Thursday, February 22, 2007

Quick Dawk-days update

So K and I went to both Dawkins lectures these past few days. The first, "Queerer than we suppose: the strangeness of science" was the public lecture, given at 7pm Tuesday night. It started 40min late due to projector issues and hundreds of people needing to be accommodated on the outdoor lanai because the ballroom was too tiny. As far as we could tell, pretty much everyone there seemed to be an admirer; K and I were both surprised at the relative lack of protestors, although there were some Humanists holding down their corner in bright yellow shirts.

The talk was genuinely intriguing and basically touched on parts of his new book, The God Delusion as well as older ideas from The Selfish Gene. Loaded with lots of examples from nature, he talked about arms races that drive evolutionary change. I was most impressed with his ability to answer questions from the public. One of Dawkins' least favorite questions was asked after the talk, "What are we going to evolve into next?" Dawkins replies, "Silicon robots, of course!" followed quickly by "Actually, I have no idea."

Yesterday's talk (sorry, I don't recall the title), at 3:30pm, was a mish-mosh of examples which Dawkins used to show that life will always evolve to fill in certain niches, and that there are evolutionary commonalities that will arise in some form or another no matter what. In other words, repeated patterns will always emerge in life that evolves in the same context. For instance, "the" eye has evolved at least 40 times because light waves are useful for living in the world we live in. Had we lived in a different type of world (ie. a dark one) we would most likely not develop eyes. He called our niche the "Middle World", where our scale of distance and time are not tiny nor cosmic, rather in the middle. Our brains, therefore, evolved to perceive these middle functions, and can probably not comprehend either the very small or the very large. Thank goodness I finally have justification for not being able to understand the end of A Brief History of Time. A weight has indeed been lifted from my sorry shoulders.

Of course, a Dawkins talk would not be complete without a hit at the Creationists. When asked what he thought about people who believed the world to be designed, he answered, "They are not properly functioning human beings" and they are "missing the excitement of the universe".

While I agree that the universe is pretty exciting, it is hard to think about a world in which human beings are entirely secular. Not everyone gets to sit around and think all day and be paid for it after all (lucky bastards!). Perhaps I will comment more on this topic another day, but in the meantime, I just want to add that Dawkins himself admits that he is just a middle-minded man who can't possibly comprehend everything either. So we should probably not ask him what he thinks about the South Park episode anymore, because he apparently did not get it. By the way, Kyle's student asked Dawkins before his first lecture what he thought about the South Park episode. He said he wished they would have gotten a better British actor to do his voice, har har har. Then, he grabbed the students pen and whistfully autographed his kitten-decorated Econ folder. "To John, may you evolve into something great".

True story.


Keelay said...

It was quite an odd assortment of characters at these talks. The humanists were especially bizarre.

Nothing funnier to me than an atheistic liberal. In the absence of god, they worship themselves. For being so much smarter and "aware."

Dawkins gave them what they came for:

"When it comes to biology, I am strict Darwinian. But when it comes to politics, I am very much anti-Darwinian."

Care to elaborate?

After the applause dies down, of course.

marsha said...

hahaha good story caroline! i would have loved to see those lectures.1pat