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

Forum 7
Evolution: Even Further Beyond Biology

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  beginings without intent...absolute explanation needed
Date:  2004-02-24 16:44:04
Message Id:  8461
so, there is a basic rule in nature that causes things to organize ((finally learned how to spell orgAnize)) themselves. this fits so so nicely with the first creation myth, in genesis. there is no word, no intent, there is an action: "in the begining god created the heavens and the earth; the earth having been formless and void."as mentioned before this word CREATE is interchangable with the word ORGANIZE in the ancient hebrew. SO! the only difference between the stroy grobstein told today and this creation myth is the word GOD. and i really don't think that word (GOD) makes much of a difference.
i am very interested to hear if people think that these laws of nature, this law of organization is an ABSOLUTE TRUTH? are the laws of nature absolute truths? they are as telling a story without time: when stood in relation to certin other things, absolute? and in calling these laws of nature absolute truths can we call them, also, GOD.
can GOD equal absolute truth?
there was so much info. today i can't think it all out here.
but, one thing: a plant does not do as it does with the intent to live. but the things it does HAPPEN and the plant lives as a result of these actions. so, the happenings of the plant must be as a result of the "knowlege" of what is needed to survive. yes? no? if not then whose to say that the plant doesn't open at night and close in the snn and therefore die? can we say that the plant does not have intention, "knowledge," but the laws of nature enable it to live...becuase of some kind of "continuance of life law" or a "knowledge" of some sort distributed in the laws of nature? not because of an intention, but because of an ABSOLUTE ?? a law??
.................................begging for an explanation................................
Name:  ro. finn
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-24 18:53:01
Message Id:  8464
IMO, their is no such thing as absolute truth.

IF we are the product of a serendipitous process which, itself, originated serendipitously , AND we have evolved to being capable of creating and evolving stories, and therefore, our own story, THEN we can and probably will (have already? e.g., cultural evolution, evolutionary epistemology...) reshape the process that created and shaped us, which will shape new things that may affect us...etc, etc, etc....including what we view as absolute truth, and this,too, may change. It's all in our heads.

The game of life progresses from chaos to order, but never in the same ordered configuration.

Time to feed the dog, who knows nothing about such things and depends upon the same monotonous structure '-)

Name:  em
Subject:  go with me here...
Date:  2004-02-24 21:51:42
Message Id:  8470
ok, so i had this thought. can we connect time and language (or lack thereof)? because it doesn't take too much of a leap to go from "being in the moment" in sense of cognition of time-- to that wordless space where we act from instinct-- i.e. chess, tennis, music, what have you (i suppose it's different for everyone). could a lack of words or language for a specific moment just be our way of finally being completely and fully in the substance of time? i'd like to think so, for it's only when we pull back that we engage in wordplay to describe the activities that were, in a sense, timeless only moments before. also, i wanted to share this poem by jeffrey skinner, as it seems relevant:

"Many Worlds"

A physicist proposes time does not exist, only an infinite number of dramas, grand or banal, in different locations: a Wyoming ant hefts a leaf and begins the blind trek home. Nancy nicks her thumb chopping arugala in Manhattan. Sheets of rain batter the empty head of a seagull hunkered down amid blonde grasses. A Sudanese teenager takes the first of nineteen steps toward a landmine he will, or will not, trip with his left foot. A star in a tri-folded galaxy sputters and implodes. And so forth, ad infinitum. I read about this while drinking a steaming hot Columbian blend on the day we call, for convenience sake, Sunday.

But if there is not time, I wonder as I take antoher sip, why do I keep needing stronger glasses? And, if time is to be summarily tossed onto some landfill, wouldn't we be wise to hire a caretaker, an experienced force to guard the perimeter? One would not want the Spanish Inquisition leaking into Stonington, for example, where I currently reside. And I do not like to imagine walking the frozen streets of Buffalo, New York, and bumping into myself at the age of two, bundled in my mother's arms as she hurries me into the hospital, my appendix burst, my time running out.

How immediately I bend the poor physicist's notion to my own fears and wishes... Why must I understand every idea in terms of myself, my own little life and death? In all probability I misunderstand him completely and do not, as usual, know what I'm talking about. I wish I could step outside, into one of the many worlds to the left and right of me. The boy recovered, in time, and lived. But if time does not exist then why, as I continue sipping, does my sorrow deepen?

Name:  orah
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-24 21:52:42
Message Id:  8471
i thought, up until now, that maybe there is no essential difference between the humanitites and the sciences. but maybe this is the difference: the beleif in absolute truth. i cannot and refuse to beleive in a world in which the holocaust is not an absolute evil. maybe according to the changing laws of science some will beleive that the holocaust, though evil now, is under the laws of change. (octavia butler: GOD IS CHANGE.) i think the sublime (utterly horrific and utterly wonderful) is unchanging. humans have power to brand events into existence. even if all of time dissolves (past present and future) these events are carved deep into everything that is.
random house dictionary defines absolute as, "1. being fully as indicated. 2. free from any restriction, limitation, or exception. 3. not comparative or relative. 4. utter or outright. 5. without constitutional restraint. 6. certain. 7. pure. 8. relatively indepenedent in its syntactic relation to other elements. 9. pertaining to a system of units based on some primary units of length, mass and time." ... and i truely beleive with all my soul that there are things that exist like that. i refuse to think of a place without them. maybe that is the religious, the desperatly seeking nature of my soul speaking, begging for there to be something for which to live, to cling .... but, hell, i'm a bleeding human soul, like we all are. so you answer me, please, this is a serious question: if you don't cling to absolute truths to what do you cling? and if you don't cling how do you live? seriously. i need to know. it's upsetting.

ps i don't think life is a game and i don't know what IMO stands for.

Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-24 21:55:08
Message Id:  8472
and what is the point of doing anything if it does not have the possibility to be molded in as sublime? isn't that what we are all clawing for? the creation of a perfect beauty? why live if you aren't clawing madly for something.
Name:  emily s.
Date:  2004-02-24 22:52:40
Message Id:  8478
the conversation on tuesday regarding the relationship between language and thought reminded me of two books i read for another class- "pilgrim at tinker creek" by anne dillard and "desert solitaire" by edward abbey. both are non-fiction travel narratives. each of these authors struggled with the limitations that human consciousness places on their perceptions of their surroundings. and also, the task of balancing verbalized descriptions of nature with how nature actually IS.

dillard was preoccupied with the idea of simply existing, as opposed to assigning cultural, or verbal, meanings to her surroundings. she describes this as "...less like seeing than like being..." and strives to attain this state throughout the book. according to her, "consciousness itself does not hinder living in the present. in fact, it is only a heightened awareness that the great door to the present opens at all. even a certain amount of interior verbalization is helpful to enforce the memory of whatever it is that is taking place...self-consciousness, however, does hinder the experience of the present. it is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest." dillard has an interesting perspective on the interaction of humans with the rest of nature- she believes that it is preferable to abandon some of our evolved self-consciousness in favor of experiencing the rest of the world with fewer filters, including language. for her, the condition of being in what she terms "the present" is simply thought without language.

abbey as well struggled with the limits of verbalization versus purely experiencing nature. in particular, he resisted personification of natural phenomena, animals especially. "i am not attributing human motives to my snake and bird acquaintances. i recognize that when and where they serve purposes of mine they do so for beautifully selfish resons of their own. which is exactly the way it should be." this is another way of saying that snakes and birds are "model makers." to really understand them is to avoid language which will incorrectly assign them consciousness. of course, this is incredibly tempting for humans, who cannot imagine life without self-consciousness. especially story tellers such as abbey who have very few other options if they want to give readers an idea of what a snake or a bird seems to be.

in his introduction, abbey states that "it will be objected that the book deals too much with mere appearances, with the surface of things, and fails to engage and reveal the patterns of unifying relationships which form the true underlying reality of existence. here i must confess that i know nothing whatever about true underlying reality, having never met any...for my own part i am pleased enough with surfaces- in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance." in a way, abbey is right. do we really need to give verbal and conscious significance to the rest of the world in order to appreciate it? what is the benefit of analyzing nature and determining the "true underlying reality?" abbey as well seems to believe that thought can exist in the absence of language- on the surface- and that this condition is preferable to becomming bogged down in rhetoric.

Name:  Ro. Finn
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-25 08:20:21
Message Id:  8484
First, the easy question: "IMO" is internet shorthand for "in my opinion." I apologize for using a cryptic abbreviation. Sometimes, I feel the need to say that what I'm writing is just one person's opinion. I don't mean to push ideas.

Orah wrote: "if you don't cling to absolute truths to what do you cling? and if you don't cling how do you live? seriously. i need to know. it's upsetting."

I wish there were something I could conjure that would allay your angst. What works for me may not work for anyone else. I cling to absolute possibility. Discontinuity creates space. It thrusts us forward and keeps us on our toes. I like that. Intuitively, it feels safer to keep moving, to accumulate more adaptive traits. In my mind, stasis attends absolute truth, and "just believing" in something may be the ultimate risk, even if —in the beginning— certain truths was not manmade. Perhaps that's why so many of us have questions we cannot shake. Maybe a questioning mind is a trait that has been 'selected for' for our own survival.

em--thank you for skinner's poem.

Name:  orah
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  thank you, ro!
Date:  2004-02-25 09:07:37
Message Id:  8485
all i really care about is the clinging ... "to what" doesn't really make a difference, does it? just as long as we're all doing the same thing, we're all in this together..... we all hold on. *releif*
Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  and on ...
Date:  2004-02-25 10:08:14
Message Id:  8486
Enjoying very much the thinking together, in class and here. Tuesday was a new chapter of a story I've been working on for a while, very much informed by conversations we've had together and inevitably to be reshaped by further conversation, like the above and following.

I made in fact already a few small changes in the Tuesday notes (in the "altruism" subhead of "language based culture") to bring out a point that was in the background (my brain) but not probably not explicit enough. Remember that this is A story (one I'm working on), not THE story, so others can use or not use it and any piece of it insofar as it is useful in their own story writing. And yes, it is a story of ongoing (eternal?) change, with some perhaps troubling implications.

It is NOT, though, a story of purely random change, nor of aloneness, nor of "meaninglessness". It is a story of the ongoing exploration of what can be, of a present whose richness (and limitations) are built from the past and that it turn serves as the basis for future exploration, all endowed with whatever meaning we individually and collectively wish to give it (or not give it). It is (for me at least) a story of space, of room and wherewithal, of connectedness to each other/other organisms/the universe, and of opportunity to bring into being what has not been and what one dreams might be.

People are different from one another, and that's in fact an important part of the story, an ingredient without which exploration would (at least by humans) be much less generative, the future much less spacious. I for one am more than willing to trade in "absolutes" and whatever benefits they offer for the room created by their absence. But others need to make those kinds of choice/write their stories in their own ways. That's part of the story. Yep, we're all "in this together".

