The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories:
In the "bridging" which this course attempts between science and the humanities, the areas and ways in which social scientists work are also directly relevant (and perhaps brought into question?). For instance, the business section of y'day's Philadelphia Inquirer (2/9/04), featured an economist, Sophia Koropeckyj, who describes what she does (analyzing trends in labor and industry for Economy.Com) as "finding the story among the statistics":
her "work stands for a psychologically reassuring idea in a world that seems all too chaotic. 'There is an assumption that you can identify patterns and that there are predictable relationships'....In other words, life is orderly and the future predictable as long as the proper patterns are discerned, then applied....She sees herself...as a storyteller, someone who weaves together the patterns in the numbers to provide a coherent story about the state of the world."
David Ross, of the Econ Dept. here @ BMC, has also spoken quite strikingly and probingly about the consequences of the work he does as a storyteller; see "Bucks, Values and Happiness": When Counting Changes What We Are Counting.
It's hard for me to pick up any newspaper or journal these days w/out seeing echoes and extensions of our class discussions. My breakfast reading this morning was the 2/12/04 New York Review of Books, which featured an extensive discussion of Tony Kushner's Angels in America. I haven't seen the new TV film (which prompted this review) but seeing the play @ the Annenberg years ago was a profound experience for me. In the language of this review (and this class?),
"The ability of human beings to evolve and change in time stands in stark contrast to ... God, [who was] bored by the sempiternal stasis that was life in Heaven, and 'bewitched' by man's ever-evolving ingenuity, curiosity, and forward-moving aspiration....The angels want to turn back the clock, to reverse the 'virus of TIME'.... what [they want is]...'STASIS!' Kushner, in other words, has created a cosmic model of the conflict between beautiful abstract systems and the unruly, illogical energies of lived life."
More of the same, soon.
I would like to direct you to two cartoons that were published in the New Yorker.
I found these on the internet, please refer to only the first two images.
The first image is the well known, "She's all I know about Bryn Mawr and she's all I need to know," while the second refers to the rebirth of "rugged individualism." This second one depicts a Mawtyr adhering to the impression of Bryn Mawr as an elitist school in the early days! However, it shows that the student adhering to the "traditional" dress is being shunned by her casually dressed peers.
There are two impressions of Bryn Mawr being portrayed here. The first shows that the behavior of a Mawtyr in public is assumed to stand for the entire picture or story of Bryn Mawr (not that I mind in this case!!) The second shows Mawtyrs themselves ogling at their peer who chooses to dress in a certain defining way.
The two Mawtyrs these cartoons focus on are telling stories about themselves by the way they act or dress. However, in the first case, this behavior is projected onto a larger group and the "outside world's" belief in this story immediately results in their disbelieving the story the girl in the second cartoon is telling.
I feel like I'm being really cryptic here. Just trying to answer the question as I see it, by showing the disparity behind the acceptance of a single story as a portrayal of the whole, and also the inherent irony behind such acceptance and belief!
It exists, we know.
and it does things.why???
The metaphysical questions exist too. Plenty of them.
We pull out patterns particularly and we tell, listen to our stories.
the catalyst, you ask? What is the catalyst of what???
and then the intensity reaches it's peak when this man, dripping with the sores of death, this man who has just been told that life is only pain and ultimate destruction, this man says,
"i want more life. i can't help myself. i do. i've lived through such terrible times, and there are people who live through much much worse, but....You see them living anyway. When they're more spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they're burned and in agony, when flies lay eggs in the corners of the eyes of their children, they live. Death usually has to take life away. i don't know if that's just the animal. i don't know if it's not braver to die. But i recognize the habit. the addiction to being alive. we live past hope. if i can find hope anywhere, that's it, that's the best i can do. it's so much not enough, so inadequate but...Bless me anyway. i want more life."
and at first i started typing this because it is so beautiful and i thought ya'all might like it, but as i type i realize that it is relevant.
grobstein said today (if i understand correctly) that life is driven not by competition, there is no means acheived, no underlying reason WHY we want life, but rather it is ingraned in the very definition of life to want more (and this desire is random???). life = not having enough. why do the single celled organisms move outward? because the very definition of their beings DESIRES.
(shoot i'm sorry guys, but i have to keep going...)
and i think maybe the word perfection should not be taught as a goal of evolution...evolution is random...but! i think this desire to live for humans is rooted, cemented deeply this yearning toward perfection. we won't acheive it. and this fact is the driving force behind human life. ((saying that the driving force behind life is random just doesn't work for me...is of no use TO ME.) and salinger writes in franny and zooey, "an artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms." and i think we are all artists: poets, scientists, mathmaticiens, football players. because WHAT MAKES AN ARTIST IS THE DESPERATION, and we all have it.
