Story of Evolution/Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College
February 28, 2005

Wrapping it Up, Nailing It Down...

From Physics and Philosophy

Paul: We're wrapping up Dennett this week....
Anything particular we should try and nail down...before moving on?

Wrapped Reichstag from Christo in Berlin

From Be An Effective Notetaker

A couple of "tacks," not yet nailed down....

A single book, many covers
(and hidden under them, many interpretations....?)

From Steinsky blog

From Biology and Ecology


From Lesprobe

1. Altruism...

Liz: I'm still having the biggest problem with whether or not altruism is altruism if it is done altruistically....I found the discussion that capitalism had greatly influenced how we view altruism interesting.... In our society everything that we give to others hurts us...we tend to relate altruism with sacrifice...

Becky: Dennett argues that altruism evolved biologically when...we realized that by helping others we can help ourselves (improve our own situation, pass on our genes, etc). Which makes it sound like altruism is just a different kind ethical egoism....I'm not looking for a skyhook, or at least I don't think so, but I can't agree with Dennett's biological explanation....Can non-humans really be altruistic? ...Is their "altruism" innate while human altruism has to be taught? Or is it innate for us as well?

Kelsey: ...Rawls concept of the "veil of ignorance"...In theory...seems to be a good idea: remove oneself from one's current life ... In reality though, it is not without problems... I find it difficult to see how any person could remove him- or herself from this way of thinking.

Rebekah : I'm continuing to struggle with the problems of intentionality and altruism....Are we really just deluding ourselves in thinking/hoping/searching for proof that we're somehow different from and surpass mere machines/animals/complex series of physical laws? This seems to be the question underlying everything.... If I were to create a robot that looked and sounded exactly like me and sent it out into the world...what exactly is it that would make that robot less of an intelligent creature than me?...I'm starting to become more comfortable with the fact that my thinking for this class always generates scores of questions and very, very few convincing answers.

Jennifer: I keep thinking about altruism...when an organism does work without the benefit of passing on their genetic material....This definition doesn't bring in the idea of knowledge of whether what they are doing is harmful.

Maja: It is possible, that over time, human altruism has progressed into a rewarding behavior almost completely independent of its original biological motive....I am lead to believe that there is some sort of barren biological basis for such actions, which is refined through human nurture....she had to decide which child to let go of in order to save the other. Would you call that altruism?

Kate: Why must there be SUCH a distinction between self and other?....If there was no hard and fast distinction...would altruism be the norm and selfishness an anomaly....Would the concepts themselves lose their meaning? ....altruism seems to occur when this line is blurred and one extends one's concept of self to encompass others....Perhaps we do not need logical thought to be "truly" altruistic....I feel in some way actions speak for themselves....

Alexandra : I've been thinking a lot about the unconscious and its role in human altruism....I do believe that...true altruism can exist only in those creatures that possess the story-telling ability....It seems to me that it is an impulse...that results from out being able to create a story out of something that hasn't really happened yet.

From Daniel Dennett - the intentional stance

From An Introduction to the Physiology of Ordinary Consciousness

2. Artificial Intelligence...

Anjali : I was a bit lost by the chapter on artificial intelligence... I couldn't quite wrap my mind around what Dennett said about algorithms being able to have results that they weren't designed for....What if what is selected for is just the ability to develop new algorithms? People ...start out with the ability to learn math...and with maybe a basic framework to fit new knowledge into. The rest is taught...there's the...feeling that the individual does not matter so long as the whole is happy. And it's interesting to think if such a society is a desirable one- if peace and harmony and happiness are worth it if you've lost all free will and individuality and creativity...

Lauren Z : I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but I have gotten extremely lost. How does Artificial Intelligence relate to Evolution?

Eleanor: I wonder also how AI relates to evolution....I am not seeing evolution as a "universal acid".

Tonda: the argument that our minds are separate and unique entities from all others on the planet - that humans have something that nothing we create could ever encompass - is a somewhat promising feature....At least for now we can't use robots for everything - we still have some use for human contact and intellect.

Brittany: Dennett ...really lost me with the chapter on AI....I'm not sure I understand his argument about the production of meaning from meaninglessness with regards to AI.....Something else which bugs me... Dennett flippantly remarks that "this meme (the impossibility of AI) can be extinguished." Memes extinguished? Is this *possible?* If a "meme" is unused does that make it extinct, or only dormant? can *any* idea be conclusively disproven? Or proven, for that matter? How can a meme go "extinct"?

From Consciousness: More like Fame than Television

3. And The End of Storytelling?

Laine: What about the idea of preservation of culture?

Maria: "humans as self-regarding animals"...drew my attention...the point at which humans began to want to know 'why', to tell stories. It is when we are able to 'watch' ourselves, to dissociate our internal experience of being us from our physical experience of being us....I personally think that more thought should be given to making distinctions between types of stories. Between a story as a summary of observations and a story as a myth meant to instruct.

Ghazal : William quoted as saying, "I see the Past, Present and Future, existing all at once/ Before me." Well, THIS reminded me of the Library of Babel....

Carolyn: Is it possible to achieve a total resolution? One that can't be built off of (an ultimate crane that, perhaps, becomes a sky hook)? Would that be the 'perfect' story? Can that ever happen? And if it did, would it lead to the end of all conflict? And if there was no more conflict, would that be the end to story telling?

Britt: "we know the answer to the question we are asking" seems incredible / (ly crazy)....then wouldn't we have to hold all possible memes in our heads from the beginning? ...if a resolution (to a story) were achieved, would that be the end of story telling?

So, Paul, how 'bout instead of
wrapping it up or nailing it down....
we move along various tracks...?

From SpiritRambler

There was a young man who said "Damn!"
It grieves me to think that I am
Predestined to move
In a circumscribed groove:
In fact, not a bus, but a tram.

From Foundations of Ecology

From The New York Review of Books

Turning to Dennett's Ideas, Paul's Admiration/Suspicion...?

From Philosophy of Mind

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