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  smart friends, another revision, and a question NEEDING answer.
Date:  2004-02-25 16:28:57
Message Id:  8492
i have a philosophy blog with some of my friend and some of them responded to my posting in response to ro's "there are no absolute truths." some of what they said was really insightful, thought ya'all might like to read:
friend 1: "why do we need ALL to answer yes to these questions? can't it be that WE see it this way and WE keep searching and seeking and yes talking about it every so often, etc. why do we need an ANSWER? i understand the desperation, but in the "desperate" feeling of your comments there is some solace that i am not alone and that there is room for manuvering, mistake, seeking and discovering because in a way, your truth is not an absoleute because are you ever going to define exactly what that is, do you you need to? or is it enough to just BELIEVE? i think maybe some problem we run into is that we have this desire for everyone to be so stuck to life as we are, to have something to hold onto and live for and we freak out when people can operate on the basis of scientific process and truth. is that maybe part of feeling so desperate when those around you start speaking in terms of proofs and everything? i don't know, just a thought, because i know i sometimes feel that way, that it's such a WONDERFUL feeling to believe in something so powerful and strong that i just want everyone to share in that warm-fuzziness...but maybe they have their own and it makes their heart race just as much..."

friend 2: "I do think there has to be some kind of universal constant that connects all of us. I don't necessarily think we can prove this is the case, but neither do I think we can prove it is not. To me truth is equated with God in many ways, as if there is no absolute truth how could god exist? I think our acceptance of truth is born out of necessity, and I find that necessity eventually leads us to faith, which is the only way we can approach this question.
maybe there is no one answer, but instead each of us responds with our own faith and that must be what allows us to cling to something--anything. Truth will always be subject to interpretation, and depending on what place we're at we'll respond differently. That's part of what troubles me...we'll all always be at different places, i.e., we never arrive at full maturity or truth or nirvana or whatever you want to call it (not in this lifetime anyways?), so we'll never be able to jugde just what truth is. We're constantly affected by our world view, background, environment, etc. I do think it's hard to relate to people who operate only on scientific principles since they can't identify with the element of faith which is so crucial to our line of thought. But I do believe at some point they will need either to choose faith or to choose unhappiness."

i think a lot, so my views are CONSTANTLY changing...and sometimees i look back over past thoughts, things i've said, past postings, and cringe a little bit because now i don't fully beleive what i previously said so addamently. so, i revise: it's okay if we aren't all clinging. it makes me feel better that if i am pained: others are pained. if i am scrammbling: others are scrambling. but, as one of my friends said: isn't it okay if i cling with the clingers while others don't cling at all. yeh, i guess so. i kinda wish we'd all cling together, but i'll live my way and you live your way...
and i guess the reason i feel so threatened by the prospect of there being no absolute truth is because THAT is what I NEED. i really really really need there to be a constant out there, becaues that's why i'm here.
so, i'll conclude these obnoxiously long thoughts with this longish question:
i don't think everyone should be allowed to tell their own story. i disallow you to tell your story if it physically harms others. i disallow militant racists to tell their story. but we MUST draw the exact line of whose story is allowed and whose story is not allowed. so, i ask: where is that line drawn?? ya'all obviously affected me with the whole "there are no absolute truths," but was i so affected that you should be disallowed from telling your story?? obviously not. should we all just shut up and tell our stories to those who we know aggree with us?? i don't think so. should mel gibson be able to tell his story even if it might insight others to violence?? should bush be allowed to impose his story on us??
tell me! who gets to tell her story and who doesn't?

Name:  daniela
Subject:  How free...
Date:  2004-02-25 22:17:06
Message Id:  8509
Memes need human minds in order to come to live and "reproduce" (give rise to a new idea, thought or meme). The moment a meme assumes a trite meaning, it dies and is supplanted by other memes. Once a meme is anchored in a brain, it is "processed" and changed in compliance with the idiosyncrasies of that particular brain. Then, it is passed to other brains.

According to this description of memes, an individual cannot generate germane memes without being influenced from other people. Does this mean that our thinking is dependent on other people's thinking? Can a person live alone insolated from other human beings and be creative? Original? Can a person generate something that has never existed before? Or is imagination a new way of putting old elements together?

Do we have control of the processing of the memes? On one hand, their influence may be too subtle for us to perceive it, so that we may turn into " a sort of dungheap in which the larvae of other people's ideas renew themselves..." (346).
Another opportunity exists.If we happen to somehow resist the influence of the memes, and try to stick with our own, may we eventually be turned into pariahs, because our way of thinking differs from that of society? So, we do conform sometimes to the social way of processing memes? Of course, we will remodel them in accordance with the idiosyncrasies of our brains, but the attribute of the meme stays the same (this process emulates the renga pictures in a way. Thus, certain different cultures are formed.
So, does the freedom to be unique exist?

Name:  Patricia
Username:  ppalermo
Subject:  I'm agrivated!!!
Date:  2004-02-25 23:37:38
Message Id:  8512
Last Tuesday in class was such an important day for me. I think it was so important for me to look at the origin of the word and to really let it sink in that we created it. ("We" meaning humans.) This particular concept is the type of thing that I "know" but I never looked at the implications of what "knowing" this included. I mean, it may seem stupid, but I really felt newly informed to the idea that purposeful things are done without purpose on the organisms part. If I understood this correctly, we impose our language and expressions of intention, purpose, like and dislikes onto other living organisms that simply don't do the things they do for a conscious reason. So, I guess what makes Humans so unique is the presence of the I-function or Mind to work in conjunction with the brain. But, although we have this I-function capability, and although we are able to think about the model that governs our actions, it was still so important to me that even within our own bodies, we portray purpose upon systems that don't have purpose. For example, when my younger sister asks me why medicine makes her better when she is sick I always find myself explaining to her that the chemicals are "fighting" the virus. And it really never occurred to me that our language has such an effect on our understanding of the way things work. I guess the point of what I am writing is this: I wonder how much of our own actions; actions for which we think we have full understanding of our purpose for those actions, are caused by common processes in living things that have completely no "purpose." Or at least not the purpose we assign to it. I wonder why we as human beings do so many things...and I just realized that there may not be a million emotionally tied reasons to explain them. Because, I for one, was someone who always understood that leaves on a window plant moved toward the window during the sun light hours because they "wanted" sunlight. And when I think about all of the things that "work" in an organism without intentionally intending to work that way, it really makes you think of the majestic nature of biological rules. We assign understanding to things that don't need it to be understood in order for it to work. They just do. And even though we have a consciousness, I think we may just not use it as much as we think we do. I don't know. My mind is a mess. The idea that plant leaves don't move toward light because they are somehow smart is mind-boggling to me. I mean, these are believes I've held not because they make sense, but because my language choice trained me in this way. I wish I could image who I would be if there were no language. But I can not. And I just really need to let the idea sink in that there was so much going on before it could ever be attempted to be explained. So we need not put so much value on our ability to explain it. I swear by Psychology, which is all about purpose, and I get agitated thinking about working systems without the idea of purpose or intentionality.
Name:  bethany keffala
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  look at all the lovely flowers...
Date:  2004-02-26 11:40:11
Message Id:  8523
So many questions and ideas blooming! Beautiful. I don't know that I have enough time to say everything that I've been thinking right now...may have to come back later and finish.

About Paul's pattern idea, the one about the clock on the wall, telling the story without relying on time: Your story requires a pattern, right? And REcognizing a pattern requires MEMORY, right? Does that mean anything? Is that relying on time? Or maybe I don't understand...

Another thought about language and...thought :) - I don't know if everyone is familiar with the case of Genie, (sp?) but this may help shed more light on what we've been wrestling with...
- So, there was this girl, who lived, I think in California? She was horribly abused by her family in the following way: They kept her locked in a room, strapped to a chair, and periodically brought her food. They wouldn't talk to her, and she had only brief contact with either parent. She was found years later, after the vital period for language acquisition. She could not speak, she had no language. Psychologists taught her rudimentary English, an extremely difficult task. In fact, she never really took to it, it was just too late, and she eventually lost all the little she had learned. HOWEVER! When she did have some use of this semi-communicative ability, she was able to describe her experience during the abuse. What does this mean? She remembered her experiences from before she had language. She was thinking before she had language.

hmmm...more to say...I have to agree with Orah- I think I need the concept of absolute truth, too. It just seems to fit, I know this is a horribly unscientific way to look at it, but I feel that it exists, my intuition tells me that it exists.

ooops...class is starting...more later...

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Date:  2004-02-26 13:19:21
Message Id:  8526
thank you's nice to have companionship, someone to agree with you. though i was very comforted when prof. grobstein reiterated "WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER." both agreement and that reassurance are so important to hear.
been thinking since last postings about the image of clinging verses the images of being whipped around by the harsh gusts that this world deals, not clinging, but rather being able to be knowcked down and continue, the ability to live without a dependance on anything. ((is that what it's like to live without absolute truths? to live without a dependance on anything?)) and i hope that one day i won't need absolute truths as i do now. it actually sounds like a more stable life, though not as happy. or maybe i like my story...not really sure. it's funny how i feel as though i can't chose my story. i can't chose what i beleive in. who dictates that? i have to make a bus so i can't keep going...but, anyways, thank you both so much for the comforting words :)
Name:  bethany keffala
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  more puzzle pieces
Date:  2004-02-26 14:21:27
Message Id:  8527
ok, another frantic post...I think the [sick] is getting to my head, because I can't make sense of my jumbled thoughts...sorry, I am trying :)

ok...absolute truth...yes. Perhaps I shall come back to that later? It gets away from an idea I had in between now and when I posted before... just remind me about falling vases and then I'll ask you a question...

In response to Em's post about struggling with time as something made up, and especially the bit about running into your two year-old self, I think the important thing to remember is that each state, each present, is the context for the next state, the next present...does this have to do with laws? Someone was talking about laws...was that Orah? Maybe the laws are like programming rules...they dictate which outputs are possibilities for which inputs...

So! I was thinking, and I think I saw something interesting. I was mulling over language and thought and their relationship, and this is what I came up with. When we come up with theories, or just with ordinary thoughts/observations, it seems like they are in an expanded form in our heads. In order to transmit these thoughts (assuming they are complex enough for a gesture or a glance to be insufficient) to someone else, we have to put them into words. We contract our ideas into these words, and then speak them, they find their way into the ear of whomever we are talking to, where they expand again, perhaps in the configuration in which they were expanded in our heads, perhaps not. (Understanding versus Misunderstanding?) This reminds me of those little capsules that they used to give us in the bathtub, you know...they look like colored gel-caps and then you put them in the water and then they explode into little sponge dinosaurs and things...hehehe. Ok. but the second part of this idea was connected to altruism...when we give someone a gift, or help, or when we act kindly towards them, is this a contraction of our feelings? In other words, there are our feelings, expanded in ourselves, and then an action, a gift, a gesture, which contracts what we are feeling, is symbolic of it, and is intended to create a certain feeling in the receiver...Anyone else see this?

