Symbols of Evolution Symbols of Evolution
Two billion years ago two prokaryotes bumped into each other and formed the first multi-cellular organism. 65 million years ago an asteroid hit the earth and dinosaurs became extinct. Three days ago, in your notebook, you drew a mess of squiggles which to you represented Jackson Pollock's painting, Number 1, 1948. You wrote the word entropy on the upper left hand corner of the page. On the bottom right hand side you wrote, Creativity is based on randomness and chance.
This paper will not try to determine why the dinosaurs became extinct or what caused two prokaryotes to form the first multi-cellular organism. Instead, it will ask you that which is, perhaps, a more difficult question: Why did you write what you wrote in your notebook?
If human recorded history only represents 10,000 years of a universe which has been evolving for 15 billion years, then does a question pertaining to such relatively recent human practices as writing and artwork matter? Yes! These symbol making processes matter because of what they can tell us about our identity and our place in the evolutionary process. This essay will explore the notion that human identity is based almost entirely on representing life symbolically, and grapple with the idea that we exist because of the symbols which we create. It will then go on to explore how symbol-making resembles the biological process of evolution in the way it prizes and incites both messiness and reproduction. Finally it will synthesize these two ideas: symbol-making tied to human identity and symbol-making resembling the biological process of evolution in order to provide a backbone for the idea that humans might evolve in such a way that the cultural transfer of information could take place as a part of the process of biological evolution.
Because after all the discussion, something was still missing. It'd be difficult for me to tell you exactly what, because we discussed concepts about evolution quite thoroughly. But nonetheless, I was feeling empty. And so I guess what I was trying to do was tell myself a story on paper, trying to fill the emptiness that all the other stories created.
The only way that humans can communicate with each other is through words and signs. In his book entitled, Literary Theory, A Very Short Introduction, Jonathan Culler shows how large a part signs play in who we are by stating that "instead of thinking of life as something to which signs and texts are added to represent it, we should conceive of life itself as suffused with signs, made what it is by processes of signification."(Culler, 14) So, according to Culler, life is not just represented by symbols, its very core and essence is defined by symbols and the process of creating them. One literary symbol system, The Bible, can be used to help illustrate this idea. The Bible helps to indicate that the sign was the origin of all life by saying: "In the beginning was the Word." (John 1: 1-2) "The Word" and its connotations (God, life, pure symbol...) were the original sources of signification. It as if, people have continued the process of sign-making almost obsessively ever since this original source was established. To reduce the issue to its most basic level and then build upon it, one could say: In the beginning was the word, in the middle were more words, and in the end there were words upon words upon words; too many words for anyone to remember a single, signifying origin. Indeed, from the very start, people have been coming up with words to try and make sense of the world. There have been stories about observations, words about God, about everyday life, about mysteries of the universe. In light of this, one can find Culler's description of literature an "entropic force," (Culler, 40) to be quite an apt. Books, conversation, analysis and communication of any kind opens up an infinite space for more and more signifying practices....
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