(this is just my story...i'm not asking anyone to agree...i realize i might sound preachy...i'm not trying to... just desperate :)
and the reason that we all WANT MORE LIFE is because we never acheive this perfection...life never reaches it's goal.
Very early into the first chapter Dennet expresses a need to protect Darwin's idea in the same way that the creationists need to protect religion from iconoclasts. However, I cannot sympathize with this need to protect Darwin. The notion of evolution, for me, stands on its own two feet, whether we help it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not..
While reading this I was immediately reminded of my decision to come to Bryn Mawr. I had been accepted to both of the schools I applied to: Sarah Lawrence and Bryn Mawr. It was a seemingly impossible decision. I was very excited about both, and I thought that both would suite me perfectly. In the end my decision came down to one thing. I could easily say yes to both acceptances, but WHICH ONE COULDN'T I SAY NO TO. Darwin is Bryn Mawr.
On Wednesday afternoons, my daughter Marian works as an aide at James Rhoads Elementary School. When I drive her in, I have the remainder of the day for exploring West Philly on my own. Yesterday I stopped in at the Institute of Contemporary Art @ Penn, and found myself in the Yoshitomo Nara exhibit, "Nothing Ever Happens." I was struck both by the echoes of hearing my own children (on occasion) say that, and by the sharp juxtaposition of our conversations in this course with this bit of catalog copy:
"Nara's figures... remind us...: We are limited by the fact that our experience... is a less-than-small part of the factual and experiential world, and an even smaller part of the infinite possiblities that could and will occur. Then why not have a pissed-off look forever stuck to our over-important-and self-expanding about-to-blow-up big head and eyes? Why not?"
Very much looking forward, next week, to hearing how each of you sees herself in relationship to the story Paul told about the story Mayr told about the story Darwin told about multiple observations made by himself and others....
changed story: the definition of life is wanting more life, not wanting death. but according to the first law of thermodynamics death is inevitable. so as CONSIOUS beings the only way to exist is in desperation because the make up of the world in which we live forbids us from aquiring our " directional movement" as living beings.( this directional movement being the attempt to escape death...to always have more life.) so what do we do with this desperation? we create "the after."
but, those aren't pragmatic thoughts...(i don't know if i'm a very pragmatic thinker...alas...)so lets think things like: this is such a beautiful world and even if it is fleeting how wonderful that we get a chance to be IN IT. it's kinda romantic to be in this finite droplet of exquisite beauty...
I was thinking about the discussion of consciousness in Prof Dalke's discussion group today. Guilt is defiantly one of the primary signs of self-awareness/consciousness because it demonstrates that an organism is aware of right and wrong and the repercussions of its actions. Psychology tells us (somebody correct me if I'm wrong) that a pathological sociopath is biologically wired not to feel any guilt and therefore does not realize that stealing, raping, etc. are morally wrong. So maybe our blessing/curse as a species is feeling guilt?
BTW, I was surprised to learn (regarding Paul's story about the word "serendipity") that Walpole coined it from the old name of Sri Lanka. According to American Heritage, "this name was part of the title of "a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of . . ."
Orah and I had an email exchange relevant to her recent posting. Here's a perhaps relevant bit of what I wrote to her:
Plants don't worry about dying (I don't think); they just go about their living business until it stops. And, like us, they too tend to leave traces of their existence after their dissolution (image of a tree trunk bearing the mark of a vanished vine that had once grown around it). In fact, we have (in our DNA, as plants have in theirs) traces of untold millions of ancestral organisms and, in one form or another, we too will leave traces of ourselves long into the future.
So, the "worrying" isn't a property of life; its a property of a particular evolved form of life, a form (ourselves) which has the capability to conceive of "death" and both the first and second law of thermodynamics. But, interestingly, it also has the capability to conceive of eternal life and of transcendence. Given that these are all "stories" and that part of what stories do is to give birth (unpredictably) to new stories, I'd say that ... there is no way to know whether the notion of "eternal life and transcendence" is "just pretending" as opposed to one of the ingredients out of which emerges a new story in which the first and second laws of thermodynamics turn out to be less significant than they appear to be in the current story of stories.
In any case, the current story of stories puts the problem many billions of years into the future, at least insofar as one is willing/able to be comfortable with the idea of becoming and having others become at some point a "trace".
