Story of Evolution/Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College
24 February, 2004

The Story of Evolution:
Whence Cometh Purpose/Meaning/Language/Choice/Morality/Altruism/Comfort?
(or do we just forget about them?)

Text: A bridge between

The Problem: "In the beginning was the Word ..." ("logos" -> intent, reason, cause)

  • Possibility that it is not so, that intent/reason were not present at the beginning, leading to ...

  • "fears that the wrong answer [to whether evolution is the explanation] would have intolerable moral [and other] implications [no comfort/goodness/personal responsibility]" (Dennett, p 20], ie that things important to us would prove to be shams/illusions

    A Solution?:


    were not present at the beginning
    do not exist in some parallel "other world"
    do not disappear as illusions.

    They are instead themselves outcomes of an evolutionary process and,
    once having come into being,
    they in turn become causal influences in that process.

    From the Active Inanimate To Models to Stories to Agency (and Back Again)

    Some Details

    From the active inanimate to model builders ...
    adaptive, sophisticated, creative entities lacking "consciousness", "intentionality", internal sense of "meaning", internal sense of "self/other", internal sense of "time" ... things acting in ways that cause story-tellers to infer the existence of properties that don't in fact come into existence until story-tellers had evolved and created them

    From the model builders to the story tellers ...
    accelerating the process of exploration, without and with language ... recognizing models, using the models themselves to bring about new things ... what more do the WORDS mean? what more do we think we can do? and if we can, how?

    • the bipartite brain as a product and an accelerator of evolution

    • "thinking" without language (creating with pictures, movements, etc; for "with" see below)

      By Roger N. Shepherd, from The Minds Eye: Finding Truth in Illusion

      From Almost Real

    • "morality" without/with language


    • "personal responsibility" without/with language


    • story telling without/with "time"

    • language/language-based culture as an accelerator of the accelerator

      Words can bring into potential existence things that had not previously existed (and themselves have causal efficacy, reproduce, etc = "memes")

      • "Time" - the idea of time as a location makes potentially possible time travel
      • "Altruism" - as a distinctive characteristic different from simply mutual interdependence/cooperation make potentially possible behaviors which are not for certain in one's own self-interest and don't fit existing models/stories
        • "I am, and I can think, therefore I can change who I am"
        • An example?
      • "Story" - as something more than model-building and narrative makes possible "platonism", "great chain of being", "creationism", "evolution" and ... changes both in "self" and in "culture" ?

    Evolution ...

    • The active inanimate ... trying out new things (combinations of stuff), seeing whether they last
    • Model builders ... trying out new things (inanimate and animate, combinations of both), seeing whether they last
    • Story tellers ... trying out new things (inanimate, animate, and story, combinations of all), seeing whether they last, knowing one is doing it?
    • Language based story tellers ... trying out new things (inanimate, animate, story, language based stories, combinations of all), seeing whether they last, knowing one is doing it

    To be continued ...