our acceptance of truth is born out of necessity, and I find that necessity eventually leads us to faith, which is the only way we can approach this question.
maybe there is no one answer, but instead each of us responds with our own faith and that must be what allows us to cling to something--anything. Truth will always be subject to interpretation, and depending on what place we're at we'll respond differently. That's part of what troubles me...we'll all always be at different places, i.e., we never arrive at full maturity or truth or nirvana or whatever you want to call it (not in this lifetime anyways?), so we'll never be able to jugde just what truth is. We're constantly affected by our world view, background, environment, etc. I do think it's hard to relate to people who operate only on scientific principles since they can't identify with the element of faith which is so crucial to our line of thought. But I do believe at some point they will need either to choose faith or to choose unhappiness."

i think a lot, so my views are CONSTANTLY changing...and sometimees i look back over past thoughts, things i've said, past postings, and cringe a little bit because now i don't fully beleive what i previously said so addamently. so, i revise: it's okay if we aren't all clinging. it makes me feel better that if i am pained: others are pained. if i am scrammbling: others are scrambling. but, as one of my friends said: isn't it okay if i cling with the clingers while others don't cling at all. yeh, i guess so. i kinda wish we'd all cling together, but i'll live my way and you live your way...
and i guess the reason i feel so threatened by the prospect of there being no absolute truth is because THAT is what I NEED. i really really really need there to be a constant out there, becaues that's why i'm here.
so, i'll conclude these obnoxiously long thoughts with this longish question:
i don't think everyone should be allowed to tell their own story. i disallow you to tell your story if it physically harms others. i disallow militant racists to tell their story. but we MUST draw the exact line of whose story is allowed and whose story is not allowed. so, i ask: where is that line drawn?? ya'all obviously affected me with the whole "there are no absolute truths," but was i so affected that you should be disallowed from telling your story?? obviously not. should we all just shut up and tell our stories to those who we know aggree with us?? i don't think so. should mel gibson be able to tell his story even if it might insight others to violence?? should bush be allowed to impose his story on us??
tell me! who gets to tell her story and who doesn't?

How free...
Name: daniela
Date: 2004-02-25 22:17:06
Link to this Comment: 8509

Memes need human minds in order to come to live and "reproduce" (give rise to a new idea, thought or meme). The moment a meme assumes a trite meaning, it dies and is supplanted by other memes. Once a meme is anchored in a brain, it is "processed" and changed in compliance with the idiosyncrasies of that particular brain. Then, it is passed to other brains.

According to this description of memes, an individual cannot generate germane memes without being influenced from other people. Does this mean that our thinking is dependent on other people's thinking? Can a person live alone insolated from other human beings and be creative? Original? Can a person generate something that has never existed before? Or is imagination a new way of putting old elements together?

Do we have control of the processing of the memes? On one hand, their influence may be too subtle for us to perceive it, so that we may turn into " a sort of dungheap in which the larvae of other people's ideas renew themselves..." (346).
Another opportunity exists.If we happen to somehow resist the influence of the memes, and try to stick with our own, may we eventually be turned into pariahs, because our way of thinking differs from that of society? So, we do conform sometimes to the social way of processing memes? Of course, we will remodel them in accordance with the idiosyncrasies of our brains, but the attribute of the meme stays the same (this process emulates the renga pictures in a way. Thus, certain different cultures are formed.
So, does the freedom to be unique exist?

I'm agrivated!!!
Name: Patricia
Date: 2004-02-25 23:37:38
Link to this Comment: 8512

Last Tuesday in class was such an important day for me. I think it was so important for me to look at the origin of the word and to really let it sink in that we created it. ("We" meaning humans.) This particular concept is the type of thing that I "know" but I never looked at the implications of what "knowing" this included. I mean, it may seem stupid, but I really felt newly informed to the idea that purposeful things are done without purpose on the organisms part. If I understood this correctly, we impose our language and expressions of intention, purpose, like and dislikes onto other living organisms that simply don't do the things they do for a conscious reason. So, I guess what makes Humans so unique is the presence of the I-function or Mind to work in conjunction with the brain. But, although we have this I-function capability, and although we are able to think about the model that governs our actions, it was still so important to me that even within our own bodies, we portray purpose upon systems that don't have purpose. For example, when my younger sister asks me why medicine makes her better when she is sick I always find myself explaining to her that the chemicals are "fighting" the virus. And it really never occurred to me that our language has such an effect on our understanding of the way things work. I guess the point of what I am writing is this: I wonder how much of our own actions; actions for which we think we have full understanding of our purpose for those actions, are caused by common processes in living things that have completely no "purpose." Or at least not the purpose we assign to it. I wonder why we as human beings do so many things...and I just realized that there may not be a million emotionally tied reasons to explain them. Because, I for one, was someone who always understood that leaves on a window plant moved toward the window during the sun light hours because they "wanted" sunlight. And when I think about all of the things that "work" in an organism without intentionally intending to work that way, it really makes you think of the majestic nature of biological rules. We assign understanding to things that don't need it to be understood in order for it to work. They just do. And even though we have a consciousness, I think we may just not use it as much as we think we do. I don't know. My mind is a mess. The idea that plant leaves don't move toward light because they are somehow smart is mind-boggling to me. I mean, these are believes I've held not because they make sense, but because my language choice trained me in this way. I wish I could image who I would be if there were no language. But I can not. And I just really need to let the idea sink in that there was so much going on before it could ever be attempted to be explained. So we need not put so much value on our ability to explain it. I swear by Psychology, which is all about purpose, and I get agitated thinking about working systems without the idea of purpose or intentionality.

look at all the lovely flowers...
Name: bethany ke
Date: 2004-02-26 11:40:11
Link to this Comment: 8523

So many questions and ideas blooming! Beautiful. I don't know that I have enough time to say everything that I've been thinking right now...may have to come back later and finish.

About Paul's pattern idea, the one about the clock on the wall, telling the story without relying on time: Your story requires a pattern, right? And REcognizing a pattern requires MEMORY, right? Does that mean anything? Is that relying on time? Or maybe I don't understand...

Another thought about language and...thought :) - I don't know if everyone is familiar with the case of Genie, (sp?) but this may help shed more light on what we've been wrestling with...
- So, there was this girl, who lived, I think in California? She was horribly abused by her family in the following way: They kept her locked in a room, strapped to a chair, and periodically brought her food. They wouldn't talk to her, and she had only brief contact with either parent. She was found years later, after the vital period for language acquisition. She could not speak, she had no language. Psychologists taught her rudimentary English, an extremely difficult task. In fact, she never really took to it, it was just too late, and she eventually lost all the little she had learned. HOWEVER! When she did have some use of this semi-communicative ability, she was able to describe her experience during the abuse. What does this mean? She remembered her experiences from before she had language. She was thinking before she had language.

hmmm...more to say...I have to agree with Orah- I think I need the concept of absolute truth, too. It just seems to fit, I know this is a horribly unscientific way to look at it, but I feel that it exists, my intuition tells me that it exists.

ooops...class is starting...more later...

Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-26 13:19:21
Link to this Comment: 8526

thank you's nice to have companionship, someone to agree with you. though i was very comforted when prof. grobstein reiterated "WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER." both agreement and that reassurance are so important to hear.
been thinking since last postings about the image of clinging verses the images of being whipped around by the harsh gusts that this world deals, not clinging, but rather being able to be knowcked down and continue, the ability to live without a dependance on anything. ((is that what it's like to live without absolute truths? to live without a dependance on anything?)) and i hope that one day i won't need absolute truths as i do now. it actually sounds like a more stable life, though not as happy. or maybe i like my story...not really sure. it's funny how i feel as though i can't chose my story. i can't chose what i beleive in. who dictates that? i have to make a bus so i can't keep going...but, anyways, thank you both so much for the comforting words :)

more puzzle pieces
Name: bethany ke
Date: 2004-02-26 14:21:27
Link to this Comment: 8527

ok, another frantic post...I think the [sick] is getting to my head, because I can't make sense of my jumbled thoughts...sorry, I am trying :)

ok...absolute truth...yes. Perhaps I shall come back to that later? It gets away from an idea I had in between now and when I posted before... just remind me about falling vases and then I'll ask you a question...

In response to Em's post about struggling with time as something made up, and especially the bit about running into your two year-old self, I think the important thing to remember is that each state, each present, is the context for the next state, the next present...does this have to do with laws? Someone was talking about laws...was that Orah? Maybe the laws are like programming rules...they dictate which outputs are possibilities for which inputs...

So! I was thinking, and I think I saw something interesting. I was mulling over language and thought and their relationship, and this is what I came up with. When we come up with theories, or just with ordinary thoughts/observations, it seems like they are in an expanded form in our heads. In order to transmit these thoughts (assuming they are complex enough for a gesture or a glance to be insufficient) to someone else, we have to put them into words. We contract our ideas into these words, and then speak them, they find their way into the ear of whomever we are talking to, where they expand again, perhaps in the configuration in which they were expanded in our heads, perhaps not. (Understanding versus Misunderstanding?) This reminds me of those little capsules that they used to give us in the bathtub, you know...they look like colored gel-caps and then you put them in the water and then they explode into little sponge dinosaurs and things...hehehe. Ok. but the second part of this idea was connected to altruism...when we give someone a gift, or help, or when we act kindly towards them, is this a contraction of our feelings? In other words, there are our feelings, expanded in ourselves, and then an action, a gift, a gesture, which contracts what we are feeling, is symbolic of it, and is intended to create a certain feeling in the receiver...Anyone else see this?

(expanded)IDEA >> (contracted) LANGUAGE >> (expanded) IDEA [maybe same, maybe not]

(expanded)FEELING >> (contracted) GIFT >> (expanded) FEELING [maybe same, maybe not]

alright...well, I've lost my train of thought. please let me know if you find it :) thanks

rhythm, memes and uniqueness
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-02-26 17:13:46
Link to this Comment: 8529

Wanted to post some post-class thoughts. Returning to the first half of class discussion I think that it might be useful to look for the common thread in units of meaning and communication (spacial, linguistic, musical etc.) And I think what would unite all of these is the idea of rhythm. Words operate based on rhythm, patterns= rhthym... emotions are created by rhythmic stimulation... using a spacial way to find a room location is based on spacial rhythms generated into the eyes and the rhythm of a person walking to that location. We are pattern making creatures because of this rhythm and this makes sense because all that's going on biologically (on the inside) is rhythm... heart beat, blood circulation etc....the theory of evolution is about patterns (or as Prof. Grobstein has demonstrated humans want it to be) so we're mirroring this philosophical/biological rhythm with our cultural memes. Because pattern has come to, in many (human) ways to bring forth meaning. Mary, in class today, asked if meaning was in some ways superflous to the evolutionary (?) adaptive (?) process. I think in one sense it is very healthy, biologically for humans to look for stories and purpose... because it keeps our bodies living better... One can think this if one believes that happiness is linked with health and longevity. For those who believe that the process of searching for meaning produces as sort of happiness then there would be a biological basis for the search for meaning. I realize that this is quite an oversimplification and a variety of objections might be taken- What about people for whom the search of meaning is painful... how about those who don't have access to a search for meaning... etc. etc. The only thing i'm really trying to point out with this is that although we do talk about them separately, the mind is connected to everything that is going on biologically in the body... I mean I'm thinking while my heart is beating- And I think that more needs to be done exploring the connection between biological processes and thought processes. It'd be useful although I'm sure that exactly how it would be useful could only be determined retrospectively.

Another thing that I was thinking was, exactly what did happen when I gave directions to the person looking for Thomas. Before I could say where it was, I said, it's a big grey building. So a picture came into my mind first, then I described the picture in my mind and only then was able to get to the how do I get there part... actually by this point the person had given up on me, nodded like it was apparent that she had picked the wrong person to ask and was already driving off... I know people for whom there is virtually no lag time when a directional question is asked. I can sympathize quite a lot with people who give directions based upon floating over a place.

Finally I'm thinking about newness. And I'm thinking about Elizabeth D's hub cap wearing and the phychoanalysis example and how it all relates to pattern making... When trying to create a new meme (not that anyone does this particularly conciously)... I guess what i'm trying to say is when creating a new anything... essay, piece of artwork, thought... it is not always necessary to look explicitly at what already exists and has existed and to get caught up in the past... because then you can't make any leaps... In retrospect it's good to know that what you've done was done before in a certain way but in the process of doing it sometimes you've just got to trust that your subconcious mind (taped into a collective unconcious?... perhaps a whole new thing to be explored) will do what it has to do to create something meaningful for people (independent of whether its entirely new). If it is not new, it can still be unique, special, revolutionary, life-changing, humanity altering etc... So whether or not something is entirely new doesn't matter. It's the unique, special revolutionary part that matters...

I'm thinking about the concept of being too far fetched, too far out there- I think that there are these constraints on thought, on society in general- negative cultural memes I guess stereotypes would be examples...although that's not precisely what I mean...

People are strongly connected to things from the past, so that patterns can be derived... but it's the things which seem inherently patternless at first which can be the most unique, innovative... but only particular people can make enough of a leap so as to convince people to make the leap with them... to enter into a world with an unfamiliar framework and extreme recombination of thought. I think that installation artists and multi-media artists are able to perform this societal function to a great extent... But because of pattern making convention, sometimes society limits itself.

One example of this would be object connotations... It's debatable the extent to which a nude body will not in some way bring up sexual connotations... Context or artist intent can help to change this slightly but, in general this will always be imbedded meaning. It's things like this which frustrate me- things that close the system down slightly. Objects and words gather baggage over time...and this bagage counteracts the development of the unique... I don't know if it can be another way but it is interesting to note how what we use to communicate while expanding the potential for understanding, can also limit it in a variety of ways.

Name: Perrin
Date: 2004-02-26 17:57:08
Link to this Comment: 8532

Ah! So much fodder for discussion! Sorry for the disjointedness of the post, but I thought of an interesting example of a meme: the story of a great flood which rejuvenated a previously evil world. This meme is relevant to the Judeo-Christian religions as well as African, Native American, and Hindi culture. I wonder how this story can be claimed by such separate and diverse cultures that have only recently been able to interact with each other. In terms of our discussion about originality, even though this story *might* not be completely innovative, it is definitely still useful to somebody. So what's the big deal about originality?

On another random note, I was taught in psychology that there is a "critical period" for language acquisition (as per Chomsky) and that if you "don't use it, you lose it." Bethany, I watched a video about Genie! If this hypothesis is correct, then Genie would never be able to speak properly. She was subsequently never able to master the syntax and semantics of language, even after years of training. I guess this disproves the theory that grammar is inherent to all humans?

This is relevant, I swear. In terms of our discussion of words and/or language, I was wondering if we dream in words AND pictures. I only seem to remember visuals in my dreams and never words. This brings me to my next point...I think that emotions are the foundations of our words. Meaning that before verbal expression, there were feelings. For example, little children who haven't learned to verbalize their emotions may cringe when watching a scary movie. BUT it is only when they become aware of their cringing that they can put a label on their emotion and say out loud that they feel afraid. I think that all of our words can be traced back to our emotions, so is language purely selfish?
More randomness. The following is an African folktale that I read as a child about the origin of stories that I was arbitrarily reminded of today, so I looked it up on the internet for your enjoyment =) It's pretty interesting when you contrast it with the Paul and Anne's perspective; although I think that science is such a large part of our life now that this story is completely unbelievable to me, but something to think about nonetheless...maybe this is how memes came into existence too? Perhaps this can explain the "very first meme" that was discussed in Anne's discussion group today? Anyway, here it is:

It was long ago in Africa, when there was First Spider, Kwaku Anansi. He went everywhere, throughout the world, traveling on his strong web strings - sometimes looking more like a wise old man than a spider. In that long-ago time, child, there were no stories on Earth for anyone to tell. The sky-god kept all stories to himself, up high in the sky, and locked away in a wooden box. These the spider wanted, as many creatures had before him, so that he could know the beginnings and endings of things. Yet all who had tried for the stories had returned empty-handed. Now Anansi climbed up his web to the sky-god, Nyame, to ask for the sky-god's stories.
When the powerful sky-god saw the thin, spidery, old man crawling up to his throne, he laughed at him, "What makes you think that you, of all creatures, can pay the price I ask for my stories?"
Spider only wanted to know, "What is the price of the stories?"
"My stories have a great price, four fearsome, elusive creatures: Onini, the python that swallows men whole; Osebo, the leopard with teeth like spears; Mmoboro, the hornets that swarm and sting; and Mmoatia, the fairy who is never seen. Bring these to me."
Bowing, the spider quietly turned and crept back down through the clouds. He ment to capture the four creatures he needed as price for the stories. He first asked his wife, Aso, how he might capture Onini, the python that swallows men whole.
She told him a plan, saying, "Go and cut off a branch of the palm tree and cut some string-creeper as well. Take these to the stream where python lives."
As Anansi went to the swampy stream, carrying these things, he began arguing aloud, "This is longer than he; You lie, no; it Is true; this branch is longer and he is shorter, much shorter."
The python was listening, and asked what spider was talking about, "What are you muttering, Anansi?"
"I tell you that my wife, Aso, is a liar, for she says that you are longer than this palm branch and I say that you are not."
Onini, the python, said, "Come and place the branch next to me and we will see if she is a liar."
And so, Anansi put the palm branch next to the python's body, and saw the large snake stretch himself alongside it. Ananasi then bound the python to the branch with the string-creeper and wound it over and over - nwenene! nwenene! nwenene! - until he came to the head. Then the spiderman said to Onini, "Fool, I will now take you to the sky-god."
This Anansi did as he spun a web around the snake to carry him back through the clouds to the sky kingdom.
On seeing the gigantic snake, Nyame merely said, "There remains what still remains."
Spider came back to Earth to find the next creature, Osebo the leopard, with teeth like spears.
His wife, Aso, told him, "Go dig a large hole."
Anansi said, "I understand, say no more."
After following the tracks of the leopard, spider dug a very deep pit. He covered it over with the branches of the trees and came home. Returning in the very early morning, he found a large leopard lying in the pit.
"Leopard, is this how you act? You should not be prowling around at night; look at where you are! Now put your paw here, and here, and I will help you out."
The leopard put his paws up on the sticks that Anansi placed over the pit and began to climb up. Quickly, Anansi hit him over the head with a wooden knife - gao! Leopard fell back into the pit - fom! Anansi quickly spun the leopard to the sticks with his web string.
"Fool, I am taking you to pay for the sky-god's stories."
But the sky-god recieved the leopard saying, "What remains, still remains."
Next the spiderman went looking for Mmoboro, the hornets that swarm and sting.
Spider told his wife, Aso, what he was looking for and she said, "Look for an empty gourd and fill it with water."
This spider did and he went walking through the bush until he saw a swarm of hornets hanging there in a tree. He poured out some of the water and sprinkled it all over their nest. Cutting a leaf from a nearby banana tree, he held it up and covered his head. He then poured the rest of the water from the gourd all over himself. Then while he was dripping he called out to the hornets,
"The rain has come, do you see me standing here with a leaf to cover my head? Fly inside my empty gourd so that the rain will not beat at your wings."
The hornets flew into the gourd, saying, "Thank you - hhhuuummm - Aku; thank you - hhhuuummm - Anansi."
Anansi stopped up the mouth of the gourd, and spinning a thick web around it, said, "Fools, I'm taking you to the sky-god as price for his stories."
The sky-god, Nyame, accepted Mmoboro, the hornets that swarm and sting, and said, "What remains, still remains."
Anansi knew very well what remained - it was the fairy, Mmoatia, who is never seen. When the spider came back to Earth, he asked Aso what to do. And so, he carved an Akua's child, a wooden doll with a black, flat face, and covered it with sticky fluid from a tree.
Walking through the bush, he found the odum tree, where the fairies like to play. He then made eto, pounded yams, and put some in the doll's hand and even more of the yams into a brass basin at her feet - there by the odum tree. Anansi next hid in the bushes, with a vine creeper in his hands that was also tied to the doll's neck.
It wasn't long before the fairies came, two sisters, to play. They saw the doll with the eto and asked if they could have some. Anansi made the doll's head nod, "Yes", by pulling on the string-creeper. Soon the faries had eaten all the eto and so, thanked the doll, but the doll did not reply. The fairies became angry.
One sister said, "When I thank her, she says nothing."
The other sister replied, "Then slap her in her crying place."
This the fairy did, she slapped it's cheek - "pa!" - but her hand stuck there. She slapped it with her other hand - "pa!" - and that hand stuck, too. She kicked it with both one foot, then the other, and both feet stuck to the sticky wooden doll. Finally, she pushed her stomache to it and that stuck.
Then Anansi came from his hiding place, and said, "Fool, I have got you, and now I will take you to the sky-god to buy his stories once and for all."
Anansi spun a web around the last of the four creatures and brought Mmoatia up to Nyame in the sky kingdom. The sky-god, seeing this last catch, called together all his nobles. He put it before them and told them that the spider-man had done what no-one else had been able to do. He said in a loud voice that rang in the sky,
"From now and forever, my sky-god stories belong to you - kose! kose! kose! - my blessing, my blessing, my blessing. We will now call these "Spider Stories"."
And so, stories came to Earth because of the great cunning of Kwaku Anansi, and his wife, Aso. When Anansi brought the wooden box of stories to his home, he and his wife eagerly learned each one of them. And you can still see today that Aku and Aso tell their stories. Everywhere you look, they spin their webs for all to see.

(in the story that I remember, Anansi dropped the box of stories as he was climbing down from the sky kingdom and the stories spilled out, spreading all across the world)
That's all for now. Thanks for the great class today!

Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-26 19:18:23
Link to this Comment: 8533

my religion prof said today, "at the heart of all existence there is an impenetrable absence."
why do we hurt ourselves with ideas of the possibility of meaninglessness/purposelessness? because comfort/pleasure is not the only thing that we crave...we crave truth. but, that truth is impenetrable. so we spend our whole lives in movement. trying to organize. ((reminds me of the talk on beauty... the movement from disorganization to organization is beauty...not the arrival at organization.))
reeve talked today about the fact that there IS something as opposed to nothing...and if everything is random then why does this something exist? i asked if we are just convincing ourselves that we are something rather than living the painful idea that we are nothing but the natural outcome of random organization. prof. grobstein said a while back (sry, i don't know how to do that cool linky thing) "It is NOT, though, a story of purely random change, nor of aloneness, nor of "meaninglessness." i ask: where is the meaning in the story of random organization...are we any better that computer games?
and i say that our means of suvivial is this impenetrable absence. it NEEDS to be there as a result of consious existence. the impenetrable absence is a result of human need and is absolute, everlasting, becuase if it is penetrated the movement is done (the beauty non-existent) ... but it cannot be penetrated.

i'm still really struggling with the idea of not needing this absolute....
it's kinda earth shattering....
for so long i've worked off the formulated idea and defined god for myself on the basis that everyone needs to cling, needs an absolute...whether they call it god or not.
but, i'm not sure any more.
give me a little while and i'll figure it out....
thank you everyone.

ps bethany, i think heather talked about laws....i want to hear about falling vases

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-02-26 19:55:12
Link to this Comment: 8534

This topic of free will (which Anne brought up today in class) is an interesting one, and I can't wait to hear what you all have to say about it. I'm going to throw out my ideas about it first to get the ball rolling..

First, I do absolutely, undoubtedly believe that living things have free will. However, sometimes these choices are disguised. For instance, Anne claimed today that humans need to eat in order to survive. I would argue that eating is a choice, we do not need to eat. There is nothing that forces us to do this. This choice is confounded by an even greater choice, the choice to survive. So, while it seems we do not have a choice as to whether we wish to eat, we certainly do. The possibility of making this choice to is clouded by a prior choice, the choice to survive. It can seem as if we have no room to decide things for ourselves because we are not always cognizant of the even bigger, more pressing choices we made long before.

Science journal: The Evolution of Language
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-02-26 19:55:33
Link to this Comment: 8535

Hey all, good to be back on the forums, if only for a quick post right now.

The weekly journal Science has a special issue out on the EVOLUTION OF LANGUAGE. Haven't had a chance to read it yet, but looks fascinating as they cover a huge range of topics. Hope this link will be of interest to you too.


Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-02-27 06:53:31
Link to this Comment: 8538

Good morning!
I gotta say I am suspicious about memes and have been since I first read Dawkins. I do, however, find the concept of memes useful to better discuss how mores and attitudes spread throughout a culture and how knowledge, learning, and teaching happen within social groups. But the notion that a "thought phenotype" can enter a human without that person's permission or choice is not so much unsettling as it is bizarre, especially if you consider that some people "catch" some memes, while others catch totally different memes—and these folks might be living in the same culture, the same family even.

OR are we considering that a person DOES exercise choice over the memes he/she takes in? Are there meme filters? The more I think about this, it makes sense. Consider Dennett's point about "D-F#-A" not being a cultural unit/a thought phenotype, but the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth qualifying as one. IF we think about somewhat isolated populations—in this case, a population with a strong affinity for music—then "D-F#-A" may well be a cultural unit within that may make the same immediate, tacit "click" for that group's members, but be totally opaque to people/populations who have not honed their thought skills in that discipline. Think of all the highly specialized lingo that's specific to one "cult" or another...

What really intrigues me—and I think of it right now as tangential to memetics—is the notion of our having a common "brain language" (Dennett 353). Makes me think of the story of Babel, which presumes that we all started with the same language before an omnipotent being broke up the party. But the story may have derived from our actually having had a common language of sorts. If so, MIGHT WE STILL HAVE IT? Could we dig down into our tacit knowledge brain parts and haul it up? As a writer, I am fascinated by this possibility. It's a bore writing for only one language population, one subset of cultures. For example, should I try writing in sounds that ALL can earthlings hear, not English words? What would be the reaction, I wonder.

By the end of the reading, I liked Stephen Gould even more :-)... "The basic topologies of biological and cultural change are completely different. Biological evolution is a system of constant divergence without subsequent joining of branches. Lineages, once distinct, are separate forever. In human history, transmission across lineages is, perhaps, the major source of cultural exchange" (Dennett 355). So, BIO-EVOLUTION IS DIVERGENT. SOCIO-EVOLUTION IS CONVERGENT—and never the t'wain shall meet? One "story" might be that memes move way faster than their bio-evolutionary equivalents, so they can trace back down branches and then up others, overcoming divergence in the same way that we overcome taking a wrong turn into a one-way side street. Could we cover this, please, in class sometime soon?

Have a great weekend!

more games for Paul
Name: cham sante
Date: 2004-02-27 18:37:25
Link to this Comment: 8546

I was highly amused by Paul's attempts to explain various programs such as the game of life in class on tuesday. ok, i was mostly amused by his frustrated dancing around the room, culminating in a kneel to the floor.

Anyways, these games/programs intrigued me and ive since come across another survival game called "Tit for Tat". in over 200 trials against computer programmers and mathematicians from all over, Tit for Tat won every time. All it did was follow a simple set of rules in order to "survive". Tit for Tat was just simply nice- It started out by cooperating and then simply copied what its opponents did. if the other player cooperated, so did Tit for Tat and both players flourished. if the other player "defected", Tit for Tat retaliated and so therefore did not lose out to defectors. So, why did Tit for Tat always win? Im not exactly sure, but i feel as though the game as a whole is trying to get at one important point: group advantage can come out of individual strategy without the need to appeal to evolution for "the greater good" (i.e., a possible explanation for human altruism). perhaps this provides a story for how cooperation evolved?

Futhermore, Tit for Tat was not being cooperative for the greater good of the group/species (although it could easily be interpreted this way), but instead it was actually being selfish while hiding behind a mask of cooperation. sounds like this could present a problem in terms of our discussion of morality, in that we must now consider the advantages of both outward and thus perceivable morality versus true(?)internal morality.

more matters arising ....
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-02-28 12:28:01
Link to this Comment: 8551

A few thoughts from the forum, and from thursday class ....

re Bethany (and post conversation with her):
Language expansion/contraction is a really neat idea, that I earlier ran onto in a book called The User Illusion by Tor Norretranders. And it has a very interesting connection to what some research I was doing on the frog made me understand about how the nervous system works generally: going from input to central representations (in this case of space) to output is a process of contracting and then expanding in terms of the dimensionality of how things are represented in the nervous system. And that, in turn, connects to the earlier conversation about "time" as a dimension ...

Re Cham:
Glad to be a source of entertainment; hope others enjoyed it as well. Truth be told, we spent more time on the "Game of Life" then I'd intended and so less time on some later things, including ... "Prisoner's Dilemma" which, I would have said if we'd had time, has exactly the significance that Cham outlines. Nice to know there are people around who can offset my deficiencies.

And that in turn brings me to our section discussion thursday (which, I understand, was not unrelated to Anne's discussion section). Morality, personal responsibility, free will? Is there "morality" before the concept/word comes into existence? (Does a falling tree make a sound if there is no one there to hear it?). Does morality depend on "free will"; when/where did that come into existence? And how does all that relate to genes/memes/Dennett?

Its not only Prisoner's Dilemma that we didn't quite get through last Tuesday, but some of the rest of this as well. Maybe we can do something with all this next Tuesday. And with whatever else is on peoples' minds/shows up here before then?

Name: meg
Date: 2004-02-29 09:44:57
Link to this Comment: 8556

It is difficult to imagine that there could have been morality without free will. People have to consciously make the choice whether or not they will act morally. The first appearance of a story of human morality is Adam and Eve. This story exemplifies a conscious decision to ignore the laws or morals supposedly set by God. This story was told for thousands of years, and is from very early in human history. Before this there are no signs of morality, so was it around. I think that a major influence in morality was religion. Once religions were established there were also codes on how to live based on these religions. I have no way of knowing whether or not morality existed before then, but it cannot have existed before humans were conscious of their actions.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-02-29 22:40:21
Link to this Comment: 8569

been reading more dennet and liking him more and more. he's hard to narrow down into a single posting...he says too too much to fully ingest with one reading let alone respond to in one posting....will try later this week. and i agree with meg that there can't be morality without free will, without choice. ((anyone ever read steinbeck's "east of eden" the crux of this epic novel lies in the idea of free will in the bible (one of my top ten books of all time))) but, i've been wanting to post somthing all semester and have felt that it was exactly relevant unitl now ... kinda. all semester we've been troubleing ourselves with finding meaning in a world that perpetuates itself through random reorganization. a world, an existence, that is possibly a mindless, purposless algorithm. and where do we find meaning in this? i guess the question of the meaning of life is an impossible one that we will all probably end up chasing (or not) our whole lives. but whether or not we give up or pursue this quest i think it is at the crux of our existence. ((maybe that is the 'impenetrable absence'? hmm...)) i think another related, possibly more accesible question is: why do we crave meaning? ((do we ALL crave meaning?)) and a possible answer i've found in a book by milan kundera called 'the unbearable lightness of being.' i will breifly quote the premise of the book, "the myth of eternal return states that a life which disappears once and for all, which does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity, and beauty mean nothing...If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. It is a terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make." SO! what i'm thinking is that the reason that we need this life to have meaning is to weigh it down or else it is "dead in advance." the only way to live is with meaning because without it we are "dead in advance."yes? no? i'm still stumpped by prof. grobstein's line that, "It is NOT, though, a story of purely random change, nor of aloneness, nor of "meaninglessness." i wonder if ya'all are waiting till the end of the course to reveal this great secret ...where to find the meaning in a world of algorithms.... that would be cruel, but i would be forever in debt if i got an answer. and another thing: TIME. if the only moment that exists is the present moment and all eternity exists in this moment (the memory of the past and the possibility of the future) and the present moment is impossible to capture, to bear witness to (eliot) then we, as consious beings, lack the ability to grasp reality. things are real, but our consious minds prevent us from clinging to them they are impenetrable. another tragedy of humanity: we are built with penetrating tendancies (language etc.) and yet the nature of time and the nature of reality make peircing impossible. or is it consiousness that makes peircing impossible? FINALLY! was thinking in another english class that i am taking (with reeve and maybe others) about the tragic nature of it flows ...and doesn't stop...even for things so terrible that we almost think that we will fall out of time, or choke on it.....time doesn't jolt, wince, or twitch, but just keeps moving the sea. another thing working against us.


I should be sleeping....
Name: bethany ke
Date: 2004-02-29 22:58:11
Link to this Comment: 8570

Really quick post, in response to Perrin's comment about innate grammar:

No, it doesn't disprove it. There is tons of evidence suggesting that 'grammar' is innate, but it's not grammar as you are probably thinking of grammar. One important part of learning a language or languages is learning them when you are still in the critical period, the most? important time of which I believe is between 2 and 5 years old? Oh dear, have forgotten exact ages, but something like that. That's the reason it's more difficult to learn a language that is not your mother-tongue. We tend to start learning foreign languages in high school, sometimes college, and it's hard. we whine, we have to study. If you are not exposed to any sort of language, then you aren't going to just start speaking. If there is no sort of linguistic nurturing/exposure when your body is primed to learn language, then you will have problems. After the critical period is over, it seems that the shop is more or less closed for business.

oh! falling vases are coming, I swear! just not between bedtime and early crew...I'll be back.

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-02-29 23:03:30
Link to this Comment: 8571

On meme creation: "Whether or not something is entirely new doesn't matter." - Elizabeth

On meme reception: "Are we considering that a person DOES exercise choice over the memes he/she takes in?" – Ro

Eddin: "Before you start to write, you must feel the anxiety of those who come before you. They must terrorize you."
Alfian: "I choose which historical influences work for me."
Eddin: "You need historical predecessors to be oppressive."
Alfian: "I choose my oppressors."

Eddin Khoo and Alfian Sa'at are established poets in Malaysia and Singapore. This intriguing exchange took place last summer during a forum explicitly about the politics of writing, implicitly about writing under controlling regimes.

These few lines are saturated with innuendoes about the political workings of their countries, coming after an extensive discussion on the need for a writer to react to circumscribing authorities, to serve as government counter-propaganda. For them, it mattered entirely that their stories were 'new'. And in consciously writing these new stories they were indeed exercising choice, as Ro mentions, about what memes to accept or reject, which aspects of a local past to inherit and which to cast off.

But 'the past', as it is distributed among the people who supposedly share it, is not homogenous. The writers mentioned several historical, political and artistic influences that went right over my head – their meanings were inaccessible to me, and the significance of their choices were lost. Whether I agreed with their story would have depended on how well it fit into my repertoire of stories, not theirs. My choices would have been different from theirs.

Which brings me back to Ro's point. What does it mean for me to take in a meme? Is it enough to have been a member of the audience? To have the exchange down on paper? To share it here? To critique it? To accept it? To act on it?

Maybe it's not even as rigorous as all that. Last semester, when Richard Dawkins gave a talk at Swat, some anonymous student had scribbled on the board behind him:

"STOP THE MEMES! (Pass it on.)"

Maybe that's all it takes.

Name: reeve
Date: 2004-02-29 23:31:34
Link to this Comment: 8572

If one subscribes to the Dennet version of everything emerging from randomness, then one of the things that most captivates me is the idea that everything I experience, everything I know and everything I am made of is a vanishingly small subset of the possibilities, completely improbable, virtually impossible. The sense I have is of ABSOLUTE AWE. I wonder sometimes if the desire for or belief in absolute truth is really a desire for absolute meaning. I say this becasue it seems to me one could believe that randomess is absolute truth, but this wouldn't fulfill the need for something to cling to. I don't know if meaning is the word I'm really looking for as an alternative to truth, but if randomness is accepted as absolute truth we still want to know what it means for us. Maybe that is the trouble with absolute truth- we can't ever remove ourselves far enough from our very particular and vanishingly probable humanness to be able to know something that is absolute, something that encompasses all the possibilities. It has been interesting to think about the opposite of clinging, to imagine the extreme particularity and fixedness with which we are situated within existence and then to imagine everything that being released from this position might reveal. This is sort of what I mean by awe- a sense of infinite contraction and expansion (with an emhasis on the expansion).

Empty story-telling
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-02-29 23:35:38
Link to this Comment: 8573

Quick post: I came across another interesting exchange while reading "Mind--The Adaptive Gap: Evolutionary psychologists try to shed the just-so story stigma" by Eugene Russo. This is an article on The Scientist, an online journal, available here.

Russo cites the criticism leveled by Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin at the adaptationist program, which seeks to explain every trait as an evolutionary advantage. They argued that many traits are actually byproducts and not results of natural selection. A good example given by Russo: "The bridge of one's nose will hold up one's glasses, but it's not an adaptation for such." Wilson disagreed with the stance taken by Gould and Lewontin.

Below is the excerpt:

This so-called science, argued Gould and Lewontin, boiled down to little more than just-so stories--referring to Rudyard Kipling's century-old children's fables that offered imaginative explanations for certain animals' distinctive qualities.

"That was just a foolish paper," says Wilson. "All scientists deal in hypotheses and in scenarios. That's how they formulate and identify the problem that they hope to solve. [Gould and Lewontin] confused hypothesis formation with what they thought was just empty story-telling."

Another comment on the idea of science as story, etc. Some of us may feel we have argued this point to death, but this extract feels to me like a useful reminder that it's not an argument that can be made once and left for dead.

Thursday's headache
Name: Julia
Date: 2004-02-29 23:38:03
Link to this Comment: 8575

I found myself mystified and overwhelmed after class on Thursday, and my hean continued to spin for hours into the night as I searche for validation and comfort in a very concerning discussion on Thursday. My pain was a result of Thursday's discussion on something coming from nothing, on the big bang and the application of this concept to the emergence of thought. Class was by far boring, but mind numbing because of the intesity of the content.

We sort of came to the decision that it was not comfortable but doable to accept the concept of a big bang creating the universe within which evolution could take place, shaping planets and non-life, then creating life to also evolve into more life. It was much harder, however, to imagine something (even dust) from absolute nothing without the influence of something greater.

For me, even more difficult was the acceptance of language and thought, including every cultural aspect of thought (such as morality, kinship, and all social contract) being the results of completely random generation coupled with selection. I was left questioning my own morals and wondering if the social contracts that we have with others of our species are merely the product of randomness, leading me to believe they easily could have not ocurred at all. There could have been a world without rights and wrongs, just and unjust, rights and laws, not to mention feeling. The examples brought up in class that stick with me are the socially unjustness of killing innocent children or being responsible for genocide. But given this frame of thought, responsibility could have been a quality never developed leaving us with a world unimagineable and frightening to me.

It was hard to find comfort in this story, to justify everything that I so soundly believed in and had never really questioned but all of a sudden was, such as protecting the "rights" of our fellow man and keeping our world beautiful and peaceful, but the thought that I reminded myself of was that it doesn't even really matter how it all came about i suppose because like it or not this is where we are and that is what i believe so I should stand by it even if it might be for "nothing". sigh... all for now.

beetle time
Name: em
Date: 2004-03-01 10:00:38
Link to this Comment: 8581

orah: "time doesn't jolt, wince, or twitch, but just keeps moving the sea. another thing working against us."

went to hear carol mosely braun speak last night at haverford. wow. she told us about her experiences as the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand. there, she was made an honorary member of the Maori. the Maori have a way of looking at time that is completely different from our way: they envision the past as something in front of you. you have seen it happen, you know what it consists of, and it is something to keep in your vision at all times. in contrast, the future is something behind you. it is unknown, unseen, and it is your actions in the past and towards the past that make it possible for the future to come into being. reading orah's post, and thinking over this Maori idea got me excited and scared.

perhaps time is not working against us, perhaps we are working against time. what with all our wrinkle-creams, photographs, stories, and vitamins: we are trying to stop time: distill it, slow it down, own it. however, this is dangerous. when i was seven or so, my aunt (who is an entymologist) reached into her freezer and pulled out a glass jar. inside was an enormously ugly black beetle. "i found this last month and it is not common in this area. i wanted to take a picture of it as proof that i had found it, but it was moving around so fast, it wouldn't stay still long enough for me to get it in the frame. i put it in the freezer to slow it down, and that killed it." i was horrified that the beetle was dead. "maybe it's sleeping?" "no, it's dead," she answered, "but i have my picture."

that's my story for today.

an assimilated water droplet
Name: katherine
Date: 2004-03-01 11:45:10
Link to this Comment: 8584

so much to write,

Orah wants answers and something to cling to. She wants to find others who feel the same as her, like they are stuggling to hang onto something- some truth- and yet her own search makes her aggitated and confused.
I think that I am approaching life very differently. Instinctively I think that we all want something solid in life to hold onto, but it either doesn't exist (there is no truth) or it is so elusive I don't think that anyone has ever found it. so instead of frustrating myself I am trying a more zen-like approach to my life. I don't want to stand on the dry, stable ground of absolute truth and meaning, I am trying to find a feeling of content ment in not knowing. I am learning to be content with allowing life to wash over me, to just enjoy the moments. I am a water droplet in a stream flowing to a greater river and I don't want to fight upstream, I just want to go with the flow.

Still, for all my wanting to be a water droplet, this class is really challenging me to think and fight upstream past the currents that I have already created in my mentality and beliefs. for instance, and this is a major instance, I am beginning to question "god," in my own simple way. I have never believed in a creator before, just believed that things happened according to scientific laws. now I am feeling like these scientific laws have just as many holes in them as the bible does. when prof. grobstein played with his computer evolution modle which eventually ended in extinction or a stable population he tried to tell us that this occured randomly without any outside help or rules. but anne dalke called him on that, and I would like to as well. there were rules to the game, specific rules to identify which dots should turn red and which green. and a man, who ever designed the game, created these rules. so it did not occur without some greater guidance. and are we to believe, similarly, that in the very beginning, beginning, beginning, that this game of elements and plants and stars and evolution started without any thing to set the rules or create the rules. Is there after all something that set this all in motion and then let random chance take over. this questioning may seem elementary to some who already poses an ounce of religion "faith" but this is earth shaking to me.

And of coarse I can't sign off until I have addressed Daniela who asks: "Can a person live alone insolated from other human beings and be creative? Original?" I think that a person living in complete isolation, who had to reinvent what it means to be human all over again (without actually knowing that that is what they were doing)would indeed be creative. They would not paint a van gogh, or build a pyramid, or write any sort of poetry, but even the simple tools built for survival would be a product of creativity. I also believe that the tools that this person would create would be recognizable to us- in some way. All animals have instinct, whether knowing that within a few minutes of birth they must stand and run, or knowing how to use their claws and teeth and who is an enemy and who their mother is. For humans, the memes that have aided in the creation of tools and such things are a product of instinct.

This conversation, about uniqueness and originality which began in our small group class, has bothered me ever since it began. Why are we clinging to our uniqueness? Is this how we define our self-worth, but how different we are from other people? by how little we need to depend on others for ideas, memes and in the end survival? I think that uniqueness is a quality which we prize when we talk about it. Being original and one-of-a-kind sounds good to us, but it is very different when we take action. When we interact with people, when we are meeting and playing with people, especially for the first time, we want to be anything but unique. We want to fit in, to be one of the group, to not feel like the odd one out. When we are in action we want similarity, why can we not value that?

Name: ro. finn
Date: 2004-03-01 12:04:05
Link to this Comment: 8585

For those of us who used to think that an elevator has intrinsic intentionality...

An Amish girl and her mother were visiting a mall where everything they saw amazed them, especially two silver doors that parted and slid together again. "What is this, Mother?" "I have never seen such a thing in my life," the mother replied.

Just then, a pudgy old man hobbled past them and pressed a button by the silver doors. The doors opened and the old man shuffled into the small room there. The doors closed. The girl and her mother watched as numbers above the doors lit up. They watched until the last number lit, then as the numbers lit in reverse.

The doors opened again and a gorgeous hunk of a guy stepped out. The mother, not taking her eyes off the fellow, said quietly to her daughter. "Go fetch your father, dear."

Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-01 17:09:25
Link to this Comment: 8594

reeve and i are taking this english class called 'bible and literature,' and we just read job...which i think is so relevant to this class. short summery: job is a really really great guy and God decides to test him and inflicts the greatest suffering on him and kills all his kids and takes everything away from him. and job wrestles with all these bad things, but never curses God. job talks about the utter asbence of God. before, in the bible, we are told of a god that depends on absolutes i.e. he is good or he is bad or he is just etc. but, here we see something beyond that: god is. and there is nothing to say about god except that he is. there are no categories in which to put him, no words to pin him. job says of god in chapter 41, "can you fill its skin with harpoons, or its head with fishing spears? any hope of capturing it wil be disapointed." so! maybe i agree that there is no such thing as absolute evil or absolute truth ... but i think what my religion prof. said, "at the heart of all existence there is an impenetrable absence." and we can't even define this absence as truth ... it is just absolute. it is. and i think amidst such overwhelming change...when change seems to be at the essential base of everything that exists ... don't you feel that there is something out there that IS? isn't there some stillness in existence? i guess what i'm asking those of you who don't need absolutes is: do you beleive in any form of stillness? because i think that's the point of job...that life is tough and never stable and yet job doesn't curse life. he doesn't curse the lack of absolute justice. he lives because there is something that IS. and even though he is flung away from everything that he clings to ... to the point that he no longer clings to anything ... there is nothing stable in his life ... he feels that there is an absolute ...and even though "if i go forward, he is not there; or backward, i cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and i cannot behold him; i turn to the right, but i cannot see him," (23:8-9) IT still exists. and even if we try to penetrate it, through spears and harpoons at it, we cannot get it. but it's there ... i am that i am. EXISTENCE IS. WE ARE. yes? no? i really think that despite the fact that we might not mean anything in the picture of the whole universe, in all of time we still ARE. friends! do you think we exists? becuase if EVERYTHING is always changing and there is NOTHING that is in stasis then nothing IS. does that make sense? i really really think that we exist, but am willing to hear alternative ideas :)
so ... i revise again (slightly begrudingly) : maybe there is no such thing as absolute evil, or absolute good, or absolute truth ... but there is, i think, an absolute, a "still point of the turning world" (eliot). (("at the still point, there the dance is, but neither arrest nor movement. and do not call it fixity, where past and future are gathered. neither ascent nor decline. except for the point, the still point."))
i realize this is a crazy disjointed posting (especially the part of not existing...i hope it makes sense to some...)
ps i've never been so condenced as in katherine p's two lines...i guess it's true. but it doesn't feel great to seem so simple. but that's the way humans deal with each other...our beings are so huge that the only way to fit into each other's minds is the forcably contract each other. we all do it :) i just hope that i can expand in your mind after being squeezed so tightly into two lines. and even though i am pinned to those two lines i hope that i can escape and revise ....
grant me that?

Religion and Morality
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-03-01 17:58:38
Link to this Comment: 8596

Meg: "I think that a major influence in morality was religion. Once religions were established there were also codes on how to live based on these religions. I have no way of knowing whether or not morality existed before then, but it cannot have existed before humans were conscious of their actions."

I totally believe that morality existed before religion. While I believe that religion encourages moral behavior, you do not necessarily have to be religious to be moral. I can't remember who said this, but earlier in the semester someone said that she believes that in today's world it is not religion that is responsbile for our negative feelings against murder, stealing, lying, etc... but that this is something innate. Many people did not agree with this and said that religion was responsbile for morality. How does this explain altruism in animals who, as far as I know, do not follow a particular religion?

I think I need a concise definition of religion. Is it the belief in God? in prophets? Or is the refusal to commit sins like murder, stealing, lying, etc...? Isn't this refusal also defined as morality? Do you need to believe in God to be moral?

Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-01 18:27:03
Link to this Comment: 8598

aia, a possible definition for you:
william james writes that religion is "the feeling, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine." he also writes, "religion, whatever it is, is a man's total reaction upon life." and "we shall have to confess to at least some amount of dependence on sheer mercy, and to practice some amount of renunciation, great or small, to save our souls alive... for when all is said and done, we are in the end absolutly dependent on the universe ... now in those states of mind which fall short of religion, the surrender is submitted to as an imposition of necessity, and the sacrifice is undergone at the very best without complaint. in the religious life, on the contrary, surrender and sacrifice are positively espoused: even unnecessary givings-up are added in order that happiness may increase. religion thus makes easy and felicitious what in any case is necessary."

yes we is
Name: em
Date: 2004-03-01 19:45:17
Link to this Comment: 8600

orah, dear, i believe i hear you-- or at least i'm listening:
so if we are always in flux, are we ever just being?
perhaps this is wrapped up in paul's (and bethany's) explanations of time as something that we carry around with us: if time exists only in the present (for it is in the present moment through which we create the past and future), then what really is left?
i'd like to propose that just the fact that we are growing and changing means that we ARE. just because once i start thinking about how i think i start thinking with words, or just because i look into the mirror and only see my "i'm looking into the mirror face", does not mean that i do not think without words when i am really truly thinking, does not mean that my true face will never be found.
or, to put it another way, i do not think about breathing and yet i breathe. it does not become difficult to breathe until i start thinking about it: existing does not become full of angst or debatable until i start thinking about it. until then, i simply am.
"look out, child, you're bound to change; you can't always stay the same." --little feat

Si falor, ergo sum...
Name: daniela
Date: 2004-03-01 22:29:54
Link to this Comment: 8607

The axiomatization of the world is the prerequisite for creating an intelligent machine. Likewise, the Darwinian algorhythms applied to human thinking also are based on similar assumptions. A machine and a human will function properly (and be perfectly satisfied) until the axioms are deleted or contradicted.
What distinguishes human intelligence from the artifiacially created is that people tend to "look backwards" and seek the cause of extant processes. By doing so, they examine proofs, revaluate meanings, make mistakes, and reconsider identities. Blundering energizes people to correct the mistake using another approach/logic/perspective. Prodding people to change (and consequently adapt in response to the challenge), mistakes are the prerequisite for social evolution.

telling (all) our stories
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-03-01 22:39:17
Link to this Comment: 8608

tell me! who gets to tell her story and who doesn't?

I'll tell you: EVERYBODY gets to tell her story. and then--

EVERYBODY gets to decide which stories she finds useful,

which ones she can NOT make use of...

I've found incredibly useful (thanks to you all) these multiple accounts of expansion, contraction and re-expansion...and w/ them a very strong sense of free will.

All of which: much more about tomorrow.


unrelated to the main thread of discussion, but i
Name: Lauren Fri
Date: 2004-03-01 23:12:30
Link to this Comment: 8610

There are so many interesting things going on in this forum, but I still have some leftover things floating around in my mind from Thursday's class that I want to address. We got into a big discussion in Anne's section about free will, and how it may or may not impact the path of evolution. Daniela explained that her concept of free will involved not just the ability to make choices, but the ability to sustain them; Simran pointed out the difficulty in one's own free will banging up against other peoples (can we really then be "free"?). These two comments had me thinking. I think Daniela's point makes sense because free will is not just about making a choice but being able to follow through with it. Free will is about action, not just thought. That said, I think the fact that everyone is trying to act on their own free will does cause some conflict. If, "left to my own free will," I want to take a nap, and my roommate wants to practice guitar, neither one of us can fully execute our free will as planned. If we concede that free will plays a part in evolution, then it can be said that evolution is a product of compromise. Perhaps natural selection and random chance are not necessarily the two dominating factors; compromise should be included as well.

