Notes Towards Day 13

On Falling Cranes and the 'F-word'


I. Coursekeeping
* Paperback copies of our upcoming novel,
The Sorrows of an American,
arrived in the Bookshop last Friday:
pick up a copy to read over break?!
Links on syllabus to first pair of readings after break:
Feyerabend and Sontag
* Second paper on "evolution beyond biology" (originally due
this Friday) postponed til right after break: 5 p.m. Mon, Mar. 16


II. Relevant news elsewhere:

Sarah Hrdy's new book,“Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding": human babies are so outrageously dependent on their elders for such a long time that ...human beings evolved as cooperative breeders, a reproductive strategy in which mothers are assisted by as-if mothers, or “allomothers,” individuals of either sex who help care for and feed the young....Dr. Hrdy argues that our status as cooperative breeders, rather than our exceptionally complex brains, helps explain many aspects of our temperament.

II. Reports from this week's

forum on individual and cultural evolution

D.H. Lawrence: "Trust the tale, not the teller."

Some of us don't trust the tale:

Liz:
I decided to look up the term foundation on the online Oxford English Dictionary and found the following to be most helpful: 1) the action of founding or building upon a firm structure...establishing, instituting, or constituting on a permanent basis.

Elana: I do not understand how anyone could be a non-foundationalist. Everyone has some belief...[but] foundationalism is treated as such a dirty word ("the f-word"). This treatment of the term seems to me to be a foundationalist belief in the irrationality of foundationalism.

Marina M: foundationalism is meant to convey something fixed, eternal, and resistant to change. Non-foundationalism refers to something adaptive and responsive to change. The laws of nature are unchanging, fixed, eternal- are these foundationalist?

Some of us completely distrust the teller of this tale:

Ioanna:
The more I read Dennett, the more I realize that I am having trouble trusting him and making the connections he wants us to make. Dennet's welcome to follow him implied that we would come out with a renewed idea in which we are able to reconcile our own ideas with those that we are taught to be scientifically accurate. I can't help but feel like I was misled.

Erin: I came across a problem during my reading of Dennett. In a footnote on page 346 he casually explains that the quote he uses to support his theory [about thoughts and ideas simply popping into a persons mind without their having to do much about it] was not spoken by Mozart but, "the passage so well suits my purposes that I am choosing to ignore its pedigree"....how much has Dennett ignored, omitted or misquoted in other sections of the book because the information so well suited his purposes? Why did he choose to use this quote when he knew that it was false? I'm afraid that I have lost all confidence in an author who willfully uses misinformation to support his theories.

Laura: we discovered a problem in Dennett's reasoning--if ideas are not created by an individual, but rather absorbed and replicated by our minds, where did the first idea come from? By not mentioning this problem, Dennett leaves the reader doubting his credibility. Dennett puts himself in the same situation later on when he uses the robot analogy--both situations call for a moment of creation. (not to mention he asks us to DESIGN the robot...)

Katie A: Dennett talks about religion like playing tennis without a net...talking about how religion is crazy. I think this is a really bold move on Dennett's part not only because he talked trash to one of the oldest institutions in the western world, but he seems to act like some of these religious crazies that he is trying to say are wrong.

Others of us took Dennett to task because
of his own particular distrust of skyhooks:


Marina M: It is alarming how much Dennett opposes sky hooks. Sky hooks are still necessary in some situations, can even lead to the discovery new cranes. There are many things in this world that were previously thought of as impossible until further investigation led to a new discovery.

Adele: skyhooks have another foundation in another world! (Maybe the world of imagination?)

Morgan: skyhooks were useful because they can lead us to explorations and figuring out if a goal or fantasy can be turned into reality.... what we can imagine is what the skyhook represents.

Tim: Nietzsche writes that "truths are illusions which have forgotten that they are illusions." I think it is fully possible to believe in an inspiring story and live by it while openly acknowledging that it cannot be proven to be empirically true. Religion is metaphorical. The problem with Dennett, however, is that he doesn't see evolution, too, as a story that isn't literally true. We must have inspiring illusions.

Tara: I like the quote by Nietzsche. We choose to believe in these illusions. It has been engrained in our minds that "we can put anything that we set our mind to," that "our destiny is in our hands." Maybe deep down we know that we can't handle believing that truths are illusions so we choose, subconsciously or consciously, to believe.

We choose to imagine? To make up useful stories?

Katie:
actions do not have a set meaning or particular purpose before they are performed. Instead, they acquire meaning through their effect. Seems to suggest that all organisms, and possibly machines create the meaning of our acts by acting. If so, what does that imply when the intention of the act misfires-- when the result is not what you were going for? Is the "meaning" of your act what you were trying to do, or what you did by mistake?


Julia:
A universal acid is an imaginary creation, something that is physically impossible to achieve or produce. Can a paradox function as the concrete component of a metaphor? Maybe, the paradox was what Dennett was trying to get at: That people perceive the theory of evolution with such fear, they imbue it with all sorts of fantastic powers, analogous to a universal acid. These imaginings are simply creations of the human mind, exaggerations at that. The theory of evolution might be analogous to an ordinary weak acid, not an infinitely strong acid.

Rina: Perhaps Dennett's “fear” of skyhooks stems from a fear of uncertainty. To him, perhaps certainty eliminates a fear of a dangerous, meaningless unknown [but] thinking of the unthinkable is a necessity. In one of my Spanish classes, Borges y sus lectores, we studied several of Borges’s works. One of my favorite quotes is, “In life, he suffered from a sense of unreality..."

Evelyn: I can’t prove it but I do have a theory. We are nothing more than a diorama suspended by some unknown or alien world. We are all actors in a gigantic scientific experiment.

Paul?