The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories:
IF we are the product of a serendipitous process which, itself, originated serendipitously , AND we have evolved to being capable of creating and evolving stories, and therefore, our own story, THEN we can and probably will (have already? e.g., cultural evolution, evolutionary epistemology...) reshape the process that created and shaped us, which will shape new things that may affect us...etc, etc, etc....including what we view as absolute truth, and this,too, may change. It's all in our heads.
The game of life progresses from chaos to order, but never in the same ordered configuration.
Time to feed the dog, who knows nothing about such things and depends upon the same monotonous structure '-)
A physicist proposes time does not exist, only an infinite number of dramas, grand or banal, in different locations: a Wyoming ant hefts a leaf and begins the blind trek home. Nancy nicks her thumb chopping arugala in Manhattan. Sheets of rain batter the empty head of a seagull hunkered down amid blonde grasses. A Sudanese teenager takes the first of nineteen steps toward a landmine he will, or will not, trip with his left foot. A star in a tri-folded galaxy sputters and implodes. And so forth, ad infinitum. I read about this while drinking a steaming hot Columbian blend on the day we call, for convenience sake, Sunday.
But if there is not time, I wonder as I take antoher sip, why do I keep needing stronger glasses? And, if time is to be summarily tossed onto some landfill, wouldn't we be wise to hire a caretaker, an experienced force to guard the perimeter? One would not want the Spanish Inquisition leaking into Stonington, for example, where I currently reside. And I do not like to imagine walking the frozen streets of Buffalo, New York, and bumping into myself at the age of two, bundled in my mother's arms as she hurries me into the hospital, my appendix burst, my time running out.
How immediately I bend the poor physicist's notion to my own fears and wishes... Why must I understand every idea in terms of myself, my own little life and death? In all probability I misunderstand him completely and do not, as usual, know what I'm talking about. I wish I could step outside, into one of the many worlds to the left and right of me. The boy recovered, in time, and lived. But if time does not exist then why, as I continue sipping, does my sorrow deepen?
ps i don't think life is a game and i don't know what IMO stands for.
dillard was preoccupied with the idea of simply existing, as opposed to assigning cultural, or verbal, meanings to her surroundings. she describes this as "...less like seeing than like being..." and strives to attain this state throughout the book. according to her, "consciousness itself does not hinder living in the present. in fact, it is only a heightened awareness that the great door to the present opens at all. even a certain amount of interior verbalization is helpful to enforce the memory of whatever it is that is taking place...self-consciousness, however, does hinder the experience of the present. it is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest." dillard has an interesting perspective on the interaction of humans with the rest of nature- she believes that it is preferable to abandon some of our evolved self-consciousness in favor of experiencing the rest of the world with fewer filters, including language. for her, the condition of being in what she terms "the present" is simply thought without language.
abbey as well struggled with the limits of verbalization versus purely experiencing nature. in particular, he resisted personification of natural phenomena, animals especially. "i am not attributing human motives to my snake and bird acquaintances. i recognize that when and where they serve purposes of mine they do so for beautifully selfish resons of their own. which is exactly the way it should be." this is another way of saying that snakes and birds are "model makers." to really understand them is to avoid language which will incorrectly assign them consciousness. of course, this is incredibly tempting for humans, who cannot imagine life without self-consciousness. especially story tellers such as abbey who have very few other options if they want to give readers an idea of what a snake or a bird seems to be.
in his introduction, abbey states that "it will be objected that the book deals too much with mere appearances, with the surface of things, and fails to engage and reveal the patterns of unifying relationships which form the true underlying reality of existence. here i must confess that i know nothing whatever about true underlying reality, having never met any...for my own part i am pleased enough with surfaces- in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance." in a way, abbey is right. do we really need to give verbal and conscious significance to the rest of the world in order to appreciate it? what is the benefit of analyzing nature and determining the "true underlying reality?" abbey as well seems to believe that thought can exist in the absence of language- on the surface- and that this condition is preferable to becomming bogged down in rhetoric.
Orah wrote: "if you don't cling to absolute truths to what do you cling? and if you don't cling how do you live? seriously. i need to know. it's upsetting."
I wish there were something I could conjure that would allay your angst. What works for me may not work for anyone else. I cling to absolute possibility. Discontinuity creates space. It thrusts us forward and keeps us on our toes. I like that. Intuitively, it feels safer to keep moving, to accumulate more adaptive traits. In my mind, stasis attends absolute truth, and "just believing" in something may be the ultimate risk, even if —in the beginning— certain truths was not manmade. Perhaps that's why so many of us have questions we cannot shake. Maybe a questioning mind is a trait that has been 'selected for' for our own survival.
em--thank you for skinner's poem.
I made in fact already a few small changes in the Tuesday notes (in the "altruism" subhead of "language based culture") to bring out a point that was in the background (my brain) but not probably not explicit enough. Remember that this is A story (one I'm working on), not THE story, so others can use or not use it and any piece of it insofar as it is useful in their own story writing. And yes, it is a story of ongoing (eternal?) change, with some perhaps troubling implications.
It is NOT, though, a story of purely random change, nor of aloneness, nor of "meaninglessness". It is a story of the ongoing exploration of what can be, of a present whose richness (and limitations) are built from the past and that it turn serves as the basis for future exploration, all endowed with whatever meaning we individually and collectively wish to give it (or not give it). It is (for me at least) a story of space, of room and wherewithal, of connectedness to each other/other organisms/the universe, and of opportunity to bring into being what has not been and what one dreams might be.
