The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories:
Exploring the Significance of Diversity

Forum 3
The Story of Evolution: Continuing


Name:  
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Cycles
Date:  2004-01-29 13:55:33
Message Id:  7818
Comments:
Because Lot's wife looked backwards, she was turned into a pillar of salt. So, organic (living) matter was turned (again) into inorganic compound; in other words,the top branch of the tree of life returned back to its starting point. Having once turned into salt (some species highly value such inorganic substances), Lot's wife could help other living organisms emerge, thus closing the Cycle of Life.This raises interesting questions-the interconnectedness of species (in particular, the importance of human beings) and movement as an attribute of life.

Independence, on this planet at least, does not exist- nothing can be regarded as isolated from its environment. Species need other species for food, light, protection etc. All species need to extract/imbibe nutients/ oxygen etc from the inorganic world. Therefore, I think, there are no supreme creatures, only such that are well suited to a certain way of life better than others. Thus, living under certain conditions that are not as favourable to the other organisms, they avoid copmpetition, and consequently increase their chances for survival and reproduction.If it is the environment and subsequent adaptations that ensure a species' well-being, then is our re-shaping the environment an attempt to adapt to it? Is such adaptation justified?

Lot's wife was turned into salt. From my point of view, this can be seen as the transformation of living, moving cells, sometimes loose and not quite organized into something with regular structure where all molecules are located at approximately the same distance forming a highly orderly pattern. Preventing molecules from moving freely (contraction ) here means death.

Lot's wife was wistful of the past. She wasn't ready to "wipe off the slate" and start a new life at another place. Does this mean that she was not adapted to live elsewhere? That movement is one of the attributes of life is bolstered by adaptation. "Looking back" in biological terms means to revert to a former, usually not that advanced state, thus decraesing chances for survival. So, Lot's wife had to die...


Name:  Daniela
Username:  dmiteva@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2004-01-29 13:57:21
Message Id:  7819
Comments:
Sorry everyone. The above (titled CyCLES) are my thoughts
Name:  Natasha
Username:  nseth@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Re: Cycles
Date:  2004-01-29 14:23:37
Message Id:  7820
Comments:
I think I disagree with Daniela in the statement that Lot's wife turning to a pillar of salt closed the Cycle of Life. If the inorganic susbtances such as salt help foster other creatures, then i think her salt is in fact starting a chain reaction, where, as Daniela said, species are interconnected, and such that many creautres are living off of one creature needing the salt to live. I don't necessary think that looking back means reverting to a less advanced state of being. I think that part of the story was to show that humans must draw on past experiences in order to make their future ones more meaningful. And in the sense that humans evolve further, by being able to be retrospective.
Name:  Perrin Braun
Username:  pbraun@bmc
Subject:  
Date:  2004-01-29 17:15:40
Message Id:  7824
Comments:
Ok, here is my issue with the discussion in Prof Dalke's discussion section: I fail to understand the concept of no absolute truth, the absence of reality, and the denial of faith in general. I don't understand how people can deny reality, because if nothing is real, then why are we here? Do we have a purpose? If not, then why should we bother being moral and kind human beings? I can certainly accept people having different truths because I think that it is emotionally healthy to believe in something. Humans are definitely too mistrusting and I really don't see anything wrong with placing just a little faith in a power other than yourself--whether that power may be religious or scientific in nature, or simply trusting in the inherent goodness of your fellow man (however, I certainly don't mean to say that people shouldn't question their environment). I think that the denial of reality is some sort of psychological device people use to protect themselves against the unknown or things that they might want to know. At the very least, we can say that a flower is real if only because the purpose of its existence is for us to enjoy its smell.

Sorry if that was too confusing!


Name:  Patricia Palermo
Username:  ppalermo@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  A bit long... sorry
Date:  2004-01-29 19:14:14
Message Id:  7829
Comments:
I read through many of the comments and found them all to be so enticing that I want to say something about them all. But I won't. Primarily, I just feel very enlightened by this notion that we are contributing to, or neglecting stories in progress. We seek to abandon the idea of truth or proof and look more into the usefulness of stories. I think this is challenging, but powerful, and on the quest for knowledge BETTER than any other path. However, one must consider that some stories, by nature, require the end of storytelling, and so are those stories not as good by our definition. I may not be very clear, but hear is what I am getting at.

Religion: I am almost certain, but if you are a Christian, Muslim, Jew, you have to accept one thing, even though lots of other things are up for interpretation: The word of the "good book," (whichever good book you like), is THE STORY not A STORY. This is crucial. I agree with and respect the ideas introduced in class, but I believe that we are trying desperately not to address the greater complications of this particular story. The open nature of this story infinitely closes many others. If one of us has a "story" that there indeed can be many stories, and another one of us has a story that there can only be one story... don't we both have to fess up (especially those who believe in many stories) that we at least find that opposing view less true. I have struggled a great deal with this because I feel the topic demands that you give of yourself a great deal. I don't want to be the philosopher whose philosophy on life is not to philosophies.

