2/19/04: TEXTual Matters--
One More Conversation Working with Mayr's WORDS

Em: toni morrison describes the relationship between a book and its reader as a kind of lovemaking. i'd like to propose that this exists between a story and its audience as well. there is that intense connection that draws us closer when we tell stories. it brings us under each other's covers-- being the audience means giving your full attention to the absorption of the storyteller's tale-- a complete involvement in listening that leaves one vulnerable and open.

SO: going under the covers together...

From the Delp's Hope Page

...by digging back into the words of the text...

Paul 'n Anne: Find a phrase or sentence in Mayr that you think is either particularly important for your understanding of biological evolution or particularly puzzling to you.

Not SELECTING from among these, but taking a clue from

Ro.: Good stuff starts with being concrete and then becoming abstract (science first).

Sharon Burgmayer's "Transformations"

we start small (w/ genes...) and work our way up (to emotions and ethics...)


Julia: I am still a little baffled by HOW mutations or gene interactions in a SINGLE ORGANISM result in the change into an entirely new species... how does the change stay "uniform" among all members of a species if it only starts in one? ...it seems fairly unbelievable that one organism's genetic information could spread to a whole species soley based on selection of those genes in reproduction. And for that matter WHY are the changes always selected over the original anyway?

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

Ro: 1- pg 282 "The human species is highly successful even though it has not completed the transition from quadapedal to bipedal life in all of its structures. In that sense, it is not perfect." OK...how is it that we have not become fully bipedal? ...what selection pressure are we under that is threatening our extinction if we don't ....er, stand up straighter!?
2 -pg279 "Stasis apparently indicates the possession of a genotype that is able to adjust to all changes of the environment without the need for changing its basis phenotype."... Do we know what role stasis plays in the life of a species?

Elizabeth : page 254 "The expectation of a smooth continuity of transitional stages in homonization is based on typological thinking." I am having trouble understanding what this statement means ...and, on a more broader scale, what typological thinking is, on page 165, Mayr says that it is species which are from a well circumscribed class... I don't understand this either. Does typological thinking relate to essentialism or population thinking?...So Mayr is saying that typological thinking is not the way to go for anything?...Also, Mayr says that evolution happens so slowly because "thousands of generations which have undergone the preceeding selection, a natural population will be close to the optimal genotype. The selection to which such a population has been exposed is normalizing or a stabalizing selection" I can't fully grasp this... what is a population's optimal genotype...


Em: "The isolating mechanisms of species are devices to protect the integrity of well-balanced , harmonious genotypes." (170) one of mayr's definitions of an isolating mechanism: "(c) Copulation attempted but no transfer of sperm takes place (mechanical isolation)" (171) questions raised by mayr's text: what does birth control mean in terms of evolution? in creating our own mechanical isolators, what are we messing with? where does human sexuality have a space in evolution?...by using sex as something in addition to the process of reproduction, what story do we tell about ourselves as humans? what are our bodies saying? ...


Orah: changed story: the definition of life is wanting more life, not wanting death. but according to the first law of thermodynamics death is inevitable

Susan: It seems to me that in life, we are constantly providing new "places" for other things to inhabit, new areas for things to emerge and grow. Death ...provides us with another "niche" another "doorway" into something...

Diane: I would like to know how Mayr and Darwin feel about death....Its like an elephant in the room that no one is talking about...Does evolution assign a meaning to it as religion does?

Ro.: I'd like to understand extinction better...are all species destined to become extinct? What would preclude that?

Bethany: Ok, so what I REALLY wanted to talk about was ...when we were imagining a situation in which there was no death. ...no second law of thermodynamics...no natural selection. Ultimately, no death means no weeding out, no 'fit' category. EVERY possible combination is VALID. ....We'd have all the missing links, all the previously unsuccessful recipes ....this gives me a good bridge to talk about my time idea... I was having trouble you see, with two theories that were floating around. One ...deals with the way our minds work... for the brain and the nervous system...there is no past, there is no future, there is only the current state, which causes the next current state....SO! This implies that past and future are in fact all contained NOW! ... But then, contradiction? ... in physics...the point was brought up that we tend to think of time as a distance... We have timelines...But oh no! This implies past and future! I can remember, I can predict. How on earth to reconcile these two theories??? Possible answer:... the reference frame for us in which time is CONTRACTED>> we are ALWAYS HERE, we are ALWAYS NOW. No past, no future, just present. Perhaps this is the unconscious mind? Then, we have a second, SEPARATE reference frame, in which time is EXPANDED. From this reference frame, we can look at ourselves in the other reference frame, and we see time expanded as the spatial entity. Past, Present, Future. Is this the conscious mind? It's almost as if these are dimensions. The first starts out as a line, perhaps, and then the second, a perpendicular, is added to make the next dimension, the next expansion. Where's the next perpendicular?


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

Becky: the most important thing i've taken away from Mayr, with alot of help from our class discusions, is how, "owing to the two-step nature of natural selection, evolution is the result of both chance and nessecity." (p120)The chance side of things being underemphasized in my education up until now.

