Evolution and Literature

Jenn Dodwell's picture

Darwinian Evolution: To What Extent Does it Apply to Man?

 As the theory of evolution was being developed, scientists had to work a lot of things out in order to generate a “story” that was plausible and convincing. This called for especially rigorous attention to detail, since they were competing with the theory of creationism which said that variation of living things over time is not a result of interactions with their environment, but rather is a reflection of the Divine Plan; a plan that is fixed, and that foresees and governs every change we see in the living world.  Some of the various problems that scientists had to work out to make a credible case for evolution included: How could they find proof for a process that had taken place over thousands of years, and for which the evidence was extremely scattered?  What were the basic units of change; were they whole species, individual organisms, or individual genes?  Finally, the biggest question they had to attempt to answer was: Why does evolution happen?  Why don’t living things just stay the same?

tbarryfigu's picture

Trial, Error, and Polymorphism

Tamarinda Barry Figueroa

 Stories of Evolution & Visa Versa

Professor Anne Dalke


Katherine Redford's picture

Mathematics and Being Less Wrong

Katherine Redford
English 223
February 16, 2007

How does Mathematics fit into the description of Science as a process of “Less Wrong”?

 If we look at the three disciplines of academia, mathematics undoubtedly falls into the category of science.  It has been praised as the language of science, lending itself to biology, chemistry and physics.  Mathematics has a solid foundation, tested by different civilizations since the beginning of time.  Every reason that I have been given to explain why science is only a process of getting it less wrong, do not stand up when it comes to math.  Because of this, it is impossible to say that there is no right answer in science because mathematics has been tested and retested, and the story has never changed.  Math is a science and if math has a correct answer, than evolution must also have a correct answer.  However, there exists a great difference between the stories of mathematics and evolution.  Because humans are a part of evolution, a “character” in the plot, it is impossible to achieve objectivity.  While math provides evidence that a true answer exists, our role in evolution prevents us from understanding it fully.
  Mathematics finds its roots growing independently from one another in multiple ancient cultures.  In ancient Asian civilizations the rise of mathematics was brought about “as a practical science to assist in agriculture, engineering, and business pursuits,” (“Mathematics Development”).  But the concept of the number, on which all of mathematics is based, reaches so far back into human existence that there is no record; “the birth of the idea of number is so hidden behind the veils of countless age… our remote ancestors must have felt the need to enumerate their livestock, tally objects for barter, or mark the passage of days” (Burton 1).  Civilization after civilization independently found new ways to express the same concept, the number system.  The earliest evidence suggests that notches or tallies were used in a one to one ratio, and the way these numbers were expressed ranged from hieroglyphics to cuneiform to a system in China with only nine symbols (Burton 1-29).  
 So far in lecture we have been told that human subjectivity prevents us from ever getting the story completely correct.  We look at evolution, and everyone interprets the story differently, but this is not true in mathematics.  So many civilizations developed math independently of each other, and all of them reached the same conclusion.  There exists evidence of the use of the Pythagorean Theorem in ancient Egypt, long before Pythagoras came around.  All of my observations point to the idea that mathematics is fact, and should be taken as such.  The “less wrong” theory just doesn’t hold up here.
 Hermann Hankel is quoted as saying, “In most sciences one generation tears down what another has built and what one has established another undoes.  In Mathematics alone each generation builds a new story to an old structure”.  Mathematics is unique in many ways, especially in the way that it relates to other sciences; “mathematics… is also penetrating into areas of knowledge one-sidedly, for their benefit” (Bochner 5).  Mathematics as a subject of study holds up entirely on its own, we don’t need chemistry to define it, biology to reinforce it, it exists without help.  What does this say about the other sciences?  In science, there has to be a right answer; mathematics is proof of this.
 There is one variable that differs between biology and mathematics, that is, that we are a part of biology, the science of life.  Our observations are limited by the fact that we are a part of the process.  We evolved from earlier species, and we can predict that we will evolve into more species.  In mathematics, we are not a part of the science, we can apply the science to our lives, use it to build buildings, explain the laws of physics, but what is happening to us now, does not affect changes in mathematics, and the deeper understanding of the science. 
 Our desire to understand biology is clouded with the natural human desire to understand what is going to happen.  Often in class we discussed whether or not we believed the story of evolution to be comforting.  Some argued that the thought of having no control over what happens to future generations to be a frightening concept.  Others believed that the fact that the concept of uncontrollable fate soothed them.  Regardless of our position on this question one fact remained, as humans, an animal species constantly evolving; we are personally invested in the story.
 This is where the concept of the crack comes in to play; this is not a feature of science, but rather a feature of our being both the studier and the studied.  It is impossible for humans to be objective when studying themselves.  The way in which we perceive what is happening is dependent upon all the concepts described in class.  Our personal beliefs and what we hope to get out of our observations may skew what we choose to observe, and the conclusions we reach from them. 
 All of the reasons that humans cannot successfully study biology are not flaws of the science itself.   We know that in science there is a truth; in mathematics we have successfully achieved truth through our study.  Mathematics is a science of which we are not a part; when we study science, we are studying something separate from our own existence.  However, when we attempt to study biology, we fail miserably.  From the beginning our theories were varied, and our conclusions sporadic.  This is because we are attempting to observe something that we are an integral part of, being both the studier and the studied.  However, this does not mean that a truth does not exist, simply that we our involvement in the story prevents us from discovering it.  Our personal temperament and beliefs cloud the science before us and the truth evades us. 