Let me also add my thanks to those of Ro for a particularly rich discussion on Thursday. The idea from there that seemed important (to me at least) to share with everyone is the idea that the FIRST law of thermodynamics (rather than the second) is actually the one that speaks most directly to the fundamental importance in evolution of death. Its the first law that says that the total amount of "stuff" never changes, and hence that all that can happen is to transform one organization of stuff into a different organization of stuff. From which it follows that to make new stuff one has to get rid of old stuff? Maybe what life represents is the discovery of how to maintain traces of the old organizations in the new organizations? (This actually relates in an interesting way to a conversation Bethany and I had yesterday about time that I hope she'll say something about here).
Finally, I heartily endorse Emily's "let's talk about sex". Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia is a very funny and very wise exploration of story telling (better even than Big Fish) in which he suggests an equivalence between sex, randomness, and the second law of thermodynamics.
Lady Croom: Of what?
Thomasina: The action of bodies in heat.
The second law, Stoppard suggests, is what generates randomness ("heat"), which is in turn the fundamental significance of sex ("heat"): it is a way to scramble things up so as to create the novel (to transform from one organization to a new one?). And yes, it is apparent in reproduction but is also separable from reproduction, both in biology and otherwise.
Speaking of which, thanks to Emily and others for a smashing production of the Vagina Monologues.
Okay so lets see if I can put some thoughts of mine down in writting. I am not very good at this.
First off, this idea of death, and how it relates to our theory of "niches" (spelling?). It seems to me that in life, we are constantly providing new "places" for other things to inhabit, new areas for things to emerge and grow. Death in my opinion isn't just "the end" but provides us with another "niche" another "doorway" into something... i dont necessarily mean that it is a spiritual place, although it COULD be. I dont doubt that we will cese to exist as we know it. At the same time, its easy to see how this idea of filling another space gave rise to the spiritual idea of an afterlife. I am thinking of Jonathan Livingston - the seagull. I think it was all based on some Greek philosophers conception of life and death and truth (was is Aristotle? The cave analogy?) Anyway, Jonathan's goal was to be able to accomplish great feats of flying that was baned by the flock of seaguls he was in, and as a result, when he would accomplish one task (like flying at the speed of light) he would "die" and pass onto another "level". In other words, according to the author, death was just another level, another niche that we have to live in. I dont know if I am making any sense, but that's what's been on my mind.
Secondly if evolution is a random process, why is it that our thinking or consciousness is something that goes forward? Randomness vs. linear thinking, how is this possible?
No, consciousness goes forward and backward, you can even say it transcends time and space. And yes, this process appears sequential but it is random.
An exp: relax and look at a cup for about a minute (remembering your thoughts). Walk away for a while, than come back to the cup and do the same. Were your thoughts the same?
If you did not "intend" on thinking the same thoughts, your thoughts will be different; and if you hand no "intent," it is random – what you will think - unless your mind is being dominated by a strong attachment.
AND looking at the big picture, the events in life are somewhat random, however, you can plan what you will be doing today, but there is no guaranty that your plans will be fulfilled, especially without unplanned events.
How strange would it be if the sentence read: The importance of competition is demonstrated most graphically when...the extinction of many native New Zealand [Aborigines] when European[s] successfully established themselves there and outcompeted the natives? Is imperialism a subset of evolution? Are we innately programmed to compete with other peoples for the sake of our own survival?
Anyway, on to my question. I don't have a page number to refer to, but I would like to know how Mayr and Darwin feel about death. There were allusions to it in the book, and at parts where I thought Mayr was heading towards some great philosophical explanation for its meaning it would fizzle. Its like an elephant in the room that no one is talking about, probably because we've all skirted the issue of religion. Do the two go so hand in hand that we can't talk about one without the other? Does evolution assign a meaning to it as religion does? If not, prehaps this was the sole reason religion is still going strong-it does assign a meaning. Or, perhaps it is unfair to demand such an explanation from the evolutionists.
OK...how is it that we have not become fully bipedal? (except for when we're looking under our beds for missing socks)... he seems to be suggesting that this would complete us ...how so? I mean, what selection pressure are we under that is threatening our extinction if we don't ....er, stand up straighter!?
2 -pg279 "Stasis apparently indicates the possession of a genotype that is able to adjust to all changes of the environment without the need for changing its basis phenotype."
I realize that he sort of avoided the genotype in this book...but to then explain stasis by saying that it's due to an above average genotype is confusing. Add to that the observation made by many in his field that prolonged stasis of a species is followed by a rapid descent to extinction seems to suggest that stasis is not a great strategy. Do we know what role stasis plays in the life of a species?
3- last question...not directed to any particular page in the book...I'd like to understand extinction better...are all species destined to become extinct? What would preclude that? (I'm not asking about mass extinctions imposed by things like meteorites)
A rather simplistic thought but I was thinking that if we take the idea of perfection to be "well adaptedness", then perfection is fully attainable and if we take the idea of perfection to mean "self-sufficiency" then perfection is not possible.