People are different from one another, and that's in fact an important part of the story, an ingredient without which exploration would (at least by humans) be much less generative, the future much less spacious. I for one am more than willing to trade in "absolutes" and whatever benefits they offer for the room created by their absence. But others need to make those kinds of choice/write their stories in their own ways. That's part of the story. Yep, we're all "in this together".
friend 2: "I do think there has to be some kind of universal constant that connects all of us. I don't necessarily think we can prove this is the case, but neither do I think we can prove it is not. To me truth is equated with God in many ways, as if there is no absolute truth how could god exist? I think our acceptance of truth is born out of necessity, and I find that necessity eventually leads us to faith, which is the only way we can approach this question.
maybe there is no one answer, but instead each of us responds with our own faith and that must be what allows us to cling to something--anything. Truth will always be subject to interpretation, and depending on what place we're at we'll respond differently. That's part of what troubles me...we'll all always be at different places, i.e., we never arrive at full maturity or truth or nirvana or whatever you want to call it (not in this lifetime anyways?), so we'll never be able to jugde just what truth is. We're constantly affected by our world view, background, environment, etc. I do think it's hard to relate to people who operate only on scientific principles since they can't identify with the element of faith which is so crucial to our line of thought. But I do believe at some point they will need either to choose faith or to choose unhappiness."
i think a lot, so my views are CONSTANTLY changing...and sometimees i look back over past thoughts, things i've said, past postings, and cringe a little bit because now i don't fully beleive what i previously said so addamently. so, i revise: it's okay if we aren't all clinging. it makes me feel better that if i am pained: others are pained. if i am scrammbling: others are scrambling. but, as one of my friends said: isn't it okay if i cling with the clingers while others don't cling at all. yeh, i guess so. i kinda wish we'd all cling together, but i'll live my way and you live your way...
and i guess the reason i feel so threatened by the prospect of there being no absolute truth is because THAT is what I NEED. i really really really need there to be a constant out there, becaues that's why i'm here.
so, i'll conclude these obnoxiously long thoughts with this longish question:
i don't think everyone should be allowed to tell their own story. i disallow you to tell your story if it physically harms others. i disallow militant racists to tell their story. but we MUST draw the exact line of whose story is allowed and whose story is not allowed. so, i ask: where is that line drawn?? ya'all obviously affected me with the whole "there are no absolute truths," but was i so affected that you should be disallowed from telling your story?? obviously not. should we all just shut up and tell our stories to those who we know aggree with us?? i don't think so. should mel gibson be able to tell his story even if it might insight others to violence?? should bush be allowed to impose his story on us??
tell me! who gets to tell her story and who doesn't?
According to this description of memes, an individual cannot generate germane memes without being influenced from other people. Does this mean that our thinking is dependent on other people's thinking? Can a person live alone insolated from other human beings and be creative? Original? Can a person generate something that has never existed before? Or is imagination a new way of putting old elements together?
Do we have control of the processing of the memes? On one hand, their influence may be too subtle for us to perceive it, so that we may turn into " a sort of dungheap in which the larvae of other people's ideas renew themselves..." (346).
Another opportunity exists.If we happen to somehow resist the influence of the memes, and try to stick with our own, may we eventually be turned into pariahs, because our way of thinking differs from that of society? So, we do conform sometimes to the social way of processing memes? Of course, we will remodel them in accordance with the idiosyncrasies of our brains, but the attribute of the meme stays the same (this process emulates the renga pictures in a way. Thus, certain different cultures are formed.
So, does the freedom to be unique exist?
About Paul's pattern idea, the one about the clock on the wall, telling the story without relying on time: Your story requires a pattern, right? And REcognizing a pattern requires MEMORY, right? Does that mean anything? Is that relying on time? Or maybe I don't understand...
Another thought about language and...thought :) - I don't know if everyone is familiar with the case of Genie, (sp?) but this may help shed more light on what we've been wrestling with...
- So, there was this girl, who lived, I think in California? She was horribly abused by her family in the following way: They kept her locked in a room, strapped to a chair, and periodically brought her food. They wouldn't talk to her, and she had only brief contact with either parent. She was found years later, after the vital period for language acquisition. She could not speak, she had no language. Psychologists taught her rudimentary English, an extremely difficult task. In fact, she never really took to it, it was just too late, and she eventually lost all the little she had learned. HOWEVER! When she did have some use of this semi-communicative ability, she was able to describe her experience during the abuse. What does this mean? She remembered her experiences from before she had language. She was thinking before she had language.
hmmm...more to say...I have to agree with Orah- I think I need the concept of absolute truth, too. It just seems to fit, I know this is a horribly unscientific way to look at it, but I feel that it exists, my intuition tells me that it exists.
ooops...class is starting...more later...
ok...absolute truth...yes. Perhaps I shall come back to that later? It gets away from an idea I had in between now and when I posted before... just remind me about falling vases and then I'll ask you a question...
In response to Em's post about struggling with time as something made up, and especially the bit about running into your two year-old self, I think the important thing to remember is that each state, each present, is the context for the next state, the next present...does this have to do with laws? Someone was talking about laws...was that Orah? Maybe the laws are like programming rules...they dictate which outputs are possibilities for which inputs...
So! I was thinking, and I think I saw something interesting. I was mulling over language and thought and their relationship, and this is what I came up with. When we come up with theories, or just with ordinary thoughts/observations, it seems like they are in an expanded form in our heads. In order to transmit these thoughts (assuming they are complex enough for a gesture or a glance to be insufficient) to someone else, we have to put them into words. We contract our ideas into these words, and then speak them, they find their way into the ear of whomever we are talking to, where they expand again, perhaps in the configuration in which they were expanded in our heads, perhaps not. (Understanding versus Misunderstanding?) This reminds me of those little capsules that they used to give us in the bathtub, you know...they look like colored gel-caps and then you put them in the water and then they explode into little sponge dinosaurs and things...hehehe. Ok. but the second part of this idea was connected to altruism...when we give someone a gift, or help, or when we act kindly towards them, is this a contraction of our feelings? In other words, there are our feelings, expanded in ourselves, and then an action, a gift, a gesture, which contracts what we are feeling, is symbolic of it, and is intended to create a certain feeling in the receiver...Anyone else see this?