Name: Fritz DUbu
Date: 2004-03-01 23:52:55
Link to this Comment: 8611

The thought that floted around during thursday's class are still on my mind. When Mary asked if there was ant time during which language was not an expression of emotion, I was blown awy. It had never occured to me that every act of language carried emotional undertones. There is the need to be heard, the need to inform and other needs which may not be so easy to describe. They become a part of our speach patterns.

Word chose carries the meaning of those emotions. But what they translate into once they have either left the page or the mouth is another matter. The in between space before and idea is heard of shared is where the real change begins. But is doesn't end in the brain of the recipient as one would think. It is regurgitated. As Daniela pointed out in class, there are no truely "original" ideas. But does "original" mean that there can not be a "new"?

Name: Mary
Date: 2004-03-02 09:19:58
Link to this Comment: 8625

Everybody gets to tell their story but the focus of the story is affected by the memes going around.

Today, the story of biology is one of the biggest collection of memes going around. Pervasively, evolution is a huge story that everything else is fit into. It is a story that we use as a jumping off point for many other stories. Right now, I am jumping off and wondering about the relevance of "meaning". My bio mindset looks at meaning as a function of the human brain. And if I accept the idea that all evolves by random chance, is meaning meaningful? Did we humans luck out and develop an ability that will let us know the big answers? What is life, why and how does it exist, and what does it all mean? Or is it 'just a function' that will happen to aid in extending our species survival?

When most people look for meaning in their lives, they usually end up defining meaningfulness - as 'leading a good life'. Helping others, being kind to the earth and its inhabitants, making their family and friends secure, and making this world a better place is what I think a lot of people call meaningfulness. We also search for meaning as we analyze the patterns around us. We pass on meaning to other humans through language, creating an inertia to stories that harbor carefulness through time, although sometimes maladaptive recklessness. It sounds like this 'function of searching for meaning to life' might serve a worthwhile purpose of trying to adapt more successfully to the environment, extending our species survival. IS THAT ALL THERE IS? Is there no REAL meaning?

Maybe we need another big story besides evolution to provide that answer

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-03-02 13:32:07
Link to this Comment: 8629

In an attempt to answer Mary's question, Dennett notes: WE think that being up and about, having adventures and completing projects, seeing our friends and learning about the world, is the whole point of life, but Mother Nature doesn't see it that way at all. A life of sleep is as good as a life of any other (page340).

What do you all think? I buy it. But I don't feel that this in any way cheapens the fact that we must assign our own meaning. Our meaning isn't any less meaningful, if this was the case non of us would carry on, right?!

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-03-02 16:27:55
Link to this Comment: 8632

Let me begin by stating that I do believe we have an unconscious mind. However, I disagree with the way the theory of the unconscious was presented in class today. In each of my psychology classes it has always been made vary clear that this theory is not factual. Rather, it is a Freudian theory, and all Freudian theories are based on case studies. Therefore, it is a theory that was originally untested and remains unproven even today. In the psychological community this is actually a theory that is quite frowned upon. For this reason I have a problem with Paul's claim that the unconscious exists. I want you all to be warned that this is not necessarily so. This is a science class, after all, and I think we need to be careful about the terms we use. Moreover, this is a biology class, and I also think that we need to give some consideration to all of the disciplines that comprise the sciences. I'd appreciate some clarification if at all possible, I'm hoping that I misunderstood the way Paul was using the term (since I generally agree so much with what he has to say).

Thank you for making me think Paul.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-03-02 16:28:48
Link to this Comment: 8633

Bon vacances, everyone!

Caveats ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-03-02 18:24:10
Link to this Comment: 8635

As per Diane (with thanks to her for asking for clarification, and for her appropriate concern to be sure that both biology and psychology are attended to):

Freud is indeed out of fashion in a number of academic circles. I actually think that reflects more poorly on academia than it does on Freud, but that's a quite different matter from the one at hand.

No neuroscientist, biologist, or psychologist would express any reservation whatsoever about the inference from experimental, clinical, and field observations that much of human behavior occurs because of processes of which individual humans are totally unaware. And that's all that I meant by the "unconscious" when I talked about it in class today. This particular "unconscious" is enormously old phylogenetically, and evidence for it long predates Freud. Whether it is the same "unconscious" that Freud wrote about was, and remains, a very interesting question (see Making the Unconscious Conscious, and Vice Versa: A Bi-directional Bridge Between Neuroscience/Cognitive Science and Psychotherapy?).

The bipartite brain "story" I told is, on the other hand, not (yet?) a "consensus" story among neuroscientists, or biologists, or psychologists; it is my construction but a construction solidly based in appropriate experimental, clinical, and field observations (and closely related to constructions made by a number of other scientists). There's a complete review of these observations in progress in Biology 202. Shorter versions are available in the paper mentioned above, as well as in Getting It Less Wrong, The Brain's Way: Science, Pragmatism, and Multiplism and The Brain's Images: Co-Constructing Reality and the Self.

Thanks again to Diane for the expression of concern. Glad to be thinking together. Its what the course is all about. And, for that matter, what science too is all about (A Vision of Science (and Science Education) in the 21st Century: Everybody "Getting It Less Wrong" Together).

Happy Birthday Dr. Suess
Name: bethany ke
Date: 2004-03-02 22:11:49
Link to this Comment: 8642

Per orah's earlier post regarding meaning; What if our conscious representation of time is our way of giving it meaning? Can it have meaning when it is contracted? Orah thinks no. I think maybe it does... But for us to 'see/interpret' this meaning, we have to look at the expanded version. Does our unconscious find meaning in the contracted form, then? is probably not the ideal time to bring up the vases, but, i'll just put it out there anyway...this was in regards to absolute truth:

I used to wonder about this puzzle, which I saw as a religious puzzle. Now I don't know how to classify it, though I feel it has become more general. I will still explain it in the terms that I thought of it, just because that's how it makes the most sense to me.
SO we have God. God is all-powerful. We also have natural laws, whether or not created by God, it doesn't really matter in this situation. So let's say I put a fragile vase on a table. The table is over cement, let's say the sidewalk. Then I push the vase off the table. It is falling. If God is all-powerful, then of course he would be able to stop the vase from falling, or stop it from shattering when it hits the ground, or any number of exciting things if he took enough interest. But the fact remains that if he (or anyone else, like me, or a spectator) does not intervene, then the vase hits the ground. It breaks. Does this make the natural law as powerful as our all-powerful deity? Sure, he could do something about it, but if he doesn't, then it is absolutely certain that the vase will shatter when it makes contact with the ground. The law has so much authority (no matter who made it up) that if I set it into motion, God must DO something to stop it from happening if he wants it to stop, as it most assuredly would happen were he to remain inactive. In my mind, this suggests that the law is perhaps more powerful. I have my own answers to this now, but i sort of want to know what you think before providing what I've a side-note; what about the relation of this to free will?

happy tuesday. 3 more days to a week freedom!

Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-02 23:20:53
Link to this Comment: 8643

oh man, i have too many finals to be spending time here ... but bethany temps me and i MUST respond to falling vases. i must remind myself that I AM amist the speed of finals therefore i think ... here.
okay. quickly!
i've though a lot about that god who doesn't stop falling vases, who lets people shatter, and cry, and die, who lets the world and time and pain flow as it does and refuses to craddle our shards ... i've thought about the god who has the power but doesn't DO anything.
he doesn't comfort me.
i say: fuck him. we don't need his indifferent bullshit anyways. (like angels in america.)
what does comfort me is a god who DOESN'T have the power to do anything, but rather acknowledges our pain and suffering. something that UNDERSTANDS. because as hard as we might try to convey ourselves in full to each other, we always fail. so isn't it nice to think that somewhere our ideas, WHAT WE REALLY MEAN, is out there and acknowledged.
but, that's not what i meant to say at all ... this god doesn't have to be consious, but IS as our ideas ARE in their true selves, uncondenced, unpinned penetrated or limited. so this BEINGNESS doesn't even have to acknowledge them, rather, it just has to BE in STILL harmony with them.
i guess i'm a little obsessed with the idea of stillness, now that my absolutes have been shattered. i need things to slow down and just BE ... i want my ideas to BE ... and i want god to BE ... and not try to change and revise themselves ... i'm tired of chasing them. i need rest. spring break.

sry about this post...i haven't been on track today...i haven't understood anything i've heard ((maybe go over free will again on thurs. for those of us who are brain fried ?))

Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-02 23:31:29
Link to this Comment: 8644

another concise definition of religion for aia :

david chidester university of cape town in his intro to his book patterns of power: religion and politics in american culture.

"religion is that dimention of human experience particularly concerned with varieties of power that are felt to be sacred."

Name: simran
Date: 2004-03-04 12:54:01
Link to this Comment: 8669

Right before we split for break, I want to throw a thought out there into this bubbling forum. I have always believed in "the survival of the fittest", a concept that has been much challenged by this course. If the tree of evolution places on equality all beings that are in existence today, then words like 'superior' and 'best' need to be eliminated from my vocabulary with regards to the evolutionary process.

Professor Dalke has got me thinking about taking this one step further- can those words be eliminated from our vocabulary even when talking about culture, literature, morality??? If so, what can they be replaced by? Is this another example of a place where language falls short. I think not, but I have yet to hit on the ideal words. There I go again, 'ideal'...

I would love to hear what people have to say about these words...

Free will and company
Name: Patricia P
Date: 2004-03-04 16:24:11
Link to this Comment: 8680

Professor Dalke had me thinking as well. I just wanted to contribute a bit more to our discussion on Thursday about freewill and about the constraints put into place by other people's freewill. The conversation reminded me of a very deep conversation that I had with my father when he was attempting to explain to me why he thinks people and many other living things "pair-up" and, for people, fall in love. The main point was this. No one can tell themselves a joke. That is impossible. It wouldn't be funny. It's expected. Other people provide the punch lines to our lives. They give us the unexpected with generates something different than we originally had in ourselves which inspires purpose. It also inspires meaning. The punch line is created by the two and is something that can not be created by one person alone. Because we are moved by the influence that other things have on/in our lives, we feel meaning. We create meaning in this way. I just always found it helpful to realize that other people/things/experiences/art can do for you a certain thing that you can not do for yourself. I think that has a lot to do with free will. They may not be constraints or controls, but they are guides and everything can't be random if you have guides.

Meaning again
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-03-04 16:45:50
Link to this Comment: 8683

Wanted to add a couple of thoughts to the Thursday discussion as well. In terms of Mary's idea about meaning, I think that humans need to look for meaning, reinvent meaning etc. just as much as squirrels need to gather nuts or frogs catch flies or leaches swim... I think it is just another part of our biological programing... a need which becomes fun, like eating is for a lot of people, pleasurable (so that we'll do it rather than forget about it.) But even if meaning-making is not an evolutionary necessity, at least it is fun- It's a good process. I'm happy that I'm a human being rather than an animal. I like making up stories.

I was also looking at the chalk board where the jokes were written and thinking about negative space in between the words and around them- I just want to write that here so that I can develop my thought a little more later... I think that the negative space in an object, in a story etc... is the space where we can invent our own stories- there are openings in every story for the connection of one subconcious mind with another. And so the analysis of what Dr. Seuss's Cat and the Hat was "really" about was completely valid... as are all stories.

Have a great break everyone! :-)

Name: ro. finn
Date: 2004-03-05 07:46:22
Link to this Comment: 8700

Simran wrote: " Professor Dalke has got me thinking about taking this one step further- can those words [like 'superior' and 'best'] be eliminated from our vocabulary even when talking about culture, literature, morality??? If so, what can they be replaced by? Is this example of a place where language falls short. I think not, but I have yet to hit on the ideal words..."

We could think about competing/striving to be deemed more fit in different ways:
1. Out-and-out competition with others, a struggle with only one left standing;
2. Competition with others where each competitor is assessed against a standard, i.e., how well does each one conform, and then, which conformed to the standard to the highest degree;
3. Competition with yourself—no others directly involved—where you have a sense of how good you are based on some standard you, someone else, or some circumstance put in place...but only you are doing the judging ...only you can assign a word to describe how fit you are at that moment.

If we use way #3, then artists and authors would write their own reviews, and the notion of critics would be absurd (I like this idea!); students would judge how well they each had done in a course or on a paper or exam (perhaps, the "standard" would have been set by a teacher). Perhaps, this notion for grading would require a nested set of standards in order for some level of quality to be maintained. Even so, this sort of formula doesn't work for all situations....

I'm thinking of governance... how could we improve selection of our leaders—or at least preserve the "chance+elimination" scheme we use now—without direct competition or competition by candidates competing against a pre-set standard? Can we do it and still eliminate such words as "best"? Did the best man win in the last presidential election? If we refer to him as "adequate," we might diminish the perception other nations have of his power and put ourselves at risk. If we were to banish the use of all comparative words applied to humans, then I suspect we'd apply them to surrogate objects—such as our neighborhood, or our car, or where we go to school. Gosh, come to think of it, in our culture it IS tacky for a person to directly say that she is somehow "better" (except in sanctioned competition or as gossip), so we already do use surrogates. And at Bryn Mawr, we take comparative censorship one step farther—banning the discussion of grades as part of an honor code. What's that all about? Are we ashamed of having gotten a good one? A bad one? Of being only 'adequate'? Or do we think they truly are they serve a purpose?

Getting back to putting ourselves at risk if we refer to whomever is president as "adequate"... this whole notion of nations is bothersome, don't you think? Seems whenever we set up social categories (nations, towns, religions, graduates, etc), we invite (inherently cannot preclude?) comparisons and assessments, which to our assessing who is better, more vulnerable, more desirable, etc. What drives this boundary-making? Dennett writes. "The Welsh language is kept alive by artificial means, just the way condors are" (514). I don't see keeping Welsh alive (even if it is my heritage) as the same as keeping alive a species. Having many languages, many cultures invites comparison and then competition (victors, spoils) along with the celebration of difference. But then, I'm reminded of Vonnegut's "Player Piano," –everyone was "equalized"...adequate, average. Ballet dancers wore weights to ensure this.

Maybe how we (might) think about (and leverage) our differences is the issue...

Lot's Wife Looks Back
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-03-05 15:01:38
Link to this Comment: 8707

Just in case some of you (like Lot's wife...??) are "looking back" before you leave (and if not, as a bookmark to remind us where we are/were, when we return....)

My section had a lot of fun, Thursday. We started off w/ an idea I got from Ro. (for which many thanks): that there are multiple verbal analogies (double entendres, puns) for Paul's double-heading arrows: that is, there are multiple moments in language play when we either hear (or see) two meanings simultaneously (or in VERY rapid oscillation). Some of those we played w/ in class were these (and other examples are warmly welcomed):

What do you get when you drop a piano down a mine shaft?
What do you get when you drop a piano onto a military base?
Why couldn't the pony talk?
What did the string say when the barman refused to serve him
(and he returned, a second time, all frazzled and frayed)?
(Answers--in case you can't wait--are at the bottom of this post).

We went from this sort of ability to see two-worlds/words @ once --and/or the option of chosing between the alternatives-- to asking whether this was/counted as/felt like "free will." This turned out to be a very productive line of thinking, and Dennett's observations about the need to "stop thinking" (to decide, repeatedly, when to terminate reflections--and what are the default principles for doing so? how to prioritize/decide when to stop following out a chain of associations/reasons...?) were also helpful here. We wondered when/if/how children learn to contextualize words and concepts, to go from a literalness (when they are unable, for instance, to recognize a pun) to enough awareness of--yet (paradoxically?) dissassociation from--context to see one.

This led us both to Kim Cassidy's recent presentation in the Brown Bag Group on
"How Psychology Approaches Knowledge" and to
Louis Menand's New Yorker piece, "Cat People: What Dr. Seuss Really Taught Us" (12-23 & 30, 2002 )--and with it associated queries about the range of allowable interpretations (is this an "essentialist" sort of question? one that "population thinking" will help us negotiate?)

Well, I think we're VERY nicely positioned, now, for the "turn" in the course--and I"m looking forward, in ten days, to picking up the conversation about the "evolution of stories"--


P.S. Here are the answers to the jokes:
What do you get when you drop a piano down a mine shaft?
A-flat minor (miner)
What do you get when you drop a piano onto a military base?
A-flat major
Why couldn't the pony talk?
He was a little horse/hoarse.
What did the string say when the barman refused to serve him
(and he returned, a second time, all frazzled and frayed)?
"Aren't you that string who was just in here?"
"No, I'm a frayed knot" (afraid not).
(Hey! see how writing it out ruins it? by preventing the free play of association?)

Name: Perrin
Date: 2004-03-07 13:51:30
Link to this Comment: 8716

"In the beginning was the Word..." A few days ago, my Hebrew prof told me that this Biblical phrase was mistranslated. Although I might not understand my professor's explanation correctly, I'll just throw this story out for the purpose of debate. He said that it should be translated as "In the beginning was the Mystery."

For those of us who believe in a god, could that be taken to mean that humans are not meant to discover our origins—the beginning? I was wondering if perhaps we would be more spiritually satisfied if we would stop questioning for a moment and There is certainly something to be said of the phrase, "ignorance is bliss" and "mystery" implies something that is beyond our comprehension. But I'm going to try anyway...what is the mystery? A god/creator, unicellular organisms, or nothing at all? Funny how one word can change the entire meaning of the Bible.

logos and need.
Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-07 20:45:42
Link to this Comment: 8719

wasn't john written in greek? ... isn't "the word" in greek LOGOS? i'd be curious to see where Dr. Rabeeya is getting "mystery."
i think maybe you're right that we're not intended to search. i don't think we're going to figure out anything that is going to change our lives. life is too REAL to be affected by philosophizing. but, i think abstractions dull the blunt sting of reaity.
i keep going back to TS Eliot (i find a new poet to obsess over each year ... Eliot's only been on the brain for about 10 months) because he's so relevant ... he does all this searching that i've quoted to you and then he writes a play called "the cocktail party" in which he realizes that the only reason God is there is because we NEED him to be there. that NEED is so powerful. so powerful we can ALMOST FEEL it. the NEED is so great that we convince ourselves that there MUST be something.
and, man, i beleive it. i cling to it.
and after all his painful searching Eliot's weary ... he's just too too tired. dragged by his coattail. ((at the age of 23 he writes, "i grow old i grow old shall i wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled, shall i dare to eat a peach ... i hear the mermaids singing each to each, they will not sing for me.)) and he bcomes devoutly religious. he accepts the human need and submits ... he surrenders to the universe.
as james says, "for when all is said and done we are in the end absolutly dependant on the universe ... in the religious life sacrifice and surrender are positively espoused." religion ("right" or "wrong") eases life. is there anything humanity needs more?
((real question that.))
hope everyone is having a wonderful break.

Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-03-13 18:13:03
Link to this Comment: 8732

Perrin/Dr. Rabeeya's reading of the Bible as "In the beginning there was Mystery" reminded me of my conference with Prof Dalke. In my last paper I was toying with Dennet's "sacred myth" and arguing that there are indeed some things that can never be fully explained (like consciousness, love, and hate). My reading of the world includes an element of mystery, an element of mystery that I am perfectly comfortable with accepting. But not everyone can accept mystery as an answer. What is it about 'mystery' that makes us so afraid?
Of course, we fear what we don't know but all too often we humanize what it is we do/can know. This might not be the best example but I am reminded of my first trip to Jerusalem. The word itself is married to numerous images - Jesus, spirtuality, The Dome of the Rock, sheep, stone paths, suicide bombings, Rabbis - and I just remember having a certain impression of the city before ever visiting it. I don't know what I was expecting but the seven-year-old me was dreaming of angels in the sky and shephards with figs. What I found instead were busy streets, light posts, street-lights, McDonalds, camel rides, and falafel vendors. There is the old city of Jerusalem that goes on for a few blocks and slightly resembles my childhood fantasy of the city, but that was it and it was short-lived. I sometimes think I would have preferred never visiting the city.
And in the same way I sometimes think I don't want give meaning to every mystery out there. For fear that by burying the mystery, I will have to bury a little piece of me with it.

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-03-15 00:56:45
Link to this Comment: 8742

"i think maybe you're right that we're not intended to search. ... i don't think we're going to figure out anything that is going to change our lives." – Orah.

"Perhaps we would be more spiritually satisfied if we would stop questioning for a moment and" – Perrin.

You romanticize trust. Now it is my turn to romanticize discovery.

We come across our poor epiphanies everyday - in securing a proof for a math assignment, in stumbling over a twist of Forster's words to come upon a realization of meaning, in seeing connections between what seemed like disparate disciplines. Rewarding, exciting, perhaps potentially life-changing.

Then, there are those that change the way we all think, see and act. Archimedes lowers himself into the tub. Newton sits under an apple tree. Watson dreams of a snake swallowing its own tail.

Who, then, would deny that the discovery was worth the struggle? Who, then, would insist that trust is enough? Standing on the brink, who would turn away? We couldn't possibly. Only lost in the struggle do we grow discouraged and seek satisfaction elsewhere.

But as I warned, I too romanticize. We feel just as powerful a need to label "discoverers" (one per discovery, thank you) and to tell the stories about their Eureka moments. (Newton's story is, as I understand, a fabrication to keep us charmed. Nothing more.) The Nobel science prizes, according to some, are the epitome of such myths. A recent article in The Scientist discusses the criticisms that have been aimed at these prizes as "anachronisms that caricature the workings of modern research".

But to give up on discovery entirely? Surely that is a grave mistake.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-15 15:02:54
Link to this Comment: 8746

i can be accused of making many a mistake, but "giving up on discovery" is not one. discovery is what we are all, myself, of course included, scrambling for. granted i, sometimes, plead for a rest from the struggle part of it ... a sort of roadside nap ...but "give up" no. my point through all these postings has been that we are never going to "give up on discovery." and we get this sensation that we are getting closer to capturing ... with each discovery. that sense is what keeps us going ... i don't think anyone gives up on discovery. life (and coffee) moves outward, right? hell, i wouldn't be a thinker if i never thought that i got it. what i meant by "maybe we aren't intended to search," was a comment on the nature of what we are chasing: something 'ungetable,' something that transcends The Word.
and what i meant by: nothing we figure out is going to change our lives ... i don't think philosophy: questioning how real things can be if there is no continuity in life, or a discovery of life on mars, or coining a finite definition of life, or learning the importance of non-reproductive sex is going to change the way we live. i mean the really really REAL things we experience are not going to be changed by Nietzsche or Melville. you know what i mean. the real things ... sickness, death, sex, children.
hope everyone had a good break :)

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-03-15 18:57:51
Link to this Comment: 8818

Su-Lyn has made an amazing point, we do seem to romanticize trust. But I am doubly impressed that she points out that it is possible to romanticize discovery as well. Although when I think "romanticize" the word "discovery" doesn't, usually, naturally follow. To romanticize is to generally ruminate over something more tragic, more ephemeral. I would like to toss out the idea that we don't readily romanticize discovery because we have a certain innate predisposition to it--its the Ayn Rand romantic in me, I can't help myself. And since we are predisposed this aspect of ourselves is all too close for us to notice (sort of like searching for your hat when it was on your head the whole time). I would argur that the drive to discover (and, similarly, learn) is so integrated in our makeup that we cannot separate ourselves from it, and, thus, have a great deal of diffitulty rationalizing why we do it, much less why we romanticize it.

Trust vs Discovery
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-03-16 00:02:54
Link to this Comment: 8826

Trust and discovery have something of a dichotomy going; they are both, I think, innate needs, drives, but they seem to drive in different directions, and we have to balance them out.

We need discovery, as Diane said above, we all feel irrepressable curiosity, and it' s probably killed a lot of people, but it's discovered fire too. On the other side of things is trust. We need trust to have something solid to place our feet on; children need to trust that their parents love them and will care for them, adults need to trust that the world has some echo of that love and care, which they often find in religion. We all need to trust that the chairs we're sitting in will probably continue to support our weight and the Earth is unlikely to be swallowed by fire in our lifetimes.

This, however, is where they meet. Trust and discovery may be facing in different directions, but either they start and the same point or they circle around to hit the same point eventually. They're based on a need for stability, which can come from blind trust that the world will not end and we'll be okay if it does, or can come from understanding how the world works and thus how it will end and when. So these apparently radically opposed thought patterns in the end come from one undeniable drive, and the only further question is which route, or what balance of the two, we will choose.

Name: Kat
Date: 2004-03-16 00:56:24
Link to this Comment: 8827

to turn away from the trust and discovery discussion for a moment (two words, by the way, that I never thought of as in opposition before), I had a comment, looking back, on the free will discussion.

As my parents always told me and my brothers growing up: "Indecision is a decision".

I think this was very powerful for me because it made everything that I did an act of my own will. This, similarly, applies to the future. I do not just "choose to", I also "choose not to." In lots of the class discussions, people talked of Free will as if it was Infinite will: i.e., the ability to choose to do WHATEVER you want, anything is in the realm of possibility. But I think that I have free will because I have the opportunity to choose between options, however limited they may be.

Trust and theory
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-03-16 12:40:49
Link to this Comment: 8830

Kat, I don't think that either of us believe trust and discovery to be oppositional ideas. As Elizabeth pointed out, though they sometimes inhabit different spheres of experience, they necessarily overlap. Many discoveries are not a matter of serendipity, but the result of an undertaking that began in faith. Of the various appraisals I've heard of science, I think most interesting is the tension between the constant skepticism with which scientists must test established hypotheses against new observations (the practice of science), and the faith that at least some aspects of the world can be described and understood (what legitimates this practice). So even science (which I often catch myself thinking of as wedded to discovery) is not an opposition of the two terms.

But as I noted in my post, I was responding to an unbalanced conversation that strongly favored trust. However, I will admit that I unfairly indulged in polemic when I suggested that Orah was giving up on discovery. Romanticizing trust is one thing, dismissing discovery is not quite the same.

Orah, thanks for the clarification. I'm trying to expand your point about "philosophy" to Culler's "theory", so bear with me: What did you think of Culler's analysis of Foucault's theory of sex? Does that change the way we experience this particular "real thing"? True, not everyone has read Foucault, but we draw our experiences from many sources, including the way in which other people think, act.

Does theory touch our lives?

Name: becky
Date: 2004-03-16 16:39:25
Link to this Comment: 8842

to continue part of what we were talking in about in class today, in response to orah's question "who gets to tell her story?", i think that people can ABSOLUTELY be kept from telling their stories. those with power get their stories heard. those with power to a large extent determine what stories get told and to what ends. (hence prof. dalke's statement that when she was in school she and everyone else read huck fin as boys.) the prevailing stories or genre not only keeps some stories from being told out loud, so to speak, they can also shape or mis-shape people's stories about themselves as they are being made. ("...the conceptual framework in which we are brought to think about the world- exercises great power." Culler, p8, explaining Foucalt)

this was on my mind while i was finnishing up Dennett, reading about what cultural memes need to be destroyed or at least "put in a museum"- and someone else brought this up in class, sorry i don't remember who. but as i understand it, (it's very much a trite live and let live sort of thing) the stories/memes that are immoral are those that would stop other stories from being told, or drown other stories out.

the Word is a tremendous responsibility!!!

What are you Thinking about Literary Theory?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-03-16 16:44:40
Link to this Comment: 8843

how nice to welcome ourselves back to Bryn Mawr and wake up from the roadside nap (?) that was spring break, with a story in a snow storm this afternoon. Am of course interested in hearing the rest of those comments which lay behind your raised hands towards the end of today's session--as well as your further thoughts/reactions to Jonathan Culler's Very Short Introduction to Literary Theory. How does literature and literary theory (as he explains it/as you understand it now) "fit" with or diverge from what you know of biological evolution? What role does (can?) it play in in the evolving story of our lives?

bible storeies, puns, melville and more
Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-16 16:56:29
Link to this Comment: 8844

there's an old jewish midrash (commentary) that says that the lessons of the torah are learned in the space between the words. there's another that says that when the torah was given to the people at the foot of sinai it was emblazened in the sky with "black fire on white fire;" the signifigance of the white parchment, the white pages, is EQUAL to the inked words.
also, when i read anne's posting about miner and minor, major and major, knot not, hoarse and horse i was surprised at all those connections though english was my first language and i've been saying those words my whole life. but off the top of my head i could think of many connections like that in languages that i am learning. interesting example: in hebrew the root of the words KISS and WEAPON are the same. also, the words for TRADITION and WALK or GO are the same. interesting stuff. i'm usually thankful that english was my first language because (if i'm not mistaken) it has the largest vocabulary; i have much for choice as a writer: the ability to get close to essence/identity of the sensation/object that i am trying to describe. BUT i wonder if the more words (the less overlap of roots) makes there be less white space, less pun, less theory. english gives the writer more power, but limits the ability of the conjured images to expand in the reader's mind.
...stuff to think about...
ALSO, i will quote my religion prof again: "at the heart of all existence is an impenetrable absence." is he saying that there is a 'right' answer in literature, or is he saying that there is an abscence of 'rightness?' and FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY i can start quoting Melville: "It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all." (md p.20 norton's edition) damn straight it is, melville!
and some more oh so relevant melville: "Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore? But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God - so, better is it to perish in the howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land!" (md 97 norton's edition)
oh man. talk about taking the words (i wish i had) right out of my mouth.
and i guess you would argue that Melville doesn't have absolutes, no ground on which to stand, nothing steady on which to cling. But, i think, rather, Melville clings to the impenetrable: that is his absolute. Ahab clings to that which he cannot penetrate: moby dick. and though he is thrashed to bits by the damn whale he hangs on because that's why he lives. and i think that is what we are all doing: we're not standing on firm ground, we can't stand on absolutes because we don't know what they are, and so the only thing we can do is TRY to get at them. or i guess eliot poises an alternative, " these are only hints and guesses, / Hints followed by guesses; and the rest / Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action, / The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation." ((i realize that he is also saying that the life, the movement, the breath, the incarnation is in the unknown, the second half of 'the gift half understood.')) maybe that's not an alternative, but an agreement that sprouts two different styles of life (writer vs. religious).
but i have no more time to think, gtg. i'm really psyched about talking about md with ya'all.

ps some jots of not so relevant melville, just hope for some company in appreciating this greatness; melville: "yes, there is death in the business of whaling - a speechless quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance." ahhhh.....

freedom and shuffling
Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-16 18:27:08
Link to this Comment: 8845

and i agree with susan about the author not having authority over the meanings derived from her work. as a writing student i like the freedom that this gives me. i feel detached from what i write. can take on a different persona when i write: a kind of role playing. i am attached to the spoken word: your SEEING me say something ties my words to my Identity in your mind. but, in the secret space, alone in my room, i can pour words out that will not weigh down my self. i can be seperate from my words. when we speak words in affect they pin US, though we may be using them in an attempt to free ourselves. but when we write words other things are limited and NOT ourselves. but, i remember, words always fail ... so, maybe we trade in success for freedom. we chose to fail in life rather than be captured by the spoken word. interesting! (i think). I would rather be a failure than give up my freedom.

also, thought today about how we question whether anything is NEW or if everything is JUST a reshuffling of already present objects. and i'd argue that CREATION is not sublime, rather the beauty lies in the REORGANIZATION, the constant shuffle of our lives.
so writers cannot CREATE anything new, the dictionary is bound and sent to press, but the genious of the writer lies in her ability to reshuffle words.

((obviously i am making up for the posting deprevation over break. it was a nice rest stop, but now that we're rested the only way to make up for lost time is to speed ahead ... going 90mph.))

Meaning is What we Make It
Name: roz
Date: 2004-03-17 10:31:40
Link to this Comment: 8849

While reading Culler I was absolutely thrilled of the theme: things mean what we make them to mean. I told Anne that the only reason I like math is because there is one set answer, even if there is more than one way of reaching it. When it comes to literature, there is never a set answer. More questions arise from answers, and it fractals out like the picture of the tree we saw in class yesterday. Meaning is what we make it to be. That makes me so happy, because a person can never be wrong if they are able to defend their own meaning. Coincidentally, this reminded me of AP lit exams. Remember having to analyze poems and prose? Finding the meaning in them was so difficult because what if it was wrong? I just wonder how it can be wrong, because Culler (whom I adore), says often that meaning in what the interpreter makes it to be.

tomorrow's class assignment
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-03-17 15:10:35
Link to this Comment: 8858

At Mary's suggestion, here's everyone's assignment for tomorrow's class: Come prepared to speak (briefly) about your encounter w/ Culler's text. What was added to you by reading it? What was taken away? What puzzles you? What do you find yourself pushing against? What do you know, now, having read his book, and what would you like to understand better?

What do you doubt? What do you believe?

Dr. Seuss
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-03-17 18:30:56
Link to this Comment: 8861

I have some ideas/questions about Culler which I've written down but I will save for tomorrow in class-- Mary's questions are good ones and ones that have helped me realize that I really do have strong and unresolved feelings about literary theory- But I do think, to certain extent, Culler's book opened me up to accepting a deep or different understanding. I'm very much looking forward to class tomorrow.

What I really wanted to post was just how much I enjoyed listening to Anne's reading of Dr. Seuss-- I want to be read to again and am feeling very nostalgic although I don't remember Dr. Seuss being a part of what was read to me... or at least not the Cat and The Hat... or The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. Perhaps Green Eggs and Ham. It was just so lovely to listen to this type of story. What I would have liked though was if the pinkness on the snow could have remained... But that would go against a cultural view... Cleaning up mess is good... one must clean up the mess... I wish that all of the little cats could have found something beautiful in the pink snow... Kids are taught that certain things are bad, (mess being one of them) when entropy is an inevitable process and so much of life is messy. There is so much uncertainty in life... Books could really help kids get used to this at an earlier age. But then one wouldn't want them to start coloring over the walls or anything like that. I always used to like going to my Aunt's apartment when I was little because it was so messy and there were art materials and sculptures and painting and things from the curb everywhere... And there was something about it which seemed forbidden. Being there was like being in a magical world detached from everything that was acceptable. She had a mattress on the floor at the time too instead of a bed and when I slept over there I thought it was just the greatest privledge ever to be able to sleep on a matress on the floor. In my house, everything had to be in its proper place, art projects were confined to specific times and locations... I had a play room... I think it's better if the world as a whole is a playroom for children (by children I think I mean every age). But again, it's not a cultural norm. See you all tomorrow :-)

Date: 2004-03-17 19:24:12
Link to this Comment: 8864

one of the things i find most frustrating about literary theory is the fact that meaning is what you make of it. i'm extremely resistant to the idea of projecting all kinds of complex ideologies onto literature because i've found that the most elegant (simplest) explanation often serves the purpose as well as the most complicated theory. i understand why literary theories can often be useful lenses but its hard for me to adjust my thought process to include foucault and saussure.

Name: emily
Date: 2004-03-17 19:25:20
Link to this Comment: 8865

above post is mine.. forgot to add my name the first time oops

Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-17 19:42:55
Link to this Comment: 8866

reading two books at once is tough ... in this case the melville has kinda outshinned the culler (for me). but, when i try to focus on culler i realize how insightful he is.
when he wrote (siting Derrida), "the idea of the original is created by the copies, and that the original is always deferred - never to be grasped" reminded me of the begining of dennett when he talked about how darwin demolished the platonic notion of essences. he writes, " Plato's theory of Ideas, according to which every earthly thing is a sort of imperfect copy or reflection of an ideal exemplar or Form that existed timelessly in the Platonic realm of Ideas, reigned over by God. this Platonic heaven of abstractions was not visible, or course, but was accessible to Mind through deductive thought. ... no actual eagle could perfectly manifest the essence of eaglehood, though every eagle strove to do so."
so culler through Derrida (like melville and plato) is saying that there is an essence, but it is never to be attained though everyone strives for it.
the most interesting part of this section, for me, was: "its that her presence turns out to be a particular kind of absence, still requiring mediations and supplements." so even when we think we have penetrated the essence of a thing we realize that there is only absence. so, are we saying that there are essences? or not? still not sure. we realize that each author has an intention that she tries to convey ... and that intention is OUT THERE ... but, since that intention is impenetrable how much can it matter? is it the platonic ideal that we are all striving for? or should we stop trying to arrive at that essence and find another ... something?
Derrida's example of the beloved woman makes me wonder whether he is saying that the ESSENCE is a figment of the imagination: REAL or UNREAL, but either way unattainable.
((i think i really like Derrida))
also, i like, in the same section, the part when Rousseau talks about how he can hide behind his writing. i've always felt that.
it seems hard to really SEE people when they are bundled in the mandatory social graces of society. ((eliot: "let us go then you and i" maybe talking to himself ... you: the mask of social grace, and i : this real self the one who questions)) it's funny to think that the place where i can 'see' YOU and the place where you 'see' ME in the clearest light is through The Word .... detached ... sepearated by a compueter screen. so, we get back to derrida: he finds that in each other's presences there is a form of absence, and while the absence of each other in writing is more apparent do i dare suggegst that it is less than the absence when we are standing face to face???

Language, Reading, Culler and Barthes
Name: simran
Date: 2004-03-18 03:49:57
Link to this Comment: 8871

This is in response to Orah's post where she said English has the largest vocabulary and she wonders if the more words results in there be less white space, less pun, less theory- thus giving the writer more power but limiting the ability of the conjured images to expand in the reader's mind. Just to play around with that a little, using one of my fave resources, the OED:

Orah quoted from Melville:

"Yes, there is death in the business of whaling - a speechless quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance."

I started by putting in the word 'death' in the OED Online:

1. The first is the most obvious way of understanding this word:
"The act or fact of dying; the end of life..."

2. The second made me wonder if it was an expression of isolation:
"The loss or want of spiritual life..."

3. The third made me wonder about his physical situation:
"Loss or deprivation of civil life; the fact or state of being cut off from society, or from certain rights and privileges, as by banishment, imprisonment for life, etc."

4. The fourth made me think about whose perspective this was from:
"Bloodshed, slaughter, murder..."

There are many many more, but these are the ones I thought to play with. I think that there is a certain truth in what Orah said, the more words, the more limitations on meanings. But even within these limitations, I want to point out that there are a plethora of meanings out there. Not just the ones we can find in the OED but the ones that speak to and provide meaning in each of us, in each distinct way.

Also, when Culler asks what is literature, he gives the example of pulling a line out of a recipe book:

"Stir vigorously and allow to sit five minutes."

Then he went on to explain that much of literature is the context it is placed in but the problem with that is that there is always a wider and wider context...yadayada, you know what I'm referring to. This reminded me of an essay by Roland Barthes called "The Rhetoric of the Image." The questions he is trying to answer through this essay are: "How does meaning get into the image? Where does it end? And if it ends, what is there beyond."

He discusses the messages transmitted to a shopper (who I think of as a reader!!) while scanning the labels on packages of a 'Panzani' advertisement- Seems like marinara sauce in a can. The picture on the label is of some packets of pasta, a tin, some tomatoes, onions, peppers, a mushroom all emerging from a half open string shopping bag.

Barthes describes the first message the shopper receives as the linguistic message that is transmitted through the text on the actual label. The sauce, called 'Panzini' connotes something Italian. Then he goes on to the more coded messages present in the image...messages we can only read because they are assumptions that society makes. This makes me think about the context about which Culler spoke. To quote a fantastic description of this act of reading from Barthes:

"This particularity can be seen again at the level of the knowledge invested in the reading of the message; in order to 'read' this level of the image, all that is needed is the knowledge bound up with our perception." =)

For those who are interested, I quote the passages below:

"Putting aside the linguistic message, we are left with the pure image...This image straightaway produces a series of discontinuous signs...the idea that what we have in the scene represented is a return from the market. A signified which itself implies two euphoric values: that of the freshness of the products and that of the essentially domestic preparation for which they are destined. It's signifier is the half-open bag which lets the provisions spill out over the table, 'unpacked'. To read this first sign requires only a knowledge which is in some sort implanted as part of the habits of a very widespread culture where 'shopping around for oneself' is opposed to the hasty stocking up (preserved, refrigerators) of a more mechanical civilization. A second sign is more or less equally evident; its signifier is the bringing together of the tomato, the pepper and the tricoloured hues (yellow, green, red) of the poster; its signified is Italy or rather Italianicity. This sign stands in a relation of redundancy with the connoted sign of the linguistic message (the Italian association with the name Panzini) and the knowledge it draws upon is already more particular; it is a specifically 'French' knowledge (an Italian would barely perceive the connotation of the name, no more than he would the Italianicity of tomato and pepper), based on a familiarity with certain tourist stereotypes. Continuing to explore the image, there is no difficulty in discovering at least two other signs: in the first, the serried collection of different objects transmits the idea of a total culinary service, on the one hand as though Panzini furnished everything necessary for a carefully balanced dish and on the other as though the concentrate in the tin were equivalent to the natural produce surrounding it; in the other sign, the composition of the image, evoking the memory of innumerable alimentary paintings, sends us to an aesthetic signified: the 'nature morte' or; as it is better expressed in other languages, the 'still life'; the knowledge on which this sign depends is heavily cultural [yayyyyy Barthes, I love this guy!!!]. It may be suggested that, in addition to these four signs, there is a further information pointer, that which tells us that this is an advertisement and which arises from both the place of the image in the magazine and from the emphasis of the label...
"Thus there are four signs for this image and we will assume that they form a coherent whole, require a generally cultural knowledge , and refer back to signifieds each of which is global (for example, Italianicity), imbued with euphoric values..."

Ok, now would be a good time to put this over-worked mind to rest and go-to-bed. 4 hours seems like verrry little suddenly!! Goodnight...

To Mary's Question
Name: roz
Date: 2004-03-18 11:01:39
Link to this Comment: 8872

At first reading Culler was confusing. I found him to be very flighty and strangely opinionated, but as I continued reading, about halfway through the book, I started to see his point of view and I loved it. I don't find myself pushing against anything. I've been very open minded while reading and my idea of "meaning being what we make it to be" was fortified by his arguments. Frankly, I enjoyed it and am glad I "had" to read it.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-03-18 12:40:25
Link to this Comment: 8875

it isn't relevant, but i feel compelled to note:

Moby-Dick is alot like Heart of Darkness in that it is so much more than a story about the sea. Both are cultural comments with deep philosophical undertones that show up every few pages or so in dense, cryptic packages of language. While I don't love most of the book I keep reading to get to these extremely meaningful observations that seem to fit some tiny place in my heart.

infinities and limits
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-03-18 16:47:48
Link to this Comment: 8877

Rich small group discussion today (as usual). Thanks to all (as usual), will trust others to fill in (as usual), but wanted to remember one thought, maybe make it available to everyone. Sticks in my mind because it relates to something I wrote about a long time ago in a deservedly obscure paper called "From the Head to the Heart ...".

The general idea, relevant to thinking about biologial evolution as well as cultural evolution as well as agency/free will is that "infinite" is not the same thing as "unbounded". There are an infinite number of points (intemdiate values) between 0 and 1 but that infinity is "bounded", ie there are points between 1 and 2 that are not included in the infinity of points between 0 and 1. In the obscure paper I called this situation of infinite but limited possibility "bounded variance". It is also, I said then, a property of words/concepts/categories, as for example "tree". There are an infinite number of different things meant by the word "tree", but there are also things clearly outside that set ("dogs", "cats", etc).

In the context of biological evolution, I would argue that the future of any given kind of organism is appropriately characterized as a situation of "bounded variance". An elepant has very low (or zero) probability of evolving into an ostrich, but there are nonethless an infinite array of things it might evolve into. I suspect the same holds for cultural evolution, what exists at any one time sets some limits on future developments but leaves nonethelss an infinite array of different futures within those limits. And, ta da, the same seems likely to me to be the case for personal agency/free will. Being an NBA basketball player was almost certainly outside the infinite set of things I could have become as a kid. Or at the very least, outside the set of relatively easily reachable things.

The "at the very least" may be the hook to personal agency/free will as "skybook". I suppose I might, if I had been able/willing to commit myself to it, have tried to change the social category "NBA basketball player" in such a way as to make it accessible to me. And had I succeeded in doing that, I would, as a personal agent, have changed the "rules of the game". And THAT, I think I would argue, would be equivalent to actually bringing something new into the world, by "intent" rather than by cranes and evolution.

Would that have been good or bad? For me? For other people? Maybe THAT's where one has to stop and remember that "the Word is a tremendous responsibility".

Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-18 23:56:36
Link to this Comment: 8880

been thinking a lot about becky's great responsibility of holding the power of the Word. the other night (in a desperate act of procrastination) i went back over some of my posts from the fall and spring of last year. there was a lot of stuff out there that i kinda wish i hadn't put there. and was kinda wishing that i could take back my words, rephrase them or something. it's scary to think that these words i'm writing are being engraved ... maybe forever. i'll never be able to take them back. i feel as though i'm fitting myself, caputing, peircing myself with my very words ... the words that i am trying to use to free myself are enslaving me ...
wish life could be more fluid.
there's an interesting difference between the written and the spoken word. the human memory is not a perfect, unfogetting instrament (i don't think ... am i wrong in saying that ... i don't know much about the brain or memory) and so when we implant the spoken word into someone's memory it is not permenent and will die with the person who holds it. but, the written word can live beyond the speaker and beyond the listener. that scares me.
makes me think that maybe i don't want that responsibility ...

but, i do.

reminds me of the kundera i quoted to you a while back.
about the heaviness of life verses the lightness of life. and though it hurts, i think i'd rather life to be unbearably heavy rather than unbearbaly light. i want meaning .... i don't want to dissipate ... i want to matter .... and so i write ... and crucify myself to my own words ....

that's it for now ...have a great weekend.

ps clarification from dr. rabeeya: the mistranslation he was talking about was when people equate the greek word Logos (at the begining of John) with the hebrew word Amar or Milah (speak, word) which is found at the begining of genesis. amar/milah does not imply an entity along side God, but rather is really just a word ... rabeeya was saying that when it is a mistranslation to say that The Word of John can be found here in genesis .........

pps was very interesting to think today about how we are OBLIGATED to tell our own stories to stop harmful stories from being told ... and i stand by my example of the US in WW2 ... yes, the US gave money to the allies, but it was cop out money ... money so we wouldn't have to give the help that was really really desperatly needed to stop the genocide. and FDR DID know what was going on over there ... he knew and chose not to do anything ... bad choice, buddy.

ppps it's very hard for me to conceive the infinity of possibilities WITHIN a context. humm..... in our consumer culture we are told that we have a infinite amount of possibilities for which to chose ... we are offered an infinite amount of choices of jeans and shirts and coffee and beer and cars ... but the context of consumerism seems so limiting .....we're told in society that we can be anything that we want to be, we have free will, the ability to chose in life, but that ability to chose is only within a context, and we cannot chose anything outside that context.
i still think that our free will is limited.
that math equation seems so so counter-intuitive.

picking through the rubble
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-03-19 03:32:37
Link to this Comment: 8884

Our section, too, talked about "bounded variance," but w/ reference to the infinite-but-limited set that is "literature" (thinking about all that might be contained/all that might be excluded in that category). Reading Paul's comment, I realize that Kat had already described for us the way in which this concept is also useful in helping us to understand free will: we cannot choose "anything in the realm of possibility," but we do always "have the opportunity to choose between options." Thank you Kat, thank you, Paul.

In our group's attempts to define what literature (and literary theory) is, I was perhaps most struck by Emily's offering: "an event" you can "lose yourself in" (she didn't say this, but I will: it is an event of the soul). I told my group that I am moved by literature, and moved to be a literary critic because I want to understand what it is that moves me. As I also told them, I jumped Al Albano, @ last Tuesday night's Beauty symposium, for "cheating," by creating two categories of "beauty": those things that moved him-he-didn't-know-or-care-why, and those things (like a mathematical theorem) that have a fine explanatory power. I wanted the first category (for me, in this context: literature) to be illuminated by the second (in this context: literary theory).

In the Beauty forum, Jan Trembley (who edits the Alumnae Bulletin, and has long kept me good company in thinking through such questions) asked whether Al's categories A and B might be described in Kierkegaardian fashion as "aethetics" and "ethics"-- which are then synthesized into a "religious mode: living out a faith which derives its power from the capacity to take a chance on what can't be verified by rational means." Jan's query put me in mind, in turn, of a conversation Paul which conducted, several summers ago, w/ Jeanne-Rachel Solomon--which I joined in and said (anticipating the space we are now occupying):

while the experiential unconscious work of religious life can nurture a sense of interconnection, the self-reflective conscious work of academics accentuates a sense of separation between the self and the world it observes...the insistence on our capacity to "reflect on/conceive the possibility of other than what is"...will exacerbate the sense that all of us, as knowers and seekers, are separate from life's larger patterns.

If humans are naturally reflective, then academics are just professionalizing and systemizing what all of us do anyway: thinking about what is happening to doing so we repeatedly intervene in and interrupt the more assured sense of interconnection that can emerge in ...religious explorations ....might [there] not be ways to both "experience unconsciously" and "reflect consciously" on that experience, without reinforcing the pronounced sense of division, separation and abandonment ...? Does an insistence on the "distinctive Such-ness" of each of us prevent us from seeing our interdependence? Or is it rather precisely that distinctiveness which makes us valuable to, and so interdependent on, one another?

The image that brought me to confront this question was Paul's description of the meteorite which he wears as a reminder that "all life on earth is inextricably interconnected with entities and events elsewhere in the universe....An appreciation of the importance of the relational...." What struck me most about this talisman of "interconnection," of course, was its cataclysmic quality: when a meteor and the earth come together, the juxtaposition is inevitably a violent one. But it is also ...inevitably a productive one, because in the process of destruction, space is created for new connections to emerge.

In this early-morning moment, that's my current definition of literature: a cataclysmic event, one that disrupts what we think we so-settle-edly-know... and literary theory helps us understand how to pick through the rubble, find it beautiful, make it new.

Whew. Thanks all.

and if you're still awake...
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-03-19 03:41:24
Link to this Comment: 8885

On a lighter note, following Elizabeth C's observation, "I think it's better if the world as a whole is a playroom for children (by children I think I mean every age)" see both Serendip's Playground and Playgrounds and Classrooms, a piece written by Brooke Lowder in one of my classes a few semesters ago.

my theory about theory
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-03-19 09:08:00
Link to this Comment: 8888

Anne wrote: "we cannot choose 'anything in the realm of possibility,' but we do always "have the opportunity to choose between options.'" It seems to me—as I think about thinking—that we not only have the opportunity to choose between or among options, we MUST choose. Ever notice that, when your brain encounters an external question, it seems compelled to come up with an answer (either internalized or enacted)? Didn't you just come up with one in response to this one ;-)? So, how does that play with 'free will?'

