Wednesday, April 14, 2010

4/14: Wrap up and Thank you

04-14-2010 05:48:04
Dear Panelists:

As we begin this final day of the conference I would like to thank you all for your energetic contributions. There is much here to digest. On behalf of myself and our partners in this endeavour, we thank you.

Ideas from the last section are still developing so please keep that going. Also, please take time to go back and tie up lose threads as well. Here in the wrap up section feel free to post your current or upcoming projects that relate to evolution and visual culture.

Finally, but not least, I would like to thank the over 3,500 visitors that watched the discussion from over 55 countries. The online format has certainly extended the discussion beyond the walls of any auditorium or lecture hall that I can imagine. Please continue to leave feedback and responses on the blog.

Again, thank you.


04-14-2010 13:19:42
A story, probably apocryphal, is told about the brilliant and precocious Nobel laureate economist Paul Samuelson. It is said that at the end of his PhD oral exam the head of the examining committee said sheepishly, "Well, Mr. Samuelson, did we pass?"

At many times over the past 10 days I felt that, far from directing the conversation, I was struggling to keep up. Fortunately, in spite of the range of expertise and richness of imagination of you panelists, the discussion was remarkably coherent and focused. Your willingness to engage one another directly and to ask pertinent questions enabled me, like the coach of the Brazilian soccer team, to sit on the sidelines and watch the beautiful game unfold.

I know that there were times when many of you were eager to expand the conversation or dig a little deeper, and no doubt you could have. But you did travel far and deep, and we ordinary humans will be challenged to follow your path as far as you went.

Wordsworth described poetry as powerful emotion recollected in tranquility. I am looking forward to spending more time with this conversation, reading more slowly, discovering connections that I missed in the pressure of the moment. I hope you will do the same. I have no doubt that you will be impressed and pleased with what you have accomplished.

Besides, the conversation is far from over. Some of you are posting even as I write, and the conversation will continue in other venues. As Garrison Keillor says at the end of each installment of The Writer's Almanac: BE WELL, DO GOOD WORK, AND KEEP IN TOUCH.


04-14-2010 10:37:33
Thanks for asking about future projects, J. D. I have a book coming up on Darwin and aesthetic theory that begins with Burke and ends in the present. It will be an edited volume both about the influence of aesthetics on Darwin and Darwin on theorists and theoretical models. There are books that deal with evolutionism and aesthetics from the perspective of anthropology and prehistory, but this one will be about "the fine arts."

04-14-2010 10:59:40
Thank you, JD, Kevin, the NAS, Johns Hopkins, and my fellow participants, for the intellectual roller-coaster ride: evolutionary ideas and images are provocative, proliferative, intoxicating. There was, and is, an evolutionary imaginary of monsters, specimens, tree charts, scenes from deep time, laboratories, field work, fossils, fingerprints, critical commentaries, etc. It was a pleasure and a privilege to contribute to the proceedings, and to get to know some very smart people.

I want to mention that many of the images that I posted in this symposium come from a website that I co-curated with Paul Theerman (National Library of Medicine), Rewriting the Book of Nature: Charles Darwin & the Rise of Evolutionary Theory:

I am particularly interested in the visual rhetoric of charts; part of my current work is on modernist scientific charts and illustrations in 20th-century popular science and medical books and exhibitions. As a parting gift: I leave the group with two 19th-century evolutionary charts: a zonked-out vortex chart purporting to show the relationship between "ideal unity" and "protoplasmic identity", from Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) and J. Arthur Thomson (1861-1933), The evolution of sex (London, 1889), 280; and a tree chart of "mental evolution" from George John Romanes (1848-1894), Mental evolution in man; Origin of human faculty (London, 1888), title page and foldout.

Mental evolution in man; Origin of human faculty (1888). Romanes here uses a tree-like diagram to argue for the evolution of higher mental functions.

Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) and J. Arthur Thomson (1861-1933), The evolution of sex (London, 1889), 280.

