Manny'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
Nov 22, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: science

Dawkins loves explaining evolutionary theory, and this is one of his best books. My favourite bit is the section on long-tailed birds (peacocks, etc). From the point of view of simple utility, they are rather baffling. What use could you possibly have for that long, stupid tail?

But, as Dawkins keeps reminding us, it's not about survival of the species, or even of the individual, but rather of the gene. Suppose there's a sex-linked male gene that disposes towards long tails, and a sex-linked female gene that disposes towards finding long tails attractive. A child born of a union between two individuals carrying these genes will be likely to have both of them. Hence, if it's male, it'll have a long tail, and if it's female it will prefer males with long tails. If this combination becomes common, long-tailed males will have a larger and larger advantage in terms of being preferred by females. Tails will lengthen until the practical downside (being unable to fly, avoid predators, etc) counterbalances the upside of efficiently attracting potential mates.

I read this, and suddenly looked at supermodels in a new light. God, they're hot! In fact, if they were any hotter they'd be dead.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 1986 – Finished Reading
November 22, 2008 – Shelved
December 5, 2008 – Shelved as: science

Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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Paul Bryant I don't buy this. If the birds all get kitted out in their fancy long tails then eventually the whole effect will be diminished and the females will start preferring something - anything - else (Oh Doris, I just want to take a break from those perpetual long tails, they're driving me mental). It will be the law of diminishing returns.

Manny I'm trying to imagine what it's like to be a peahen, and I just don't believe that's how they think. More, shit, Doris, I keep telling myself he's not right for me and then it's just, OMG, look at that tail, there's nothing I can do about it.

Me too, sweetie, me too!

Perhaps there's a movie in this?

Manny More seriously: in The Mating Mind , Geoffrey Miller spends some time considering the question of whether the development of verbal intelligence in humans might be another instance of "runaway", as this phenomenon is sometimes called. To quote Webster:
Ferdinand: And women like the part, which, like the lamprey,
Hath ne'er a bone in't.

Duchess: Fie, sir!

Ferdinand: Nay,
I mean the tongue
You can wonder whether the success enjoyed by sweet-talkin' guys is just as irrational as that enjoyed by long-tailed peacocks. But, in the end, he decides against it, or at least thinks that it's no more than a part of the story.

message 4: by Paul (last edited Mar 25, 2011 01:11AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant Sweet-talkin' peacock, talkin' sweet kind of lies
Don't you believe him cause in the end he'll make you cry
He'll evolve a long tail
Then go to town with another girl
He's a sweet-talkin' peacock
Why do I love him like I do?

(Chiffons, 1966)

Manny (From the Freaky Fables version of Orpheus and Eurydice:)

Eurydice: Oh Orphy, you sing so pretty! You make me feel just like putty or some other quasi-malleable substance.

message 6: by Ian (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye Fuck you-tility, let me see you shake your tail feather.

Hassan Ali since you read both books, The Blind Watchmaker and The Greatest Show on Earth, how would you compare the two? I'm currently reading the greatest show on earth but i don't know what to expect on the other book

Manny I liked both of them - each one covers ground the other omits.

message 9: by M (new) - rated it 5 stars

M it's good to see a thought out review here.

Manny Thank you MKIM!

message 11: by Santiago (new) - added it

Santiago Ortiz Paul wrote: "I don't buy this. If the birds all get kitted out in their fancy long tails then eventually the whole effect will be diminished and the females will start preferring something - anything - else (Oh..." That's why tails are not 10m long. At some point sexual evolution forces balance or get counterweighted by other forces, some of them explicit in partner's choices.

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