final project

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Introduction of the characters and format:

Just as we read our live barometer for the final in class project, we created a character to play the “Question Facilitator” (QF). The characters are meant to represent our classmates from this course. The board we have supplied you with represents the barometer on which you place them according to the script. Each character on the board has a letter on their clothing - this letter is the first letter of their name and is there so that it’s easier to differentiate between them.

Placement on the red space represents that the character strong disagrees with the statement, green represents neutrality, indifference, or confusion, and purple represents that they strongly agree. After placing them on their initial space, please move them (also according to our script) to see how the conversation affects their beliefs in relation to the statement at hand.

 

Why we chose to do this for our final project:

 We wrote this in an effort to recreate an ideal usage of the exercise we tried in class. We wanted to represent where we started when we began this class, where we have moved through the class and where we stand at present. In an ideal version of the barometer experiment we tried conversations would be cultivated, free, open and meaningful discussions would arise and people would get an opportunity to better understand not only the material we tackled but where they stand in relation to it. They would get a chance to test themselves and visually indicate their opinions as they struggled to form them. This ideal is what we are trying to show through our project because we know that while the experiment we tried in class didn’t go the way we wanted it to, the class as a whole has moved and grown similarly to what we have shown here.

 

We chose three of the five statements/prompts we used in class and elaborated on them here.

The arguments shown in the script are taken from our class and forum notes and are representative of conversations we have actually had. Unfortunately, since we have only six characters we cannot entirely show the value of stating your point while staying silent (as we also wanted to build on the discussion), but we would like to emphasize that this was a large part of the reason this project was carried out.

 

Prompt # 1

 

QF: According to Daniel Dennet in his novel, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life memes alone set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Memes are considered to be the cultural equivalent of genes. They evolve and change over time, and have a factor of randomness. Where do you stand on this matter?

Standing in the red space represents that you strongly disagree, while standing in the purple space indicates that you strongly agree. The middle of the barometer represents an indifferent response, while the spaces between the extremes function accordingly. Please move to the area you most identify with.

*Figures move*


Colleen in red space

George in orange

Freddie in yellow

Katherine in green

Jesse in dark blue

Sam in purple


 

Colleen: I strongly believe that memes are what set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom because aside from the culture we have created using these memes, we are just like animals. They don’t have their own versions of our technology, communicate with one another in the ways that we do (i.e. using language), or have ways of expressing themselves (i.e. their equivalents of our art and literature).

George: I actually disagree. I think that humans have a lot of other attributes that separate us from the rest of nature. What about language? Consciousness? Intuition?

Katherine: You think animals aren’t intuitive? What about their innate responses, such as migration? They are so much more in tune with nature than we are. Rather, I think we’ve devolved in such a way that any instinct we used to have concerning nature has been trumped by our reliance on memes and language.

Colleen: I get that language sets us aside from animals, but that was a learned behavior. We are not born with the ability to speak a language—we only make ‘human’ noises as babies, just as other animals have their respective noises. Think about feral children. Without the influence of culture and society, people would be wild and without all the abilities and characteristics we typically attribute to humans. While we have mastered the ability to speak, it is something that is taught, not something that is innately within us. In this way, culture is also taught. It was a discovery that evolved, not something we are each born with.

QF: In that case, is thinking taught too?

Freddie: I don’t think so. We are conscious of ourselves and that is innate; we are born with that level of awareness. Being aware gives rise to thinking. Having an evolved thought process and definable emotional states gives us a huge advantage over the animal kingdom. It is definitely one of, if not the most important things that sets us apart.

Katherine: While I definitely see your point, we have to take into take into consideration that we don’t know for certain how evolved the animal kingdom is in terms of feeling and even language.

Freddie: Yes we do. We have studied it for the longest time. Animals can feel, but they don’t have developed emotional states and while they can communicate with each other and probably express themselves their lack of evolved thought and emotional process hinders their ability to express themselves as well as we can.

