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

Forum 6
Evolution: Beyond Biology?


Name:  Paul Grobstein
Username:  pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  swimming with(?) the tide
Date:  2004-02-22 11:10:53
Message Id:  8347
Comments:
Yep, as per Orah and following, a number of interesting issues arose in our thursday section, in and around the question of whether we did or did not need to presume an "intention" at the beginning of the evolutionary process. Leaving aside the issue of whether there WAS one or not, does there NEED to be one to account for what has happened since? And THAT led in turn to the question of whether "intention" or "meaning" depended on language (the WORD)and THAT in turn led to the question of whether thinking can occur without words (a question for which Helen Keller's experiences, among other things) is relevant.

So, seems to me that we need to talk a bit more not only about altruism, but also about where "word" comes from and how it relates to intention/meaning ... and consciousness (and "memes"?). Let's see what we can do with all that on Tuesday. Feel free, of course, to add whatever thoughts you're having, on that or anything else, between now and then.


Name:  em
Username:  emadsen@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  music heard so deeply...
Date:  2004-02-22 12:48:56
Message Id:  8350
Comments:
i like mary's idea of a current... but i feel in a lot of ways, our lives and how we view time relate to heisenberg's (?) uncertainty principle (oh, how ironic...): if we are in the moment, then we cannot know anything except that moment. however, if we are looking at context, then we can never truly be in the moment. i find this most strikingly in my musical activities-- in one concert last spring, i found myself so totally focused on the individual notes that i was playing that i lost all sense of continuity. all that mattered was the note and the vibrato and the timbre: when i finished playing, i had no idea how the performance had gone because i had no context, only that intense electric (there's the current...) moment of finger to string.
Name:  Diane Scarpa
Username:  dscarpa@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2004-02-22 14:53:37
Message Id:  8356
Comments:
Let me tell you a story..

Two cars pull up to a red light. One car has a Jesus fish on the back, the other car sports a Darwin fish. The car with the Jesus fish revs its engine. The light changes and the cars speed off in competition. After a few moments the cars reach a cliff at the edge of the mountain. The car with the Jesus fish tumbles down the side and crashes. Simultaneously, the car with the Darwin fish coasts off of the side, sprouts wings, and flies away.

My friend is making a short film using this narrative. When she told me this story I immediately thought that I needed to share it with all of you. Do with it what you will, I'm only asking that you consider it. It speaks to me because I often observe this type of arrogance in devoutly religious people. I don't mean to attack Christianity at all, I of course think that this attitude is just as prevalant in my own religion. What do you all think? Do you read this story the same way that I do?


Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  on jesus, eliot, swimming, and absolute truth
Date:  2004-02-22 16:47:03
Message Id:  8359
Comments:
let me continue your story, diane....
the darwin car keeps flying...he flies higher and higher, he flies so so high that he realizes that all there is up there is space, there is nothing that loves him or wants him to succeed and so he tries to come back to earth where there are people and things that care about him, but he's stuck up there is space, alone. meanwhile, the jesus car crashes to the bottum. he is very severly wounded and might die at any moment. he falls into a pained sleep and dreams of jesus his savior coming down. jesus is with this man as he dies. ((just an alternative)).
mary wrote, " I'm no TS Eliot." if you feel like a failure when using words you are a TS Eliot. he writes, "So here i am, in the middle way, having had twently years- / twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres- / trying to learn to use words, and every attempt / a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure / because one has only learnt to get the better of words / for the thing one no longer has to say." he says that words are "a raid on...undisciplines squads of emotion." so, i guess, no one is eliot, himself, but we feel what he feels, right? not too shabby.
also, i think it's interesting how prof. grobstein titled his posting, "swimming with(?) the tide." and the first thing i think of is the last line of gatsby, "we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." and i also think about michael cunningham's book "the hours" he writes of a man dying of aids whose friend is trying to convince him not to commit suicide and she says: you still have good days, right? the dying man responds,yes, "but there are still the hours, aren't there? one and then another, and you get through that one and then, my god, there's another." and there is this sense in living of being innundated with time, and sometimes it feels like we're choking on it, there's just too much, and i wish, sometimes, that it would just stop and let me catch my breath. and now i wonder: what is this that we drown in? i think, most definatly, that we are not swimming with anything, current or tide. rather, the future continues to receed before us and we continue, borne against this something (is it time? or nature? or god?).
and finally, i've been thinking a lot about absolute truth, and talking about it in a lot of my classes. and it seems that the politically correct academic response to absolute truth is that there is none. but i am very resistent to that idea. there must be absolute truth. i said in one of my religion classes that an absolute truth is that the holocaust was WRONG. that's it. it's just true. people argue that though i'm right in saying that it does not mean it's an absolute truth. what the hell else is it? i don't really know what this implies though. i just know that there must be some law in nature, that science can't reach, that says genocide is wrong. period. that's one of the reasons that i beleive there must be a force outside of science...because there are things about this world that are so terrible and so wonderful that i cannot conceive of their not being recognized. i don't know. this is probably just a human defense mechanism on my part, but i cannot stand to live in a world where the sublime is not recognized. maybe it's not rational. but i think it's true.