(expanded)IDEA >> (contracted) LANGUAGE >> (expanded) IDEA [maybe same, maybe not]

(expanded)FEELING >> (contracted) GIFT >> (expanded) FEELING [maybe same, maybe not]

alright...well, I've lost my train of thought. please let me know if you find it :) thanks

Name:  Elizabeth Catanese
Subject:  rhythm, memes and uniqueness
Date:  2004-02-26 17:13:46
Message Id:  8529
Wanted to post some post-class thoughts. Returning to the first half of class discussion I think that it might be useful to look for the common thread in units of meaning and communication (spacial, linguistic, musical etc.) And I think what would unite all of these is the idea of rhythm. Words operate based on rhythm, patterns= rhthym... emotions are created by rhythmic stimulation... using a spacial way to find a room location is based on spacial rhythms generated into the eyes and the rhythm of a person walking to that location. We are pattern making creatures because of this rhythm and this makes sense because all that's going on biologically (on the inside) is rhythm... heart beat, blood circulation etc....the theory of evolution is about patterns (or as Prof. Grobstein has demonstrated humans want it to be) so we're mirroring this philosophical/biological rhythm with our cultural memes. Because pattern has come to, in many (human) ways to bring forth meaning. Mary, in class today, asked if meaning was in some ways superflous to the evolutionary (?) adaptive (?) process. I think in one sense it is very healthy, biologically for humans to look for stories and purpose... because it keeps our bodies living better... One can think this if one believes that happiness is linked with health and longevity. For those who believe that the process of searching for meaning produces as sort of happiness then there would be a biological basis for the search for meaning. I realize that this is quite an oversimplification and a variety of objections might be taken- What about people for whom the search of meaning is painful... how about those who don't have access to a search for meaning... etc. etc. The only thing i'm really trying to point out with this is that although we do talk about them separately, the mind is connected to everything that is going on biologically in the body... I mean I'm thinking while my heart is beating- And I think that more needs to be done exploring the connection between biological processes and thought processes. It'd be useful although I'm sure that exactly how it would be useful could only be determined retrospectively.

Another thing that I was thinking was, exactly what did happen when I gave directions to the person looking for Thomas. Before I could say where it was, I said, it's a big grey building. So a picture came into my mind first, then I described the picture in my mind and only then was able to get to the how do I get there part... actually by this point the person had given up on me, nodded like it was apparent that she had picked the wrong person to ask and was already driving off... I know people for whom there is virtually no lag time when a directional question is asked. I can sympathize quite a lot with people who give directions based upon floating over a place.

Finally I'm thinking about newness. And I'm thinking about Elizabeth D's hub cap wearing and the phychoanalysis example and how it all relates to pattern making... When trying to create a new meme (not that anyone does this particularly conciously)... I guess what i'm trying to say is when creating a new anything... essay, piece of artwork, thought... it is not always necessary to look explicitly at what already exists and has existed and to get caught up in the past... because then you can't make any leaps... In retrospect it's good to know that what you've done was done before in a certain way but in the process of doing it sometimes you've just got to trust that your subconcious mind (taped into a collective unconcious?... perhaps a whole new thing to be explored) will do what it has to do to create something meaningful for people (independent of whether its entirely new). If it is not new, it can still be unique, special, revolutionary, life-changing, humanity altering etc... So whether or not something is entirely new doesn't matter. It's the unique, special revolutionary part that matters...

I'm thinking about the concept of being too far fetched, too far out there- I think that there are these constraints on thought, on society in general- negative cultural memes I guess stereotypes would be examples...although that's not precisely what I mean...

People are strongly connected to things from the past, so that patterns can be derived... but it's the things which seem inherently patternless at first which can be the most unique, innovative... but only particular people can make enough of a leap so as to convince people to make the leap with them... to enter into a world with an unfamiliar framework and extreme recombination of thought. I think that installation artists and multi-media artists are able to perform this societal function to a great extent... But because of pattern making convention, sometimes society limits itself.

One example of this would be object connotations... It's debatable the extent to which a nude body will not in some way bring up sexual connotations... Context or artist intent can help to change this slightly but, in general this will always be imbedded meaning. It's things like this which frustrate me- things that close the system down slightly. Objects and words gather baggage over time...and this bagage counteracts the development of the unique... I don't know if it can be another way but it is interesting to note how what we use to communicate while expanding the potential for understanding, can also limit it in a variety of ways.

Name:  Perrin
Username:  Pbraun@bmc
Date:  2004-02-26 17:57:08
Message Id:  8532
Ah! So much fodder for discussion! Sorry for the disjointedness of the post, but I thought of an interesting example of a meme: the story of a great flood which rejuvenated a previously evil world. This meme is relevant to the Judeo-Christian religions as well as African, Native American, and Hindi culture. I wonder how this story can be claimed by such separate and diverse cultures that have only recently been able to interact with each other. In terms of our discussion about originality, even though this story *might* not be completely innovative, it is definitely still useful to somebody. So what's the big deal about originality?

On another random note, I was taught in psychology that there is a "critical period" for language acquisition (as per Chomsky) and that if you "don't use it, you lose it." Bethany, I watched a video about Genie! If this hypothesis is correct, then Genie would never be able to speak properly. She was subsequently never able to master the syntax and semantics of language, even after years of training. I guess this disproves the theory that grammar is inherent to all humans?

This is relevant, I swear. In terms of our discussion of words and/or language, I was wondering if we dream in words AND pictures. I only seem to remember visuals in my dreams and never words. This brings me to my next point...I think that emotions are the foundations of our words. Meaning that before verbal expression, there were feelings. For example, little children who haven't learned to verbalize their emotions may cringe when watching a scary movie. BUT it is only when they become aware of their cringing that they can put a label on their emotion and say out loud that they feel afraid. I think that all of our words can be traced back to our emotions, so is language purely selfish?
More randomness. The following is an African folktale that I read as a child about the origin of stories that I was arbitrarily reminded of today, so I looked it up on the internet for your enjoyment =) It's pretty interesting when you contrast it with the Paul and Anne's perspective; although I think that science is such a large part of our life now that this story is completely unbelievable to me, but something to think about nonetheless...maybe this is how memes came into existence too? Perhaps this can explain the "very first meme" that was discussed in Anne's discussion group today? Anyway, here it is:

It was long ago in Africa, when there was First Spider, Kwaku Anansi. He went everywhere, throughout the world, traveling on his strong web strings - sometimes looking more like a wise old man than a spider. In that long-ago time, child, there were no stories on Earth for anyone to tell. The sky-god kept all stories to himself, up high in the sky, and locked away in a wooden box. These the spider wanted, as many creatures had before him, so that he could know the beginnings and endings of things. Yet all who had tried for the stories had returned empty-handed. Now Anansi climbed up his web to the sky-god, Nyame, to ask for the sky-god's stories.
When the powerful sky-god saw the thin, spidery, old man crawling up to his throne, he laughed at him, "What makes you think that you, of all creatures, can pay the price I ask for my stories?"
Spider only wanted to know, "What is the price of the stories?"
"My stories have a great price, four fearsome, elusive creatures: Onini, the python that swallows men whole; Osebo, the leopard with teeth like spears; Mmoboro, the hornets that swarm and sting; and Mmoatia, the fairy who is never seen. Bring these to me."
Bowing, the spider quietly turned and crept back down through the clouds. He ment to capture the four creatures he needed as price for the stories. He first asked his wife, Aso, how he might capture Onini, the python that swallows men whole.
She told him a plan, saying, "Go and cut off a branch of the palm tree and cut some string-creeper as well. Take these to the stream where python lives."
As Anansi went to the swampy stream, carrying these things, he began arguing aloud, "This is longer than he; You lie, no; it Is true; this branch is longer and he is shorter, much shorter."
The python was listening, and asked what spider was talking about, "What are you muttering, Anansi?"
"I tell you that my wife, Aso, is a liar, for she says that you are longer than this palm branch and I say that you are not."
Onini, the python, said, "Come and place the branch next to me and we will see if she is a liar."
And so, Anansi put the palm branch next to the python's body, and saw the large snake stretch himself alongside it. Ananasi then bound the python to the branch with the string-creeper and wound it over and over - nwenene! nwenene! nwenene! - until he came to the head. Then the spiderman said to Onini, "Fool, I will now take you to the sky-god."
This Anansi did as he spun a web around the snake to carry him back through the clouds to the sky kingdom.
On seeing the gigantic snake, Nyame merely said, "There remains what still remains."
Spider came back to Earth to find the next creature, Osebo the leopard, with teeth like spears.
His wife, Aso, told him, "Go dig a large hole."
Anansi said, "I understand, say no more."
After following the tracks of the leopard, spider dug a very deep pit. He covered it over with the branches of the trees and came home. Returning in the very early morning, he found a large leopard lying in the pit.
"Leopard, is this how you act? You should not be prowling around at night; look at where you are! Now put your paw here, and here, and I will help you out."
The leopard put his paws up on the sticks that Anansi placed over the pit and began to climb up. Quickly, Anansi hit him over the head with a wooden knife - gao! Leopard fell back into the pit - fom! Anansi quickly spun the leopard to the sticks with his web string.
"Fool, I am taking you to pay for the sky-god's stories."
But the sky-god recieved the leopard saying, "What remains, still remains."
Next the spiderman went looking for Mmoboro, the hornets that swarm and sting.
Spider told his wife, Aso, what he was looking for and she said, "Look for an empty gourd and fill it with water."
This spider did and he went walking through the bush until he saw a swarm of hornets hanging there in a tree. He poured out some of the water and sprinkled it all over their nest. Cutting a leaf from a nearby banana tree, he held it up and covered his head. He then poured the rest of the water from the gourd all over himself. Then while he was dripping he called out to the hornets,
"The rain has come, do you see me standing here with a leaf to cover my head? Fly inside my empty gourd so that the rain will not beat at your wings."
The hornets flew into the gourd, saying, "Thank you - hhhuuummm - Aku; thank you - hhhuuummm - Anansi."
Anansi stopped up the mouth of the gourd, and spinning a thick web around it, said, "Fools, I'm taking you to the sky-god as price for his stories."
The sky-god, Nyame, accepted Mmoboro, the hornets that swarm and sting, and said, "What remains, still remains."
Anansi knew very well what remained - it was the fairy, Mmoatia, who is never seen. When the spider came back to Earth, he asked Aso what to do. And so, he carved an Akua's child, a wooden doll with a black, flat face, and covered it with sticky fluid from a tree.
Walking through the bush, he found the odum tree, where the fairies like to play. He then made eto, pounded yams, and put some in the doll's hand and even more of the yams into a brass basin at her feet - there by the odum tree. Anansi next hid in the bushes, with a vine creeper in his hands that was also tied to the doll's neck.
It wasn't long before the fairies came, two sisters, to play. They saw the doll with the eto and asked if they could have some. Anansi made the doll's head nod, "Yes", by pulling on the string-creeper. Soon the faries had eaten all the eto and so, thanked the doll, but the doll did not reply. The fairies became angry.
One sister said, "When I thank her, she says nothing."
The other sister replied, "Then slap her in her crying place."
This the fairy did, she slapped it's cheek - "pa!" - but her hand stuck there. She slapped it with her other hand - "pa!" - and that hand stuck, too. She kicked it with both one foot, then the other, and both feet stuck to the sticky wooden doll. Finally, she pushed her stomache to it and that stuck.
Then Anansi came from his hiding place, and said, "Fool, I have got you, and now I will take you to the sky-god to buy his stories once and for all."
Anansi spun a web around the last of the four creatures and brought Mmoatia up to Nyame in the sky kingdom. The sky-god, seeing this last catch, called together all his nobles. He put it before them and told them that the spider-man had done what no-one else had been able to do. He said in a loud voice that rang in the sky,
"From now and forever, my sky-god stories belong to you - kose! kose! kose! - my blessing, my blessing, my blessing. We will now call these "Spider Stories"."
And so, stories came to Earth because of the great cunning of Kwaku Anansi, and his wife, Aso. When Anansi brought the wooden box of stories to his home, he and his wife eagerly learned each one of them. And you can still see today that Aku and Aso tell their stories. Everywhere you look, they spin their webs for all to see.

