Nicholas's Reviews > The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
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's review
Apr 03, 2008

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bookshelves: biology, religion
Read in May, 2010


"The holy book of childhood cannot be, must not be, wrong."

"However many ways there may be of being alive, it is certain that there are vastly more ways of being dead."

"Complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance."

"If you read trendy intellectual magazines, you may have noticed that 'reductionism' is one of those things, like sin, that is only mentioned by people who are against it. To call oneself a reductionist will sound, in some circles, a bit like admitting to eating babies."

I had a critical insight on pg 22. [If you use a Bayesian algorithm to direct a genetic algorithm you lose the ability to deal with a changing environment. The waste that the Bayes gets rid of is what allows the genetic algo to reoccupy formerly hostile environments. Changing environments have require different systems than ones where the environment is static.]

"'How could an organ so complex evolve?' This is not an argument, it is simply an affirmation of incredulity."

"Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long-distance target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection, although human vanity cherishes the absurd notion that our species is the final goal of evolution. In real life, the criterion for selection is always short-term, either simple survival or, more generally, reproductive success. If, after the aeons, what looks like progress towards some distant goal seems with hindsight, to have been achieved, this is always an incidental consequence of many generations of short-term selection. The 'watchmaker' that is cumulative natural selection is blind to the future and has no long-term goal."

"In natural selection, genes are always selected for their capacity to flourish in the environment in which they find themselves. We often think of this environment in which they find themselves. We often think of this environment as the outside world, the world of predators and climate. But form each gene's point of view, perhaps the most important part of its environment is all the other genes that it encounters."

"An 'arms race'. The evolutionary analogy is close enough to justify borrowing the term, and I make no apology to my pompous colleagues who would purge our language of such illuminating images."

"Kinship, then, can be seen as a way in which something like the green-beard effect can be made plausible. The Fisher theory of sexual selection can be explained as yet another way in which the green-beard can be made plausible. When the females of a population have strong preferences for male characteristics, it follows, by the reasoning we have been through, that each male body will tend to contain copies of genes that make females prefer his own characteristics. If a male has inherited a long tail from his father, the chances are that he has also inherited from his mother the genes that made her choose the long tail of his father. If he has a short tail, the chances are that he contains genes for making females prefer short tails. So, when a female exercises her choice of male, whichever way her preference lies, the chances are that the genes that bias her choice are choosing copies of themselves in the males. They are choosing copies of themselves using male tail length as a label, in a more complicated version of the way the hypothetical green-beard gene uses the green beard as a label."

"It is worth quoting J.B.S. Haldane's characteristic piece of lateral thinking in combating the same source of incredulity. Something like the transition form Amoeba to man, he pointed out, goes on in every mother's womb in a mere nine months."

"There are people in the world who desperately want not to have to believe in Darwinism."

"It is as if the discovery that the Earth is not a perfect sphere but a slightly flattened spheroid were given the banner treatment under the headline: COPERNICUS WRONG. FLAT EARTH THEORY VINDICATED."

"Indeed, it is important to understand that all mammals - humans, whales, duck-billed platypuses, and the rest - are exactly equally close to fish, since all mammals are linked to fish via the same common ancestor."

"A recipe is not a scale model, not a description of a finished cake, not in any sense a point-for-point representation. It is a set of instructions which, if obeyed in the right order, will result in a cake."

"Every locus on the chromosomes has its own characteristic mutation rate."

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