I just want to make it clear that I am criticizing this approach so much because the better part of me violently wants to accept it. I think it's enlightened and the best "story" I have ever heard. And yet, the gut of me will not. And I want to end this controversy.

The best I can do for myself is this:
The story that was posted in class this Thursday about the girl (a woman in our class) who felt the desire to convince the man on the plane that his story was wrong was very moving to me. I have done that. A million times. I have a very close friend who is a devote Christian. I feel that... well I feel a million things in controversy with the bible. So we read the bible together, and argue. I EVEN went to church with her! And I did this solely to argue. And we did this in part to strengthen our own stories, to challenge wits, and to fight for our beliefs about our purpose here and what happens after we die. So this class has brought me to some conclusions that I was at the cusp of making during these debates but am now fully able to make. I will divulge this.

I think that we do have two different stories. I think that BOTH STORIES have a purpose, and they EACH serve us individually. But many times we cannot accept one person's story because it violates another. It invalidates another story. Even as Grobstien and Dalke infer that they may not have to, they do! And this is of ultimate concern. My friend is afraid that if her religion is wrong than her family is foolish and her purpose is lost. I am afraid that if I am wrong there is a hell for those who have certain stories. We may just be afraid. I'm not sure, it may sound cheesy, but it may be just that.

Historically we kill each other over this! Literally. This just blows my mind. How can I ever overcome this need to find one story if generations of people have died just for their story. And then we always look back, and for many of those situations, we think of how silly that was. To die for one story.

As many in this class have wisely said, this is so frustrating as it makes us look at our lives as not right or wrong but as another story.


Name:  orah minder
Username:  ominder@bmc
Subject:  bible, comfort, settling, religion, love affairs,
Date:  2004-01-29 20:18:08
Message Id:  7830
Comments:
really liked anne's explanation of lot's wife at the begining of class. how lot's wife was filled with such greif that she became tears, she became sorrow. it's poetic and reading back over the text, i think it scientifically can make sense as well.
lets open our bibles to ch19 of genesis. so the angels are trying to get lot and his family to leave the city. and the family keeps delaying. "as dawn broke, the angels urged lot on." and the family is so slow that the angels have to physically move them. the angels are in some kind of rush. they "seized his hand, and the hands of his wife and his two daughters." it is signifigant that they are in a hurry. why? i think it's because the sun is rising. why then would the bible state that they are being pushed out of the city just as dawn was breaking? the angels say that they cannot do anything until the family has arrived at this town: zoar... which is a certain distance away from the imminent destruction. and "as the sun rose upon the earth and lot entered zoar, the lord rained upon sodom and gomorrah sulfurous fire from the lord out of heaven." i think that "sulfurous fire from the lord out of heaven" was prabably pretty damn hot, and combined with the heat of the rising desert sun hot enough to evaporate a person's body until she was diminished to a pile of salt.
so if poetically she BECAME grief, if she BECAME TEARS and the heat of the sulfurous fire from heaven, and the heat of the desert sun hit her face-on then it's possible that she became salt.
its nice how the sciency part about the heat can be combined with the poetic part about her 'becoming greif.' :) and i like that image of 'becoming greif.' ((reminds me of JRobert Oppenheimer..."i am become death the destroyer of worlds."))
also, i changed my mind about why we tell stories. i don't think they are for comfort. if they were then prof. grobstein wouldn't have told us his story today. it's too distressing: our lives are fueled by the fact that we are one day going to die. that is not comforting. quite the contrary. it sucks. big time. people said that it was comfoting to know what is going on. but, nothing about that story comforts me. nothing. nothing. nothing.
but, alas, i still listen. and would have listened even if i knew what was coming. if all i wanted was comfot then i would have walked out. why did i listen? or a better question is why did prof. grobstein tell that story?
is being in a state of distress a 'useful' state in which to be?
i don't think that story is told in order to insight us to act. there is nothing we can do. our lives are fueled by the fact that we are going to die. and there IS NOTHING to do. so if it doesn't insight action (it tells us that action wouldn't do anything) and it doesn't comfort then why tell? i really really don't know.
(on that unsettling note)......wait! maybe stories are told to settle us. being settled and being comfortable are different things. we can be settled in uncomfort. i like that....hummm...
so (on that semi-settling note) another thing:
i'm taking a religion class in which the professor says that we have to broaden our definition of what religion is. he says that the act of questioning what it means to be human is the ultimate religious act. and i beleive it. really. so i have a hard time when people keep contrasting religion and science so so sharply because i feel that the questions we are asking in this class are religious questions. i don't have the words to explain it but i feel as though questioning my place in the universe, my place in regards to the diminishing sun is the most religious question. i mean (i'm trying really hard here) what is the point of orgonized religion? could it be in order to define the human in regards to a higher power? and isn't the point of science the same thing? to find our meaning in relation to nature? nature being a higher force over which we have no power? i mean the sun is going to dissipate. and i think both science and religion are pivoted on the reaction of the human to this fact.
and i'm reminded of a quote from my favorite novel 'franny and zooey' (salinger) ((and then i'll shut up))
franny is an actress. and she is distressed because she feels as if there is only ONE way in which to pray to God. so she says her 'jesus prayer' over and over. and she thinks this is THE ONLY way to be religious. but her brother, zooey, says to her, "the only religious thing you can do, is act. act for God, if you want to- be God's actress, if you want to. what could be prettier?"
i won't pontificate to you why i feel like this is so so true. but, i think salinger is broadening the common definition of religion. religion is passion. religion is the way in which we delve into life. religion is our love affair with this world, the universe, life, beauty and GOD. because we ALL have a love affair with all these things whether it be through science or litterature. this love affair is religion. and THAT is the way that we all MUST walk this earth. whether we walk it as biologists or poets or actresses ... and i think lot's wife became greif because she saw the end of this love. and no one can see this end and live. but that's for another posting....
g'nite friends.
Name:  Diane Scarpa
Username:  dscarpa@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2004-01-29 20:36:45
Message Id:  7831
Comments:
I had never been taught the 2nd law of thermodynamics in respect to the way that it affects life. It was always an abstract; I knew that something was becoming disordered while another thing was becoming ordered but I could not see the direct impact on my life. Its fairly disconcerting that I was comforted by todays lecture while so many were clearly upset. Learning about the law as a metaphor made me much more at ease with the way things are here on earth. Rather than seeing the down side (pollution, hunger, etc.) I'm reminded of the exceptionally wonderful things. Do not misunderstand, I'm not dismissing the bad. However now that I know the way in which the good and bad go together I feel as if the bad isn't in vain. As a long time student of Kabbalah I was reminded in class today of the ways in which science is undoubtedly linked to spirituality. I also realized that this background is the primary reason that I am more at ease with some of the topics that arise in class discussions than other people are (and am thus going to make a concerted effort to step out of my own shoes and relate to everyone a bit better). Today was an important class for me, Paul's "story" today affected me in the same way I imagine religion affects other people.
Name:  Ro. Finn
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Happiness is...
Date:  2004-01-30 07:43:26
Message Id:  7834
Comments:
In class yesterday (1/29) Paul asked me if I (given my visible struggles with the topic) was "happy" with the water wheel explanation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics (and entropy). I said that I was happy to know that I'm not alone...meaning that I had separately been banging on this discordant pot before having read or heard the explanation of the water wheel. It was good to know that my notion that the 2nd law applies to and enables evolution was not nuts according to Paul...even though neither of us is in sync with the venerable author.