(in the story that I remember, Anansi dropped the box of stories as he was climbing down from the sky kingdom and the stories spilled out, spreading all across the world)
That's all for now. Thanks for the great class today!

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Date:  2004-02-26 19:18:23
Message Id:  8533
my religion prof said today, "at the heart of all existence there is an impenetrable absence."
why do we hurt ourselves with ideas of the possibility of meaninglessness/purposelessness? because comfort/pleasure is not the only thing that we crave...we crave truth. but, that truth is impenetrable. so we spend our whole lives in movement. trying to organize. ((reminds me of the talk on beauty... the movement from disorganization to organization is beauty...not the arrival at organization.))
reeve talked today about the fact that there IS something as opposed to nothing...and if everything is random then why does this something exist? i asked if we are just convincing ourselves that we are something rather than living the painful idea that we are nothing but the natural outcome of random organization. prof. grobstein said a while back (sry, i don't know how to do that cool linky thing) "It is NOT, though, a story of purely random change, nor of aloneness, nor of "meaninglessness." i ask: where is the meaning in the story of random organization...are we any better that computer games?
and i say that our means of suvivial is this impenetrable absence. it NEEDS to be there as a result of consious existence. the impenetrable absence is a result of human need and is absolute, everlasting, becuase if it is penetrated the movement is done (the beauty non-existent) ... but it cannot be penetrated.

i'm still really struggling with the idea of not needing this absolute....
it's kinda earth shattering....
for so long i've worked off the formulated idea and defined god for myself on the basis that everyone needs to cling, needs an absolute...whether they call it god or not.
but, i'm not sure any more.
give me a little while and i'll figure it out....
thank you everyone.

ps bethany, i think heather talked about laws....i want to hear about falling vases

Name:  Diane Scarpa
Date:  2004-02-26 19:55:12
Message Id:  8534
This topic of free will (which Anne brought up today in class) is an interesting one, and I can't wait to hear what you all have to say about it. I'm going to throw out my ideas about it first to get the ball rolling..

First, I do absolutely, undoubtedly believe that living things have free will. However, sometimes these choices are disguised. For instance, Anne claimed today that humans need to eat in order to survive. I would argue that eating is a choice, we do not need to eat. There is nothing that forces us to do this. This choice is confounded by an even greater choice, the choice to survive. So, while it seems we do not have a choice as to whether we wish to eat, we certainly do. The possibility of making this choice to is clouded by a prior choice, the choice to survive. It can seem as if we have no room to decide things for ourselves because we are not always cognizant of the even bigger, more pressing choices we made long before.

Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  Science journal: The Evolution of Language
Date:  2004-02-26 19:55:33
Message Id:  8535

Hey all, good to be back on the forums, if only for a quick post right now.

The weekly journal Science has a special issue out on the EVOLUTION OF LANGUAGE. Haven't had a chance to read it yet, but looks fascinating as they cover a huge range of topics. Hope this link will be of interest to you too.

Name:  Ro. Finn
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-02-27 06:53:31
Message Id:  8538
Good morning!
I gotta say I am suspicious about memes and have been since I first read Dawkins. I do, however, find the concept of memes useful to better discuss how mores and attitudes spread throughout a culture and how knowledge, learning, and teaching happen within social groups. But the notion that a "thought phenotype" can enter a human without that person's permission or choice is not so much unsettling as it is bizarre, especially if you consider that some people "catch" some memes, while others catch totally different memes—and these folks might be living in the same culture, the same family even.

OR are we considering that a person DOES exercise choice over the memes he/she takes in? Are there meme filters? The more I think about this, it makes sense. Consider Dennett's point about "D-F#-A" not being a cultural unit/a thought phenotype, but the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth qualifying as one. IF we think about somewhat isolated populations—in this case, a population with a strong affinity for music—then "D-F#-A" may well be a cultural unit within that may make the same immediate, tacit "click" for that group's members, but be totally opaque to people/populations who have not honed their thought skills in that discipline. Think of all the highly specialized lingo that's specific to one "cult" or another...

What really intrigues me—and I think of it right now as tangential to memetics—is the notion of our having a common "brain language" (Dennett 353). Makes me think of the story of Babel, which presumes that we all started with the same language before an omnipotent being broke up the party. But the story may have derived from our actually having had a common language of sorts. If so, MIGHT WE STILL HAVE IT? Could we dig down into our tacit knowledge brain parts and haul it up? As a writer, I am fascinated by this possibility. It's a bore writing for only one language population, one subset of cultures. For example, should I try writing in sounds that ALL can earthlings hear, not English words? What would be the reaction, I wonder.

By the end of the reading, I liked Stephen Gould even more :-)... "The basic topologies of biological and cultural change are completely different. Biological evolution is a system of constant divergence without subsequent joining of branches. Lineages, once distinct, are separate forever. In human history, transmission across lineages is, perhaps, the major source of cultural exchange" (Dennett 355). So, BIO-EVOLUTION IS DIVERGENT. SOCIO-EVOLUTION IS CONVERGENT—and never the t'wain shall meet? One "story" might be that memes move way faster than their bio-evolutionary equivalents, so they can trace back down branches and then up others, overcoming divergence in the same way that we overcome taking a wrong turn into a one-way side street. Could we cover this, please, in class sometime soon?

Have a great weekend!

Name:  cham sante
Subject:  more games for Paul
Date:  2004-02-27 18:37:25
Message Id:  8546
I was highly amused by Paul's attempts to explain various programs such as the game of life in class on tuesday. ok, i was mostly amused by his frustrated dancing around the room, culminating in a kneel to the floor.

Anyways, these games/programs intrigued me and ive since come across another survival game called "Tit for Tat". in over 200 trials against computer programmers and mathematicians from all over, Tit for Tat won every time. All it did was follow a simple set of rules in order to "survive". Tit for Tat was just simply nice- It started out by cooperating and then simply copied what its opponents did. if the other player cooperated, so did Tit for Tat and both players flourished. if the other player "defected", Tit for Tat retaliated and so therefore did not lose out to defectors. So, why did Tit for Tat always win? Im not exactly sure, but i feel as though the game as a whole is trying to get at one important point: group advantage can come out of individual strategy without the need to appeal to evolution for "the greater good" (i.e., a possible explanation for human altruism). perhaps this provides a story for how cooperation evolved?

Futhermore, Tit for Tat was not being cooperative for the greater good of the group/species (although it could easily be interpreted this way), but instead it was actually being selfish while hiding behind a mask of cooperation. sounds like this could present a problem in terms of our discussion of morality, in that we must now consider the advantages of both outward and thus perceivable morality versus true(?)internal morality.

Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  more matters arising ....
Date:  2004-02-28 12:28:01
Message Id:  8551
A few thoughts from the forum, and from thursday class ....

re Bethany (and post conversation with her):
Language expansion/contraction is a really neat idea, that I earlier ran onto in a book called The User Illusion by Tor Norretranders. And it has a very interesting connection to what some research I was doing on the frog made me understand about how the nervous system works generally: going from input to central representations (in this case of space) to output is a process of contracting and then expanding in terms of the dimensionality of how things are represented in the nervous system. And that, in turn, connects to the earlier conversation about "time" as a dimension ...

Re Cham:
Glad to be a source of entertainment; hope others enjoyed it as well. Truth be told, we spent more time on the "Game of Life" then I'd intended and so less time on some later things, including ... "Prisoner's Dilemma" which, I would have said if we'd had time, has exactly the significance that Cham outlines. Nice to know there are people around who can offset my deficiencies.

And that in turn brings me to our section discussion thursday (which, I understand, was not unrelated to Anne's discussion section). Morality, personal responsibility, free will? Is there "morality" before the concept/word comes into existence? (Does a falling tree make a sound if there is no one there to hear it?). Does morality depend on "free will"; when/where did that come into existence? And how does all that relate to genes/memes/Dennett?

Its not only Prisoner's Dilemma that we didn't quite get through last Tuesday, but some of the rest of this as well. Maybe we can do something with all this next Tuesday. And with whatever else is on peoples' minds/shows up here before then?

Name:  meg
Subject:  Morality
Date:  2004-02-29 09:44:57
Message Id:  8556
It is difficult to imagine that there could have been morality without free will. People have to consciously make the choice whether or not they will act morally. The first appearance of a story of human morality is Adam and Eve. This story exemplifies a conscious decision to ignore the laws or morals supposedly set by God. This story was told for thousands of years, and is from very early in human history. Before this there are no signs of morality, so was it around. I think that a major influence in morality was religion. Once religions were established there were also codes on how to live based on these religions. I have no way of knowing whether or not morality existed before then, but it cannot have existed before humans were conscious of their actions.
Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Date:  2004-02-29 22:40:21
Message Id:  8569
been reading more dennet and liking him more and more. he's hard to narrow down into a single posting...he says too too much to fully ingest with one reading let alone respond to in one posting....will try later this week. and i agree with meg that there can't be morality without free will, without choice. ((anyone ever read steinbeck's "east of eden" the crux of this epic novel lies in the idea of free will in the bible (one of my top ten books of all time))) but, i've been wanting to post somthing all semester and have felt that it was exactly relevant unitl now ... kinda. all semester we've been troubleing ourselves with finding meaning in a world that perpetuates itself through random reorganization. a world, an existence, that is possibly a mindless, purposless algorithm. and where do we find meaning in this? i guess the question of the meaning of life is an impossible one that we will all probably end up chasing (or not) our whole lives. but whether or not we give up or pursue this quest i think it is at the crux of our existence. ((maybe that is the 'impenetrable absence'? hmm...)) i think another related, possibly more accesible question is: why do we crave meaning? ((do we ALL crave meaning?)) and a possible answer i've found in a book by milan kundera called 'the unbearable lightness of being.' i will breifly quote the premise of the book, "the myth of eternal return states that a life which disappears once and for all, which does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity, and beauty mean nothing...If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. It is a terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make." SO! what i'm thinking is that the reason that we need this life to have meaning is to weigh it down or else it is "dead in advance." the only way to live is with meaning because without it we are "dead in advance."yes? no? i'm still stumpped by prof. grobstein's line that, "It is NOT, though, a story of purely random change, nor of aloneness, nor of "meaninglessness." i wonder if ya'all are waiting till the end of the course to reveal this great secret ...where to find the meaning in a world of algorithms.... that would be cruel, but i would be forever in debt if i got an answer. and another thing: TIME. if the only moment that exists is the present moment and all eternity exists in this moment (the memory of the past and the possibility of the future) and the present moment is impossible to capture, to bear witness to (eliot) then we, as consious beings, lack the ability to grasp reality. things are real, but our consious minds prevent us from clinging to them they are impenetrable. another tragedy of humanity: we are built with penetrating tendancies (language etc.) and yet the nature of time and the nature of reality make peircing impossible. or is it consiousness that makes peircing impossible? FINALLY! was thinking in another english class that i am taking (with reeve and maybe others) about the tragic nature of it flows ...and doesn't stop...even for things so terrible that we almost think that we will fall out of time, or choke on it.....time doesn't jolt, wince, or twitch, but just keeps moving the sea. another thing working against us.