Elizabeth: Mayr talks a lot about adaptationism (p. 229) ...every attribute is ultimately the product of variation, and this variation is largely the product of chance. Many authors seem to have a problem in comprehending the virtually simultaneous actions of two seemingly opposing causations, chance and necessity. But this is precicely the power of the Darwinian process." So does Darwin's story take in both chance and necessity as equal partners? Where does adaptation fit into random chance/ creatures occupying niches.

Mary: Why not think of evolution as survival of the luckiest random change? Not a good enough sound bite? No, I bet there is more to it than that.

Susan: I guess my question encompasses all of page 230. I don't get the point he is trying to make... it seems as though he is contradicting all that he says about evolution being random... how can man be "more or less and accident" but not really an accident at all?

Diane: I'm really turned on to Susan's ideas. But I don't think consciousness is necessarily linear. Rather I think that it Seems linear to us because we only have the capacity to precieve things directionally ...Linear thinking is just ow we organize ideas/daily routines etc. You all might be farmiliar with the psychological term chunking, which is a way of grouping sets of 7 to memorize. This is a vary concrete example of the ways in which we try to organize the world and make sense of it. It is a tool. Linear thinking is the same type of tool. This animal type of directional mind set, complete with all of its tricks to help us stay on track, is probably the very reason that it is at times difficult to grasp the randomness of evolution. Evolution is unending and stretches in all directions, just as consciousness does. But we aren't able to know this true form of consciousness all of the time.


Becky: Mayr insists that the enlargement of the Australopithecene/Homo brain occured because of "severe selection pressure" (p254) how might we mediate this with ideas about random change or expansion into a "niche of the mind" so to speak, through language and culture? especially since our brains are SO big we only use a fraction of them (i wish i know what it was...)

Orah: mayr (page 252) "it has long been appreciated taht it is our brain that makes us human." does that mean that brain capasity can measure levels of humaness? that's dangerous. "waht is perhaps most astonishing is the fact that the human brain seems not to have changed one single bit since the first appearance of Homo sapiens, some 150000 years ago."

Jen: I would have liked Mayr to discuss more aspects of human evolution -- how our species attained the level of self-awareness and speech it did, and why.

Perrin: Guilt is defiantly one of the primary signs of self awareness/consciousness


Meg: I'm looking over Mayr again, and I find myself stuck on the section near the end that discusses altruism. Mayr brings up the controversy of human ethics in the human evolution discussion. He says "Is not selfishness the only behavior that can be rewarded by selection? What is altruism and how can it be defined? Is altruism due to a genetic disposition or is it entirely due to education and learning?". Mayr then goes on to ...say that altruism is doing something beneficial for another idividual that costs you. I don't really understand ...I guess I'm just confused as to why Mayr feels that altruism has anything to do with our evolution as a species...I think that random acts of kindness are part of our nature, and have nothing to do with our evolution, or preservation.

Jen: Meg discussed her impressions of Mayr's passage on altruism in her post, expressing a confusion that was similar to mine. I had never conceived of altruism being in any way related to ...the randomness of evolution. Mayr, after establishing how natural selection should not be invoked as an explanation, goes on to say (on P. 259), "Genuine ethics is the result of the thought of cultural leaders. We are not born with a feeling of altruism toward outsiders, but acquire it through cultural learning. It requires the redirecting of our inborn altruistic tendencies towards a new target: outsiders." Human altruism is a byproduct of guilt. Guilt is a byproduct of self-awareness, and an ability to conceive of a more fluid time than simply the present; it's our awareness of the past and future that makes us feel guilty about past actions and how we should behave in the here and now. Our self-awareness is a byproduct of our species' evolution...

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

Aia: "The importance of competition is demonstrated most graphically when a species becomes extinct as a result of an alien species successfully colonizing its range. Darwin called attention to the extinction of many native New Zealand species of animals and plants when introduced European species successfully established themselves there and outcompeted the natives." (Mayr, 125) Is imperialism a subset of evolution? Are we innately programmed to compete with other peoples for the sake of our own survival?

Daniela: "But it is now realized that many animals also show that they have emotions of fear, happiness, caution, depression and almost any other human emotion." (256) What does Mayr mean here by labelling those emotions "human"? ...can't these behavioral traits shown by animals be some sort of instinct shared by numerous taxa? Because emotions sometimes do undermine, ...strength and determination, they exert pernicious influence on the ability to survive. So, are emotions an ancestral trait that will eventually be selected against?


Ro. (via Bethany) said: "I don't know if I can keep the thought long enough to get it out..." - This makes it seem as if maybe thoughts undergo a process of elimination, of natural selection as well...[and as] Elizabeth said: I've recently come to think of answers simply as waiting places for new questions or ...bridges to new questions. And in that sense i think that answers are absolutely crucial...

Sharon Burgmayer's "Transformations"

SO: let's get a few answers out here....???
eliminate a few ideas...
build some bridges w/ others????

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