Showing posts with label Richard Dawkins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richard Dawkins. Show all posts

Friday, May 5, 2017

Il est temps que l'hégémonie de l'anglais s'arrête

J'étais content d'entendre dire qu'au cas du Brexit, Jean-Claude Juncker préférerait s'exprimer ultérieurement en français. L'anglais est réellement un véhicule extraordinaire quand il s'agit de la science, dans la bouche d'un homme cultivé tel que Richard Dawkins, par exemple. Mais cet "anglais" bidon que l'on trouve dans tous les marchés et tous les aéroports du monde n'a rien à voir avec la culture. Qu'il fasse enfin profil plus bas... comme ce médiocre individu Nigel Farage. Cela dit, le "français" que l'on tapote avec ses pouces sur un smartphone n'est pas meilleur. Il y a donc l'anglais et l'"anglais", le français et le "français". Tout est dans la culture.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

How did giraffes come to have long necks?

I’m always thrilled whenever I rediscover by chance a typical Richard Dawkins gem like this one.

A nice old-fashioned answer is that God, knowing that He had cunningly placed the most tasty leaves at the top of tall trees, designed giraffes with extra long necks so that they would have no trouble in reaching this good food.

A less religious answer is that, over a certain period of time, Nature caused the necks of giraffes to grow longer and longer, because Nature was smart enough to realize that hungry giraffes would be needing bigger necks to attain leaves that were moving higher and higher.

Well, that god-free answer is closer to the truth, but we still need to improve the wording. We merely have to introduce a pair of freak events. So, let’s go. At a certain point in time, most giraffes had medium-sized necks, whereas a minority of freaky giraffes were born with slightly longer necks. At about the same time, during a few freak seasons, leaves happened to grow so high that all normal giraffes with shorter necks couldn’t reach them. These poor animals gradually died of starvation. Only the freaky longer-necked giraffes survived and bred children who, like their parents, had long necks. Longer necks had started out as just a random happening… but they soon became a matter of life or death.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Road Not Taken

I’ve been admiring a discussion about contingency between Elisa New and Richard Dawkins. They were inspired by the famous poem by Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken.

To see the video interview, click here.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Richard Dawkins on language

Click here to see the article by Richard entitled Ban the voice-over.

I'm thrilled to rediscover my hero Dawkins joking once again about why ancestral giraffes magically developed long necks for the simple reason that they "needed" such long necks in order to reach up for leaves. I believe that many ordinary people, not familiar with evolution and genetics, would believe in that "need"... but I hope I'm mistaken.

A long-discredited alternative to Darwinism invoked ‘need’ as the driver of evolution: ancestral giraffes needed to reach high foliage and their energetic striving to do so somehow called longer necks into existence. But for ‘need’ to translate itself into action, there has to be another step in the argument. The ancestral giraffe mightily stretched its neck upwards and so the bones and muscles lengthened and . . . well, you know the rest, O my Best Beloved. The true Darwinian mechanism, of course, is that those individual giraffes that succeeded in satisfying the need survived to pass on their genetic tendency to do so.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Book by a Daesh sex slave

Click here to read a short review by Richard Dawkins of an autobiographical book by a former Daesh sex slave, who has written (of course) under a false name.

Luckiest people in the world

At times throughout my life, for moments, I too have been a lucky person... when I succeeded in clinging desperately to make-believe. I would imagine briefly that my human existence made sense. That gods and magic were real. That I would only have to search deeply for meaning and happiness, and I would surely find them, for meaning and happiness were like a tasty hamburger that I could purchase, taste and totally consume whenever I felt hungry. All I needed was good appetite.

Alas, over the last few years, I have abandoned forever all my nice old make-believe worlds. My existence has become infinitely tougher. But I've finally acquired the precious art of searching constantly for the peace and harmony that Richard Dawkins referred to as The Magic of Reality - How We Know What's Really True.

Often, when I watch TV for example, I realize that relatively few people seem to have taken this step. Religious folk, of course, are still in the starting blocks, and likely to stay there until the cows come home. Politicians and world leaders, too. Indeed most ordinary people cling to common-sense and make-believe. And they remain eternally lucky, as proud as a pope. It's in our genes. How could human apes like Dawkins and me have survived back in the days when science did not exist yet, when our ancestors needed make-believe stories to carry on existing? They needed gods and convictions just as surely as they needed food, sleep and sex. That was the lucky dawn of human existence.