Name:  bethany keffala
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  I should be sleeping....
Date:  2004-02-29 22:58:11
Message Id:  8570
Really quick post, in response to Perrin's comment about innate grammar:

No, it doesn't disprove it. There is tons of evidence suggesting that 'grammar' is innate, but it's not grammar as you are probably thinking of grammar. One important part of learning a language or languages is learning them when you are still in the critical period, the most? important time of which I believe is between 2 and 5 years old? Oh dear, have forgotten exact ages, but something like that. That's the reason it's more difficult to learn a language that is not your mother-tongue. We tend to start learning foreign languages in high school, sometimes college, and it's hard. we whine, we have to study. If you are not exposed to any sort of language, then you aren't going to just start speaking. If there is no sort of linguistic nurturing/exposure when your body is primed to learn language, then you will have problems. After the critical period is over, it seems that the shop is more or less closed for business.

oh! falling vases are coming, I swear! just not between bedtime and early crew...I'll be back.

Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  memes
Date:  2004-02-29 23:03:30
Message Id:  8571

On meme creation: "Whether or not something is entirely new doesn't matter." - Elizabeth

On meme reception: "Are we considering that a person DOES exercise choice over the memes he/she takes in?" – Ro

Eddin: "Before you start to write, you must feel the anxiety of those who come before you. They must terrorize you."
Alfian: "I choose which historical influences work for me."
Eddin: "You need historical predecessors to be oppressive."
Alfian: "I choose my oppressors."

Eddin Khoo and Alfian Sa'at are established poets in Malaysia and Singapore. This intriguing exchange took place last summer during a forum explicitly about the politics of writing, implicitly about writing under controlling regimes.

These few lines are saturated with innuendoes about the political workings of their countries, coming after an extensive discussion on the need for a writer to react to circumscribing authorities, to serve as government counter-propaganda. For them, it mattered entirely that their stories were 'new'. And in consciously writing these new stories they were indeed exercising choice, as Ro mentions, about what memes to accept or reject, which aspects of a local past to inherit and which to cast off.

But 'the past', as it is distributed among the people who supposedly share it, is not homogenous. The writers mentioned several historical, political and artistic influences that went right over my head – their meanings were inaccessible to me, and the significance of their choices were lost. Whether I agreed with their story would have depended on how well it fit into my repertoire of stories, not theirs. My choices would have been different from theirs.

Which brings me back to Ro's point. What does it mean for me to take in a meme? Is it enough to have been a member of the audience? To have the exchange down on paper? To share it here? To critique it? To accept it? To act on it?

Maybe it's not even as rigorous as all that. Last semester, when Richard Dawkins gave a talk at Swat, some anonymous student had scribbled on the board behind him:

"STOP THE MEMES! (Pass it on.)"

Maybe that's all it takes.

Name:  reeve
Date:  2004-02-29 23:31:34
Message Id:  8572
If one subscribes to the Dennet version of everything emerging from randomness, then one of the things that most captivates me is the idea that everything I experience, everything I know and everything I am made of is a vanishingly small subset of the possibilities, completely improbable, virtually impossible. The sense I have is of ABSOLUTE AWE. I wonder sometimes if the desire for or belief in absolute truth is really a desire for absolute meaning. I say this becasue it seems to me one could believe that randomess is absolute truth, but this wouldn't fulfill the need for something to cling to. I don't know if meaning is the word I'm really looking for as an alternative to truth, but if randomness is accepted as absolute truth we still want to know what it means for us. Maybe that is the trouble with absolute truth- we can't ever remove ourselves far enough from our very particular and vanishingly probable humanness to be able to know something that is absolute, something that encompasses all the possibilities. It has been interesting to think about the opposite of clinging, to imagine the extreme particularity and fixedness with which we are situated within existence and then to imagine everything that being released from this position might reveal. This is sort of what I mean by awe- a sense of infinite contraction and expansion (with an emhasis on the expansion).
Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  Empty story-telling
Date:  2004-02-29 23:35:38
Message Id:  8573

Quick post: I came across another interesting exchange while reading "Mind--The Adaptive Gap: Evolutionary psychologists try to shed the just-so story stigma" by Eugene Russo. This is an article on The Scientist, an online journal, available here.

Russo cites the criticism leveled by Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin at the adaptationist program, which seeks to explain every trait as an evolutionary advantage. They argued that many traits are actually byproducts and not results of natural selection. A good example given by Russo: "The bridge of one's nose will hold up one's glasses, but it's not an adaptation for such." Wilson disagreed with the stance taken by Gould and Lewontin.

Below is the excerpt:

This so-called science, argued Gould and Lewontin, boiled down to little more than just-so stories--referring to Rudyard Kipling's century-old children's fables that offered imaginative explanations for certain animals' distinctive qualities.

"That was just a foolish paper," says Wilson. "All scientists deal in hypotheses and in scenarios. That's how they formulate and identify the problem that they hope to solve. [Gould and Lewontin] confused hypothesis formation with what they thought was just empty story-telling."

Another comment on the idea of science as story, etc. Some of us may feel we have argued this point to death, but this extract feels to me like a useful reminder that it's not an argument that can be made once and left for dead.

Name:  Julia
Username:  jeddy@bmc
Subject:  Thursday's headache
Date:  2004-02-29 23:38:03
Message Id:  8575
I found myself mystified and overwhelmed after class on Thursday, and my hean continued to spin for hours into the night as I searche for validation and comfort in a very concerning discussion on Thursday. My pain was a result of Thursday's discussion on something coming from nothing, on the big bang and the application of this concept to the emergence of thought. Class was by far boring, but mind numbing because of the intesity of the content.

We sort of came to the decision that it was not comfortable but doable to accept the concept of a big bang creating the universe within which evolution could take place, shaping planets and non-life, then creating life to also evolve into more life. It was much harder, however, to imagine something (even dust) from absolute nothing without the influence of something greater.

For me, even more difficult was the acceptance of language and thought, including every cultural aspect of thought (such as morality, kinship, and all social contract) being the results of completely random generation coupled with selection. I was left questioning my own morals and wondering if the social contracts that we have with others of our species are merely the product of randomness, leading me to believe they easily could have not ocurred at all. There could have been a world without rights and wrongs, just and unjust, rights and laws, not to mention feeling. The examples brought up in class that stick with me are the socially unjustness of killing innocent children or being responsible for genocide. But given this frame of thought, responsibility could have been a quality never developed leaving us with a world unimagineable and frightening to me.

It was hard to find comfort in this story, to justify everything that I so soundly believed in and had never really questioned but all of a sudden was, such as protecting the "rights" of our fellow man and keeping our world beautiful and peaceful, but the thought that I reminded myself of was that it doesn't even really matter how it all came about i suppose because like it or not this is where we are and that is what i believe so I should stand by it even if it might be for "nothing". sigh... all for now.

Name:  em
Subject:  beetle time
Date:  2004-03-01 10:00:38
Message Id:  8581
orah: "time doesn't jolt, wince, or twitch, but just keeps moving the sea. another thing working against us."

went to hear carol mosely braun speak last night at haverford. wow. she told us about her experiences as the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand. there, she was made an honorary member of the Maori. the Maori have a way of looking at time that is completely different from our way: they envision the past as something in front of you. you have seen it happen, you know what it consists of, and it is something to keep in your vision at all times. in contrast, the future is something behind you. it is unknown, unseen, and it is your actions in the past and towards the past that make it possible for the future to come into being. reading orah's post, and thinking over this Maori idea got me excited and scared.

perhaps time is not working against us, perhaps we are working against time. what with all our wrinkle-creams, photographs, stories, and vitamins: we are trying to stop time: distill it, slow it down, own it. however, this is dangerous. when i was seven or so, my aunt (who is an entymologist) reached into her freezer and pulled out a glass jar. inside was an enormously ugly black beetle. "i found this last month and it is not common in this area. i wanted to take a picture of it as proof that i had found it, but it was moving around so fast, it wouldn't stay still long enough for me to get it in the frame. i put it in the freezer to slow it down, and that killed it." i was horrified that the beetle was dead. "maybe it's sleeping?" "no, it's dead," she answered, "but i have my picture."

that's my story for today.

Name:  katherine
Username:  kpioli@brynmawr
Subject:  an assimilated water droplet
Date:  2004-03-01 11:45:10
Message Id:  8584
so much to write,

Orah wants answers and something to cling to. She wants to find others who feel the same as her, like they are stuggling to hang onto something- some truth- and yet her own search makes her aggitated and confused.
I think that I am approaching life very differently. Instinctively I think that we all want something solid in life to hold onto, but it either doesn't exist (there is no truth) or it is so elusive I don't think that anyone has ever found it. so instead of frustrating myself I am trying a more zen-like approach to my life. I don't want to stand on the dry, stable ground of absolute truth and meaning, I am trying to find a feeling of content ment in not knowing. I am learning to be content with allowing life to wash over me, to just enjoy the moments. I am a water droplet in a stream flowing to a greater river and I don't want to fight upstream, I just want to go with the flow.

Still, for all my wanting to be a water droplet, this class is really challenging me to think and fight upstream past the currents that I have already created in my mentality and beliefs. for instance, and this is a major instance, I am beginning to question "god," in my own simple way. I have never believed in a creator before, just believed that things happened according to scientific laws. now I am feeling like these scientific laws have just as many holes in them as the bible does. when prof. grobstein played with his computer evolution modle which eventually ended in extinction or a stable population he tried to tell us that this occured randomly without any outside help or rules. but anne dalke called him on that, and I would like to as well. there were rules to the game, specific rules to identify which dots should turn red and which green. and a man, who ever designed the game, created these rules. so it did not occur without some greater guidance. and are we to believe, similarly, that in the very beginning, beginning, beginning, that this game of elements and plants and stars and evolution started without any thing to set the rules or create the rules. Is there after all something that set this all in motion and then let random chance take over. this questioning may seem elementary to some who already poses an ounce of religion "faith" but this is earth shaking to me.

