Questions, Intuitions, Revisions:
Telling and Re-Telling Stories About Ourselves in the World
A College Seminar Course at Bryn Mawr College

Forum 6 - "There is no future in a sacred myth"?

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  "There is no future in a sacred myth"?
Date:  2003-10-07 10:06:20
Message Id:  6820

Good morning, friends. From Paul and me: here's the next question in our ever-evolving conversation about the nature of stories and the roles they are playing in our education. We'll be reading the first three chapters of Daniel Dennett's book, Darwin's' Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, for class discussion on Thursday. This passage comes from p. 22:

"There is no future in a sacred myth. Why not? Because of our curiosity. Because...we want to know why....we will never outgrow the question. Whatever we hold precious, we cannot protect it from our curiosity, of the things we deem precious is the truth. The idea that we might preserve meaning by kidding ourselves is a pessimistic...nihilisitic idea...."

What do you think of Dennett's claim? What is your response to his statement?

Name:  Gillian
Date:  2003-10-09 09:38:44
Message Id:  6861
I believe that Dennitt's claims are absolutely true. Truth of the matter is, one of the first things we learn to say is "why." We question everything around us constantly as children, in the process driving our parents insane, but also creating a sort of curiosity within ourselves that we will maintain throughout our lives. If you ask anyone what the biggest question of all is, most of them will respond with, "Why are we here?" We search out the truth, trying to find it in order to better define us and our purposes in life. Believing in origin stories without any kind of proof is like believing in the sky without looking up- we need to see it, see proof, that way we can come to our own conclusions.
We are inevitably searching for an answer, and finding more questions as we go along the way.
Name:  Danielle
Subject:  Dan Dennett
Date:  2003-10-09 09:56:45
Message Id:  6862
Dennett is talking to - and about - a different generation. Like we are no longer terriorized by the prospect of the world circling around the sun, so are we no longer "threatened" by Darwin's ideas, at least not in the same way as previous generations were. In the case of my generation, we have been taught the theory of evolution for all of our lives, and though evolution by natural selection still contradicts many ideas Dennett discussed, such as religion, in the current time Darwin is really not the substantial "threat" that Dennett makes him out to be.
Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  Free Will?
Date:  2003-10-09 14:58:20
Message Id:  6864

Our very-probing conversation in class today about whether there's a "future in sacred myths"--the idea (in Dennett's words) "that we might preserve meaning by kidding ourselves"--led (among many other paths) to a conversation among the McBrides and me about free will, and whether acknowledging Darwin's "universally acidic" idea increases or decreases our awareness of same. You might want to check out a Serendip exhibit I've found very helpful, one that provides both an experiential and theoretical exploration of Free Will?--besides, it involves a game that's fun to play!

Enjoy break, all of you; I look forward to more free exploration when we return (rested?).


Name:  Ginny Costello
Username:  vcostell
Subject:  Dennett
Date:  2003-10-16 23:12:49
Message Id:  6901
Dennett's compelling work explores evolution through Darwin's theory of natural selection. Volumes have been written in the attempt to define human existance, but Darwin's explanation is a plausible one and enjoys resounding support in most communities, scientific and otherwise.
However, some religious fundamentalist still disagree with the theory of evolution. They are convinced that man was created by a supreme being called God.
Perhaps there is room for evolution and a higher power to somehow peacefully coexist.
When I was a child I was taught the "Sacred Myth," but through education I began to believe in evolution. Although, at times, the two theories co-mingle in my mind.

Name:  Kristin
Subject:  Still on Dennet
Date:  2003-10-21 09:49:41
Message Id:  6929
This is not on the subject of the paintings, but, rather, adresses Danielle's comment earlier on the forum. Coming from your personal background, it may not seem like evolution is really that controversial, but being from the midwest, things are a little different. I was not taught evolution throughout my education-in fact, it was not presented to me until my sophomore year of high school, and even then only presented as a theory, with great emphasis on the fact that it has still not been proven. And I was lucky, coming from the most liberal town in the state. My boyfriend is from a rural part of Missouri, and evolution was brought up for about a week in his sophomore bio class, treated skeptically as only a theory which no one could prove, and they were then given the assignment of finding information which invalidates the idea of evolution...oh, and they learned nothing about survival of the fittest or the evolution of any species besides man. Perhaps this was because it would have been more difficult to sensationalize the subject. At any rate, I thought I would make note of the fact that it is in fact an ongoing debate, and that not everyone was raised with evolution in their schools.
Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  view from the brain/view from nowhere...
Date:  2003-10-22 09:05:23
Message Id:  6941

The McBrides and I had another pretty-astonishing conversation yesterday. We lingered for what seemed forever over Emily Dickinson's poem about the "size" of the brain, working particularly the last stanza:

But that was only 1/2 the story. We spent the remainder of our class talking about the consequences of genetic testing (and related matters of manipulating the genome). Our conversation turned to the complexities, demands and uncertainties of decision-making in a world that is as unpredictable as the one Darwin-via-Dennett describes. I referred both to a conversation on the same topic which took place in the Graduate Idea Forum last week (which I make accessible here), and to a February 16, 2003 New York Times Magazine article, "Unspeakable Conversations," in which the disability rights activist Harriet McBryde Johnson describes a "civil discussion" with the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer "about whether she ought to exist."

You'll find one account of that article--and one-to-me-very-striking interpretation of it--in an archive from last year's discussion of The Culture of Science, where a group of us explored the notion that, as the world came to seem an increasingly uncertain place, a separate culture of science arose, as an attempt to create a "more certain place" to live and think. We thought then (and the idea was so resonant it still rings for me now) that, rather than trying to arrive @ the "view from nowhere"--the attempt to get a larger (more objective) perspective than that offered by one body/one brain--perhaps what is needed instead is the "view from everywhere": sorting through our shared views, not in order to strip away all that is personal, experiential and contextual, but rather to INCORPORATE the widest range of particular views, in order to discover what can be seen in common. (I also recommended to the McBrides that, instead of writing "position papers w/ proof," they write papers "exploring an idea and using a flashlight to describe the territory that is illuminated").

For more (much more) about the importance of getting all our views expressed (aka claiming what each of us knows experientially, in order to expand the views of us all) see also Making Sense of Diversity.

Thanks to all for making this a wider-deeper place for me.


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