Story of Evolution/Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College
February 20, 2007

"A Divine City Out of Heaven"-->
"A House With No Walls"?



Cf. Edge's interview with Thomas Gibbons on A House With No Walls: "I'm usually not drawn to writing a play about a subject if I already know what I think about it...because then one of the purposes of writing the play is negated. I tend to be drawn toward things that I'm unsure about, and writing the play is a way of finding out what I think at some level....What the play is really about, to me...is the issue of how much of the African American identity is founded on the experience of slavery, and the further question of how much it should be founded on that." It is a difficult question; one what struggles to find the line between victim-hood and commemoration, honest and hypocrisy, and the need to move forward while acknowledging a painful, and, for many, unforgivable past.

With Emily, Fact or Fiction: "not even the 'laws' of science are irrevocable. They are mere summaries of observed phenomena, ever subject to revision....damn forever the legions of biology textbooks which serve up to hapless students a crystallized, anonymous biology seeming to have descended perfect, like the divine city out of heaven" (H. Bentley Glass, "The Responsibilities of Biologists," AIBS Bulletin 7, 5, Nov. 1957: 9-13).

Christina: One of the major things I remember from AP Bio in eleventh grade was "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny." Our teacher beat it into our heads....he based his whole teachings about embryology about it...I chose to write my paper about it....I discovered that the statement was false!...I could not find the phrase anywhere in texts that were dated after 1971....I was genuinely shocked at my findings.

The story of evolution is itself evolving...

As is our course:

-- is your paper posted on-line? are you satisfied with the way your name appears? how's your spacing? waht about your headings? what about your title? how about dropping in on one another's essays?

--my set of papers to return

--my trip to San Francisco to Uncover the Heart of Higher Education: Integrative Learning...in an Interconnected World
(incl. Parker Palmer on "The Precision of Poetry & the Passion of Science: An Education in Paradox")

--therefore on Thursday: all here with Paul

--for next week: read on in Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Chapters 12-14 (you can skip Part II: Darwinian Thinking in Biology, Chs. 7-11)

Initial Impressions of--and Questions for-- Dennett:
Hayley: I find Dennett's tone...surprisingly refreshing...encouraging & insightful...leaves the reader with the choice...doesn't force you

Gaby: i think the way dennett starts his book is actually much more arrogant than anything mayr wrote....basically he believes that evolution is RIGHT and that if you don't believe it, you're incredibly ignorant, in denial, or both....that's awfully bossy...i want to scream out, "i'm not five!!!" i feel that he's condescending to his readers, he really doesn't think they know anything.

Caroline: I am struck but how much of what he brings into question has been debated by us in class....We have argued that evolution is about usefulness....Yet I don't think that we should only be aiming to achieve usefulness.

Megan: If all patterns of human culture are "artifacts"...created no differently than organisms, then what is the difference in their evolution?

Katherine: Mayr's book...is only a serious dissection of the how. My current question is why do we need to know the why?...it is an enormous can of worms...will we truly benefit somehow from learning.

Emily: the more we look the less we know. Every question we ask is met with more questions that tend to confuse and complicate the original question....Dennett...poses numerous questions....I will be interested reading this book to see whether or not Dennett is actually able to answer these questions, or simply create new ones (confusing the already confused story of evolution).

Where are we on the story of biological evolution...?
Confused...Befuddled...Wondering...in a (potentially productive?) Mess:


Isabelle: the Darwinian Revolution still has people very messily divided....but the mess brings together concepts and ideas that would never have been joined otherwise.

EB: obesity...may actually have been advantageous in our evolutionary past....However, we aren't hunting and gathering on the Savanna anymore, so what is going on? Why has obesity become...a global health issue?...is putting the majority of the blame on inheritance a cop out...?

Danielle: What is a species?...we don't know....Dennet says "Darwin discourages us from trying to find a 'principled' definition of the concept"....This is confusing to me....What is the standard that we are using...? Can science be based on such unprincipled information?

Trinh: It is so difficult to know whether a species is more or less successful in the evolutionary process....I really want there to be a scale to judge this.... one thing ...befuddles me ....I feel like we are ...less dictated by the direction ...that evolution is inclined to take

Karen: I started to wonder if evolution has to go in a more advancing direction for it to be evolution....we'll never know at the time just how useful something is

Jasmine: I really don't think [evolution] is driven towards being better or towards perfection....all of this is a figment of the human imagination and creation

Jenn: for something to be accurate, there has to be some kind of ultimate standard.... However, in evolution, what is that ultimate destination?... the process of evolution is headed in a completely random direction...."Error" seems like a nonnarrative word...because it limits our understanding of this incredibly complex process to a simple binary: either a change is right, or it is wrong.

Katie: we are all errors....one of the most common [genetic mutations]...is due to infidelity of enzymes involved in DNA transcription...or replication....a great deal of appreciable biological variance is ...the result of a molecular error in copying, a little splotch on a Xerox...screwy proteins...better adapted to the pressures of natural selection...mistakes that made them better able to survive..... If a person cannot reproduce...does that mean that he can't have a part in the continuance of the human race?...maybe infertility is equivalent to apoptotic death in cells - a kind of taking one for the team.

Lavinia: we are artificially changing the course of evolution. Even if we are errors then we have the possibility of changing that label through medicine and procedures such as stem cell research. Even if we are errors, none of us...would be able to prove that...for many hundreds of years to come.

Elle: I often find myself feeling a little bit sad and low after completing the readings for this class.... here we are...1 or 2 human generations in a room, and we're nothing more than a brief flash in everything that makes up the history of our world....Maybe in an odd way...evolution helps me to be optimistic about my "point" here on Earth, and helps me to think that somewhere in my DNA is a tiny little trait that will make a difference for my children, grandchildren, or great-great-great-great grandchildren.

Sarah: because the environment...is changing so rapidly...evolution is having a more difficult time keeping up....is becoming too slow to allow for extensive adaptation.

Tu: Mayr ...points out that "our superb brain has enabled us to... become increasingly independent of the environment"...but these inventions...has become deleterious to our species

Shannon: even the smallest alteration to an organism has severe consequences....1 major change triggers a "domino effect" of other minor changes/ complications

Andrea: This pattern of averaging will occur until... "everyone is brown." Will we all really have similar coloration in the far-away future? I am skeptical.

Paul: In evolution..."You can't go home again"? Because change...of certain kinds...is irreversible? And the brain ...tries to "fool us into non-narrative" understandings?

Caroline: Is it necessarily true that faith has to remain constant despite evidence?

Hayley: this Wednesday, February 21st...Intervarsity Christian Fellowship will be hosting...a professor of world religion...speaking on the topic "If People Believe Something It Must Be True". It might be interesting to hear a different perspective on the concept of truth...at Bryn Mawr in the Quita Woodward Room from 7:00-8:30

Caitlin: I wonder...whether we have forced our literature into a more non-narrative state by printing it.

Elise: organisms...move toward more complicated combinations of specialized cells, but...in doing this...lose some of their original potential to diversify on cellular and evolutionary levels....I wonder if...this idea of specialization versus potential...could be...extended to the development of literature.

Anne: What we may be talking about...along with biological evolution and the development of literature--is the larger academic phenomenon of specialization, and the possibility that overspecialized fields, and the scholars within them, may "lose some of their original potential to diversity" and generate new ideas...

So, Paul: what sort of structure will we enter, and walk through, today? Is there a way to build "A House With No Walls"??, one that accounts for the past while being open enough to move on through....? Can you take us (say) from Biological Evolution to Emergence?






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