((ps get involved in your community ........vote for traditions))


Name:  Paul Grobstein
Username:  pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  oh yeah ...
Date:  2004-02-22 18:47:30
Message Id:  8363
Comments:
p.s. to my earlier

Forgot to mention another interesting idea that arose this week: the notion that origin myths might have but don't NEED to have a time dimension to them. Some explanatory stories account for things in terms of patterns in the present instead of by history. Something is here because something else is there and some other thing is in a third place and the original something therefore has to be where it is because that's the PATTERN by which things are organized (this is another way to think of essentialism, of the story telling style favored by Plato and Aristotle, as opposed to the atomists).

So "story" (as per conversation with Anne in which this subject came up) can exist either with or without a narrative (ie time organized) form. And that in turn relates to an earlier conversation about differences between scientific and literary story telling. Science actually has an historical preference for the non-narrative story (don't tell me how you got to this view; tell me what the view is and what would most easily help me see it). And that's interesting because much of modern science (not only evolutionary thinking in biology) is being forced to deal with historical explanation. Despite which, it still attempts (in the sense just described) to "flatten" the story.

And THAT, of course, is interesting in re the earlier discussion of the brain and ITS flatness. So maybe flattening is the equivalent of "abstracting" and is essential to turn an historical explanation into something that can be "generalized", ie representing in a flat (no time axis) brain?

Yeah, a little cryptic (flat?). Maybe Anne will expand it.


Name:  julia
Username:  jeddy@bmc
Subject:  Thursday notes
Date:  2004-02-22 20:46:30
Message Id:  8366
Comments:
While my notebook didn't get very much use in Thursday's class, I sort of wanted to toss around the few but very interesting thoughts that did get noted amidst the madness. Perhaps others will find them interesting too. First was the idea of telling a story in the present... is it possible?... Prof. Grob. thinks he could do it in his description of the clock on the wall. but I didn't feel like that was really a story or at least not a good one, it felt more like an observation, but perhaps we would say an observation can be a story.

Another topic of interest was that we have no real memories; if i understand it correctly, we only have an imprinting in our mind of our body's state (emotional, physical, etc...) at the time of the memorable moment. It sounds like our brains are always piecing together and comparing imprints in order to translate into a "memory." So if we have no TRUE memories, only pieces and pieces that other people tell us, I wonder how much of my memories are untrue, and I know that they are fragmented. confusing.

Thirdly was this idea of having thoughts without having words. Possible? Immediately my mind goes back to the person that was brought up on Thursday, Helen Keller. Helen Keller must have had thoughts, she had emotions for sure, but they weren't words, or at least not words as we know them. Words as we know them... makes me think that so much of our knowledge must be somewhat limited in a way because of our need to translate everything to words. It seems to all come back to the wondering of what is being lost in this translation (excellent movie by the way)?