Yesterday's class was a bit odd—I gotta say. I did not make it across the bridge (sploosh) from our free-form conversation about writers' responsibilities or what we should/should not (I hate the word 'should') allow to tell, to Culler. But I am curious—what was the connection?

Literary theory still leaves me cold. Theory is for readers, not for writers. How many readers ever encounter the concept of theory? Are writers concerned? I question the motives of a body of scholars whose purpose seems to have been to apply an arbitrary structure to what others write—and how a reader should engage with "literature." So many of the important "structuralists" sprang forth concurrently during the sixties, which was a time of free-wheeling criticism and questioning about academia, both science and the humanities... I can't shake the feeling that theory arose as a knee-jerk reaction—a justification of sorts—from the humanities side of the house.

Which further tweaks my antennae...during the height of theory development (60's to 80's), culture then was so starkly different from culture now, that I don't see how we can pick up these notions without first asking if they are still relevant.

And I couldn't help but compare Culler to Dennett. It seems to me that each tries to tidy up everything (in their respective spheres) by applying one big Archimedes' Screw: algorithms for selection versus algorithms for interpretation. I am suspicious of slick fixes and grand schemes. Aren't you?

If anyone is interested in more (easy reading) about theory, Terry Eagleton's book "After Theory" is super. He sets up the context for context. Have a whale of a weekend '-)

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-03-19 13:36:44
Link to this Comment: 8895

ok, i relaize we aren't even ready to touch on melville yet, and i apologize, but the text is begining to make me think about my next paper. in fact, i think i could probably get an entire paper out of this idea. so i thought that i could put some ideas down and hope for a response.

this book strikes me as intensly homoerotic. i find it most apparent in the description of the narrator sleeping beside his friend (there is that descriptive paragraph about their legs overlapping and intertwining and the acknowledgement of an intimacy between the two) and when the narrator talks about sperm (pages 322-333). because these instances in the book seem so insistent i find myself transferring that same eroticism to other parts of the book that might not otherwise seem sexual. perhaps its just because all of melville's descriptions are so moving that i am misinterperting his general emotional tone as something more. but it seems to me that this is a theme that seeps into every part of the book and which is confirmed by the more obviously sexual references like the ones that i noted above. either way, i'd be glad to hear what anyone else thinks. does anyone know of an analysis of the text that argues my point?

in response to Diane
Name: ro. finn
Date: 2004-03-19 16:48:36
Link to this Comment: 8901

Hi Diane,
Regarding your question about Melville and Moby Dick, check some of the writings on the homoerotic relationship (according to their letters etc) between Hawthorne and Melville at/around the time this book was written...just google it and you should find quite a bit of fodder.

A Homoerotic Reading
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-03-20 20:52:48
Link to this Comment: 8917

American men during most of the nineteenth century could publicly express an unashamed, passionate love for members of their own sex. During this period, the passionate love that existed between men did not translate to a sense of abnormality or repulsiveness, nor did it translate to a sense of disinterest in females. In other words, men could have passionate relationships with other men and not be labeled effeminate, unnatural, or perverse. While romantic, passionate friendship was largely thought to be a phenomenon that only occurred between female friends and female characters in novels, there is strong evidence supporting this special kind of friendship existing between men in both reality and in literature (Ishmael and Queequeg, no doubt). This leads to the belief that Melville was secretly writing a story about male lovers. The absence of females only enhances this reading; their absence eliminates any sort of competition or distraction for those males seeking a romantic friendship in other males.

Like Ro suggested, there is much evidence that a curious relationship is thought to have existed between Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne wrote to a friend "I liked Melville so much that I have asked him to spend a few days with me". Visits were made, letters were exchanged, and even books were dedicated to each other (not surprisingly, Moby Dick is inscribed to Hawthorne), but for reasons that can only be surmised, the pair ceased communication in 1856, only about two years after they had met (if I remember correctly). Highly distraught from this failed relationship, it can be argued that Melville turned to his fiction the question of how men might form lasting emotional relationships with each other.

Ishmael has his first intimate moment with Queequeg at the Spouter's Inn where the two are forced to have to share a bed. At first frightened by his "savage" appearance, Ishmael then notices that Queequeg's "countenance" had "something in it which was by no means disagreeable". Underneath his "unearthly" tattoos, and "hideously marred" face, Ishmael could see traces of a "simple honest heart". Most confidential disclosures between the two took place as they lay next to each other: "Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg – a cosy, loving pair" (A Bosom Friend 57).

In terms of evolution it would be interesting to think about why such behavior between men was considered part of society in the nineteenth century, whereas now we have labels: gay, homosexual, male love, etc... Ishmael and Queequeg were never read as lovers until recently. Was Melville intentionally writing about male lovers or are we, the readers of the 21st century, bringing our own meaning/reading to the text? (Personally, I think we are bringing this new reading to the text and that Melville never intended it to be so...of course, who knows, right?)

Name: Meg
Date: 2004-03-21 12:17:37
Link to this Comment: 8920

In class on Thursday we discussed the importance of being able to tell your own story, despite the fact that it might not be a pleasant one for others. There was an argument about whose stories should be told. In reading Melville this question kept popping up. Why does Ishmael get to tell his story (through Melville). Why is it not a different whaler, or does Ishmael represent a general type of person. It is strange to think that we accept this story to be told versus others. Moby Dick is considered a story that many people should have heard of, and know at least some of its basic background. Yet why is this much more important than a paperback murder mystery, or romance novel from the same era. Why did this story persist while others did not. What makes Melvilles tale acceptable to be told, and read continuously for over a century. It also ties in to Culler's discussion of what makes literature. It's just fun to think about.

Happiness is...
Name: daniela
Date: 2004-03-21 12:45:07
Link to this Comment: 8921 be able to live not simply exist. Dreams, courage to play with life, and an aversion to the predictable type of life are the prerequisites for that.
With regards to the issue of happiness, Melville implies that it is the conscious part of the brain that imposes barriers to achieving this. Those who abandom their dreams end up in another "ice palace made of frozen sighs" (25)
In other words, the consciousness makes begets dreams and helps muster courage. Yet, it is the force that generates fear and all other sorts of mental weakness and thus, undermines one's vital powers. So, in the pursuit of happiness, the one's greatest enemy is one's self.

a typo
Name: daniela
Date: 2004-03-21 12:47:42
Link to this Comment: 8922

sorry everyone. please ignore the definite article in the last sentence of my posting

Name: reeve
Date: 2004-03-21 14:25:03
Link to this Comment: 8925

I'm compelled by Anne's definition of literature as cataclysmic and violent, partly because my initial reaction is to disagree. But what can I use to substantiate this aversion? hmmm...If I were to argue that literature unites and expands, would I also have to admit that it displaces and that it relies on deconstruction in order to reconstruct? Is there a nondisruptive kind of literature that distills/holds meaning, or is there inherent motion in literature that necessarily results in production. If literature is always creating something new, than how can we define it? I guess that connects to the idea of being infinite but bounded. It also reminds me of my tendency to resist the idea that humans have skyhook capabilities and can bring something new into the world that was not previously a possibility- if randomness and the order that has arisen out of randomness are always producing and responding to random change (always creating something new) than how can we draw that boundary at which the infinitude of possibility is transcendable by humans? It seems more and more like a question of whether or not one is willing to locate what we experience as intention within that bounded infinity.

Name: Susan W.
Date: 2004-03-22 00:34:28
Link to this Comment: 8935

I had my meeting with Prof. G the other day and he asked me to share my story concerning my own educational evolution surrounding "the 5 paragraph essay" ( I know this is diverting from the forum postings so far, but if I dont put this out now, I know I will forget).

So here goes...

I was born and raised on the East Coast of Canada. There we learned how to write essays in a very linear style, just like in the State. You were to present a thesis in your paper, and throughout the next 3 - 4 paragraphs, develop your argument FOR this thesis, defending it, expanding it.

Well my senior year of high school I moved to France for a year, and had to adapt to another style of writing essays, very differnt from the previous one. In France we were taught that you shouldn't just have one thesis in your paper, and that you shouldn't be trying to defend just one point of view. They follow the dialectic form of writting ( i think thats how you say it in English..) basically: a thesis, an anti-thesis, and a synthesis, plus intro and conclusion. You try and refute what you are saying and are in a state of constant contradiction (sort of). You are taught to think in a more cyclical fashion rather than the North American linear fashion (the battle between these two forms is still wreaking havoc on me and my grades in university... grr...)

So anyways, what do you all think? I think it has alot to say in terms of the different ideologies of the countries, but in terms of the word and thought, which do you think is "more worth it" (to quote Culler, if I may in this instance)?

Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-03-22 11:18:02
Link to this Comment: 8938

Susan wrote,"in terms of the word and thought, which do you think is "more worth it" (to quote Culler, if I may in this instance)? "

Well. hmm. interesting.
Yes, the two approaches to an essay speak volumes about the French affinity for discourse and argument.

As for which is "more worth it," I think that IT DEPENDS. Think of literary form as just another way to constrain a story--sometimes leading to clarity and impact, sometimes not, if you apply the wrong one. The French form of essay (point and counterpoint) makes me think of writing a sonnet (pick whichever style you like), which has a decided 'turn' in its argument before the end. The turn is required as part of the form. OK, there are no "sonnet police" last time I looked around the creative writing department...but still, IT DEPENDS on what you want to tell AND who are your target readers. For me, writing is about the reader.

In the end, though, don't both forms of essay require a conclusion, a singular position? I would hope that how you get there is not so important --whether you go in a straight line or circling around some intermediate arguments--as long as the development of a position is clear and sound.

It is a very interesting question from the point of thinking about bounded variances and what is "allowed" ....maybe versus what is optimal...and who gets to decide.

meaning and stories
Name: cham
Date: 2004-03-22 14:17:21
Link to this Comment: 8939

i think aia has hit upon such an important point that i always try to remember when confronted with anything (i.e., whether it be literary or non-literary in nature)that invites critical interpretation or analysis: the idea that "meaning" (in a definite or distinguishable form) found in stories (or anything else for that matter) is not necessarily implicit or concrete. we discussed this idea in class last week, after we were treated with a reading of dr. suess, but i feel that it is an important point to reiterate here in the forum. in a way similar to aia's description of our 21 century homoerotic reading of melville as "bringing this new reading to the text", i think that it is important to remember as we encounter literary theory as well as other constraining(?)or systematic approaches to interpretation, that these too are simply alternative "meanings" being OFFERED and not ASSIGNED. they are there if we CHOOSE to incorporate them into our own interpretations of text, but they certainly do not prescribe or even arrange "meaning" (i.e., as if this were even possible).

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-03-22 16:58:33
Link to this Comment: 8944

Susan, that IS a fascinating point!

Leads me back to Thursday's conversation, during which I wondered aloud that listening to stories and sharing your own (counter-)stories are reciprocal responsibilities: by participating in one activity, you are obligated to participate in the other.

It seems that the French way of making an argument better serves the interests of listening to the stories of others and telling your own. Granted, however, it's also a rhetorical device, bringing up disagreements in order to address them, thus strengthening your point.

On the one hand, maybe it allows us to be more flexible in our thinking: through our encounters with counterpoints, we can be more open to other stories and to changing our own. Perhaps that would minimalize the feeling of being "enslaved" by our words (as Orah mentioned) in the linear consistency demanded by the American essay.

On the other, it also opens the possibility of twisting the words of others in order to serve your own story, which really defeats the purpose of listening altogether.

Name: Heather
Date: 2004-03-22 23:29:19
Link to this Comment: 8952

First, I wanted to respond to the idea that the Word, or telling your story, is a big responsibility. Although I can definitely see how OTHER people's words carry a lot of weight and social responsibility (like the Media, politicians, or child pornographers on the internet), I can't really think of having that kind of responsibility myself. I mean, I don't think that anyone can tell the effect that their words are having until afterwards, or from a perspective other than their own. I guess I am thinking about responsibility negatively-that it could have a negative effect on people. And I don't think that anyone would speak if they already knew the negative effects their words would have. I guess it did make me inspired, when thinking of our responsibility to tell our differing stories to counteract negative ones instead of censoring them.

In class someone said that we have a responsibility as a reader to respond to text-in listening we have responsibility to tell our own stories-and at first, in class, I was slightly dissappointed with myself that I didn't have any criticism of Culler. I found everything that he had to say very insightful. Then I was talking about this with someone out of class, how I almost never respond to text in that, it takes me longer to formulate opinions about the text because I am still inside it. I think dialogue with the text is important, but I don't think that "believing" in the text first is a bad thing. It reminds me of a dialogue we were having at the beginning of the course: Grobstein said he never believed in stories because he always wanted to be open to others, and Orah (I think) said that she found it more useful to believe in all stories. I'm reiterating it badly.

The thing I found most thought-provoking in the forum is what someone said about what is "more worth it"?-linear, more western stories or more cyclic (french?) stories. I think that there is "a bounded infinity" of ways to tell your story, and that it is a shame that our society only values print, and "linearly-told" ones at that. I don't think that the only valid stories are those that, as Ro says, clearly and soundly develop a position. I think academia could benifit by allowing multiple ways to express stories. By limiting the validity of the methods available to tell stories, we are not letting people tell their stories.

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-03-22 23:37:33
Link to this Comment: 8953

I find myself quite pleasantly surprised by _Moby Dick_. I was expecting a very dense book with the antiquated word patterns and speech habits that make books half its age difficult to slog through, but Mellville's writing style flows very well. It does have some antiquated working, and I imagine it will get more dense once it gets to the "how to whale" part, which I'm told is very detailed.

I've always found writing style fascinating. I used to think that older books were automatically hard to read because the language and frame of reference had changed so, but I realized that books from as recently as the '50's and '60's just sound different, and it isn't only because of the different social context. So I decided that there was some change over time in the way people word things and string their ideas together. But again, I've realized that old things, like _Moby Dick_, can flow quite well through my mind and I can get the jokes occasionally, whereas I've run into style problems so severe I couldn't finish books written in the 1950's.

I can't tease out exactly what it is, but my brain just seems to process certain writing better than others. There's some age difficulty here, but I can peer through the odd words and see the character's personalities and the humor in the situations they get into, I can read the story. I don't think it's just a good versus bad writing thing, because I've run into many clearly well written books that I just can't wrap my brain around. Does anyone know what I'm talking about?

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-03-23 13:49:40
Link to this Comment: 8965

I've never thought about this before Elizabeth, but I think you're onto something. I, too, seem better able to process certain types of writing. Sometimes I'm actually suprised by the writing that I process more efficently because it is not necessarily the writing that I like better. Could this reflect evolutionary selection? Are we all equipped to understand certain things better than others just in case, and might this affect survival? It almost seems like the idea is bordering on ethnic cleansing or something awful like that.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-23 18:53:18
Link to this Comment: 8967

yeh, grobstein is right, i am obsessed with clinging. and amidst my inarticulate mummble today i was getting at the clinging. and i guess i am repeating myself over and over ... but, only because i really think it's all about the clinging.
so, this is the boiled down articulation of what i was trying to say:

i think ahad clings to moby dick.

melville tells us that it is most admirable to to go out to sea and experience instead of read and yet the paradox lies in the fact that he is writing this fat book to read.
and another thing i failed to say: i think a tragedy is something that is doomed to fail from the begining ... we know what is going to happen at the end... we know what happens at the end of romeo julliet and macbeth and hamlet .... we are know that we're going to die in the end and yet we stick to life and try to immortalize ourselves ... knowing that we're going to fail ..... but, we live despite this failure .... and we read tragedies ... because we resonate with them and they reflect the human condition???? and we attach ourselves to the doomed characters. and yet that is where the tragedy lies ... in the fact that we surrender ourselves to the doomed.
so, i think that melville is commenting on the tragedy of humanity .... we go out into ships and inevitably fail to conquer the white whale ... we hop on ships that are destined to sink ... we try to write epic, all-encompasing books and we inevitably fail ... but we do it anyways.
and i think that ahab is the character that melville most admires ... ahab clings to the white whale and refuses to let go ... and fails ... but that's what it's all about.
and melville, too, makes a stab at the white whale through his writing ... but, writing too is a failure ... md starts out with the image of a failed ishmael dusting of his volumes.
he starts the book in the etymology by saying that words fail and he starts out the peqoud journey by syaing that it is going to fail. they seem to be such similar actions.
that's all the time i have. later, all.

words, criticism, and naivety
Name: Simran
Date: 2004-03-23 19:27:46
Link to this Comment: 8968

I find that I do a lot of what Heather says she does- she believes the story that the writer is telling. If I study the process I go through when reading literature, I first need to believe the writer, be inside his or her head so that when the idea expands in my head it is as close to the idea that s/he had. It is only on a second reading of the whole text or parts of the text that I am able to analyse the work from my perspective, finally allowing the idea/story to find its own places in the crevices of my mind. Even though literature/art etc are floating- that is once they're thrown out into the world they're allowed to expand differently in different minds- I find myself first believing and accepting and then, if and when I take a second look, analyzing. Now that I think of it, I do the same with words and stories that are told to me. I believe people when they tell me a story from their experience or someone else's and there have been times when I've later found that these stories were just a figment of their imagination or sufficiently exaggerated to be untrue... and unless the stories sound utterly unbelievable when I first hear them, I usually believe them. Does this make me naïve? I think so... Words are powerful and I try not to use them unless I really have something to say because if I don't, I know there's a lot others have to say that I can learn from. But more and more and more often I find that my willingness to listen to another's story and believe their story without telling mine because I think it may not be important enough, leaves me in silence and without a story at all.

I am rambling, but there was something about Heather's post that really struck a chord since I have always felt myself to be a not so critical and rather naïve thinker.

The Tragedy and the Word
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-03-23 20:45:50
Link to this Comment: 8969

Using Orah as a platform to spring off from, I too am deeply troubled by the tragedy of Moby Dick. Is Moby Dick a commentary on the tragedy that is humanity or is it a warning?

If Ahab were 'God' and chasing the white whale was a form of 'worship'/'a decree of the Lord', is it not true to say that by following the decree of the Lord we are destined for tragedy? Is Moby Dick a commentary on the naïve nature of humans? Are we so willing to believe in something so powerful that we are ready to die for it?

One of the reasons I think this novel is so successful is because it focuses on basic human relations – in this example, the relationships formed upon the Peqoud between shipmates. Melville knew that any social construct – politics, organized religion, academia – uses human relationships as its basic foundation. In that way, by examining the basic foundation of all social constructs we could arrive at the root of the problem: the problem of human nature.

I agree with what Ro said in class – that Melville is attacking not just any book, but The Book, the Bible – but using the Bible as an example for all books. How reliable is the word? Not so much. Then why are we a society that is willing to risk our humanity for it?

Pirate Gold
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-03-23 21:15:12
Link to this Comment: 8970

"I think so... Words are powerful and I try not to use them unless I really have something to say because if I don't, I know there's a lot others have to say that I can learn from. But more and more and more often I find that my willingness to listen to another's story and believe their story without telling mine because I think it may not be important enough, leaves me in silence and without a story at all." -Simran

Simran's thoughts are very interesting to me. I had a conversation with Anne about this, but in the context of a discussion of introverted vs. extroverted information procesessing. The forum, I think allows for an abundance of stories, for people to both talk and listen at the same time... a sort of equilization of the "who gets to tell a story," playing field... It's not necessarily the people who are the most facile with the spoken word. It accomodates people who prefer the written word also... But this is not as specifically related to Simran's point... more specifically I'd just like to say that I agree. I'd much prefer to listen to someone else's story and believe it whole heartedly than to tell my own. Or maybe this is not true... maybe it's more of an entropy-like thing... I'd like to listen to more stories from others then the number that I produce... to listen more then tell but when I do tell, to tell well... if this makes any sense.

I remember spending time with my cousin Chuck when I was younger (he is four years older than I am). We had an interesting relationship then... I would do whatever he would ask me to do-- something that comes to mind is sitting at my grandmother's kitchen table for three hours copying an encyclopedia for him... he made me do this as a sort of mischievious "what-will-I-be-able-to-get-her-to next-she-is-so-gullible-and-nieve-and-young," type of thing but I actually really loved doing it because it was the first time that I had "written" something that long... it was like claiming ownership over the words "making the story my own." At any rate, Chuck would also make up these elaborate stories with the intent of fooling me. One of my favorites that he once made up was a story about the ancient pirate gold that he had in his backpack. He told me about how the gold came to be there and how each piece had a different value, one piece with an elephant symbol was worth $1 million dollars and one piece with a mummy on it was worth a billion dollars and the final special piece had something so secret that he didn't even know what it was on it. He told me this piece was worth "ten zillion" dollars. I was completely absorbed and in love with the story that he was telling me. As a child I DIDN'T really THINK that he had those things in his backpack but I DID BELIEVE him because it was so wonderful to enter the world of that story. I believed the story because it was absolutely lovely to believe. Doesn't everyone want pirate gold in his or her backpack? The best part of the story was that I could "have a piece of this pirate gold" if I knew "the secret code." That is what ended the story. I told him that I didn't know the secret code and at this point he took out a couple of quarters from his backpack and laughed at me. I laughed too. I would always laugh and tell him that he really fooled me. He loved the feeling of being able to fool me... I loved being able to enter into his stories.

I kind of forget the exact reason why I wrote that... I believe when I started writing it I felt I had more of a profound point but at any rate, I've always loved listening to other people's stories- usually more than telling them. Especially when I was a child... I hardly ever talked at all and this coupled with my general "gullibilty" (which was actually just a profound enjoyment of other people's lies) made people think that I either had a learning or speech problem. There's more to that story too but i think it's better not to digress further. The bottom line is that I think it's fine and even natural to want to listen more than talk... it's a matter of preference... people find their own ways of contributing to stories in progress... For each story being told there are two functions, that of listener and that of teller... and I think that in the world there are more people inclined to tell than there are to listen. So listeners provide an excellent service to the perpetuation of stories. People would get tired of telling if there were no one there to listen. So I respect and agree with Simran's thoughts-- and would like to suggest that silence does not necessarily leave someone without a story at all but rather leaves one with the potential to accumulate other people's stories to eventually have better stories to tell. But conversely, one should never be AFRAID to speak or tell a story because one feels that it's not good enough... I suppose it's not consistent but I've often felt this way too... people can do it better than me, so why speak at all? I guess it's just important to know that everyone's story is equally valid and the way of coming to that story and expressing it should be able to vary widely without any feelings of guilt or inadequecy.

I also wanted to include some quotes which I think pertain to our class discussion about Moby Dick and ideas about stories, today. They are from an article by Craig Owens called "The Allegorical Impulse" This is one of the articles that I am reading for my art history class (Contemporary Art and Theory)

"All attempts to decipher [Rauschenberg's] works only testify to their own failure, for the fragmentary, piecemeal combination of images that initally impells reading is also what blocks it, erects an impenetratable barrier to its course." (225)

Here Owens is quoting Smithson a site specific artist who wrote a text called "A Sedimentation of Mind: Earth Projects" This quote is from this particular text.

"The names of minerals and the minerals themselves do not differ from each other, because at the bottom of both the material and the print is the beginning of an absymal number of fissures. Words and rocks contain a language that follows a syntax of splits and ruptures. Look at any word long enough and you will see it open up into a series of faults, into a terrain of particles each containing its own void." (217)

Here is Owens quoting from Paul de Man "Allegories of Reading"

"We write in order to forget our foreknowledge of the total opacity of words and things or, perhaps worse, because we do not know whether things have or do not have to be understood." (217)

Thanks! See you all soon :-)

the morsels
Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-23 21:46:59
Link to this Comment: 8972

one more thing about class today.......
i said that i don't like the fact that i am defined by written words from the past with which i might no longer resonate. (((and yet i still write though some of my old writings pain me .... a little masocistic ....maybe for the instant pleasure .... maybe in hopes that THIS will be the Harpoon, the Word, that HITS.....we say that we know romeo and julliet will die, but do we really KNOW it? do we hope that in this read through the pequod will not sink? hummm.....i don't think so. i really know it's gonna sink. and, godamn it, romeo and julliet die every single time.
but when i'm reorganizing and creating combinations of words that have never before been combined (i.e. when i'm writing) i really do hope that THIS will be the combination that GETS IT, though it's never been done before and i am an insignifigant writer in the sceem of things and everything i say ends up having already been said by someone better ... but i still HOPE.................. i digress.)))
but, tmy old writings might be helpful to others.
((i've been taught to write papers that track my movement from one position to another ... not just to state the aquired position))
so, in a way, publicaiton, posting is a form of sacrifice ... we allow ourselves to be captured in order to help others in thier struggle, leave morsels to help others who are behind us? but, TO WHERE are we leading if we are all doomed to destruction? is there a better path to take ... in writing do we assume that our path will get us (and others) CLOSER, farther in our journey?
and knowing that i will fail do i leave morsels so maybe someone can pick up my journey, get farther than i did and in a way immortalize my path, immortalize ME?
and this makes me realize that it is essential (even though it might be painful) to tell stories, and not just listen to them. (((i guess ya'all already figured that out ... i'm slow tonight)))

ps anne mentioned that she thought i was done with clinging.
just for clarification if i ever was done with clinging i'm back to it.
i really like it tonight.
maybe i won't tomorrow.

The whale
Name: Fritz Dubu
Date: 2004-03-23 22:13:06
Link to this Comment: 8973

Reading Moby Dick is hard for me. It's not that the book is exactly boring, but just like Ishmeal, I find my self and my mind wandering to places half explored. The story being told on paper is not as interesting the stories which the words inspire. They stay seperate stories and demand equal amounts of attention, so then I go off and make up my own story.

Name: ro. finn
Date: 2004-03-24 06:45:14
Link to this Comment: 8975

A thought struck me during our discussions yesterday--about people worrying about the persistence of past writings as static markers of past selves.

Are we saying, some of us, that we move from less finished to more finished as life/learning/thinking go on? Is that notion of progress towards "perfection" so engrained that our 'thought litter' embarrasses or worries us? Why do we care what people think about stories we wrote and then outgrew? What's the risk (always a good question) if they read it? What bad things might happen?

DOES WRITTEN THOUGHT DEFINE US MORESO than what we think to ourselves? Or what we speak informally? Written language does evolve far more slowly than spoken language. Is that, in part, because we sense the extra import of our written words? What's the risk? DOES THE WRITTEN WORD ISOLATE US as much as it connects us to each other?

Thoughts frozen in words define us no more, no less than our footprints, as children, define our feet as adults. Or do they? Just how integral is the written word with the woman?

Chinese poets and the written word
Name: ro finn
Date: 2004-03-24 09:08:18
Link to this Comment: 8976

This morning I sent a photo to Anne and Paul (which Paul has offered to post). From time to time, something reminds me to haul this photo out and have another look at it--always a new reason, a different angle.

In it are Chinese poets who have gathered along a promenade in Beijing to discuss their poems--both the content/form and the brushwork itself. But look how they do it! By "writing" in water on sun-warmed pavement. As they share their ideas, the words evaporate!

I was thinking about our discussions regarding the written word, the responsility of the writer, drafts floating around that some of us wish would decay and disintegrate, but they don't. Maybe water instead of ink is the answer...

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-03-24 17:04:34
Link to this Comment: 8984

That's a thought-provoking picture, and certainly takes one extreme on the discussion of the (im)permanence of the written word.

Of course, then there are those of us who wish to record every word in our thought processes. We keep journals and we write memoirs. But one form is private, and the other is a cleaned-up version of our "trail of stories" (Orah's words, and a lovely way of phrasing it too!), fit for the eyes of others.

But even so, there are the stories that come back to haunt us, though they may not necessarily be written: the skeletons in the closet, so to speak. Writing, then, is neither a filter for or guarantee of the permanence of stories.

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-03-24 17:14:14
Link to this Comment: 8985

A thought that occured to me while looking at the photo, completely random and shamelessly irrelevant: has anyone ever noticed the subtle differences in posture that seem to be culturally inherited? The poses here feel familiar, though the space they inhabit is strange to me, having never been there. An interesting tension...

Body language
Name: ro. finn
Date: 2004-03-24 18:30:47
Link to this Comment: 8986

"has anyone ever noticed the subtle differences in posture that seem to be culturally inherited?"

Sure. There are distinct differences around the the way, spies (so my NSA cousin tells me) are schooled to mimic stances, gestures, and the like...but are you convinced that "body language" is 100% cultural?

I wonder. Paul?

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-03-24 19:37:44
Link to this Comment: 8987

"are you convinced that "body language" is 100% cultural?" - Ro

Not sure what you mean by your question. "100% cultural" as opposed to...? I don't believe it is culturally deterministic at all, if I understand what you're asking, only that there are differences that seem to align with cultural groups (more to do with unconscious imitation of the people you're with, I imagine). Even describing postures as a "cultural" phenomenon is too strong. A more neutral rephrase: "Has anyone ever noticed the subtle differences in posture that some groups share?"

Name: roz
Date: 2004-03-24 20:50:12
Link to this Comment: 8988

Reading more and more of this book makes me wonder about the depression that Ahab spoke of in the beginning. Technically he did say that his reason for going to sea was to get away from the sadness of his life, and it seems as if it does work because he is very happy. Everything he describes he speaks of in such in high regard. So, it's a good thing for him.

the other side of stories
Name: nancy
Date: 2004-03-24 21:39:29
Link to this Comment: 8990

I find myself very content to be back in familiar territory reading Moby Dick. Although I have never read it before, I know what to expect in a general sense; not so much to do with the plot, rather how I'm expected to act in relation to the text etc. I feel as though I can almost imagine the vein of stories we will tell as we venture through the novel.

So, anyway, I feel more revived now, more important, more productive. Not that I discredit any of what we have learned so far, but I found the emphasis on 'telling our stories' incongruous to my experiences so far in the course. As I see it, you can be telling a story, or you can be listening to a story, and we haven't really been focusing on the more passive aspect of storytelling. I think the two are mutually exclusive (granted, everything we do, even listening to a story, creates a story, but go with me here for a minute). I feel as though up until now, I have been listening to a story. Not that this is bad, but it does lend itself to the feeling of being stagnant that I get in classes of seemingly 'bounded' subjects (generally math, science, etc). I know we are supposed to be questioning and making up our own stories, but I have felt as though I need to learn more before I can produce.

I'm thinking now, looking back, of how it looks to be celebrating a move back into a subject that doesn't require me to be outside of my comfort zone. But I guess that's too bad, I like it in here, even if I am sometimes pushing against the walls.

loving ahab
Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-24 23:53:31
Link to this Comment: 8991

am still thinking a lot about the inadequacy of words.
bad things happen in this world and words like 'angry or sad' are so inadequite.
so i told my friend tonight that there is nothing i respect more than silence. silence is the only way we can truely respect each other and allow ourselves to BE in our own fullness. silence is the only way we can perceive the world for what it is. silence is the only way to accept tragedy in its fullness, and not minimize it.
my friend then asked me, "so is that why you are such an avid word user?" and i'd never thought about it that way, but, yeh, she's right. i really need to find a way to counteract the silence of life.

or not counteract the silence, because the silence is just a state in which we are beside the reality of existence. but, i don't just want to exist BESIDE this reality, i want to attack it. in the vacumed space left by tragedy what is there to say? what is there to feel? who is there to blame?
i want to blame, i want to fling sharp words, but there are none sharp enough. but, i'll go mad if i can't throw something, so i throw words. but, those who can exist in silence get farther than i do. get closer to what IS.

starbuck says, "vengence on a dumb brute! that simply smote thee from blindest instinct! madness! to be enraged with a dumb thing, captain ahab, seems blasphemous."
ahab responds "that inscrutable thing is cheifly what i hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, i will wreak the hate upon him. talk not to me of blasphemy, man; i'd strike the sun if it insulted me." (139-140)

yeh, ahab is mad ... but don't we all want to take a stab at cancer? beat it into a bloody pulp? so i'll assert tonight that ahab is the most human character in this book. mad or sane ... but mortally and painfully and so so tragically human. oh ahab ahab ahab.

and it's like we're all tightrope walkers ... we're on this thin thin rope of sanity and we could fall into maddness as ahab does, in a frenzied, hopless flinging flail ... or we could fall off the other side and deny our humanity, our instinct to cling to something. deny our humanity and sit in a constant silence.

Name: ro. finn
Date: 2004-03-25 08:02:45
Link to this Comment: 8993,
Melville has all these literary forms at his disposal, and he decides to ignore the boundaries between them. I'm thinking of this blending as the making of a generative literary algorithm--his quest for one. If so, that takes us to a fresh plateau (think expansion) beyond niches such as Greek tragedy, Shakesperean tragedy, sermon, geneological catalogue, obituary, rant, you-name-it.

Melville appears to take powder from so many puny bullets to make one bomb. We presume we know his motives (meaning of life, yadayadayada), but how did he come to believe that LITERATURE is the answer...the essence of Dennett's "universal acid?"

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-03-25 12:32:35
Link to this Comment: 8996

A response to Roz:

Perhaps it Is a good thing for his health, but I question whether giving into one's depression should be commended. His intentions were honorable, but I think that his actions show a weakness in his personality. And, as he states at the begining of the book, he goes to sea whenever he feels depressed. He is treating the symptom rather than the problem. Perhaps this is why these characters are so doomed.

english major identity crisis
Name: em
Date: 2004-03-25 16:28:49
Link to this Comment: 8998

sorry to have subjected those of you in anne's class today to my complaints, and sorry in advance for using the forum to do so as well:
when i say i am having difficulty with the book, it is not because i do not understand the book. the footnotes explain most of the allusions that i am at a loss for, and rereading a sentence a few or more times will generally unravel the basic meaning of it. where i am at a loss is the meaning "the meaning" the meaning... i am trying so hard to have this book become meaningful, and perhaps i am like ahab and those cardboard masks-- i want to pin melville and his message to me down, but i keep on finding this great empty hollowness behind the words that makes me ache and instead i curl up and go to sleep. but then i must ask: is melville's message really for me? am i treating moby-dick as a commodity rather than nancy's "organic" reading experience? why is it so important to me right now at this very moment in my life to find something to cling to (thanks, orah) in this novel? today in class i said i "liked queequeg." this still stands, but perhaps i am afraid to admit that i am most like ahab. i would like to be ishmael, i would like to be the whale or the ocean, i would like to be queequeg, but instead, i am left kind of crazy and obsessed with why this book troubles me so. and with that, i throw my pipe into the sea.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-25 17:07:25
Link to this Comment: 8999

this religion prof that i always quote says that God is COMPLETE OTHERNESS. COMPLETE AND UTTER AND ABSOLUTE OTHER.

so in a way we are each God. when i look at you you are completely other from me and therefore are a form of God.

(((btw ... i think world peace will come when we step beyond the tolerance that everyone talks about and learn to see each other as Godly beings....but that's irrelevant.)))

and i think that is what ahab is doing; he is boldly confronting THE ABSOLUTE OTHER. he is threatening God directly in the face.

i said today that i think that (some sorts ... forgot to mention that) of sex are just this : the attempt to KNOW, the attempt to delve into this ABSOLUTE OTHER .... or to receive and contain ABSOLUTE OTHER.
we conquer this otherness in sex.
maybe sex is the only place (as opposed to in writing) where the OTHER is conquered.

and so maybe ahab doesn't fail in the end, because he conquers the otherness, the whiteness and becomes one with the whiteness and KNOWS the whiteness.

and throughout the book ahab and moby dick are moving toward being ONE.
what is ahab without md ? just a lame old sea captain. what is md without ahab? just a battered old whale.

page 157. "ahab's lunacy subsided not, but deepeningly contracted." and i DO think that this is an extreemly contracted book .... (simultaneously very expanded ... like we talked about) melville is monomaniacal like ahab in a way. maybe a little more sane. it's really all about the whiteness of this whale. it's melville's attempt to stab the ABSOLUTE OTHER.
stab God.
i'd call that pretty blasphemous. he's trying to kill God.

and maybe the reason that melville fails and ahab doesn't is because ahab is more contracted than melville....ahab is is monomaniac.
((i think i remember reading this fabulous quote actually saying that ahab had lost his own identity amidst md.....but, i can't find it. nothing more frustrating))

and FINALLY to the actual whiteness ...
don't have much time, i'll just quote to you:

"hit spiritual whiteness chiefly, which so clothed him with divineness; and that this divineness had that in it which, though commanding worship, at the same time enforced a certain nameless terror." (161)

God is Other. God is terryfying.

in conclusion: i chuckle at some of meville (especially the part in ch. 23 when queequeg talks about the lack of couches in his county) but, in essence, i think that meville is brutally truthful about the nature of living......and i don't think, in my 20 yrs, of anyone who has convinced me more fully.

thursday ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-03-25 17:29:47
Link to this Comment: 9000

Some notes from conversation today, with hopes others will add/expand/contend:
  • Moby Dick is not so much a "bomb" as an explosion. Did Melville actually believe that LITERATURE is the answer"? Whether he did or not (since an author may or may not "know" what s(he) hath wrought): is the "LITERATURE in the answer" the answer to the question "what is Moby Dick about?"
  • What about Anne's claim that the book is a self-reflexive joke, an assertion that literature lacks meaning?
  • Did Peter Pan evolve from Moby Dick?
  • Moby Dick itself evolved from a newspaper article about the whaleship Essex (In the Heart of the Sea)
  • Ahab, in response to Starbuck's assertion that the whale attacked Ahab "from blind instinct", asserts that behind the "unreasoning mask" there is "some unknown but still reasoning thing" (Chapter 36). Does Ahab think there's a storyteller/skyhook there against which he needs to contend? Does Melville think the "whiteness" masks a malevolent storyteller/skyhook?
  • Is Moby Dick "masculine"? In what sense?
  • Does Chapter 84 contribute meaningfully to the earlier questions about homoeroticism in Moby Dick? To the question of whether Melville and Hawthorne were sexually involved with each other? Does it matter whether they were or weren't? Might Mellville have been less negative about books if his earlier ones had been as popularly successful as Hawthorne's? How did this and/or the preceding relate to either the close relationship between Hawthore and Melville or to the abruptness with which it ended or both? What role did Hawthorne's wife play in either?
  • The story of the evolution of whales is evolving.
  • Moby Dick is funny to some people, not to others.

An old memory from junior high school. Relevant? I and a group of friends were assigned to read Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum and to report on it to class. We spent a painful week trying to figure out the significance of a number of the lines in the short story, including an apparently symbolic last line with an obscure reference, in order to be sure we could report on the story's meaning. Frustrated, we went to the teacher for help, who patted us on the head and then encouraged us to stop trying to find the "meaning" and think instead about why the story was written.

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-03-25 18:59:49
Link to this Comment: 9001

Integrating Environmentalism
A symposium at Haverford College
March 26th - 27th (Fri - Sat)

Keynote address by Mary Catherine Bateson: 5pm, Friday.

Some Haverford students from a variety of departments organized this symposium to start a conversation about ways to integrate environmentalism into the curriculum. Although we have the opportunity to get involved in numerous "green clubs" on campus, there are few courses that offer academic training to prepare us to deal with the critical environmental issues once we graduate. We believe that the multidisciplinary nature of environmentalism must be reflected in the conversation and its subsequent resolutions. For that reason, we have invited speakers who hail from the fields of anthropology and education, philosophy, biology and public policy, and environmental law.

I'm asking for your support and participation in the symposium this weekend. I think this will be a great opportunity for interdisiplinary dialogue on an important and relevant issue.

Sign up here.

Friday, March 26th

Keynote Address: "Restructuring a Vision of the Whole"
Mary Catherine Bateson
Harvard School of Education, bestselling author, daughter of Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead
Introducted by Alice Lesnick, HC

Saturday, March 27th

"Walking an Interdisciplinary Line: from Environmental Philosophy to Environmental Policy"
David Macauley
Professor of Philosophy, Penn State
Introduced by Christopher Schlottmann, HC'02

"Turning Conservation Science into Conservation: Perspectives from an Activist Academic"
David Wilcove
Professor of Biology & Public Policy, Princeton University & Woodrow Wilson School
Introduced by Neal Williams, Bryn Mawr College

Tea and Coffee

"Reflections on the Politics of Environmental Law"
Eric Orts
Guardsmark Professor of Legal Studies & Director of the Environmental Management Program, Wharton School of Business at UPENN
Introduced by Susan Liebell, St. Joseph's University

Panel Q & A and Discussion
Moderated by Kaye Edwards, HC

Dinner and Peach Pie Jazz in CC313, open to all participants

PS: Thanks to Paul Grobstein for the permission to post this in the forum.

Name: Perrin
Date: 2004-03-25 19:02:59
Link to this Comment: 9002

In one of my junior high literature classes, I was taught about the principle parts of a novel. My teacher said that every novel has a protagonist and an antagonist, but Moby Dick seems to be lacking in the latter. I don't think that Ahab has the qualities of a real antagonistic character because he is so scarred; the readers are supposed to feel pity for him. His maliciousness and madness are not really inherent, but rather the source of a too-cruel world. Ahab is certainly not perfect, for he carries with him the Mark of Cain, his scar, which gives him an aura of separateness that implies that he not to be touched by anyone save G-d (the great whale himself?)

So who is the antagonist? Moby Dick? I think that Moby Dick is more of a concept than a character—kind of a tangible representation of what humans are searching for, but will never fully grasp. He is the belligerent god who Ahab is fighting to conquer, but this battle will ultimately destroy Ahab in the end because Moby Dick is such an integral part of who he is and in attempting to annihilate the whale, he will destroy himself. In this sense, Moby Dick is reminiscent of the biblical Tower of Babel story, in that humans are attempting to gain knowledge of something elusive that is beyond their understanding. I think that at its core, this novel is about the relationship between Man and his god, and the consequences of our inquisitive, wanderlust-y nature.

So perhaps there is no real antagonist in this novel...except for ourselves?

Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-25 19:12:30
Link to this Comment: 9003

so i see that there is evidence to say that this whole book is a joke ... though i don't really like it ... i guess will have to think about it.

"there are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke...There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy; and with it i now regarded this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its object."

i guess you could look at life that way.
i don't.

Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-03-25 19:45:06
Link to this Comment: 9004

The topic of Melville's relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne came up in our session today, and we sort of left it at loose ends... here's one bit from "The Life and Works of Herman Melville" regarding the two men:

In the beginning the relationship was a great source of comfort and intellectual stimulation to Melville, who believed he had finally found the soul mate for whom he had been yearning. As Sophia Hawthorne observed, "Mr. Melville, generally silent and uncommunicative, pours out the rich floods of his mind and experience to [Nathaniel Hawthorne], so sure of apprehension, so sure of a large and generous interpretation, and of the most delicate and fine judgment." Hawthorne's influence, in fact, is credited as the prime catalyst behind Melville's decision to transform what originally seems to have been a light-hearted whaling adventure into the dramatic masterpiece that is arguably the greatest American novel of all time.

In August of 1852 Melville wrote to Hawthorne about the true story of a New England woman who had taken in and married a shipwrecked sailor only to be abandoned by him. "The Story of Agatha", Melville thought, would be a perfect subject for the application of Hawthorne's talents; the older man, however, felt little enthusiasm for the project and after a few desultory attempts suggested that Melville write the story himself. Melville agreed, but it is uncertain now whether he ever actually did anything with the material; at any rate, no published version of the story by him has been discovered.

The "Agatha" correspondence marks nearly the end of the Melville - Hawthorne relationship, which had lasted only a little over two years. The initial abundance of warmth and fellowship had faded for reasons which can only be conjectured. Melville may have come to feel that Hawthorne was not as profoundly sympathetic and responsive as he had at first seemed; for his part, Hawthorne was unsuccesful in using his long-established connections with Franklin Pierce to secure a government post for the impoverished Melville, a failure that left him "embarrassed and chagrined" and probably made him reluctant to pursue further encounters. The two men met for the last time in November 1856: en route to the Mediterranean Melville stopped in Liverpool, where Hawthorne had been appointed American Consul; the two spent several days together, which Hawthorne recorded in his journal as follows:

"Herman Melville came to see me at the Consulate, looking much as he used to do (a little paler, and perhaps a little sadder), in a rough outside coat, and with his characteristic gravity and reserve of manner.... [W]e soon found ourselves on pretty much our former terms of sociability and confidence. Melville has not been well, of late; ... and no doubt has suffered from too constant literary occupation, pursued without much success, latterly; and his writings, for a long while past, have indicated a morbid state of mind.... Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he had "pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated"; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief. It is strange how he persists -- and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before -- in wondering to-and-fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sand hills amid which we were sitting. He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us."

More about Hawthorne later this weekend...I've got some stuff Melville wrote about Hawthorne as an author that may shed some light on Melville's M-D motives...was it a hugely laborious prank? Or was it a dare to us all to find meaning in it--our own--and his be damned? Need to root around and then cull it--if I find anything useful.

having not much to do with md but rather with exis
Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-26 00:27:26
Link to this Comment: 9005

i don't know how useful theories are. i seem to come up with all these things, and i'm really happy when i think of them, i get this mischevious smile on my face, like i've just figured out The Rule of the world ... like all those theories about md being a very sexual book, ((ie saying things like: they're all trying to PENETRATE md.......i'm sorry but that's crap) and ahab fulfilling the perfect sexual act, and about being tightrope walkers .... i like the theories when i write them. they seem to aply to life at the moment, but then i realize that life isn't as intense as i make it out to be. there are, of course, those intense moments, but i think proportionally there are more fluffy conversations and nice relationships and ............ people are to tired to be passionate all the time , or not even tired ..... i just don't know.
when i read over a lot of my postings they sound like bullshit.
i didn't mean to write bs. i fluff them up with imagry to make them sound genuine, but ................i guess i don't really know what is genuine writing. i beleive it when i write it, but when i read back over it hours later i realize that i just put it there because it sounded good and felt good at that moment.
and i don't even know what i aggree with in my writing and what i don't. i guess melville had problems figuring out what he beleived too. but that doesn't help much. HE KNOWS ONE THING. i just wish that i KNEW one thing too. i don't.
wrote my last paper on nietsche ... wrote a counterargument to his idea that God is dead. but, thinking about it: i don't know if god is dead. if nietsche had said God was just born i probably would have writen a paper saying why he's wrong and God actually just died.
what am i doing? how am i suposed to figure things out for real? i know how to do it for kicks ...think of nice theories that seem to apply for the minute, but don't really MEAN anything.
godamn it! i seem to have just figured out AGAIN that there is NO MEANING. why do i keep figuring that out. i don't like it. and am trying like hell not to beleive it.
i just wish i could say something about md, or about anything for that matter, that i truely and fully and utterly beleived, because it seems that the only thing i can say and beleive is that there is no meaning and i don't want that. the only Truth i have i don't want.
any consolation from all you writers out there on an dark friday morning? .............. please.
have a splendid weekend, all.

Name: simran
Date: 2004-03-26 01:36:12
Link to this Comment: 9006

This is a ridiculous question, but right as we were leaving class today (Professor Dalke's section), what were we talking about? I had something to say and I thought I would post in on the forum but I've lost the thought and its driving me crazy!! I know if I hear what we were talking about the last 10 minutes of class, I'll remember.

I remember!!!
Name: simran
Date: 2004-03-26 03:44:24
Link to this Comment: 9008

Toward the end of class in Professor Dalke's section, we talked about canonical constructions which usually select books that have layers of meaning thus require a certain amount of decoding. Professor Dalke also mentioned "No More Masks," to give us a description of a movement that wanted to get rid of what it calls "inaccessible texts."

I think the straightforward text- the opposite of the inaccesible text- would actually result in a limitation of the gamut of possible meanings. I want to go back to the wonderful example posted on this forum- that of someone having a thought, converting it into language and presenting it to another in whose mind the thought unfurls, but often in a different way. I think that if a text was over-simplified (by this I mean different layers of meaning), it would restrict the different range of possible ways it could expand in the listener/reader's mind. The layers of meaning, I think, give each reader the option of interpreting the message according to how it best fits them, according to where in their lives they are. I guess these layered "inaccesible" novels appeal to me so much because they allow room for my interpretations, resulting in a story that includes me thus is more personal and of more value to me.

In response to Orah:
Name: simran
Date: 2004-03-26 03:57:39
Link to this Comment: 9009

Just thought I would respond to you before turning in after a loooong day! You sound quite frustrated and lost in your posting and I'm sorry if you're not feeling good say Melville knows one thing and you wish you did know one thing for sure too. I guess I just look at what Ahab knows and what he does not. He does not know what is out there that caused the accident, but he does know that he wants to get to the white whale. His mission is destined to fail, yet his desire to know the answers (in whatever way he thinks is best) is greater than that. Your refusal to believe that things don't have meaning seems to be a great strength to me. You refuse to believe that there is no meaning and so spend time and energy trying to discover what it is. It is your refusal to accept meaninglessness that sets you on these quests to learn and discover, empowering yourself with knowledge... I find it facinating that it is this very refusal to accept meaninglessness that adds meaning to your life.

on a bright (warm!) friday morning (in response to
Name: becky
Date: 2004-03-26 13:08:39
Link to this Comment: 9014

i'm not really sure this adresses your question, but this is my take one it (for the time being) :)

what i take away from human brains being a skyhook is that we determine meaning. we just get to choose. so i ask myself, what one thing would i like to know? and i don't have to stop at one thing, and i may revise myself, but, as a fellow clinger, it takes some shaking. some things i'm pretty sure i won't revise- i like them too much, and i find them useful.

i don't guess we get to choose all on our own, we've got the whole world to infuence us, not to mention our biology.

so as to melville and whether moby dick is a joke, maybe it could be, but that seems counter-intuitive for me. i find it difficult to imagine going about life or writing such a big book or in any way seriously investing themselves in something they think is ONLY ultimately laughable. maybe that's only because i find it insulting- i take myself rather seriously! i can laugh at myself, sure, and often do so in response to taking myself too seriously, but in the end i find the idea that i and the things i am invested in are all a joke very threatening. so i've decided they're meaningfull!

i think of moby dick more a an often playful, through an admittedly futile, search for meaning, a search that melville is nonetheless earnestly engaged in.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-26 13:37:03
Link to this Comment: 9015

thanks guys ... very helpful ... and i agree, becky, that melville is "earnestly engaged" ... i like that phrase ... and i too feel threatened when people say that life is just a joke. woo hoo for the clingers club!

the moral of my story today is: sunshine makes everything okay.
enjoy the beautiful weather, friends.

