Story of Evolution/Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College
February 5, 2007

Pan's/Paul's Labyrinth ->
Ariadne's/Anne's Thread

Pan's Labyrinth

A fairy tale for grown-ups:
What happens...when make-believe/believes it's real?

Capitan Vidal: You could have obeyed me!
Doctor['s last words]: But captain, obey for obey's sake...
without questioning... That's something only people like you do.

Paul's Labyrinth:

A scientific story

The story of evolution

Ariadne's Thread

The Labyrinth Project: free, organized access to electronic resources
in medieval studies through a World Wide Web server

Em Madsen BMC '06: I follow threads and end up somewhere in the labyrinth, not where I'd intended, but then, I don't seem to have a plan when I set out to follow what links interest me.... I do all this reading, and I'm in the labyrinth, holding this thread that is the "back" button on my browser, and I can hear the minotaur roaring and I know I'm close but I can't get to that center.... tangent by tangent, I am drawn into and out of myself, and into and out of what is going on until I am lost and excited about a totally different thing than I started thinking about....I can't find what I'm looking for....

Su-Lyn Poon HC '06: connecting causal explanations across all levels of organization and between all branches of learning as the "Ariadne's thread" that is needed to traverse "the labyrinth of empirical knowledge"

Anne's Threading (of one of your many threads) through this Labyrinth:
non-narrative (non-historical) stories -->
narrative (historical, changing) stories -->
non-narrative stories (static, fixed) stories persist/are re-instated -->
the search for authority -->
the search for truth ->
the search for security -->
simplicity? constancy? laziness? efficiency?

Jen: we are very much limited by our own perceptions. There is only so much that we can perceive with our senses....could the scientific method be a way of finding the "least common denominator" among our perceptions? ...could its rigid and precise procedures be a way to "weed out" various differences in our perceptions?...certain "conclusions"...based upon observations that are common to all human beings?....could the difference between science and the liberal arts be that the liberal arts celebrates and thrives upon the different ways we pereive the world, whereas science celebrates and thrives upon the similarities of our perceptions and observations?

Caroline: there is comfort in stories....communities are defined by their stories. Stories offer a sense of idenity....stories provide a social norm in an uncertain world. So...why do we want security?... I think there is a matter of simplicity. Also, it is easier to make risk assessments when you have something constant.Maybe people are lazy. Or energy efficient.

Danielle: The story of evolution as presented to me by Mayr still feels like the process is leading somewhere, towards something better...somewhere more right....

EB: Why is ambiguity not tolerated in science?... I am 174 pages into What Evolution Is...and have yet to sense one speck of uncertainty concerning any of his evolutionary arguments....

Karen: If we know we'll never be right... it makes guessing- venturing out- less intimidating....I don't like the authoritive tone the book is set in, and I don't like being told that this is right and that we're finally being told the truth. To me, it seems that if someone needs to say that- to state it, so explicitly, then there must be some sufficient doubt about truth....

Trinh: I have heard that most productive scientists make their great discoveries in the earlier years of their careers when they have not had so much extensive knowledge. This lack of knowledge ironically precludes them from limiting them their attempts at unconventional experiments that are assumed to be implausible by the older more knowledgable ones.

Sarah: the nature of the evolution story makes it...prone to an error being mistaken for truth for a longer period of time....the evolution story is not something that we can study first hand....we can never be satisfied with any aspect of the story, we must challenge everything at all times, even the most probable.

Rebecca: How can we be so sure that this is it, that we have it all figured out, and that this story really is a non-narrative one?...

Mariellyssa: Mayr could have written this book from an observational viewpoint....he would have to be a skeptic of his own writing, constantly second guessing himself, and saying a whole bunch of "could bes" and "maybes"....People don't want to read about what is wrong, they want to read about what is right....

Caitlin: The discussion we had on Thursday about people trying to turn science from a narrative story into a non-narrative story was constantly on my mind as I was doing the reading in Mayr....the discoveries that people had made that created widespread acceptance for evolution...were described in a way that made them seem as though all of these discoveries and conclusions had just been puzzle pieces that the scientists had found that revealed this pre-existing truth....Mayr seems to...hold nothing but disdain for all other stories even if they were formulated before the observations that led scientists to the evolution story.

Katie:...absolutely right...Mayr presents evolution as a non-narrative...grounding his authority in the absolute veracity of the story....uncertainty would necessarily compromise Mayr's status as...the authority on the subject. And I think that we do look to a voice like Mayr's, or a religious leader or professor for that matter, for the closure and security of authority....can we not do the same thing to literature? ...When we read...canonical literature, we generally know where the story is going. And ...we're almost inevitably confronted with authoritative critiques and interpretations...I'm trying to raise the question as to whether or not all literature inevitably becomes non-narrative

Marquise: mayr is writing a history of science....he doesn't really need to make space for ambiguity in this text. he's not doing research that may not hold up in the future....he's writing about theories that have been agreed upon. this stuff is pretty close to right.... i think it is unnecessary to summarize the differences between these two disciplines because that leads to reductive thinking.... Beckett tried to write in a style that would fool [authoritative critics], a style that does in fact contradict what...we, expect in a book, yet then they give the work authoritative interpretations that to me clearly go against the text.... Our society wants artists to have authority by having technique -- we can't do what they do, so we can respect them for their knowledge in their field and trust their taste. (Again, this is society with scientists!) Artists see through this and take it away from people, much to their dismay.

"Wake Up, Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind is Dead!" Throw a Bucket of Ice Water on Your Brain: "Richard Foreman...has continued to ply his exotic trade of nonnarrative, nonlinear play making...the theory at work would seem to be that we have come to trust too much in the surfaces of artfully arranged pictures and information. Hooking the mind to such surfaces, Mr. Foreman says, is fatal to the unconscious. ('When the world sees itself, it doesn't,' says a line from the script.)"

Megan: I do want to know the "truth", and this view of never reaching it seems completely cynical.

Laura: the scientific method has become some what has become untouchable...

Tamarinda: living in a Capitalist society has perpetuated the idea that certain professionals "own" their field...mainly, scientists "own" science because...This belief...has allowed scientists to speak to their a know more...and that knowledge is "yours" to exploit. In quite the same manner, one realizes that they don't know as much about a topic as another and, as a result, find themself looking to that person with the upmost of trust (in a strictly "you REALLY know what's going on" kind of way)....they justify the absorbtion of new knowledge by calling it fact.

Andrea: What if, in the future, our idea of evolution is so more wrong that it is rejected, as our ancestors' ideas have been?

Paul: What if...?

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