We were also talking about the dangers of answers as well as throwing around the idea that maybe humans can never be entirely happy in their quests for knowledge... there seemed to be a general anxiety about obtaining answers, a frustration being expressed. I've recently come to think of answers simply as waiting places for new questions or if not waiting places then bridges to new questions. And in that sense i think that answers are absolutely crucial... which may or may not lessen anxiety about the human search for truth.
Here are some questions from Mayr...
page 254 "The expectation of a smooth continuity of transitional stages in homonization is based on typological thinking."
I am having trouble understanding what this statement means in and of itself and, on a more broader scale, what typological thinking is, on page 165, Mayr says that it is species which are from a well circumscribed class... I don't understand this either. Does typological thinking relate to essentialism or population thinking? Maybe someone could help me out with this sentence... I think it is really just something small that I'm not getting (distinctions in words.) So Mayr is saying that typological thinking is not the way to go for anything?
Also, Mayr says that evolution happens so slowly because "thousands of generations which have undergone the preceeding selection, a natural population will be close to the optimal genotype. The selection to which such a population has been exposed is normalizing or a stabalizing selection" I can't fully grasp this... what is a population's optimal genotype... does this mean that in the begining, things evolved very very quickly because things were not close to their optimal genotype? From what Professor Grobstein has said, I don't think that this is true... evolution has always been slow... What is Mayr saying is the reason for this?
Finally Mayr talks a lot about adaptationism (p. 229) which we did not talk that much about in class. I read the last paragraph on page 229 and was wondering (with Prof. Grobstein's lecture on chance and the primary importance of chance in evolution) if this last paragraph would coincide with Prof. Grobstein's story... Here is the paragraph-
"One can conclude from these observations that evolution is neither merely a series of accidents nor a deterministic movement toward ever more perfect adapatation. To be sure, evolution is in part an adaptive process, because natural selection operates in every generation. The principle of adaptationism has been adopted so widely by Darwinians because it is such a heuristic methodology. To question what the adaptive propertises might be for every attrivute of an organism leads almost inevitably to a deeper understanding. However, every attribute is ultimately the product of variation, and this variation is largely the product of chance. Many authors seem to have a problem in comprehending the virtually simultaneous actions of two seemingly opposing causations, chance and necessity. But this is precicely the power of the Darwinian process."
So does Darwin's story take in both chance and necessity as equal partners? Where does adaptation fit into random chance/ creatures occupying niches.
My second, and unrelated thought, on Mayr but really evolution in general involves the actual mechanism of these changes. I understand that many many many many generations are needed to see evolution of new traits, and all changes are initially random but then selected for via natural selection... but I think I am still a little baffled by HOW mutations or gene interactions in a SINGLE ORGANISM result in the change into an entirely new species... how does the change stay "uniform" among all members of a species if it only starts in one? I think I get it and perhaps it is just hard to truly grasp the amount of time and generations, but it seems fairly unbelievable that one organism's genetic information could spread to a whole species soley based on selection of those genes in reproduction. And for that matter WHY are the changes always selected over the original anyway?
Sorry, I think I may just be confusing myself and others now.
Toodles for now.
Some interesting quotes:
"Such a new gene is called a 'paralogous' gene. At first it will have the same function as it's sister gene. However, it will usually evolve by having its own mutations and in due time it may acquire functions different from those of its sister gene." - Mayr, 109
"Actually, survival is not a property of an organism but only an indication of the existance of certain survival-favoring attributes." - 118
"Elimination does not have the 'purpose' or the 'teleological goal' of producing adaptation; rather, adaptation is a by-product of the process of elimination." - 150
"...the niche is the outward projection of the needs of a species." - 152
also, an ironic, funny quote from Ro. - "I don't know if I can keep the thought long enough to get it out..." - This makes it seem as if maybe thoughts undergo a process of elimination, of natural selection as well...
Ok, so what I REALLY wanted to talk about was something that was sparked during the conversation on Thursday...It was when we were imagining a situation in which there was no death. It hit me that this type of arrangement means no second law of thermodynamics, and then, what was more interesting to me at the time, no natural selection. Ultimately, no death means no weeding out, no 'fit' category. EVERY possible combination is VALID. If death were obsolete but then evolution carried on, we would have present every single organism ever to live, and those that did not make it even to the point of living. We'd have all the missing links, all the previously unsuccessful recipes.