Name:  Anne Dalke
Username:  adalke@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  indeterminacy
Date:  2004-02-22 21:06:37
Message Id:  8369
Comments:

Werner Heisenberg [in Michael Frayn's play Copenhagen]: "you have no absolutely determinate situation in the world, which among other things lays waste to the idea of causality, the whole foundation of science--because if you don't know how things are today you certainly can't know how they're going to be tomorrow....."

Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea (p. 408): "the indeterminacy that...others see as a flaw in Darwininan account of the evolution of meaning is actually a precondition for any such evolution....Meaning, like function...arises...by a (typically gradual) shift of circumstances...."

As we turn our heads, w/ Dennett's assistance, towards questions about the relationship between the stories science tells us about the nature of the universe, the new things science's stories can bring about in the universe, and the moral and ethical questions that these stories and these newly-made things raise for us...

I want bring into the discussion a production I saw last night by Lantern Theater Company @ St. Stephen's Theater (10th and Sansom, in Center City). The play was Michael Frayn's Copenhagen, which is a performance of multiple "drafts" (=re-enactments) of a famous encounter in Copenhagen in 1943, between the great German physicist Werner Heisenberg and his one-time mentor/also great physicist, the Danish Niels Bohr.

Heisenberg (evidently) asked Bohr something along the lines of, "Does a physicist has a moral right to work on the practical exploitation of atomic energy?" Bohr was (evidently) horrified @ the question--and what it "meant" (was Heisenberg working on an atomic bomb for the Nazis? did he know that one could be made? did he not know what critical mass was needed to sustain an effective chain reaction? had he not done the calculations, or done them incorrectly? had he done them correctly, and hidden the knowledge from others, so the Nazis could not produce a bomb? was he trying to get information from Bohr about what the Americans were up to?)--all these possibilities still exist in the realm of speculation, and the play begins w/ Heisenberg, Bohr and Bohr's wife Margrethe, long dead (!), but still playing and re-playing all the possibilities....

There's a way in which the play, though very VERY cleverly written and adroitly performed, struck me as ultimately "closed"--a constant re-shuffling of the same bits of matter, the same characters, that didn't really invite (it may not even allow) the audience to bring new questions to it--and you know how I feel about closed systems!

On the other hand, some of its central ideas seemed to me wonderful extensions of our class discussion, and I want to record two of them here, as bookmarks we may want/I hope to return to as we get deeper and deeper into cultural and ethical questions (as extensions of science) in this course.

One of the things that Margrethe brings to the conversation is a very concrete, grounded and personal dimension (Carol Gilligan long ago, in In a Different Voice, named this perspective "a woman's voice," and I found myself wondering how different the play would have been w/ two of these rather than one of them....) Anyhow, Margrethe is continually applying the understandings of theoretical physics to matters of psychology, in ways I found quite illuminating. For instance, when Heisenberg says that "measurement is not an impersonal event that occurs with impartial universality. It's a human act, carried out...from the one particular viewpoint of a possible observer...the universe exists only...within the limits determined by our relationships with it. Only through the understanding lodged inside the human head, " Margrethe asks just who the man is whom he puts @ the center of the universe, and insists that the answer matters:

"If it's Heisenberg at the center of the universe, then the one bit of the universe that he can't see is Heisenburg....so it's no good asking him why he came to Copenhagen in 1941. He doesn't know!" [She then goes on to tell her husband,] "That was the last and greatest demand that Heisenberg made on his friendship with you. To be understood when he couldn't understand himself. And that was the last and greatest act of friendship for Heisenberg that you performed...to leave him misunderstood." This idea that NOT knowing another--allowing them the privacy of NOT being known--can be an act of friendship--intrigues me, and intersects strikingly w/ a just-gotten-very-lively discussion in the Graduate Idea Forum (also fed by Carol Gilligan) about the dance of human relationships: our complimentary desires both to be known and not-to-be.