But Paul, I gave you a bad answer. I am not happy yet. It was not the explanation of the science that had me hog-tied. My problem was that I counld not come up with the reason why such a knowledgeable and well-respected scientist chose to skirt this central issue for his topic. For me, whenever someone who is well-respected in his field does or says something so incongruous, my first thought is not, "What a jerk" or "He's just being a bit sloppy." My first thought is, "What am I missing?" Regarding Mayr, let's declare this a rhetorical question. But it's driving me slightly nutty in a new way now. Now that I'm into the second batch of Mayr chapters, it's taking me an inordinate amount of time to get through them, but not because they are more complex than the first batch (I have an adequate understanding of genetics, having bred animals). It's that I'm now second-guessing Mayr thought by thought. I'm no longer assuming that his writing is credible and unbiased. Bummer.

But that has led to a whole new set of thinking about stories...about stories that evolve/survive by adhering to some minimum set of criteria, just as science progresses (or not) according to a set of disciplines that help to make the progressions believable. I'm now beginning to think about a story as a member of a family of stories—a strain. I think that the minimum criteria for the evolution of a story-strain needs to include connecting backward with its history, "now-ward" with the sense and sensitivities that its readers will bring that will lead to their either accepting or rejecting the story (see Elizabeth Catanese's post re: believing in stories), and also connecting forward, i.e., that quality of good writing that triggers imagination in others, triggers others to host the story, incubate it and give it off-spring. If a story loads itself with ego, personal agendas, biases, sloppy reasoning, whatever—let's call these "mutations"—they might be lethal; they might lead to the quick demise of the strain.

I'm also thinking about the 2nd law—the water wheel transmogrified into being the sun—and how that law applies to the creation and evolution of stories...a spending of energy (thought-energy) in order to make order from disorder...


Name:  emily
Username:  emadsen@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  The Zebra Storyteller
Date:  2004-01-30 14:05:28
Message Id:  7835
Comments:
my friend sent me this story today, entitled "The Zebra Storyteller." it's was written by Spencer Holst in 1971, and i felt it connected to our discussion of the Purpose of stories and storytellers too well not to share it. here goes:

Once upon a time there was a Siamese car who pretended to be a lion and spoke inappropriate Zebraic.
That language is whinnied by the race of striped horses in Africa.
Here now: An innocent zebra is walking in a jungle and approaching from another direction is the little cat; they meet.
"Hello there!" says the Siamese cat in perfectly pronounced Zebraic. "It certainly is a pleasant day, isn't it? The sun is shining, the birds are singing, isn't the world a lovely place to live today!"
The zebra is so astonished at hearing a Siamese cat speaking like a zebra, why-- he's just fit to be tied.
So the little cat quickly ties him up, kills him, and drags the better parts of the carcass back to his den.
The cat successfully hunted zebras many months in this manner, dining on filet mignon of zebra every night, and from the better hides he made bow neckties and wide belts after the fashion of the decadent princes of the Old Siamese court.
He began boasting to his friends he was a lion, and he gave them as proof the fact that he hunted zebras.
The delicate noses of the zebras told them there was really no lion in the neighborhood. The zebra deaths caused many to avoid the region. Superstitious, they decided the woods were haunted by the ghost of a lion.
One day the storyteller of the zebras was ambling, and through his mind ran plots for stories to amuse the other zebras, when suddenly his eyes brightened, and he said, "That's it! I'll tell a story about a Siamese cat who learns to speak our language! What an idea! That'll make 'em laugh!"
Just then the Siamese cat appeared before him, and said, "Hello there! Pleasant day today, isn't it!"
The zebra storyteller wasn't fit to be tied at hearing a cat speaking his language, because he'd been thinking about that very thing.
He took a good look at the cat, and he didn't know why, but there was something about his looks he didn't like, so he kicked him with a hoof and killed him.
That is the function of the storyteller.


Name:  Paul Grobstein
Username:  pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  after two weeks ...
Date:  2004-01-30 16:47:52
Message Id:  7840
Comments:
Looks like things are bubbling well here and neither Anne nor I want to disturb anything. So, just a reminder that everyone has a story and everyones' stories are of potential value for everyone else. If you've been thinking along lines or about things different from what's here so far, don't think that your thoughts don't belong here. That they're different is precisely why they ARE wanted/needed here.

Thanks for listening/reacting to my stories Tuesday and Thursday. Both Anne and I are looking for to hearing more of yours.


Name:  Mary
Username:  mferrell@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Adding to the Dalke group hot discussion of TRUTH and a bit of the waterwheel syndrome
Date:  2004-02-01 00:31:08
Message Id:  7858
Comments:
If science brings order (knowledge) out of disorder (ignorance), maybe that order can't help but help but turn to disorder again (hence our lack of belief), which will be the driving force for more order, then more disorder...all the time losing more order than we are gaining. If we stay conscious through this downward trend, maybe we will adapt to experience 'the prevalence of disorder' and realize that we can never, ever truly know. Come to think of it, we could never 'know that we cannot know, because then we would know something'.

Maybe we will dwell for milleniums, on whether we can know or not know and reach such a state of futility, that we will find it useful not to care about what we know, and what will come. Maybe our useful story will be silent, and teach us to focus on experiencing, and our curious nature will be put to pasture.

Why do we care what we know? Why do we want the truth? Some of us more than others? Me, I don't think I care, if I can attain truth, just living is awesome enough. But then why do I explore philsophy and the discoveries of science with a passion? Because the stories are awesome and useful.

Evolution is such a beautiful summary of observations, simply beautiful intricacies. We know so many details that fit together so well, that it makes me feel that we are getting some true knowledge, some part of the big TRUTH. Although the attainment of the "WHOLE TRUTH" seems dubious, not enough time. And then there is the question of whether we are getting any true knowledge at all, since our observation methods and our subjectivity, are intersecting with the observed and are part of the created story, --- creating it partially.


Name:  katherine
Username:  kpioli@bmc
Subject:  good storytelling
Date:  2004-02-01 14:15:47
Message Id:  7865
Comments:
It seems that this class, difficult as it may be for me to "wrap" my brain around some of our discussions and ideas about science and religion, will be the perfect place for me. Perfect meaning it will not allowing me to sink into a comfortable, close-minded space with one story or another.
I used to want to study biology. I still do, but sometimes the study of science seemed so futile. everything that I learned in class was taught as an irrefutable truth: this is what an atom looks like, this is how genetics works. yet these truths were always changing. I would talk with my parents who were constantly shocked by the information in my text books. As students they had not learned the same truths. The new information in my books had, when they were studying, been unknown or told as a different "story". i always wondered why i should therefore learn these biological "truths" when in a few years they would probably be as out dated and disproven as the information my parents were taught. Maybe I would have been less sinical and reluctant if biology had been taught as a story, as we are now looking at it.
In this sense the way our class is attacking the problem of evolution as a story is very refreshing, and very helpful, though not altogether comfortable. i still want to hold on to some truths, some sense of stability. i still want a place to rest my mind and know that i don't have to question, but this is a trap, and some place i don't really want to be. Mayr's book is such an interesting and appropriate text to use in this class. it has taken me a while to not read in for it's information, as i am used to doing in my science classes. slowly i am beginning to notice word choices, and general moods. his convicion in his own logic attemts to keep us from questioning. take for example his naming "seven principles of inheritance." how can one argue with a "principle"? the very word evokes the pillars that hold up: moral standards, religions, and now science. pulling down and questioning these "principles" would ruin everything which they uphold and hurt us in the process, by naming them principles we know well enough to leave them alone. this is the very opposite of what we are attempting in class, and therefore it is the perfect text to bounce our ideas off of. Daniela talked of another reoccuring and uncomfortable Mayr-truth, or Mayr-keyword. Daniela says "there are no supreme creatures" and i would have to say that I agree. Mayr however uses the word "superior" constantly throughout his text. This word holds so much baggage- making us think of something unchallengable, always on top, golden- that i feel it is dangerous to use when talking about biology, where what is on top is always changing.
I want to briefly comment on emily's story, which I loved. In the end it says " that is the function of the storyteller." What is 'that function'? It seems to me to be saying that the function of a storyteller is to a) think up a great, entertaining story and then b) to kill the truth (or the cat). but in this case the story and the truth were the same. Is this saying that stories always in part come from the truth? Is Mayr a good storyteller? Perhaps not, because unlike the zebra who wants to just tell a story, Mayr wants to show us the cat. he wants the truth.
Name:  Diane Scarpa
Username:  dscarpa@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2004-02-01 19:34:43
Message Id:  7875
Comments:
"We are going to the moon, that is not very far. Man has so much farther to go within himself." -Anais Nin