I suppose in a way this gives me a good bridge to talk about my time idea...it's definitely still in the works...I just thought of it on Friday afternoon, and I don't know if I completely understand it yet...just a hunch :) Anyway! so>>
I was having trouble you see, with two theories that were floating around. One came from language working group, and it deals with the way our minds work. Basically, the point of the theory is that for the brain and the nervous system, there is no past, there is no future, there is only now, this moment, here. *pathetic attempt to explain* It's as if you have a computer, which has a program. This program requires an input, which makes the computer go into a state to create a certain output. so, we have this sequence of inputs creating states creating outputs which are the inputs that create the states that create the outputs and so on and so forth. For the computer, there is no past, there is no future, there is only the current state, which causes the next current state. We see the pattern of inputs and states and outputs, but the only input for now that the computer needs to create the next output is the now input. SO! This implies that past and future are in fact all contained NOW! (scary implications for fate, perhaps?) So yes, I can definitely see the sense of this theory. (If I made it hard to understand, which is the most likely situation, ask PG, he'll explain it for you, and then you can laugh at my mess of confusion above)
But then, contradiction? We were discussing general relativity in physics, and the point was brought up that we tend to think of time as a distance...for example, it takes 16 hours to get to my house. We have timelines, time is, for us, a spacial entity of sorts. But oh no! This implies past and future! I can remember, I can predict. How on earth to reconcile these two theories???
I wish I could draw on this thing...
Ok, so maybe the physical brain is, in a way, a reference frame. This is the reference frame for us in which time is CONTRACTED>> we are ALWAYS HERE, we are ALWAYS NOW. No past, no future, just present. Perhaps this is the unconscious mind?
Then, we have a second, SEPARATE reference frame, in which time is EXPANDED. From this reference frame, we can look at ourselves in the other reference frame, and we see time expanded as the spatial entity. Past, Present, Future. Is this the conscious mind?
It's almost as if these are dimensions. The first starts out as a line, perhaps, and then the second, a perpendicular, is added to make the next dimension, the next expansion. Where's the next perpendicular?
Also, and interesting thought: When we dream, we are unconscious. When we dream, time is 'warped, distorted'.
Ok. well, I think that's about as much as I want to say, and I am sure more than you wanted to read. I dunno. Maybe it's worth a look, maybe it's trash. Your thoughts?
In Anne's group on Thursday, Elizabeth brought up (and I can't remember the exact context -- sorry!) how the quintessential quality of self-awareness and consciousness is guilt...and how self-aware a being or species is can be determined by the extent to which that being/species experiences it. I've always seen an inextricable connection between guilt and altruism, given my belief that there is really no such thing as pure altruism. When you help an old blind lady across the street, aren't you at least in part motivated by the desire to maintain your conviction in your own goodness, and the knowledge of the guilt you'd feel if you failed to live up to certain moral standards? When you help work at a soup kitchen, aren't you at least in part motivated by the desire to make yourself feel better, and by a sense of guilt that you have so much compared to the homeless and poor?
I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this, other than to explain (rather simplistically) the connections I'm seeing. Human altruism is a byproduct of guilt. Guilt is a byproduct of self-awareness, and an ability to conceive of a more fluid time than simply the present; it's our awareness of the past and future that makes us feel guilty about past actions and how we should behave in the here and now. Our self-awareness is a byproduct of our species' evolution, though of course this leads back to Student Contributor's question of where did consciousness come from in the first place. In any case, I know this isn't what Mayr was getting at when he linked altruism to evolution, but that's the link I saw.
I would have liked Mayr to discuss more aspects of human evolution -- how our species attained the level of self-awareness and speech it did, and why. Would he consider these characteristics to have come about mostly by random chance or by necessity (adaption)? (On P. 228, he asks that question with regard to overall evolution, and I'm curious as to how it would apply specifically to those aspects of humans which make us "unique")
Mayr's interjections of his beliefs into his story, reminded me that all science stories are partially based on observation, and partially author imprinted. Mayr's contemporary mindset, needs and culture embellished his version of evolution. Although perhaps there is some truth in this scientific story, and maybe we can account for a small amount of bias (like in statistics), and claim that this story represents an accurate estimate of the truth. The story of Evolution does have a ton of observations and rationality supporting it. Oh, but then I think of the principal of uncertainty, the theory that we cannot 'simply observe' and report truthfully what an observation actually -- IS--because our method of observation always infects the observation. Well, I guess then, that we will have to account for a bit more bias. As well, we, readers contribute to the story of Evolution, embellishing it along the way with our own mindsets, etc.... We create the story as we learn it, recall it and retell it.
QUESTION: I wonder why the majority of stories on evolution
that are being told
use competition as the dominant pattern of Evolution? It is a story being told as 'survival of the fittest'.
QUESTION: Why not think of evolution as survival of the luckiest random change? Not a good enough sound bite? No, I bet there is more to it than that.
