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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Selfish Gene, 30 Years On

The audio from Dawkins' presentation on The Selfish Gene: 30 Years On has been disconnected from my multimedia links, so I found the transcript online.

I really wish that I could have attended this talk, for Dawkins' afterword, like The Selfish Gene itself, opened up a new world of ideas for me.

Well I think one respect in which I am philosophical is this: although I'm very interested in the way life is, I'm also fascinated by the question "Are there aspects of life that just had to be so?" For example, it's a matter of fact that the genetics that we know is digital, both at the Mendelian level of the independent assortment of genes in pedigrees, and also at the Watson and Crick level of the digital information within each gene. That's a fact. But is the digitalness of genetics just a fact, or is it something that had to be so, for life to work at all?

And this statement, given in response to a despairing review written of The Selfish Gene at (in which the author said he wished he could un-read the book because it made him so depressed), especially touched me:

If something is true, no amount of wishful thinking can undo it. That's the first thing to say. But the second thing to say is almost as important. Which is that there really never was any reason for these despairing reactions at all. It is a complete misunderstanding of what science can tell us about ourselves if we conclude from it that we are somehow diminished by it, by the truth. Our life is what we make of it. No new facts about our nature can change that.


Blogger Dan said...

It is a complete misunderstanding of what science can tell us about ourselves if we conclude from it that we are somehow diminished by it, by the truth. Our life is what we make of it.

Indeed. I've said that many times before, albeit with a less positive spin.

October 22, 2006 1:18 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Yes, you have.

And doesn't it say something about the strength of one's sense of life's purpose that it doesn't need "purpose" to be imposed upon life from the beginning?

I try to communicate that, but perhaps I haven't been as positive as this statement, either. At any rate, when I first heard it, it blew me right out of the water. I paused and restarted the audio so that I could copy it down.

I love hearing Dawkins speak or read--he has a wonderful voice (unlike Sagan; as much as I loved Carl Sagan, his speech mannerisms drove me nuts!). So does Lalla. You mentioned that you were starting The Ancestor's Tale--did you know that there's a 7-CD set, read by Dawkins and Mrs. Dawkins?
I just bought it, though I only like to listen to the parts that I've already read; I like to have read a chapter, first.

October 22, 2006 5:56 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I have a tough time listening to books on tape/CD (although I've never tried listening to something I've already read). I'm a fidgeter. Because listening doesn't involve any physical interaction, I need to have something else to do, and then I stop paying attention to the audio. Sitting down with a book is a physical process that forces me to concentrate.

I do love that posh British diction, though. For some reason, I have a much easier time focusing on someone speaking RP English than on someone speaking American English.

October 23, 2006 2:10 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

The Selfish Gene is a brilliant book. Why? Because it changed the way I saw the world. It gave logic to what it seemed illogical. It reduced the complexity of human and animal interaction to the basic units of reproduction. The theory of the gene regulating our behavior is analogous to the interaction of atoms regulating what happens in the physical world. Depressing? May be. If you thought of humans as a product of a divine spark you have the right to feel depressed and disappointed.

October 30, 2006 9:50 PM  
Blogger The Science Pundit said...

The Selfish Gene is an incredible book. I don't remember exactly, but I read it somewhere between 16 and 18 years ago. Like with Marco, it changed the way I saw the world. I had always seen Evolution from a "survival of the fittest" perspective, and there was a lot that just didn't make sense. I should add that I (personally) consider The Extended Phenotype to be a continuation of The Selfish Gene (sort of like The Godfather II). So when I speak of The Selfish Gene, I'm actually refering to the two books I read in succession.

Suddenly, a whole bunch of things just started to make sense. (A River out of Eden had a similar though not as dramatic effect.) Like a pendulum, I went through a stage where I thought that a genocentric viewpoint was the only way to look at Evolution. I now see it as one of many ways, but probably the one that changed my outlook the most.

Anyway, I've posted about Dawkins' visit to Philadelphia. I know it's short and lame, but one of these days I'll come out with a series of posts where I expound on my thoughts on this topic.

November 04, 2006 4:05 PM  

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