This quote would have been more pertinent while we were still discussing Mars, but I thought it was very beautiful and hope that you can all still benefit from it.

On a similar note, Nin also explains that we write/tell stories so that we could "taste life twice." I think this is a terribly nobel idea. It seems like an idea the entire class could probably assimilate into their own ideas about why we tell stories. I like it because it is so far reaching.

Thanx for listening. Cheers!


Name:  meg
Username:  mfolcare@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2004-02-02 15:52:33
Message Id:  7899
Comments:
In reading the past few comments I find myself agreeing with Katherine, and asking the same question: "Is Mayr a good story teller". I suppose it depends on who you ask, but in my opinion he is. He takes a subject that is usually found in text book, and turns it into literature. In order to do this, he excludes other points of view, and enforces his own beliefs. Although this one-sidedness may not make good science, it makes a good story. It is interesting to read, even if Mayr needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
Name:  orah
Username:  ominder@bmc
Subject:  another story.
Date:  2004-02-02 16:56:44
Message Id:  7900
Comments:
been reading some william james for another class and am always so happy when i find materials that are relevant in different disciplines. things really are connected...anyways, here is james' story from his lectures on pragmatism:
"ideas (which themselves are bit parts of our experience) become true just in so far as they help us to get into satisfactory relation with other parts of our experience...any idea upon which we can ride, so to speak; any idea that will carry us prosperously from any one part of experience to any other part, linking things satisfactorily, working securly, simplifying, saving labor; is true for just so much, true in so far forth, true instramentally..." in other words if an idea has a function, if it "is not sterile," if "it affords such COMFORT," and it "performs a concrete function," THEN it is a truth. james' is telling us to return to the basic tools with which we tell our stories; james is asking us to reexamine our definition of the word truth. he goes on, "an idea is 'true' so long as to beleive it is profitable to our lives....the true is the name of whateer proves itself to be good in the way of beleif, and good, too, for definite, assignable reasons." (Lec.II: What Pragmatism Means. Dover Publications, inc. New York p.17-32)
so, james would say, i think, that the function of a story is it's usefullness, it's pragmatism. whether that use is to comfort or to settle or to insight action. so, is evolution a pragmatic story?
james would also argue (if i'm reading him correctly) that the story of evolution holds no more TRUTH than the story of the Bible in so far as both stories prove pragmatic to US. it's on an individual basis. if the story of evolution works better for you than it holds more truth than the story of the bible and visa versa. Absolute Truth, Truth beyond and independant of humans does not matter; what matters is what effects US, what effects the individual.

smart guy.


Name:  Student Contributor
Username:  
Subject:  The story of no truths
Date:  2004-02-02 19:34:39
Message Id:  7907
Comments:
Over winter break I decided to read The Da Vinci Code because it received so much attention and I wanted to see what all the ruckus was about. I will not ruin the story for those of you who haven't yet had a chance to read the novel (which I recommend if you like a good mystery), but in some ways it addresses the issue of story-telling and the power that some stories have over others. Nations, religions, racism, etc...are all founded on certain truths (or stories, or whatever), and to reduce a truth to a story (for example, to say that the Christian Church was only telling a "story" when referring to Jesus' ability to restore sight or cure leprosy) is to shake the foundation of certain associations that have enjoyed a comfortable seat of power for thousands of years. I don't think our Earth is ready for such a radical change in thought. And I don't think many of us in the class are ready for it either.
To debate whether there are truths vs. whether there are no truths (and if people who claim that there are no truths are not just telling a "story" themselves – the story of no truths) is not very useful. What is useful is to examine why we, as inhabitants of this Earth, strive to discover the "truth". I will not claim that I know the answer to that (it probably has more than just one answer), but I would be interested to hear what all of you have to say about why we need to believe there IS truth out there, whether we've found it or not.
Name:  Elizabeth Deacon
Username:  edeacon@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  reality
Date:  2004-02-02 19:51:38
Message Id:  7908
Comments:
I think I've wondered about the nature of reality my whole life. I remember playing on the swing in my back yard and trying to puzzle it out, and then giving up when I realized at some point it is neccessary to make basic assumptions about the nature of reality, such as, "My senses give me solid information on the world around me," that clearly aren't true. When I was a kid I just stopped thinking about these things. I knew I'd just end up chasing my tale and wondering whether or not anything was stable was, to put it lightly, worrying.

