...that's just MY story of what was interesting Thursday afternoon. What's yours?

Here's one account (from Lot's wife, looking back...:)

The contraction/the patterns seem to be that

  1. we are actively revising our opinions/convictions/ideas...and ourselves???

  2. we are doing so by alternately expanding/complicating and contracting/simplifying (=writing literature and science???)

  3. we tell these stories
    • to comfort ourselves
    • to make sense of what we've observed/don't understand
    • to BE understood by others and
    • to predict what might happen.
  4. in doing so, we are working against entropy (the dissipation of energy), refusing the closed system in which it operates, and learning how to survive;
  5. and (having gotten started on this process), we find Mayr raising a number of related, interesting questions for us....
The expansion/data:

1. we are actively revising our opinions/convictions/ideas...and ourselves:

Diane: You wouldn't get a PhD before you complete your undergraduate work, would you? I think that so many of us are still mastering the basics here. To jump into something we aren't psychologically prepared for would be unwise. After having this revelation I was forced to reconcider the class' almost unanimous decision to stay on earth...

Emily: it seems i am going to have to revise my story....i am no longer convinced that the exploration is such a bad thing...how many hidden stories are flowing along beneath above and around us as we walk sleep and dream? i want to listen to these subtle stories.

Daniela: what I found most intersting on Thursday is that we all had our own stories and stuck with them till the very end of the discussion....All of the stories, I think, were inextricably connected with the identity of the storyteller: they reflected the different way of thinking of the speakers and their unique experiences. As soon as we change, our stories (and consequently, our perception of the world) will follow suit. The fact that no one of us seemed to budge from her original position seems to me in proof that we (as weel as many other people) need to impose order on the surrounding environment: that is to say that we need to explain clearly what is going on....internally we resolve any conflicts that might have arisen at the promulgation of a new piece of information and try to incorporate it into our extant system of views.

Katherine: I have to challenge that and say that we may have stuck to our stories and opinion in class, but notice how many people started waivering on their dissision once they thought for a while longer. Now that I have just brought our attention to how many people are changing their stories I would like to say that mine has remained pretty much the same....I feel that I am in a moment of contraction....

Perrin: I was actually surprised that such a vast majority of ...class was adamant about staying on Earth.... it made me wonder just how and why humans have made such drastic psychological changes since the Age of Exploration....in the time of Columbus, people weren't hesitant to hide their ambitions

Kat: the idea that most stuck with me throughout the weekend was Lauren's suggestion that many people did not want to go to Mars because they were afraid of being affected by or adversly effecting whatever we found there. This fear of interaction and affectedness strikes me as particularly strange considering that almost all interactions, whether terrestrial or extraterrestrial, have at least some small effects on each of the involved parties. Why start being afraid of this now?

Jen: Kat wrote..."Why start being afraid of this now?" I think that fear of being affected by whatever we discover (in this case, life in space) is not really so recent; fear of /affecting/ what we discover, on the other hand, is....I DO think that it's very worthwhile to consider how human exploration into space might affect/alter what we encounter, and while I don't expect that any signs of life will be discovered on Mars, I do wish humanity could come to some sort of consensus as to how we would deal with the discovery of another sentient species should it ever occur.

2. we are revising our stories/ourselves by alternately expanding/complicating and contracting/simplifying (=writing literature and science???)

Ro: the phenomena of "expansion and contraction" seems to be a pattern....Having just finished the reading of Mayr...I started to jot down some of the "sets" that I think I see aligning with the notion of expanding and contracting. For example, "an evolving world" of cycles and flux; recapitulation as expansion vs. structures that become vestigial as contraction; a single cell expanding into multiple cells that then specialize in a sort of "division of labor," etc. A pattern?...but what does it mean? The gradual, directional change of a population does not require this phenomenon, does it? Or is expansion and contraction the cyclical process of evolution...of populations, stories, stars and planets, literature?

Su-Lyn: There are things that we know we don't know...may be ...we will, in the future, fill these gaps in our knowledge. But then there ...are the things that we don't know we 'know'....many years down the line, we may look back and regard today's inescapable 'truths' as mere convictions. ...I see what I listed above as two phases in knowledge production....New observations raise new questions. They expose our inherited wisdoms and challenge them. Now we're uncertain: we know that we don't know. Over time, a new story emerges. It becomes a part of our lives, something that doesn't even bear thinking about (after all, it's all been done before). And the cycle begins again....

Reeve: it makes me wonder how cultures/people that are less invested or involved in space exploration interpret this kind of project, this kind of outward motion and expansion....It seems to me that not only expansion, but contraction as well is infinite.

Orah: our pulse is one of expansion and contraction. we think big thoughts, we reach towards mars, but we contract back into ourselves and exclaim our individual uniqueness....i think that contraction is a kind of comfort....expansion is a risk; lest you lose your base, yourself, can't find your way home....figured it out!!!!death is ...both the ultimate expansion and the ultimate contraction ...physically our existence is contracted ...while spiritually we are expanded into this ONENESS... that's when we can rest....we are all both scientists (expansionists) and writers (contractionists)

Katherine: This contraction and expansion idea is really beautiful. They go hand in hand. I see it as a math class, where you learn all of these complicated functions and ... some other way you are able to step back and see the big picture and then the usefulness of the math really makes sense. This is my image of a contraction and expansion. contraction being the focus, the detail, and structural support, the emotions and the expansion being the wider picture, the big story, the functionality.

Meg: expanding and contracting ourselves both the physically and emotionally (or mentally) is human nature. We are not stagnant beings...our expanding and contracting.. makes us stronger ...helps us prove to ourselves that we are adaptable, and are not destined to be the same person our entire lives. We are able to change through expanding and contracting every aspect of ourselves...death does release us...Even though expansion and contraction have infinite possibilities, once life is over we are no longer seesawing between expansion and contraction.