"The fish doen't think...for the fish knows everyt
Name: daniela
Date: 2004-03-26 21:15:52
Link to this Comment: 9018

To me the whole story of Mobidick seems to be like a quest for a definition of life. What instills vital forces into people making them live, instead of merely existing?

From this point of view, Ishmael's and Ahab's stories resemble a rendition of "Hotel California" or the R.L.Stevenson's Suicide Club: "Fear is the strong passion; it is with fear that you must trifle, if you wish to taste the intense joy of living."

Bored with his existence as a school master, Ishmael embarks on this journey to test whether life still means anything to him. Upon the premises of death Ishmael finds out that he does care about his life. Facing death, he is able to appreciate the moment and live it out fully without regretting a single second...

Ahab is driven by hate towards Mobidick and the inscruitable force it represents. What generates this hate? Isn't it the fear of the unknown that he cannot bring under control that humiliates him and, thus makes him hate? Making Ahab experience so strong emotions, the fear does instill life into him...

Date: 2004-03-27 12:19:18
Link to this Comment: 9026

One of the questions we all answered in my section on Thursday was where/whether we found ourselves in Moby-Dick. We had an Ahab or two (folks on a quest to "know"), several "onlookers" (including Ishmaels and one Queequeg), one member of the class who identified as Moby-Dick (not wanting to be confined/contained by anyone else's knowing!)—but most of us unable to locate ourselves in the text. As Diane said, however, this may actually be a compelling reason to read it: to go beyond what we already know, who we are, add something new to the meme pool already bubbling in our brains...

I was reminded of this conversation (and reminded that I wanted to record it) by Mary Catherine Bateson, the keynote speaker for the conference Integrating Environmentalism @ Haverford this weekend, which Su-Lyn told us about. At the end of her talk about making education "more ecological," someone asked Bateson where she would go to school now, were she 17 again. She said she would most likely do what she did before: spend a year in Israel, learning a culture and language different from anything she'd ever participated in before. And so learn (again) how to be an anthropologist, a participant-observer, someone involved/invested in a culture, BUT ALSO able to look @ it from the outside, to see that it is only one of myriad options for constructing the world.




Head in Clouds/Feet on Ground.

To Sea/In a Ship.

Thank you all for all this Backikng-and-Forthing.

It keeps me Im/Balanced.

Mo B. Dick: A Funny Man
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-03-27 12:36:54
Link to this Comment: 9027

A link, from my daughter Lily, perhaps a contribution to various lines of discussion above, both about jokes and sexual play? See Mo B. Dick: The Art of Kinging: "Instead of being an angry woman, I became a funny man!"

Jokes and Fate
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-03-27 14:38:25
Link to this Comment: 9029

Orah's comments regarding the "vast practical joke" (ch. 49 – The Hyena) echoed my own thoughts: I don't fancy the notion of an "unseen and unaccountable old joker", whom I take it to be God, peering down from a heavenly kingdom with his angel pals pointing and laughing at me as I try and make my way through life. Do I misinterpret to think that Melville, in these few lines atleast, sees life as a source of entertainment – must-see television perhaps – by the powers that be? This troubles me. Much like Ahab, I need to believe my grief has some reason to account for it.

Anne's question on Thursday (one of many questions: Do you think there is such a thing as fate in this book?) got me thinking about the mysterious Fedallah and his crew. They appeared out of thin air it seems (although they were hinted at many times before their appearance) and I wonder if they function as a representation of fate. Fedallah, interestingly enough, in Arabic means 'in the hands of God' (Did Melville know that? My 'Specters of Moby Dick' Prof last semester at Haverford didn't seem to think so but it just seems like such an extraordinary coincidence). There are also curious passages throughout the book that alludes to Ahab and Fedallah being one man – Fedallah an externalized insecurity perhaps? Fedallah, shadow, stare, wordless's all rather supernatural.

By Dick, I've Got It! (maybe)
Name: Ro. Finn
Date: 2004-03-28 10:27:49
Link to this Comment: 9030

I just finished a piece for my lit. journalism course. We had to write a negative review of some book we didn't like in some way. So, I grabbed what was handy--you guessed it. The Whale. I took on the great American novel as THE book to avoid. Probably not the best choice.

I didn't know exactly what I was thinking, but I did find out (writing often works that way)—my gripe is that this book is either too much effort or too much risk. Effort = time and thought. Risk = the seduction of all those wacky postulations about good/evil, free will/fate, the whale as gold...the sea as the prairie...the quest as the gold rush, etc.—yeah, theorists actually said that stuff. I would have been embarrassed.

Why MUST we know Melville's motives? In its first writing, this book was a romance novel. Reportedly, it was nearly finished when Hawthorne convinced Melville to rewrite it as allegory. But that was Hawthorne's shtick, not Melville's. Doesn't it seem unlikely that an author's early attempt at allegory would become the greatest American novel? Are WE are making it THAT BIG...seeing THAT MUCH in it?

Do we like the cost/benefit ratio involved? What do we get for our investment? Any new insights? Something that would change our opinions? We do get a well-told story (too long, if that's all), some good laughs (ditto). That's not it. I think that Moby is timelessly, endlessly fascinating because Melville's "out of the box thinking" precipitates an explosion of interpretations, each coming from some unique and personal place within each reader. That's big as all of us put together. BIGGER...when we share these interpretations. Combinatorial. Exponential. Melville has de-clichéd the phrase, "touched a cord." There's something for everyone in it.

an aid to understanding the beauty of meville's wo
Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-28 17:52:15
Link to this Comment: 9035

and an argument for the broad quality to his writing / an expansionist reading of md:

"It's this course where each boy in class had to get up in class and make a speech. you know. spontaneous and all. and if a boy digresses at all, you're supposed to yell 'Digression!' at him as fast as you can. it just about drove me crazy....that digression business got on my nerves. i don't know. the trouble with me is, i like it when somebody digresses. it's more interesting and all...i like somebody to stick to the point and all. but i don't like them to stick too much to the point. i don't know. i guess i don't like it when sombebody sticks to the point all the time. the boys that got the best marks in Oral Expression were the ones that stuck to the point all the time - i admit it. but there was this one boy, Richard Kinsella. He didn't stick to the point too much, and they were always yelling 'Digression!' at him. it was terrible, because in the first place, he was a very nervous guy - i mean he was a very nervous guy - and his lips were always shaking whenever it was his time to make a speech, and you could hardly hear him if you were sitting way in the back of the room. When his lips sort of quit shaking a little but, though, i liked his speeches better than anybody else's. He pracitically flunked the course, tough, too. he got a D plus because they kept yelling 'Digression!' at him all the time. For instance, he made this speech about this farm his father bought in Vermont. They kept yelling 'Digression!' at him the whole time he was making it, and this teacher, mr. Vinson, gave him an F on it because he hadn't told what kind of animals and vegetables and stuff grew on the farm and all. what he did was, Richard Kinsella, he's start telling you all about that stuff - then all of a suddden he'd start telling you about this letter his mother got from his uncle, and how his uncle got polio and all when he was 42 years old, and how he woun't let anybody come to see him in the hospital because he didn't want anybody to see him with a brace on. it didn't have much to do with the farm - i admit it - but it was nice. it's nice when somebody tells you about their uncle. especially when they start out telling you about their father's farm and then all of asudden get more interested in their uncle. I mean it's dirty yelling 'Digression!' at him when he's all nice and excited." -catcher in the rye 184

seems that sometimes melville is a little like richard kinsella, i mean he is talking about md and whaling and he keeps stopping and saying stuff like: this is a perfect chance to tell you a little more about whales or ships ... stuff that is seemingly irrelevant, but gives the story some shape and just makes the whole thing. .....i don't know.... a lot nicer?
and i feel like we get to know melville better becuase of his digressions, we are intimatly ingrained in his mind.
reminds me of the opening of scarlet letter (my favorite part of the whole book) when hawthorne picks for the reader a red rose and offers it to us. a token of .... ???
hope it makes sense why i think that this quote is relevant ...

one more quote that contradicts a lot of what i've been saying about md and life in general:

"were this world an enless plain, and by sailing eastward we could for ever reach new distances, and discover sights more sweet and strange than any Cyclades or Islands of King SOlomon, then there were promise in this voyage. but in pursuit of those far mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of that demon phantom that, some time or other, swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leave us whelmed." (whelmed =engulfed) (196)

Name: Meg
Date: 2004-03-28 18:05:05
Link to this Comment: 9036

I agree with Orah that digression makes a story nicer and more shapely. The most boring stories are those that follow one track, tangents are the best parts. The outside context always seems to be crucial to the main story being told, and if not, it is always appreciated. I can remember sitting in church when I was little, and the more random and pieced together the sermon was, the more I was able to follow it without drifting off. Little stories that all seem to be disconnected, but come together with a common theme, or character is in my opinion the best way to tell something. Putting pieces together, and asking yourself why all the stories are connected gives your mind a challenge while you are reading or listening, and therefore making it more interesting. There is a limit to how much off track you can go, but random chapters are always a great way to mix up a story as long as they make sense. It is hearing and reading the way that we see the world. Not many people look straight ahead, following a laser beam when they go somewhere, people always look around. In films movie cameras zoom in and out and scan the scene, keeping us entertained, and eager to see more. That is why MD is so much more interesting than I had expected it to be. The story is intertwined with chapters with facts and new stories, making a giant quilt that forms the greater work.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-03-28 19:25:36
Link to this Comment: 9038

A suggestion for Emily:
Why not embrace your apathy. It seems to me that if you've learned one thing from Moby Dick its what you're not. Go with that. Devote 10 minutes per day considering the ways in which the book is not for you, and maybe it will inspire an amazing essay. Moreover, if you can come up with a few specific contrasts between yourself and the text it might give you a starting point to begin to be able to relate. I usually find that when two things are in such strong opposition of one another they usually only differ in one small way. The book must mirror you in some way if it shows you that you differ. Use it as tool, your time together is so ephemeral, after all, you only get one first reading of a book..

enjoying (only) fragments
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-03-28 19:32:37
Link to this Comment: 9039

Ladies, I'm LOVING your various explorations of tangents...

but actually logged on here tonight to speak to the contrary impulse, Em's lament that she is "trying so hard to have this book become meaningful, and perhaps i am like ahab and those cardboard masks-- i want to pin melville and his message to me down, but i keep on finding this great empty hollowness behind the words."

I want to tell you a (short) story, one with (long) legs. On Saturday morning, I (and Mary) spoke @ a McBride Open House. One of the prospective students said that she'd delayed so long going to college because she didn't want to be told what to think: that she was a creative person, that she was afraid of being socialized/brainwashed/taught to think like everyone else. I laughed and told her I thought she was old enough, now, to take the risk: that she could bring to Bryn Mawr all she was/all she had accumulated over the years, that we would introduce her to a rich range of things/thoughts she hadn't yet encountered, and that she could enter into conversation w/ them without a fear that they would "take her over" (shades of Dennett's mind-altering memes!).

But then I stopped laughing, and told her a little about my own experience as a first-generation intellectual: someone so overwhelmed by all I didn't know/wanted to know that my Ahab-ian "quest" to understand it all (or @ least vacuum it all up) became a compulsive one. It's taken me years (hey, I'm still working on it) to acknowledge that I don't have to (well, besides I can't) master it all. I am allowed/impelled to CHOOSE WHAT INTERESTS ME, and pursue THAT.

Hence the quote on the bulletin board outside my office: "We are all doomed, by the limits of taste and time, to enjoy only fragments."

Sometimes, Em, what you're offered, when you're offered it, doesn't--for all sorts of reasons--engage. It doesn't have to. Take Fritz's advice: "if the story isn't as interesting as the stories which the words inspire, let yourself and your mind wander to other unexplored places." There's plenty out there (and, qua the perspective: in there)!

You don't HAVE to make meaning of this particular book.

(Though I do: come see, Tuesday.)

Name: katherine
Date: 2004-03-28 22:00:07
Link to this Comment: 9043

Okay, so we have already discussed how this book deviates from the normal novel format. But it seems the more that I read, the less I am reading from the point-of-view of Ishmael. His knowledge seems boundless, writing on and on about whales and the history and art surrounding them, and retelling the stories of encounters from other ships, and even slipping into the minds of some of his ship mates and telling their stories and their thoughts. Suddenly, while reading I thought, damn, this Ishmael is a really big liar. is all of this history true, are all the stories that he tells something that really happened? cause how can he be all of these people at once. how can he be such an authority on whaling if this is his first voyage. it makes me think back to the very first big group discussion on the usefullness- or truthfulness- of literature. I really loved what was said in that space, and I think it makes me a more critical reader, less likely to be swept along with the story. I don't know where I am going with this so i will change the

as a rower on the bryn mawr crew team I find the little bits about rowing after the whales really interesting. some of what starbuck and stubb and flint (?) say to their crews is very familiar- the way they yell and then wisper and always push their crew to pull harder. I keep trying to imagine my coxwain telling me to break my backbone, like they do in the book. every time we are in a race we check out the other teams and try to look as intimidating as possible, maybe to scare our competition. what if we all pulled out knives and bit down on them as we rowed. now that would be intimidating!

Name: Julia
Date: 2004-03-29 01:15:21
Link to this Comment: 9045

I guess I too am finding it hard to find or even to look for meaning in this book (well, not a strenght of mine to begin with). I find myself reading a bit and being stopped quite regularly to remind myself of a footnote and/or a possible hidden meaning, and in doing so I don't think I am really enjoying the story. ...Part of me really likes to think that it is just that, a story and only a story. Why do we have to analyze and make meaning of everything? The meaning could be solely to take the reader on a journey, there might be broad concepts that everyone who reads it will grasp, and there might also an infinite number of debateables that some grasp and find great meaning in and others find no meaning except for the sake of the author's telling. I don't think we should stop looking for meaning, or that there isn't any in Moby Dick but I am just curious as to WHY we are looking at all? I suppose this perhaps just goes back to some of our previous talks about language, morals, and culture etc...

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2004-03-29 01:16:45
Link to this Comment: 9046

Orah's deeply reflective post on existential mornings was great fodder for thought. Though what follows isn't closely related, thought I'd take the opportunity to send a respectful nod in her direction.

Have been thinking about how we often adapt what we say to present a consistent image of our minds, and how we cringe at what we have written in the past. These phenomena highlight two points: 1) our minds are wonderfully flexible, and 2) this flexibility is often stigmatized.

Take, for example, the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two conflicting ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

Then, Mr. Fitzgerald, we must all be geniuses.

Wonder what would happen if we felt less of a need to claim ownerships of stories. Maybe we'd feel less bound by them. Rather than telling "our" story, we'd simply be telling "another" story. And maybe then we could more freely play devil's advocate, consistency of "our" stories be damned. The stories, at least, would be the better for it.

I think that's what scientific practice, at least in theory, tries to do. Prof Grobstein's collective story-telling and Dan Dennett's public mistake-making (p380) are just two variants on this thought.

But I feel somewhat intuitively that not all stories work like that, not even all science stories. Some stories work because they are owned.

Hmm, that's a thought to be pursued another day, when sleep doesn't sound quite so good.

Name: Ro.
Date: 2004-03-29 09:25:40
Link to this Comment: 9047

Thought I would post this link to an analysis of the relationship between Hawthorne and Melville:

Also, found the book "Strike Through the Mask," by Elizabeth Renker very interesting/ useful.

one of Melville's complexities
Name: mary
Date: 2004-03-29 12:20:14
Link to this Comment: 9050

As far as Im concerned, this novel is BIG. Melville dives into a scene luxuriously. And he has me with him DEEPLY all over the place through his references to world history, world culture, AND in many times at once -- the past, the present, and the future. I see many interrelated elements as I read. For instance, the emotions that he addresses in his tales and how he addresses them brings to me an interrelationship of time and human thought. On page 23 when Ishmael has just arrived in Bedford, he describes his emotions in a way that I believe is a throwback to earlier forms of human expression of emotion.

It was a very dubious-looking, nay, a very dark and dismal night, bitingly cold and cheerless. I knew no one in the place. With anxious grapnels I had sounded my pocket, and only brought up a few pieces of silver&

Footnote: (grapnels- small anchors with several hooks for dragging: here, his fingers)

From what Ive compiled about human thought, back in Homers time of oral story-telling, emotions (and other such constructs of the mind, i.e. beliefs, thoughts, intentions, etc.) were not verbally described. Back then, the construct of the mind was not formulated, until later, when the written word (away from the body and on paper) separated thoughts away from the body. Then the construct of the psyche (the mind) was formulated. Now our mind houses a lot of our abstract qualities including our feelings (emotions), although we also cling to the feelings in the heart idea somewhat. Homers tales have lots of emotions portrayed as happenings of the body, e.g. fear was not described as fear but rather as a spring in the legs causing one to run, or a tightening of the gut to describe nervousness. Melvilles eloquent use of describing his fingers as anxious grapnels contains a telling of the far past. We refer to our body parts much less these days to describe our emotions, especially not our fingers, as now we have such a strong concept of emotions being in the mind.

This is why I said above that Melville has me in the past, present, and the future all at once. This brings me to the idea that human thoughts evolve according to context around us and context that we create. Perhaps this is an example of the lateral spread of cultural evolution?

And to top it off, the beauty of Melvilles words in this passage, whew! To think of the fingers in the pocket looking for money on a dreary night as small anchors dragging looking for something to catch on to. Wow! What an emotional experience expressed in one small group of words.

Also, past, present and future complexity is offered through the dialects, the idioms, and the old style language and grammar. He further provides to me, the story of passage of human thought. And this is just one small part of how reading Melville offers complex context IN his words, not mentioning the philosophy weaved through his words. This novel is BIG. Thanks Melville.

parceling this world.
Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-29 14:24:08
Link to this Comment: 9051

su-lyn, thanks so much for the fitzgerald quote ... i'd never read it before and it's a really powerful statement.
over the weekend, though, i thought about this bind that i, and maybe others (?) are in in which we are so profisient in being able to argue two sides of an argument that we don't know anymore with which we hold our beleif. i really don't know what i beleive in, i don't know what i like/what i don't like, i don't know how to judge what is quality and what is not quality. there are always two sides to an argument ... both sides which can be argued strongly.
i guess what i am protesting agianst is the binary nature of the world we have created. things either have to be good or bad, god is either alive or dead, i am either smart or stupid.
and i don't think things do or should work like that. i see a movie and the first question i'm asked is, "did you like it," and at this point all i can say about any movie or book or play is, "i don't know." i can tell you things about art, but i cannot give it a one word assesment. i just can't.
i don't know what this says about my education; maybe that i'm ALWAYS fishing to give all of YOU the RIGHT answer ... but in this process that rules out so so so much! i don't think the world is RIGHT or WRONG, but our education teaches us that we must parcel the world out into these categories.

and so maybe i've been wrong all along and i'm not chasing the whiteness, i'm not a clinger to those things that ARE absolutley. maybe pragmatism actually works.
but i'm not sure.

thanks again, su-lyn. see ya'all tomorrow.

facing the whale
Name: em
Date: 2004-03-29 15:25:48
Link to this Comment: 9052

whether it is good or bad
whether i like it or not
the way that melville inverts and upends things
has become useful:
"all men live enveloped in whale lines... and if you be a philosopher, though seated in a whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side." (229)
and flip-flopping the sharks and the men
as they eat...
stretching my mind around a bit
is healthy

tying it together
Name: kat mccorm
Date: 2004-03-29 22:17:04
Link to this Comment: 9061

Orah and Ro, your postings have reminded me of a theme I have begun to see throughout the class, starting first with Paul's Lectures, and continuing on here in the forum. Consider Orah earlier posting:

"we are so profisient in being able to argue two sides of an argument that we don't know anymore with which we hold our beleif. i really don't know what i beleive in, i don't know what i like/what i don't like, i don't know how to judge what is quality and what is not quality."

To me, this was strongly reminiscent of Ro's posting quoting Hawthorne's description of Melville:

"still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief. It is strange how he persists -- and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before -- in wondering to-and-fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sand hills amid which we were sitting. He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other."

Orah, is it possible that reading this novel and getting inside a product of Melville's own brain has infected you with that same torture of "neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief?" I would say this is true, except that in reading your posting throughout the semester, you have exhibited that same sort of torn uncomfortableness, Where you first proclaim strongly that something IS true or definitely IS how you feel, but again you "do not seem to rest" in this resolution. I believe this is connected to your own admitted hesitency about the permanence of your comment on the forum.

But don't suppose that you are alone, Orah. In fact, I specifically remember Paul earlier in the semester proclaiming in startlingly similar language that he "does not believe in ANYTHING". The reason that this stuck with me so is that Paul then subsequently spent the entire lecture trying to convince us all of that the concept of "storytelling" and all it's uses was preferable to the concept of "truth"- an idea, which by his own assertion, he does not "believe". And yet he so forcefully expounded it, as he often does, consistently herding the class into consensus, saying " does everyone agree?" or "does everyone see that?" (Listen for it next time you lecture, Paul). But Paul, Like Orah and, apparently, Melville, "[did] not seem to rest" any in is conclusion- probably because, like he confess, he does not "believe" in any of it, but is "too honest and courageous not to try ".

on being pretty pooped, feeling the wind and john
Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-29 23:25:59
Link to this Comment: 9062

kat, thank you for for insightful assesment. it's helpful to hear things from a more objective POV. thanks! and i think you might be right i don't beleive in anything either. and i guess i never will beleive in anything if i keep thinking in the way that i think. or at least i can say that to this point i have never come across a statement that i've stuck with for more than a couple months. i still think that is a scary place to be. sounds like a lonely place to be. can't depend on anything. or anyone. because nothing is permanent. i guess, if i moved to being a non-clinger the thing i would miss most is the depending. can one depend on anything if there are no absolutes, no steady objects, only undulating notions ?
but i guess even in the life of a clinger the world is the same as it is for those who are flung around and tossed by the wind. people leave us. no matter if we are a part of the clingers club or the tossed team. i guess the clingers are more tired in the end, after exerting themselves and pouring all their energy into the upkeep of the beleifs they, i've only been around a couple decades and i'm pretty pooped.
also, i guess by "figuring things out" in life and about life we feel as though we are making, this whole world seems to be about PROGRESS. but, in the words of john lennon, "you can't take nothing with you but your soul." no matter the THINGS we acheive in this world it ain't coming with us after we die. and it seems that beleifs can, if stagnant, can be considered possessions, things that we think give us more standing in the world, letters after our names, money in the wallet, mileSTONES passed. but, really, i (might) think, "it's about the journey", to quote the oldest line in the book. ((interesting how i keep finding myself figuring out cliches ... they're not as bad as they're made out to be.)) it's about the struggle and not the ends acheived, because in the end what can we say we have really conquered? nothing, i assert .... ......and we return to melville!!!!!

Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-03-30 16:33:18
Link to this Comment: 9090

In class, Ro mentioned Strike Through the Mask: Herman Melville and the Scene of Writing by Elizabeth Renker which I think is such an interesting book. In it, Renker offers an interesting reading/meaning of Moby Dick that I, at the time, thought was fully accurate and acceptable. In ch. 3, "Wife Beating and the Written Page", she argues that Melville's relationship with his wife is a crucial element in understanding the absence of women. In 1975, the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society published newly discovered letters, dated May 1867, that propose Melville physically and emotionally abused his wife, Elizabeth Melville. Mentioned in only four chapters (out of 133), the two dialogue speaking female characters in the novels are interestingly both servants. Mrs. Hussley is the wife of the Spouter Inn's innkeeper, and serves "Clam or Cod" to Ishmael and Queequeg. Charity busies herself on the deck before it is to set sail making sure "nothing could be found wanting" on the boat (All Astir, 137). This vastly "feminine" character wins the admiration of Melville as he claims that "no woman better deserved the name" and "like a sister of charity did this charitable Aunt Charity bustle about hither and thither, ready to turn her hand and heart to anything that promised to yield for safety, comfort, and consolation to all on board a ship" (All Astir 89-90). Perhaps had Elizabeth Melville behaved more like Aunt Charity "ready to turn her hand and heart to anything that promised to yield for safety, comfort, and consolation" to Melville, or like Mrs. Hussley, the dutiful wife who is mainly known to the reader as the woman who serves soup, she would not have angered Melville to the point of physical abuse. In this light, Charity and Mrs. Hussley function as a means of mental abuse for Elizabeth, both serving as an ideal template for Elizabeth to follow.

Do I fully accept this meaning now? No.

Anne's request for us to think about the meaning of Moby Dick puts me at a loss for words. To reduce Moby Dick to a bantering of womanhood is to ignore all the other beautiful meanings regarding self-perception, the usefulness of academic scholarship, the loss of individuality in the mob, and countless other interpretations. I can't choose a meaning namely because there are so many ways to read this text. Free-will was mentioned briefly in class today and I almost wish I didn't have the freedom to choose a meaning. That someone would just tell me what the function of Moby Dick is. But if that were done and Anne were to announce on Thursday that Moby Dick functions as a means of criticism to academic scholarship (for example), I know I would feel betrayed and disappointed. I don't want to assign A Meaning, but would rather assign multiple readings. Could that be my meaning?

Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-30 16:36:04
Link to this Comment: 9091

so many things to write, hope i can remember all ...

1. mary very sweetly told me after class that she didn't think my postings were bullshit. thank you. but, though one might "like" them i wonder if they have MEANING. yeh, i LIKE them, too, they feel good and seem to work well, but do theories have MEANING? do theories, that are not based on tangible world experience, have MEANING? do they change anything that matters? anything tangible? or should i quit school and join a God-hunting-expedition? as Melville suggests that we do: get our heads out of theology books and do find IT yourself. or are we already on that ship?

2. i know that i equate ahab and melville. that's why i say that melville is contracted. he has one goal: the whiteness. same as ahab. i know that in the past weeks i have said to myself that melville is monomeniacal, but i don't think i had the guts to post it. but, i'm posting it now: I THINK MELVILLE IS MONOMENIACAL. (((i make this assertion, but after this past weekend of postings, i realize, and hope you do, too, that there is a question mark after EVERYTHING EVERYTHING EVERYTHING that i write from now on ... until i change my mind.)))

3. and finally, in continuation of the protest against our creation of a world full of binaries:
humans crave organization. our existence is based on organization. and i think that is what creates this vast blind spot that makes us unable to accuratly see reality. we have to parcel the world in order to UNDERSTAND it, give MEANING to it, but in so doing we make it impossible to see reality, impossible to acheive meaning. it's a catch-22. we organize in order to find meaning but in organizing we make it impossible to find meaning. so, is the key to stop organizing and perceive? stop time and live in the moment? time, actually, is the perfect example. objectively, from an aerial view, time is an eternity of present moments, but we, in order to understand time, parcel it and make it impossible to actually experience time for what it is. in order to pin point the moment we destroy our ability to be IN IT. so, md is an attempt to counteract this blinding organization? and in so doing help us to get closer to the whiteness. but, melville fails because he is human and though he tries not to organize he is ahab and has parceled THE OTHER, THE WHITENESS.
This catch-22 is the reason why humanity is a part of a tragic story.

and THE QUESTION is: if we can't get that aerial view of time, the aerial view of reality does it really exist????????????????????????????? (those question marks should go on forever)

and i think THAT is the key to Melville : THAT is the UNGRASPABLE PHANTON. THAT IS THE IMPENETRABLE ABSENCE. because IT, REALITY, THE MOMENT, might not exist, and YET, it's a PRESENCE, it's moby dick, it is there and we can't get into it to find out if it is really there.

oh man oh man. i know that doesn't make sense, but i feel like i just figured IT out. (((THIS is why i'm going to keep thinking even if none of this matters and it's all bs and i'll regret it later. THIS is what IT'S all about.....i guess we spend our whole lives trying desperatly for people to UNDERSTAND us .... (eliot, "that is not what i meant at all." the tragic last words of EVERY person) and i wish that i could tattoo this post accross my face so ya'all and everyone else would GET ME. and i would get that tattoo, but i'd probably change my mind the next morning and regret it.)))

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-03-30 16:53:47
Link to this Comment: 9092

I was thinking about what Anne asked in class today, why the crew followed Ahab, and I think that I have at least one reason. The thing about Ahab is that he has an all consuming passion, like some religious missionary, and like a missionary he draws people in, fascinated by this obsession, this emotion, whatever you want to call it.

People are often, though certainly not always, drawn to passion. I think I know part of why that is, too. It makes people feel alive, to feel passion, not like daily life where nothing seems especially important and we just do things because they keep everything running pleasantly as it has been, and because we always to them. When passion touches us we feel alive, we do things for reasons other than maintaining the status quo and habit. Everything seems sharper when driven by passion, more important.

The peculiar thing here is that following mad passions like this usually lead people to disaster. It certainly does the crew, as it did tons of historical and storied figures. Yet people keep following passions. Perhaps passion blinds us to memories of all those cautionary stories. Perhaps we remember the cautionary stories but simply don't care, or feel that the benefits will outweigh the costs.

I think in the case of the crew it's the former; they don't think about what the consequences of following the whale might be. Indeed, they seem to be actively trying not to think about it, sometimes. But didn't they do the same thing shipping out to sea in the first place? The sea kills so many people, but as Ishmael said in one of the early chapters, the land would make him kill himself, and perhaps what spurs him to thoughts of suicide is the monotonous, unescapable boredom of life on land. Schoolteachers never have to risk their lives, unless they're in very rough districts, but on the other hand, they rarely have something exciting enough to be worth risking their lives for.

Name: Emily S.
Date: 2004-03-30 18:16:34
Link to this Comment: 9093

Our discussion of blind spots today and how our own motivations often elude us (Ahab)reminded me of another book on whaling and the Arctic region called "Arctic Dreams" by Barry Lopez.

He makes reference to the Latin motto from the title banner of The North Georgia Gazette: per freta hactenus negata, "meaning to have negotiated a strait the very existence of which has been denied. But it also suggests a continuing movement through unknown waters. It is simultaneously, an expression of fear and of accomplishment, the cusp on which human life finds its richest expression." (406)

Lopez spends a lot of time exploring the reasoning behind whaling. Though there are obvious economic motivations, the ultimate factor is far more difficult to define. Why did these whalers choose to live their lives on the cusp rather than with both feet planted safely ashore?

He also suggests that this intangible drive has played a large part in biological evolution. For example, examine the correlation between man's emerging capability as a hunter and the mass extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene Era. Although I'm not sure I can fully attribute such a large-scale event to a relatively small group of pre-historic populations, Lopez argues that "his capacity to do so is clear and, to judge from the fate of the plains buffalo, the passenger pigeon, the great auk, and the bowhead whale, he can be lethally and extensively efficient." (52)

Man's motives are in constant conflict with nature, resulting in one or the other emerging as the victor in any given situation. Countless sailors lost their lives in the harsh Arctic environment because, biologically speaking, men are simply not equiped for such a hostile climate. However, something drives them out to sea...perhaps the same singular desire that led Ahab to engage in a battle with Moby Dick. In a sense, Ahab is engaging in the archetypal battle of man versus nature.

Another reading of the book could focus on Ahab and Moby Dick as a metaphor for this conflict, or the ultimate struggle of our own innate and mysterious desires in conflict with the natural order of things.

orah's tattoo
Name: em
Date: 2004-03-30 18:42:57
Link to this Comment: 9094

orah, i have this image of you and you like some strangely ciphered maori,
and it is amusing and appalling all at once... i want to try and understand
what you're posting about, and i want to try and dialogue with you about it:
i am so thrilled you brought time back in! but i am wondering about the
ramifications of what you are saying as they relate to aia's posting: you say that when we organize and parcel and sort, we are doing ourselves a disservice, no? so we should not ignore the fact that melville may have beaten his wife, and we
should follow up on the threads ro. has been posting about melville and
hawthorne's relationship, and we should read the chapters on cetology with
just as much interest as the narrative-propelled chapters.
why doesn't it work this way? why do we get dead-locked, or say, "it doesn't
matter," why do we allow ourselves to be boxed in? i don't know if i agree
that this is human nature, i think that while we do like to name and
categorize, there is a great impulse towards transcendence, too... i guess
this is what i've been working towards with my time thinking as well. once the papers are posted you'll be able to see what i mean... the combination of no time and no language creating an atemporal seizure, kind of... and that timelessness and wordlessness crossing the border into sacredness.
i feel that this forum has been doing a stupendous job of crossing borders and defying categories. there is always someone saying, "well yes but...", or "for example"... i love it. this forum is so cool. and it does not keep religion or the sacred out of the pot, something that i think is really important, especially, i'm coming to see, with this novel. in the beginning there was the whale? i relate more and more to ahab now, with his feeling, the deep feeling he has. i wish i could have a passion like that. i wish my questing bordered on the Sacred Quest with capitals that he has chosen to embark upon with his crew (as elizabeth suggested) like his disciples... all right, i'm signing off for now, but count me in for tattoos and regrets and messes. because i like this mess and i'm sticking with it.

Name: becky rich
Date: 2004-03-30 20:52:32
Link to this Comment: 9095

i'm sorting out my thoughts on what i took away from class today, so i hope it's not too repetitive/summary-esque. here goes-

starting with the premise that the second half of our brain functions as a meaning-creator, i'm not sure that we can reeeaaally think anything is meaningless (or only a joke). i'm not sure we can really even get our minds into the idea of meaninglessnes to understand it- perhaps why, even when melvelle's on a missions to demostrate the impossibility or pinning down meaning, suggesting it's not there at all, it's nonetheless a book that tries on meaning in different ways all over the place. we're mean green meaning machines (puctuate with ! or with ? ?)
(if i got this confused i don't think what i wrote next is relevant.)

however, this fabulous capability of ours to entertain to ideas at once, or be binary, allows us to endlessly question meaning.

AND this, being able to consider meaninglessnes and meaning in general, is a "sounding board"- the meanings we deal with on the surface being the board and the possibility of meaninglessnes the space in which our ideas resound, so to speak (i'm thinking of that violin.)
i guess from saying that i realized that i don't think of there being "naught beneath" the sounding board- i prefer to see it as full of untold possibilities, or, then again, perhaps it is empty space, but it makes space for all the untold possibilities. it sounds very floofy, but we cannot help but hear the tree falling if it falls- we cannot help but apply meaning to what we experience.

AND/OR (dealing with the binary brain) our consiousness is the surface, and our unconsiousness is our blind spot that we continually build stories do cover. and/or our unconsiousness is the inside of our sounding board, the inside of the story-instrument, where things can exist before the brain gets to them and tells a story about them.- where our shadow/our selves/motivations that we are unable to pin down "exist". (hhhmmm. again, i'm not sure i think things in our unconsious mind really exist untill there's a story about them or act them out or something. but our unconsiousness is still where they are given the space to be possible. i'm not really sure this makes sense, what do you think?)

we can never tell enough stories to formulate all of ourselves, especially since we don't understand ourselves completely anyway, and all those possible stories are like shadows lurking behind our surface selves/stories.

maybe... ...?

like others, i'm suspicious of this binary bussiness. from my experience, things just don't come in twos exactly. there are men, there are women, and then there's a variety of different ways to be a hermaphradite, to take the first example that came to mind. and that's only addressing biology- forget cultural categories and whatnot. and can you really draw a clear line between consiousness and unconsiousness (that really is a question- i have no idea) ? i think it's always a spectrum, or a population, or something with gradiation. saying something is strictly one thing or another for a given set of reasons smells to me like essentialism.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-03-30 22:37:48
Link to this Comment: 9097

I don't agree that passion is the cause of our undoing. Anne is passionate about literature, and she channels that energy into her work. So I think that to say the crew of the ship is doomed because of passion is taking the easy way out, or, rather, overlooking something.

I can't answer why people follow their passions despite the sometimes unfortunate ramifications of them, but I can tell you why I do. It isn't about the end result, which is something that Orah hinted at as well. The passion itself, the state of it, is worthwhile enough. It isn't a means to an end. It is something I aim to dwell in, a state to be achieved. Its as if I'm an addict without a drug. And if you still insist that it is this passion that leads to our downfall I suggest we consider why this has become a socially acceptable way to commit metaphorical suicide. Maybe we should consider what it is about passion that links us all.

As an aside, I'd really like to get back to what Ro mentioned at the end of class today, I don't remember what it was, but I remember being intrigued by it, and I can't wait to hear more.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-03-30 22:46:43
Link to this Comment: 9098

ps: this forum medaites my thoughts like therapy would, i feel as if i should pay $300 an hour for it or something.

merging our minds. not only getting under each oth
Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-30 23:12:05
Link to this Comment: 9099

an attempt at clarification for em:
have you ever read a line in a book or heard a line in a song or read a poem or whatever medium with which you most identify, maybe a line of music and said to yourself, "THAT is my soul." and if others could understand THAT line, and FEEL that line as you feel it, then they would understand you? ((my line has always been the last stanza of mr. tamborine man)) well, wouldn't life be so much easier if our souls were tattoed on our faces? so everyone could immediatly recognize who we ARE? and then we could get down to the DIVINE business of inter-soul relations. but, alas, we spend our whole lives in the space before this conversation of the depths, in the space of learning, and interprating, and constantly misinterprating each other and by the time we are on our death beds we realize that no one really ever understood us, fully felt mr tamborine man i i feel it.
so, that's what i mean by expressing a desire to tatoo a statement on my face.
the statement i said before that i would want to ingrain into my very appearance is that it is the aerial view of life, the fully objective view of reality, the view that, as living beings, it is utterly impossible to direct... THIS view is the view that we are all striving for. and don't you see that it is utterly impossible to have this view of life as living beings ? it's the whole question of whether md actually exists or is he just a phantom ...or some suggest "that Moby dick was ubiquitous" (154). THAT is the aerial view. and the tragedy of humanity is the fact (?) that THAT is exactly what we want and Truth is exactly what we search for, though knowing the Truth is impossible because we cannot step out of our own Truth.
still not so clear i guess (i'd have to word it a little better to get it onto my face.)

em, i don't really understand what you're saying about meville and his wife. what i'm saying is that we parcel the world in order to find meaning and yet in the very act of parceling we make it impossible to acheive meaning. ........i can't wait to read you paper....been talking in my anthro class about the timelessness of ritual and it's relationship to the sacred.

and, becky, I FULLY AGREE !!!!! (it's very exciting to FULLY AGREE) i agree that because our brain functions as a meaning-maker it is impossible to get our heads around meaninglessness. i think that's what i've been trying to say all semester and you just said it so eloquently, thank you thank you. we can't step out of our meaning searching minds in order to see and understand the actual meaning of the world. it's impossible. so we are stuck searching for that meaning forever. it's the same catch-22. .... i'm reading your post as i write this and ... i don't know .... it's a really beautiful post, i think. the idea that the shadow of the unconsious comes before the pinning of meaning, before the physical body. melville: "Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance." yes yes yes yes. i really understand that line now. thank you! and i wish you could see my unarticulated thoughts instead of these bodied words ....because the unarticulated thoughts are ME... articulation mutilates that shadow, my soul. my body is a crude, violent representation of my flucuating shadow.

and i think someone brought up the idea that we, here, are telling a collective story ... are revising each other's stories, revising each other's beleif's , merging our minds, here. and so maybe authorship doesn't matter so much. we are all a part of hobbes' leviathan, but, here, the whole story depends fully on each individual ... are we greater than the sum of our parts as hobbes suggests?

that's it for now, i guess. sleep well, all.

soundings and sounding-boards
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-03-31 10:49:38
Link to this Comment: 9102

I was amused/frustrated/angry w/ myself for being so (Ahab?-Ishmael? Melville?-like) overly-ambitious in trying to risk the delivery of "the meaning" of Moby-Dick to you all during yesterday afternoon's class. Am very glad to see (from all the postings after class) that the wild morass of ideas I tumbled through have served as a very resonant "sounding-board" for your further thinking (for which many thanks to you all).

So (she said, ever-ambitious), for Thursday:
finish the novel, thinking about

  • Melville's blindspots
  • your own
  • those of (various) literary critics: CLR James, DH Lawrence, Elizabeth Renker, whomever)
  • how Melville/the critics/you go about filling them in
as they-and-you answer these queries:
  • what is the nature of perception in the novel?
  • what is the nature of self?
  • what is the nature of the world?
  • (given all of the above, then:) what might be the preferable nature of our social structures?
Can't wait to hear *some* answers!
In much gratitude for your good company--Anne

Name: reeve
Date: 2004-03-31 14:56:33
Link to this Comment: 9103

There's something important about blind spots that we didn't consider even though it was clearly demonstrated by the dot and cross exercise. That which can not be seen because it falls in our blind spot is constantly changing. The dot is not always in your blind spot and if you cover the other eye, you can make the cross disappear instead. Blind spots do not create a static void, an ungraspable phantom- if we shift our gaze we can see what our blind spot was hiding before. So I'm not so sure how to make the idea of the blind spot meaningful- I still think it is very provocative, but I don't think it necessarily represents what we have been trying to make it represent.
On another note, I find myself especially tuned in to snippets of Melville that echo our discussions from the first half of the semester about randomness and absolute truth and debunking evolutionary "progress." In chapter 23 when he talks about the highest truth being indefinite and infinite, in chapt. 41: "all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad," and the "ungraspable phantom" (in I don't remember what chapter.) This reiterated notion of the limitations of meaning and an absolute truth that is obstructed by our very search for it through meaning... I don't mean to suggest that the right thing to do is to reduce Melville to Dennett's terms, but i found myself thinking "means" = algorithms (sane in the sense that they create order, etc.) and "motives" and "object" = meaning/intent and perfection (mad in the sense that there is no motive, only randomness and there is no object except continual change). Or you could say that motives and object = randomness which is mad in the sense of completely lacking intent.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-03-31 21:02:13
Link to this Comment: 9104

we are such lovely creatures. i think our blind spot is a gift. what other creatures on earth can take nothingness (ie the spot) and create something more beautiful than was even there in the first place (ie what we have constructed to fill it in with)?

Name: orah
Date: 2004-03-31 22:48:28
Link to this Comment: 9105

"we are such lovely creatures." -diane

THAT is such lovely thing to say. makes my just smile.

Name: ro.
Date: 2004-04-01 08:23:55
Link to this Comment: 9109

Reeves wrote, "Blind spots do not create a static void, an ungraspable phantom- if we shift our gaze we can see what our blind spot was hiding before. So I'm not so sure how to make the idea of the blind spot meaningful..." I agree and was wandering around in the same complex of thoughts.

According to HM (with a bit of a leap), whales have "extraordinary vacillations of movement" when they are "beset by three or four boats" ..."from the helpless perplexity of volition, in which their divided and diametrically opposite powers of vision must involve them" (ch 74). Birds also do this backing and forthing for lack of overlapping fields of vision from one eye to the other, I presume. And, as Paul mentioned, rabbits do this also. Seems rabbit sight has been studied well enough for some to conclude that there's not "interocular transfer of learning" from the rabbit's left eye to his right or vice versa. If he is trained on one side to demonstrably fear a triangular shaped thingie, he does not react fearfully when he sees it with the other eye. Whatever it's like to be a whale or a bird or a rabbit, it may be different depending upon its "view point." So, I find it difficult to buy into the notion that the whale's brain is rationalizing the gap between its images as we do our blind spots. And this is relevant...IF Dennett is correct in thinking that some sort of unification of information is necessary for consciousness –the human kind, anyway.

I'm kinda hung up on a few ideas short of the ones Anne has asked us to think about next (after having been blasted with a fascinating FIREHOSE of information on Tuesday)...I cannot think about social structures that one might extrapolate/fantasize from Moby Dick until I do two things first: rationalize how the man, Melville, with his particular experiences up to the time he wrote Moby Dick, could have possibly precipitated the mega-book in the Library of Babel, the book that is a representation of all others (if we think hard enough, smart enough, fancifully enough, etc). I can't lose the hunch that he stumbled into a general systems "algorithm" for the symbolic allegory/novel and its openness allows the rest of the world to fill in the blanks—all of them.

If I make it past that itch, I need to ask a bunch of questions about animal consciousness, how we view animals as relates to their having/not having consciousness AS WE DESCRIBE IT, if Melville's Moby adds/changes our understanding of that question, and then how we interact with/might better interact with animals as the first step towards thinking about how we interact with other, "more complex" creatures, i.e., other humans.

just a tidbit
Name: emhab
Date: 2004-04-01 11:45:25
Link to this Comment: 9114

i recently visited a science museum for children
and found out that fish (and, i'm assuming, whales?)
are not built to swim backwards

this is a useful metaphor for me
for even in moby dick when i seemed to be
doubling back
i was always returning to things
with a greater sense of understanding
or a new level of processing
never, in a sense, going backwards
just circling and circling

this a more useful metaphor for me
than the blindspot (i think i'm with ro and reeve)

unless moby dick is just one giant blindspot for me

damn consiousness, tricky anatomy.
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-01 13:24:22
Link to this Comment: 9117

interesting to think that fish/whales are not anatomically able to swim backwards, retreat. we can use that as a hoaky metaphor to say that because fish/whales don't have consiouses they are unable to regret actions as humans are (like they are unable to physically retreat.) we are anatomically made so that we can move backwards, and we have consiousness of our actions and yet we are unable to retreat to past times and change that which we regret. so, our anatomy is kind of a tease. we think we can move backwards but we are ever pushed forward by time. while whales never know what it's like to move back, we are always struggling to retreat as we are taught that we can. but in the end both anatomies are basically the same because of the power of the sea. whales can't move back because of the way their bodies are made, and humans cannot move back because of the power of the sea (and time ... a metaphor to contemplate) ... i guess the only difference is that ours is a life of frustration, always trying to GET BACK TO WHERE WE ONCE BELONGED. but, in a way the salty-sea-water is where we all started out.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-01 16:18:44
Link to this Comment: 9118

was a

thank you all.

someone else explain it to the other section; i'd just start to cry.

thank you all.

out with those damn spots
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-01 18:13:27
Link to this Comment: 9121

There was in our section considerable concern expressed (frankly, we were "wierded out") that we all could not but HELP fill in our blindspots w/ what we expected to see (yellow sheets, checkered sheets). So, we fretted, if we are interested in feminism, we'll inevitably see in Moby-Dick Melville's wife beating; if we are interested in Marxism, then we'll see the incipient rebellion of the crew. Good evidence of this seems to be the variants in reading produced by each section this afternoon: the one led by the maniacal she-quester-for-meaning read the novel as a comedy that inexorably turned into a tragedy ("The drama's done....the devious-cruising her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan"), while the one led by the laid-back guy read the final scene as totally Zen ("Buoyed up by that coffin...I floated on a soft and dirge-like main....The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths....")

Question is, then, of course--being aware of the inclination to read in accord w/ our inclinations--MIGHT we learn to see differently, outside the frame of reference we bring to our initial engagement w/ the text, with life? For my account of last night's astonishingly rich discussion of this possibility--what Orah calls "the aerial view"--see The (Continuing) Evolution of (My) Mind: An Engagement with Dan Gottlieb.

Name: ro. finn
Date: 2004-04-01 18:50:13
Link to this Comment: 9123

Anne, Paul

Would you mind posting what you expect the last few classes of the course to look like--the ones where we are in groups doing something or other in front of the class... for some amount of time ...
1-what is it that you would like us to prepare to do?
2-how much time does each small group get?
3-can we talk/bribe our way out of this exercise?

Thanks! :-)

tear drop learning
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-02 00:35:30
Link to this Comment: 9126

8 hours detached from class i will try to convey what happened in my mind, as a result of our talking, in that hour. i'll fail, i know, but it's worth the fling ... so i step aboard.

1. i think it is so relevant that md starts out "call me ismael" and ends with this orphan child being picked up by the rachel. 2 important biblical images. ishmael was the cast out son of abraham. even more poetic is the fact that he is picked up by the rachel. rachel is the matriarch who had a very hard time conceiving. she competes with her 3 co-wives (including her sister and her maids), but just cannot get pregnant. she goes a little mad and screams at her husband and says that she would rather die than be childless. so she has two children, but while giving birth to the second she dies. She dies while the family is traveling and is buried on the side of the road.
how beautifully poetic that this restless, childless, weeping woman represents the ship that retreives ishmael, the unwanted son.

2. we talked about whether ishmael is changed. time washes over past tragedies without a flinch. and you'd think that, you'd hope that, with all the pain in the world time would allow us a rest stop, a place to gasp amidst the tears, but the sea and time roll on as they have for five thousand years. and you wonder if this erasing quality of time makes life meaningless ... would we rather spend our lives visiting annonymous coffin warehouses (page 1) or would we rather dangle ourselves on the coffins of those we love? is life worth the pain of loosing those we love? and i think melville argues, yes. the sea rolls on and there is no record, no meaning to lost loves, but but but but it is still worth doing and i'd argue that if ishmael knew he was going to loose quequeg, he would again fall in love with him again, knowing full well that he would die. ((reminds me of this folk song my family listens to about these two people who fall in love, but because of life circumstances cannot be together. and the poet says that though her soul has been torn "she chance that love again without regret."))

3. Also, i think that amidst all the characters in this book, including meville himself, ishmael is the only one who is not a clinger. he does not cling to the whiteness as everyone else does, instead he is objective and reports. and that is why he survives. as i've said before: i think that the life of the drifter is one that is safer yet lonlier than the life of the clinger. the clinger attaches herself to people and things and is thus easily broken. but, the drifter who is not attached to any single thing, any single person, or notion, is not dependant. and though ishmael is orphaned he survives. because he is the only drifter.
and as we talked about on tues. the whole ship becomes one mob, without selves and so when ahab leads them to the vortex there is no way to scramble free, because they are all one with him ... all except lonely ishmael who again is cast out, upward burst.

4. and then grobstein talked about gotleib. and how gotleib has lost so many people he has loved in his life, as ishmael does. and yet he is able to say that he would not be the person he is today, he would not be the person he wants to be, unless his life had been as it was. and gotleib does not seem like a clinger. his loved ones die and he continues he does not follow them into the vortex ...and i would guess that loosing loved ones makes him lonely ... but, he survives .... while a clinger would not. and this is ishmael. ishmael loves, but does not cling. and he survives. and i guess that writers cannot be clingers because writes must know the deepest human tragedy of loss, but must not leave. ... writers are present.