However when we had the discussion about whether anything could be real on Thursday with Prof. Dalke, I didn't get much of that anxiety that cut off my childhood philosophizing. I think that's because I found something I can have real faith in. As a child, "religion" was chocolate Easter bunnies and some medieval Christmas music around the time of year we put up a tree. I was taught that the nature of reality was shown by science, and that religion's opinion on the universe was a bit silly. Unfortunately, science and religion are not exact opposites, and one of the places science cannot replace religion is in giving you faith in, well, anything.

A good scientist doubts everything, up to and including the information her senses and instruments give her. In which case there's no reason to believe in any of what I think is real. Everything I think is red could really be green, but maybe since we all call red delicious apples red it doesn't matter if they're green or not. Or maybe the aboriginal Australians are right and this world is a dream. Or maybe it's someone else's dream, like the Red King in _Through the Looking Glass_ and when he wakes up we'll all disappear. Science can't disprove any of this, and as a child I found it terribly distressing.

So what's the difference now? What have I developed faith in? Well, the possiblility of nothing being real panics me. Instead, I've decided to believe in everything. I'm not quite sure where I encountered the multiverse theory, but it's always struck me as sensible. Basically it says that there are an infinite number of multiple dimensions. Therefore, with true infinity, everything must have happened somewhere. There must be a finite number of stars in this universe, there could only have been so much matter in the Big Bang, but there is an infinite number of stars in the multiverse, with an infinite number of planets around them and an infinite number of people on them. Somewhere in the multiverse is a universe that has already collapsed under entropy, and somewhere is a universe that doesn't have it at all. And somewhere there is a universe where I wore a purple shirt today instead of a blue one. I wonder how different that universe will be from this one, if at all?

The question here may seem to be, why believe in a multiverse, but my question is, why not? How can there not be infinity? Besides, I sometimes think that the mere telling of a story creates a universe, or at least proves it's existence. Even if the story only exists in our heads, it exists there, doesn't it? Why should that existence be worth less than another? How do we know we aren't a story, being told around someone's campfire, or drawn on a page, or filmed for 24/7 television like in the Truman Show.

I find this all incredibly comforting. Everything's somewhere. Whether or not my perception of the universe I live in is correct, it's certainly correct for somewhere. Somewhere we're all someone's dream and somewhere we're all dreaming someone else. Somewhere God created all the animals and somewhere they evolved unaided. So with the question of who's story is true out of the way, the question becomes what happened here in particular, which isn't too different, but it's different enough to comfort me.


Name:  
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  
Date:  2004-02-02 20:56:00
Message Id:  7910
Comments:
"Even if the story only exists in our heads, it exists there, doesn't it? ...I find this all incredibly comforting. Everything's somewhere...Somewhere we're all someone's dream and somewhere we're all dreaming someone else."

i agree...that is so so comforting.


Name:  reeve basom
Username:  rbasom@haverford.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2004-02-02 21:51:53
Message Id:  7912
Comments:
We have spent a lot of (valuable) time using evolution as a lauch pad from which to bounce off into explorations of our ability to experience/understand/share reality. And we have heard time and again that evolution is just a story. But I think it is important to consider what makes it a good story, a compelling story, one that has in some sense been written in fossils, in genes, in ecosystem dynamics and that humans are reading. OF course, such reading is an interpretation of evidence (which I don't think is such a problematic word- evidence is anything that supports an idea, and often a story like evolution, or religion for that matter, is much more useful if there is "evidence" that supports it). Mayr's attempt to make the story of evolution accessible and convincing to the general public may be full of holes or unfortunate arguments, but evolution ismore than just a story to be told to and digested by a general audience. It has incredible complexity and extends itself infinitely into other stories and has the ability to predict future changes. I know other stories have some or all of these qualities, but shouldn't we be equally as interested in the power of a story as in its inherent subjectivity and inability to ever tell the "real truth?"

Another unrelated comment. We were talking about the idea that evolution produces directional change, the idea being that there must be some type of perfection or ultimate complexity in that direction. But if you think about the fact that there is a certain level of biological simplicity at which organisms cannot evolve to be any LESS complex, than all evolution necessarily exists as movement away from this original simplicity, directional simply because any change from this point requires additional complexity.


Name:  Elizabeth Catanese
Username:  ecatanes@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Stories and Genetics
Date:  2004-02-02 22:56:39
Message Id:  7914
Comments:
I really liked Emily's post with the story on it as well. Like Katherine, I was wondering about the last sentence "That is the function of the storyteller." I wish I could draw some more concrete conclusions about that story... I think it is so rich... There could be multiple stories made up about the significance of that story. We should all write stories like that at some point. I think it would be a fun exercise to have to all write a little parable of sorts and the only restriction would be to write the declarative statement at the end, "that is the function of a storyteller." We all have different notions about what the function of the storyteller should be.