And of coarse I can't sign off until I have addressed Daniela who asks: "Can a person live alone insolated from other human beings and be creative? Original?" I think that a person living in complete isolation, who had to reinvent what it means to be human all over again (without actually knowing that that is what they were doing)would indeed be creative. They would not paint a van gogh, or build a pyramid, or write any sort of poetry, but even the simple tools built for survival would be a product of creativity. I also believe that the tools that this person would create would be recognizable to us- in some way. All animals have instinct, whether knowing that within a few minutes of birth they must stand and run, or knowing how to use their claws and teeth and who is an enemy and who their mother is. For humans, the memes that have aided in the creation of tools and such things are a product of instinct.

This conversation, about uniqueness and originality which began in our small group class, has bothered me ever since it began. Why are we clinging to our uniqueness? Is this how we define our self-worth, but how different we are from other people? by how little we need to depend on others for ideas, memes and in the end survival? I think that uniqueness is a quality which we prize when we talk about it. Being original and one-of-a-kind sounds good to us, but it is very different when we take action. When we interact with people, when we are meeting and playing with people, especially for the first time, we want to be anything but unique. We want to fit in, to be one of the group, to not feel like the odd one out. When we are in action we want similarity, why can we not value that?

Name:  ro. finn
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-03-01 12:04:05
Message Id:  8585
For those of us who used to think that an elevator has intrinsic intentionality...

An Amish girl and her mother were visiting a mall where everything they saw amazed them, especially two silver doors that parted and slid together again. "What is this, Mother?" "I have never seen such a thing in my life," the mother replied.

Just then, a pudgy old man hobbled past them and pressed a button by the silver doors. The doors opened and the old man shuffled into the small room there. The doors closed. The girl and her mother watched as numbers above the doors lit up. They watched until the last number lit, then as the numbers lit in reverse.

The doors opened again and a gorgeous hunk of a guy stepped out. The mother, not taking her eyes off the fellow, said quietly to her daughter. "Go fetch your father, dear."

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Date:  2004-03-01 17:09:25
Message Id:  8594
reeve and i are taking this english class called 'bible and literature,' and we just read job...which i think is so relevant to this class. short summery: job is a really really great guy and God decides to test him and inflicts the greatest suffering on him and kills all his kids and takes everything away from him. and job wrestles with all these bad things, but never curses God. job talks about the utter asbence of God. before, in the bible, we are told of a god that depends on absolutes i.e. he is good or he is bad or he is just etc. but, here we see something beyond that: god is. and there is nothing to say about god except that he is. there are no categories in which to put him, no words to pin him. job says of god in chapter 41, "can you fill its skin with harpoons, or its head with fishing spears? any hope of capturing it wil be disapointed." so! maybe i agree that there is no such thing as absolute evil or absolute truth ... but i think what my religion prof. said, "at the heart of all existence there is an impenetrable absence." and we can't even define this absence as truth ... it is just absolute. it is. and i think amidst such overwhelming change...when change seems to be at the essential base of everything that exists ... don't you feel that there is something out there that IS? isn't there some stillness in existence? i guess what i'm asking those of you who don't need absolutes is: do you beleive in any form of stillness? because i think that's the point of job...that life is tough and never stable and yet job doesn't curse life. he doesn't curse the lack of absolute justice. he lives because there is something that IS. and even though he is flung away from everything that he clings to ... to the point that he no longer clings to anything ... there is nothing stable in his life ... he feels that there is an absolute ...and even though "if i go forward, he is not there; or backward, i cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and i cannot behold him; i turn to the right, but i cannot see him," (23:8-9) IT still exists. and even if we try to penetrate it, through spears and harpoons at it, we cannot get it. but it's there ... i am that i am. EXISTENCE IS. WE ARE. yes? no? i really think that despite the fact that we might not mean anything in the picture of the whole universe, in all of time we still ARE. friends! do you think we exists? becuase if EVERYTHING is always changing and there is NOTHING that is in stasis then nothing IS. does that make sense? i really really think that we exist, but am willing to hear alternative ideas :)
so ... i revise again (slightly begrudingly) : maybe there is no such thing as absolute evil, or absolute good, or absolute truth ... but there is, i think, an absolute, a "still point of the turning world" (eliot). (("at the still point, there the dance is, but neither arrest nor movement. and do not call it fixity, where past and future are gathered. neither ascent nor decline. except for the point, the still point."))
i realize this is a crazy disjointed posting (especially the part of not existing...i hope it makes sense to some...)
ps i've never been so condenced as in katherine p's two lines...i guess it's true. but it doesn't feel great to seem so simple. but that's the way humans deal with each other...our beings are so huge that the only way to fit into each other's minds is the forcably contract each other. we all do it :) i just hope that i can expand in your mind after being squeezed so tightly into two lines. and even though i am pinned to those two lines i hope that i can escape and revise ....
grant me that?
Name:  Student Contributor
Subject:  Religion and Morality
Date:  2004-03-01 17:58:38
Message Id:  8596
Meg: "I think that a major influence in morality was religion. Once religions were established there were also codes on how to live based on these religions. I have no way of knowing whether or not morality existed before then, but it cannot have existed before humans were conscious of their actions."

I totally believe that morality existed before religion. While I believe that religion encourages moral behavior, you do not necessarily have to be religious to be moral. I can't remember who said this, but earlier in the semester someone said that she believes that in today's world it is not religion that is responsbile for our negative feelings against murder, stealing, lying, etc... but that this is something innate. Many people did not agree with this and said that religion was responsbile for morality. How does this explain altruism in animals who, as far as I know, do not follow a particular religion?

I think I need a concise definition of religion. Is it the belief in God? in prophets? Or is the refusal to commit sins like murder, stealing, lying, etc...? Isn't this refusal also defined as morality? Do you need to believe in God to be moral?

Name:  orah
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-03-01 18:27:03
Message Id:  8598
Student Contributor, a possible definition for you:
william james writes that religion is "the feeling, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine." he also writes, "religion, whatever it is, is a man's total reaction upon life." and "we shall have to confess to at least some amount of dependence on sheer mercy, and to practice some amount of renunciation, great or small, to save our souls alive... for when all is said and done, we are in the end absolutly dependent on the universe ... now in those states of mind which fall short of religion, the surrender is submitted to as an imposition of necessity, and the sacrifice is undergone at the very best without complaint. in the religious life, on the contrary, surrender and sacrifice are positively espoused: even unnecessary givings-up are added in order that happiness may increase. religion thus makes easy and felicitious what in any case is necessary."
Name:  em
Subject:  yes we is
Date:  2004-03-01 19:45:17
Message Id:  8600
orah, dear, i believe i hear you-- or at least i'm listening:
so if we are always in flux, are we ever just being?
perhaps this is wrapped up in paul's (and bethany's) explanations of time as something that we carry around with us: if time exists only in the present (for it is in the present moment through which we create the past and future), then what really is left?
i'd like to propose that just the fact that we are growing and changing means that we ARE. just because once i start thinking about how i think i start thinking with words, or just because i look into the mirror and only see my "i'm looking into the mirror face", does not mean that i do not think without words when i am really truly thinking, does not mean that my true face will never be found.
or, to put it another way, i do not think about breathing and yet i breathe. it does not become difficult to breathe until i start thinking about it: existing does not become full of angst or debatable until i start thinking about it. until then, i simply am.
"look out, child, you're bound to change; you can't always stay the same." --little feat
Name:  daniela
Subject:  Si falor, ergo sum...
Date:  2004-03-01 22:29:54
Message Id:  8607
The axiomatization of the world is the prerequisite for creating an intelligent machine. Likewise, the Darwinian algorhythms applied to human thinking also are based on similar assumptions. A machine and a human will function properly (and be perfectly satisfied) until the axioms are deleted or contradicted.
What distinguishes human intelligence from the artifiacially created is that people tend to "look backwards" and seek the cause of extant processes. By doing so, they examine proofs, revaluate meanings, make mistakes, and reconsider identities. Blundering energizes people to correct the mistake using another approach/logic/perspective. Prodding people to change (and consequently adapt in response to the challenge), mistakes are the prerequisite for social evolution.
Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  telling (all) our stories
Date:  2004-03-01 22:39:17
Message Id:  8608

tell me! who gets to tell her story and who doesn't?

I'll tell you: EVERYBODY gets to tell her story. and then--

EVERYBODY gets to decide which stories she finds useful,

which ones she can NOT make use of...

I've found incredibly useful (thanks to you all) these multiple accounts of expansion, contraction and re-expansion...and w/ them a very strong sense of free will.

All of which: much more about tomorrow.


Name:  Lauren Friedman
Username:  lfriedma@bmc
Subject:  unrelated to the main thread of discussion, but i gotta get it off my chest
Date:  2004-03-01 23:12:30
Message Id:  8610
There are so many interesting things going on in this forum, but I still have some leftover things floating around in my mind from Thursday's class that I want to address. We got into a big discussion in Anne's section about free will, and how it may or may not impact the path of evolution. Daniela explained that her concept of free will involved not just the ability to make choices, but the ability to sustain them; Simran pointed out the difficulty in one's own free will banging up against other peoples (can we really then be "free"?). These two comments had me thinking. I think Daniela's point makes sense because free will is not just about making a choice but being able to follow through with it. Free will is about action, not just thought. That said, I think the fact that everyone is trying to act on their own free will does cause some conflict. If, "left to my own free will," I want to take a nap, and my roommate wants to practice guitar, neither one of us can fully execute our free will as planned. If we concede that free will plays a part in evolution, then it can be said that evolution is a product of compromise. Perhaps natural selection and random chance are not necessarily the two dominating factors; compromise should be included as well.
Name:  Fritz DUbuisson
Subject:  Thursday
Date:  2004-03-01 23:52:55
Message Id:  8611
The thought that floted around during thursday's class are still on my mind. When Mary asked if there was ant time during which language was not an expression of emotion, I was blown awy. It had never occured to me that every act of language carried emotional undertones. There is the need to be heard, the need to inform and other needs which may not be so easy to describe. They become a part of our speach patterns.

Word chose carries the meaning of those emotions. But what they translate into once they have either left the page or the mouth is another matter. The in between space before and idea is heard of shared is where the real change begins. But is doesn't end in the brain of the recipient as one would think. It is regurgitated. As Daniela pointed out in class, there are no truely "original" ideas. But does "original" mean that there can not be a "new"?

Name:  Mary
Username:  mferrell
Date:  2004-03-02 09:19:58
Message Id:  8625
Everybody gets to tell their story but the focus of the story is affected by the memes going around.

Today, the story of biology is one of the biggest collection of memes going around. Pervasively, evolution is a huge story that everything else is fit into. It is a story that we use as a jumping off point for many other stories. Right now, I am jumping off and wondering about the relevance of "meaning". My bio mindset looks at meaning as a function of the human brain. And if I accept the idea that all evolves by random chance, is meaning meaningful? Did we humans luck out and develop an ability that will let us know the big answers? What is life, why and how does it exist, and what does it all mean? Or is it 'just a function' that will happen to aid in extending our species survival?