04-14-2010 13:51:36
Looking at this symposium as an amazing collection of deeply developed ideas rubbing up against other equally deeply developed concepts rooted in history and in evolution has been an extraordinary opportunity to do what I believe science and art both strive to do --- actually affect change (evolution metamorphosis) in a positive manner. JD, Kevin, NAS, John Hopkins and all this network gathered to support these interpretations had the foresight to see the possibilities of affecting change through this natural selection process. Still in all these loose ends of threads are lines that need exploration from both sides of the two cultures.

I know I have left a number of loose ends and find many other loose ends in grasping the depth of the concepts here. Too little time in the few remaining hours, but life goes on and as innocent as this sounds I am changed by this experience.

So I want to thank all of the panelists. Even if many of you spoke over my head, you all have given me much to learn from.


04-14-2010 14:49:49
My first project will be to read, re-read and digest these fascinating discussions. Thanks to all the organizers and panelists for such a stimulating discussion.

In terms of evolution and the visual, my next graphic novel is called Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth and it should be out this winter from Hill and Wang. This is the first one I've written but haven't drawn, so that collaboration with the artists was very interesting and exiting. After that, I will be writing a drawing a story about Santiago Ramon y Cajal and the interplay between his childhood desire to be an artist and the his microscopic masterpieces of the nervous tissue. Finally, I have a comic about beetles and evolutionary discovery called The Age of Elytra that I will be serializing as digital comic books.

04-14-2010 15:20:27
At least with respect to visual culture’s contributions to scientific understandings about Darwin’s legacy, we started with antipodes (keynotes by E.O. Wilson and Eduardo Kac) and then mapped many spaces between, identifying a vast network of intersections between artistic and scientific practices, contexts and inventions. This has deliberately been conceived by the organizers as an open-ended process, starting with origins and moving to the present. Online symposium formats rarely elicit the give-and-take of flowing conversations (and this exchange was not, in my view, an exception) but speaking as a participant, it has been very worthwhile in provoking discussion and putting out some of the salient issues of visual culture in the wake of Darwin. Our assembled group seems to have a high threshold for tolerating “truth claims” of evidence in science but clearly appreciates visual culture in all its manifestations. Although I do not recall that Kuhn’s name came up, the symposium underscored some of the historical contingencies attending the creation and evolution of Darwin’s theory and their ongoing ramifications in culture. My thanks to all involved.

04-14-2010 16:43:16
Dear JD,

Wow, what a fun Evo-Devo ride this has been! Thanks to you and Kevin, as well as the sponsoring institutions and agencies.

I know I will be digesting and assimilating the various contributions for days and weeks to come. The existential threads and streams that have originated between/amongst the panelists will, I suspect, continue long after the symposium goes offline. Opportunities for cross-fertile and synergetic collaboration abound.

When do we start the next symposium?!


04-15-2010 02:47:51
Dear JD, Kevin and Everyone,
Yes this has been a fantastic experience - and also much fun. This kind of symposium is certainly effective in bringing together people and creating dialogue. Many advantages over a conventional conference. I can also see I have much to read and catch up on. I have just completed a book on the impact of Darwin and evolutionary ideas on the cinema - 'Darwin's Screens: evolutionary aesthetics, time and sexual display in the cinema', published as a print on demand by Melbourne University Publishing. I am currently working, with colleagues, on two areas. The first is 'Cinema & Civilisation', which involves examining the way in which the very first films (1895 onwards) were used by colonial powers in their various civilising missions. This draws on late 19th century debates about the nature of civilisation and the human. The second is a project on the emotions. It draws partly on Darwin's 'The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals', in order to trace the representation of the emotions in animals and insects etc from the 18th century through to the present in literature, painting, and film. We are interested to discover the degree to which cultural representations of the emotions have been used to unite rather than divide human and non-human over this period. Love to hear from anyone with similar interests.
best wishes

04-15-2010 03:24:23
Thank you!! JD, Kevin, NAS, Johns Hopkins, and all you incredibly smart fellow participants. This was a blast! Like riding spring rapids on the Colorado River, and occasionally capsizing. I learned so much. I’m forever grateful to you all... What an intellectual treat!

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