I was thinking about Mayr and the description about genetics. I was trying to think about how genetics might relate explicitly/metaphorically to stories. What are the genes of a story? Is the story a product of nature or nurture? I think that words are the genes of a story. I think that a story IS a product of nature (these words) and nurture (the culture into which the story is born and in which it is read.) Mutations are experiments in style or content, sometimes radical which are either viable enough to be transferred into the style of other stories or not. Professor Schwartz (my fiction class Prof.) was saying the other day that that using the present tense has become a convention for short stories. She said that she wondered how it got to be that way... There is probably an answer to that- a cultural need perhaps? Something that matches a human desire for immediacy... all sorts of explanations- Story conventions change, adapt, evolve as we've said. And like the whole process of evolution- stories are heavily dependent on the way things have evolved in the past. Every past story is in some sense both still alive AND a "story fossil" Variation in stories is indeed, most often, a recombination of certain story elements. Is a story's creation closer to sexual or asexual reproduction? I would say something closer to sexual reproduction- the union of thought from many places... but there is something that also feels slightly self-generative about stories.


Name:  Julia
Username:  jeddy@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  yeah what she said...
Date:  2004-02-03 00:42:28
Message Id:  7916
Comments:
Wow, I really enjoyed what Elizabeth had to say about the parallel relationship of stories and evolution, formed by units of genetic code (words), evolving over time and leaving "fossilized stories", and being a product of nature and nurture. It is a beautiful concept and the essence of this class I suppose, but it is extremely interesting that this principle of life/science can be applied to a human produced synthesis of culture, such as literature.

And what a fine story evolution makes as well. I particularly like when Mayr (while not being very objective) tells the story that "evolution is not deterministic" on page 121. I like the case that evolution is a constant story of change without a greater direction, just chance interactions which can lead to more change. While some changes seem to occur because they express a state of being better suited to continue in the story, it is actually just random happenstance that the right combination of trait and environment should arise. I find such complex randomness just mind boggling.


Name:  Lindsay Updegrove
Username:  lupdegro@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  the genetics of stories
Date:  2004-02-03 00:42:57
Message Id:  7917
Comments:

A long time ago, I read something that claimed that there are really only seven basic story plots in the world, and that those stories just keep getting built on, or varied. I think Margaret Atwood has something in her collection, "True Stories", that starts with the "boy-meets-girl" plot and complicates it to demonstrate the nature of stories to go anywhere—up, down, inward, outward, every which way. Anyway, I find myself both loving and hating the idea that there are only a few basic components woven through every story. I hate it because I would like to think that there are infinite possibilities for a story, just as there are an infinite number of stars in the universe. But I also love it because the organization of the concept relates to evolution so well. Elizabeth was wondering what "genes" made up a story. I love thinking about how stories give way to one another, for example the Pyramus and Thisbe myth to Romeo and Juliet, to West Side story and so forth. It seems to me that stories have parents just as we do. At least, there seems to be some essence, "salt" if you will, running through each one, just as we are all made up of the same basic components. We are all so LIKE our parents and yet, we're all little variations...

Last class we talked about clumpy diversity, which I think relates really well to the generation of stories. Maybe whatever it was I read about there only being a few stories really meant that there are a few clumps that plots, if simplified, could be grouped into. I guess that would still make it possible for infinite stories to abound, while sharing certain "traits" as living things do.


Name:  Jen Sheehan
Username:  jsheehan@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Function of the storyteller
Date:  2004-02-03 00:44:18
Message Id:  7918
Comments:
Thank you Emily, for posting that story ("The Zebra Storyteller"). I was reading it just as a story and so was a little jarred by the last sentence that read, "That is the function of the storyteller"; it made me go back and read the story over again to see what that function might be. As Katherine said, it seems that the parable is making a connection between story and truth -- in this case, story=truth. Does that mean that it is the role of the storyteller to uncover and relate the truth? And perhaps not just truth as in facts, but a kind of larger truth? Spencer Holst, the author of "The Zebra Storyteller," is obviously not telling the strict truth with his story; it's safe to assume that the incident he relates about the Siamese and the zebra never actually happened! But with his story, he's attempting to suggest a "truth" about what the function of a storyteller is.

I'm not sure I agree with his linkage of "story" with "truth," if indeed he is making that link. I can't remember who it was and I'm too lazy to check back in the archives, but someone wrote about comforting stories -- stories that are there not to educate or enlighten, but are simply a source of bonding with family and friends and a means of enjoying oneself. How is that role of a storyteller any less valid than the one Holst speaks of? I'm taking The Historical Imagination this semester and one text we just finished reading (History: A Very Short Introduction) took pains to demonstrate over and over that the notion that historians were to uncover "the true story of the past" may be romantic, but is simply not practical; there IS no one story of the past, and there are always different points of view. Can the storyteller ever really find THE truth?

Reading the story over again, it occurs to me that the zebra storyteller only seems to stumble upon the truth. He wasn't out there looking for it in the first place; he'd been looking for stories to amuse the other zebras, and his story just happened to be true. But even that -- the idea that stories intended for amusement can possess some truth -- brings us back to the question of what truth is. When you're speaking of "larger truths," it's not as straightforward as 2+2=4...


