Story of Evolution/Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College
March 5, 2007
--your second set of papers due by 5 p.m. Fri, 3/9
(however, due to Prof. Grobstein's failure to mention this....
due date is extended til class on Tues, 3/20)
3-4 pp. on some aspect of the story of evolution
beyond the context of biology which you find particularly
--also, before you leave for break: check to be sure that your paper(s)
and six of your postings are on-line in our course forum
--while you are on break, begin reading Howard's End
(warning: amount of reading doubles from here on out:
biologists read 100 pp./week; lit types read 100 pp./class)
Searching for Meaning...
how the basic ideas behind the current story of biological evolution might be used to better understand additional things....?
Through Thinking Some More?
Caitlin: Dennett... has been talking a lot about the evolution of language...This all brought to mind a lecture I heard ...by Dean Falk on her "putting the baby down" hypothesis for the evolution of language....when human women started having to put their children down as they worked...speech started as a way to reassure the children about the physical presesence of their mother and also so the child would have ways of communicating their own needs to the mother....the capability to communicate well enough to keep your children safe does seem like it would be a pretty effective selector for speech
Emily: In a biological sense... I myself have not witness evolution. But...the story of evolution... incorporates the process by which favorable traits are passed down through successive generations.... We have seen technology evolve in our lifetime, aided by a form of natural selection, consumerism. ....the iPod ...we can trace...back nearly five generations, each...seemingly more efficient than the next... constantly change to better suit its surrounding environment...biological evolution is not only "useful," but also "productive" and "generative" in explaining other aspects of society.
Darwin's God: A Scientific Explanation of How We Have Come to Believe in God (NYTimes, March 4, 2007)
Why is religion so pervasive...?...
scientists studying the evolution of religion...agree...that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history.
- "adaptionists" argue on behalf of the primary benefits, in terms of survival advantages, of religious belief
- "byproduct theorists" see if as a mere consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain.
Hardships of early human life favored the evolution of certain cognitive tools: the ability to
- infer the presence of organisms that might do harm
- come up with causal narratives for natural events
- recognize that other people have minds of their own with their own beliefs, desires and intentions.
these tools...agent detection, causal reasoning and theory of mind...are intrinsic habits of mind that make it easier to believe
EB: Egyptian art is very unique in that for the most part, the style/attitude never changed. This static art...was representative of the dominant ...view...there was such a thing as eternal life....Egyptian art, pyramids, ceremonies, seemed to govern and reflect this way of life....when did this overarching idea change/evolve....?
Lavinia: The more culture evolves the more criticism is directed at the rituals and practices of other cultures....Will there eventually be a world wide morality?
Becky: our species has given rise to language, art, and other aspects of culture....despite the randomness, meaning can still emerge.... this great scheme of organization, of a code of morality, of purpose and structure all came about from such an arbitrary process.
Sarah: Social evolution works much faster...however, can be easily lost, because it is not engrained into our biology....may not be advantageous, and likely could be harmful....creativity that allows us to survive in various conditions, also allows us to create destructive forces. ...we will not know for sure until we are extinct
Gaby: why judge species? we all live. we eat each other and die. la voila.
Andrea: like all animals we depend on other organisms to survive....we are all of the same rank. However...what we are unable to do naturally, we are able to compensate for with our unique "ability to try things out"
Paul: that characteristic also has some downsides...if we in fact proved superior to all other organisms (ie they all went extinct)...it would be a pretty dull world
Shannon: As these [sperm] cells age, there is an increased frequency in new mutations. ...men's "factories" break down and cannot produce sperm as well....YAH!
Hayley: Ignorance is Bliss..."We cannot preserve all the features of the cultural world....We wouldn't want to".... Ignorance really is "a necessary condition for many excellent things."
Elle: I found...extremely interesting... the concept of God, or religion, as a "spandrel"...so unconcrete and "useless" in evolutionary terms (in the sense that it takes up time and energy and can be a source of stress...) like a vestigial limb.... evolution seems to have favored its continuance....it has become one of the most powerful tools and characteristics of human society....religion has continued to survive thanks to the generosity of evolution...
Katherine : What makes us feel the need to express ourselves through art, music, performance, when there exists no real evolutionary benefit....Our desire to add meaning to this story of evolution hints toward an aspect that perhaps we aren't capable of understanding.
Megan: If we...are wired to create meaning from nothing...is there really a such thing as meaning?...this whole idea of meaning, of people believing in their purpose and origin is...drawing conclusions based on no observations....is it something that humans are falsifying?
Danielle: Each choice is my own, and I am responsible for the direction in which I go...but in my community I do not always have free will. I am subject to the will of the state and the community. Maybe the idea of free will is a function of the western obsession with individuality. So far as we are all connected to one another we do not have free will....I cannot choose the direction of this becoming because it is also directionless.... I cannot choose my own personal evolution. Evolutionarily speaking we can't direct where we will got because it's a group effort.
Tamarinda: Religion...was a method for explaining what could not be explained...."I am capable of controlling what is around me....I am not controlling the leaves. Something has to be controlling the leaves. SO: WHATEVER is making the leaves fall soon becomes a WHOEVER"....I can understand why group religion would benefit the well-being of human kind... because of the darkness of the "reality" proposed by Dennett and others: if we are the consequence of a random combination of events, and thus, have no purpose other than to survive as long as possible, then we are as succeptible to extinction as any other living being....I've confused myself. I need to think some more.
Tu: In Anne's group on Thursday, we discuss the idea of the "selfish gene"...theory that "from the gene's 'point of view,' a body was a sort of survival machine created to enhance the gene’s chances of continued replication"....viewing life from the gene's perspective is very interesting....it puts humans in a subordinate position...we are just machines that carry genes so that they will be able to replicate...doing their bidding by reproducing.... A purposeful life is created when a person is able to leave a legacy of their genes behind before they die....If humans are destined to be carriers of genes, do we have free will?... in the purpose of our lives, I don't really think so....the only thing that will live on is the legacy of our genes we have left behind.
Christina: I've been thinking a lot about purpose. I know we're not supposed to say purpose but I think it still applies...although evolution lacks a purpose, the things evolution acts on....I find it hard to believe that the oxygen producing bacteria that saturated the atmosphere with oxygen, had no purpose. It's purpose was to expel oxygen....why don't they give off another type of gas?....I'm not all sentimental when it comes to meaning and purpose....I don't think that my life would be meaningless without a purpose. I would just rather think that I have an effect on at least SOMETHING. That maybe one tiny little thing would be different as a result of my existence....just what I've been thinking.
Elise: the idea that evolution creates its own design space rather than working within preordained constrictions....just like idea that evolution creates meaning through brain development, answers so many philosophical questions....the process itself continually expands the range of possible outcomes. I like...the pick-up-sticks metaphor...all further developments (pick-up-sticks) are affected by previous and future developments, creating their own design parameters via the shape and stability of the pick-up-stick pile.
Paul: perhaps you have a few more (confusing? un-confusing?) thoughts?
About pick-up sticks? design space? meaning-making?
free will? personal choice? responsibility....?
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