Colleen: Guys hold up. Have you ever considered that maybe consciousness is only important because we tell ourselves it is because we need to believe that we are better than the animal kingdom? Because we need to believe that we are more evolved?

**figures move again**

Jesse moves from dark blue to green

Katherine moves from orange

Colleen moves from red to green

 

Jesse: I hadn’t ever thought of the argument from the other side before. And it is interesting to think about what other factors set us aside from the animal kingdom or if we are any different from them at all. I guess, this just puts me in the middle for now because I need to reevaluate what I believe and where I stand.

Katherine: This conversation helped me better understand what a meme is and how they play out in our lives. While I was confused initially, listening to everyone has allowed me to better formulate my stance in my mind. I now know that I disagree with the statement. I do not believe that humans are that different from the animal kingdom at all. Memes just seem to be another way for us to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the animal kingdom so as to make ourselves feel superior.

Colleen: I thought I had thought this argument out enough in my mind while I was reading Dennett’s book. But it seems like I hadn’t given his argument enough credit. While I’m not ready to let go of my point of view entirely yet I can definitely see the flipside of the argument. And so I’m in the middle now, trying to decide which side I belong on, or if I need to pick a side at all.

 

 

Prompt #2

 

QF: That was great. Now if you’ll rearrange yourselves based on your reaction to this next prompt, we can move on to another discussion. After reading Richard Powers’ Generosity, where do you stand on this statement: There are areas of life that science should not interfere with or address.

Placements:


Colleen in red space

George in orange

Freddie in yellow

Katherine in green

Jesse in light blue

Sam in purple


 

Colleen: I feel like we have come so far in terms of our understanding of the universe, nature, and of ourselves. Why should we stop now? We’ve experimented with controversial things before and have really grown from our discoveries. We’ll never be able to continue to progress is we avoid the ‘hard’ topics.

Freddie: Like what? I don’t really have a sense about what kinds of controversial issues have been looked at.

Jesse: One of the things Colleen might be alluding to is the issue of genetic testing. Yes, we are now capable of getting our genetic make-up tested and finding out whether or not we are predisposed to contract certain ailments, or to understand what kinds of genes we will be passing on to our children. Still, knowing the clinical chances of getting a certain kind of cancer at some point in a person’s life could be detrimental to the way they live, especially given that doctors often cannot give a person a timeline, only a percentage chance.

Sam: I also feel really strongly about this topic. My brother was adopted and, given recent scientific breakthroughs, my parents were given the option of having him genetically tested before officially adopting him. The idea that some children might not be adopted because people can peer into their future in a rush of percentages and probabilities concerning mental health or physical ailment is completely unacceptable. My parents would have run the same risk of having a child with such issues if they’d conceived one themselves and so they decided against it.

George: Still, some of the discoveries we’ve made have led to exceptional development. Look at stem cell research: it has many controversial issues attached, but they go hand-in-hand with amazing benefits. I was born via artificial insemination and without difficult, ‘taboo’ research, my mother never could have had me by herself.

Freddie: I guess I was thinking of this from more of a religious perspective. If we take that into account, science seems to be constantly taking away the importance of God. This conversation reminds me of that song Professor Dalke sang in class that time, the one that started off with “tell me why the stars do shine…” If researchers are striving to negate the relevance/presence of God, I think that will really affect the way we teach morals to children.

 

*figures move again*

Colleen moves to yellow

Katherine moves to dark blue

 

Colleen: in theory, those kinds of experiments are really effective, but at what cost? They probably have to negatively affect people before anything can truly be gleaned from them.

Katherine: I didn’t speak initially because I wasn’t sure where I stood, but now I have a slightly better sense. Both sides make really good arguments. I guess that in situations like Sam and George’s, it’s nice when individuals can decide for themselves. For example, Sam, your parents made a conscious decision not to find out about the genetic make-up of your brother. Not only would it have affected his adoption, but it also would have changed the way they saw and raised him. Similarly, George, your mom made a choice based on the options. If people can make their own choices about their own knowledge, then they can decide whether it would be more hurtful to know, or harmful to not understand.