Margrethe makes "psychological" sense not only of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle but also of Bohr's complimentarity principle (in shorthand: particles are things, complete in themselves; waves are disturbances in something else; the behavior of an electron can be understood completely only by descriptions in both wave and particle form, but we can't see both @ the same time, or, in Margrethe's words,) "If you'd doing something you have to concentrate on you can't also be thinking about doing it, and if you're thinking about doing it then you can't actually be doing it...."

Also known as tacit knowledge, what we know without knowing that we know it, what we CAN'T know by looking @ directly... which is a topic for another day....


Name:  Anne Dalke
Username:  adalke@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  expansion
Date:  2004-02-22 21:52:35
Message Id:  8373
Comments:

Maybe Anne will expand it.

ALWAYS a dangerous invitation.

Picking up from Copenhagen, I'd say you could think about it this-a-way:

every idea can be understood either as a particle, a thing complete in itself (a scientific abstraction: concentrated, just what it looks like on the mountaintop, a birds' eye view), or as a wave, a disturbance in the universe (a humanistic expansion: a diffusion, an account of the whole landscape traversed to get there, seen from on-the-ground). So: when I explain an idea I have, I like to give a full account of how-I-got-there: I tell an elaborate story of where I was when who asked me what and why she said it and what I said back...that's the in-time account, one w/ a long history and lots of dimensions, lots of peaks and valleys. I'm not always sure just what should be foregrounded/what left in the background: it's not very selective, not "flattened" out @ all: it's not always clear which details in the story are the most important, so I keep them all in the telling, which is organized sequentially. (For an example, see Trees and Rhizomes.) In contrast, when Paul gives an account of an idea he has, he likes to begin just by saying what it IS and what's important in it, and then fill in w/ the observations/supporting data. All the historical details of how he got there/account of his journey/steps up the mountaintop aren't important in this sort of "flattened," out-of-time account, which is organized according to the pattern it makes. (For a contrastive example, see Emerging Emergence.)

This could be a scientist/humanist split, a male/female split, a conscious/unconscious split, an out-of-time/in-time split, a Platonic/historical split, a flattened/multi-dimensional split...or just (following Neils Bohr): complimentarity.

Two different ways of telling the same tale.

Sometimes the in-time narrative makes the better (=more useful) story;
sometimes it's the timeless numbers.


Name:  Elizabeth Deacon
Username:  edeacon@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Language and Thought
Date:  2004-02-22 23:25:48
Message Id:  8379
Comments:
I've thought about the connection between thought and language before. My uncle is a neurologist of some sort, and he spends a lot of time studying language and whether animals have it, which is why I occasionally spout large amounts of theories on that topic. My uncle thinks they don't that they merely have a few sounds or ideas attached to a few concrete objects and can't string together different ideas, and adjectives and verbs and thus into philisophical discourse on their own minds which we humans do, which would seperate us from them.

On human thought and language, though. Language is definitely a boost to thought, at least to some point. At another, later point, it is a constraint on thought. As a boost it gives us a way to clearly define foggy thoughts and feelings and using these clearly defined ideas, move them around and see how they relate to each other, and see if they might relate better in a different way and what it would mean if they did. This is, in my opinion, the basis of basic communiaction and higher thought, including everything that contributes to college.

Language is also a constraint, though. This is visible in the fact that some languages have words that there is no equivalent for in other languages. For example, what exactly does schadenfreude (sp?) mean? Or frisson? You may comprehend the idea behind those words, but if you tried to explain those ideas solely in English you'd have a hard time of it. So, then, what would you do if you wanted to discuss those ideas but didn't have the German or French word to help you out? And what of all the ideas that have no word to describe them in any language? I know there must be some, must be a lot. Languages are finite and I don't think ideas ever can be. Languages are compartmentalized into words and suffixes and prefixed; ideas are huge, multidimensional continuums. And our minds, used to thinking with the relatively clear, modular parts of language, have a hell of a time trying to handle all those ideas without words and we often give up, leaving those ideas left alone unless we can come up with a good enough definition to assign a new word to, which only sometimes works.