5. and oh how very appropriot to end with a quote from job. i wrote about job from the class reeve and i are taking. i wrote this before, "job talks about the utter asbence of God. before, in the bible, we are told of a god that depends on absolutes i.e. he is good or he is bad or he is just etc. but, here we see something beyond that: god is. and there is nothing to say about god except that he is. there are no categories in which to put him, no words to pin him. job says of god in chapter 41, "can you fill its skin with harpoons, or its head with fishing spears? any hope of capturing it wil be disapointed."
don't you see how appropriote and sublime the end of this book is? and job, who realizes that the vortex, the meaningless, unintelligent, heart of all existence, he escapes alone to tell the story. he escapes because he does not cling to the whiteness. this man, who has lost all his love. this man, who has been as close to the vortex as a living man can go. this man, escapes alone.
and i would not think it worth it if he had not been picked up by the weeping woman desperatly searching for her children...the weeping, mad woman who frantically searches for the children she has lost. the woman frantically searching for the love of her children. she does not find the children for whom she is searching, but she picks up the castaway anyways .... we are all in this together to soothe each other and pick each other other out of the water.
though, as writers, we shan't cling to each other, we can sob on each other's shoulders.

Name: ro. finn
Date: 2004-04-02 08:11:22
Link to this Comment: 9128

Anne wrote: "Question is, then, of course--being aware of the inclination to read in accord w/ our inclinations--MIGHT we learn to see differently, outside the frame of reference we bring to our initial engagement w/ the text, with life?"

"Might we learn to SEE differently"—that might mean any of the following, which are definitions of "see." Or it could imply a progression of experiences, a path, and where each of is on that path might be different for now, maybe different forever, as we think about this book. Here's a view of my markers as the gradient rises:

First, we
NOTICE—become aware through seeing, hearing, then
DETECT—discern something hidden or subtle, then
OBSERVE—watch it systematically, attentively, then
VISUALIZE—form a mental image of it, then
CONSIDER—think carefully about that image, form an opinion, then
IMAGINE—conjecture, make some preliminary judgment, then
UNDERSTAND—grasp the nature of it, then
APPRECIATE—recognize some significance, then (maybe?) we
KNOW it—fix it in our mind as some truth or touchstone.

Each of these words (there are others) is one (culture-made) definition to explain "see," yet there is also this entire spectrum of stages and degrees associated with "seeing." Like the Inuit's umpteen words for SNOW, there are so many shades for what Anne has asked us to do—learn to see differently.

Orah has seen not "the light" but "her light." (Your post was wonderful, Orah.) D.H. Lawrence has seen his. Melville surely followed some beacon of his own in the conception and creation of this voyage of voyages. In fact, I wonder how many voyages one person can take at one time? It is overload, and maybe that's the formula that makes us dive for the most familiar "view" from within this a way for our mind to manage overload. We want to see patterns. They make hooks for us to hang our ideas. They give us boundaries.

I'm thinking about the "arrows" graphic Paul showed us—with the green arrows going one way, the yellow arrows going the other. The point was about free will. Each of us CHOSE to see it one way, our brains even suspended "seeing" until that perspective came into view. Melville's montage of meanings is like so many this way/that way arrows. His book is landless:"in landlessness alone resides the highest truth" (ch23). It offers no boundaries. If you take away everything— make it flat and vast and undifferentiated— whatever you put there stands in high relief. It demands to be noticed. We cannot not consider it. We cannot escape forming questions, escape forming answers to those questions. Escape choosing. That is our nature and Melville has used what makes us tick.

To what end? Now we're back to Anne's question, more or less. Every reader of this book (let me qualify that by saying every western-acculturated reader) is going to see the skeleton as Melville erects it, but not necessarily the same sheathed animal. How could we? The book makes us confront the unknown (the future)...takes away all the structure that has defined and refined our culture(s). Replaces it with stark totems that bear confusing, conflicting messages—just to make sure we cannot revert to what we know, what makes us feel safe and smug. So that's what we try to do—revert, read it from our remembered perspective. Cling to that which we know or knew (which is it?). Melville offers either no preferred perspective or too many, and that is this book's genius, in my opinion.

"All means are sane. My motive and objective mad" (ch 41). Think about it...Ahab is defined by what he stands against. Isn't that true for all of us to some degree? We can notice, detect, observe, visualize, consider, imagine, maybe understand, maybe appreciate, but probably not "know," not take to heart and mind those stories that would displace our own—the ones that seem to define us.

And I agree—that may be our loss. We need to keep trying.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-04-02 14:31:57
Link to this Comment: 9134

I have a confession. I began Ahab's Wife with an open mind, hoping that I could understand why this is one of the books in Anne's "cannon," but the text seems completely condescending and "fluffy," to quote Katherine. It is only a book about women insofar as it concerns the most superficial things that make a woman a woman. I feel that if we (women) embrace such a text we are taking a step backward. I have yet to find any intellectual merit in this text other than the ways in which it relates to Moby Dick. Both this book and Moby Dick seem to imply that there are only two types of people, the woman and the man. I suppose I am a man.

Our brains Think and so they should be nouriched appropiately. I promise to keep my mind open and try to benefit from this book, and I apologize to those of you who I have offended, but I cannot see any of Us in this book, and I think that those of you who do are being modest.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-02 17:44:49
Link to this Comment: 9135

thought i'd leave ya'all to the weekend with some Auden that we spoke of in class ... ((didn't know Musee ... found it buried in an unread Auden collection on my shelf )) and a few extra of his words:

the part of Musee that we talked about in class ... and the begining ... just sublime ...i can't type the whole should look it up...

"About suffering they were never wrong, / The Old Masters: how well they understood / Its human position; how it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window of just / walking dully along ... In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away / Quite leisurley from the disaster; the ploughman may / Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, / But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone / As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green / Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen / Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, / Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on."

so, like the indifferent, uncaring nature of time we too sail past? no, the rachel picks him up ... though his story is irrelevant while she mourns her children. we nurse our sorrow in life ... and have not enough tears for other's pain ... but, nevertheless, we do pull each other out of the water....maybe that's all we need.

in february of 1939 Auden wrote a poem mourning the death of William Yeats ... i think it relevant...if just for it's interpratation of the job of a writer.

"Time that is intolerant / Of the brave and innocent, / And indifferent in a week / To a beautiful physique,
Intellectual disgrace / Stares from every human face, / And the seas of pity lie / Locked and frozen in each eye.
Follow, poet, follow right / To the bottom of the night, / With your unconstraining voice / Still persuade us to rejoice;
With the farming of a verse / Make a vineyard of the curse, / Sing of human unsuccess / In a rapture of distress;
In the deserts of the heart / let the healing fountain start, / In the prison of his days / teach the free man how to praise."

that's what ishmael does ...right? he farms his verse and creates this enchanting novel from the despair of the pequod.

The Constraints of Meaning
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-04-03 23:14:15
Link to this Comment: 9143

Ro: "Melville offers either no preferred perspective or too many, and that is this book's genius, in my opinion."

"But I want to know the truth" Una says to her mother (22). As do I. I spent most of my journey with Moby Dick trying to find the book's truth, but alas...I think there is none, or at least none that is manifested without my conjuring. And so I thank Ro for her comment for I think she's right on the mark – there is either no intended meaning, or there are numerous meanings.

"We each adopt or create our truth." I think these few lines on pg. 22 from Ahab's Wife are Naslund's way of saying that those of us on a quest to find 'The Meaning of Moby Dick' are on a quest that is destined to sink. Even, if by an ounce of chance, Melville did intend for there to be some hidden message, does it really matter what it is?

"The truth about the unseen makes little difference to me." I agree. We each create our own truths. We are each bound by the chains of our imagination, our thoughts. (Talk about constraining.)

For Orah:
Name: simran
Date: 2004-04-04 16:47:32
Link to this Comment: 9148

Thank you for your posting. It was just what my mind needed, just when it needed it...

bringing it all together
Name: Anne and
Date: 2004-04-04 19:38:11
Link to this Comment: 9150

Ro. asked us to post what we're expecting during the last few classes. You'll see we've updated the syllabus with these instructions:

Week Fourteen: Bringing it all together--telling each other new stories
Tues, Apr. 27 and Thurs, Apr. 29
Spontaneously formed emergent groups of four or so students each should prepare ten-fifteen minute presentations reflecting on some aspect of the course readings. Presentations should encourage, in a provocative and entertaining way, further story development on the part of others in the class.

scattered thoughts
Name: em
Date: 2004-04-04 21:09:00
Link to this Comment: 9151

aia-- thank you for your posting. i realize that i have been somewhat stubborn about my interpretations of moby-dick, and it has helped to read your words (expansion!).
diane-- we must talk! i respect your opinions so much, and i read your posting before i started ahab's wife, so i was really worried that i would dislike the book. but in spite of what you have said i do not dislike the book, in fact, i cannot tear myself away sometimes: it is like gazing into the face of a sister i never had. while i do sometimes uncover and fret over the same dead earnestness (and terrible melodrama) that frustrated me in moby-dick, something about the book speaks to me in ways that melville's text does not.
can it be that i connect simply because it is a story penned by a woman? yet i cannot find in any of the circumstances anything that matches mine: the story is as fantastical to me as ishmael's wild ride on the pequod. but perhaps, as i aligned myself formerly with ahab, i am now able to do so more fully with his female counterpoint. ahab and una's love is a truly awesome construction that confounds me with its clarity and tempestuousness and spontaneity. surely the book has flaws, but with that grand love burning at the core i am ready to forgive them. and once again, i reveal the romantic ideals i keep close to my bones. surely love can be like this, ageless, timeless, safe for that halcyon time that ahab and una spend together, rocking the boat.
maybe i am not searching for meaning anymore, but rather clarity, and in "ahab's wife" i have found it, as opposed to ishmael's prattling (i was thoroughly annoyed when he showed up again, but i feel sorry that i hold so much against him when it is really myself who is to blame). maybe this is the most valuable lesson for me: there is something within me that does not love the idea of moby-dick. it is a peace i will have to make with myself, not the novel. i can recognize what in me burns towards the star-gazer, so what is it that prevents me from reaching towards melville's outstreched hand? right now, i do not know.

For Simran:
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-04 23:10:09
Link to this Comment: 9155

isn't that the best feeling: when your mind gets something it needs, right when it needs it? Auden did that for me, too, this weekend ((were we in a similar space of mind?)) the image of the poet venturing to the depths of the night, and helping those in the depths of despair. and i feel that so offen. that i find a poet or writer in my mind, there to keep me company right when i need it the most. ever feel like a poet was talking from your inside-out, rather from the outside-in? (my closest writer mind buddy: JD Salinger. sometimes i think he keeps a vacation house in orah minder's head.) and ... i don't know ... that image of singing human unsucess in a RAPTURE of distress ... it seems so relevant to a lot of what i've (we've?) been thinking about this semester ... humans, by nature, fail; so what can we do? sing about it rapturously. and it's that whole image of standing on a cliff alone where no one can see you. that's us. an existence without an areial view. and what is there to do knowing that when we walk away from that cliff that space in time will not be recorded, will drift through existence, or non-existence, maybe dabble through both. what is there to do while standing there??? maybe just feel the warm breeze on the palms our open hands? maybe sing a song that used to lull us into sleep ? maybe SCREAM of the injustice of being unseen? ......................... we get lost, our sorrows are lost in the seas of sorrows, like icarus. man, we get so caught up in our own pains that we forget, so easily, other's pain. do we see the sobbing man standing right next to us on the cliff? and does he see us? and i guess our only salvation is those who know how to bring water to the desert. those who can teach us that we are free. those who can teach us to turn our heads.......maybe that is too much. maybe it's just about the lifting of each other out of the seas of despair. maybe it's just about

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-05 08:11:56
Link to this Comment: 9159

another revision: i don't think we're all wallowing in seas of despair. i'm not. maybe struggling in stormy seas, in which the waves keep coming and knocking us over. but we "beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." (gatsby ... didn't realize how very relevant that quote was until i'd typed it out.)
see ya'all tomorrow.

Been thinking about this a while...
Name: ro.
Date: 2004-04-05 09:21:55
Link to this Comment: 9160

I think that you need to write/say "I," not "we" in your recent postings...not that "we" is bad...just imprecise and inaccurate. It presumes a great deal.

Still thinking--but not always clearly...
Name: ro.
Date: 2004-04-05 09:42:09
Link to this Comment: 9161

Hey, Orah...I hit the post key too quickly :-)
What I also meant to write is that I have been using "we" in my postings, too... and found myself wondering why, ie, what triggers my presumptions. I think that it waters down my thinking--dilutes the points I mean to make and lets other points get "weedy."

"We" is so comfortable, and so co-opting. Anyway...that's what preceded what popped out.

Live long, Ishmael!
Name: daniela
Date: 2004-04-05 09:47:49
Link to this Comment: 9162

On the death ship Ishmael was given life and another identity (that of a adventurer, dreamer, shipmate). "Buoyed up by that coffin [the ship](427)" he managed to survive to tell the story. What is its point? Did all of the events take place in his head?

sorry, ro.
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-05 10:10:26
Link to this Comment: 9163

notice that i wrote "we all" ... i'm not presuming that NO ONE is wallowing in a sea ... i'm presuming that NOT EVERYONE is wallowing ... which is accurate because i'm not, and i count among the ALL so it is inaccuarte to say at everyone is wallowing. i have tried so hard to make it clear that my theories are not meant to apply to everyone, or work for everyone, but it is hard to write effectivly when you start everything with "some might..." or "a lot of people, but not all ..." i'm sry if i've insulted some by making generalizations, please know that they are not meant to confine anyone. i will be more careful in the future.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-05 10:13:28
Link to this Comment: 9164

or maybe you have a problem with the way Fitzgerald phrases his statement from gatsby. "So WE beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." ??????

my turn...
Name: ro
Date: 2004-04-05 12:04:03
Link to this Comment: 9165

I was in no way insulted. I did not mean to mislead you to that conclusion. I was intrigued by your and my uses of the word "we" and the affect that seems to have when one writes. No more, no less.

Well, that's not entirely true as I think about it--the "no more, no less" part. I know that you are thinking through stuff as you post. We all are. What comes out are mostly spontaneous thoughts we want to share. Sometimes the reactions to them are equally spontaneous and intuitive--like my feeling of being 'clung to' when I read (or is it that I read into?) your passionate searchings. This is neither good nor bad. it just is, for me.

Maybe I am overwhelmed by the single-minded passion (passion is good) in your persuit of answers or paths to answers to questions that, for me, are imponderable, and therefore, I don't ponder them much, or expect much when I do. There's something coming out of your writings though, something that I feel--and it may be only me feeling it--that wants to draw me to it and into it. Does this make any sense? Anyone else feeling it?

As an aside, did you guys know that the word "read" by itself means "read into," Unlike most other western European languages, our verb comes from the old English word that means "to advise or interpret something (difficult)" ...WHICH SEEMS TO FIT what we've been doing in this course! The derivation for "write" in English is equally unusual. It comes from old English for "to cut, scratch, tear, sketch an outline," not Latin (scribere). Sounds like what I keep imagining Melville doing when he wrote Moby.

Anyhow, Orah, disregard my noise!

Name: roz
Date: 2004-04-05 12:04:37
Link to this Comment: 9166

I've been thinking more about the evolution of all things, not just organisms but literature and even human emotions. My mind recently came to a strange (to me) conclusion. The reason that organisms evolved and changed in the beginning was because something in the atmosphere changed. The environment was different, therefore the organism had to become different in order to survive. This works for stories as well, because as generations gane, the social environment changes. The academies change, therefore we get different kinds of literature. An author has different influences and expectations from this changed environment, therefore must produce a book that he/she sees fit to survive.

yeah! what she said...
Name: Julia
Date: 2004-04-05 14:44:05
Link to this Comment: 9171

I compliment Aia for her posting, and i share Em's sentiment. Whereas I agree with Diane that Ahab's Wife is a little "fluffy", I think it is kind of wonderful. I too find myself struggling a little sometimes to put Naslund's book down, and don't really know why I identify better with Una more than any of the characters in Moby Dick.... perhaps just because she is a woman and she writes with clear romantic images and emotion. Perhaps romanticism is fluffy, but I like it. I also find humor in reading these deep emotional passages about Ahab or quotes from the madman himself... I find it almost impossible to believe Ahab could have been so... well human... but I suppose that could be the point that Naslund and Aia are making that no one REALLY knows anything, "we each adopt or create our own truths" (22) and who is to say that Ahab, while hard for me to believe, was not a passionate lover, husband and father? He could be anything, not just what Melville depicted. So many readings and interpretations... the possibilities are endless and no real truth.

quick thought
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-04-05 20:05:52
Link to this Comment: 9179

Di, you were in a dream I had last night. I think that maybe the dream came in part from reading your post and more of Ahab's wife last night. The part of Ahab's wife that I think it came from was the lighthouse part as it has factored in where i am thus far in the book. At any rate, the dream was that we were walking on my old elementary school stairs and you said that you were going to help me study for a quiz on "Mesopotamia". I don't know why it was called Mesopotamia in my mind... it was more like a dusty and ancient city with very few buildings. But anyway we were looking over the top of this one giant grouping of buildings (we were actually there flying above them or something) and you were saying that I had to memorize each one and I kept thinking that I couldn't memorize each one because I could only see them together but you were very encouraging (and also persistent) And then when I woke up I sort of saw a flash of the picture of the buildings that I was looking at in my dream and I realized (while awake) that the buildings, when taken together were in the shape of a whale.

There is indeed a stark difference between Ahabs Wife and Moby Dick-- I like them both... and am finding Ahab's Wife to be a really enjoyable story in part because it is so beautifully written. There is a significant amount of depth in this book. It's just arrived at in a styalistically different way. The varying opinions are fascinating though.

some more holden.
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-05 21:42:04
Link to this Comment: 9182

read elizabeth's post and it got me thinking about how we get into each other's subconsiouses without even realizing that we have these visitors in our minds. i've also been thinking a lot about icarus and how my life is so busy it's hard to really listen to the splash made by those who are constantly falling. so, in an attempt to lessen the generalizations i usually make, i have a personal anecdote that happened today:
my brother is in israel right now. this morning i got up for breakfast and read the paper while i ate. the front page article was about a bunch of american soldiers who had been killed in iraq. not really startling news these days. i flipped through the pages of the paper ... checked up on the b-ball games from the past night ... not really focusing on anything in particular. but, then something flashed in my head ... let's say that my brother, so close to that violence, had been one of those young army men killed. and i thought about how absolutly crushed i would have been ... i was only able to feel the pain scrawled on the front page when i brought it into my own life. and then the pain was debilitating. maybe you see why this story is relevant? Auden's poem seems to critisize the ploughman and the sailor's in the delicate ship ... and, while reading the poem, i think, of course, i would jump out of that dainty ship and save the fallen boy, i'm lifeguard certified! but, i think the point of the poem is that the ploughman and the sailors are like me eating breakfast, they don't even make the connection that someone's else's pain could insight a feeling or action within themselves. they sail on not because they are cold or cruel, but rather because they are unthinking. their bodies don't know the motion of turning to another's pain. my body doesn't know the sensation of empathy for other's unless brought into my own world, brought into the language of MY family. and i wonder if other's have that lacking within themselves.... when you hear about someone else's pain do you have to convert it into a scenario in terms of your own life? i think that icarus speaks to a world in which people not only do not feel other's pain, but they don't even realize the pain until they are in it themselves. ... they can't even imagine pain into their lives ....
and i think the reason i like to use generalizing language (the WE and the US) is becuase i feel threatened when i say these things only about myself ... that's a lonely paragraph i just wrote .... how sucky would it be if ya'all said, "orah, we have absolutly no idea what you're talking about, you cold-hearted @#$%." and so generally i would tell this story in terms of my friend, humanity, on the cliff not being able to see her sobbing company. so i think this might be my only post like this, though it might be more precise, better accuracy ... it kinda hurts to tell it this way.

and one more thing:
for those of you who might, too, be holden caulfield lovers ... a treat for you: been thinking about how some of you seem to feel that my words are clingy themselves, that you are feeling clung to ... holden explains better than i so i'll let him talk. his last words in catcher, the book in which he tells the evolution of his story, are thus: "I'm sorry i told so many people about it. about all i know is, i sort of miss everybody i told about. even old stradlater and ackley, for instance. i think i even miss gaddam Maurice. it's funny. Don't ever tell anybody anything. if you do, you start missing everybody."
and holden has just told us everything. and with these last words holden misses US, his readers ... those seem like clingy words if i've ever read any. and i guess i can relate. i tell so much here, to all of you, and i beleive holden, i know i'm going to miss ya'all ... and so i guess, you're right, my words are clingy. i could argue ... but i won't.
i guess i'll just say that i know telling my story creates ties, clinging-divises, but i don't take holden's advice ... i will tell my story ... and doom myself to a life of missing everybody, a life of lonliness. isn't that what you're asking us to do here? to tell our stories? to create ties between people? risk intertwining our stories ... there isn't much that is riskier, i don't think ... maybe that is the strength of stories (but, godam it! there i go again trying to generalize.) we have a choice ... do we tell our stories and then miss those we told, or do we not tell. both seem like lonely lives.......but, anyways, don't worry, i won't cling too hard ... you've seen me learn that ... i know, now ,that it is safer, i'll live a longer life if i don't cling too hard, i'll let go, don't worry. i know people leave ((i like thinking back to when i figured things out ... i figured that one out while reading little women with anne spring semester last year ... i went absolutely crazy when i figured it out .))
g'night all.
ps humm.. never got to talking about how we get into each other's subconsious' .... later.

Name: kat
Date: 2004-04-05 21:53:07
Link to this Comment: 9183

Roz, your posting made a thought that I had a long time ago return to me. I have trouble imagining (believing?) that the world intellectual climate could change, mostly because it is such a vast, vast place. Somehow I have trouble thinking of changes that could cause resultson that scale. I think this is largely because I see myself as so individual, and usually the sphere of things that can and do affect me is a small one. But then again, I know that as technology grows, the world becomes so much smaller a place, due to the communication between cultures that formerly knew not of each other's existence. And this in turn reminds me of one of the central tenets of evolution presented in Mayr- that evolution occurs the fastest in small isolated populations. Is our (human) cultural evolution slowing as we gain knowledge of eachother and assimilate into each other's spheres?

blind spots
Name: Nancy
Date: 2004-04-06 10:17:28
Link to this Comment: 9204

Such provocative conversation in the forum right now; I feel like I am
buzzing from class...

So, I think I'll start with Diane's query:
"what other creatures on earth can take nothingness (ie the spot) and
create something more beautiful than was even there in the first place "

Last year, Emily Teel introduced me to a photography magazine called
Blind Spot ( At first, I felt exceedingly pedestrian
that I "didn't get it", but I never stopped to think that "blindspot" might be
important. I like to think of a blind spot (and, granted, i missed out on
tuesday's discussion) as something that might transcend the idea of
cultural capital. Thinking of blind spots leads us to hone in on
everything we overlook in our efforts to know what is "important" or
"useful". So, anyway, the pictures are beautiful and poignant in that
'ohhhhhhh, wow. hmm, i never would have paid any attention' sort of

Name: Nancy
Date: 2004-04-06 10:22:10
Link to this Comment: 9205

Has anyone seen the movie election? I remembered it again this weekend, and I think it's a good modernized variation on Moby Dick.

Basically, it's about a high school teacher (Matthew Broderick), who will go to any and all lengths to destrot Tracy (Reese Witherspoon)'s efforts to become student council president. One of Broderick's high school friends (who is also a teacher), has an affair with Tracy and winds up losing his marriage. Broderick loses his job and winds up as a tour guide somewhere. It's a dark comedy, and it definitely has that essence of trying to destroy something because the idea imbedded in that something is larger than life. Tracy becomes an obsession for these men, and trying to "get" her in various ways destroys them both.

Just thought someone might want to check it out :)

Name: Pbraun@bmc
Date: 2004-04-06 15:13:14
Link to this Comment: 9207

Back to Moby Dick...I was thinking some more about the crew's mob mentality and their eagerness to make Ahab's personal mission into a collective goal. I find this really interesting because Americans pride themselves on being an individualistic society (as opposed to collectivist Asian cultures where conformity to social norms is blatantly encouraged), but we really are so, so ready to bend our backs towards a charismatic leader like Ahab. Well, maybe their conformity is not ALL due to Ahab's charisma, but partially because the rational behind his quest is so ambiguous. Everybody has their own White Whale—their own vendetta or their own pursuit—and it is Moby Dick who bears the brunt of their collective passion.

Also, someone in Anne's Thursday discussion section made a comment about how the crew of the Pequod signed up for the whaling voyage because the concept of whaling is romantic, but I don't think that's true. This particular crew does not strike me as having a glorified vision of their life's work; they all seem to be running from something, perhaps life? Otherwise, why would they stay on the damned Pequod if many members of the crew acknowledge that they are going to die? Their voyage seems far from romantic, almost...suicidal.

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-04-06 16:39:53
Link to this Comment: 9211

I was thinking about _Ahab's Wife_ as fanfic. I mentioned it in class, how fanfic writers write stories with other people's characters. Now, in most fanfic, almost all if not all of the characters in the fanfic are from the original story, I think because of the reasons that people write fanfic.

The average teenybopper writing fanfic is writing is because he or she loves the characters, the relations between them, and the world they live in. Those who are particularly attached to a character might make a new character who their favorite character falls in love with. Those who love the world will make a new character who simply lives there and might be somehow involved in the plot. Those who love the relations between characters write with only the original story's characters and has them interact in the ways the author would like them to.

_Ahab's Wife_ seems terribly unlike these typical fanfics. It has almost entirely new characters, and they don't live on a boat for most of the book. This makes me almost want to give up on it as fanfic, but that's unnecessary. The thing is, what I think fascinated Naslund most about _Moby Dick_ is something few fanficced stories have and fewer fanfic authors notice; philosophy. _Ahab's Wife_ is studying the philosophy, rather than the characters or the world setting of _Moby Dick_, from a new angle.

The next question that comes to my mind, then, is what angle is it? It's easy to toss of that it's a woman's angle, a woman's perception of the issues dealt with in _Moby Dick_, but I think that's too easy, and unfair to the complexity of both books. So perhaps it's the perspective of Una specifically? Of someone who grew up in her environment, on the land, struggling with freedom and constraints? But that seems too narrow. Maybe I won't be able to figure this out until I've read more of the book. Maybe even after I've finished the book it will be one of those questions I just wonder and wonder about. Maybe the only answer is that it is Naslund's perspective. What do you guys think?

proceed with caution! clingy words ahead!
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-06 17:15:02
Link to this Comment: 9212

finding it hard to tear myself away from md. ... this is the first time i've realized how wonderful it is, can't we stay just a little longer ... not yet engaged with ahab's wife. but, here are some thoughts, tinged by md's dwindlings in my mind and dawning thoughts about ahab's wife. ((reminds me of, oh my, such a sublime melville line, "In thought, a fine human brow is like the East when troubled with the morning" (274).)) so, last semester i took a class with prof. beard in which we read a lot of african american women writers. we read toni morrison's paradise (which i fully recomend) as the experience of an african american woman. and the question was raised, and i've been thinking about it ever since, when will we be able to read toni morrison as a human being writing about what it means to be human. when will she stop being confined in the parameters of being a woman, and the boundaries of being a black woman? when will toni morrison be taught as a human being telling the story of her humanity? and i resent the fact that i am confined to the experiences of a woman because of my anatomy, or that my writing can be pinned and limited to the experiences of a woman. i'm a human being, gadamn it! and that's what i talk about. that's what i care about.
so, the idea behind ahab's wife kinda bothers me, i guess. just the unfounded stigma of the book being the 'female version of md' ...don't like that. i realize that md is a masculine book, but i don't think a male is going to get more out of it, or relate more to it than i do. and grobstein says that he really like ahab's wife ...
on another note: to the begining of class: the role of the teacher vs. the ahab ... em's hard choice .... so, i think about that a lot, because with my passions in life it seems that i have cornered myself into a space in which the variety of professional fields are very limited: in short, i'm going to be a teacher. and that kinda scares me, because i'm comfortable in my ahabian lifestyle, my crazed monomaniacal language. and if i become a teacher i'm going to have to extract some of that, and open up ... reminded of the comfoting imagry of contraction from the begining of the course, curling into oneself. we're each alone, (fine!) I'M ALONE (though i'm inclined to say that my experience of individual humans has been that of loneliness), but at least i can contract into myself, and think my own thoughts, and soothe my own fears ... for a newly converted drifter i am pretty self sufficient at sewing myself back up, healing my own wounds. but, as a teacher your concerns are outward, ever expanding ... i don't really know how to get there ... or even if i want to be there ... i like my self-centered existence... who will hold me together if i don't focus my attention inward ?
and another thought: should have said this when grobstein read my posting at the begining of class. don't like that post anymore. i don't like the idea of the clinging club and the tossed team. because there is reality (i think, right now), there is an aerial view (?a little less sure of, but am saying for the sake of argument) and we are all living in the same world ... so i guess i'll say, as anne did in her notes, that the 'clingers' and the 'drifters' are exaggerations, no one is a complete clinger or a complete drifter ...
finally i'll quote melville for the last time (that's a lie) "But even Solomon, he says, 'the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain' (i.e. even while living) 'in the congregation of the dead.' Give not thyself up, then , to fire, lest it invert thee, deadden thee; as for the time it did me. there is wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness." there is a theme in md about seeing this dark side, the unformed, existence before the word ... as when Pip is in the sea "Pip saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, AND SPOKE IT; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man's insanity is heaven's sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason , is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, it feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God."
i guess i'm curious of our professors' monomeniacle sides ... what they think about these quotes ... we get lectured to and asked questions, but don't get posts ...maybe too much to ask?
i promise i won't take it as gospel truth...if that's the hesitation of the teacher.
anyways, i'm off to my familial obligations to The Great Opiate.

The big snore or The whale
Name: Fritz Dubu
Date: 2004-04-06 21:56:05
Link to this Comment: 9216

Having found Moby Dick a hard read I was very skeptical of anything having to do with that Whale. But I find myself oddly liking the story of Una. Today's posting readings have me wondering "what is excitement?" and why does it seem to be so important? In the Thursday sections with Anne we've talked about and around the Melville's running commentary that life should be lived not read- yet he goes and writes a novel that sometimes looks like it has no end. Was this his search for "excitement"? Maybe that's one of the reasons I couldn't and still can't stand Moby Dick- It just didn't drive me to excitement or any thoughts near the realm of enjoyable.

a retrospective thought upon returning to shore
Name: cham
Date: 2004-04-07 01:37:09
Link to this Comment: 9224

According to Dan Gottlieb: "to acknowledge our smallness is to acknowledge our vulnerability". However, i assert that to acknowledge our smallness is to acknowledge our opportunity.

And here we find a conflict: to acknowledge our vulnerability "takes the pressure off" of us and allows for safety, while to acknowledge our opportunity posits greater control over our own destiny and allows for adventure.

The way(s) in which we choose to interpret our own smallness is often a matter of deep personal conflict. I can easily say that I choose to see my own smallness as opportunity rather than vulnerability, but have I acted in any way as to justify this statement? have I or will I throw caution and practicality to the wind, in pursuit of adventure or greatness? ...or will I remain on the safe and steady shore?

I wonder if ishmael struggled with such an internal conflict prior to embarking on his journey...and as I graduate this May and set my own sails into the sea of opportunity...I wonder if he regrets his choice.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-04-07 15:54:23
Link to this Comment: 9238

Cham I'm so glad you made that last posting. I interpret our smallness in the same way, am comfortable with it, and am pleased to see that someone else is with me. To elaborate I am going to refer to Kabbalah, which is something I don't often do because I take it so seriously. I worry about misrepresenting it, which is why I don't usually mention it when it is pertinent in class. But in this case I think it is appropiate..

Kabbalah says that we are all sparks that comprise a larger verb (or g-d). Therefore, we all possess g-d like qualities. We are simultaneously connected and disconnected, unique and aggregated. Because of this connection what one person does affects the rest of us. The smallness is only one part of the story. You cannot have smallness without bigness, and vice versa. I like to remember the immensity of what we are embarking on together, it doesn't give my smallness purpose -- rather, it reminds me of the purpose inherant in my smallness.

dan and cham
Name: simran
Date: 2004-04-08 01:20:04
Link to this Comment: 9244

cham, your posting really made me think...
when dan said that to acknowledge our smallness is to acknowledge our vulnerability, i don't think he meant for that safety to be the end result. i agree with you and i think he does too. for me, to acknowledge my smallness in this large disorderly design first makes me feel vulnerable, then makes me realize that i do not have as much control as i thought i did, so i do feel safe...but from that safety also comes the belief that things can go only so wrong, thus allowing me to take chances, set sail and have adventures! both dan's posting and yours really speak to me and for me, they say the same thing...

Memes, niches, and the writing process
Name: Ro.
Date: 2004-04-08 07:13:44
Link to this Comment: 9245

Been thinkin' bout memes since before this course, and about niches since Dennett (although I do think he's got it wrong—a finite number of niches are not just there, waiting to be discovered and filled; there are an infinite number of niches created spontaneously as biological and cultural evolutions take new turns). From time to time, I've been asking myself if the course objectives are still hinged, i.e., is there a substantial hinge between the story of evolution and how stories evolve? The jury is out on how that hinge works, but I'm feeling that the apparatus does exist.

So, when Paul interrupted Anne (I am happy for these interruptions, additions of thought because they are generally working at the hinge if it all) on Tuesday to observe out loud that Ahab's Wife would not exist were it not for Melville's Moby (a tacit thought I am sure many of us had noodling around in our brains. I did, but had not noticed its worth yet), and that one created a niche for the other to enter, I got excited.

Fiction creates niches that more fiction can follow: To test this hypothesis, all I need is some time, a computer, access to some heavy-duty data bases that contain stuff about fiction (authors, dates, synopses, that sort of thing. I betcha I'd find some strong, interesting patterns across time, physical location, and cultural space.

The only way fiction is created is by filling niches created by predecessor fiction. Hmmm. It is so true that writers train for their craft by studying the works of other writers, past and present. Reading is the best path to writing. It is interesting that what comes from one writer reading the works of others can be fresh, new, dare I say it: original. How does that happen?

And what about non-fiction? The truth of it is that it is not "true" because we cannot/do not remember events faithfully...but I think it's more than flaky wiring...I think that we immerse event memories in our own psychological juices that change the color and shape of what happened as they go down.

But do we also create non-fiction in the niches formed by other people's non-fiction writings (and these could be scientific, journalistic, etc), or must first-order events spawn this form of communication?

It's getting complicated, but I'm not done. There's another thingie in the middle: Take something purported to be true—something you saw or experienced. THINK about it. WHAT are you doing to it in the process of thinking about it? Something's going on that produces extrapolation, conjecture, deductions.... are these "fiction"?

I'll stop. I think this will be the rope I climb...or wind up pushing on...for the third paper.
See ya's in class.

she's talking to me...
Name: nancy
Date: 2004-04-08 11:52:50
Link to this Comment: 9246

I'm struck by the times when I feel as though I am being spoken to directly, and I don't really mean "the time when I, the reader, am being spoken to", more like "Hey, nancy, listen to this.."

"Let me assure you and tell you that I know you, even something of your pain and joy, for you are much like me. The contract of writing and reading requires that we know each other. Did you know that I try on your mask from time to time? I become a reader, too" (p. 148).

"do you know that I try on your mask from time to time?"
.wow. it's amazing how things are so interrelated when you pay attention.

Diane made me happy
Name: nancy
Date: 2004-04-08 12:03:28
Link to this Comment: 9247

"we are all sparks that comprise a larger verb"

how lovely. I love to think that there is some sort of elemental interconnectedness among people... and this is now my favorite way to describe it. We are all part of the same action; I love 'verb' used like this... not so much as something *someone* does but just as the act that can stand alone with everyone contributing to it.

This makes me think of what I just posted (I read Diane's posting afterward). Perhaps this is why we read books-- to remind ourselves of our intertwining fates (so romantic...). Maybe this is why passages like the one I posted above hit me so hard; because Naslund is acknowledging something that we all feel (but have a difficult time expressing as poignantly as Diane has done).

I need time to think about this book; I feel like I want to keep it inside me, and have my own way with it before I let it out into the world. Isn't that selfish?

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-08 12:08:25
Link to this Comment: 9248 Orah's saying she's "curious of our professors' monomeniacle sides ... what they think about these quotes ... we get lectured to and asked questions, but don't get posts ..."

I've actually been fretting that my own monomania is so openly on display in this course, that (for instance), the web page I made for Tuesday's class, w/ its incessent quoting/reflecting on quotes/weaving together quotes/linking them to concurrent conversations elsewhere with Dan Gottlieb, feminist theory, information theory, local political arrangements...are all indices to same. Identifying/cathexing w/ Una as I do, it's a wonder I didn't show up on Tuesday in a hoop skirt (though I did drag in a few of my quilts....)

Name: em
Date: 2004-04-08 16:32:05
Link to this Comment: 9249

i've been reading this book, "ways of seeing," by john berger, and there have been a couple quotes that really struck me re: our tuesday discussion about the different first sentences of moby-dick, and ahab's wife. the crux of berger's discussion on the female nude in art concludes with this: "One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at." (47) the function of this separate definition of gendered identity serves to illuminate "Call me Ishmael..." and "Captain Ahab was neither my first...". when Ishmael addresses the reader, he needs not do so with any intermediary. he is simply a man capable of introducing himself and he does so accordingly. he acts. una, on the other hand, must define herself in a reflexive way that depends largely on the eyes of the observers-- both us, the readers, and the society she lives in. reading berger's book, i wonder, could either of these books be begun in any other way?

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-08 20:23:27
Link to this Comment: 9251

oh, of course, em: there's always an alternative to what IS....

and much? most? fiction moves us from one place to another: Moby-Dick begins in comedy, moves to tragedy (? or a zen state?). Ahab's Wife begins w/ a relational gesture, and will move slowly, slowly into...a sense of independence, of marriage-to-self, of taking self as center...? (Since I'm a *little* further along in Ahab's Wife than everyone else, I need to keep reminding myself not to "give anything away." But want to invite you all to watch as Una works herself out of/away from the Ahab-like "singleness of purpose," fastened on something outside herself, which originally drove her...)

Following Roz's suggestion that new environments are productive of new fictions "adapted to fit" them: Moby-Dick offers a 19th c. American alternative to Shakespearean tragedy, Ahab's Wife a 20th-c. alternative to Moby-Dick; our section today was imagining some pretty satisfying 21st-century alternatives to Ahab's Wife...

Well, okay, okay, we ACTUALLY spent an amazing amount of time today confronting the cannibal w/in. And discussion turned from the particularities of the dilemma of what-to-do-about-being-hungry-@-sea to the much larger existential questions of what it means to decide for ourselves about what we value in life, what gives it meaning (for instance: might dying physically be a way of preserving one self spiritually/emotionally/socially ....of survival in a different dimension, on a plane other than the material...??)

I thought of these queries, of Ahab's (and Una's alternative) way of answering them as I was reading Albert Camus's "The Myth of Sisyphus" (1955) this evening:

"the world itself is not reasonable....But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together. It binds them one to the other as only hatred can weld two creatures together....the doctrines that explain everything to me also debilitate me....They relieve me of the weight of my own life, and yet I must carry it alone."

A (slightly) relevant pun, provided by my daughter Mar,
just returned from a beach vacation:
what's the opposite of a pelican?

**a peli-can't

Name: Mary
Date: 2004-04-08 21:22:20
Link to this Comment: 9252

Wow, what a discussion today! Hope I never have to go to a feast of hands but if I do, I am wondering - should we each eat our own hand? Probably. Although, not much meat there. I imagine we would eat a foot and a calf next. I would definitely want my own because it has a good amount of meat and fat. Wonder what it would taste like? (And this from a vegetarian?) I am definitely making light of a horrid scenario. What is the meaning of this? Really, what is the meaning of this discussion on cannibalism? Today in discussion, it seemed to make us all think about the meaning of life.

Despite how vivid the meaning of life becomes when life is threatened, I still believe that human life self-defines its own meaning, and beyond survival, human-created meaning could be void. Meaning is a mental function, biologically created to help us survive. Being faced with the need to survive on a ship with no food, the meaning of life becomes very strong. Life is something that most of us do not want to give it up. The ability to indicate meaning (values) around us and value to our life is truly made palatable by our emotions. So palatable that it seems to really exist, rather than just be a measuring tool for survival.

Maybe meaning does exist in this existence and perhaps of a different nature than how we conceive it. I tend to think that it probably exists whether we are alive or dead. It seems to me that CREATION IS GREAT, dead or alive. And, I imagine the meaning of it all to be glorious, because creation is so glorious. Now, I only know life and I give it great meaning. I know not death. I want to live!!! I feel that life might not have meaning but that life equals meaning. Or is that my emotions speaking? I am hoping boundlessly that death or whatever comes next equals meaning also. I just got off the phone with a friend whose mother died yesterday. She has been crying continuously and it sounds like her pain is almost too impossible to bear...............................................................................

LOVE and MEANING: As I said in class discussion today, I would die for my children and so my love for them means more than my life itself. Love can mean more than life. Thinking about choosing love over life in biological terms, it makes sense that a parent would die for their offspring. However, an offspring would also die for their parent. And some of us would die for another human being even if we did not know them. I know I would if I had some sense that the other person was a good person. This leads me to think about how our minds have power over our genes. I think our minds go further than being unconsciously driven to preserve our genes. If selfish genes alone were running the show, how could people make the decision not to have children, or make the choice to die (or not die) for one's children or others? This ability to make these kinds of choices might be a randomly evolved ability that we humans have developed. Our mind's independence from genetic influence may or may not interfere with future natural selection. In the meantime, we have choices like love or life. Pretty cool.

I guess you could say, the story of evolution has greatly influenced my understanding of meaning and the mind.

Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-04-10 13:47:32
Link to this Comment: 9257

Orah saith "we get lectured to and asked questions, but don't get posts ...maybe too much to ask?". Its not TRUE (as per here/prior forums) ... and , as is obvious, I don't HAVE a monomanical side in any case.

I do though occasionally get amused by things, such as the cross feed between our conversation and the Gottlieb event/conversation. I've noted some of what's going on here there. And actually created a whole new page based on the mix of the conversations. Have a look and let me know what you think? Does relate to our conversations here?

We didn't manage anything as dramatic as cannibalism on Thursday, but I thought it was an interesting discussion nonetheless. I'll trust my colleagues to fill in their own view but what amused me was the notion that Naslund was raising some serious questions about the "moby dick moment", suggesting that maybe it was Una who was/is the "extraordinary" person and Ahab the "ordinary" one (rather than the reverse, as in the "canon"?). After all, Ahab just lost one leg, whereas Una lost a baby, a mother, a father, and .... (all in the first hundred pages). And it didn't cause HER to become monomaniacal. Which then (inevitably?) returned the discussion to "clinginess". Maybe Ahab was the clingy one? Was Una "clingy"? If so, to what? (no, I'm not clingy EITHER).

Name: Perrin
Date: 2004-04-11 15:45:35
Link to this Comment: 9265

In reference to the cannibalism in the boats, evolutionary Psychology postulates on what type of person we would die for and who we are capable of readily killing (or rather, who is more expendable). For example, if a mother were trapped in a boat with her two children and had to eat one of them—one an infant and the other a toddler—the mother would kill the infant because the toddler is better physically equipped for survival than the infant, who has acquired few disease immunities and would die quicker in such a situation. Conversely, if a mother was trapped in a boat with her teenager and a toddler, the mother would kill the youngest child because the teenager is ready to spread her genes by reproducing.

Referring to Paul's posting, I think that Una is the 'clingy' one. She clings to life with a tenacity that Ahab lacks because when tragedy occurs, it is Ahab who turns his back on everything that he once held dear and focuses all his energy on death and destruction. Una's circumstances were much, MUCH more catastrophic than those of Ahab, but she loves life enough to move on.

On another note, I find the syntax of Ahab's Wife so interesting. It has an almost poetic, rhythmic quality to it as if it had a Toni Morrison-esque beat.

page 224: "The murdering. We shouldn't. Voices cracked as lips and tongues. We must."
page 225: "We drank and ate. We slept. We dreamed, and believed reality was dream."

It's fascinating how those choppy sentences can be more profound and emotionally-riveting than Melville's long elaborations. Ok, that's all for now =)

Name: Meg
Date: 2004-04-11 18:46:03
Link to this Comment: 9266

I just want to say that I am really enjoying this book. Although it has a very tragic storyline, Una is so interesting. Her character is one that I can really identify with, and I like watching her growth through her different experience. She refuses to crack where everyone else does. The book itself is beautiful, and the colors and descriptions make it easy to picture in my mind's eye. It pairs nicely with Moby Dick, but as was brought up in class on Thursday, the book cannot stand on its own. It needs Moby Dick in order to function, but it expands on Melville's ideas and forms a wonderful little niche for itself.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-04-11 20:03:14
Link to this Comment: 9270

I concur, Ahab's Wife is not a book that can stand on its own. For this reason it is unquestionable that Una is clingy. Her entire world relies to something else (ie the original text). She is clingy by association, without even overtly exhibiting any real signs of it.

I can't keep from wondering how Melville would feel about this book. If I were him I think I'd be upset (and I assure you, it isn't because I hate the book). The author is not doing anything particularly innovative here. Innovation would mean that the book could stand on its own. I'm sure the author had good intention, but something about it feels like she took the easy way out and cheapened Moby-Dick in the process. The author has raped Moby-Dick, leaving it somewhat broken in my mind.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-12 00:17:55
Link to this Comment: 9275

about a week ago i said that i didn't think that anyone was a complete clinger or a complete drifter ... i think we all have a combination of both (no?? i'm curious what ya'all think) ... i'm even slightly embarassed to have coined the terms here ... i feel like i've betrayed my eliot-philosophy (from proofrock: "and i have known the eyes already, known them all - / the eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, / and when i am formulated, sprawling on a pin, / when i am pinned and wriggling on the wall, / then how should i begin / to spit out all the butt-ends and days and ways?") ... i think this pinning that i've (we've) been doing all semester is useful to a point ... but, when i start to restrict myself and others with this peircing then it's too violent, and should be stopped. as anne said, or was quoted as saying, that writing is an act of violence ... i think violence is only useful when it helps to rebuild something in the place of that which was destroyed (for those in the fairytale csem THAT was my problem with butler ... though i MIGHT revise what i said about her) writing cannot leave us to a wasteland with no water. the water must come. in eliot's the wastland all is utter desolation. but at the end he leaves us with 7 sayings and writes, "these fragments i have shored against my ruins." he leaves us with tools of regeneration. and THAT, Auden says is the function of the poet: " in the deserts of the heart / let the healing fountain start, / in the prison of his days / teach the free man how to praise."

haven't had internet access since last tuesday and i'm kinda glad that i wasn't able to chart my reaction to ahab's wife as i was reading, but only now, 600 pages in, can i finally release my thought about it ... but i'm am at a loss of words. i just don't know about this book. i don't know. it's a loose feeling: not knowing, premontions of imminent collapse. i'm inclined to formulate a condenced reaction to the book by the end of my reading, but i'm going to try to resist that.
...i'll start by saying that i was disgusted by the book until page 231, chapter 46, ganglion. not really important why i couldn't take it ... the important thing is what happened on 231. and i don't even know. it just got good. really good. she started being able to write ... i don't know what happened ... she started knowing about life ... and and and her words were just sublime for a couple chapters ...she makes me stutter ... i'll go back in a later post and say why i think these pages are just so sublime ... but, not now.
i'm just stunned by this sharp change in her writing ... for the rest of the book she seems to dabble in an out of this genious.
sometimes she speaks so so deeply to me.
so, i guess i am frustrated that she cannot keep that level of genious in her writing. melville doesn't either, i guess ... but for some reason i find it much easier to critisize her fluffy writing ((that's an understatement)) rather than his boring writing ((i guess, that, too, is an understatement.))
but maybe that's what our whole conversation about 'embarrasement about past postings' is all about. Ahab's wife is about the evolution of a woman and i guess we can't get to the genious without the learning to be a genious.
should the learning, should the embarrassments, should the development be published? it is about the movement toward beauty or is it the beauty itself that is treasured? i guess this course is all about how the important part is the evolution, not the end, but i don't know here ... you tell me ... i'm at a loss, i just don't know. i thought until now that it's about the movement, the evolution. but, i don't know anymore, because of this book.
i'm kinda at a loss for words (wish my body would just let me be in silence for a while ... or at least let me quote for eternity ... let the masters explain my soul) but, i guess i will just quote to you two lines that blew my mind:
md: ahab to starbuck:
"stand close to me, starbuck; let me look into a human eye; it is better than to gaze into the sea or sky; better than to gaze upon God."
and ahab's wife:
david to una:
"'i forgive you,' he said in his mellow male voice that seemed to blend God and nature."

love is in the air...
Name: daniela
Date: 2004-04-12 09:20:20
Link to this Comment: 9281

I finally menaged to figure out why Una cannot make up her mind whom (Giles or Kit) she prefers. My answer is more than simple-because they are the complementary parts of one personality. Giles is able to observe the environment and admire it. He is the philosopher, the passive dreamer drifted along life. Quite unlike Kit who aspires to the unattainable. Is it only the bonds of friendship that unite them? Or is it some sort of dependency on each other's presence?

better wise than famous ... or not.
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-12 16:08:13
Link to this Comment: 9287

had my meeting with prof. grobstein today and we talked a little about ahab's wife. i said that one of the reasons i found the first 230 pages to be nearly unbearable was because una had no life experience and i'm not going to get anything out of that. i hate teenage love triangles unbearable and excruciatingly boring. grobstein brought up the point that from the begining of the book we know that this woman looses her baby and her mother in the same day; those traumas, found in the first pages, proves to be so much greater than anything ahab experiences. i mean, get over it buddy, it's just a leg. from these first chapters we know that una is a woman who knows the excruciating pain of life. and then the book moves back in her life, to her life before her pain, to her life of meaningless sappy romance (oops, did that slip out?!) and this writing is useless to me. what i am arguing is that even though we know that una goes through a lot these morsels of 'life before' are useless to me. i'm interested in what she says in the immediate, visceral life of pain. but, i agree that the first 230 pages are somehow essential to this book. we don't see ishmael's evolution. we are (oops, again!) I am utterly astounded in the first parragraph of md. what is the value of writing that charts the evolution of character, the evolution of thought, instead of maintaining one level of thought. i don't think there is any change in ishmael's intellect, his interest in the book. her learns something, we watch him learn that something, but something about him is static. not with una. everything about her changes. we KNOW una because we've watched her grow, we don't KNOW ahab (in md) or ishmael, we WATCH them.
what is the signifigance of this difference in perception?

also grobstein (((i really really really hope i'm quoting you acurately...a million apologies if i misunderstood))) said that he thought naslund did this intentionally. naslund wrote crappily at the begining on purpose. hadn't thought of that. but, now looking back to the realm before 231 i can see glimmers of genious that i hadn't noticed in my blinding disgust. (example (205) "at your own death, i adked myself, can the vastness of your own experience be buried in the ground, funneled into nothing but the shape of a grave?")
and finally i'll whisper some heavenly quotes to all of you, my friends...from ganglion:
"let me know that into the knot of self comes the thread called time, and that what i am, disgraced or blessed, came from what i was, goes to what i yet may be." this woman can write! and she's found a crack in my very making and has squeezed herself into my being with words! soul peircing!
and i have to go, but will have to post later about the three of them holding each other together. (241) "'do you think that we would die for each other?' i asked. 'yes,' giles said. 'or live. you might find that harder.'" and i asked in another post: who would hold me together if i didn't hold myself tight in the knot that is me? and this is a clinging threesome in which they don't hold their SELVES together individually, but rather, they hold the group together. but, what the hell happens when an essential part of this single knot is loosed!!!!!!!!!!!!! what happens when the people you cling to, the people who hold your very existence together, die!!!!!!!!!! godamn it! what happens?!?! kit goes mad. he's a clinger and ceases to be. una does not cling. she is like ishmael and she loves, but does not cling and she lives on. perfect example of the safer life of a drifter. (((i fall back into bad habbits of useing this flawed termenology ... sry ... but i think it kinda relevant.)))
k. gtg. later friends!
ps was so happy when naslund included pip. never got to talk about him, but pip is one of my favorite, if not my very favorite character in md ... that means one of my very favorite characters in all of literature.

pps didn't mean to poke at our prof.s in the post from last week. i'm just feeling more known than knowing ... don't like that ... i'd rather be wise than famous.

