Day 3: On Reading Darwin as a Novelist

What It Means to Read Darwin;
What It Meant for Darwin to Read....


mfradera: What surprised me most about Darwin's work is how many other people he cites.

Darwin Reading the News:
"an entirely fictional graphic depicting
Charles Darwin reading The Light Bulb"
(Darwin sketch from 1840)

I. Coursekeeping:
everyone on-line: introduced and commenting?
(any troubleshooting needed?)
signing in...

no new reading for Thursday, when we'll meet in small groups:
1/2 upstairs in English House III, rest here...
finish the preface and first four chapters of Darwin,
(if you haven't already), come ready to talk about 'em...

II. Contemporary Context for our Conversation:

In Texas, a Line in the Curriculum Revives Evolution Debate:
“Darwinian evolution is not a proven fact"


III. How different is our approach....?

dshanin: Listening to Professor Grobstein's description of science made me feel like I was in a church listening to pastor....

sustainablephilosopher: I think it's kind of cute how scientists think they know things for sure.

lparrish: I have never before heard that science was not truth.

mfradera: I learned a new word the other day that I think describes process and development of science; strabismic. Normally it means cros-eyed, but it can also mean intellectually perverse. I prefer that definition.

Hilary McGowen: How can I use this knowledge learned in the course towards a normal application of science?

amirbey: I was also wishing to discover the essence of science; where does it come from?

rmehta: I am interested to see how my scientific notions of thinking may be skewed/destroyed/reaffirmed by this class....
rmehta: saying “nothing is true” seems far-fetched to me. Is a list of facts still a story? Does a story always need to have an opposite that could potentially be true?

III. We're still chewing on what might distinguish
"science" from "literature" (and the rest of life....)

skhemka: I cannot come to think of any place where there isn't a story.

Tara Raju: Are there any subject areas that do not experience the concept of evolution?

Marina Morrison: Why are biology and literature so divided in the first place?

enewbern: Since both subjects contain a great degree of subjectivity...there really isn't a great deal of difference in the way that they operate. Students of literature look for the new and revolutionary to the same end as students of science. They both want to create a new idea to build upon.

epeck01: Literature normally does have a definitive answer, or at least an intention. We can actually ask a living author what message they meant to convey...For science however, there is no figure that holds answers.

fquadri: it’s fascinating to know that there is no final answer or end to loopy science, there’s always new observations to turn to. Yet I’m still a little bothered by this...a little uncomfortable that there is no correct answer, objectiveness, or truth in this field....[but?] what makes [a] poem great to me: The fact that it can be interpreted in numerous and various ways by numerous and various people. To me poetry doesn’t have a “right answer”...

mcurrie: With poetry because there is no definite meaning I feel that it lets people down.

aybala50: I don't like it at all when I am told what I am supposed to get out of a poem....I was very much disappointed that the poem was not mine, but rather was Lincoln's...

kcofrinsha: this class still confuses me. My head is full of thoughts...However, I can't yet picture how they all fit together into one class. I feel as though I've been given pieces to a puzzle, but I can't yet see the picture they make when fit together.

IV. Given these questions, we are (understandably?) having mixed success with Paul's instructions to us to "read Darwin like a novelist":

merlin: subjectivity IS a very real (and yes, important) aspect of science...an absence of individual perspective would arguably be pernicious

lsteinbe: If, historically, science has attempted to obscure the subjectivity of its claims, what is the role of The Author in writing about empiricisms?

Relle: I was fascinated by the discussion...of literary criticism being close to science....I spent some time with the Darwin, trying to apply that idea....we might start by trying to determine what Darwin's personal biases are...go into his history as a writer and his biography as a person... I confess I had trouble using some of the things I've picked up in theory and criticism classes, such as analyzing a motif, or trying to examine evolution from the point of view of a certain group.

Jackie Marano, My Darwin Experiment: I randomly selected a paragraph...asked myself to interpret what I had just read....led me to believe that those who choose not to rely on the greater collective of stories to which Darwin refers...will have incorrectly interpreted the material...in this way, scientific writing is more noticeably authoritative or regimented...It seemed impossible to ignore the greater context...

ibarkas: As a science student, listening to the first lecture on the nature of science as “story telling and story revision”, I was taken aback...this idea of truth within science provides some sense of security....I believe this is why in science, the idea of replicating ideas is so important.Otherwise, scientists are literary critics-they analyze observations. We were told to read the book as a novel.I seem to be having trouble with that because I am not sure what reading a scientific text as a novel really means, as it is hard to get passed all the scientific jargon and look at it as simply a work of literature.

Shall we....try?

One way in would be visual:


John Collier's 1881 Portrait of Darwin:
"Many of those who knew his face most intimately, think that Mr Collier's picture is the best of the portraits and in this judgement the sitter himself was inclined to agree."

Another would be "Darwin for Kids":
the lovely animations of The Tree of Life

And yet another.... ?