When most people look for meaning in their lives, they usually end up defining meaningfulness - as 'leading a good life'. Helping others, being kind to the earth and its inhabitants, making their family and friends secure, and making this world a better place is what I think a lot of people call meaningfulness. We also search for meaning as we analyze the patterns around us. We pass on meaning to other humans through language, creating an inertia to stories that harbor carefulness through time, although sometimes maladaptive recklessness. It sounds like this 'function of searching for meaning to life' might serve a worthwhile purpose of trying to adapt more successfully to the environment, extending our species survival. IS THAT ALL THERE IS? Is there no REAL meaning?

Maybe we need another big story besides evolution to provide that answer

Name:  Diane Scarpa
Date:  2004-03-02 13:32:07
Message Id:  8629
In an attempt to answer Mary's question, Dennett notes: WE think that being up and about, having adventures and completing projects, seeing our friends and learning about the world, is the whole point of life, but Mother Nature doesn't see it that way at all. A life of sleep is as good as a life of any other (page340).

What do you all think? I buy it. But I don't feel that this in any way cheapens the fact that we must assign our own meaning. Our meaning isn't any less meaningful, if this was the case non of us would carry on, right?!

Name:  Diane Scarpa
Subject:  Caveat
Date:  2004-03-02 16:27:55
Message Id:  8632
Let me begin by stating that I do believe we have an unconscious mind. However, I disagree with the way the theory of the unconscious was presented in class today. In each of my psychology classes it has always been made vary clear that this theory is not factual. Rather, it is a Freudian theory, and all Freudian theories are based on case studies. Therefore, it is a theory that was originally untested and remains unproven even today. In the psychological community this is actually a theory that is quite frowned upon. For this reason I have a problem with Paul's claim that the unconscious exists. I want you all to be warned that this is not necessarily so. This is a science class, after all, and I think we need to be careful about the terms we use. Moreover, this is a biology class, and I also think that we need to give some consideration to all of the disciplines that comprise the sciences. I'd appreciate some clarification if at all possible, I'm hoping that I misunderstood the way Paul was using the term (since I generally agree so much with what he has to say).

Thank you for making me think Paul.

Name:  Diane Scarpa
Date:  2004-03-02 16:28:48
Message Id:  8633
Bon vacances, everyone!
Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  Caveats ...
Date:  2004-03-02 18:24:10
Message Id:  8635
As per Diane (with thanks to her for asking for clarification, and for her appropriate concern to be sure that both biology and psychology are attended to):

Freud is indeed out of fashion in a number of academic circles. I actually think that reflects more poorly on academia than it does on Freud, but that's a quite different matter from the one at hand.

No neuroscientist, biologist, or psychologist would express any reservation whatsoever about the inference from experimental, clinical, and field observations that much of human behavior occurs because of processes of which individual humans are totally unaware. And that's all that I meant by the "unconscious" when I talked about it in class today. This particular "unconscious" is enormously old phylogenetically, and evidence for it long predates Freud. Whether it is the same "unconscious" that Freud wrote about was, and remains, a very interesting question (see Making the Unconscious Conscious, and Vice Versa: A Bi-directional Bridge Between Neuroscience/Cognitive Science and Psychotherapy?).

The bipartite brain "story" I told is, on the other hand, not (yet?) a "consensus" story among neuroscientists, or biologists, or psychologists; it is my construction but a construction solidly based in appropriate experimental, clinical, and field observations (and closely related to constructions made by a number of other scientists). There's a complete review of these observations in progress in Biology 202. Shorter versions are available in the paper mentioned above, as well as in Getting It Less Wrong, The Brain's Way: Science, Pragmatism, and Multiplism and The Brain's Images: Co-Constructing Reality and the Self.

Thanks again to Diane for the expression of concern. Glad to be thinking together. Its what the course is all about. And, for that matter, what science too is all about (A Vision of Science (and Science Education) in the 21st Century: Everybody "Getting It Less Wrong" Together).

Name:  bethany keffala
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Happy Birthday Dr. Suess
Date:  2004-03-02 22:11:49
Message Id:  8642
Per orah's earlier post regarding meaning; What if our conscious representation of time is our way of giving it meaning? Can it have meaning when it is contracted? Orah thinks no. I think maybe it does... But for us to 'see/interpret' this meaning, we have to look at the expanded version. Does our unconscious find meaning in the contracted form, then? is probably not the ideal time to bring up the vases, but, i'll just put it out there anyway...this was in regards to absolute truth:

I used to wonder about this puzzle, which I saw as a religious puzzle. Now I don't know how to classify it, though I feel it has become more general. I will still explain it in the terms that I thought of it, just because that's how it makes the most sense to me.
SO we have God. God is all-powerful. We also have natural laws, whether or not created by God, it doesn't really matter in this situation. So let's say I put a fragile vase on a table. The table is over cement, let's say the sidewalk. Then I push the vase off the table. It is falling. If God is all-powerful, then of course he would be able to stop the vase from falling, or stop it from shattering when it hits the ground, or any number of exciting things if he took enough interest. But the fact remains that if he (or anyone else, like me, or a spectator) does not intervene, then the vase hits the ground. It breaks. Does this make the natural law as powerful as our all-powerful deity? Sure, he could do something about it, but if he doesn't, then it is absolutely certain that the vase will shatter when it makes contact with the ground. The law has so much authority (no matter who made it up) that if I set it into motion, God must DO something to stop it from happening if he wants it to stop, as it most assuredly would happen were he to remain inactive. In my mind, this suggests that the law is perhaps more powerful. I have my own answers to this now, but i sort of want to know what you think before providing what I've a side-note; what about the relation of this to free will?

happy tuesday. 3 more days to a week freedom!

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Date:  2004-03-02 23:20:53
Message Id:  8643
oh man, i have too many finals to be spending time here ... but bethany temps me and i MUST respond to falling vases. i must remind myself that I AM amist the speed of finals therefore i think ... here.
okay. quickly!
i've though a lot about that god who doesn't stop falling vases, who lets people shatter, and cry, and die, who lets the world and time and pain flow as it does and refuses to craddle our shards ... i've thought about the god who has the power but doesn't DO anything.
he doesn't comfort me.
i say: fuck him. we don't need his indifferent bullshit anyways. (like angels in america.)
what does comfort me is a god who DOESN'T have the power to do anything, but rather acknowledges our pain and suffering. something that UNDERSTANDS. because as hard as we might try to convey ourselves in full to each other, we always fail. so isn't it nice to think that somewhere our ideas, WHAT WE REALLY MEAN, is out there and acknowledged.
but, that's not what i meant to say at all ... this god doesn't have to be consious, but IS as our ideas ARE in their true selves, uncondenced, unpinned penetrated or limited. so this BEINGNESS doesn't even have to acknowledge them, rather, it just has to BE in STILL harmony with them.
i guess i'm a little obsessed with the idea of stillness, now that my absolutes have been shattered. i need things to slow down and just BE ... i want my ideas to BE ... and i want god to BE ... and not try to change and revise themselves ... i'm tired of chasing them. i need rest. spring break.

sry about this post...i haven't been on track today...i haven't understood anything i've heard ((maybe go over free will again on thurs. for those of us who are brain fried ?))

Name:  orah
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-03-02 23:31:29
Message Id:  8644
another concise definition of religion for Student Contributor :

david chidester university of cape town in his intro to his book patterns of power: religion and politics in american culture.

"religion is that dimention of human experience particularly concerned with varieties of power that are felt to be sacred."

Name:  simran
Subject:  words:
Date:  2004-03-04 12:54:01
Message Id:  8669
Right before we split for break, I want to throw a thought out there into this bubbling forum. I have always believed in "the survival of the fittest", a concept that has been much challenged by this course. If the tree of evolution places on equality all beings that are in existence today, then words like 'superior' and 'best' need to be eliminated from my vocabulary with regards to the evolutionary process.

Professor Dalke has got me thinking about taking this one step further- can those words be eliminated from our vocabulary even when talking about culture, literature, morality??? If so, what can they be replaced by? Is this another example of a place where language falls short. I think not, but I have yet to hit on the ideal words. There I go again, 'ideal'...

I would love to hear what people have to say about these words...

Name:  Patricia Palermo
Username:  ppalermo
Subject:  Free will and company
Date:  2004-03-04 16:24:11
Message Id:  8680
Professor Dalke had me thinking as well. I just wanted to contribute a bit more to our discussion on Thursday about freewill and about the constraints put into place by other people's freewill. The conversation reminded me of a very deep conversation that I had with my father when he was attempting to explain to me why he thinks people and many other living things "pair-up" and, for people, fall in love. The main point was this. No one can tell themselves a joke. That is impossible. It wouldn't be funny. It's expected. Other people provide the punch lines to our lives. They give us the unexpected with generates something different than we originally had in ourselves which inspires purpose. It also inspires meaning. The punch line is created by the two and is something that can not be created by one person alone. Because we are moved by the influence that other things have on/in our lives, we feel meaning. We create meaning in this way. I just always found it helpful to realize that other people/things/experiences/art can do for you a certain thing that you can not do for yourself. I think that has a lot to do with free will. They may not be constraints or controls, but they are guides and everything can't be random if you have guides.
Name:  Elizabeth Catanese
Subject:  Meaning again
Date:  2004-03-04 16:45:50
Message Id:  8683
Wanted to add a couple of thoughts to the Thursday discussion as well. In terms of Mary's idea about meaning, I think that humans need to look for meaning, reinvent meaning etc. just as much as squirrels need to gather nuts or frogs catch flies or leaches swim... I think it is just another part of our biological programing... a need which becomes fun, like eating is for a lot of people, pleasurable (so that we'll do it rather than forget about it.) But even if meaning-making is not an evolutionary necessity, at least it is fun- It's a good process. I'm happy that I'm a human being rather than an animal. I like making up stories.

I was also looking at the chalk board where the jokes were written and thinking about negative space in between the words and around them- I just want to write that here so that I can develop my thought a little more later... I think that the negative space in an object, in a story etc... is the space where we can invent our own stories- there are openings in every story for the connection of one subconcious mind with another. And so the analysis of what Dr. Seuss's Cat and the Hat was "really" about was completely valid... as are all stories.

Have a great break everyone! :-)

Name:  ro. finn
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-03-05 07:46:22
Message Id:  8700
Simran wrote: " Professor Dalke has got me thinking about taking this one step further- can those words [like 'superior' and 'best'] be eliminated from our vocabulary even when talking about culture, literature, morality??? If so, what can they be replaced by? Is this example of a place where language falls short. I think not, but I have yet to hit on the ideal words..."