 

Prompt #3

 

Placements:


Colleen in red space

George in orange

Freddie in yellow

Katherine in green

Jesse in dark blue

Sam in light blue

 

QF: That was really interesting. Now, for the last statement, I’d like for you to think about a quote from the film we watched, “Adaptation.” The excerpt is: “It’s easier for plants. They have no memory, they can just move on to whatever’s next. But for people, adapting is almost shameful, like running away.”

From this, we’ve extrapolated a prompt: It is easier to adapt if you are a plant.

Colleen: This is ridiculous. I do not want to be a plant. I like adapting, I like the change and i think that the randomness is beautiful, and the struggle that comes with it is what makes the journey fun and challenging – we evolve through and with those hardships. And as painful as it can be, I like having a strong memory, being able to look back on who I was only makes me appreciate who I am and who I strive to be.


Freddie: This is really interesting, does memory hold us down and prevent us from moving forward? I know I sometimes tie myself down to my memory - adding thoughts and emotions to the happenings that it has already recorded, and so it ends up influencing my actions in the present and the way I look at the future. Most of the time it prevents me from changing or being comfortable with change because I’m already so attached to something in my mind. I’m not saying that I’d like to get rid of it entirely, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s possible for us to have a memory without adding on to it or getting attached to it. And if it is possible, what that would look like, and if I would want it.

Jesse: You guys are jumping the gun – let’s think about this for a minute. Can you imagine being free of your past? Being free of all the thoughts and emotions that constantly hold you down? Can you imagine waking up every morning and being able to start fresh - free of resentment, of fear, of boredom? What would that look like? How easy would it be for us, for all of us, to rid ourselves of our mistakes and move on, change with every day, adapt to every new circumstance. What would it feel like to never have to hold ourselves back again? We would do what we wanted to regardless of the consequences, free of thinking. do you guys remember the question Professor Grobstein asked us in class the other day - ‘what would you do if you didn’t have to think about it, where would you be right now if you had spent your life not thinking about it’ I want to know the answer to that. I want to feel that freedom.

Katherine: Maybe if we could experience it for a day, or a week... and then come back to being human again. So we could appreciate it.

Colleen: Exactly! You have stated my point Katherine. By wanting to come back so you can appreciate it you’re telling us that we need memory, or some semblance of it to be able to look at how we’ve evolved and appreciate it, or work towards making it better. Besides, you’ll are forgetting that evolution comes not only after change but through change - what about when you fall in love with somebody, or when you’re going through a particularly hard time in your life - doesn’t that push you to grow, to change, to evolve with it? If you didn’t have a memory, how would that evolution take place? How would you ever evolve with something and then be able to reflect on it?

Katherine: Colleen, I think you’re mixing it up. Evolving and adapting is probably more important than the memory of evolving and adapting.


George: actually Katherine, that’s not true. For the most part, the experience of something is more important than the thing itself, because the experience is what makes it real. Anyway, I agree with Colleen, there is absolutely no shame in adapting to change it’s a mark of courage, not weakness. And I think that you’ll are missing some important factors in this argument - what about agency? Plants have little to no agency - what does that do to their ability to adapt? If adapting is not in their control then does it count as evolution at all?

*figures move again*

Katherine moves to light blue

Sam moves to green


Sam: What George said about not having control over your ability to adapt is what made me move. While I loved the idea of being open and comfortable with change, and letting go of my memory, I also love my agency, and I’m not certain yet if I’m willing to risk losing that.

Jesse: Well, I just want to say that I’m not moving because the idea of being able to feel complete and free and fresh every morning is revolutionary. And I’m not just saying it would be easier, I’m saying I would be happier too.

Katherine: I’m moving because after listening to what everyone has to say, I can’t help but think that we evolved and gained the gift of memory for a reason. And while I’m not entirely sure what that reason is yet, I’m happy that it exists, and I want to look more into it from this perspective.

 

*** End ***

 



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