Una and Clinging
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-04-12 16:34:02
Link to this Comment: 9288

I think everyone, by default, is forced to cling to something. Una, to life. Ahab, to his monomania. From our discussion on Thursday I think it was pretty evident that I cling to humanity. That's why I don't think I could ever eat another human being. I cling to my 'humanity' more so than I cling to 'life'.

Even for those of us who claim they do not cling to anything, do they not cling to the belief that they do not cling to anything? It's like believing there are no truths...except that believing that there are no truths is a truth in of itself.

It bothers me that Una is so composed. I understand, in some way, she is fighting madness and consumed by her guilt, but I feel these emotions come second to Una's determination to forget. I'm finding it hard to relate to this perfectly, composed Una. Giles flings himself off the boat (I think it was intentional anyway) and Kit goes mad, but Una... Una is determined to forgive herself and make sure no one finds out so that she might be given a second chance to lead a normal life. It's not that I want Una to kill herself...I don't know what I want. But I'm hoping with 300 more pages to go I find a different Una – an Una I can see myself in.

Name: Julia
Date: 2004-04-12 18:48:40
Link to this Comment: 9290

First of all in the light of destressing, I thought I would share (although I am positive that EVERYONE has seen it before) the list of things to do rather than stress about room draw (or for our purposes stres about anything). They are corny but good to remember i suppose:

*Do something nice for a senior (you will appreciate the same thing some day)
* Treat yourself to your favorite snack food. A little indulgence does wonders.
*Read a little of that book you've been wanting to read for pleasure but
haven't felt there's been time..
*Rent a favorite movie---preferably a comedy! Laughter is a cure all.
*Attend an event on campus to support other students
*Go off campus and explore someplace you've never been before
*Take a nap
*Re-connect with someone you've been meaning to write, call, email, etc......
*Read, write, sing, dance, draw, paint, play....move and be moved, inspire
and be inspired....
*If nothing else, sit down, kick back and breathe deeply. Repeat often.

And then I guess I should say something about our readings... well, I REALLY like Ahab's Wife. I feel like we are just watching and experiencing her growth and development (physically, emotionally, morally and otherwise) into a who she is in those first lines of the book, and that is sort of fascinating to watch unfold. I am completely engulfed in this book, and constantly wondering what is going to happen next or when she is going to marry so many times, so many ponderings.

On the subject of clinging... what i am reading in the book and in what I hear orah saying sounds like clinging might be equatable to "loving" (argh- whatever that really is). When Una is clinging to her two male friends she is feeling kinship and as Daniela said Una finds a compliment to herself in them (or so i believe)... i think she "loves" them. I think she loves the way they make her think and feel, while there is still a degree of fresh naive teenage romance, she is learning what the world and life have to offer, and loving it.

I don't think Una is a drifter at all (well rather not entirely). No, she does not kill herself or go mad with guilt nor when she loses her complimentary kin, but I don't think that means she still isn't clinging to something. I hear others saying she is clinging to life, I like that. I too think she is clinging to life, and in doing so she embraces others who live and exhibit/experience the beauty of life, but she doesn't allow dispair to drag her away from continuing her own experiences... there is something about this that I am admiring I think because it feels like she doesn't agonize or dwell for very long on hardship (yet she carries an impression of everything she has lost or gone through with her).

I may be giving Una too much credit here(romanticizing it a bit), or perhaps even not enough, I don't know but something tells me I am going to be regret some of this later.

maybe a conversation starter ...
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-12 21:28:39
Link to this Comment: 9298

so ...
i'm curious ...
are there people in your lives who hold you together ?
or do you hold your own self together ?
does your being depend on anyone ?
and what would you do if that person, or one of those people was taken away? or left?
would you go mad like kit?
or ...
you tell me. i'm not asking for specific people ... just curious what you have done or what you think you would do ...

Name: Kat
Date: 2004-04-12 21:33:53
Link to this Comment: 9299

and as I stand on this axis of time- manipulate it, like a door, swinging on its hinge- the land and sea distiction blurs, the tide moves mountians.

And what if we all must have then taken our own calf and foot, as Mary said, to roast and live off of? Is our consumption of self so different than the calf-consuming act of Moby Dick? And since comsumption of flesh apparently produces consuming obsessions, could the monomania resulting from self-cannibalistic acts turn anywhere but inward?

And if this were so, what mask would we see? what would we see beyond it?

Name: mary
Date: 2004-04-12 21:49:41
Link to this Comment: 9300

I am thinking about how Diane expressed last week that she thought Una was "fluffy". I can imagine why. She does behave "old-fashioned feminine" throughout the story. "Fluffy" women just plain old contribute to giving women a silly image. This kind of woman used to make me edgy more so than it does today. Basically, I think it threatens me less because there are so many more strong independent women than there ever were in the 70s. (Although the sex-driven images constantly put forth by the mass media is a bit spooky). Now, unless it affects me close up, I tend to not get edgy and rather see fluffy women as a product of the times, with many other dimensions worth appreciating. But Una, I do not think she is fluffy at all when she opens the story. I fell in love with her in the second line of the book.

"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last. Yet, looking up into the clouds---I conjure him there: his gray-white hair....... etc."

With these two sentences combined she is saying—Captain Ahab was not my only love, but, yet, I am seeing his beautiful image in the clouds. She is not afraid of giving him height according to her appreciation of his nature. To me this is a sign of her ascendance to a more evolved female, the kind that is so assured of herself that she can give praise to men. Moreover, this is not a fluffy woman because she is a woman, who loves (many) and lets go when change beckons her to do so. She does not cling to men, not even to life. I think my appreciation of her in this instance is because of my age and my experiences of loving and letting go. It's not something that people do easily. It takes strength that I think is highly commendable. There are many people that lack it.

In the beginning of the book, when she was threatened in childbirth, she did not make many moves to preserve her life or her babies. At this point of the story, I wondered why she did not behave strongly. But as I came to better know Una, I feel that this was because of the many things in her life that made her despair. Earlier in her life, when Captain Frye lay down huddled in the boat during desperate times, Una looked at him as if he were a coward. This was the Una who had strength and determination. When she laid freezing to death bearing a child, this was the Una that was weakened and hopeless.Her shadow had arisen to the surface. I witness her shadow character throughout the book, such as when she marries Ahab, she seems to be marrying her father's monomaniacal spirit. She seems to be making peace with her father's spirit in a more successful setting.

She starts her story, referring to the men in her life and continues with the traditional female behaviors, which is historically determined but she ventures into her independence throughout.

I am enjoying this book very much. There are constantly in depth ideas to post about. I definitely think this book can stand on its own. More to come.

Date: 2004-04-12 22:32:08
Link to this Comment: 9302

I just thought this would be interesting...we have been saying that Ahab's Wife isn't funny, and Moby Dick is. Well, I never thought Moby Dick was funny, and until recently I would agree that Ahab's Wife wasn't either. But I found some things that made me laugh!
"The Indian woman passed through the lobby...Behind her swept the world-I mean Rebekkah Swain."-p141
this is the funniest though:
"'And some people believe' Kit put in, 'that if you eat cucumbers, your nose will grow long. Or other parts.'
'What parts?' Frannie asked.
'Your feet,' Aunt said."-p93
I also thought this was amusing:
"It is not her rod and her staff that comfort her-indeed, she carries no such implements-it is her clothes that comfort the female pilgrim."-p126

Name: Heather Da
Date: 2004-04-12 22:32:47
Link to this Comment: 9303

the last one is me

Self and Others
Name: Mary
Date: 2004-04-12 23:12:47
Link to this Comment: 9306


After thinking thru your queries, about self and others and the affects of relationship on self:

In my experience, romantic story-book true love came and went twice and I have sustained self and even grew in its presence and its departure.

But there was a time when madness threatened to fracture me. My son developed schizophrenia two years ago, at age 17 and for a while there it seemed like I lost him completely, even though his body was alive, he was not there.These were times when I felt so low that life became a fog of pain and sadness that permeated even my occasional laughter. It was like I, like he, was also not present in my body. I often thought how I would like to just lie down and let go of control. Lose myself to ???????

Thanks be, he is somewhat back (even somewhat is wonderful) and there is hope for more of him to come back. The pain and sadness are multitudes less. I continue to still be a somewhat fractured self. It seems like I am very dependent on him for my sense of self; like the love is so strong that what happens to him happens to me. I've never experienced anything like it before. I think it has to do with the sharing of extreme pain or extreme happiness between loved ones.

Humans are so resilient (to a certain extent). I think the effect of loss of relationship on one's self depends on the depth and degree of loss and the time available for healing.

I pray for the people suffering too much loss due to war and famine and devastation around the world.

Name: Patty
Date: 2004-04-12 23:20:15
Link to this Comment: 9307

I have been thinking alot about the passages in Ahab's Wife where the captain kills himself immediately upon hearing that his son has been chosen to die in order to provide the rest with sustinance. I found it interesting to think about the fates that awaited the characters in Moby Dick and the fates that awaited those in Ahab's Wife. For instance. The young boy replies, "It is as good a fate as any," upon hearing the news that he was chosen to die. I feel as if this is very much meant to shadow the feelings of the men aboard the Pequod through out there entire voyage. Ishmael seems to suggest this quite often. I know it seems simple, but it's actually really fascinating to me that they would see all fates as "equal." I believe that this is what that particular scene was trying to ask the reader to look into within themselves; are all fates "as good a fate as any." In the end of that scene, both the boy and the captain die. This seems to beg the question, "Shouldn't the father have just let his son accept his death, it was comming anyway." It seems to suggest this inescapable fate, which I think is another theme that was played with alot in Moby Dick. The fact that both the boy and the captain die seems very simbolic of this inescapable fate, although it may have just been a simple close-up on the touched upon canniblism in Moby-Dick. I just feel that I was finally given a peice in Ahab's Wife, that would finally explain why all those men in Moby Dick allowed themselves to die when they clearly saw it comming. It was "as good a fate as any." It also occured to me that in both novels we have been given very suicidal captains, and although for very obviously seperate modivations, I was wondering what this might mean about the author's interpritations of the nature of these types of voyages? Is this type of exploration suicidal. Do the author's believe that all fates are equal?

many responses
Name: katherine
Date: 2004-04-13 00:18:18
Link to this Comment: 9309

Hm, I think that this posting will be a collection of responses to other postings.
To start with, Diane said that, "The author [of Ahab's Wife] has raped Moby-Dick, leaving it somewhat broken in my mind. " That statement really claims something, something brutal. She seems to say that Naslund sucked all of the obvious bits, the characters and such, out of MD but didn't stay true to their purpose and character. As if Naslund wrote a cheaper form of MD, leaving all of the beauty and wildness in a pile of ash. I too feel that Ahab's Wife lacks some sort of the strange complexity found in Moby Dick. I feel sometimes as if the story is too linear, too plot driven, and not thoughtful enough. It doesn't stop to ask the deep questions that we muddle through in MD. I don't think that this, however, "rapes" the original Moby Dick. I do sometimes feel that when compairing the two texts, the phylosophy and life questions asked in Ahab's Wife lay in the shadow of the emence problems tackled by MD. In fact, AW does not leave MD broken, perhaps it holds the text up as a far more intellectual piece of work. Still, I can see what you are trying to get at, in some ways AW is not up to par with MD. I also have to say that even though AW lacks the major phylosophical slant, I don't really miss wading though all of that think-stuff.

Una is tricky. I can't decide if she is "fluffy" or not. She tries to be radical and to unsex herself and play around with gender roles. that is certainly not "fluffy" stuff. This side of her excites me. I love seeing women who can prove that a "man's task" is not really a man's task at all, but a person's task and anyone who is up to the challenge can be succesful. like sailing on a whaling ship and wearing trowsers is a man's job or a boys job, but it's not cause Una can do it too. then again, she seems to do things half way. she is only another man on the ship part of the time, she becomes a fluffy female again the moment she is in the presence of- and especially when confronted by- Giles and Kit. suddenly when the truth of her womanness is known she can no longer be this unsexed radical person. suddenly she wants to love and mediate and cuddle instead of climb rigging and kill whales. the men around her reveal her fluffy side, and I wish that they did not, because i like the other una better. I like the trowser una, not the cry-because-i-want-to-be-a-good-wife-for-my-mad-husband Una.

finally, in response to Orah, As of now I think that I hold myself together fairly well. even though my family and i now communicate long distance they are a part of the glue of my life, as are my friends that i left behind at home and the friends that I have here. even though I love them and love being around them, and though they all help to hold me together I don't think that I would come completely undone without them. maybe for a while, but i could pull myself through. I can very easily see myself, however, finding someone someday who provides a very neccesary adheasive in my life and possibly coming undone if i lost that- though maybe not to kit's extremity.

also, thanks to Mary for sharing her personal story.

to mary:
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-13 07:21:07
Link to this Comment: 9322

i think your story is so ... inspirational ... even more so than una's story because it's a story of such extreeme struggle ... while una looses giles she immediatly gets over him to care for kit ... and when kit goes mad and leaves she immediatly gets over it for ahab. she does not hold onto those she loves at all... that is told in the first line of the book, her identity is based on resiliance. but, your story seems to show a deeper ...something ... your love seems so much greater than una's ... and so, back to ishmael's learning: do we go through life without holding on becuase it is safer for us? or is there a point when we lose ourselves rather than let go of someone ? is it ever appropriote to go mad ? or not live ?

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-13 07:26:28
Link to this Comment: 9323

IS it ever okay to be ahab and "wage an honest battle with the deep (478)" because it's take something from you that you REFUSE live without ?

mary oliver
Name: em
Date: 2004-04-13 08:22:42
Link to this Comment: 9326

in response to orah's question, mary oliver says,
"To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go."

i love mary oliver and i love this quote and its wisdom. but i am not there yet. in response to orah's question i say, yes, yes i would wage an honest battle with the deep because i have not learned that lesson of loving and losing yet. i have not yet lived enough and loved enough for that.

Name: Lauren Fri
Date: 2004-04-13 11:44:08
Link to this Comment: 9332

I think that the fact that Una gets over Giles to care for Kit doesn't make her especially "resilient" (as Orah said). I think this is a human quality, more than anything else. I think one of the only things that gets us through difficult times is knowing that we have to be strong for someone else. This sounds really cheesey, but I think it's just a testament to the basic generosity of the human spirit. Do you think that Una is selfish, or just strong? Fickle or reslilient? It's interesting to me how the same thing can be interpreted in very different ways.

I've also still been thinking about some of the things we talked about in class on Thursday. We were talking about how Moby Dick is (for most people) more ambiguous than Ahab's Wife. In Ahab's Wife, we know what's going on, and we pretty much know how we're supposed to feel about it, since our narrator is so emotional about everything. In Moby Dick, the reader is often left not knowing what to think. So what is more engaging, clarity or ambiguity? Patty pointed out that books are like people in this way -- some people are more drawn to clarity, others to ambiguity. Are you drawn to the same types of books as people?

Name: simran
Date: 2004-04-13 12:03:54
Link to this Comment: 9333

At first I thought Una was not a clinger and admired her for it. But then I started to see that she did need to cling to something- she is not only Ahab's Wife but a wife or a sweetheart. It's almost like she needs that one security in order to be the free spirit she is. So in a way, I see her as a kind of clinger too.

Thank you for sharing your story Mary, it mustn't have been easy for you at all...

In response to Orah's conversation starter, I feel silly saying that at 22 I have clung onto someone as if my life depended on it and am still not able to let go. I had a car accident two years ago- I was driving and fell asleep at the wheel. One of my best friends was in the car and she broke her femur, wrist, nose and sinuses. She had to go through major surgery and physiotherapy. I had never experienced such an all consuming guilt and moved in with my long term boyfriend through my physical recovery (I injured my back). I just remember the time at the hospital when I refused to let him out of my sight. With my family so far away, I became a huge clinger and made him the thread that held my life together. A year ago I started to come out of my depressed state and got a little less clingy. He couldn't deal with losing my dependence on him. To make a long story short, I lost him and thought for the longest time that I had lost something I truly believed would be forever. It's been a few months but I'm still clinging, not to him, but a godforsaken memory that doesn't even exist anymore. What I'm doing to deal with the loss is thinking thinking thinking and trying my hardest to REDUCE the divide between my rational thoughts and my impulsive actions.

Name: simran
Date: 2004-04-13 12:10:14
Link to this Comment: 9334

i think i clung/cling onto him so much because i thought he would be a fate saver for me.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-04-13 12:26:03
Link to this Comment: 9336

A reaction to the question that Orah posed:

Being as stubborn as I am, my immediate reaction was "of course i don't rely on other people, i'm exceedingly independent, self reliant, and damn good at it at that." However, after reading her question I went on to reading some of your reactions to my post about Ahab's Wife. Some of you articulated beautifully my ideas that I was poking at but couldn't express (Mary correctly identified Una as a threatening character while Katherine pointed out that the text isn't up to par with the original). Reading your thoughts made my thoughts clearer. The clarity of my thoughts were somewhat reliant on yours. They may still be my thoughts, but they were affected by all of you. And so, while I'm not sure that we're dependent on others entirely, we cannot help but being affected by each other. And i think that is a stronger, healthier connection than dependence, and so that is how I will choose to think of our interactions.

our tragedy.
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-13 14:21:31
Link to this Comment: 9339

"god of strange and extended whiteness, god of heights, who lurks around the crows nests of ships, who circles the tops of lighthouses, who inhabits the high crags of Norway, God of frost and nothingness, love thou my ahab!" (501)
in other words: God of The Absence, God without Consciousness, Moby Dick, Sickness, i beg you, for that is all i can do, to let those i love live.

i think this is the pleading, begging, desperate prayer of humanity. LET PEOPLE STAY! please, oh please, don't take my loves away from me. we ask for consiousness from The Unconscious, we ask for Presence within The Absence, We ask for an excuse, an exception from the cruel blows of Nature.

an ambitious attempt to be articulate, but, alas,
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-13 18:37:58
Link to this Comment: 9345

okay. i revise again (agian i must admit to a published mistake) ... "disgusting" is the wrong word. distgusting implies a personal invasion which makes me want to vomit. untrue. (i admit: i'm kinda a drama queen when it comes to writing and will write words that will get YOUR attention ... disgust is a strong word ... but, in this case, does not reflect an accurate emotion...i succumb to the temptation of sensationalism) i guess i resent naslund for wasting my time with the petty teenage love triangle. i'm uninterested. but, i forgive her when she starts to write well :) (and i realize that i sound pompus when i say that she "learns to write" ... just letting you know that i know what i sound like ... i'm stickin' to it.)
to explain what i said in class (i haven't been articulate all day ... maybe it's the rain ... hopefully i can write it) : people have been critisizing una's inability to greive. some say that she moves to fast, gets over things too quickly, and ya'all feel threatened, as if naslund is painting this picture of a quick/non greiver as the ideal strength. and i guess i've kinda agreed with you in past posts. critisizing her for not loving as i love, critisizing her for being less of a clinger than i am.
...but, i'm going to play devils advocate here and defend her ...
p.257 "now there was no one who could ever tell that i had lived on human flesh. all of the others were perished; giles dead; Kit mad. nobody knew." Una is expressing a GREAT lonliness in being the only one who knows her sorrow. NO ONE KNOWS. so, i guess she could gather everyone around her and make a big announcement, "hey, guys, i ate people! and i'm really sad about it." or, "hey guys! my soul mate died and then i married my best friend and he went nuts on me!" but she can't do that. and imagine if she told anyone. no one wants to hear that. i guess charlotte takes it pretty well and una is greatful to her for taking it so well ... but charlotte is extreemly self centered ... all she can think/talk about is her sex life and her relationship with kit. when the two of them lie in bed together all charlotte can talk about is kit. how frustrating must that be for una ... i mean una's ate people. SHE'S EATEN PEOPLE! and charlotte just gabs and gabs about this crush she has. charlotte doesn't really HEAR una. if she did then she would realize that the only thing to do is to sit with the overwhelming tragedy in silence. silence. silence. ...................................
and then una says on page 460 "i thought of my mother's body trapped under the overturned buggy and of her freezing. such was not the stuff of dinner conversation."
so! no one knows about her pain and yet when is the proper time to tell people? i understand her fear of making other people feel awkward. nobody knows about her pain. and she can't tell anyone. so how the hell is she supposed to greive ?!?!? greif is about receiveing other's comfort. greif is about accepting forgiveness. and the only ones who can forgive us are people who know our pain. so una is stuck in this gadamn frustrating place of unforgivenness. until david. ""i forgive you," he said in his mellow male voice that seemed to blend God and nature" (439). we are all in places of unforgiveness and all we can do as human beings is to soothe each other's pain, forgive each other!!! comfort one another!
and i think another quote relevant: "here was Susan to unburden me of love. not to be loved but to love lightened my load of grief and gave value and direction to my life." (410). it's the release of love that is craved NOT the acceptance of love. but, una writes, "it was her absence (her mother), not her death, that seemed real. The way she was not held by the walls of the cabin. the vacancy in the air. my mother, my babe, forever dead." (406). she has this built up love in her, and when she tries to place it she finds only an Absence.
and THAT is why the second half of chapter 51 happens. THAT is why she says of susan, "often she touched me too ...talking little, we loved the skin itself, the envelope that held each of us" (408) THAT, i think, is one of the most sexual relationships in the book.
that part of chapter 51, i think, is the most REAL chapter in the book.
these sexual relationships are a response to a lacking. when we witness nothing, a physically grasp onto each other. when we see that we are absolutly alone, that people leave, that we are left, we clutch at each other. chapter 51: "so that we might be more together."

ps em, i love the mary oliver quote ... don't know who she is ... but ... it's a wonderful quote. thank you for it.
pps i'm reading over this post and i've been to ambitious ... have tried to say more than i can ... i hope you get the idea.

Name: Fritz Dubu
Date: 2004-04-13 22:00:14
Link to this Comment: 9349

I see the story of una and moby dick as bridges from one to the other. It helps me understand the stoy which is being told to think of it as one big story rather than two seperate parts, that way the linear is all about perception, what matters most is what we've all been searching for but seem to have trouble identifying = Meaning.

For our fronds: Diane, Susan, Cham...and all othe
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-13 23:46:45
Link to this Comment: 9353

(As if I hadn't said enough today already! However...there's been more a-brewing since...)

I've been thinking a lot about Diane's saying, "The author is not doing anything particularly innovative here. Innovation would mean that the book could stand on its own." Following Susan's observation in class today--"I'm the product of my parents, but I think I'm something unique!"--I've been thinking about a different/evolutionary way of describing "innovation." It comes straight from the Working Group on "Emergent Systems," where Tim Burke's saying that emergence (=evolution)
* Suggests a new way to talk about the irreducibility of later conditions to initial conditions while also insisting that they are always related.
* A new way to think about the appearance of novelty and newness in a system without insisting on total disjuncture or disconnection.
--led me to describe literature as being continuously productive of what is new, by re-organizing what has been into new-yet-similar forms (Forbidden Planet takes off from The Tempest, West Side Story is a new version of Romeo and Juliet , etc. etc. etc.)

I was also particularly struck, during class--as was probably evidenced by my questioning her repeatedly--by Susan's observation that she felt "belittled" by Una's choices, which differed so strikingly from her own (or her own imagined ones?) I'd like to ask you all what Una will (soon) ask Margaret Fuller: "to what extent we model our lives from our reading?" (p. 417). Or, in the language of this course, what roles do stories play in YOUR evolution as a human being? Do they function for you the way her various paired friendships functioned for Una, as mirrors onto which you project--or from which you incorporate--various (possible) aspects of self? (If so, what stories have shaped who you have become? I'll start: Gone with the Wind. Jane Eyre. The Scarlet Letter. Moby Dick. Ahab's Wife. Beloved. Paradise etc. etc. etc.--the pattern's pretty obvious here!)

My last observation is a response to Cham's posting, that "I choose to see my own smallness as opportunity rather than vulnerability." For the Graduate Idea Forum , we are reading this week Antonio Damasio's The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. On p. 78, he says,

"Punishment causes organisms to close themselves in...withdrawing from their surrounding. Reward causes organisms to open themselves up and out toward their environment, approaching it, searching it, and by so doing increasing both their opportunity...and their vulnerability. This fundamental duality is apparent in a creature as simple and presumably as nonconsicous as a sea anemone....The circumstance surrounding the sea anemone determine what its entire organism does: open up to the world like a blossoming flower--at which point water and nutrients enter its body and supply it with energy--or close itself...small, withdrawn, and nearly imperceptible to others...

As I've said in another context, "With fronds like these, who needs anemones?"

Thanks again to all for the interdependence of this project of thinking together about the evolution our lives, and how stories "accelerate" that process...

Or do they??

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-14 10:57:22
Link to this Comment: 9360

a quote from one of the books that changed my life: their eyes were watching God.
the opening, i think it relevant:
"ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. for some they come in with the tide. for others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life on men.
"Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.
"So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead. Not the dead of sick and ailing with friends at the pillow and the feet. She had come back from the sodden and the boated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgement."

others that have shaped me: cater in the rye (and is still shapping me,) franny and zooey, seymour and introduction, eliot's four quartets (and proofrock), the complete poems of emily dickinson (though i have yet to finish it.) on the road, rilke's duino elegies, moby dick, angels in america ...
i was brought up on mockingbird ... so i guess that has shapped me in the deepest way ... as my parents have shapped me.

The Meaning of Stories
Name: Mary
Date: 2004-04-14 11:48:41
Link to this Comment: 9364

Anne -- in answer to your question -- do stories bring about evolution?

The stories in this forum evolve me. There is so much richness of experience, literure commentary, poetry, and personal views. I would like to say now that being a McBride student at Bryn Mawr also opens me up to the stories of you younger women all the time. It's fascinating and changes me in ways that I cherish. I would also like to say thanks to Professor Dalke and Professor Grobstein for offering this course on Evolution of Stories as one that is truly so because it has been a course based on ALL OF OUR EVOLVING STORIES as we proceed thru the texts. Very neat! It is a wonderful way to go about understanding the topic at hand. Thank you both for your insight and innovation in education and multiplicity.

Simran -- your car crash story, now that is a story! I think it can be an example of how we all become affected by stories and why we lean on stories for comfort and for their usefulness. That is something that we talked about in the beginning of the course. I still see ONLY these two values in stories, comfort and usefulness. If anyone else has another value of stories, please comment.

In Simran's case, I think that (like Orah posted about), the telling of one's story, no matter if it's of cannibalism, schizophrenia, a car crash, or something extreme -- is a strong desire for humans. When we are able to share our difficult stories with compassionate people, we lighten the load somehow. And when we read literature, we share stories that help us think thru our human experience, comfort us when needed and learn some lessons as we think thru the patterns of others experiences and their responses to them. Simran, I hope that sharing your story has helped you, I definitely feel for your pain and I hope that you can let go of it. I hope that stories can help you see you do not deserve guilt for an unintentional occurence.


I think that Melville greatly appreciates diversity and open-mindedness (which are really one and the same), and humans need this desperatedly in order to live more peaceful lives. I witness Melville's prioriy of diversity and open-mindedness when at the very opening of Moby Dick he gives us the many different words for whale. This etymology humbly expresses right from the get-go that words are transient, that they may mean something, but they are changeable/flexible (open-mindedness), and that views such as a Late Consumptive Usher to a Grammar School or a Sub-Sub-Librarian's should be appreciated (diversity) . Melville then continues the openmindedness and diversity theme as he awesomely packs his story full of intricate patterns, weaving possible meaning into it, but most attractively, stimulating the meaning-seeking mind in ways that encourage one's own interpretation.

In the 1800s, appreciation for diversity and open-mindedness was just beginning to blossom thru society. Social thought was progressing in this more liberal way since the 1500s, due to expansion into diverse lands/cultures, the breakdown of religious authority as the ultimate authority and the growth of scientific thought. There was the breakdown of aristocracy, the rise of democracy, religious freedoms, literacy, the growth of the middle/working classes, the end of black slavery, and the beginnings of feminist theory. Melville's message of open-mindedness and appreciation of diversity told the story that was evolving in humanity! He gave an eloquent fellow voice to this new feeling within, and modeled a openminded approach to thought. His approach is still helpful today as we struggle through our issues of acceptance of others (same-sex marriage for instance). There is usefulness and comfort in his great tragedy that goes beyond the tragedy.

So, Anne, in response to your question do stories evolve us? that's the way I see it.

shaping stories
Name: em
Date: 2004-04-14 13:03:02
Link to this Comment: 9366

"So Little"
Czeslaw Milosz

I said so little.
Days were short.

Short days.
Short nights.
Short years.

I said so little.
I couldn't keep up.

My heart grew weary
From joy,

The jaws of Leviathan
Were closing upon me.

Naked, I lay on the shores
Of desert islands.

The white whale of the world
Hauled me down to its pit.

And now I don't know
What in all that was real.

now i suppose the poem is a bit of a downer, but i'm going to take cham's stance and say that even though, according to milosz, we can't keep up, it is still worth it to talk. so perhaps we should just chew our humble pie with our mouths wide open, saying all the things we want to say. it is still worth it to connect. thanks for the connecting yesterday in class.

as for stories that have made me who i am, or caused me to evolve-- i love the poetry of mary oliver and jane kenyon: nature-centered women's voices that seem to speak to me directly. the mendelssohn octet speaks to me; the barber violin concerto is part of my blood; the schubert quintet carries me places. but by far my favorite and most shaping story is the story my parents tell me about their moon-faced baby with a shock of black hair and how she grew. i carry the most tenderness by far for that story of myself and my origin, and it influences me to this day. i feel it always will.

Name: Ro.
Date: 2004-04-14 19:58:57
Link to this Comment: 9370

Anne, you are a devilish person, asking that question, I think:
"What roles do stories play in YOUR evolution as a human being? What stories have shaped who you have become? "

I want to tell you something that is perhaps as telling as a direct....which is that I would not give you my list in a public forum, only as a trusted friend. So YES, you have hit upon a telling aspect about who we are in each, our own minds--or at least me in mine.

I am wondering if so visceral a reaction signals something innate... am I protecting my identity, and is that identity my story, my evolving story, which Dennett and others believe to be the "self?" If my self is a story that writes me, then you have indeed asked a most personal question! '-)

Which makes me also wonder if "Susan's observation that she felt "belittled" by Una's choices, which differed so strikingly from her own (or her own imagined ones?)" can be extended to the rest of us. Is it a test of excellent writing or "genius" when several people (such as we were in class Tuesday) feel a relation to or seem to understand a character? I'm thinking about some stuff Emerson wrote in "Nature" (It's been decades since I did Emerson)...but his notion was that IF private thoughts of a speaker or writer could be understood by others, then the work was genius. We are getting Naslund's private thoughts through Una, I believe. And I also believe that, if the self is a narrator of its own autobiography, then Susan's reaction is making a lot of sense.

Name: daniela
Date: 2004-04-14 21:16:35
Link to this Comment: 9371

"ahab's wife" does not appeal to me at all. being much more readable and comprehensible than moby dick, naslund's book simply fails to engage my interest.

"ahab's wife" emulates "moby dick" in a way that shifts the focus from the readers' interpretation of arcane symbols and enigmatic images to the mere description of events. the aims of the authors diverge, i guess. comprised of loosely connected chapters, "moby dick" engages the readers, making them superimpose their own experiences onto the simplified plot. the journey of ishmael and the rest of the crew is more imaginary (cognitive, taking place in the conscious and unconscious parts of the protagonsits' brains) rather than physical; it does not seem real to me. so, being so cerebral in nature, the book urges me to make sense of the myriad of ideas and images and arrange them in a coherent story. in other words, because of the compelling need for interpretation, "moby dick" is what i make of it. without me to make a meaning of it, it will exist as a heap of type written pages. because of my active role/importance in construing/making sense of the book, i never lost interest.

in comparison, "ahab's wife" stresses on the role of a lucid plot/events, meticulously articulated and accounted for. in my opinion, naslund relies on the emotions that the strange events (like the cannibalism account for example) elicit from the readers. in my opinion, it is those emotions that might appeal to readers, but not to me. searching for a meaning in her life, una gives plausible analyses of everything that happens to her. being too explicit, the plot and the ideas do not give me much room to play with the images in the book. not that i dislike reading adventure stories in general, but what is my role as a reader in this story?

MD and Ahab's Wife
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-04-14 22:21:27
Link to this Comment: 9373

I think I've figured out why I don't like Ahab's Wife.

Before I share the revelation I'd just like to say how HARD it is to dislike this book. I feel like so many people in the class love Ahab's Wife and I feel to hate this novel is almost like saying I'm an enemy to women's rights, or female fiction writers, or whatever. I'm not an enemy. I swear.

It's not like the book is awful. In fact it is engaging and I, too, have difficulty putting it down. But it's like a dark cloud over my head...there's something about the book I don't quite trust.

It stems from my refusal to assign a meaning to Moby Dick, which Naslund has unabashedly done. By writing Ahab's Wife she assigns more worth to the feminist reading of MD than say the religious reading or the Marxist reading. I feel like she's reduced MD to a nineteenth century american gender war. Una is so strong-willed, and yet so feminine, and confident, and yet at times vulnerable - she's the epitome of sfemaleness! (certain socities' def'ns of femaleness, anyway). If Toni Morrison had written, say, Ahab's Cabin Boy, a novel about Pip, or Ahab's Harpooner, a novel about Daggoo, I would equally dislike it. These readings are worthy of investigation, yes, but I feel like Naslund has an agenda. It's obvious from her first line...this is a book, not about MD or about Melville or even Ahab really, but about women's rights. About a nineteenth century female american named Una whose demanding to be heard from among a sea of male characters. MD is much more than that.

Evolution. The very fact that Naslund had this reading, this vision of Una on deck, is an illustration of the evolution of society. I doubt anyone in the nineteenth century would have thought of placing a woman on deck in response to MD.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-04-14 22:48:53
Link to this Comment: 9375

Yeah, go Aia!

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-04-15 13:16:26
Link to this Comment: 9388

I noticed something very odd with Ahab's Wife; it mimics Moby Dick's structure. It starts out completely from it's main character's point of view, but then it moves on to other characters points of view and even script form. I can't figure out why Naslund does this.

This mimicry can't be kept up, I think. Melville managed to slip away from the first person POV he started out with because he wasn't strongly tied to it from the beginning. It is mostly used to show what Ishmael sees; we rarely hear about what he feels, how he percieves the world. AW, on the other hand, is powerfully tied to Una. The bulk of the book is what Una feels, how her internal world reacts to the external one. No matter how exciting the adventures of the book, the point of the book is how Una reacts to those adventures. The little forays into other characters' POVs are interesting, but they take away from what has been the main focus of the book up til now.

Another reason Melville managed to change POV succesfully is because he is a naturally rather untidy writer, packing his book with adventure and philosophy like someone might pack a drawer full of random but beloved mementoes. Naslund is a more organized writer, orbiting about the same themes and ideas throughout, keeping all the events in Una's life in mind throughout, and concentrating on Una's life and spirit.

Naslund cannot follow Melville in his change of focus, but she seems determined to try to follow the change of structure that Melville changed focus with. Usually she seems to have a good reason for most things she does, but I can't figure out the reasoning behind this. Perhaps it will become clear as I get furthur into the book.

hating this book.
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-15 17:10:14
Link to this Comment: 9390

now that i've said that this book speaks to my soul i'll say, quickly, as i said in class, that i also think it is a regression of the feminist movement. ((though i'm not so interested in this argument because i think it makes the book sucky and i'd rather get something out of the book rather then use it as a punching bag....happier talking about why i think it's great ... hope we get to talk about the actual content instead of the theory behind it or interwoven into it ... just a personal preferance...maybe someone wants to dialogue with me here about content ... any takers? ... anyways, QUICKLY about suckiness:))Una
defines herself in terms of marriage, in terms of men, in terms of being appealing to men. (most infuriating scene in the book: the captain who calls to her from the ship purposing marriage. gadamn it! we get it! una is HOT! and that seems to be her only appeal to men. kit and giles are infatuated with her from the moment they see her fighting the eagel ... and naslund makes it seems that it's because they think she's brave fighting the eagel. IF AN EAGEL STARTING PECKING AT YOU HEAD WOULDN'T YOU FIGHT IT ? they're attraction to her is not her bravery (because it's not a scene the depicts bravery, just instinct,) but her hotness ... it has nothing to do with UNA (unless you define a female SELF soley on her physical appearance... which naslund seems to do.)
una is a strong woman, but what gives her strength? the fact that she is hot shit. her power lies in her ability to dictate who she marries and who she doesn't. ((ahab was not my first husband nor my last ... but because her appeal lies in her physical appearance ahab would have been her first and last husband (if she was lucky) had she been ugly)) who gives una this power?? THE MEN WHO FIND HER TO BE HOT SHIT! if she was unappealing to men then she wouldn't have power over them. so, yes, una has power but the power given to her is given by those whom naslund says are at una's disposal. she is utterly dependant on men. ((grobstein said that she was rejected once in the book ... i argue: rejected by a gay man. a man who is not attracted to women in general. that is not a reflection on una at all))

i guess my main problem with (some kinds of) feminism is that it is always a RESPONSE to a sexist thing, always a response to the way women are seen in relation to men ... but my existence is not a response. I AM. and i do not depend on that which is not me. get it ?
i just am.

((i'm sure i've pissed people off at this point ... bring on the counter arguments please ... anne, you love this book, argue with me, please))
man, i got really carried away! i really do like the novel, if you can beleive it... i just have to be talking about the right stuff...

so, (whew!) again from class: is there actually something that is good literature. or is literature essentially based upon and reliant on an INTERACTION between author and reader. if lit. is based on this relationship then there is no such thing as good literature or bad literature because the quality depends on something that is not a constant ... you cannot say that the outcome of a set number and a variable will always be positive ... because there is no way of knowing, or setting a standard to the variable ... UNLESS! we place rules on the variable, put parameters around the reader ... meaning, that we can consider md great lit only if we say that it is great TO a specific group. that's disturbing. that means that the cannon is created with the assumption of certain readers and ignoreing others. that's huge!!! maybe that's the problem with society in general. that we have these standards in our culture that might be oppressive to a certain group but that group cannot articulate the oppression because they are outside the parameters of the variable. example: md is a part of the cannon of 'great lit,' it is debatably The Great American Novel. BUT, i am pretty sure that there are americans out there who are not going to find ANYTHING resonant in md ... so who gets to call it The Great Novel? who holds the power ? and i'm wondering (now that i've convinced myself that the cannonization of lit. is oppressive) what lit. would look like, what an english class would look like if students were taught that the quality of literature is based completely on their resonance with the text. would english class syllabi then be based on student's experience ... students on a military base would read war stories, students at BMC would read feminist lit, students at a catholic school would read catholic writings ... what would society look like then??? what would it mean if we didn't have any texts in common ? and does a classroom like that DEMAND similarity as opposed to difference ... what about diversity ... are we sacrificing the quality of what we read (assuming that quality of lit. is based on interaction with reader) for diversity in the classroom?
anyways, i hope no one hates me after this post ... :)

On being our own skyhooks...
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-15 18:39:23
Link to this Comment: 9391

Orah, I want to answer your question obliquely, out of the utterly amazing discussion we had in my section this afternoon. As you will see by what's upcoming, I very much hope that my fellow cannibals (as well as my fellows-in-refusing-cannibalism) will add their stories to mine.

We began w/ observations about the similarities between Daniela's and Aia's recent postings, above: both of them refused (though Aia did so w/ more ambivalence) the explicit-and-thereby-so-constricting-to-the-imagination nature of the novel, and Diane quickly joined them (as later did Perrin and Jen). We had an awfully interesting discussion, arising from these comments, about our different ways of learning: some of us prefer the implicit-and-expansive sort of literature, that lets us shape it in accord w/ our own selves; others of us prefer the explicit-constricted sort, because it gives us a very clear platform to push off from (so, for example: do you prefer assignments that "tell you what the teacher wants," or assignments that say, "go exploring in an area that interests you"? Do you prefer classes that have a decided "arc"--an idea to teach you, and directed instruction--or classes that lay out rich feasts, from which you select what interests you? Do you prefer teachers who have "designs" on you, or those who do not?) A related question is whether Ahab's Wife is a "constriction" that limits Moby-Dick to feminist concerns, or an "expansion" that takes a tiny bit of Melville's novel and extends it enormously....

It was very interesting to me that so many of us felt assaulted and outraged by the novel, SO SCRIPTED BY IT TO BE UNA. Naslund wrote a script that some of us refuse to enact; that script has everything to do w/ how we think of ourselves as intellectual women. For some of us, it isn't capacious enough, for others not accurate enough, in describing ourselves.

(We also had much interesting discussion about what it means to occupy an identity category--why we choose/refuse various labels, who polices their boundaries, and why....)

What I found, to lay aside these resistances and refusals, is something Una says, from her roof-walk, at the very end of the novel: "What are your houses, dear readers...but platforms to lift you up? Walk above your house, and the heavens are open to you. Let what might seem like roof for your head become floor for your feet" (662). In other words, "I'm not building a house to confine you. I've built a structure for you to stand atop, to look off from, in order that you might built your own structure, stepping off from/evolving from mine...."

Another compelling image (can't believe I didn't include this Tuesday, in the section of my talk about "skyhooks"). Una asks Ishmael whether he minds if they write the same book, and he responds,

"Think of the mighty Cathedral of Cologne...left with the crane still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower...think of the Cathedral of Chartres. Think of its two towers. They do not match at all. Built perhaps a century apart, or more; but without both spires our Chartres would not be Chartres....[cut to slice from M-D] Small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the finishing to posterity. My whole book is but a draft--nay, but the draft of a draft." I said I feel the same about my book. (663)

And of course I'm hoping that each of you can feel the same about yours....and about the stories you are making of your lives (the idea here being that authors are not building houses for us to live in, but rather towers that invite us to build towers of our own....)

(Always, repeatedly, the most moving line to me in Toni Morrison's Beloved occurs when, on the last page of the novel, having listened to Sethe's account, Paul D. thinks that "He wants to put his story next to hers." [273])

Final challenge to us all (via Aia, who claimed towards the end of our session that "most men would not like this book"). Since our current data set is SO skewed/restricted--35 women, with a wide range of reactions, and one man who says he likes it very much--I propose we now go out and ask all the boys we know whether or not they like the novel. (If we discover that none of them have read it, does that indicate that they will not touch novels w/ "wife" in the title--even if said character eventually works herself out of that category? And/or would/will they dislike the fact that she does??)

Fascinating questions, ladies.

Answers, anyone? Further towers?

With much gratitude for the shared structures we are all building here together,

the 3 (36?) body problem
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-15 19:01:21
Link to this Comment: 9392

Okay, so: once I get to building my own tower, I can't quite quit, have trouble topping it off...

I ended that last post w/ images both of towers atop towers, and of free-standing towers. I want to "put next" to those fairly "static" images two much more dynamic ones:

Re: my observations Tuesday that "Una has a own center, but is not one"--
two more apt quotations.

The first is from a very cool piece called "Aesthetics," by Joanna Russ, an English prof @ U Washington, who writes feminist science fiction and critical studies of utopia. Russ ends this particular piece (reprinted in Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism, ed. Robyn Warhol & Diane Price Herndl, Rutgers U Press, 1997) w/ this passage (I haven't been able to track down "glotologgish," but suspect is has something to do w/ distorting language....):

"There used to be an odd, popular, and erroneous idea that the sun revolved around the earth.This has been replaced by an even odder, equally popular, and equally erroneous idea that the earth goes around the sun. In fact, the moon and the earth revolve around a common center, and this commonly-centered pair revolves w/ the sun around another common center, except that you must figure in all the solar planets here, so things get complicated. Then there is the motion of the solar system w/ regard to a great many other objects, e.g., the galaxy, and if at this point you ask what does the motion of the earth really look like from the center of the entire universe, say (and where are the Glotolog?), the only answer is:
that is doesn't,
Because there isn't."

The related, and as striking passage, is from a book by another lit-crit person, Katherine Hayles, Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science (Cornell U Press, 1990)--w/ thanks to Ted Wong, supplier:

"It all started w/ the moon. If only the earth could have gone round the sun by itself, unperturbed by the complications in its orbit which the moon's gravitational field introduced, Newton's equations of motion would have worked fine. But when the moon entered the picture, the situation became too complex for simple dynamics to handle. The moon attracted the earth, causing perturbations in the earth's orbit which changed the earth's distance from the sun, which in turn altered the moon's orbit around the earth, which meant that the original basis for the calculation had changed and one had to start over from the beginning. The problem was sufficiently complex and interesting to merit a name and a prize of its own. It became known as the three-body problem...."

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-15 19:34:35
Link to this Comment: 9393

anne, thank you for the beloved quote (and your oblique response) ...

paul d's line IS so moving. so so moving.
it speaks to a relationship in which the two characters allow each other to be. it reflects a respectful SILENCE ...
there are stories that are so horrific, so sorrowful and painful that any words in response will diminish them. ((Theodor W. Adorno, the german marxist philosopher says, "writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.")) words are violent! they restrict! how dare we restrict each other's stories?!?!? paul d does not restrict. the only thing we can do is EXIST SIMULTANEOUSLY IN SILENCE beside other's pain.

holden (for those of you who don't know the story: holden is greiving over the loss of his dead beloved brother, allie, who died at 13 of leukemia): decides to run away where he doesn't know anybody "i'd pretend i was one of those deaf-mutes. that way i woun't have to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody. if anybody wanted to tell me something, they'd have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. they'd get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then i'd be through with having conversations for the rest of my life. everybody'd think i was just a poor deaf-mute bastard and they'd leave me alone...i'd meet this beautiful girl that was also a deaf-mute and we'd get married. she'd come and live in my cabin with me, and if she wanted to say anything to me, she'd have to write it on a godam peice of paper."
i think that relevant to paul d.

thanks again, anne.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-04-17 13:08:54
Link to this Comment: 9407

Something thats been keeping me up at night:

We had a delicious discussion in Anne's section on Thursday. I took something away from it that we all talked around but didn't foveate on.

We were drawn back to the topic of cannibalism, more specifically what it means to be Labeled a cannibal. Then without skipping a beat we moved on to the label "lesbian." Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, which I often do, but I'm saddened that we made such an easy transition from "cannibal" to "lesbian." It is a reality that these two labels have a similar negative connotation for most of the general population. I think it suprised me because I spend too much time around all of you beautiful, accepting women. And while I know that Mawrters don't group these two labels in the way that the rest of the world does, I had forgotten that these feelings existed until our discussion on Thursday.

My most recent paper was a close reading of Moby Dick, specifically what the sexualized language means to the story. My argument was that homosexuality is a dark, ominous cloud hanging above Queequeg's and Ishmael's relationship. Looking back on writing the paper I realize that I approached the paper as if I were writing about a time distant from us, or about something that is no longer an issue. I think that it feels so distant because this warm accepting coomunity is physically removed, although the atmosphere in the rest of the world has not changed. Moby Dick was not a cloistered time that existed only in Grimm's fairy tales. It is now and we own it. We are all still living with this, and I feel ashamed to have forgotten it. So I suppose what I'm really getting at is, are we better because some of us, myself included, overlook the baggage that some people in the world impose on us? Which is more productive? Those who live in reality (ie not here)? And the healthier ones? I think healthy people are the happy people who are immune to this reality. Yet sometimes I feel that being okay with this would mean turning my back on those who haven't forgotten, who aren't yet comfortable with their place in the world. Because I truly want to make this better, but as a person who is comfortable with herself I do not have the motivation to cut into something that has already healed for me. Maybe I was never cut in the first place, which would say something about my nature and be a justification for my forgetting. Are those who have forgotten just stupid? Today I'm feeling pretty stupid.

this total animal soup
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-17 15:57:14
Link to this Comment: 9408

so i went whinning to grobstein yesterday saying that i felt like pip floating amists the "strange shapes of the unwarped primal world...God's foot upon the treadle of the loom" (yup, i did say that ). i feel like i'm grappling with the demons that guard the door to The Meaning and my complaint was that no one was helping me out. "the awful lonesomeness is intolerable. the intense concentration of self in the middle of such a heartless immensity, my God!" (321). all i need to know is that there are others in this batter with me. that's all i'm asking for... an annonymouse voice letting me know that there are others wrestling those nasty demons, too. BUT, i've been thinking ... and i think the thing that i hadn't realized was that we ARE all wrestling the same match just in different languages. we're all in "the total animal soup of time" (ginsberg's howl...another life shapping book/poem/rant/ human being...) we're in it whether we like it or not ... life, this universe, is not a structured office building: science discoverors to the third floor, please, english majors to the right, poets to the basement. it's a tempest. and where there was once a tree, where meaning once grew it's roots, there's now a gapping hole. we once thought the sun revolved around us ... we think something else now ... and will probably think something else a couple hundred years down the road. but, it's the same road ... that's the key. and maybe being on this road is just what it means to be human. two roads do not diverge. there's only one. and that's what we're all on.
but, i digress. what i'm trying to say is that i'm not alone at all ... i'm amidst the best company ... and that FACT is staring me right in the face, here in this forum. we're all telling our own stories, in our own languages, but, man, look at the beauty we're created here. just look! talk about intertwinning stories. that's what it's all about ... i think. my story is NOT beautiful by itself ... it's only beautiful when people hear and react and MOST ESSENTIALLY when people tell their stories next to mind. (a tree does NOT make a sound if it falls unless there is someone to hear it.) AND THAT'S WHAT WE'RE DOING RIGHT HERE! we're wrapping ourselves around each other. it's not a frantic cling. it's just a deep pulse that we're sharing ... we're not going to beat those nasty demons (sry to break it to you ... and me) but, we've done something here that is just kinda astounding. and i come back to myself on the cliff, no aerial view, no ommnisient narrator, just me .... and you, and her, and him ... and the point is that i can see you!

and we're just beautiful. :) yeh!
ps diane, i wish you had come to the diversity talk on friday... you should check out anne's write up on seredip if you get a chance. :)

sipping soup
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-04-17 17:38:58
Link to this Comment: 9409

mind next to mind .... kinda astounding indeed. Very rich; delicious, in fact.