(expanded)IDEA >> (contracted) LANGUAGE >> (expanded) IDEA [maybe same, maybe not]
(expanded)FEELING >> (contracted) GIFT >> (expanded) FEELING [maybe same, maybe not]
alright...well, I've lost my train of thought. please let me know if you find it :) thanks
Another thing that I was thinking was, exactly what did happen when I gave directions to the person looking for Thomas. Before I could say where it was, I said, it's a big grey building. So a picture came into my mind first, then I described the picture in my mind and only then was able to get to the how do I get there part... actually by this point the person had given up on me, nodded like it was apparent that she had picked the wrong person to ask and was already driving off... I know people for whom there is virtually no lag time when a directional question is asked. I can sympathize quite a lot with people who give directions based upon floating over a place.
Finally I'm thinking about newness. And I'm thinking about Elizabeth D's hub cap wearing and the phychoanalysis example and how it all relates to pattern making... When trying to create a new meme (not that anyone does this particularly conciously)... I guess what i'm trying to say is when creating a new anything... essay, piece of artwork, thought... it is not always necessary to look explicitly at what already exists and has existed and to get caught up in the past... because then you can't make any leaps... In retrospect it's good to know that what you've done was done before in a certain way but in the process of doing it sometimes you've just got to trust that your subconcious mind (taped into a collective unconcious?... perhaps a whole new thing to be explored) will do what it has to do to create something meaningful for people (independent of whether its entirely new). If it is not new, it can still be unique, special, revolutionary, life-changing, humanity altering etc... So whether or not something is entirely new doesn't matter. It's the unique, special revolutionary part that matters...
I'm thinking about the concept of being too far fetched, too far out there- I think that there are these constraints on thought, on society in general- negative cultural memes I guess stereotypes would be examples...although that's not precisely what I mean...
People are strongly connected to things from the past, so that patterns can be derived... but it's the things which seem inherently patternless at first which can be the most unique, innovative... but only particular people can make enough of a leap so as to convince people to make the leap with them... to enter into a world with an unfamiliar framework and extreme recombination of thought. I think that installation artists and multi-media artists are able to perform this societal function to a great extent... But because of pattern making convention, sometimes society limits itself.
One example of this would be object connotations... It's debatable the extent to which a nude body will not in some way bring up sexual connotations... Context or artist intent can help to change this slightly but, in general this will always be imbedded meaning. It's things like this which frustrate me- things that close the system down slightly. Objects and words gather baggage over time...and this bagage counteracts the development of the unique... I don't know if it can be another way but it is interesting to note how what we use to communicate while expanding the potential for understanding, can also limit it in a variety of ways.
On another random note, I was taught in psychology that there is a "critical period" for language acquisition (as per Chomsky) and that if you "don't use it, you lose it." Bethany, I watched a video about Genie! If this hypothesis is correct, then Genie would never be able to speak properly. She was subsequently never able to master the syntax and semantics of language, even after years of training. I guess this disproves the theory that grammar is inherent to all humans?
This is relevant, I swear. In terms of our discussion of words and/or language, I was wondering if we dream in words AND pictures. I only seem to remember visuals in my dreams and never words. This brings me to my next point...I think that emotions are the foundations of our words. Meaning that before verbal expression, there were feelings. For example, little children who haven't learned to verbalize their emotions may cringe when watching a scary movie. BUT it is only when they become aware of their cringing that they can put a label on their emotion and say out loud that they feel afraid. I think that all of our words can be traced back to our emotions, so is language purely selfish?
More randomness. The following is an African folktale that I read as a child about the origin of stories that I was arbitrarily reminded of today, so I looked it up on the internet for your enjoyment =) It's pretty interesting when you contrast it with the Paul and Anne's perspective; although I think that science is such a large part of our life now that this story is completely unbelievable to me, but something to think about nonetheless...maybe this is how memes came into existence too? Perhaps this can explain the "very first meme" that was discussed in Anne's discussion group today? Anyway, here it is:
It was long ago in Africa, when there was First Spider, Kwaku Anansi. He went everywhere, throughout the world, traveling on his strong web strings - sometimes looking more like a wise old man than a spider. In that long-ago time, child, there were no stories on Earth for anyone to tell. The sky-god kept all stories to himself, up high in the sky, and locked away in a wooden box. These the spider wanted, as many creatures had before him, so that he could know the beginnings and endings of things. Yet all who had tried for the stories had returned empty-handed. Now Anansi climbed up his web to the sky-god, Nyame, to ask for the sky-god's stories.
When the powerful sky-god saw the thin, spidery, old man crawling up to his throne, he laughed at him, "What makes you think that you, of all creatures, can pay the price I ask for my stories?"
Spider only wanted to know, "What is the price of the stories?"
"My stories have a great price, four fearsome, elusive creatures: Onini, the python that swallows men whole; Osebo, the leopard with teeth like spears; Mmoboro, the hornets that swarm and sting; and Mmoatia, the fairy who is never seen. Bring these to me."
Bowing, the spider quietly turned and crept back down through the clouds. He ment to capture the four creatures he needed as price for the stories. He first asked his wife, Aso, how he might capture Onini, the python that swallows men whole.
She told him a plan, saying, "Go and cut off a branch of the palm tree and cut some string-creeper as well. Take these to the stream where python lives."
As Anansi went to the swampy stream, carrying these things, he began arguing aloud, "This is longer than he; You lie, no; it Is true; this branch is longer and he is shorter, much shorter."
