The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories:
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.
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?
((ps get involved in your community ........vote for traditions))
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.
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)?
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....
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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