Occurs to me, particularly after our last thursday conversation, that I ought to thank you all not only for the generic letting me be a part of all this but also for the genderic letting me be a part of all this (hoping some others will fill in stories .... Reeve? Stephanie? Lindsay? etc?). In some such conversations I'd be feeling like an unwanted (at best) outsider. Seems here to be just "her, and him", and a different her, and another different her, and .... Thanks for that too.

coffee, with a dollop of cream
Name: Ro.
Date: 2004-04-18 06:34:02
Link to this Comment: 9412

Thanks for that last posting, Paul... our group sh-him-her-s

Coursework is winding down and paying off as it comes to an end that is not an end at all, is it. I'm imagining standing with Orah on edge of her cliff, looking directly down onto a tall spiral. All that I can see is one closed circle, but from any other angle --any fresh angle will do--I can see the coil rising, loop over loop, closing never being an option, only up, up, and up.

Since we are now all on this cliff '-),
echoing your generic/genderic thought... I've gotta say that more than once I've been grateful for the grace and graciousness of my classmates who must have, at times, felt that their mother's older sister had orbed into the discussion. Thanks guys, for the generationic letting me, too, be a part, too.

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-18 09:14:53
Link to this Comment: 9413

Oh, Diane, who says, "Today I'm feeling pretty stupid." Today, I'd say, you are showing us your very smart thinking. Your question--"are we better because some of us...overlook the baggage that some people in the world impose on us?" and your claim--"I think healthy people are the happy people who are immune to this reality"--are precisely the question and claim that the Friday afternoon "Making Sense of Diversity" conversations have been working, repeatedly, since September. As Orah said, these are the questions we worked especially hard this past Friday. See my report on the conversation @ "Sexual Orientation and Perception." Orah, Em and Paul, who were also there, can fill you in w/ their perceptions about what happened--and I warmly invite you all to comment in that forum on the related range of ideas we've been wrestling with here. I echo both Diane and Paul in calling the process "delicious."

still thinking
Name: Lauren Fri
Date: 2004-04-18 15:23:07
Link to this Comment: 9416

Like Diane, my head is still buzzing from Thursday's discussion. Diane mentioned that we made a too-easy jump from the label of "cannibal" to the label of "lesbian." It's easy to read this as making a negative judgement of lesbians, casting lesbians in the same light as cannibals, but I don't think that's necessarily the case. I think I may've (or someone else, who knows with these lovely tangential discussions) brought up lesbians only because of Michel Foucault's theories on action-based identities. He points out the important step we take from labeling somebody's actions to labelling somebody based on their actions (i.e. from someone who engages in "homosexual acts" to "a homosexual"). While I would never agree with any sort of moral equivalency between lesbianism and cannibalism (no no no!), I still think there's an interesting parallel when looking at the formation of identity and our tendency to label people by what they "do" and not who they "are."

Diane also talked about the accepting nature of Bryn Mawr, a place where we can "ignore the baggage other people impose on us." To me, that parallels being on the ship, to an extent. I don't want to stretch this too far, but it's hard to judge someone for eating people when everyone else thinks it's an okay idea. Once you step of the ship, then all of a sudden you're forced to face the reality of what occured when you were there, and deal with the fact that other people may judge you for it even though people didn't on the ship. Nobody wants to "cut into something that has already healed," but often "reality" forces us to. Everyone will leave here, and the accepting environment that's been so good to us will have just strengthened us to better take on the narrow-mindedness we'll encounter every day.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-04-18 16:49:32
Link to this Comment: 9417

"i'm amidst the best company ... and that FACT is staring me right in the face, here in this forum. we're all telling our own stories, in our own languages, but, man, look at the beauty we're created here. just look! talk about intertwinning stories. that's what it's all about ... i think. my story is NOT beautiful by itself ..." -Orah

i needed to draw attention to this line, because i fully agree, and i think that this need we have is what makes us human. i often wonder why i get attached to relationships. i have never been able to settle on an answer that i was comfortable with, mostly because those answers were "too Una" for me. orah has just made me realize, i want my stories reflected back onto me so that i can see them and shape them, i want them augmented by the other people i bond with. i also want my stories to better theirs'. our need is so beautiful because it is so much more than just clingyness. seems egotistical i suppose, yet i can't frown on this self centered exchange because of the beauty it has given each of us.

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by maddness
Starving, hysterical naked
Dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix." -Ginsberg
YOU are my drug, and i willingly following you all into maddness

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-18 18:40:03
Link to this Comment: 9420

a"h, diane, while you are not safe i am not safe, and now you're really in the total animal soup of time- ... i'm with you in Rockland where you're madder than i am i'm with you in Rockland where you must feel strange i'm with you in Rockland where we are great writers on the same dreadful typewriter i'm with you in Rockland where you bang on the catatonic piano of the soul is innocent and immortal it should never die ungodly in the armed madhouse."

we are mad poets, desperatly trying to better each other's stories, we are icarus TOGETHER! bound together flying higher and higher and higher and i don't care if we burn because we're going to fly higher than anyone has ever flown!

icasrus intertwined
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-18 20:02:06
Link to this Comment: 9422

are we all aware of the fact that amazing things are happening here at BMC, in This evolution classroom ... we're the Beats of the twentyfirst least two students have already gone mad ... are you diggin' this?!?!?!?!? let's never forget it. k? let's never forget that we're beautiful golden sunflowers. that we're icarus intertwined. that we're burning burning burning like fabulous roman candles ... and we're going to EXPLODE like spiders across the sky. k?

Name: Mary
Date: 2004-04-19 00:28:05
Link to this Comment: 9428

I'm happy to see that feminism is alive and well in the Bryn Mawr traditionals (vs. McBrides where feminsim is a given because of my personal knowledge of them) I've been around since '99 and I had not witnessed any views on sexuality in course discussions, (and I have been attuned to the topic) until this course especially the "Una story". Look at what she brought out in us! Little sweet Una has lit a fire.

Don't know if you refer to it as feminism or is this label too constricted?

I think feminism is still a good description of 'a movement of the soul of women to claim more of what is theirs', and to guard the equality has been achieved. Because it was dire straights before and we are not that far away from the chains of psychological weaponry. And some women in America and the rest of the world are still under chains and lock.

In spite of this, I still like Una for who she is, somewhat fluffy (meaning feminine without free choice of what is femininity) , but the inner self is open and strong. Look at her time period and learn what it was like to be a woman back then. I too, am fluffy I'm sure, because of the previous generations of ideas of what a woman should be like, as we all are to some degree. The change is what fascinates me though. Wow' do you have any idea of what it was like to be a woman in the sixties? It was so much more backward than it is today. Women were the only ones who shopped for food! They were the only ones who changed diapers! I know there is still stagnation of the gender roles but there has been tremendous change. Now there is just as many men in the supermarkets as there are women. Gender has come a long way to release itself from the bonds of power, but not far enough. And I am so glad that some of you see that! That's why I am happy to see the storm that has erupted in our stories. And that's why I will be in Washington this upcoming Sunday to March for Women's Rights!

Name: Kat
Date: 2004-04-19 14:52:14
Link to this Comment: 9438

Ahg! So much beat generation between Diane and Orah! I want us to be our own generation!

Also: reading Lauren's post, I took away her claim that "Everyone will leave here, and the accepting environment that's been so good to us will have just strengthened us to better take on the narrow-mindedness we'll encounter every day. "
Now, this is what I would like to believe, but as there is NO ONE in my family who likes Bryn Mawr except me, I have heard every argument to the contrary- How can we talk about diversity at an institution which will not even consider half the populationof the world for admission? How can we be sure that the "warm, accepting environment" won't just make us soft?
In my continued decision and effort to attend Bryn Mawr, I grapple with this on a fairly regular basis...I still have not found peace. But as Orah has noted, we are 'flying higher together' so: can anyone help me?

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-19 15:17:17
Link to this Comment: 9440

i Beat to no one's throb but my own, thank you very much. No, i'm not a Beat, or a feminist, or ... i don't think ginsberg ever mentioned icarus ... yes, sometimes i want just to quote the masters, but i don't depend. I AM. (though i might say that i do depend on all of you to listen and react to me and place your story next to mine)

don't want to be "the jewish student in every classroom who makes it her personal responsibility to let the whole class know that she was personally affected by the holocaust." i'm not trying to do that. but, yesterday was holocaust rememberance day and i think it's imperative to actually remember. who was it? walter benjamine? who said that if we don't remember the victums of history that we are victumizing them again by letting the victors hold history at the tip of their pens. so ... i remember with you ...
did you know that if you counted (1,2,3,...) for your whole life, 5 days a week, 9-5, all year long, you would never make it to 6 million. not even close.
i read names for 15 minutes today outside the campus center and thought that each name on that list was an embodied story. no longer embodies these stories have been reduced to names. no longer stories, they are now ... what are they now? names read amongst other names. demolished stories that come together only to tell One story. THIS IS DEATH. THESE NAMES I READ ARE THE HOLOCAUST. there is nothing more.
think of your own life ... think of how desperatly we try to get people to understand us, to know our stories, think of how desperatly we value our stoies, we spend our whole lives telling our stories .... and now 6 million stories are contracted into names. gutted so bare that only ink remains. each of those names was an aching desperate story. now they are names that i read in a monotone.

kat's dilemma
Name: Julia
Date: 2004-04-19 15:40:34
Link to this Comment: 9441

Kat: How can we talk about diversity at an institution which will not even consider half the populationof the world for admission? How can we be sure that the "warm, accepting environment" won't just make us soft?

Those are some serious questions. While I can't offer any concrete answers, I can say what I choose to believe about Bryn Mawr thus far in my short stay. I firmly believe that Bryn Mawr could NOT be Bryn Mawr if it was coed. If Bryn Mawr were coed, I fear the traditions, community, and spirit would be completely different if existant at all. Furthermore, I don't think of the college as excluding half of the population but strengthening the other half (and hopefully strengthening the entire population in turn). While I wish boys could experience and appreciate Bryn Mawr, I don't think many college-age boys could or would handle it. I think you are probably right to think that we may be missing out of something, different perspectives and stories, by not having boys, and there is an honest fear in that we are not as liberal or open minded as we think we are because of that, but I honestly don't think the lack of boys makes us less liberal, definitely a little biased but not narrowed.

I acknowledge and thank Mary for her BMC/feminism praise. I am continually suprised and impressed by the diverse breed of women here, the school and the pride that comes with knowing other Mawters. :)

I can't imagine being in a situation such as your own without the full support of my family, so i wish you good luck, Kat, in your search for comfort (it sounds like in your "defiance" you might already be a pretty strong Mawrter move).

an oblique (thanks anne for the new word) response
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-19 19:39:25
Link to this Comment: 9444

it is a FACT of my life that i am signifigantly more articulate here at BMC than i am at Haverford. it's NOTICABLE. what is that all about? i'm not sitting in class consiously worring about what all those cute boys think of me ... no. but, something about a signfigant male presence in the room makes me unable to speak articulatly ... i still talk, but i don't sound as smart. what the hell is that all about? what about a male presence intimidates me? and it's not even a consious intimidation, in my mind i couldn't care less what those boys think of me ... but when i try to verbalize something it just don't work out as well as it works here. could it be because, only in recent years have women been allowed into a classroom? do you really think that after all those centuries and centuries of restriction that in a breif hundred years (not even!) we have been able to overcome the bias in the classroom? i think not. ((like the arguments for affirmative action.)) sexism is something that is imbedded into our very language! ((i get all this crazy language stuff from this religion prof. who says that "language is a virus from outer space.")) just as religion is an integral part of our language, disallowing us to live in a state that actually separates politics and religion so too our academic language embodies the deepest forms of sexism. same story. sexism is so imbedded into the way that we communicate that unless we revolutionize our communication then i'm still going to be sounding dumb at haverford and like myself at bryn mawr. it's like that whole "male gaze" thing ... i don't really know much about it ...someone out there must know more about it than i do.... from what i understand the male gaze is the look a person gives another that commodifies the subject. checkin' out someone's "meat." the travesty this gaze has implemented into the female population is that some women (i'd venture to say the majority) have become dependant on this gaze. they function in every aspect of life with the assumption that this gaze is upon them. think of that! this gaze has become a disability in culture, this gaze has been brought into the female anatomy and we're having a lot of trouble shaking it off. i'd say that una is a perfect example of someone who is dependant on this gaze.
so BMC is kinda a response to hundreds of years of the male gaze .... we're tired of it! we're stepping out of the sexist language of academia, creating our own language, screaming in our own language, taking off, not only our aprons, but peeling that disgusting gaze from our bodies and saying: not only is this meat beautiful but this meat has a mind and a soul that is even more beautiful!

but, shoot, i don't even like talking about this stuff ... anyone want to return to the lit. we're reading ?

cannibalism redux
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-19 22:13:25
Link to this Comment: 9448

I'm afraid this is less about "the literature we're reading" than about a fascination that literature has aroused in a number of us...

I want to return--probably w/ much more attention/intensity than she wants (?)--to something Diane said last week: "We were drawn back to the topic of cannibalism, more specifically what it means to be Labeled a cannibal. Then without skipping a beat we moved on to the label 'lesbian.'"

Lauren thought she may have inititated that "too-easy jump" because of what she knew about Michel Foucault's theories on action-based identities: "Cannibalism and lesbianism are parallel in terms of "our tendency to label people by what they 'do' and not who they 'are.' "

My own memory of our "lovely tangential discussion" was that Nancy took the first leap, by mentioning her encounter w/ an '03 English thesis by Monica Hesse, "Queering the Cannibal: Race and the Eroticizing of Consumptive Narratives in American Literature." Given my own "consuming" appetite, I had to read that thesis over the weekend. What I found in it was a very interesting (and useful?) explanation of "why" we might have made the association we did. Here's a redaction of Monica's argument (for more, go to the English House Lounge and check out the thesis yourself...):

After a brief overview of how cannibalism functioned "as a metaphor for communion" in Greek legends and early Christocentric literature, Monica turns to an examination of modern representations, in which "the cannibal and his human dinner" are so often "an interracial, male-male couple." She centers her analysis (among other texts, but primarily) on Melville's first adventure novel, Typee, and Tommo's "increasingly paranoid" search for proof for his "flutuating suspicions regarding the eating habits of the Typee....formerly mutually exclusive terms of 'cannibal' and 'friendly' begin to blur..." It soon also becomes obvious that Tommo's cannibal fears/desires are stand-ins for sexual fantasies:

"The body is a convenient boundary for the definition of the self...there are only two physical activities in which...bodily differentiation ...becomes indeterminate: sexual activities in which the boundary of the body is violated by the penetration of the body...or cannibalistic activities where one body is literally taken into another. Like penetrative sex, cannibalism subverts the notions of inside/outside and self/others, as the boundaries between bodies are repeatedly ignored.... Typee, cannibalism is...'a way of engaging, appropriating, representing, and then consuming difference'....The sailor/native 'couples' in Typee...are allowed to desire each other, and to contemplate the consuming/consummation of/with each other because of their racial differences... the 18th and 19th centuries, cannibalism was a permanent identity that distinguished groups of people. Inversely, homosexuality was invisible...sodomy was...just a... singular occurence...Cannibalism provided a space in which authors could discuss that which was not discussable and speak of that which was unspeakable.... [here's where Lauren's reference comes back into play]...we no longer conceive of people who eat people as a cultural category. Inversely we do conceive of homosexuality as an ...identity....Michel Foucault writes that...'the sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.'"

If you're still interested, there's lots more: for instance, Jeffrey Dahmer's victims were mostly homosexual, mostly black; he said that eating people "made them feel that they were a part of me, and it gave a sexual satisfaciton to do that." His words were of desire, not abhorrence. Shades of the recent German Cannibalism case we (so gruesomely) also discussed in my section, in which the judge ruled that the victim was "just fulfilling his fantasy of a bonding experience."

So, my final (wierd?) thought of the night: that in the course of Naslund's novel, Una ceases not only to be a "wife"; she also learns not to "be" a cannibal: she gives up both an identity grounded in a single act, and the more general desire to "consume" another. As she observes re: Maria Mitchell:

"Maria...seemed so preoccupied with the outer world...left inner feelings to take care of themselves....Maria seemed content merely to focus on what she herself wanted to do. Perhaps that was a good an answer as any to the question of the status of women." (465-466)

More on this outward-focusing tomorrow. Thanks for listening. Good night, all.

friends don't let friends eat people
Name: Lauren Fri
Date: 2004-04-20 01:42:43
Link to this Comment: 9462

In response to Kat: I don't really know where I was going with all that touchy feely stuff. Bryn Mawr is a good environment in many ways, but also bad in many ways. (Hardly an earth-shattering point, I know.) But you ask (or your family members ask): "How can we talk about diversity at an institution which will not even consider half the population of the world for admission? How can we be sure that the 'warm, accepting environment' won't just make us soft?" As for diversity, I think that we miss a lot by not having men here, but there's also much to be gained. Perhaps if we view it in terms of biological diversity, BMC as an all-women's institution is just our niche, yet we exist in a diverse "ecosystem" that includes the trico community and the greater Philadelphia metro area. I'm sure that argument would be ridiculed by people outside of this class, but in context maybe?... Not sure. And I think this accepting environment will only make us soft if we hide in the Bryn Mawr "bubble." I don't forget for a moment that a harsher reality exists outside our castle-like dorms and well-kept greens.

In response to Orah's compelling argument for single sex education: I must admit that I feel more like meat at Bryn Mawr than at Haverford. Although my personal experience certainly doesn't shatter the hundreds of years of male gaze. As Laura Mulvey writes: "...the look, pleasurable in form, can be threatening in content... In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female." She goes on, but I'm now completely off-topic, and not meaning to carry this discussion further off on a tangent. (Ah well, too late.)

And as for cannibalism (and -- more specifically -- Queering Cannibalism): I am definitely intrigued, and I want to read the rest of that thesis. For now, I found a paper online that seems to explore similar themes: Lovers of Human Flesh: Homosexuality and Cannibalism in Melville's Novels. This paper touches upon Melville's personal life, and also has specific references to Moby Dick (I'm returning to the literature, for a change!). The author explores Queequeg and Ishmael's relationship in the context of the cannibalism/homosexuality pair (toward the end of the very long paper, which I skimmed). And finally, I thought the biologists among us might be interested in The Evolution of Sexual Cannibalism.

I want to give a huge apology for this way too long and mostly irrelevant rant, but now that I've written it I might as well post it.

continuing the divergence
Name: cham
Date: 2004-04-20 01:49:45
Link to this Comment: 9463

ok guys, i was all pumped up and ready to post something relevant to our readings tonight... BUT despite anne's valient effort to refocus our discussion, i have to put in my two sense regarding this gender/BMC dialogue.

all semester ive been waiting to write an orah-length posting and here's my chance....gender!!

orah, i think what you experience at haverford is a direct result of a subconscious acknowledgment of the presence of men who do not respect you or see you as an intellectual equal (or any other kind of equal for that matter). i feel that im somewhat of an authority on male to female vs. male to male interactions, as i am one of a small subpopulation of gender chameleons. i can wake up in the morning and be a guy or be a woman (not that i actually consciously think about this). i use the mens room just as much as i use the womens room (and i can tell you that men NEVER wash their hands!!). when i am seen as i guy, men treat me with an unbelievably greater level of respect than when i am seen as a woman. if a man thinks im a guy, just like that, i am able to lift heavy things, understand sports, and be treated as an equal. just last night i stopped to help some people who had broken down in the middle of the road (surprise surprise im good with cars), but get this my stong feminist mawrters...when a cop came by to help, he told the women to stand out of the way while us guys (i.e., the cop and i) pushed the car off the road. so, i was strong enough to push a car when he thought i was a guy, but he didnt even consider that the other women (strong athletic women at that) could possibly be able to help.
so, here's my point: the men we interact with in acadamia are no different than the sexist cop, theyre just more subtle and sophisticated in their sexism. and orah, i think deep down (even if we dont want to admit it), women know this and their behaviors (in and out of the classroom) reflect this knowledge.

Name: simran
Date: 2004-04-20 01:52:32
Link to this Comment: 9464

Trinh T. Minh-ha says in her essay "Not You/Like You: Postcolonial Women and the Interlocking Questions of Identity and Difference": " heart X must be X; Y must be Y; and X cannot be Y. Those running around yelling 'X is not X' and 'X can be Y' usually land in a hospital, rehabilitation center, a concentration camp or a reservation."

I was helping a friend edit her thesis and came across this quote and thought to myself, this HAS to go up on the forum. It's makes me ache, this quote and funnily enough it makes me more sad than mad...cause it's true. Wonder if we're all headed for one of those "institutions"!!

I was thinking about this in relation to AW and MB and how people felt it seemed to limit the meaning of MD. I don't think it does. I think, like Anne's Paul D quote, I think it takes seed in MD and then moves on to be something quite different. I think that move can be compared to something Una herself does in the novel- she starts as Ahab's Wife but ends up as the Star-Gazer. What I think of this text is very separate from MD. I on;y find msyelf reminded of MD when Naslund makes specific references to stuff that happened in MD and uses lines in different ways. Otherwise, I can keep them entirely separate in my mind.

As for which books have shaped me... I find that question fascinating. At this point, I think I would have to go back to the book that made me canibalistic about reading- Gone With The Wind... From then on I read MANY MANY books that were wonderful but the ones that really shaped me-
Fountainhead, We The Living, Midnights Children, God of Small Things. Cannot think of anymore- about why these books, that would be another loooong story.

in response to cham;
Name: simran
Date: 2004-04-20 01:59:01
Link to this Comment: 9465

I'm going to have to process this story you just told for i can't believe it to be a quality of all men in general or i will lose faith!!! i know it to be true of the cop, true of my father, true of my ex-boyfriend...but, not true of my friend rohan, brought up by a single mother, not true of my brother who meets fiercely competitive/intelligent women in his workplace. so i don't know if it can be said to be a male-wide phenomena. I think a lot of male contruction of the kind of behaviour you speak of (like with the cop!) comes from having interacted with women who encourage that kind of thing and expect it. i can imagine the women he may have interacted with to make this the norm for him- thus in a perverse way i can understand where he's coming from... what does that make me? i don't quite know...

Name: Ro.
Date: 2004-04-20 07:13:00
Link to this Comment: 9471

I LOVED your post. I would push cars with you any day, personfriend.

The whole question of women's education segregated from men's--all the reasons pro-this, con-that are fascinating for someone who went to an all male school for the last three years of high school. I was the first and only (for two years) young woman at a college prep "science and technology" school in upstate New York. It was actually two schools on one property--one normal, the other not. We "techies" took our liberal arts classes at the "normal" school--that amounted to about half of them. Talk about culture-induced schizophrenia! First day, they accidentally enrolled me in boys' gym....I even got a locker assignment. Cool. Unfortunately, someone noticed.

Differences? Oh me and towards me. In the mixed classes, I acted in an odd (for me), demuring way (the word even sounds feminine). Men act ENTITLED. Women believe they have to EARN IT. In the all guy tech classes--physics, electronics, metalurgy, design--that sort of stuff--it was gloves off, get down, everybody in the soup.

So, I'm thinkin that maybe there's some psychological critical mass thing going on, if there are only a few women in a class--or office--or wherever, then it's much easier for everyone there to ignore the "I'm entitled, You're not" acculturations, but if it tends towards more than some number of one or the other--1/8, 1/4, 1/3, 1/2--some switch-over number, then our old scripts kicks in?

As an aside, dating never came up, never happened with any of the other students on the sci-tech side of the house. Whatever dates I had in high school were with guys who were in the "normal" program. So I guess I was seen as one of the guys by the guys--which parallels Cham's post--we're either defined as one of the gals ("other") or one of the guys ("like"), but in either case, GUYS OWN THE DICTIONARY. And we're back to words, words, words.

Name: ro.
Date: 2004-04-20 07:57:20
Link to this Comment: 9473

Cham's comment about mens' rooms reminded me...

Many moons ago, I worked as a software engineer--work best done late at night for some reason, so I would often be at the computer lab with a handful of other geeks and no one else to bother us. Sometimes, when things got slow and I got curious, I'd go into the men's rooms to copy the latest graffitti, which I would then transfer to the ladies' rooms--my own contribution to the education of working women. The guys had some excellent stuff. Funny thing is that the cleaning crew would always scrubb the graffitti off the ladies' room stalls but never off the men's. No place is safe or sacred.

Gender Dynamics
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-04-20 11:55:50
Link to this Comment: 9483

I might as well contribute to the discussion...even if a part of me is still in Moby Dick mode. (yes, yes. I'm sure I'm the only one).

And yet I still find a way to incorporate Moby Dick into the conversation. After reading MD the word 'loomings' has acquired a more illustrative definition in my mind. There is always something that 'looms'. Something in the distance that exists in shadow waiting to take a more tangible form. Gender relations was the looming shadow on Thursday's discussion of cannibalism and I was not surprised to find that it materialized into a more concrete discussion on the course forum. It's not that a discussion of cannibalism will always have a looming association with gender relations, rather it is a looming association that we, as a collective group, create whenever we see the opportunity for it. If anything, it gives us the opportunity to understand ourselves a little bit better.

I don't have much else to contribute to the discussion. I went to a predominately male high school in Ramallah, but it wasn't a negative experience. I refused to be defined by my fellow classmates, by my teachers, or anyone else of authority and I suppose you can afford to do that in a society that is lacking definition on all sorts of different levels. I agree with what's been said...we exist in a socially-constructed society where we are defined by our gender (a socially-costructed pasteboard mask, perhaps? Ok, no more MD...) but if there is any theme in the class that deserves reiteration it is that meaning/definitions don't only exist outside the self but emanate from it. We, as women, are responsible for the definitions too.

Things aren't static though. Evolution has shown us that even organisms are capable of change. Definitions can change too...if you want them to.

Next Week's Presentation
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-04-20 11:59:35
Link to this Comment: 9484

Ok, this probably isn't the place to do it and I apologize but anyone NOT in a group yet for next week's presentation?

Let me know...

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-04-20 16:27:17
Link to this Comment: 9489

aia: you're welcome to work with kat and i! and that goes for anyone else who is still looking for a group.

(hopefully not) My Peak
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-20 17:07:14
Link to this Comment: 9491

hating that slow walk from the classroom to my computer screen, that space between ideas and articulation and the frustration of loosing the Moment in that walk! i think i'll take off my sandals next time and run.
an idea:
the only stories that have flown high enough to be remembered are those that blatantly wrestle each other and in so doing gain height and immortality. my story only stands if placed next to yours, if listened to by you. diane and i wrestle to form two autonomous stories, each one eternally striving to better the other story. we push each other to do better and better and that is how we get height. on that survey that anne and paul sent around at the begining of the semester asking, "why do you want to take this course?" i wrote, "because anne dalke makes me think." and it's true. if i didn't have people challenging me with their stories than my story would be static, i wouldn't need to think unless challenged to do so. james talks about it in pragmatism ... we only evolve if we are willing to loosen our grip on those things that we hold as True. evolution happens when our basic Truths are exchanged for others ... and the only way to do this is to open yourself to dialogue with the Other. only then is evolution and life an on going process ... it's how we live. the only way we can live is if we let parts of our selves die, if we loose certain things ... only then is there space for flight. things must die in order for us to grow (poets, i think, MUST have experienced loss, only then can they help form auden's healing fountain to quench The Human Tragedy that is loss.) in a way i am always trying to better you, but NEVER am i trying to anihilate you, or take listeners away from you and bring them to myself. quite the contrary! i am what boostes you higher because i listen, but more essentially because i challenge your story with mine ... and i assume that your reciprocle act will be to booste my story higher. it's a love affair masked in competition!
so, my evolution depends on YOU. my evolution depends on THE OTHER, that which is completely other from myself: YOU. so! in our essential wrestling match we must always be defining ourselves lest we loose our selves and become one with the other; then the evolution stops. sososo!!! though elliot is so distressed by the fact that he cannot capture the moment, that he cannot say the moment in words, and i am so frustrated with the fact that no one will ever really understand me that i WILL lie on my death bed crying, "that is not what i meant at all," i realize, here, that the life is in the tussle! the act of wrestling equals living! it's not about getting to the beauty!! it's about the process to the beauty, it's about the physicality of bettering each other's stories. it's not about who lives and who dies! it's about what we force each other to become! (eternal number of exclamation pts.)
and my religion prof. who says that God is completely Other. God is that which keeps us searching. God IS the impenetrable absence, the ungraspable phantom because God must be eternal if life is to be eternal. and the only eternal desire is that which you never acheive! and 'erternal desire' only exists if the desire is never quenched, if there is a lacking in whatever i acheive. and THAT is the nature of the Other. You will Never Know Me and I will Never Know You, but YOU must BE if I am to BE!!! (...) contrary to common beleive people are impenetrable and we're never going to stop having sex. (i feel like one of those english teachers we all had in high school who brings EVERYTHING back to sex ... you know, you'd always giggle about him/her ... yup, that's me, i guess.) BUT,gosh, how beautiful is that process ... or, how ... is This process of coming to Know each other, this wrestling, this mutual telling and listening ... who needs beauty when we have the process to beauty ?
if i want any companionship, any responsiveness to ANYTHING i've written this whole semester THIS is it! This is my culmination to this semester (hopefully that's a lie.)
ps anne said something today that made me think ... i've defined beauty for myself this semester as the process from disorganization to organization and i'm still wondering if there is such a thing as a process of creating beauty that moves from organization to disorganization ... (((only thing, for those of you at the beauty symposium, that made me think that this was a process was mark lords presentation.) but that's another unbearably long post ... try to beat that for length, cham ... i challenge you.

Name: cham
Date: 2004-04-20 21:17:01
Link to this Comment: 9494

oh its on now orah my friend. unfortunately, my thesis is not going to write itself....BUT......

Name: cham
Date: 2004-04-20 21:18:20
Link to this Comment: 9496

....hows this for a back to back post!!! if i have a stroke of genius in the next 4 hours...ill accept that challenge my friend.

that adjacent tower....the tower of babel? falling
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-20 22:46:30
Link to this Comment: 9500

I wanted to pick up on that tower built adjacent to mine last night (who was Adam? who was Eve?): Cham's description of herself as "one of a small subpopulation of gender chameleons" (great phrase, new to me, thanks for it)--and tell you all about about a workshop on being a transgender ally that I attended last Sunday afternoon; my report is on the diversity forum.

you're keeping me up at night.
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-21 00:27:30
Link to this Comment: 9503

was trying to sleep, but kept thinking about anne's question at the end of her notes ... standing on our cliff ... where are you looking? to sea, to the sky, at those next to you ... i'm curious where you're all looking. i like that line out there where the sky slips into the sea. i like that place so much i can't sleep.

Name: Ro.
Date: 2004-04-21 07:39:20
Link to this Comment: 9509

Looked over my shoulder walking away from class yesterday and a new clutch of thought-trolls were chattering behind me...

Ahab is mostly not there, yet "Ahab's Wife" is as much a love story about Una and Ahab as it is anything else we might label it. "Distance makes the heart grow fonder." What does that cliche mean? The more abstract and absent Ahab is, the more approachable he seems to me. He was far more available and concrete in Moby-Dick than in Ahab's Wife. And far less appealing. Is that ultimately true for us as we interact with each other?

Is fantasy a necessary balancer of reality as both relate to human interactions? If our physical and conscious realities evolve, why not our abilities to fantasize? Not just the fantasies and fictions themselves, but our "fantastic" mechanisms.

I wonder.

the secrets of the world
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-21 09:56:02
Link to this Comment: 9510

i think that is very interesting, ro. whenever us kids start to fight in my house my dad says, "familiarity breads contempt." (he's just that kind of guy.) i don't think it 's a conincidence that the most vague/abstract book ever written, the book with the most white space, is the book that has lasted the longest in our history ... the bible. people can never get to it's heart, The Meaning and humans are not quiters so we're going to keep trying to get at it. maybe The Secret is that there is no Essential Meaning (plato's wrong ... or just beautifully poetic) ... that would be the greatest trick of all time!

some biblical scholar once said that the secrets of the world are in the white space between the words. i like that.

didn't have the energy to explain this last night, but the reason i like that soft, comfoting place where the sky slips into the sea is because it's the one place that we're never going to get to. we're moving into the stars, and moving through the sea, but we're never going to discover THAT place. and that's what i've learned this semester: i don't really want to get THERE. because then it'd all be over. if elliot could have gotten to The Moment we wouldn't have his poetry...he be too busy basking in The Unarticulated Moment and we wouldn't need his poetry if we knew how to get to that Moment ((recently been flipping through a little Virgina Woolfe and she seems to talk about The Moment too ... so many things to read too little time)) i like evoluion i don't like perfection. i like the process to beauty not the beauty. i like the story telling, the poetry, the ... i like getting to know you, the striving toward understanding ... but secretly i never want to really understand you because what then would we have to talk about?

white spaces
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-04-21 11:31:35
Link to this Comment: 9519

"the secrets of the world are in the white space between the words" reminds me of

"Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?" .... Laurence Durrell (Justine, first volume of the Alexandria Quartet). Which might, it occurs to me be a good set of texts for some future version of this course.

Perhaps the same, but with a slightly different take? Notice that Durrell doesn't put the "secrets of the world" in the "white space"/"silence". Instead, it is on that space that "everything depend(s)" ... ie, that's where one finds not what has been or is but rather the wherewithal to create what will be?

It was something along these lines that was on my mind in creating the picture of evolution that includes both heavily branched, interacting regions and sparser regions of to some degree isolated trunks. There needs to be not only interaction but also silence/white space to keep the whole process going? Ishmael/Una both need some space to grow in order to generate a subsequent generative set of interactions?

Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-04-21 12:03:15
Link to this Comment: 9520

There is, of course, a continuing male/female subtext (both enriched and challenged by Cham) in this conversation. Just ran onto

"The need to work, to create yourself, and then the need to participate in group activities to me are not incompatible at all." in a very interesting, relevant? interview with Anais Nin.

in the silence, in the blank, in the whiteness
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-21 16:18:15
Link to this Comment: 9521

"secrets of the world" vs. "on which everything depends"
"that's where one finds not what has been or is but rather the wherewithal to create what will be (?)" -paul.
if we combine these writers we find both our future and our past (and the present for that matter) in the blank, in the silence. (("time past and time future both exist in time present" ... all exists in the unarticulated moment ... everything IS within silence ... things stop existing when we put up our boundaries: words.)) what is silence ? (real question that ... ) is it the place where we imagine ? are both our future and our past imbedded in pure imagination ? is the world created by/ dependant on imagination?!?! think of the possibilities!!!
and i revise (with a bunch of hesitation) : a poet does not have to experience loss, rather she must be able to imagine loss. holden's little bro allie is asked, 'who is the best war poet?" he answers, "emily dickinson."

come on cham, give me something, thesis can yeild to genious: what is silence?

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-04-21 16:22:00
Link to this Comment: 9522

I wish I could be like you Cham. I wish that my breasts weren't a size D and my hips weren't so curvy. Maybe then I could get to use the men's room (without being quickly ushered out) or be treated with some more respect by most of the condescending men that I've already encountered in my short life. But because I can't physically distance myself from women I have become a man on the inside, especially in my interactions with other men. I'm often abbrasive, unfeeling, challenging, and curt with them. I show them that I'm intelligent, over and over again. And they hate it, I'm very extreme. I am what men call a bitch. I hear so many men complain about tough feminists. Don't they realize that they've done this to us?

Alright, so I really am comfortable with how I look, and I did make a conscious choice to become the woman that I am, but I wanted to illustrate my point..

Dear Diane:
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-21 19:05:23
Link to this Comment: 9524

that's a STRONG (!!!) post. man oh man! is that "abraisiveness" inside a male thing do you think ?humm ... i can identify with that harshness on the inside, but i don't charaterize it as a male thing. my bro on the other hand is the most feeling person i know ((anyone see royal tenenbaums? i'm ben stiller he's luke wilson)) he is IN TOUCH with his emotions ... i don't think of him as female on the inside ...
because you can't physically look like a guy are you saying that you've tried to mentally transform yourself into a guy? are you saying that "tough feminism" means denying your femaleness and merging with a "maleness," showing that women are not bound to the perameters of femininity ?
i think what i'm contesting is our CONSTRUCTED categories of men as abraisive and women as sensitive ... am i less female or less feminine because i'm not "in touch with my emotions" and i didn't cry at ahab's wife ? could that "abraisiveness" be not a ingesting of a male identity, or characteristic, but rather your way of saying 'fuck you' in a language that they'll understand.
more basically i am contesting plato ... the idea that there is Femininity "Out There" and there is Masculinity "Out There." i think they are both socially constructed. THEY CAN BE ALTERED, THEY ARE NOT ABSOLUTE. but, scarily, they are becoming Absolutes. and i really and truely do not know what to do about it. i am aware of my problem at haverford, but how do i relearn language? how do i rewrite language? please tell me. i'm stuck in a matrix and it's literally suffocating me.

in a way your fuck you walk is a result of the male gaze. because of the gaddam gaze we've had to learn to walk a certian walk ... is it a defensive walk?let's say i don't walk to that beat ? really! what happens ? rape? what would society look like if we didn't have to speak defensively, PROVING each time we speak that we are intelligent, or walk defensivly ? what would YOU look like if you weren't always proving or protecting yourself ?
((three times in one day is over doing it .... please accept my apologies for hogging space ....)))

Name: reeve
Date: 2004-04-21 20:23:28
Link to this Comment: 9525

In the beginning I was frustrated and unmoved by Ahab's Wife, as the book progressed i became less critical and more sucked in, but now I find myself having descended rapidly again into dislike and I think it may all have to do with one little thing that somehow has enough perfusive power to dramatically color my opinion: Maria has just explained the special once in a lifetime appearance of Halley's comet and invited Una to watch for it with her. Una accepts, but thinks to herself that she will not sacrifice a night in her conjugal bed with Ahab in order to view the comet. This short, unremarkable (in any other terms) moment in the novel somehow produced a rush of sadness and coldness unlike my reaction to any of the tragic, gruesome, wrenching events of Una's story. I grant her her fierce love. I applaud her passion. But I can't imagine anything more deeply uniting, more romantic, more desireable, more fulfilling than to stand with love in the face of the infinite and feel the infinite impossibility of my love become its infinite strength and magnifiscence. And i can't imagine anything more stifling, more infuriating than letting sex be an excuse for not stargazing. Does this make sense? I don't think I've articulated this as clearly as I would like to, but while I continue to think, I wonder if anyone else noticed or reacted to this passage. It makes a mockery of the novel's alternate title.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-04-21 20:28:31
Link to this Comment: 9526

a response to orah (i hope that it answers your questions):

i'm not saying that toughness is an inherantly male trait. yet, they seem to think it is, don't they? well i've reclaimed it. i am attempting to take back an attitude that they think they've invented.

femininity is a powerful part of this. in short, femininity=power, over them, that is. so you're right, women own that "fuck you" walk. but i also think that the walk is something that has been socially constructed by men. they attend to it, it makes us feel badly about ourselved, and so we have have to reclaim it. generation after generation. and it is once again ours.

i confess, i'm angry at men, these recent postings are a direct reflection of my personal life. but i don't know many women who aren't, and i think that says something. my observations obviously don't hold true for every man (look at Paul, for g-d's sake!), but its a trend i've been noticing among many. and so i'm using rather extreme language/claims to make my point. i hope you all don't mind.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-21 20:40:19
Link to this Comment: 9527

thank you for that. angry words, i think, are the only words that are going to be listened to.

"women own that "fuck you" walk. but i also think that the walk is something that has been socially constructed by men. they attend to it, it makes us feel badly about ourselves, and so we have had to reclaim it. generation after generation. and it is once again ours."

can our goal be to create a world in which we don't need to own that walk any more ? won't need to use that defensive tone i use at 'ford ?

accepting the challenge--of distillation
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-21 22:35:44
Link to this Comment: 9529

So, as Orah challenges Cham and challenges Cham (and Cham tries to write her thesis...) I thought I'd answer a challenge I got in Tuesday's class, which I deflected (=tried to get you guys to answer) then, because I thought I didn't know the answer, but which *I think I do/I think I did* all along, and so (of course) want to try to give now.

At the end of my talk on "reviewing our journey together," in which I called attention to the generative process among us as being "less simple, far less binary, far more interactive and unpredictable" than what I saw as the insularity and lack of interaction in Ishmael-Paul's images of twin towers and trunked trees, Paul said, "but you still haven't explained the squeezing." It's true that, in my strong need to point out the limits of what Ro, in a later refinement, called "distillation"/what Elizabeth D. called "focusing on one thing that leaves out other things," I ended up omitting altogether that portion of the process of the-evolution-of-stories; and I want to try, here, to re-insert it.

I can emphasize, as I said in my April Fool's talk on Emergent Literature,

  • the unpredictable and social (=unpredictable BECAUSE social) creative process: literary analysis is the making of new stories out of the stories we have preserved; the most useful of those are continuously generative of what is new;
  • the rule-guided unpredictability of the process and its outcome, as well as the input of "neighborliness," or "adjacency," or "family resemblance";
  • the WAY such new stories get generated involves alteration between contraction and expansion ("an outlier provides a pattern for repeated variants"),
  • interactions in the environment leave traces (in literature) which are continuously picked up (in literature and literary theory) and re-combined in new configurations;
  • but I have, to date, failed to emphasize the role of teachers as pruners/ cleaner-outers-of-over-crowded spaces (=in the terms above, as creators of "white spaces" from which new things can emerge);
  • the paper on "Emergent Pedagogy" (which Paul and I are drafting now w/ Doug Blank in Computer Science and Kim Cassidy in Psychology) falls short in identifying our job as teachers as "two-fold: to create rich environments and to function as a node for sharing information."
  • We have a third: an additional part of our job is to "squeeze" your stories, to abstract patterns from them--and so enable all of us to expansively create new ones.

I've got more to say about the interaction of distilling and expanding (both w/in individual brains and between them), as a kind of marriage of two minds (both within and among)....

Upcoming soon. Will quit right now for breath (mine, yours).

Polyamorous Epistemology
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-21 23:24:47
Link to this Comment: 9531

Okay, deep breath. I'm going on....

I've been working this year w/ a group of graduate students who have wanted to engage in a course on Explorations of Teaching. Tomorrow we are bringing to campus two of the very well known authors of Women's Ways of Knowing (1986), Blythe Clinchy and Mary Belenky. One of the texts they've asked us to read for our workshop Friday morning is Clinchy's essay on "Connected and Separate Knowing: Toward a Marriage of Two Minds," Knowledge, Difference and Power (1996). Of course Clinchy's title caught my attention: it reminded me, pleasurably, of the ceremony we enacted in class during hell week. Clinchy does two interesting things w/ the notion of "two minds, married" that *expand* on (or is it distill from?) our ceremony in ways that seem quite congruent w/ discussion we have had since.

Assume, for starters, that her "separate knowing" is our "isolated/squeezing/contracting/distilling" process, and that her "connected knowing" is our "social expansion." Then listen to her description of how we engage in the backing-and-forthing between those two processes within each of our individual minds:

"It means to treat your mind as if it were a friend"....take an active stance towards one's thoughts and feelings, rather than simply letting them run on a sort of "unconscious monologue" in the background of one's the Monetessori teacher to your thought, leave it free to follow its own law of growth, your function being to observe its activities, provide suitable material to enchanel them, but never to coerce it into docility.

After some meditation on whether this sort of self-knowing must proceed knowing another, Clinchy goes on to consider the paradox of separateness within connection: seeing the self as BOTH distinct and autonomous AND merged and embedded. And here she draws on the very good work of Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, a philosopher/psychanalyst who has written wonderful books about (among other topics) Anna Freud and Hannah Arendt, and whom I knew/learned a lot from when she taught at Haverford a few years ago:

emphathizing involved...becoming another person's habitat, without digesting the person. [Sorry--canNOT seem to get away from cannibalism!] You are mentally pregnant...with a person with her history....But this depends upon your ability to tell the difference between the subject and yourself, to appreciate the role that she plays in your psychic life.

Then Peter Elbow, the writing guru, weighs in, to say that in good learning both parties must be maximally transformed--in a sense deformed. There is violence in learning. We cannot learn something without eating it, yet we cannot really learn it either without being chewed up. [Yes, YES: "Who is not a cannibal?" Moby-Dick, Ch. 65]

Clinchy's final move: I now bring to my teaching a polygamous epistemology, and I find that far from disrupting the first marriage [to separated knowing], the second [to connected learning] has stabilized it: the two are complementary. My students and I are amenable to argument, if we know that people are really listening. We are willing to dilly-dally in one another's embryonic notions, aware that with careful cultivation, these notions might blossom into powerful ideas--possibly even testable hypotheses to be subject to the rigors of the doubting game. And, where once I hoped only that my students might achieve competence in the skills of separate knowing, now I wish for them what has meant so much to me-- a marriage of two minds.

Welcome, all.
You may now shake hands.

Name: cham
Date: 2004-04-22 01:15:34
Link to this Comment: 9534

orah, youre killing me. here i am minding my own business, on a 22 page thesis roll, when i make the mistake of checking in on our lovely class forum. what do i see? another personal challenge set down by orah. great, now i have to answer it. i have never and will never back down from a challenge...

ten minutes, thats all i can give...

orah you ask me what is silence huh? not exactly my type of question but here goes...(and believe me i had to hold myself back from a whole bunch of potentially entertaining answers...)

silence isnt anything that can be or is even meant to be defined, but i can offer (really quickly as i have 7 minutes left) just one possibility...

for one thing, silence is a refusal to speak or act when expected. could this also mean that silence is a refusal to speak or act in a way that is expected? to tie this in with our gender discussion- this would mean that silence is ro's refusal to conform to the gender boundaries of her time (dont mean to make you sound archaic or anything). silence is that split second when i make a decision regarding which bathroom to use (whoever posted that they wished they could be like me might want to seriously reconsider)... silence is the fact that women walk defensively...perhaps more importantly, it is the fact that we talk about the fact that we walk defensively.
and lastly, silence is the voice inside of me that tells me to correct someone when they call me he/him/mr/sir, as well as that same voice that tells me to keep it down and roll with the punches. it is the ever present space that is our struggle over whose articulations we should refuse and whose expectations we should deny. unfortunately, my time is up and i have to post this nonsense in order that i might meet orahs challenge and protect my pride.

Name: cham
Date: 2004-04-22 02:53:34
Link to this Comment: 9535

i just found another answer...

silence is the timeless possibility right before the eruption of something wonderful, whether it be a rebellion, a decision, or an orgasm. (yeah, i said it).

Name: ro.
Date: 2004-04-22 06:26:14
Link to this Comment: 9536

Orah wrote: "i don't think it 's a conincidence that the most vague/abstract book ever written, the book with the most white space, is the book that has lasted the longest in our history ... the bible. people can never get to it's heart,"

Which made me think that the book that has lasted longest in our history is not the bible, but the combination of cave art and oral dreamland or dreamtime of the Australian aborigines. This set of "books" is at least as inscrutable as the testaments--so I am told and would agree from having tried to learn about them during my times down under.

This may be the thing that's been tugging at me for quite a while--been saying that Melville may have just stumbled onto a literary combination of styles and the lack thereof all in one book--and that is a big factor in it having been dubbed "great literature"...back to our being intrigued with patterns, optical illusions and the like. We, I think, like to form our own boundaries when we can and seem to resist those imposed by others.

Name: ro.
Date: 2004-04-22 06:39:11
Link to this Comment: 9537

Paul wrote,"Notice that Durrell doesn't put the "secrets of the world" in the "white space"/"silence". Instead, it is on that space that "everything depend(s)" ... ie, that's where one finds not what has been or is but rather the wherewithal to create what will be? "

Which sounds a lot, feels a lot like a Quaker meeting---the silence of it, the communing in silence. And maybe also something to think about--the profound difference between peoples of the east and west regarding silence. Westerners abhor silence. Easterners embrace it.

Name: ro.
Date: 2004-04-22 07:25:09
Link to this Comment: 9538

Ever notice how we so seldom talk about the noun "silence" in its plural form? Do we have silence among us? OR silences? Does silence eliminate boundaries Or does it reshape them...involuntarily pushing us back into our selves.