The python was listening, and asked what spider was talking about, "What are you muttering, Anansi?"
"I tell you that my wife, Aso, is a liar, for she says that you are longer than this palm branch and I say that you are not."
Onini, the python, said, "Come and place the branch next to me and we will see if she is a liar."
And so, Anansi put the palm branch next to the python's body, and saw the large snake stretch himself alongside it. Ananasi then bound the python to the branch with the string-creeper and wound it over and over - nwenene! nwenene! nwenene! - until he came to the head. Then the spiderman said to Onini, "Fool, I will now take you to the sky-god."
This Anansi did as he spun a web around the snake to carry him back through the clouds to the sky kingdom.
On seeing the gigantic snake, Nyame merely said, "There remains what still remains."
Spider came back to Earth to find the next creature, Osebo the leopard, with teeth like spears.
His wife, Aso, told him, "Go dig a large hole."
Anansi said, "I understand, say no more."
After following the tracks of the leopard, spider dug a very deep pit. He covered it over with the branches of the trees and came home. Returning in the very early morning, he found a large leopard lying in the pit.
"Leopard, is this how you act? You should not be prowling around at night; look at where you are! Now put your paw here, and here, and I will help you out."
The leopard put his paws up on the sticks that Anansi placed over the pit and began to climb up. Quickly, Anansi hit him over the head with a wooden knife - gao! Leopard fell back into the pit - fom! Anansi quickly spun the leopard to the sticks with his web string.
"Fool, I am taking you to pay for the sky-god's stories."
But the sky-god recieved the leopard saying, "What remains, still remains."
Next the spiderman went looking for Mmoboro, the hornets that swarm and sting.
Spider told his wife, Aso, what he was looking for and she said, "Look for an empty gourd and fill it with water."
This spider did and he went walking through the bush until he saw a swarm of hornets hanging there in a tree. He poured out some of the water and sprinkled it all over their nest. Cutting a leaf from a nearby banana tree, he held it up and covered his head. He then poured the rest of the water from the gourd all over himself. Then while he was dripping he called out to the hornets,
"The rain has come, do you see me standing here with a leaf to cover my head? Fly inside my empty gourd so that the rain will not beat at your wings."
The hornets flew into the gourd, saying, "Thank you - hhhuuummm - Aku; thank you - hhhuuummm - Anansi."
Anansi stopped up the mouth of the gourd, and spinning a thick web around it, said, "Fools, I'm taking you to the sky-god as price for his stories."
The sky-god, Nyame, accepted Mmoboro, the hornets that swarm and sting, and said, "What remains, still remains."
Anansi knew very well what remained - it was the fairy, Mmoatia, who is never seen. When the spider came back to Earth, he asked Aso what to do. And so, he carved an Akua's child, a wooden doll with a black, flat face, and covered it with sticky fluid from a tree.
Walking through the bush, he found the odum tree, where the fairies like to play. He then made eto, pounded yams, and put some in the doll's hand and even more of the yams into a brass basin at her feet - there by the odum tree. Anansi next hid in the bushes, with a vine creeper in his hands that was also tied to the doll's neck.
It wasn't long before the fairies came, two sisters, to play. They saw the doll with the eto and asked if they could have some. Anansi made the doll's head nod, "Yes", by pulling on the string-creeper. Soon the faries had eaten all the eto and so, thanked the doll, but the doll did not reply. The fairies became angry.
One sister said, "When I thank her, she says nothing."
The other sister replied, "Then slap her in her crying place."
This the fairy did, she slapped it's cheek - "pa!" - but her hand stuck there. She slapped it with her other hand - "pa!" - and that hand stuck, too. She kicked it with both one foot, then the other, and both feet stuck to the sticky wooden doll. Finally, she pushed her stomache to it and that stuck.
Then Anansi came from his hiding place, and said, "Fool, I have got you, and now I will take you to the sky-god to buy his stories once and for all."
Anansi spun a web around the last of the four creatures and brought Mmoatia up to Nyame in the sky kingdom. The sky-god, seeing this last catch, called together all his nobles. He put it before them and told them that the spider-man had done what no-one else had been able to do. He said in a loud voice that rang in the sky,
"From now and forever, my sky-god stories belong to you - kose! kose! kose! - my blessing, my blessing, my blessing. We will now call these "Spider Stories"."
And so, stories came to Earth because of the great cunning of Kwaku Anansi, and his wife, Aso. When Anansi brought the wooden box of stories to his home, he and his wife eagerly learned each one of them. And you can still see today that Aku and Aso tell their stories. Everywhere you look, they spin their webs for all to see.
(in the story that I remember, Anansi dropped the box of stories as he was climbing down from the sky kingdom and the stories spilled out, spreading all across the world)
That's all for now. Thanks for the great class today!
i'm still really struggling with the idea of not needing this absolute....
it's kinda earth shattering....
for so long i've worked off the formulated idea and defined god for myself on the basis that everyone needs to cling, needs an absolute...whether they call it god or not.
but, i'm not sure any more.
give me a little while and i'll figure it out....
thank you everyone.
ps bethany, i think heather talked about laws....i want to hear about falling vases
First, I do absolutely, undoubtedly believe that living things have free will. However, sometimes these choices are disguised. For instance, Anne claimed today that humans need to eat in order to survive. I would argue that eating is a choice, we do not need to eat. There is nothing that forces us to do this. This choice is confounded by an even greater choice, the choice to survive. So, while it seems we do not have a choice as to whether we wish to eat, we certainly do. The possibility of making this choice to is clouded by a prior choice, the choice to survive. It can seem as if we have no room to decide things for ourselves because we are not always cognizant of the even bigger, more pressing choices we made long before.
