Story of Evolution/Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College
17 January 2005
Paul Grobstein on Serendip

Continuity and Catastrophe

The 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami as a starting point for a story of story-telling

Kalatura, Sri Lanka, images from DigitalGlobe
Additional photos/video - Washington Post

Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

God saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth ... And the Lord said ... behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die ... And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.

Genesis 6-10, King James Bible

Shurippak -a city which thou knowest,
(And) which on Euphrates' banks is set-
That city was ancient, (as were) the gods within it,
When their heart led the great gods to produce the flood.

The Gilgamesh Epic, Tablet 11

In search of "the" flood and one critique

Story - something that makes meaning of an event/occurrence/observation (or set of them), something that places it (them) in a context, describes its (their) relation to other things


Continuity - absence of change or change occuring sufficiently slowly as to be predictable, not surprising


Global catastrophe - a story of a relevant second case: catastrophe as generative

The discontinuous fossil record
  • A problem for Darwin given presumptions about the nature of catastrophe inherent in an older story-telling style
One explanation for discontinuities

from National Public Radio
for update see NY Times, 13 Jan, 2005

from NASA

Catastrophe theory - a story of thinking and computers: catastrophe without plan, intention, or even discrete cause

Sudden, surprising, unpredictable change need not be attributable to human failings and need not be taken as evidence of a purposive entity. Sudden, unpredictable change is an inevitable consequence of a large number of sorts of simple interactions among simple things, and hence need not be "surprising".

Tracing changes in the story of catastrophe

The nature of catastrophe

Bibical story"modern" story
force outside/more powerful than humansforces outside, more powerful than humans
may be a judgement on humansmay or may not have anything to do with humans
has a plan, intentionhas no plan, intention
creates human suffering justifiable by plan/intentioncreates human suffering ...
provides hints/clues to the plangenerates new stories/"understandings"
may be given meaning by human thought
opens new possibilities, may or may not maintain some continuityopens new possibilities, always maintains some continuity
resolves plot?does NOT resolve plot

NY Times

NY Times
Telling the story of the Indian Ocean tsunami

Lots of stories, lots of styles ... From Serendip:

Our thoughts are with with our fellow human beings in Asia, including Serendip's namesake Sri Lanka, who are having to deal with the consequences of the recent tsunamis. We urge support through international organizations including:

For further reflection:

Some other current stories that one might use to think about stories ...

post class notes

is actually catastrophism story telling style vs

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