The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories:
Exploring the Significance of Diversity

Forum 5
The Story of Evolution: Wrapping Up (for now)

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  when an economist tells stories
Date:  2004-02-10 10:35:57
Message Id:  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.

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  stasis vs. the virus of time
Date:  2004-02-10 10:38:56
Message Id:  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.

Name:  Simran
Subject:  Projecting the story of a single individual onto the group they belong to.
Date:  2004-02-10 12:34:57
Message Id:  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!


Name:  Mary
Subject:  The catalyst?
Date:  2004-02-10 14:16:58
Message Id:  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
Username:  nseth@bmc
Date:  2004-02-10 14:27:56
Message Id:  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
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-10 17:42:46
Message Id:  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
Username:  ominder
Date:  2004-02-10 22:31:20
Message Id:  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
Message Id:  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
Subject:  Cockaigne
Date:  2004-02-11 21:27:55
Message Id:  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 Scarpa
Date:  2004-02-12 09:45:48
Message Id:  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.

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  why NOT?
Date:  2004-02-12 18:51:43
Message Id:  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
Username:  ominder
Date:  2004-02-12 19:46:40
Message Id:  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
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-12 22:37:15
Message Id:  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 Braun
Username:  Pbraun@bmc
Date:  2004-02-12 23:14:37
Message Id:  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?

Name:  Paul Grobstein, Anne Dalke
Subject:  this week ...
Date:  2004-02-13 08:32:29
Message Id:  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
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Hey...
Date:  2004-02-13 10:39:22
Message Id:  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 . . ."

Name:  em
Subject:  "help me see the part of me that lives inside of you..."
Date:  2004-02-13 13:47:42
Message Id:  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."
Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  its all okay.
Date:  2004-02-13 19:18:47
Message Id:  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.
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-13 22:09:21
Message Id:  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."
Name:  em
Subject:  let's talk about sex
Date:  2004-02-14 09:38:19
Message Id:  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.
Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  on its being ok and sex and thermodynamics
Date:  2004-02-14 11:08:15
Message Id:  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.
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-14 12:38:05
Message Id:  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
Subject:  altruism
Date:  2004-02-14 13:00:40
Message Id:  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 DaCosta
Date:  2004-02-14 13:25:47
Message Id:  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
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-15 14:26:56
Message Id:  8173
Comments:, 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 :)
Name:  Student Contributor
Subject:  Imperialism and Evolution
Date:  2004-02-15 14:45:12
Message Id:  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
Subject:  Humans?!
Date:  2004-02-15 15:48:08
Message Id:  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 Scarpa
Date:  2004-02-15 16:19:48
Message Id:  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.

Name:  orah
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  fitness and smarts
Date:  2004-02-15 17:01:04
Message Id:  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
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-15 19:00:25
Message Id:  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)

Name:  Elizabeth Catanese
Subject:  Mayr Questions and Thursday Thoughts
Date:  2004-02-15 19:58:29
Message Id:  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.


Name:  Julia
Username:  jeddy
Subject:  Mayr thoughts
Date:  2004-02-15 21:54:46
Message Id:  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 keffala
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  hmmm...
Date:  2004-02-16 00:00:13
Message Id:  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 Sheehan
Subject:  Altruism
Date:  2004-02-16 02:26:38
Message Id:  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 Student Contributor'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")

Name:  Mary
Subject:  More on altruism
Date:  2004-02-16 03:58:01
Message Id:  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.
Name:  Mary
Subject:  during the tango of objectivity and subjectivity, is truth a possibility?
Date:  2004-02-16 04:16:31
Message Id:  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
Message Id:  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
Message Id:  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.
Name:  Nancy
Username:  nevans@BMC
Subject:  This book...
Date:  2004-02-16 20:30:23
Message Id:  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 Deacon
Subject:  Loneliness
Date:  2004-02-17 00:29:53
Message Id:  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 Dubuisson
Date:  2004-02-17 01:43:09
Message Id:  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?
Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  time and ...
Date:  2004-02-17 10:07:50
Message Id:  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
Username:  ominder
Subject:  time
Date:  2004-02-17 13:19:46
Message Id:  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... :)

Name:  Kat
Subject:  MORE about sex
Date:  2004-02-17 14:35:24
Message Id:  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?

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  some poetry for ya'all
Date:  2004-02-17 16:47:02
Message Id:  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...

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  this actually makes a little sense, i think
Date:  2004-02-18 11:43:54
Message Id:  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 ....
Name:  nancy
Username:  nevans@bmc
Subject:  freud and the brain
Date:  2004-02-18 20:58:12
Message Id:  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 Davis
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-19 02:38:08
Message Id:  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 Scarpa
Date:  2004-02-19 20:51:55
Message Id:  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.
Name:  c. sante
Subject:  Thought and Language
Date:  2004-02-20 01:08:14
Message Id:  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...
Name:  Ro. Finn
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Errors in Dennett...according to Dennett
Date:  2004-02-20 06:47:48
Message Id:  8305
Found this link to Daniel Dennett's own list of errors (as of 6/97) in Darwin's Dangerous Ideas.

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder@bmc
Subject:  the evolution of a creation story
Date:  2004-02-20 10:26:37
Message Id:  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 ))

Name:  Charles DaCosta
Subject:  the evolution of a creation story
Date:  2004-02-20 15:40:49
Message Id:  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
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-21 07:31:36
Message Id:  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
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-21 07:59:03
Message Id:  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"?

Name:  ro. finn
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Correction to last post
Date:  2004-02-21 08:09:23
Message Id:  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"?

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  thought and language, science and religion, physical and moral worlds....
Date:  2004-02-21 08:34:55
Message Id:  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--

Name:  Mary
Subject:  My current state
Date:  2004-02-22 03:27:29
Message Id:  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.

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