EB Ver Hoeve's picture

To Be Significant

Elizabeth Ver Hoeve
February 16, 2007
To Be Significant

"To be fit," Ernst Mayr proclaims in his book, What Evolution Is, "means to possess certain properties that increase the probability of survival" (118). Those individuals with the most desired characteristics for their specific environment have the best chance at surviving. So if survivability is measured by, "the existence of certain survival-favoring attributes," how does an organism demonstrate its potential (Mayr 118)? The most prominent indication of an organism's survival capability is its ability to reproduce. Reproduction - the transfer of genetic material from parent to offspring - is crucial in the process of evolution. In order for a population to survive, each generation must produce a subsequent number of offspring. This basic survival requirement is unmistakably essential in the case of say, a population of penguins. Their purpose for selecting a mate and making the treacherous journey across miles and miles of ice and snow is to reproduce and create a future generation of penguins. What makes a penguin evolutionarily significant is its ability to reproduce. But can this clear-cut rationale be applicable to all species of organisms? Humans are substantially different from penguins. We have evolved into higher functioning organisms, developed complex societies, and invented medicine and technology that has potentially allowed us to side-step the force of natural selection altogether. Yet, when asked in class whether or not individuals who choose not to reproduce are evolutionarily significant, the majority response indicated that, evolutionarily speaking, such individuals had no purpose. No purpose? How could that be? Could someone actually imply that if a person doesn't pass on his or her genes, that he/she is simply insignificant? After close attention to human lifestyle, observations associated with this issue seem to point us in the opposite direction. In fact, through the examination of overpopulation, policymaking, and the spread of ideas to future generations, it seems clear that "non-reproducers" are not only significant, they are necessary contributors to the process of evolution.

kgins's picture

Evolving from a Classroom

danYell's picture

Subjectivity and evolution

Danielle Joseph
February 16, 2007
Evo-Lit : Dalke Section

Humans have a desire to create order both in their physical settings and in their intellectual ones. If something is disordered we create boxes and shelve everything nicely away, cleaning up the mess of nature. This is a difficult task as our environment is constantly changing, so we have to constantly change in order to keep up with it. When we look at the natural world we are confronted with a huge amount of diversity and struggle with a way to categorize and qualify objects. This man-made order is how we make sense of our world; it is a coping mechanism in an environment of chaos. It is also a means of survival. The evenly spaced apple trees in the orchard, or the rows of field corn used to feed our domesticated animals, not only ensure our food supply but also impose order on an unruly landscape. In addition to creating order, as humans, we have always questioned our origins, and the purpose of our existence. The stories that we tell are a way of sharing our observations about our place in the world.

evanstiegel's picture

Evolution in the Classroom

              For every piece of knowledge that we come across, there exists a multilayered way of understanding and interpreting it. Very often, it is by close analysis of these diverse and differing perspectives of information that each individual is able to add to their perpetually growing store of knowledge. Consequently, if the numerous ways of understanding a particular topic are not taken into account by learners, they often develop a very singular way of framing their perception of different subject matter, and the world at large. As educational Paulo Freire puts it, “[Students’] capacity to intervene, to compare, to judge, to decide, to choose, to desist makes them capable of acts of greatness…”1    It is the job of educators, therefore, to present their students with as many ways of approaching and understanding particular subject matter. This has the effect of giving each student numerous perspectives of knowledge, on which they can exercise their innate, democratic right to choose what they want to learn.  It is for this precise reason that the topic of evolution should be taught in schools; not to impose on the value of those that prefer to believe in creationism, but to allow individuals to choose which of the two they would rather learn.      

I.W.'s picture

The Perpetual Motion of Evoultion

Isabelle Winer

The Story of Evolution

Paper #1

The Perpetual Motion of Evolution

Today many of the problems people have with evolution stem from their understanding of evolution as being a completely random process.  It is human nature to desire order and direction, which explains why religion with its rules and higher being is such a more comfortable story.  On the other hand, evolution, viewed as “completely random”, portrays life as lacking purpose and direction.  Christopher Schöborn displayed this view when he said, “evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense -- an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection -- is not [true]. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.”[1] This understanding of evolution is incorrect; evolution is instead a process directed by the ever-changing environment. The variation made possible by the random mutation of genes is simply the opening that makes evolution possible.

LF's picture

Is man tampering with evolution?

The scientific study of what evolution is does not seem to have produced a unified response as to what this developmental course of life actually means. Charles Darwin claimed that his theory of natural and sexual selection was central to the understanding of evolution as a science. Darwin stated that variation was central to the idea of evolution, claiming that diversification in nature was what caused it to flow.

Kristin Jenkins's picture

The Future of Human Evolution

Kristin Jenkins

Biology 223

Dalke & Grobstein

January 16, 2006

Human Evolution – What Does the Future Hold?  

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