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

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


A bridge between


I know we are all thinking about "purpose" now since last class, and I don't want to kill the idea, but I'm still thinking about it too ... We have been suggesting that Evolution is a story. We have also suggested that perhaps Evolution doesn't have an ultimate goal, a purpose (just as a suggestion, barring any objections). But in saying both of these, aren't we contradicting ourselves? When we think of a story, there is generally expected some outcome, or conclusion to the story arising from Character progression, action progression, or moral significance. Indeed, for me, a story that hasn't progressed to a point in which an end is presented or foreseeable in the future, isn't a story at all ... Maureen England

it helped to define purpose in the context of evolution. After giving it some thought, i realized something simple and easy, that purpose in evolution meant that the intelligent design of the universe and life was orchestrated by a higher being, I suppose we can safely say God ... Nada Ali

It was helpful in class to distinguish between different kinds of purpose (1. an interpretation that an individual imparts on something else; 2. Purpose that exists within an entity itself; and 3. the idea of a plan/intent governed by an external (or that same) entity) --(the fact that we spent so much time discussing what 'purpose' meant. . . and that we had to agree upon which story we meant when talking about 'purpose'. . . shows how slippery the concept is) ... Annie Sullivan

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

  • Possibility that it is not so, that intent/reason/words 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 purpose, story, personal responsibility, goodness, comfort]" (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 ...

    model builders = organized matter that constitutes 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

    Lots of what we observe in other things can be accounted for "algorithmically", ie by the existence of particular kinds of internal organization lacking characteristics that we believe we have ourselves (internal experience, free will)

    From the model builders to the story tellers ...

    model builders=architecturally more elaborate organizations of matter 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?

    Internal experience, story, depends on the existence of a high level of internal organization, plays a significant role in human behavior, can/does do so with or without language/memes

    Adding in language/language-based culture (a further accelerator of exploration?)

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

    "Story" and "self" a BIG crane, maybe even a skyhook, created by the cranes?

    Language/memes extend the range of things that can in principle be explored
    Evolution ...

    Relation of all this to Dennett ...