OR are we considering that a person DOES exercise choice over the memes he/she takes in? Are there meme filters? The more I think about this, it makes sense. Consider Dennett's point about "D-F#-A" not being a cultural unit/a thought phenotype, but the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth qualifying as one. IF we think about somewhat isolated populations—in this case, a population with a strong affinity for music—then "D-F#-A" may well be a cultural unit within that circle...it may make the same immediate, tacit "click" for that group's members, but be totally opaque to people/populations who have not honed their thought skills in that discipline. Think of all the highly specialized lingo that's specific to one "cult" or another...
What really intrigues me—and I think of it right now as tangential to memetics—is the notion of our having a common "brain language" (Dennett 353). Makes me think of the story of Babel, which presumes that we all started with the same language before an omnipotent being broke up the party. But the story may have derived from our actually having had a common language of sorts. If so, MIGHT WE STILL HAVE IT? Could we dig down into our tacit knowledge brain parts and haul it up? As a writer, I am fascinated by this possibility. It's a bore writing for only one language population, one subset of cultures. For example, should I try writing in sounds that ALL can earthlings hear, not English words? What would be the reaction, I wonder.
By the end of the reading, I liked Stephen Gould even more :-)... "The basic topologies of biological and cultural change are completely different. Biological evolution is a system of constant divergence without subsequent joining of branches. Lineages, once distinct, are separate forever. In human history, transmission across lineages is, perhaps, the major source of cultural exchange" (Dennett 355). So, BIO-EVOLUTION IS DIVERGENT. SOCIO-EVOLUTION IS CONVERGENT—and never the t'wain shall meet? One "story" might be that memes move way faster than their bio-evolutionary equivalents, so they can trace back down branches and then up others, overcoming divergence in the same way that we overcome taking a wrong turn into a one-way side street. Could we cover this, please, in class sometime soon?
Have a great weekend!
Anyways, these games/programs intrigued me and ive since come across another survival game called "Tit for Tat". in over 200 trials against computer programmers and mathematicians from all over, Tit for Tat won every time. All it did was follow a simple set of rules in order to "survive". Tit for Tat was just simply nice- It started out by cooperating and then simply copied what its opponents did. if the other player cooperated, so did Tit for Tat and both players flourished. if the other player "defected", Tit for Tat retaliated and so therefore did not lose out to defectors. So, why did Tit for Tat always win? Im not exactly sure, but i feel as though the game as a whole is trying to get at one important point: group advantage can come out of individual strategy without the need to appeal to evolution for "the greater good" (i.e., a possible explanation for human altruism). perhaps this provides a story for how cooperation evolved?
Futhermore, Tit for Tat was not being cooperative for the greater good of the group/species (although it could easily be interpreted this way), but instead it was actually being selfish while hiding behind a mask of cooperation. sounds like this could present a problem in terms of our discussion of morality, in that we must now consider the advantages of both outward and thus perceivable morality versus true(?)internal morality.
re Bethany (and post conversation with her):
Language expansion/contraction is a really neat idea, that I earlier ran onto in a book called The User Illusion by Tor Norretranders. And it has a very interesting connection to what some research I was doing on the frog made me understand about how the nervous system works generally: going from input to central representations (in this case of space) to output is a process of contracting and then expanding in terms of the dimensionality of how things are represented in the nervous system. And that, in turn, connects to the earlier conversation about "time" as a dimension ...
Glad to be a source of entertainment; hope others enjoyed it as well. Truth be told, we spent more time on the "Game of Life" then I'd intended and so less time on some later things, including ... "Prisoner's Dilemma" which, I would have said if we'd had time, has exactly the significance that Cham outlines. Nice to know there are people around who can offset my deficiencies.
And that in turn brings me to our section discussion thursday (which, I understand, was not unrelated to Anne's discussion section). Morality, personal responsibility, free will? Is there "morality" before the concept/word comes into existence? (Does a falling tree make a sound if there is no one there to hear it?). Does morality depend on "free will"; when/where did that come into existence? And how does all that relate to genes/memes/Dennett?
Its not only Prisoner's Dilemma that we didn't quite get through last Tuesday, but some of the rest of this as well. Maybe we can do something with all this next Tuesday. And with whatever else is on peoples' minds/shows up here before then?
No, it doesn't disprove it. There is tons of evidence suggesting that 'grammar' is innate, but it's not grammar as you are probably thinking of grammar. One important part of learning a language or languages is learning them when you are still in the critical period, the most? important time of which I believe is between 2 and 5 years old? Oh dear, have forgotten exact ages, but something like that. That's the reason it's more difficult to learn a language that is not your mother-tongue. We tend to start learning foreign languages in high school, sometimes college, and it's hard. we whine, we have to study. If you are not exposed to any sort of language, then you aren't going to just start speaking. If there is no sort of linguistic nurturing/exposure when your body is primed to learn language, then you will have problems. After the critical period is over, it seems that the shop is more or less closed for business.
oh! falling vases are coming, I swear! just not between bedtime and early crew...I'll be back.
We sort of came to the decision that it was not comfortable but doable to accept the concept of a big bang creating the universe within which evolution could take place, shaping planets and non-life, then creating life to also evolve into more life. It was much harder, however, to imagine something (even dust) from absolute nothing without the influence of something greater.
For me, even more difficult was the acceptance of language and thought, including every cultural aspect of thought (such as morality, kinship, and all social contract) being the results of completely random generation coupled with selection. I was left questioning my own morals and wondering if the social contracts that we have with others of our species are merely the product of randomness, leading me to believe they easily could have not ocurred at all. There could have been a world without rights and wrongs, just and unjust, rights and laws, not to mention feeling. The examples brought up in class that stick with me are the socially unjustness of killing innocent children or being responsible for genocide. But given this frame of thought, responsibility could have been a quality never developed leaving us with a world unimagineable and frightening to me.