Julia: Well, the topic from Thursday's discussion ...that stuck with me was the ... idea was that when a population of anything, living or not, is dropped into a vast environment, the population spreads out... perhaps there is a consistent and omnipotent force...to spread out or expand beyond boundaries, and this force is not only impossible to control but also applicable to absolutely all elements of the world ... I don't know how plausible it would be to assume that the element of thinking and responding didn't have something to do with the expanding action in question. I'm not sure that living and nonliving entities can be directed in exactlye the same way when one has a distinctive power that the other does not ("thinking").

3. we tell these stories of expansion-and-contraction to comfort ourselves, to make sense of what we've observed/don't understand, to BE understood by others, and to predict what might happen:

Mary: All this talk about action. What about stories that comfort? ...The story itself is an action. Stories can deepen bonds between people.

Orah: why do we tell stories? another idea: we spend our whole lives trying to tell people who we are....why do we go to mars? and i think it's because we want THEM to understand us

Bethany: The point that stuck with me from our discussion on Thursday was the point Stefanie made about the inevitablity of 'messing things up' on Mars, that there would be change there if we chose to go. ....is all change 'messing something up'? Thinking about this concept again, after the Mayr reading, this is also a concept in evolution; tiny changes that gradually snowball into a big difference. What if something had gone differently? There are so many possible outcomes, and so many variables. As a part of our nature, humans hate not knowing (Another reason to go to Mars?). That, I believe, is why we have science, religion, stories. We need them in order to predict what we don't know (for example, remember the examples from Mayr of predicting how/when a certain specie would appear, and then later finding the fossils that confirmed these guesses). If we think of change as messing things up, which it really is, in a way, then everything seems so chaotic. There are so many possibilties, so many alternate stories/realities, that we just can't handle it. That's why we create tools for prediction. Through stories (including science), we can predict anything. Perhaps that's why stories are comforting, and why people find refuge in religion.

4. in storytelling, we are working against entropy (the dissipation of energy), refusing the closed system in which it operates, and learning how to survive;

Elizabeth: what she said about not believing in closed systems really made me re-evaluate my thoughts after class....Mayr...goes on to state that "the law of entropy is valid only for closed systems, whereas the evolution of a species of organisms take place in an open system".... I think that exploration ... is something organic to human beings, a product of an open system, an evolutionary process itself, therefore there should be nothing that stands in the way of it...Money can be likened to something which promotes entropy (a closed system) and because people on earth have created money, we have created our own closed system....The problem... is not the allocation of money but that there is money in the first place....perhaps stories could somehow transcend money....because stories promote open systems.... they allow us infinite possibilities including the opportunity to hold multiple ideas in one's head at the same time..

Mary: I'm thinking of how scientific stories transform slowly over time, and at the same time they have inertia that keeps the same story told over time. (Like expansion-contraction, action-comfort , phenomena that goes on simultaneously). And then other times --bam-- paradigm shift, the ratio between transformation and inertia drastically changes. A new story accelerates in and the old story begins to fall apart....This explanation of scientific stories sounds like biological evolution to me. Stories gradually changing and staying the same is like variation within species. A paradigm shift (a new worldview needing acceptance from a population in order to have the shift) emerges from the synthesis of the gradually transforming scientific ideas (genetic variation) like a new species evolves from the genetic variation that survives within a population. Biological evolution involves creation of new species that can't reproduce anymore with the ancestral species. Thomas Kuhn calls it lost science when old concepts can't reproduce anymore with the new paradigms. Now, I'm wondering about literary stories? Do they transform/shift (evolve?) similar to scientific stories? Our stories definitely transform slowly but at the same time have inertia....Does literature ever have a paradigm shift? Why do we replace stories? Biological evolution goes from simple to complex. Is that what stories do? Science, today's popular story is more complex than yesterday's popular story, religion. One of my motivations for taking this class is to better understand the mechanism directing the evolution of social thought through stories? As in biological evolution, is it the same mechanism - natural selection? Does science help humanity to survive better?

5. having gotten started on this process, we find Mayr raising a number of related, interesting questions for us:

Ro: I don't see how the 2nd law of thermodynamics is violated by or irrelevant to the on-going creation/evolution of more and more complex substances from simpler ones. If complex compounds have less energy than the simpler elements that comprise them, then doesn't the 2nd law of thermodynamics align with the theory of evolution? Perhaps I'm totally confused. Since one of the arguments used by "creationists" is that evolution volates this all-important law, I'd like to understand Mayr's reference to/dismissal of entropy.

Aia: one particulary interesting line in the book that caught my attention "...it was widely believed that the Negroes had black skin because they had been exposed for thousands of generations to the tanning effects of the tropical sun" (Mayr, 81). Is this to say that race, as Darwin knew it, was nothing more than a gradual response to environmental influences? If so, does this change at all the way we identify ourselves?

To recap: the patterns of our collective storytelling so far seem to be that

  1. we are actively revising our opinions/convictions/ideas...and ourselves

  2. we are doing so by alternately expanding/complicating and contracting/simplifying (=writing literature and science)

  3. we tell these stories to comfort ourselves, to make sense of what we've observed/don't understand, to BE understood by others, and to predict what might happen;
  4. in doing so, we are working against entropy (the dissipation of energy), refusing the closed system in which it operates, and learning how to survive;
  5. and (having gotten started on this process), we find Mayr raising a number of related, interesting questions for us....
So, Paul...answer a couple of these? And/or tell the next chapter in the story??