We could think about competing/striving to be deemed more fit in different ways:
1. Out-and-out competition with others, a struggle with only one left standing;
2. Competition with others where each competitor is assessed against a standard, i.e., how well does each one conform, and then, which conformed to the standard to the highest degree;
3. Competition with yourself—no others directly involved—where you have a sense of how good you are based on some standard you, someone else, or some circumstance put in place...but only you are doing the judging ...only you can assign a word to describe how fit you are at that moment.

If we use way #3, then artists and authors would write their own reviews, and the notion of critics would be absurd (I like this idea!); students would judge how well they each had done in a course or on a paper or exam (perhaps, the "standard" would have been set by a teacher). Perhaps, this notion for grading would require a nested set of standards in order for some level of quality to be maintained. Even so, this sort of formula doesn't work for all situations....

I'm thinking of governance... how could we improve selection of our leaders—or at least preserve the "chance+elimination" scheme we use now—without direct competition or competition by candidates competing against a pre-set standard? Can we do it and still eliminate such words as "best"? Did the best man win in the last presidential election? If we refer to him as "adequate," we might diminish the perception other nations have of his power and put ourselves at risk. If we were to banish the use of all comparative words applied to humans, then I suspect we'd apply them to surrogate objects—such as our neighborhood, or our car, or where we go to school. Gosh, come to think of it, in our culture it IS tacky for a person to directly say that she is somehow "better" (except in sanctioned competition or as gossip), so we already do use surrogates. And at Bryn Mawr, we take comparative censorship one step farther—banning the discussion of grades as part of an honor code. What's that all about? Are we ashamed of having gotten a good one? A bad one? Of being only 'adequate'? Or do we think they truly are they serve a purpose?

Getting back to putting ourselves at risk if we refer to whomever is president as "adequate"... this whole notion of nations is bothersome, don't you think? Seems whenever we set up social categories (nations, towns, religions, graduates, etc), we invite (inherently cannot preclude?) comparisons and assessments, which to our assessing who is better, more vulnerable, more desirable, etc. What drives this boundary-making? Dennett writes. "The Welsh language is kept alive by artificial means, just the way condors are" (514). I don't see keeping Welsh alive (even if it is my heritage) as the same as keeping alive a species. Having many languages, many cultures invites comparison and then competition (victors, spoils) along with the celebration of difference. But then, I'm reminded of Vonnegut's "Player Piano," –everyone was "equalized"...adequate, average. Ballet dancers wore weights to ensure this.

Maybe how we (might) think about (and leverage) our differences is the issue...

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  Lot's Wife Looks Back
Date:  2004-03-05 15:01:38
Message Id:  8707

Just in case some of you (like Lot's wife...??) are "looking back" before you leave (and if not, as a bookmark to remind us where we are/were, when we return....)

My section had a lot of fun, Thursday. We started off w/ an idea I got from Ro. (for which many thanks): that there are multiple verbal analogies (double entendres, puns) for Paul's double-heading arrows: that is, there are multiple moments in language play when we either hear (or see) two meanings simultaneously (or in VERY rapid oscillation). Some of those we played w/ in class were these (and other examples are warmly welcomed):

What do you get when you drop a piano down a mine shaft?
What do you get when you drop a piano onto a military base?
Why couldn't the pony talk?
What did the string say when the barman refused to serve him
(and he returned, a second time, all frazzled and frayed)?
(Answers--in case you can't wait--are at the bottom of this post).

We went from this sort of ability to see two-worlds/words @ once --and/or the option of chosing between the alternatives-- to asking whether this was/counted as/felt like "free will." This turned out to be a very productive line of thinking, and Dennett's observations about the need to "stop thinking" (to decide, repeatedly, when to terminate reflections--and what are the default principles for doing so? how to prioritize/decide when to stop following out a chain of associations/reasons...?) were also helpful here. We wondered when/if/how children learn to contextualize words and concepts, to go from a literalness (when they are unable, for instance, to recognize a pun) to enough awareness of--yet (paradoxically?) dissassociation from--context to see one.

This led us both to Kim Cassidy's recent presentation in the Brown Bag Group on
"How Psychology Approaches Knowledge" and to
Louis Menand's New Yorker piece, "Cat People: What Dr. Seuss Really Taught Us" (12-23 & 30, 2002 )--and with it associated queries about the range of allowable interpretations (is this an "essentialist" sort of question? one that "population thinking" will help us negotiate?)

Well, I think we're VERY nicely positioned, now, for the "turn" in the course--and I"m looking forward, in ten days, to picking up the conversation about the "evolution of stories"--


P.S. Here are the answers to the jokes:
What do you get when you drop a piano down a mine shaft?
A-flat minor (miner)
What do you get when you drop a piano onto a military base?
A-flat major
Why couldn't the pony talk?
He was a little horse/hoarse.
What did the string say when the barman refused to serve him
(and he returned, a second time, all frazzled and frayed)?
"Aren't you that string who was just in here?"
"No, I'm a frayed knot" (afraid not).
(Hey! see how writing it out ruins it? by preventing the free play of association?)

Name:  Perrin
Date:  2004-03-07 13:51:30
Message Id:  8716
"In the beginning was the Word..." A few days ago, my Hebrew prof told me that this Biblical phrase was mistranslated. Although I might not understand my professor's explanation correctly, I'll just throw this story out for the purpose of debate. He said that it should be translated as "In the beginning was the Mystery."

For those of us who believe in a god, could that be taken to mean that humans are not meant to discover our origins—the beginning? I was wondering if perhaps we would be more spiritually satisfied if we would stop questioning for a moment and There is certainly something to be said of the phrase, "ignorance is bliss" and "mystery" implies something that is beyond our comprehension. But I'm going to try anyway...what is the mystery? A god/creator, unicellular organisms, or nothing at all? Funny how one word can change the entire meaning of the Bible.

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  logos and need.
Date:  2004-03-07 20:45:42
Message Id:  8719
wasn't john written in greek? ... isn't "the word" in greek LOGOS? i'd be curious to see where Dr. Rabeeya is getting "mystery."
i think maybe you're right that we're not intended to search. i don't think we're going to figure out anything that is going to change our lives. life is too REAL to be affected by philosophizing. but, i think abstractions dull the blunt sting of reaity.
i keep going back to TS Eliot (i find a new poet to obsess over each year ... Eliot's only been on the brain for about 10 months) because he's so relevant ... he does all this searching that i've quoted to you and then he writes a play called "the cocktail party" in which he realizes that the only reason God is there is because we NEED him to be there. that NEED is so powerful. so powerful we can ALMOST FEEL it. the NEED is so great that we convince ourselves that there MUST be something.
and, man, i beleive it. i cling to it.
and after all his painful searching Eliot's weary ... he's just too too tired. dragged by his coattail. ((at the age of 23 he writes, "i grow old i grow old shall i wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled, shall i dare to eat a peach ... i hear the mermaids singing each to each, they will not sing for me.)) and he bcomes devoutly religious. he accepts the human need and submits ... he surrenders to the universe.
as james says, "for when all is said and done we are in the end absolutly dependant on the universe ... in the religious life sacrifice and surrender are positively espoused." religion ("right" or "wrong") eases life. is there anything humanity needs more?
((real question that.))
hope everyone is having a wonderful break.
Name:  Student Contributor
Subject:  Mystery
Date:  2004-03-13 18:13:03
Message Id:  8732
Perrin/Dr. Rabeeya's reading of the Bible as "In the beginning there was Mystery" reminded me of my conference with Prof Dalke. In my last paper I was toying with Dennet's "sacred myth" and arguing that there are indeed some things that can never be fully explained (like consciousness, love, and hate). My reading of the world includes an element of mystery, an element of mystery that I am perfectly comfortable with accepting. But not everyone can accept mystery as an answer. What is it about 'mystery' that makes us so afraid?
Of course, we fear what we don't know but all too often we humanize what it is we do/can know. This might not be the best example but I am reminded of my first trip to Jerusalem. The word itself is married to numerous images - Jesus, spirtuality, The Dome of the Rock, sheep, stone paths, suicide bombings, Rabbis - and I just remember having a certain impression of the city before ever visiting it. I don't know what I was expecting but the seven-year-old me was dreaming of angels in the sky and shephards with figs. What I found instead were busy streets, light posts, street-lights, McDonalds, camel rides, and falafel vendors. There is the old city of Jerusalem that goes on for a few blocks and slightly resembles my childhood fantasy of the city, but that was it and it was short-lived. I sometimes think I would have preferred never visiting the city.
And in the same way I sometimes think I don't want give meaning to every mystery out there. For fear that by burying the mystery, I will have to bury a little piece of me with it.
Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  Eureka
Date:  2004-03-15 00:56:45
Message Id:  8742

"i think maybe you're right that we're not intended to search. ... i don't think we're going to figure out anything that is going to change our lives." – Orah.

"Perhaps we would be more spiritually satisfied if we would stop questioning for a moment and" – Perrin.

You romanticize trust. Now it is my turn to romanticize discovery.

We come across our poor epiphanies everyday - in securing a proof for a math assignment, in stumbling over a twist of Forster's words to come upon a realization of meaning, in seeing connections between what seemed like disparate disciplines. Rewarding, exciting, perhaps potentially life-changing.

Then, there are those that change the way we all think, see and act. Archimedes lowers himself into the tub. Newton sits under an apple tree. Watson dreams of a snake swallowing its own tail.

Who, then, would deny that the discovery was worth the struggle? Who, then, would insist that trust is enough? Standing on the brink, who would turn away? We couldn't possibly. Only lost in the struggle do we grow discouraged and seek satisfaction elsewhere.

But as I warned, I too romanticize. We feel just as powerful a need to label "discoverers" (one per discovery, thank you) and to tell the stories about their Eureka moments. (Newton's story is, as I understand, a fabrication to keep us charmed. Nothing more.) The Nobel science prizes, according to some, are the epitome of such myths. A recent article in The Scientist discusses the criticisms that have been aimed at these prizes as "anachronisms that caricature the workings of modern research".

But to give up on discovery entirely? Surely that is a grave mistake.
Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Date:  2004-03-15 15:02:54
Message Id:  8746
i can be accused of making many a mistake, but "giving up on discovery" is not one. discovery is what we are all, myself, of course included, scrambling for. granted i, sometimes, plead for a rest from the struggle part of it ... a sort of roadside nap ...but "give up" no. my point through all these postings has been that we are never going to "give up on discovery." and we get this sensation that we are getting closer to capturing ... with each discovery. that sense is what keeps us going ... i don't think anyone gives up on discovery. life (and coffee) moves outward, right? hell, i wouldn't be a thinker if i never thought that i got it. what i meant by "maybe we aren't intended to search," was a comment on the nature of what we are chasing: something 'ungetable,' something that transcends The Word.
and what i meant by: nothing we figure out is going to change our lives ... i don't think philosophy: questioning how real things can be if there is no continuity in life, or a discovery of life on mars, or coining a finite definition of life, or learning the importance of non-reproductive sex is going to change the way we live. i mean the really really REAL things we experience are not going to be changed by Nietzsche or Melville. you know what i mean. the real things ... sickness, death, sex, children.
hope everyone had a good break :)

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