It was hard to find comfort in this story, to justify everything that I so soundly believed in and had never really questioned but all of a sudden was, such as protecting the "rights" of our fellow man and keeping our world beautiful and peaceful, but the thought that I reminded myself of was that it doesn't even really matter how it all came about i suppose because like it or not this is where we are and that is what i believe so I should stand by it even if it might be for "nothing". sigh... all for now.
went to hear carol mosely braun speak last night at haverford. wow. she told us about her experiences as the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand. there, she was made an honorary member of the Maori. the Maori have a way of looking at time that is completely different from our way: they envision the past as something in front of you. you have seen it happen, you know what it consists of, and it is something to keep in your vision at all times. in contrast, the future is something behind you. it is unknown, unseen, and it is your actions in the past and towards the past that make it possible for the future to come into being. reading orah's post, and thinking over this Maori idea got me excited and scared.
perhaps time is not working against us, perhaps we are working against time. what with all our wrinkle-creams, photographs, stories, and vitamins: we are trying to stop time: distill it, slow it down, own it. however, this is dangerous. when i was seven or so, my aunt (who is an entymologist) reached into her freezer and pulled out a glass jar. inside was an enormously ugly black beetle. "i found this last month and it is not common in this area. i wanted to take a picture of it as proof that i had found it, but it was moving around so fast, it wouldn't stay still long enough for me to get it in the frame. i put it in the freezer to slow it down, and that killed it." i was horrified that the beetle was dead. "maybe it's sleeping?" "no, it's dead," she answered, "but i have my picture."
that's my story for today.
Orah wants answers and something to cling to. She wants to find others who feel the same as her, like they are stuggling to hang onto something- some truth- and yet her own search makes her aggitated and confused.
I think that I am approaching life very differently. Instinctively I think that we all want something solid in life to hold onto, but it either doesn't exist (there is no truth) or it is so elusive I don't think that anyone has ever found it. so instead of frustrating myself I am trying a more zen-like approach to my life. I don't want to stand on the dry, stable ground of absolute truth and meaning, I am trying to find a feeling of content ment in not knowing. I am learning to be content with allowing life to wash over me, to just enjoy the moments. I am a water droplet in a stream flowing to a greater river and I don't want to fight upstream, I just want to go with the flow.
Still, for all my wanting to be a water droplet, this class is really challenging me to think and fight upstream past the currents that I have already created in my mentality and beliefs. for instance, and this is a major instance, I am beginning to question "god," in my own simple way. I have never believed in a creator before, just believed that things happened according to scientific laws. now I am feeling like these scientific laws have just as many holes in them as the bible does. when prof. grobstein played with his computer evolution modle which eventually ended in extinction or a stable population he tried to tell us that this occured randomly without any outside help or rules. but anne dalke called him on that, and I would like to as well. there were rules to the game, specific rules to identify which dots should turn red and which green. and a man, who ever designed the game, created these rules. so it did not occur without some greater guidance. and are we to believe, similarly, that in the very beginning, beginning, beginning, that this game of elements and plants and stars and evolution started without any thing to set the rules or create the rules. Is there after all something that set this all in motion and then let random chance take over. this questioning may seem elementary to some who already poses an ounce of religion "faith" but this is earth shaking to me.
And of coarse I can't sign off until I have addressed Daniela who asks: "Can a person live alone insolated from other human beings and be creative? Original?" I think that a person living in complete isolation, who had to reinvent what it means to be human all over again (without actually knowing that that is what they were doing)would indeed be creative. They would not paint a van gogh, or build a pyramid, or write any sort of poetry, but even the simple tools built for survival would be a product of creativity. I also believe that the tools that this person would create would be recognizable to us- in some way. All animals have instinct, whether knowing that within a few minutes of birth they must stand and run, or knowing how to use their claws and teeth and who is an enemy and who their mother is. For humans, the memes that have aided in the creation of tools and such things are a product of instinct.
This conversation, about uniqueness and originality which began in our small group class, has bothered me ever since it began. Why are we clinging to our uniqueness? Is this how we define our self-worth, but how different we are from other people? by how little we need to depend on others for ideas, memes and in the end survival? I think that uniqueness is a quality which we prize when we talk about it. Being original and one-of-a-kind sounds good to us, but it is very different when we take action. When we interact with people, when we are meeting and playing with people, especially for the first time, we want to be anything but unique. We want to fit in, to be one of the group, to not feel like the odd one out. When we are in action we want similarity, why can we not value that?
An Amish girl and her mother were visiting a mall where everything they saw amazed them, especially two silver doors that parted and slid together again. "What is this, Mother?" "I have never seen such a thing in my life," the mother replied.
Just then, a pudgy old man hobbled past them and pressed a button by the silver doors. The doors opened and the old man shuffled into the small room there. The doors closed. The girl and her mother watched as numbers above the doors lit up. They watched until the last number lit, then as the numbers lit in reverse.
The doors opened again and a gorgeous hunk of a guy stepped out. The mother, not taking her eyes off the fellow, said quietly to her daughter. "Go fetch your father, dear."
I totally believe that morality existed before religion. While I believe that religion encourages moral behavior, you do not necessarily have to be religious to be moral. I can't remember who said this, but earlier in the semester someone said that she believes that in today's world it is not religion that is responsbile for our negative feelings against murder, stealing, lying, etc... but that this is something innate. Many people did not agree with this and said that religion was responsbile for morality. How does this explain altruism in animals who, as far as I know, do not follow a particular religion?
I think I need a concise definition of religion. Is it the belief in God? in prophets? Or is the refusal to commit sins like murder, stealing, lying, etc...? Isn't this refusal also defined as morality? Do you need to believe in God to be moral?
tell me! who gets to tell her story and who doesn't?
