Evolution and Literature

Kristin Jenkins's picture

The Story of Race and the Classification of People: Generative or Not?

          The idea of evolution as just a “good story” has sparked many controversial thoughts within me. After much deliberation over the idea of “truth” and “usefulness,” I realized that thinking of ideas as “good stories” could be fascinatingly “generative.” Race is one of these “stories” that I have come to question. As a child, I was taught that race was a scientifically and socially accurate way of classifying people. According to this story, everybody belongs to a race according to lineage, appearance, language, geography, etc. Most often, however, race classifications were easily assigned to people based on split second observations of skin, hair, and facial features (1). Shadows of doubt were always cast, however, when classifications became blurry. What was I supposed to think of a man whose skin was dark, whose eyes were slanted, and whose hair was blonde? Did he simply belong to a race that I did not yet know of? Or was he a negligible anomaly to the race explanation? Or what if race wasn’t really the best explanation at all?

ttruong's picture

Universals, Particulars, and Defining a Species

When we examine the world around us we intuitively recognize that there are certain groups of similar characteristics that are pervasive among certain groups of objects (by object I also mean living things).  Because of this repetition of similar characteristics being manifested together in a number of objects we are able to then call those objects by the same name.  Thus, when a set of objects are called by the same name it is understood that those objects are in possession of similar characters.  In our daily lives we perform this activity of discerning whether an object has a similar collection of characteristics as that of another object which has already been assigned a name.  When we decide that the object in question does indeed have a similar collection of characteristics we can then comfortably call it by the same name of the known object.   This characteristics-assorting, name-giving activity is often done so rapidly at imperceptible speed that we fail to see that the conceptual foundation, on which this activity is based, is actually quite precarious.

Mariellyssa Wenk's picture

Looking At Dennett's Meaning of Meaning of life

In chapter fourteen, The Evolution of Meaning, of his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Dennett explores not only the great philosopher’s question, the meaning of life; but also what inspires a man to pursue that question, and if there is a meaning or purpose behind the pursuit of this inquiry itself.  Dennett makes the point that because of the specific evolution of humans and the development of language, there must be a direct correlation between language and meaning, and therefore also a meaning to life.  Most philosophers look at the question of the meaning of life from the perspective of accomplishment, while Dennett’s internal scientist examines whether we have meaning in context with the future.

Elise Niemeyer's picture

Extending Biological Evolution as a Metaphor for Cultural Development

           Patterns of cultural development are far from predictable.  Innumerable factors affect the growth of cultures and contribute to their unique qualities.  There is, however, an organization, or pattern, that can be observed in the development of human cultures over time.  It can be useful to discuss this development in terms of Darwinian evolution in order to understand some of the motivations and outcomes of cultures as a whole.  While a strict application of biological evolution may not be appropriate (Dennett 345), exploring the metaphor can provide insight into the distinct combination of human ingenuity and natural pressure that has driven cultural development into the modern age.

Julia Smith's picture

The Evolution of the Modern American Lesbian Community

Is there progress in biological evolution? In my evolution class, we have talked about this idea and have never reached a conclusion. The concept of evolutionary progress still stirs up debate among modern scientists, including one who we have studied, Ernst Mayr. Mayr claims that, although it depends how we define progress, evolution has to be progressive because there is no doubt that the “survivors of this selection process have been proven to be superior to those eliminated” (216). (Of course, to me that just means we have to get into a whole other discussion about what superiority is.) However, what Mayr asserts is that progress is gained not just in complexity from single celled to multi-cellular organisms, but also through time and survival; that is, humans are progressive as compared to the dinosaurs because we’re still around. Using this definition of progress, I believe that I can safely say that the American lesbian movement has progressed, despite my initial belief that it has only diversified. If I take Mayr’s idea into account, I believe that the emergence of a newer, more diverse “lesbian” community shows cultural evolutionary progress. I’m going to focus on the “modern” American lesbian community, that is, the lesbian community that originated in the 70s with the second wave of the women’s movement.