Are scientific stories advancing humanity firmly toward the truth? The way I see it, the scientific story of Evolution is a great story. It has biases and belief systems intermixed, but it does seem to have truth mixed in as well.
Two things from Mayr. 1) What did you think of Mayr's explanation of human races (pg. 262-3)? I'm not sure I'm satisfied with his version. I think there is a lot more to understanding the social construction of race and the absence of a biological basis for race.
2) In appendix A Mayr lists one unanswered question that persists within evolutionary theory. This question has to do with the complexity of genotypes and various levels of resistance to recombination. I would like to better understand this persisting question and the extent of the unknown that it represents in evolutionary theory.
I guess because I am from small town, bible belt, Georgia, I know a good lot of people who go to church every Sunday and thank God for creating them, the grass, their dog. I think Dennett's approach to creationism (saying that in its most basic form it is something that only an insane, deluded person would believe in) is exactly the kind of 'othering' (organizing categories to delineate who is in the outgroup vs who is 'right') that keeps more people from venturing into the world of evolution.
The Copernicus analogy, (near the very beginning of the book), seemed to hint that religion is 'behind the times', so to speak, and that in a hundred years or so, new scholars will be scoffing at the ridiculousness of the naivite of it all.
I suppose thats all for now. I''m not sure about this book; I feel suspicious if it and almost as if I'm being tricked. Maybe I will think of a better way to explain this later....
Perhaps it's odd to view belief in aliens in the same way as belief in God, but there are parallels. You get your hard-core contingent, the religious fundamentalists on one side and the SETI people on the other, and you get your more casual believers, people who celebrate Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny or think Star Trek is really cool. Mayr, skeptic about everything except science as he is, thinks they're all being silly.
This brings up a lot of questions for me. For example, what does Mayr believe in? Does everyone have to really believe in something other than the cold hard facts around them? That one's a yes, of course, he has to believe what his senses, unreliable as they always are, tell him. Is it silly to believe in God or intelligent aliens? Is one sillier than the other? How about believing in fairies? I suppose fairies are closer to us, easier to disprove, not as flexible. By flexible I mean that if we find out God didn't do something people used to think he did, like create each and every species, He's still God, He just did something different with His time. If there aren't aliens on Mars, they could still live on Alpha Centari (small furry creatures from Alpha Centari for evah! Okay, I'll stop). Fairies, on the other hand, can be more easily disproved since they're supposed to live closer.
Of course, just because something is disproved to one person doesn't mean it's completely disproved. Mayr is clearly convinced through and through that Creationism is disproved, but I bet you could get a religious fundamentalist to read through this book and they'd still be convinced that all the creatures were set down as they are now six thousand years ago in Eden.
If we think of the brain as working in terms solely of the present producing the next present, then the past exists only insofar as it is represented in the present and the future doesn't yet exist (more or less from language group, right?)
Therefore, only the present is "real", and the notion of time as a location, standard in physics, is odd (your notion from physics class, anticipated in last year's time symposium; see http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/local/scisoc/time/chen.html for the "block model" vs "naive model" distinction and http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/local/scisoc/time/time.html for my thoughts about this in re brain).
Importantly, this inference presumes a non-deterministic universe, ie there is nothing "odd" about the block model if the every present absolutely determines the next future and has been absolutely determined by the previous past. In that case, knowing the way the brain works just illustrates a limitation of the brain; that the brain is locked in the present is the problem/limitation for humans; that is the oddity, not the notion of time as a location. That's interesting in its own right ... it matters a lot whether one starts the story with the brain or with physics.
Things look different from different reference frames, so maybe the two ways of seeing time are the same thing represented in different reference frames (you from physics, yes?) Two diverging (?) tracks from there, one you started down from physics, the metaphor from physics of time differing in different reference frames .... perhaps still worth pursuing but we ran into a block since those time variations occur to a noticeable extent only at large relative velocities.
The other the flatland (csem, story evol) idea that new spaces can come into being/be created by drawing a perpendicular to existing spaces. If the brain had a way of noticing that the state of locations in itself were particular values out of an infinite array of possible values, then it would bring into existence a perpendicular for some (all) locations, and, in so doing, lay a groundwork for subsequently creating the idea of time (in pursuit of finding an explanation of the particular state it observes in itself in the present). Along this track, one part of the brain creates the block model of time as an offshoot of its effort to make sense of changes in another part of the brain; time as a location is a by-product of story telling.