Una is most expansive when she is alone, silent. So is Ahab. But not Ishmael. He fills silence with narrative. Funny, Una is also narrator, but I sense the fruit of her silences more than I do those of Ishmael. Ishmael seems like the ultimate voyeur. Una tells us her story...Ishmael is tells us everybody's story BUT his own.

noticing silence
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-04-22 07:31:37
Link to this Comment: 9539

Quakers, easterners ... and Cham ... embrace it?

or does it explode ?
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-22 08:41:43
Link to this Comment: 9541

"silence is that split second when i make a decision regarding which bathroom to use ... it is the ever present space that is our struggle over whose articulations we should refuse and whose expectations we should deny.silence is the timeless possibility right before the eruption of something wonderful." cham
THAT is what i was asking for! YOU win, my friend. i'm done pickin' on you ... but that thesis better be genious.
since i can't keep this hole in my face shut ... do i dare wrestles those words ? ...yup.
sososo!!! silence IS The Moment of possibility!! silence is that instant when the future is created by imagination. so what does it mean that we walk defensivley and talk about it here, online, in a primarily female environment ? that walk is a silent walk. it's a RAGING walk ... but a silent one. and who gets to do the imagining ? what are the possibilities of that walk?
reminds me of this : langston hughs : Harlem.
"what happens to a dream deferred? / does it dry up like a raisin in the sun ? / or fester like a sore - / and then run? does it stink like rotten meat ? / or crust and sugar over - / like a syrupy sweet ? /maybe it just sags / like a heavy load. / or does it explode?"
are we deferring something in our raging walk ?
friends, i'm scared. are we deferring a dream in our silence ? is the act of defering when we chose not to speak and instead we walk That walk ? i've been hating "the word" all semester, wanting so bad to bask in the unarticulated ... but it seems here that words are a weapon that we're too scared to use. they are "a raid on the unarticulate ," and though not a very good raid, it's all we have. and i'm scared that we're going to fester or sag because of this heavy load. why can't we EXPLODE? let's make it, "the timeless possibility right before the eruption of something wonderful." let's erupt this world into a place of wonder, spill wonder into the world.

the distillation process...
Name: Nancy
Date: 2004-04-22 13:54:12
Link to this Comment: 9545

...Is a difficult one. I'm trying to come up with a synthesis for everything that is going on in the forum that I find interesting and the "where are we" question we are supposed to have in mind today.

I think I find some cohesion when thinking about silence as the moment of possibility (which I'll tie in if you bear with me). I would say the most important 'lesson' (if that terminology applies) we can take out of here is that we CHOOSE which stories we want to listen to and what stories we want to tell. I have been having problems all along with the idea that we give something up (be it our minds, our own stories, or even our time) when we listen to someone else's story. I felt reading a story was a frustratingly passive experience, since the story was not going to change no matter how many times I read the book. Now, with the silence talk thrown in there, I see the space of listening as a time to create something new simulatneously. Im still thinking about this, but I'll post more later.

Who's faut is it anyway
Name: Fritz Dubu
Date: 2004-04-22 16:08:15
Link to this Comment: 9549

After our disscussion on fault and who's fault is what, it looks as if fault is just another way of asserting agency. If something is your fault then you must have initially possesed the power to stop it. What then happens in situations where there is no one to blame or no one can honestly take fault?

looking at ourselves from the grave: poor dead flo
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-22 16:54:07
Link to this Comment: 9550

I DON'T LIKE THE SPACE BETWEEN 0 AND 1. i'll tell you what's between those two numbers :
1. israel / palestinian violence without productive peace talks
2. the fuck you walk
3. the coed classroom in which females sound stupid
4. our consumer culture
5. the war in iraq
6.the political mentality of "good" vs. "evil."
7. una "marrying" her men
and it goes on and on.
EXPLOSION is when we break out to 1.1
EXPLOSION is when we recode the language of the classroom.
EXPLOSION is taking a step into the future. instead of replaying the skrip of history OVER AND OVER AND OVER. it is getting the hell out of neitsche's idea of eternal return. it is USING the imagination of silence. it is the prevention of sagging and festering.
GODAMN IT!! really guys!! what the hell is going on?!?! when were we taught that we can only make small things happen? when did we forget that we have CHOICES ? i'll tell you when: when i KNOW what goes on in GAP factories and i KNOW that i don't like it and i KNOW that it's ugly, but i STILL continue to buy GAP clothing. THAT is the matrix that we're stuck in. knowing that if i settle for the small victories and REFUSE to buy a GAP teeshirt that THAT WON'T DO A DAMN THING! THAT'S the matrix. the matrix is thinking that our classrooms are equal and it is a female's fault that she sounds dumb at haverford.
and you say that staying between 0 and 1 ensures survival BUT WE'RE DYING RIGHT NOW IN BETWEEN THOSE TWO NUMBERS!!! listen to us!! read over the last couple forums!!! we're not doing ourselves any good by using our "between 0 and 1 survival skills." we're just dying a little slower.
"we're not our skin of grime, we're not our dread bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we're all beautiful golden sunflowers inside , we're blessed by our own seed & godlen hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverband sunset Fisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision." ginsberg. sunflower sutra. check it out or fester in the denial of your own power.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-22 17:00:03
Link to this Comment: 9551

Hobbes' leviathan has gotten just to big!!!!!!!!!! it's more than us!!!!!!!!!! and it becomes more than us when we realize that we don't have control over it!!!!!!!!!!!
i know what you're thinking.

The Generation of New Stories
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-04-22 17:06:10
Link to this Comment: 9552

So the question that Anne laid on the table was: Does Ahab's Wife have the potential to generate new stories? Here goes.

While I agree that Moby Dick is a lot more expansive than Ahab's Wife, I can't see why Ahab's Wife wouldn't have the potential to generate new stories. I know if I was a writer I would be interested in Kit and his travels with the Indians. Charlotte and her unending love/journey for Kit. Even Maria Mitchell and her fascination with the sky. These can all be expanded to 666 pg. novels. Why not?

So what does this say about expansion vs. contraction? Ahab's Wife took a line from Moby Dick and created an entire life for a character we knew little about. Suddenly this girl-bride had an identity, thanks to Naslund, and an entire life that was independent of Ahab and the whiteness of the whale. She contracted a piece from Moby Dick and expanded it into a life. It's a the evolutionary process. Una exists on her own branch and what's to say that this branch won't diverge and give rise to new species/books? According to evolution it is only natural that it will lead to something...or it will lead to nothing because it has gone extinct. If you are not extinct, then you are contributing to something, a greater something, even if you can't pinpoint what that something is.

I don't know if I agree with Anne about Moby Dick giving rise to more stories than Ahab's Wife in a hundred years time. When Moby Dick was published it flopped and was only rediscovered in the twentieth century – when people were ready to appreciate it. Ahab's Wife didn't flop the way Moby Dick did, but maybe there will come a time when it will be more appreciated and the center for commentary and new stories. Or maybe not. It's hard to tell.

BUT, if I was writer I would probably use Moby Dick as my jumping board. (That pretty much defeats the purpose of everything I just said...well not really. It's no surprise that I like MD more than A'sW). However unlike Naslund, I would steer clear of developing main characters in Moby Dick. I, too, love it when we're reunited with Ahab, Bildad, Peleg, Ishmael, etc... in Ahab's Wife...familiar faces. What I don't love, what I absolutely hate, are the character developments. I feel robbed of my most beloved Moby Dick characters. How does she know Ishmael and Ahab so intimately? I would never have thought Ahab was a good, loving husband. It's just her reading of MD, which everyone is entitled to have, but not when you're dealing with such sacred characters. It feels like plagiarism.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-04-22 17:56:27
Link to this Comment: 9553

Decided to come out of my story bubble for a bit to post on the forum. I was thinking about the idea of promises more and honesty and the idea of the right thing... The line in Ahab's wife that we looked at today was a bit difficult for me... "What was a promise? A way to enslave the future to the past." My resistance to agree with this statement made me think of my father. For him life operates based on sets of rules even if those rules are imposed by him... for instance he'll call my mom and say he'll be home at 10:55 p.m. and come home at 10:54 and say something like good, a minute to spare. At first I wasn't sure who he was doing this for because I don't think that my mother would care if he came home a minute or so late... but I'm learning that there's a purpose to what he does... One can make sense of the world by contracting things... rules can make things more managable. Creating as sense of time can give a really pleasing sense of efficiency. Although I operate differently, I've grown to respect my father and his way of doing things quite deeply.

Honesty, promises, "the right thing" are what structure my father's world. I didn't used to like that because it felt so limiting. His profession depends upon a fixed set of rules and making decisions based on these rules and it always used to drive me crazy. "How do you make decisions, dad," I'd say to him. "You just have to do the right thing," he'd respond. And I asked him how he knew the right thing and couldn't there be many right things? He said that it was his job to make a decision, it was his job to find the right thing. I would always say that I could never do his job which is still EXTREMELY true... i'd be really bad at it but I'm wondering if I'm really so different from him after all.

I think in making up stories...however exapansive or contracted, the impulse is to grasp the world a little more clearly. So by reading and writing I'm looking for clarity just as my father looks for clarity? By doing something which I percieve to be entirely expansive, I'm also engaged in distilling/contracting things?

There are all sorts of fun cliche's pertaining to the future and the past... one that I particularly like is "the wake of the boat does not drive the boat..." But this does not mean that we shouldn't look back at the wakes... because they were important in the process. They still exist as what allowed the boat to go forward. I suppose that I too have Lot's Wife tendencies... and I think it's okay.

So I guess I just want to articulate that I believe in promises like I believe in stories as a way of bridging the past with the future (not enslaving it)... and as a way of both embracing the infinite and trying to make better sense of it by making the infinite smaller. It's good to have things that one can rely on... even if we create them ourselves. So I believe in promises, like I believe in stories. And I like to keep promises too, as best I can. It's an important value for me which feels somewhat strange because another important value that I'm pretty sure I have is being like Una, open to being changed.... I'll try and hold both values in my head at the same time, even though they seem to be different :-)

responding to Aia
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2004-04-22 18:08:09
Link to this Comment: 9554

Like Aia, I think that MD is maybe more expansive and that i'd use MD as my place to jump off too if I were writing something that I wanted to be really long-standing... but i think appropriative strategies work really well too. I think that anything could grow from anything... a whole work could be derived from one sentence of Ahab's wife or one sentence in on a cereal box... so if the writer is the right writer... he or she could make a new classic that spun off from Ahab's wife rather than Moby Dick... But i think it might be easier using MD as a point of origin.... it's a difficult question.

curling into myself : contraction
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-22 18:46:58
Link to this Comment: 9556

unless someone tells me (and i encourage you to if you so feel) that i am being detrimental to their education by posting so much then i'm just going to keep pasteing myself here at full speed till the end of the semester ... maybe by then i'll be spent and won't crave this space this summer.

anne asks about the contraction. i think the contraction is in the self definition that seems so imperative in the wrestle.

here's the contraction of my story:
today i told paul and stef that i'm taking too many classes that are messing with my mind ... i don't get any rest time. and then i post things like what i just posted ... really distressed. yes, i am deeply distressed. maybe hopeless ? not yet, but as close as i get. that's the expanded me. caring so deeply about The Matrix, This world, Us women, Us human beings ... i really do loose sleep over humanity.

but then my body's survival reflex kicks in and i comfort myself by saying, "there are people in this world that i love. there are people in this world that i love." and when i think of those people The Matrix doesn't matter, Israel/Palestein doesn't matter, the sweat shops don't matter. i know it sounds awful, but it's true. i love so deeply that the desperate state of humanity takes a backseat to the loves in MY life. was really upset after class, as you can read. ((sry about the whole "telling you not to think what you were thinking part....really, i'm sorry ... it was just a shabby, desperate mechanism to get you to move)) it just felt like all three of my classes today were telling me that there was no way OUT ... but, then my bro called me and i don't care any more about The Matrix and i don't care about the GAP and recoding language. that's me contracted. maybe some of you feel that deep contraction of love ? maybe some of you with kids ? with beloved siblings ? a sigfig ? the apocalypse might be here, but things are okay when you are with those you love. WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER.

Name: reeve
Date: 2004-04-22 21:03:38
Link to this Comment: 9561

So what I was trying to say in my last post and in class today was that it bothered me that Una didn't think that watching the stars with Ahab could be just as intimate as sex. And this isn't a feminist reading, this is just me, someone who loves a good starry night and experiences stargazing as a breathtaking experience of expansion and contraction, thinking that if I were Una, I would want to hold Ahab's hand and watch the comet and revel in the intimacy that exists despite such vastness. And maybe she does get there in the end (as Lindsay suggested today), with Ishmael in the very last lines of the book, but enough- I don't mean to belabor a minor point.

What I want to respond to from our section today is the point (Ro's?) that there are so many things we don' know about Una. We know that she survives danger and loss many times, but what if her free-thinking and free-will were ever opposed? Everyone she meets finds her free-thinking sooo attractive. No one seems to be threatened by her, and men fall head over heels for her intellect and "independence." Her father is the only one who thinks she needs to be somehow tamed. How does she manage to find herself always in the company of people who affirm her alternativeness? And what does survivng mean if you are not threatened? She is a strong woman, but she's not breaching the barriers of any "box" no matter how hard Naslund wants you to think she is. I'm not saying that getting outside of the box is easy, however. I'm sure in it.

Well, not nearly as soul searching as the current trend in this forum, but perhaps another time.

Isaac and MD
Name: simran
Date: 2004-04-23 00:25:43
Link to this Comment: 9564

Just remembered Paul's paper about religion and Ishmael. Wondering what it may mean that there is an Isaac in AW and that the kids during the "sheep shearing" (read: A sheep was killed instead of Isaac atop the hill) compared the pile of wool to Moby Dick? Really far fetched but set me thinking a bit...

expansion and the walk...
Name: simran
Date: 2004-04-23 00:32:48
Link to this Comment: 9565

We were talking about expansion and contraction today... Una is also an expansionist. I have been searching for the place in the book where she says that she cannot read poetry without thinking of the author and her/his life and making associations whereas the judge enjoys what is on the page without looking beyond. If anyone can find that line, I would love to re-read it.

Orah/Diane's talk of "the walk" has really struck a chord. There is a walk, I do it too... and that makes me think, is it a pseudo confidence I have? I'm thinking of all the male figures in my life so far. They've all been controlling, always had the power. My walk has seemed like sweet rebellion to them because they know it only has SO much power. I think they know that it only extends so deep, beyond which there is uncertainly and clinginess... and that makes me so sad...and angry- with myself, for not having that walk NATURALLY.

I'm also bitter about the male population Diane, I hear you...

Goodnight folks.

Date: 2004-04-23 00:34:28
Link to this Comment: 9566

Where are we now, Anne asked? What do we see from the rooftop?

i made a promise 1369 days ago,
the day i left for college.
i promised them i would not
i promised them i would not
i promised them i would not...

1369 days later,
i have broken every single one.

Soon my thesis will be handed in,
I will walk in cap and gown.
They will smile at me proudly,
deaf to my inner sounds.

I have grown, I will scream...
Mourning the end of my loved dream.

Spring is gone,
The sunny tulip wilts.
"Off with her head," they shout,
My leaves crust with guilt.

Just maybe I will tell them what I now believe; I need to act fast:
"What," I would say, "What is a promise... but a way to enslave the future to the past?"

thespian affiliations
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-23 08:45:21
Link to this Comment: 9567

Am reining in my philosophical bent this morning to give you your assigned performance times next week. [Reminder: your assignment is to spontaneously form an emergent group, and in it to prepare presentations which reflect on some aspect of the course readings. Your presentations should encourage, in a provocative and entertaining way, further story development on the part of others in the class. You should plan for your performance to take 10-15 minutes (including discussion time, if you want it).]

On Tuesday, April 27:
Elizabeth C, Em M and Ro.
Becky, Su-Lyn, Reeve
Nancy, Fritz, Simran, Katherine P
Lauren, Kat, Diane, Cham
Emily S, Lindsay

On Thursday, April 29:
Heather, Bethany, Erin
Orah, Perrin, Meg, Stephanie
Daniela, Patty, Aia
Julia, Rachel, Susan
Elizabeth D, Jen

Paul's and my lists didn't match exactly, so let me know if I've erred in recording your affiliations. If you are not listed, hook up w/ a group ASAP (Elizabeth and Jen are actively seeking companionship) and then let me know.

Very much looking forward to this-- Anne

synthesizing/birthing contractions
Date: 2004-04-23 13:14:43
Link to this Comment: 9568

i can't get what i want to say right.
but it's something along these lines:
sometimes a star is a star is a star
and a whale is a whale.
when i walk i am comfortable in my body--
my life is a drift towards center so far,
a desire for a natural and organic
development as a woman and a thinker.
paul tillich says,
"the first responsibility of love is to listen."
if i do not come from the same space as others,
i want to be able to listen to their stories.
i thank you beautiful, brilliant women
for your stories and for the respectful
listening and space that has grown here.
we could not have done it without each other.
but does it have to explode?
madness has its lure, but i want peace instead.
if i am able to be, then i will be happy.
so what if everyone's in a box: i want my box to be labeled
i want to see what comes about.

shout-out to cham: here's to coming down the home stretch on your thesis.

Call me Ishmael
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-04-23 13:58:28
Link to this Comment: 9569

This is so off-topic. But if I don't talk about it now then I doubt I will ever mention it on the forum.

Paul's presentation of Ishmael vs. Issac, Quran vs. Bible, Tuesday left me leaving the room feeling rather suspicious (sorry, Paul). I know you stated at the beginning of the lecture that you were not a theologian and so I know you did not have an agenda (or a religous agenda, anyway) when you presented the different stories. There was something about the 'tree of religion' that didn't make much sense and it was only until last night that it all became clear. I attended the joint JSU/MSA event last night where an Arab/Jewish band played Middle Eastern music and a Sufi Poet read some of his own, as well as some more traditional, poetry. He read a series of poems having to do with Abraham which I thought was so funny given our talk on Tuesday.

Anyway, just so my thoughts are clear. I don't understand why the tree had two seperate branches, one labeled Jesus (or was it Christ?) and the other Mohammed. It gives the impression that muslims don't believe in Jesus when in fact he is regarded as a much-loved prophet. It would have been more accurate to show the brancing off of Islam after the introduction of Jesus/Christ. Islam is not a different's an extension. I like to think of it as the later chapters. (Of course these are just my thoughts...I can't speak for all muslims.) And just as a side note, not only do muslims believe in Jesus as a prophet but also in Issac. There is no distinction made between Issac and Ishmael except that each had different mothers. Of course, like Paul said, the Quran goes on to talk about Ishmael. It doesn't end with his banishment.

And then Abraham. In the Quran it does not say that Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Ishmael. There is no mention of a name. In fact, there are numerous commentaries that point to Issac as the son who was meant to be sacrificed. In the Quran it just says "son". Also someone mentioned goat. I'm not sure but I think the Quran explicitly says a ram was sacrificed in the son's place. I'll have to look that up.

I would argue that it is because of recent events in Israel/Palestine that people are reading the stories differently. Issac is thought to have fathered the Jews, Ishmael the Arabs. There is a political/religious agenda at play where different groups are trying to stake a claim for Jerusalem and surrounding areas. Frankly, I think it's disgusting. Stories were not invented to incite violence and senseless killing.

Anne you talked about promises holding the future hostage to the past. Maybe the God in these stories should have thought twice about the promise He supposedly made to one of Abraham's sons (or maybe both of his sons...who knows?)

Is God responsible for the promise He made? Did a situation arise when the promise was longer binding? Does it really matter???

Anyway, that's enough political/religious talk from me. The point was the Quran and Bible are essentially telling the same stories. I think that's even more interesting than if they were telling different ones.

our brand
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-23 15:25:35
Link to this Comment: 9571

no, em, i guess it doesn't have to explode. i'm just very worried when i read head lines under a picture of american soldier's coffins that says, "pentagon furious over coffin pix." when did we get so detached from reality? when does the pentagon not realize what is going on until they see coffins. when did we get so dependant on the image? when did the words "13 dead" or "20 dead" or "100 dead" stop meaning anything ? that calls me to explosion. that calls me to be MAD. we know what is going to happen ... it's happened so many times in history already ... we are in an eternal wheel of recurrance ... i know ... but what is your suggestion of how to get out of that wheel ? or do you think history is going just fine ? or that we CAN change things through small measures? i'd like to beg to differ, but it would be too distressing an argument. i'll just call to your notice all of the recycling companies and all the people you know who refuse to buy gap clothing and all the vegans and all those consious of our envioronment and then i'll ask you to read about what The Most Powerful Man in the world is doing, our president for god's sake is an oilman. who's making more progess ? those who have held the power throughout history and will continue to hold it : the oil men and stockbrokers ? or the vegans ?

this has been an intense week for me. it started on tues. when i saw this documentry in my anthro class about the WTO riots in eugene oregon. they were amazing. there were 50, 000 people there. it was HUGE. and you'd think, listening to these people, that This was going to be what changed the world. if anything was going to change the world these riots were IT. and you know what kills me ? i had never heard of the WTO riots in my life. never heard of them. we're allowed to be angry and we're allowed to scream about our anger, but there is a mechanism out there, call it the media, call it "those in power," call it the leviathan, call it moloch, call it God, but IT is what disallows change. we're screaming into a black hole, friends.

i guess people have taken me to be saying that Madness is the only way out, that getting to 1.1, getting to successful peace, means Madness. and THAT is where i loose hope. right there. that's it. when people think that i am suggesting craziness as a way to peace, as a way to 1.1. i don't think desperatly aching for peace is madness, i don't think that the demand for peace is madness ... i think ANGER is essential ... i think diane and simran's ANGER is essential if there is to be change. but i don't think that it's institutional craziness. it's revolutionary thinking. allen ginsberg was in an insane asylum because of his words. and i swear he's one of the sanest men out there. maybe it takes "madness" to make any change in this world.

md p.322, "man's insanity is heaven's sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncomprosmised, indifferent as his God."

i realize, that the leviathan, moloch, America, is just too big. okay. i'll try to digest that. if that's what you're telling me to do.

we've been talking about this stuff in my religion class and my prof. is very distressed about it. but he says that he still beleives in the power of the human spirit ... he deeply Beleives in the power of humanity ... i Hope in this power. maybe that is going to be the characteristic of our generation. we're not the Mad Beats who Beleived deeply in the beauty and power of humanity ... we're the Hopefuls ... a new brand of poets speaking to a new brand of Human.

killin me softly
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-23 16:41:46
Link to this Comment: 9572

i'll tell you what else kills me. if wanting to get to 1.1 was equivalent to ahab's madness then i would be chasing the "heartless emensities" to the ends of the earth. i would be angry with sickness, chasing cancer to the farthest ends of the earth. but i don't. i exist simultaneously with sickness in SILENCE. that is when silence is appropriote, i think. but, when you say that my madness is the same as ahab's madness you are saying that society is "heartless," that we are not merely the sum of our parts, society is not human, society has no mind nor a heart. but, i am hopeful that society does have a consious and that is why i chase it.

and i'll tell you that if i fell in love with someone on land all the md's in this heartless world could never tear me off of firm ground.

i'm distressed. so i'll quote ya'all some music as a means of necessary contraction. this song actually brings tears to my eyes if you can believe that. music can soften steal in my experience. it reminds me of una.

"Oh, I'm sailin' away my own true love,
I'm sailin' away in the morning.
Is there something I can send you from across the sea,
From the place that I'll be landing?

No, there's nothin' you can send me, my own true love,
There's nothin' I wish to be ownin'.
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled,
From across that lonesome ocean.

Oh, but I just thought you might want something fine
Made of silver or of golden,
Either from the mountains of Madrid
Or from the coast of Barcelona.

Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean,
I'd forsake them all for your sweet kiss,
For that's all I'm wishin' to be ownin'.

That I might be gone a long time
And it's only that I'm askin',
Is there something I can send you to remember me by,
To make your time more easy passin'.

Oh, how can, how can you ask me again,
It only brings me sorrow.
The same thing I want from you today,
I would want again tomorrow.

I got a letter on a lonesome day,
It was from her ship a-sailin',
Saying I don't know when I'll be comin' back again,
It depends on how I'm a-feelin'.

Well, if you, my love, must think that-a-way,
I'm sure your mind is roamin'.
I'm sure your heart is not with me,
But with the country to where you're goin'.

So take heed, take heed of the western wind,
Take heed of the stormy weather.
And yes, there's something you can send back to me,
Spanish boots of Spanish leather."

a continuation
Name: em
Date: 2004-04-23 17:06:55
Link to this Comment: 9573

orah, i think i did not understand you correctly. i am with you in your struggle towards 1.1 as a fellow Hopeful: i think i was just intimidated by the idea of having to be angry and crazy to get there (which, as you pointed out, was not the path you were indicating-- my mistake). it seems that in my life so far, i have found that being angry towards people about topics which make me passionate has not brought me towards any common ground with them. in order to be heard i need to listen. i know that you are an advocate of that too. and i believe you when you say anger is important. wielded correctly, it can be a great tool. yet so can love. call me a self-important idealist vegetarian-wannabe (i believe the pants i am wearing were made in china, oh, let the guilting begin), but let it be said that i, too, believe in the power of the human spirit-- for goodness sake: anne frank believed in it as well. we are in good company. i want to get to 1.1 too, and i hope to do it one bit at a time. i don't want to scream into the black void, i want to stand next to people and whisper in their ears some lines from mary oliver, "god help us if we make this world only out of bone, and not the greater weight of admiration, whimsy, fierce and unspeakable love... there are a hundred paths through the world that are easier that loving. but who wants easier?" or perhaps, someday, whisper lines of my own writing into their ears. last of all, i don't want to tell you or anyone else to do anything, orah, i just want to stand with you. i want to listen and i want to share stories. what happens after those exchanges i cannot know.

armfuls of emptiness
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-23 20:03:30
Link to this Comment: 9574

maybe you're right. maybe listening is all we have left. sobbing, i say that, no, i don't think society has a consious. oh god. oh god.

so what do i do when i realize that we've dug ourselves too far in ...
there is no way out ...
i read T.S. Eliot .
"There are only hints and guesses, / Hints followed by guesses; and the rest / Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action."

what do 20 year olds do when they are just too tired to be distressed any more ? no, i'll speak for myself ... what do i do ? and what did Eliot do ?
to what ? i don't know. I pray as Rilke suggests: "Throw armfuls of emptiness / out to the spaces / that we breathe- / maybe the birds / will sense / the expanded air / flying more fervently."

i wonder how long their fervent flight will last?
when they will be left with only emptiness to hurl...
maybe i'll take the weekend off.

more tulips...
Name: simran
Date: 2004-04-23 22:27:04
Link to this Comment: 9576

orah, if you like t.s. eliot, you MUST watch Tom and Viv...i asked for it to be screened here and it was but tla has it. it is one of the most subtle, fantastic films i have EVER seen.

don't be so disheartened. i really believe that there's good out there. the small things don't make a big impact but a small one. i remember driving in bombay the first summer after i came back from college. i was apalled at the poverty, the difference in economic class. a group of children came begging upto my window and asked me in hindi if they could take a ride in the car because they never had. this plea would have been ignored by a turn of the head and not even a response by most. i like to think i never would have ignored the plea even before i came here. i opened the back door of the car and not 1,2,3 but 6 children piled into the backseat and 2 in front. i rolled down the windows, put on hindi film music and took them around for a little bit. and even though the next day they were still back there begging (they do go to an NGO street school though!) they greeted me by name this time and chatted with me and i hoped that they were just a bit happier with the memory of the day before. people have done things like that for me too and it makes me happy. dammit, someone letting me cross the street from english house to cc makes me happy. and i really take pleasure in drawing out those little happinesses. they give me faith. they remind me that this is not an idyll and won't ever be, but within the chaos, there is so much good.

i don't mean to minimize your experience, i'm just feeling positive right now. there are many days when i feel exactly like this:

"The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anaesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage -
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
Stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

I didn't want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free -
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a communion tablet.

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle: they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their colour,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I hve no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health."

-Sylvia Plath

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-24 15:14:56
Link to this Comment: 9578

sylvia, you temptress, i'd read simran's words over yours any day, especially days when the breeze is seduceing the trees to shed their pink robes.

Silence redux...
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-24 19:20:20
Link to this Comment: 9580

Orah: the secrets of the world are in the white space between the words.

Laurence Durrell: "Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?"

Paul: There needs to be not only interaction but also silence/white space to keep the whole process going?

Cham: silence is the timeless possibility right before the eruption of something wonderful

Ro.: ...sounds a lot, feels a lot like a Quaker meeting---the silence of it, the communing in silence.

Ro: Does silence eliminate boundaries Or does it reshape them...involuntarily pushing us back into our selves.

Orah: silence IS The Moment of possibility!! silence is that instant when the future is created by imagination.

Nancy: thinking about silence as the moment of possibility...I see the space of listening as a time to create something new simulatneously.

I'm a Quaker, and one of the things I most like about meeting is all the silence, in which the words--however feeble or inadequate--take on a weight, can sink in. In "The Aesthetics of Silence," Susan Sontag talks about this process in more secular terms; I leaned heavily in her, once, in a Chapter called "'Silence is so Windowful': Class as Antechamber" (in Teaching to Learn):

without the polarity of silence, the whole system of language would fail....speech closes off thought. Silence keeps things "open." Still another use for silence: ...aiding speech to attain its maximum integrity of seriousness...when punctuated by long silences, words weigh more. Silence undermines "bad speech"...words are too crude. And words are also too busy--inviting a hyperactivity of consciousness that ...actively deadens the mind and blunts the senses. both the precondition of speech and the... aim of properly directed speech...the artist's activity is...creating silence around things...a full-scale attack on language itself...on behalf of the standard of silence.

uh oh!
Name: simran
Date: 2004-04-24 23:46:58
Link to this Comment: 9585

professor dalke, are you telling us to shut up?!?! ;o)

eliot's four quartets
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-25 12:28:07
Link to this Comment: 9587

"Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as the Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, which the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end."

we're covered in silence. silence is the air into which we move. we break it's consistency only slightly while we move through air. but then it wraps itself around us, and enters us through our nostrils and ears. we are the minute break in the silence. but then the silence rolls on over us, ignorant of what we've said, unchanged by our words. and then the silence collapses over us and rolls on through us and over us as it rolled five thousand years ago.

Date: 2004-04-25 12:29:44
Link to this Comment: 9588

shit, i hate butchering poetry ... it's not which the note lasts it's "while the note lasts"

so sry ... a little more eliot:
Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-25 12:54:35
Link to this Comment: 9590

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
but heard, healf-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always -
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and rose are one."

....i guess the first four lines are all you're going to get out of this unless you've read all four of the quartets ... this is the very end of them ... the key is ... well, i wish i could buy every one of you a copy of the four quartets as a farewell gift, but ... maybe these quotes will inspire you to read them ... but, maybe there are hints within the lines that you've read here to what we've been talking about ... the importance of the silence, the importance of the unattended, unpackaged, free moment ? the importance of the moment in which anything is possible. the moment outside the confines of 0 and 1. the moment in which we are most free.
maybe this is also relevant, from rilke:

"Voices, voices.
Listen, my heart
as only the saints
have listened
for a gigantic call
to life them
right off the ground
but they go on kneeling
impossible beings
taking no notice
that's how completely
they listened.
Not that you
could bear hearing
God's voice
-oh no.
But listen to that soft
blowing ...
that endless report
that grows out of silence.
It rustles toeard you
from thsoe who died young."

and i find myself returned to my beginning. eliot:
"But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint"

finally, for anne, i remember you liked this quote:
"Beauty if only
the first touch of terror
we can still bear
and it awes us so much
because it so coolly
disdains to destroy us."

on the need to fall silent...
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-25 13:26:17
Link to this Comment: 9591

Nope, Simran, I'm NOT trying to tell you all to shut up--ESPECIALLY when you and your classmates are coming up w/ such generative observations (for example) about the presence of both Isaac and the shorn sheep in this novel in which Ishmael becomes Una's "last husband." I think, stepping off from Paul's description of the "branching" of Ishmael & Isaac and Aia's re-writing of Islam as "not a different's an extension" of Christianity, that there are some marvelous observations resonating here, well worth further exploration.

What I AM saying to you all is what I need to say to myself repeatedly @ this time of year (I talked about this at Hayley Thomas's service earlier this week, and again @ Meeting for Worship this morning): as time gets short, and the compulsion to say more/have the last word speeds up, we need to acknowledge that we are NOT going to "wrap it all up," are NOT going to write the final story...

we need both to allow ourselves and others to fall silent,
to admit to the end of what words can encompass...

out of which silence, later, more words and more stories will most surely arise:

that's where one finds...the wherewithal to create what will be.

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-25 21:04:35
Link to this Comment: 9594

I had told my section, last Thursday, about searching out a Melville OnLine site, and stumbling there upon a "pamplet" from his next-book-after M-D (a book far wilder than M-D): Pierre.

This pamplet, entitled CHRONOMETRICALS AND HOROLOGICALS, reminded me of the Judge teasing Una (who said that her first and second marriages both took place in the same spot on the Pequod, when the Pequod had traveled 1,000 miles between ceremonies): "What is the nature of a spot, a place? Can it remain the same? Is it adequate to give a place only a local definition? Ought it not be global?" (Ahab's Wife, 449). In the pamphlet, Plotinus Plinlimmon likewise constructs a lecture comparing "chronometers (Greek, time-namers) adjusted to Greenwich time" with "mere local standards," and points out how ridiculous it would be, for instance, for folks in China to set their clocks, and live their lives, in accord w/ Greenwich time:

Bacon's brains were mere watch-maker's brains; but Christ was a chronometer; and the most exquisitely adjusted and exact one, and the least affected by all terrestrial jarrings, of any that have ever come to us. And the reason why his teachings seemed folly to the Jews, was because he carried that Heaven's time in Jerusalem, while the Jews carried Jerusalem time there. Did he not expressly say -- My wisdom (time) is not of this world? But whatever is really peculiar in the wisdom of Christ seems precisely the same folly to-day as it did 1850 years ago. Because, in all that interval his bequeathed chronometer has still preserved its original Heaven's time, and the general Jerusalem of this world has likewise carefully preserved its own.....

In short, this Chronometrical and Horological conceit...seems to teach...that in things terrestrial (horological) a man must not be governed by ideas celestial (chronometrical) ...he must by no means make a complete unconditional sacrifice of himself in behalf of any other being, or any cause, or any conceit....A virtuous expediency...seems the highest desirable or attainable earthly excellence for the mass of men...then there would be an end to that fatal despair of becoming all good, which has too often proved the vice-producing result in many minds of the undiluted chronometrical doctrines hitherto taught to mankind. ...I present consolation to the earnest man, who, among all his human frailties, is still agonizingly conscious of the beauty of chronometrical excellence.

Moreover: if --

But here the pamphlet was torn, and came to a most untidy termination.

Melville was such a jokester. But Nasland, playing a joke on him, gets the last laugh: she "corrects" Ahab's "other-wordly" (hence: unattainable. hence: monomanical) ideals of justice by re-setting them in accord w/ Una's pragmatic, attainable "this-worldly" ways of living the life before her.

Name: meg
Date: 2004-04-25 21:09:05
Link to this Comment: 9595

In relation to what Anne said above, I think that it is really interesting when words fail us. What is the point when words become no longer useful. There are moments in life, sometimes momentus, and sometimes very small, that we cannot describe using only words, or words at all. When words fail what do we do? Is visual art a representation of what words can't say, or is music? Words can only get us so far, when you think about body language, it can be so much more powerful than words. Maybe in the beginning there was the word, but at the end there is something more powerful than that.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-04-25 21:34:29
Link to this Comment: 9596

I spent the weekend at home and look at all I missed on the forum!
I have two thoughts.

1) I've spent the better part of this semester complainting about Ahab's Wife. Lately I've heard some of you express the desire to return to the text because our class/forum time has been overflowing with our own, sometimes unrelated stories. I'm amazed/thrilled that this text, seemingly moreso than the others we've read, has been able to initiate the telling of our own stories. I love it for doing this! It is because of this text that I'm getting to learn the most about how I think and about all of you. I needed this (dreaded) text to make the course meaningful for me. It is doing its job, although maybe in an unintended manner. I thank you Anne.

2) I'm procrastinating as I write this. This is my much deserved break from revising for my French exam (and I thought that writing all of you would be more productive than smoking another cigarette). So anyway, I'm in the process of memorizing different French modes. It is entirely more specific a language than English. Whereas we might say "I went to the store" the French language has different spellings to communicate whether you went to the store at a specific point in time, whether it was just at some point in the past, etc. And so, it seems to me that the French language had more meaning inbedded in it than English. Perhaps this prevents you from coming to your own interpertation about a French text, I don't know. But it does seem like a language that will be less likely to fail you when you are looking for a specific/exact/concise way to express yourself. I wonder what our stories would be like if we told them in a different language, it they'd take us different places..

"Mimes in the form of God on high..."
Name: daniela
Date: 2004-04-25 23:56:45
Link to this Comment: 9597

Of her own volition Una runs away from home, deceives the captain of the Sussex in order to go aboard the ship... and gets punished. The ship sinks, Giles commits suicide, Kit goes mad. It seems as though these events are Una's comeuppance. Imposed by a supreme force? By her consciousness? How free is Una?

Una aspires to independence. And yet she needs and, therefore, constantly seeks the company/help of others. How free is Una?

Overruling certain social conventions, she espouses the concept of free will (freedom) as her paramount ideal. To attain it, she channels all of her vital energy into this direction. So does Ahab; the difference is that his ideal is personified by a whale. So, how free is Una then?

Aspiring to freedom, Una voluntarily mires herself in various bondages, i.e her search for freedom leads to unfreedom. Does freedom really exist?

no end... what?
Name: julia
Date: 2004-04-26 01:51:43
Link to this Comment: 9598

I love this concept of not having a definitive end to some things, but have a really hard time embracing it on my own terms... I wonder why I have felt for so long that I must come to some agreement in the end of something... why do I always need an ending...closure? I realize that for some things you can't always reach a happy consensus and sometimes the best thing to do is just agree to disagree. I wonder though if I just view that situation as a postponement of the "end," a recess for the debate and that eventually an agreement will be reached. Maybe that didn't really make sense... my real wondering is just why i am always searching for the "right" answer... I suppose this all just loops back to what Paul told us on our first day about there being no right answers only observatioins and stories... there are no real endings just an infinite number or possibilities.

Well having revealed one of my flaws, here I go in a futile attempt at closure for Ahab's Wife, I thought I might recap a really interesting discussion that came up in class on Thursday. After batting around ideas about the western cannon of lit and whether or not Ahab's wife was good lit and/or a powerful story about feminism or not, we delved into a talk about Una's purpose and her character. we had a few anti-Una's in the class and some that had a change of heart towards her at the end of the book. I apologize if I don't quote people correctly... we had some strong believers that Una was nothing revolutionary or extraordinary, that she disappointed us in some of her thoughts and decisions (not seeming very admirable), that she wasn't a very good feminist, and that she moved from man to man and was entirely dependent on them for her own personal definition.... I had a hard time defending Una in my head after hearing some of these very valid points, but the one point that set things right in my head again came from Stephanie. Stephanie said she felt that perhaps the book wasn't about making some bold feminist statement at all but that Una was about small victories (a nice contrast to Ahab whose intense monomania made for a really big book). Una like the evolutionary process was about step by step changes for survival. I choose to believe that Una was a survivor, perhaps not revolutionary, and maybe that's the point, maybe its not, but I think she was admirable and not defined entirely by her husbands. And like always we can learn to accept that everyone reads the book and its meanings differently, one can see a lot or very little in their interpretation... but we can be content with not having a right and wrong answer in science and in lit.

Name: Ro.
Date: 2004-04-26 07:22:20
Link to this Comment: 9599

Daniela wrote: "Aspiring to freedom, Una voluntarily mires herself in various bondages, i.e her search for freedom leads to unfreedom. Does freedom really exist?"

I thought I was done with this forum, but Daniela's amazing post took care of that notion '-)

It's tricky, isn't it—this freedom thing. Zen. A balancing act. See it—Want it—Lose it (because you want it—too much? –not enough?) WHO'S RULES ARE THESE? 'Open palm,' 'open door,' 'letting go,' 'go with the flow,' 'give and take,' 'take what you need,' memes—these are fly paper for freedom. Not very sticky. Use that other stuff—over there.

So, not wanting is freedom? Goals lead to monomania—they set in, set up, set out to do us in. And the in-ness of it—the internalizing of those whips—were they ever outside? WHO'S FAULT IS IT? There is no whale. I mean, what does the whale know or care? (I sound like Starbuck but I mean to sound like me). Write the book from the whale's point of view. Think of Moby's alter ego, Una's black whale—more like a bull in a china shop—no concept of the price of china. He just needed a place to crash.

Do mirrors serve the purpose of showing us ourselves as we are, or ourselves by contrast? WHO IS THAT PERSON? The one looking looks not at all like the one being looked at—from the inside. Where my eyes are. Naslund has written Melville's mirror. I like the idea of writing a mirror. And then I think, when don't writers write mirrors—sometimes they look in from behind.

So, this freedom thing—I went from an ordinary amount of power in the real world to an extraordinary amount of the stuff—before I left "corporate America." The social hierarchy on the Pequod is totally the same as a corporation's. And power is very cool, very cool. But it's not freedom. So, I left to come here, thinking, Whoa, this is where I will find everything I need to amuse myself in old age and in-between now and then—because being my age, I'd figured out that I would get old—it's not an "everybody else" condition. And the whole notion of going from what seemed free (I called the shots) to what does not (the pecking order here, being at the bottom) in order to be free was amusing—for a few semesters. Until I decided I want a masters degree, a particular masters degree. So, what was never about the rat race has become that. I broke my promise to myself—maybe making a promise was the first sign, the first crack, the first chink to fall. If you're going to make promises, make them to other people. No, wait. That's not how it works. A promise made is made to myself. The self as autobiographer. A promise made becomes part of my script. Foiled again.

Daniela, thanks. You helped me remember what I had learned once and forgotten... summing it up.... that I'd rather take a walk alongside a good horse than ride her any day. I'm the horse pulling this buggy. So no wonder it feels good to put the whips away.

Name: Katherine
Date: 2004-04-26 14:28:34
Link to this Comment: 9603

damn orah! How can you become so passionate on this little ol' coarse forum? (referencing: "looking at ourselves from the grave: poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower ?"
Date: 2004-04-22 16:54:07)
I mean it's great, but somehow my soul doesn't attach itself to the words that I read here to garner that same explosivity. Whatever, it's probably influenced by outside sources.

I would like to say before reading the rest of the forum, that i think this weekend I found myself in a space between 1 and 0. This space was filled with energy and women (wemoon) and chanting and pink! and it was called the March for Women's Lives. Kudos to all who were there and felt the space between 1 and 0.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-26 16:07:04
Link to this Comment: 9604

i don't think i'm being understood about the between 0 and 1 thing. i'd consider this weekend 1.1 ... but that's just a matter of semantics. i'd say this weekend was an explosion. the biggest march in us history.

Name: orah
Date: 2004-04-26 18:38:47
Link to this Comment: 9608

and, kathrine, i find it FUN to be passionate ... and it makes me feel connected to this world. because i am connected to it. and where else am i going to be able to write passionatly like this ... or, for that matter, where else am i able to BE passionate like i am here ?
i like feeling like things matter.

Ishmael redux
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-04-26 18:57:51
Link to this Comment: 9609

Aia - "Stories were not invented to incite violence and senseless killing" That's my feeling too. Indeed I think stories can/ought to serve a much more constructive purpose (cf The Place of the US in the World Community and links from there) but sometimes I worry. Clearly they can become sources of conflict. Wonder how one makes it more likely they will be constructive than destructive?

Accept your correction of the tree. Was primarily intrigued by the abandoment of Ishmael in the Judeo-Christain tradition.

Ro - "I'd rather take a walk alongside a good horse than ride her any day. I'm the horse pulling this buggy. So no wonder it feels good to put the whips away. "

Me too (would rather ...). Maybe that, and associated putting the whips away is a contribution to making constructive rather than destructive?

Name: katherine
Date: 2004-04-26 20:41:18
Link to this Comment: 9612

ugh, I hate being so far behind in the conversation, but that's my own d*** fault. Ha! Personal censorship. So I wanted to respond briefly to one of Ro's postings. Last week I think that she berated someone for making a general "we" statement. Now it is my turn to ask Ro to speak only for herself. Ro wrote:

"Westerners abhor silence. Easterners embrace it."

As a "Westerner" born and raised in Utah I am shocked at this generality. First of all I personally love the silence. Sometimes bryn mawr isn't silent enough for me. I need to get away from everyone, friends and classmates. Second of all, I have never found any place more quiet than the West and specifically the desert in the southwest- which I love more than life itself. To me the west is full of wide empty spaces which are appreciated by the people who live there. It is the easterners, in my opinion, who are noisy and scared of silence. They have the huge cities that extend without break from Boston to DC. I have been camping in both the west and the east, and I can tell you from experience that easterners don't know when to shut up. Does playing Bob Marley from you car radio at midnight in a camping ground sound like embracing silence to you? If it does I think that you should take a trip to Zion, or Arches, or the Grand Canyon. That is where you can find silence and people who know how to keep it.

To Orah
Name: katherine
Date: 2004-04-26 20:46:15
Link to this Comment: 9613

orah, I am truely glad that you are passionate everywhere you can and want to be. I am sorry that I didn't completely understand your 0 to 1 idea. But concider that an evolution took place. I liked your 0 to 1 idea very much and gathered my own meaning from it and then expanded it into a useful metaphore for a moment of great importance in my own life. Si?

Name: Ro.
Date: 2004-04-26 21:11:29
Link to this Comment: 9614

Yeo, Katherine
"Westerners abhor silence. Easterners embrace it."

By "Westerner," I meant those of us in western cultures well beyond the USA...and "Easterner" was meant to mean like Japan, China, .... And, yes, it was a gross sweep, two gross sweeps, but there is some validity to it, I think...and this I say having travelled and worked in many cultures. I visited a haiku poet in Japan. We sat so still, and I felt nothing of the fidgeting that happens, for example, in a U.S. classroom when a question has been asked and no one responds. I spent weeks on end negotiating contracts in Tokyo and Hong Kong--negotiations that would have taken only few days here--but we used silence to learn about each other, and that took time. These are a few of many instances that caused me to make that observation. I hope this explanation makes you feel a bit better that I was not maligning your southwest. That thought never crossed my mind.

Date: 2004-04-26 21:19:09
Link to this Comment: 9616

BMC faculty poetry reading. Cynthia Zarin:
"silence is an envelope.
noise is paper.
poems come after stories."

silence scares me. it puts too much weight on each word i say. maybe as i become wiser i will learn to trust my words. i never feel that i am getting myself just right: right enough that i can rest. there are teases, times when i lay down for a nap, thinking that i've gotten a little peice just right. that's enough for me. just a little sliver of rightness. but, in that space between waking life and sleeping life, that place that una speaks of so sweetly, that place of sliding between sky and sea, that is the place that keeps we awake, and i know that i have not seized a thing. not a thing. silence puts emphasise on these words that are not accurate enough for me. and i cannot live thinking that i am not out there. that there are misinterpratations of me walking around in other people's minds. i can't take that.

there is a difference between noise and poetry, i think.
and all i want is poetry.
that's all i want.

i could live a life of utter silence; filled with poetry.
sometimes i think that i am living that life.

i wish i could paste these words in a cave ... for no one to see. but for them merely to exist. forever. but nothing can last unless read. the mind is the only enduring cave, i think. so i am forced to invade your mind. violence. there is nothing i can do. i am sorry.

Date: 2004-04-26 21:56:18
Link to this Comment: 9619

i try so hard to capture the things i love into your mind. that is our natural reaction to love, yes? the holding? not clinging. just holding... gently. mind to mind? mind holding mind? mind cradling mind? mind comforting mind?
how can we make sure that the beauty in this world is not lost? how can we deny entropy its hold on our world? maybe in silence. if we stop trying to organize then things will stop dissipating?
i keep loosing things that i love. the satisfaction of having creeps from me, always. "nothing gold can stay." if only i could find those i've lost, in perfect form, in your mind ... then i could rest.

Name: Diane Scar
Date: 2004-04-26 22:44:43
Link to this Comment: 9621

Orah, silence scares me too. But for me I think its more of a fear that the silence is necessary. I volunteer at an abortion clinic as an escort. Its hard for me to walk beside a 15 year old as pretestors scream obscenities at her. Part of me wants us to yell, in unison, defiantly. But for our safety we can't. And in order for her to fix this and move on to the rest of her life in a happy/healthy manner she shouldn't, because reacting would only mean hurting herself. Maybe acting (in favor of something that you believe in) is as much of an anti-silence as that decision to scream defiantly. And if this is true, maybe the decision to withhold reaction is the same as actively restricting your reaction. For me there are many ways not to be silenced, but I'm still not sure what it means to be silenced.

'Tis OK
Name: katherine
Date: 2004-04-26 22:55:37
Link to this Comment: 9622

Thanks Ro. For the clarification. I understand better now.

Odd, how there have been so many misunderstandings and moments of clarification within this forum, or is that only my carelessness?

I like thinking of silence as non-threatening. It needs and wants no words and no filler- it exists, thrives, blooms in beauty all on it's own. If I held my silence when I saw something like Ro's posting about "westerners" and "easterners" would I/she/we be better off? Are new stories a form of misunderstanding and breaking silence? Maybe some people still (if they ever truely did) feel that Ahab's Wife should not have broken the silence of Moby Dick.

Date: 2004-04-26 23:26:05
Link to this Comment: 9627

"Maybe some people still (if they ever truely did) feel that Ahab's Wife should not have broken the silence of Moby Dick."

i think one of the reasons i have a hard time with silence is because i think that important words might escape us. THIS, what kathrine just wrote, i think is so important ... the question of whether naslund soiled the pure silence after md ... or if she made the silence greater? gave it a wider footprint ? crushing into the cave minds of a larger population.

also, to diane:
i don't think i would be able to be in silence in that situation ... and i know that silence would be the strongest thing to do ... but .... a story :
when i was in 11th grade my brother was in 9th ... i remember riding the bus one day and hearing one of his friends call him stupid because he failed some test. i know that the strongest thing in that situation would have been to sit in silence.... i know it .... and i regret flipping out at the kid to this day. i don't have the strength to defend, in silence what i know to be right ... maybe that's something one learns with age ? and experience ... i think i'm learning that sometimes screaming is not as audible as whispers.
words are a raid on the inarticulate ... silence is a conquering of the inarticulate? a standoff - a peering down - refusing to leave your treetop - refusing the immersion into noise - refusing the drowning quality of voices.

too fast do i jump to the ground for the mud tussle of words.

Name: ro.
Date: 2004-04-27 06:38:53
Link to this Comment: 9635

Katherine wrote: "Odd, how there have been so many misunderstandings and moments of clarification within this forum, or is that only my carelessness?"

I think the ultimate reason we are forever "getting it less wrong" (as opposed to nailing it, getting it "right") is language. We use what we've got, and it ain't perfect. So, somebody invented the notion of dialog, or maybe it just happened in some cave around the fire—a domestic disagreement, or maybe the latest cave art aroused such intense reactions that the cave dwellers blurted out first this <*!&?>, then that Who knows. But that's what I suspect. '-)

"If I held my silence when I saw something like Ro's posting about "westerners" and "easterners" would I/she/we be better off?"

Personally, I say no, NO! It is so much better (although it takes courage—at least it does for me to do it) to engage when something like that happens. I feel better off having an understanding—even