I'll tell you: EVERYBODY gets to tell her story. and then--
EVERYBODY gets to decide which stories she finds useful,
which ones she can NOT make use of...
I've found incredibly useful (thanks to you all) these multiple accounts of expansion, contraction and re-expansion...and w/ them a very strong sense of free will.
All of which: much more about tomorrow.
Word chose carries the meaning of those emotions. But what they translate into once they have either left the page or the mouth is another matter. The in between space before and idea is heard of shared is where the real change begins. But is doesn't end in the brain of the recipient as one would think. It is regurgitated. As Daniela pointed out in class, there are no truely "original" ideas. But does "original" mean that there can not be a "new"?
Today, the story of biology is one of the biggest collection of memes going around. Pervasively, evolution is a huge story that everything else is fit into. It is a story that we use as a jumping off point for many other stories. Right now, I am jumping off and wondering about the relevance of "meaning". My bio mindset looks at meaning as a function of the human brain. And if I accept the idea that all evolves by random chance, is meaning meaningful? Did we humans luck out and develop an ability that will let us know the big answers? What is life, why and how does it exist, and what does it all mean? Or is it 'just a function' that will happen to aid in extending our species survival?
When most people look for meaning in their lives, they usually end up defining meaningfulness - as 'leading a good life'. Helping others, being kind to the earth and its inhabitants, making their family and friends secure, and making this world a better place is what I think a lot of people call meaningfulness. We also search for meaning as we analyze the patterns around us. We pass on meaning to other humans through language, creating an inertia to stories that harbor carefulness through time, although sometimes maladaptive recklessness. It sounds like this 'function of searching for meaning to life' might serve a worthwhile purpose of trying to adapt more successfully to the environment, extending our species survival. IS THAT ALL THERE IS? Is there no REAL meaning?
BUT THERE MOST BE MORE, LIFE EXISTS AND WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THAT?
Maybe we need another big story besides evolution to provide that answer
What do you all think? I buy it. But I don't feel that this in any way cheapens the fact that we must assign our own meaning. Our meaning isn't any less meaningful, if this was the case non of us would carry on, right?!
Thank you for making me think Paul.
Freud is indeed out of fashion in a number of academic circles. I actually think that reflects more poorly on academia than it does on Freud, but that's a quite different matter from the one at hand.
No neuroscientist, biologist, or psychologist would express any reservation whatsoever about the inference from experimental, clinical, and field observations that much of human behavior occurs because of processes of which individual humans are totally unaware. And that's all that I meant by the "unconscious" when I talked about it in class today. This particular "unconscious" is enormously old phylogenetically, and evidence for it long predates Freud. Whether it is the same "unconscious" that Freud wrote about was, and remains, a very interesting question (see Making the Unconscious Conscious, and Vice Versa: A Bi-directional Bridge Between Neuroscience/Cognitive Science and Psychotherapy?).
The bipartite brain "story" I told is, on the other hand, not (yet?) a "consensus" story among neuroscientists, or biologists, or psychologists; it is my construction but a construction solidly based in appropriate experimental, clinical, and field observations (and closely related to constructions made by a number of other scientists). There's a complete review of these observations in progress in Biology 202. Shorter versions are available in the paper mentioned above, as well as in Getting It Less Wrong, The Brain's Way: Science, Pragmatism, and Multiplism and The Brain's Images: Co-Constructing Reality and the Self.
Thanks again to Diane for the expression of concern. Glad to be thinking together. Its what the course is all about. And, for that matter, what science too is all about (A Vision of Science (and Science Education) in the 21st Century: Everybody "Getting It Less Wrong" Together).
hmmm...now is probably not the ideal time to bring up the vases, but, i'll just put it out there anyway...this was in regards to absolute truth:
I used to wonder about this puzzle, which I saw as a religious puzzle. Now I don't know how to classify it, though I feel it has become more general. I will still explain it in the terms that I thought of it, just because that's how it makes the most sense to me.
SO we have God. God is all-powerful. We also have natural laws, whether or not created by God, it doesn't really matter in this situation. So let's say I put a fragile vase on a table. The table is over cement, let's say the sidewalk. Then I push the vase off the table. It is falling. If God is all-powerful, then of course he would be able to stop the vase from falling, or stop it from shattering when it hits the ground, or any number of exciting things if he took enough interest. But the fact remains that if he (or anyone else, like me, or a spectator) does not intervene, then the vase hits the ground. It breaks. Does this make the natural law as powerful as our all-powerful deity? Sure, he could do something about it, but if he doesn't, then it is absolutely certain that the vase will shatter when it makes contact with the ground. The law has so much authority (no matter who made it up) that if I set it into motion, God must DO something to stop it from happening if he wants it to stop, as it most assuredly would happen were he to remain inactive. In my mind, this suggests that the law is perhaps more powerful. I have my own answers to this now, but i sort of want to know what you think before providing what I've found...as a side-note; what about the relation of this to free will?
happy tuesday. 3 more days to a week freedom!
sry about this post...i haven't been on track today...i haven't understood anything i've heard ((maybe go over free will again on thurs. for those of us who are brain fried ?))
david chidester university of cape town in his intro to his book patterns of power: religion and politics in american culture.
"religion is that dimention of human experience particularly concerned with varieties of power that are felt to be sacred."
Professor Dalke has got me thinking about taking this one step further- can those words be eliminated from our vocabulary even when talking about culture, literature, morality??? If so, what can they be replaced by? Is this another example of a place where language falls short. I think not, but I have yet to hit on the ideal words. There I go again, 'ideal'...
I would love to hear what people have to say about these words...