Name:  Lindsay Updegrove
Username:  lupdegro@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  the genetics of stories
Date:  2004-02-03 00:44:47
Message Id:  7919
Comments:

A long time ago, I read something that claimed that there are really only seven basic story plots in the world, and that those stories just keep getting built on, or varied. I think Margaret Atwood has something in her collection, "True Stories", that starts with the "boy-meets-girl" plot and complicates it to demonstrate the nature of stories to go anywhere—up, down, inward, outward, every which way. Anyway, I find myself both loving and hating the idea that there are only a few basic components woven through every story. I hate it because I would like to think that there are infinite possibilities for a story, just as there are an infinite number of stars in the universe. But I also love it because the organization of the concept relates to evolution so well. Elizabeth was wondering what "genes" made up a story. I love thinking about how stories give way to one another, for example the Pyramus and Thisbe myth to Romeo and Juliet, to West Side story and so forth. It seems to me that stories have parents just as we do. At least, there seems to be some essence, "salt" if you will, running through each one, just as we are all made up of the same basic components. We are all so LIKE our parents and yet, we're all little variations...

Last class we talked about clumpy diversity, which I think relates really well to the generation of stories. Maybe whatever it was I read about there only being a few stories really meant that there are a few clumps that plots, if simplified, could be grouped into. I guess that would still make it possible for infinite stories to abound, while sharing certain "traits" as living things do.


Name:  Daniela
Username:  dmiteva@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  "Cogito, ergo sum"
Date:  2004-02-03 01:00:50
Message Id:  7921
Comments:
What I have learned from this class so far is that life is always illustrated by stories-the stories of the various sciences, the prejudices, moral beliefs etc. Are they true? Are they provable?

Listening to the class discussions about the evolution of people's perceptions of the outer world, I gradually came to the definition of a story as a batch of statements with certain logic entwined around them to form a coherent unit. Fear of the unknown that urged people at first to come up with an explanation of the processes in the outer world no longer dominates people's consciousness. Instead it is supplanted by a desire to have power. On an individual level, creating a story helps one express what s/he holds to be correct and use it as a guiding principle in life. So that a story empowers one to get hold of his/her life and not be governed by other people's stories. On a "population" level, presenting a credible story give the author much respect, and, hence, authority in society. Not surprising is it then that the best storytellers still maintain ascendancy over the majority of people (think of Darwin, Homer etc). Because people do not tend to adopt a story without first subjecting it to rational analysis, a sort of "natural selection" acts upon stories, treasuring those substantiated with the soundest logic.

"By searching out origins, one becomes a crab... eventually he also believes backward," says Nietzsche. So, should we seek the origin of stories or focus on their impact on the present moment?
If the plausibility of a story is determined by human logic, how can we determine that something is true? Can anything be proven to be true?
What is the aim of the stories we tell? How can we explain the presence of stories with no sound logic behind them?
These are the questions, for which, I hope, I will be able to provide a plausible answer before the end of the semester.


Name:  Nancy
Username:  nevans@bmc
Subject:  thursday continued
Date:  2004-02-03 02:06:53
Message Id:  7927
Comments:
After last Thursday, and now after reading many of the comments on the forum, I am still contemplating two major ideas relating to evolution. The first deals with the story of evolution from a more traditionally scientific approach. After the lecture last Tuesday (I believe), I couldn't let go of how ridiculous it is for Mayr to assume that humans have some sort of copyright on evolutionary perfection. Although we do exhibit characteristics of a higher level of being, I dont think this is cause enough to make the conclusion that evolution in a directional process. I think wondered aloud in class if evolution might be a cyclical process, just one that takes such a long time to complete its cycle that we have yet to document it. This idea comes implicit (to me, at least) with the idea of de-evolution. Maybe the cycle is completed by some sort of rounding out of diversity. Thats an interesting story, at least.

Also, here's something about evolution that bothers me. Maybe I just don't know enough yet, but wouldnt the fact that everything started out as the same type of organism throw off everything we have observed about evolved creatures? By 'everything' I mean things like food chains or resource competition. And if evolution occurs partially as a means to make sure that every existing organism isnt wiped out by some disaster, does this mean that if (when everything was the same organism) that the chance existed that something might have come along and wiped out everything (including the possibility for life) ??? If this is a valid question, it makes me less likely to buy into the theory of evolution. It just seems to shaky a basis to start EVERYTHING on.

In response to Thursdays class: I was in Anne's section, and towards the end of the hour, we all became involved in a wonderful conversation about the meaning of and the search for truth. Here's another question though: just because we know what we believe to be the truth (or a "good story") about something, what bearing does that have on anything? Just because we decide we believe in evolution do anything to alter its occurence. And even if we collectively decide to start a worldwide 'evolution lies' club, nothing would change. This really bothers me. In the humanities and the social sciences, I am conforted by the fact that my words, my explanantions, and my emotions could possibly change something or someone. But with science, even the most earnest show of emotion does nothing to stop the processes of life and nature. Why do we need to decide to believe or not believe in something that we have no control over? I have no answer what-so-ever, and so I am going to bed.


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