So language is not the perfect aid to advanced thought, but it seems to be the best we've come up with so far, and it must be admitted that it does a fine job, as far as it goes.


Name:  Elizabeth Catanese
Username:  ecatanes@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  words words words
Date:  2004-02-23 12:32:51
Message Id:  8391
Comments:
I'm thinking about Howard Gardner's ideas about multiple intellegences in conjunction with Ro's thoughts (then followed up by Mary and others) about whether or not language is needed in order to make certain decisions... the decisions in tennis, the decisions in chess, where to find a seat in the room, etc. In a Dennett approved fashion I'll tell my "waiting place for new questions" (answer/conclusion etc.) first and then work back to say what made me get to that place. I think that the unit of meaning common for all humans is the story. Humans tell stories but not necessarily with language... And that for someone with extreme kinesthetic intellegence, a gesture, rather than a word would be a unit of meaning. A story unit is brushwork on the canvas, a musical note, a look... i.e. a glance at a person etc. Certainly people get fixated with language because it is something which distinguishes us from animals but I think to focus so highly on language is not entirely productive... because we are also about non-verbal units of meaning. So after reading Ro's post about whether we think in words about where we are going to sit in class, I let my mind travel back to about five of the last classes that I had been too. I pictured myself walking into the classroom (almost always thinking about something other than the class content...), listening to the conversations that other people were having or in the examples where I was the first person in the class, looking out the window and thinking about light reflections or tree bark (if you're interested, I recommend looking outside of the EH lecture hall window at one large tree with this foliage growing on it... it exists that way in my imagination as the tangible representation of Tuesday evolution class but i wonder what about it. Am I just imagining it vividly now... when i go into class tomorrow is it going to be dead/changed?)and I was picturing room layouts and what things looked like and processing and thinking a lot but was I thinking in words about where I could sit? All I could conclude was that I was absolutely sure, every time that where I sat was not random; it was a DECISION (what is the role of decision human cultural evolution?) but yet I could not know for sure whether words like "I should sit here today because it's closer to the front and here because i want to walk out and talk to Ro about NIMBUS after class..." ever entered my mind. Was I thinking anything with words? I feel that all decisions have to be made based on units of meaning. But the units that I used were more spacially based... the story that I could recall about where I chose to sit in each instance involved pictures of room layouts and the color of the walls. Going back to Gardner I wonder if people have different units of meaning which they use more frequently... does someone with more physical/kinesthetic intellingence "think" in units of touch... does someone with intrapersonal intelligence think with deep, intuitive feelings... None of it's very clear cut but I do think it's important to know that there is so much more than language... which most likely works with language... they are units which work together in everyone, I imagine.
Name:  Lindsay
Username:  lupdegro@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Feeling Thinking Language
Date:  2004-02-23 12:36:33
Message Id:  8392
Comments:
I agree that thoughts are inextricably linked to language. What I don't know is whether this is the nature of the way we think or how we are taught to think...I am leaning towards the latter conclusion because I'm fairly certain we can all agree that we have feelings for which there are no words. Maybe we are taught to separate these two ways of "understanding" in our speech. You can say "I feel" or "I think" but in a story the two are beautifully united. I'm not sure if "understanding" is the best word to use because I don't think two people can ever comprehend a story in the exact same way. We cannot know exactly what a storyteller was thinking, as Orah demonstrates gorgeously as she struggles with Eliot, but I think that is what generates the evolution of stories. We fill in the gaps of language with new thoughts, and the stories change.
Name:  katherine
Username:  kpioli
Subject:  500 meter mark
Date:  2004-02-23 12:53:49
Message Id:  8393
Comments:
"And what of all the ideas that have no word to describe them in any language?" -Elizabeth C.
That, I believe, is where TS Elliot and other poets come in. Poetry is the route that we humans can take to most closely define the undefinable. Maybe that's why we rarely understand poetry, and when we do it feels to fresh and satisfying.

