Friday, 3 July 2009

Sheep Not Shrinking

These shrinking sheep then - what does this story tell us? Certainly not that the sheep are shrinking - it's only the notional 'average sheep' that's 'shrinking', i.e. weighing slightly less. What's really happening is that slightly lighter sheep are surviving - but that's not a narrative that we can easily accommodate, therefore we give the sheep agency and talk of 'shrinking sheep'. It's much the same with the famous Speckled Moth, which over the years is said to be either 'becoming darker' or 'becoming lighter' (in response to soot levels). It's doing no such thing -it's just that in some circumstances more of the dark form surive, in other circumstances more of the light. But again that's not a narrative we can easily handle, so we reduce it to a more assimilable, but less true version. It has often seemed to me that the acount given in virtually all wildlife documentaries and TV sagas of evolution at work fall into the same trap, presenting a narrative in which creatures are actively changing, adapting, evolving, when they are doing no such thing, according to Darwinism - the blind forces acting on the gene pool are resulting in this or that outcome, that's all. The narrative we are given is surely less Darwinian than Lamarckian - and no wonder: Lamarckianiam makes more human sense and is easier to assimilate. All this just goes to show how hard - even impossible - it is for us to actually construct and experience the world in terms of the physical facts we know to be 'true'. We haven't even internalised Copernicus yet - the sun still 'rises' and 'sets'. It always will, whatever we know.

15 comments:

  1. I guess it's even stranger than that. Our eyes only see objects, lumps of stuff; it is our mind that immediately sees a car or a tree so our experience of reality is our own mental projections. A dream is the same - all in the mind - so what's the difference? Deep waters! I think I'll stick to the sheep. The pics of those on Hirta make them look rather sweet.

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  2. Indeed Nige. This is a major problem with explaining how darwinian evolution works (as I know from bitter experience.) All of our language seems to be teleological and anthropomorphic - so explanations habitually use linguistic shortcuts like "giraffes evolved longer necks to get higher leaves".

    Some people are able to use these shortcuts while keeping in mind that they are only shortcuts (ie. walk and chew gum at the same time) but an amazing number of otherwise smartypants people can't and fall into the same teleological traps every time.

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  3. Ah, Bishop Markeley...I refute it thus!

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  4. Haha, Brit. Good one. I suspect he chose a stone because, grudgingly, he knew the other side had a pretty good point. I prefer 'em when they get really angry and kick a stained-glass window.

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  6. hi mark, weirdly enough only the other day I just posted on my blog a little quote that exactly mirrors what you said in your first reply. spooky

    it said


    "We don’t have direct knowledge of the physical world; we only have knowledge of our ideas of it. This may seem like just an interesting curiosity until we realize that the world we know is not an objective record of the one that exists outside of us, but the version of it we create according to whatever else is going on in our minds at the time. We don’t live in the world of atoms; we live in the world of ideas.”

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  7. The Moon Sheep, on the lea forlorn,
    Stands and is waiting to be shorn.
    The Moon Sheep.

    The Moon Sheep munches just two stalks
    And to its alp it gently walks.
    The Moon Sheep.

    The Moon Sheep mutters in its sleep:
    "I am the world-space, dark and deep."
    The Moon Sheep.

    The Moon Sheep, in the morn, lies dead.
    The sheep is white, the Sun is red.
    The Moon Sheep.

    How would the poor old moon sheep fit into Darwins world.

    Apologies for the repeat ( Bryan / Jacko)

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  8. Malty is getting positively poetic these days. So, since he's taking this off in another direction, let me add another tangent.

    Tell me what my bizarre dream means: Last night I kept dreaming that there was an enormous, but friendly, brown and white snake in our "new" apt. (dunno why we had a new apt.). My husband told me it was a "sloth." It was a very friendly snake, but I am terrified of snakes. This, of course, made my son (suddenly ten years younger in the dream) constantly want to carry the snake over and put it near me. I would try to pretend I wasn't terrified of it, but I really was. However, the "sloth" was a very friendly snake and had quite soft, sweet brown eyes in its big triangular head.

    Any takers? That's the weirdest dream I've had in awhile.

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  9. Could have been a snake that swallowed a sloth and thereby partook of its sweet and torpid nature. I shall resist all crude Freudian interpreations of ladies' snake dreams...

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  10. ...I won't. It's a giant phallus, Susan. You simply ain't gettin' enough.

    Malty - please to explain Moon Sheep. I googled the first line. The results were amusing.

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  11. Oh lord, Brit. I fear you are right. My husband read what I had written right after I posted it and said, "Any guy who reads that is going to know *exactly* what that snake is about. I can't believe you posted that on a blog" (he is always horrified by my incontinent remarks, at dinner parties, on-line, you name it). Then he pointed at his own eyes: Big and brown. Man, I'm a retard.

    Don't worry Brit; I'm not hard up, it's more that I can't get enough of my hub. His pheremones should be bottled!

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  12. Too much information, already!

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  13. NEVER enough, sez I!!!! I'm an American, dammit. We minted Jerry Springer and Oprah.

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  14. I don't know - you lot! This started as respectable, thoughtful, thought-provoking strand - and just look at it now...

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  15. Brit, a recent discovery via an exhibition at Koln's Wallraf-Richardz exhibition, showing moon related pictures and stuff (including 4 burdz on a bridge by the nutty Norgie E Munch)
    The poem is Das Mondshaf by Christian Morgenstern, at the moment I am attemting to locate a copy of his book, will report back if successful.

    Susan!!!! mind your ways woman, back to your curtains, you'll have Elberry in a lather.

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