Christina Cunnane's picture

Birthing Process Forces Cultural Evolution in Humans

Birthing Process Forces Cultural Evolution in Humans


            Most anthropologists and sociologists believe that cultural evolution exists and that “human beings have natural social tendencies and that particular human social behaviors have non-genetic causes and dynamics,” (sociocultural).  This type of cultural and social evolution is termed sociocultural evolution and it describes how “cultures and societies have developed over time,” (sociocultural).  The jump from ordinary biological evolution to cultural evolution is not a far leap; biological and cultural evolution are often intertwined.  The birthing process, as it evolved from monkeys to humans, is an example of how biological evolution and cultural evolution are linked.  Childbirth in humans is an extremely difficult and dangerous process that is a result of human bipedalism and encephalization.  Birthing difficulties forced cooperation among humans, resulting in the formation of social interactions and the beginning of culture among early humans.  Thus, the beginnings of cultural evolution were an indirect result of the biological evolution of bipedalism and encephalization.

danYell's picture

Evolution of Belief

The Evolution of Belief

“Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly, without presuming anything on insufficient evidence. The rest is self-deception, set to music.”
- Sam Harris

There is debate about whether or not religion evolved as an adaptation or as a spandrel. If religion is an adaptation, there was some reason for it to aid us in our journey to survive and procreate. If it is a spandrel it serves no purpose and is just a byproduct of the other mechanisms of our physiology. Earlier this month, an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled “Darwin’s God” highlighted the debate over this issue. Scott Atran, a renowned anthropologist was the focus of this article. His view is that belief in a God and creator is the easy way it; is the cognitive path of least resistance and takes less effort than disbelief. A few weeks later there was an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times entitled “God’s Dupes” which took the argument a step further. Not only is belief simple-minded, but it is unnecessary self-deception; humans should recognize that we no longer have a need for this troublesome behavior. Religion is the cause of war which leads to poverty and famine. The most striking element for me in these ideas is the misplaced arrogance with which they are wrought. I find the idea that religion, whether it comes from adaptation or as spandrel, cannot be unnecessary. This is a premature idea for the following reasons: we do not know why we came to have religion, if we say that it is unnecessary we are devaluing its worth in our lives presently, and we do not know where it will lead us.

SarahMalayaSniezek's picture

The Evolution of Morality: A Skyhook versus Crane Approach

The evolution of morality is one of the most controversial evolutionary topics that has troubled philosophers, biologists, sociologists, and evolutionary psychologists since the inception of natural selection as the major theory of biological evolution. Even Darwin himself had difficulty concretely explaining the origin of morality (Uchii 1996). In sum, the subject’s complexity has generated many conflicting theories, most of which conform to the theory of natural selection, while others use it to undermine Darwin’s original theory of evolution. In this paper, I will first outline some prominent theories of the evolution of morality. I will then analyze the evolution of morality without assuming natural selection is true, and use my analysis to determine if the most logical explanations of the evolution of morality support or contest the theory of natural selection. In doing so I will argue that Dennett’s assertion that “cranes” (theories based on reductionist logic) are more valid theories than “skyhooks” (theories involving mystery of miracle) is detrimental to the evolution of the theory of evolution.

hayley reed's picture

A Discovery of New Words & Worlds: Language's Direct Impact on Evolution

Hayley Reed

March 20th, 2007

A Discovery of New Words & Worlds:

Language’s Direct Impact on Evolution

 “Language is the source of misunderstandings.” -Antoine de Saint- Exupery   

marquisedemerteuil's picture

Theories of Cultural Evolution in an 18th Century French Novel

The process of cultural evolution is similar to that of biological evolution, but departs from it in significant ways.  More drastic changes occur in cultural evolution over a shorter period of time, and people have agency to decide how they will approach cultural evolution and find their place in contemporary culture.  Both forms of evolution are theorized and contested by scholars.  In the 1735 novel, The Wayward Head and Heart (Les Égarements du coeur et de l’esprit) by Crébillon fils, the author presents a young boy learning to navigate through the rigid aristocratic society of the day, and he encounters two older, more experienced socialites who give him differing opinions of cultural evolution.  Those shed light on how people view their position in society, as an individual who conforms to yet is separate from a group.

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