Tagging on to the question: does language and thought have to go hand in hand, or can we have one without the other? I am reminded of a similar question posed in a novel, The Art of Motorcycle Maintainence, which goes as follows: if there were a child born alive, but without any of our five senses- no sight, sound, taste, touch, smell- and if this child, through care from others, lived to reach its eighteenth birthday, would this child be able to form any thoughts?
This hypothetical question makes me think about where my own thoughts come from. After pondering this for a while I begin to think, aren't my thoughts just responses to the environment around me- to the sights and smells, etc? If I didn't have any senses I conclude, I would not have any thoughts. I would just be a machine taking things in and spitting them out- as in food turned to waste.
But does thought need language? Do our mental processes always need articulation? How many of you (us) think in pictures instead of words? I often think to myself in pictures. If I am preparing for something, going through the phases of a boat race in my head, seeing the 500 meter markers, feeling the pull of the oar and the slide of the shell, I don't need words, I need images. But, if I am preparing someone else for a race, I need laugauge to prepare them, to describe exactally how dead tired they will be at the last 500 meters, but how they will- must- keep pushing anyway. Being such socially dependent animals we need language, but that doesn't mean that though needs language. Language, however, is used to communicate an idea, so yeah, wouldn't that NEED a prior thought?


Name:  Perrin
Username:  Pbraun@bmc
Subject:  
Date:  2004-02-23 19:48:43
Message Id:  8401
Comments:
In a psych class, I learned that children use subordinate clauses with 'because,' 'although,' and the like long before they are able to comprehend the meaning that is associated with this syntax. Would this serve as an indication to mean that grammar comes before thought?

I was also wondering about our definition of 'thinking.' To me, the word implies a means of reasoning and judging, but do we need to reason in words? For example, chimpanzees and other such animals don't (I think) have a structurally formal language like ours, but they are able to solve problems that occur in nature, which demonstrates their ability to do simple reasoning. So have chimps and other animals been able to think without words? In a way, could that make them "higher" organisms because they don't need to rely on extraneous/verbal thought?


Name:  Student Contributor
Username:  
Subject:  The Language of the World - Alchemy
Date:  2004-02-23 19:53:53
Message Id:  8402
Comments:
All this talk about language and words has evoked memories of my readings of The Alchemist. The book speaks of the Language of the World, in which words and pictures actually function as a distraction from the language of the universe. In the preface of the book, Coelho gives a beautiful example of the language of the universe:

Our Lady Mary, with the Baby Jesus in her arms, decided to come down to Earth and visit a monastery. The monks proudly joined in a long queue, each eager to pay their respect to the Virgin and her Child. One read poetry, the other showed paintings, another read the names of all the saints, one after the other praising the Mother and Child.

The last monk of the monastery, the humblest of them all, who had never studied the learned books of the time, came for his turn. Ashamed, conscious of the disapproving looks of the monks around him, he took a few oranges from his bag, tossed them into the air, and began juggling.

It was at that moment the Baby Jesus smiled and started to clap his hands. The Virgin reached out her arms, inviting him to hold the baby. (Paraphrased from the original)

Coelho states that the language of the universe can not be captured in pictures or words. (Earlier postings talk of this phenomenon...not finding the words to describe a situation, feeling that language is actually a limiting process), and that, as humans, because we are so fascinated with language and words we forget about the language of the universe. I think language as we know it has an intimate relationship with our thoughts, but only because we have made it so. When a baby cries, before s/he is able to articulate its feelings, we know it is because s/he is scared, upset, hungry, etc... Aren't these emotions also in an intimate relationship with the thought process? Regardless of the absence of language?

In the above quotation, Santiago has to turn himself into the wind or else he will be killed by Bedouins in the desert. He succeeds in turning himself into the wind only after he abandons his earthliness and gives himself up to the universe where he is able to "talk" to the desert and wind, convincing the both of them to help him.


| Course Home Page | Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Thursday, 19-Jul-2012 17:55:55 EDT