Lots of possible routes of exploration, new stories, seem to be to be radiating out from all this. Thanks to Bethany, all for bringing it into being.
thank you for such an interesting topic... can't wait to talk more about it... :)
My interest in this quote became stronger when I began to think about sexual reproduction as representative of interaction/togetherness and asexual reproduction as isolation/uniqueness. Isn't it interesting, then, that a tendency towards interdependence would be biologically prefered, despite the drastically increased "efficiency" of asexual reproduction?
also, when in the human evolution did this consious part of the brain evolve? and is this consious part the part that as mayr says defines us as husmans? or is it the other part?
and i like the scientific definition of consiousness, but then what is self -consiouness? it seems as though there is not a diferentiation between the two.
and did grobstein say that the primary mind (the one without consiousness) is the one that does not have a sense of time? or is it the consious mind?
and i'm wondering if time is a manmade construction that doesn't actually exist.
and TS Eliot is a god.
and i'll just quote to you for a while:
"time past and time future / what might have been and what has been / point to one end, which is always present."
"at the still point of the turning world. neither flesh nor / fleshless; / neither from not toward; at the still point, there the dance / is, / But neither arrest nor movement. and do not call it fixity, / where past and future are gathered."
"Time past and time future / allow but a little consiousness / TO BE CONSIOUS IS NOT TO BE IN TIME."
or is it that time is what is and consiousness, this second brain, is not real? is this second brain manmade?
and then he writes, "words move, music moves / only in time; but that which is only living / can only die. words, after speech, reach / into the silence."
we move, we evolve, we tell our stories, say our words to escape this "only living" which "can only die." there is something else that i am missing. we live for meaning. and we are always scrambling to acheive this meaning. we are under the impression that more life may enable us to acheive this meaning. if i were convinced that my life had meaning NOW then i would be content to die. but, no one is content to die, no one feels as though their life has meaning.
life is not 'just wanting more,' change is essential, movement and breath are essential. words cannot just pin, they move in the silence, are digested and processed, and destroy US.
oh man, please read eliot's four quartets, i am forced to paraphrase for the sake of space but he talks about how he (the god of writing in the past century) has waisted his time trying to be precise with words and he inevitably fails because time moves and when he tries to peirce the moment with words the moment is already gone. he writes that words are 'shabby equitment always deteriorating" and his feelings are left as "undisciplined squads of emotion" - IS THIS LIFE WITHOUT CONSIOUSNESS? IS THIS LIFE WITHOUT THE SECOND BRAIN? are words a tool we use to discipline ourselves?
and then he keeps going and says that when he does figure out how to say something he finds that someone has already says it then he writes, "BUT THERE IS NO COMPETITION- THERE IS ONLY THE FIGHT TO RECOVER WHAT HAS BEEN LOST AND FOUND AND LOST AGAIN AND AGAIN: AND NOW, UNDER CONDITIONS THAT SEEM UNPROPITOUS. BUT PERHAPS NEITHER GAIN NOR LOSS. FOR US, THERE IS ONLY THE TRYING. THE REST IS NOT OUR BUSINESS."
we tell these stories and they inevitably fail because ourSELVES, and words and moments move and are never stagnant enough to capture. but FOR US THERE IS ONLY THE TRYING, for us there is only the story telling.
and i think what he is argue is that we tell stories, we try to discipline, we try to live out of time and this is our futile attempt to make meaning, but the only place to have meaing is "the unattended moment, the moment in and out of time, the distraction fit, lost in a shaft of funlight, the wild thyme unseen , or the winter lightning of the waterfall, or music heard so ddeply that it is not heard at all, but you are the music while the music lasts. "
LIFE=MEANING. we are the meaning that we are searching for.
((i have not idea what that means, but i trust elliot.))
thanks for helping me to think all that!
ps sorry for all the englishy stuff...this class is crosslisted...
The other day, in class, as I was mulling over things from my corner, I was struck by an interesting idea for my paper. I run the risk of admitting I haven't formally begun my paper yet, but I think it is going to be some sort of synthesis of evolution/freud/and the idea of a shared or collective nature of the unconscious that contains enough similarity to allow us to evolve. I know its kind of foggy, it is to me at this point, but i think I can get somewhere with this!
I guess I am writing this because it's strange that scientists recognize the parts of the brain that control the unconscious, but in a completely different way. I guess it may just be the way I am prepared to use 'conscious' and 'unconscious' right now. hmm.
ps-- I hate dennett less. hes pretty smart, i guess
ps-I found this definition of Altruism interesting: "Instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental to the individual but contributes to the survival of the species."
have a wonderful weekend, friends! (( especially the froshies ))
Could these two accounts be of two seperate beginnings? AND
Could the genus beginning have brought about somethings that were not "selected", therefore requiring a new beginning? OR
Could it be argued that, together, they allude to part of the evolution of "GOD"?