I was also looking at the chalk board where the jokes were written and thinking about negative space in between the words and around them- I just want to write that here so that I can develop my thought a little more later... I think that the negative space in an object, in a story etc... is the space where we can invent our own stories- there are openings in every story for the connection of one subconcious mind with another. And so the analysis of what Dr. Seuss's Cat and the Hat was "really" about was completely valid... as are all stories.
Have a great break everyone! :-)
We could think about competing/striving to be deemed more fit in different ways:
1. Out-and-out competition with others, a struggle with only one left standing;
2. Competition with others where each competitor is assessed against a standard, i.e., how well does each one conform, and then, which conformed to the standard to the highest degree;
3. Competition with yourself—no others directly involved—where you have a sense of how good you are based on some standard you, someone else, or some circumstance put in place...but only you are doing the judging ...only you can assign a word to describe how fit you are at that moment.
If we use way #3, then artists and authors would write their own reviews, and the notion of critics would be absurd (I like this idea!); students would judge how well they each had done in a course or on a paper or exam (perhaps, the "standard" would have been set by a teacher). Perhaps, this notion for grading would require a nested set of standards in order for some level of quality to be maintained. Even so, this sort of formula doesn't work for all situations....
I'm thinking of governance... how could we improve selection of our leaders—or at least preserve the "chance+elimination" scheme we use now—without direct competition or competition by candidates competing against a pre-set standard? Can we do it and still eliminate such words as "best"? Did the best man win in the last presidential election? If we refer to him as "adequate," we might diminish the perception other nations have of his power and put ourselves at risk. If we were to banish the use of all comparative words applied to humans, then I suspect we'd apply them to surrogate objects—such as our neighborhood, or our car, or where we go to school. Gosh, come to think of it, in our culture it IS tacky for a person to directly say that she is somehow "better" (except in sanctioned competition or as gossip), so we already do use surrogates. And at Bryn Mawr, we take comparative censorship one step farther—banning the discussion of grades as part of an honor code. What's that all about? Are we ashamed of having gotten a good one? A bad one? Of being only 'adequate'? Or do we think they truly are irrelevant...do they serve a purpose?
Getting back to putting ourselves at risk if we refer to whomever is president as "adequate"... this whole notion of nations is bothersome, don't you think? Seems whenever we set up social categories (nations, towns, religions, graduates, etc), we invite (inherently cannot preclude?) comparisons and assessments, which to our assessing who is better, more vulnerable, more desirable, etc. What drives this boundary-making? Dennett writes. "The Welsh language is kept alive by artificial means, just the way condors are" (514). I don't see keeping Welsh alive (even if it is my heritage) as the same as keeping alive a species. Having many languages, many cultures invites comparison and then competition (victors, spoils) along with the celebration of difference. But then, I'm reminded of Vonnegut's "Player Piano," –everyone was "equalized"...adequate, average. Ballet dancers wore weights to ensure this.
Maybe how we (might) think about (and leverage) our differences is the issue...
Just in case some of you (like Lot's wife...??) are "looking back" before you leave (and if not, as a bookmark to remind us where we are/were, when we return....)
My section had a lot of fun, Thursday. We started off w/ an idea I got from Ro. (for which many thanks): that there are multiple verbal analogies (double entendres, puns) for Paul's double-heading arrows: that is, there are multiple moments in language play when we either hear (or see) two meanings simultaneously (or in VERY rapid oscillation). Some of those we played w/ in class were these (and other examples are warmly welcomed):
What do you get when you drop a piano down a mine shaft?
What do you get when you drop a piano onto a military base?
Why couldn't the pony talk?
What did the string say when the barman refused to serve him
(and he returned, a second time, all frazzled and frayed)?
(Answers--in case you can't wait--are at the bottom of this post).
We went from this sort of ability to see two-worlds/words @ once --and/or the option of chosing between the alternatives-- to asking whether this was/counted as/felt like "free will." This turned out to be a very productive line of thinking, and Dennett's observations about the need to "stop thinking" (to decide, repeatedly, when to terminate reflections--and what are the default principles for doing so? how to prioritize/decide when to stop following out a chain of associations/reasons...?) were also helpful here. We wondered when/if/how children learn to contextualize words and concepts, to go from a literalness (when they are unable, for instance, to recognize a pun) to enough awareness of--yet (paradoxically?) dissassociation from--context to see one.
This led us both to Kim Cassidy's recent presentation in the Brown Bag Group on
"How Psychology Approaches Knowledge" and to
Louis Menand's New Yorker piece, "Cat People: What Dr. Seuss Really Taught Us" (12-23 & 30, 2002 )--and with it associated queries about the range of allowable interpretations (is this an "essentialist" sort of question? one that "population thinking" will help us negotiate?)
Well, I think we're VERY nicely positioned, now, for the "turn" in the course--and I"m looking forward, in ten days, to picking up the conversation about the "evolution of stories"--
P.S. Here are the answers to the jokes:
What do you get when you drop a piano down a mine shaft?
A-flat minor (miner)
What do you get when you drop a piano onto a military base?
Why couldn't the pony talk?
He was a little horse/hoarse.
What did the string say when the barman refused to serve him
(and he returned, a second time, all frazzled and frayed)?
"Aren't you that string who was just in here?"
"No, I'm a frayed knot" (afraid not).
(Hey! see how writing it out ruins it? by preventing the free play of association?)
For those of us who believe in a god, could that be taken to mean that humans are not meant to discover our origins—the beginning? I was wondering if perhaps we would be more spiritually satisfied if we would stop questioning for a moment and just...trust. There is certainly something to be said of the phrase, "ignorance is bliss" and "mystery" implies something that is beyond our comprehension. But I'm going to try anyway...what is the mystery? A god/creator, unicellular organisms, or nothing at all? Funny how one word can change the entire meaning of the Bible.