I found an abstract of a book called "Thinking Without Words" by José Luis Bermúdez. He begins with a familiar phrase, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" and uses it as the springboard to discuss inference and presumption as an aspect of thought. As an aside, I don't even think the quote needs a question mark.
Which led me to thinking about games of strategy...like chess and tennis (or even complex, real-time negotiation maneuvers in cross-cultural settings...), where I don't think I think in words before making moves. Or what about when we enter a classroom and pick where to sit—do we think in words before picking our spot?
But, but, but...did evolving abilities to speak lead to further refinement of the brain and to the capacity for thought, or vice versa? Is "internalized thought" different in some important ways from thought without out words?
Speech is food for thought. Thought is food for speech...and what is it with proverbs?
Altruism according to American Heritage: (1)"Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness;" OR 2) "Zoology. Instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental to the individual but contributes to the survival of the species." The word can be found in both Greek (allos) and Latin (alter) root words, which mean "other."
It's the second meaning that got me going and posting again. Zoology. Animals exhibit altruism: bees die when they sting in order to their hive, ants go to war to protect their colony, mama bears protect their cubs.
Then there's that word, "INSTINCTIVE"...
Which got me thinking about aggression as the flip side of the coin. Darwin certainly allowed for aggression...survival of the fittest, struggle for survival at the level of the species. He speculated that the altruists in a species would die off (taking this trait with them) because of their selflessness. For example, think about a collective of animals that slows reproduction among its members when food supplies are short for a long period of time. Bet ya it's the altruistic ones that elect to curtail reproducing themselves.
Is altruism different in humans? Do thought and speech play a role? Is it also physiological, e.g., testosterone contributing aggression from some versus altruism from others--as two very different ways to achieve the same goal, i.e., "contribute to the survival of the species"?
Is altruism different in humans? Do thought and speech play a role? Is it also physiological, e.g., the level of testosterone in a person (both men and women have and use testoserone) that tips a person's instinct towards aggression or altruism --as two very different ways to achieve the same goal, i.e., "contribute to the survival of the species"?
Want to toss into the mix two reviews from the 2/26/04 New York Review of Books. The first speaks to the questions several of you pose above about the relation of thought and language (see "the redemptive power of language" for a review of a just-republished book by Helen Keller). The second is a new book by Richard Dawkins, A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hopes, Lies, Science and Love, which pushes the idea of a selfish replicator beyond genes to cultural entities (those "memes" Dennett talks about at such length). Dawkins is a well-known science-booster/religion-basher; this reviewer tries to get him out of that bind/binary by saying that "scientific beliefs are propositions about the state of the world; religious beliefs are an attempt to attach meaning or value to the world. Religion and science thus move in different dimensions." I think the questions so many of you asked this week--about how we can move from biological changes over time to altruism--suggests that we, as a class, are not quite ready to dis-attach the study of the phsycial universe from discussions of meaning, value and ethics. Understanding the first DOES seem to us to have important implications for the second...
keep on reading Dennett. And stay tuned for further discusion of altruism on Tuesday--
Words try to capture the fleeting moments, and some wonderful poetry does slow it down for us to take a better look, ...but we continue to travel as electricity, and continue to experience. More words come. Words also on a continuum of time, the past words effect present words, which affects future words. (What you have all said in the forum is effecting my present words which will somehow effect the future words). We move, we evolve, we tell our stories...and the stories move and evolve because they are part of us. They are a function of our structure. I think the function of speech/storytelling has evolved because it helps us to survive better when we work together with others through communication. It just so happens that we have these other adaptive functional components called emotions and they have the ability to intertwine with speech/storytelling, hence storytelling's search for meaning, or expression of beauty, or fear, or happiness. And it all happened by chance. Quite remarkable isn't it? Of course, this is the way my story goes.
c. sante asks: Are thought and language inextricably linked? ... is thinking independent of linguistic ties ...
Ro gives her examples of thinking without words –tennis and chess, etc.. Makes me think of that 'in the zone feeling' when I am focused deeply with the experience of the current state. I've been there in tennis also Ro. And I've been there in the zone of thought and no language at other times – like when I read Orah's question from a previous posting – "How can we live believing that we are going to die someday and be nothing – not exist?" My mind responded by going into a deep place where I could feel some weight of the troublesome unknown. I could also feel the inhibiting force of shock that occurs when something is too painful to realize. Death........................Basically, I was just feeling. I was having a thought formulated by my emotions. Really there are no words to adequately relay how I felt. (I'm no TS Eliot). I feel like that a lot though. That my words are inadequate to describe the depth of my thoughts/feelings. So I guess, c. sante, I do feel that thought and language are separate from one another.
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