Monday, April 18, 2016

I've decided to follow regularly the exemplary socks decision of Richard Dawkins

This photo of Richard Dawkins was almost certainly taken recently, in the course of convalescence since his stroke:

Click to enlarge slightly

Click here to read the explanations that accompanied Richard's photo. From the moment I started to read his words, I was transformed instantaneously into an enthusiast of unmatched socks. In the space of ten seconds, bewitched by this splendid Sermon, I became a solemn Believer. And I'll possibly stay that way forever...

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Dawkins event in Oxford next Saturday

I'm happy to see that Richard Dawkins will be reappearing in Oxford next Saturday, at the Sheldonian Theatre, for the first public event since his stroke, in the company of his research assistant Yan Wong.

They will be presenting the new edition of their wonderful book, The Ancestor's Tale, A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Problems of Richard Dawkins (and me)

Click here to discover a letter from Richard Dawkins.

Having fallen down the stairs at Gamone last year, I can better understand the present health problems of Richard Dawkins (who did not fall down stairs), and I even have the physical possibility of sympathizing with him to a certain extent. I must nevertheless point out that, unlike Dawkins, I did not in fact suffer any kind of cerebral attack. But my fall damaged various elements (nerves) in the vicinity of my right eye and cheek, and I consider that I still haven't reached the end of a lengthy period (over seven months) of convalescence.

During my stay in Brittany, I realized (with great joy) that everything in my brain appeared to be perfectly intact when I discovered that I could build and update the following website on my Macintosh:

Funnily enough, since this was a state-of-the-art website of the HTML5 kind, it was quite impossible for me to inform anybody that I had indeed discovered proof that my software aptitudes were totally unharmed. Certain people, hearing me talk enthusiastically of my successful development of this Châtelus camping website, may have thought that I might in fact, on the contrary, be demonstrating nasty brain damage...

Reactions of Dawkins to his cerebral attack

Click here to access interesting remarks from Richard Dawkins concerning his recent cerebral attack. Then click the Play button.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Busy intellectual might calm down a little

I often have the feeling that our hero Richard Dawkins works too much. Why doesn't he set aside some of his multifarious preoccupations (for example, atheism) and simply calm down a little? Of course he surely knows personally what he's doing, and why.

This morning's news indicates that Dawkins suffered a mild stroke, last Saturday, leading to the cancelation of his planned trip to Australia and New Zealand. Readers might have noticed that Dawkins is already back on the Internet, suggesting that his stroke was fortunately quite minor.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Dawkins and his dog

This short video shows Richard Dawkins in the company of his dog Tiger.

"We think we know what it's like to be a dog... and we don't. We delude ourselves. But that's part of what goes on when we love a dog. What am I doing with my dog? I'm empathizing. I'm making an imaginative leap to see the world from a dog's perspective."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

An Oxford lady named Sarah Outen

In the website of Richard Dawkins, there's a charming presentation of a smart and adventurous young Oxford lady, a graduate in biology, named Sarah Outen [click here].

In July 2009, while rowing across the Indian Ocean, she sent Dawkins an email, indicating that she liked to listen (when her solar-powered batteries were operational) to the professor and his wife reading The God Delusion. Dawkins thanked her with a poem:
I’ve received a splendid email
From a most courageous female.
Battling onward to Mauritius,
Lone among the flying fishes,
Albatrosses, giant whales,
Turning turtle in the gales.
To hell with Health and Safety rules,
She’s in tune with tuna schools.
She’ll dance, while others dance in bars,
With pilot fish and Pilot Stars.
I have not the faintest notion
How to brave the Indian Ocean
In anything that keeps afloat,
Let alone a rowing boat.
But Sarah takes it in her stride,
And going with her, for the ride,
A book, or audio CD
Read by Lalla and by me.
To speed her trip to its conclusion
We’re reading her The God Delusion!

All godly tripe and tosh she’s doubtin’
So raise your glass to Sarah Outen.
I find these communications between Oxfordians most pleasant and stylish.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Same eyes, nose and mouth as our cousin ?

Don't take me seriously. I'm joking, while cynically evoking suggestions that might be made harmlessly by members of my family. Some people place a lot of emphasis upon the presence of comparable physical traits that I'm generally incapable, personally, of detecting to any recognizable extent whatsoever. A late aunt was even convinced that the sinuous form of certain hands in our family (her own hands in particular) was a clear proof that we descended from the Vikings. Although I never dared to tell her so, I found that belief utter hogwash.

Bodily and indeed psychological resemblances do in fact flow down from parents to their biological offspring, and are often displayed most strikingly in sporting achievements. But an observer needs to be wary of drawing conclusions. Two complementary questions spring into mind as soon as a researcher becomes interested in his/her genealogical origins:

• When we've assembled more-or-less factual data concerning interesting characteristics of one of our eight great-grandparents (who are often the most ancient ancestors about whom we've obtained relatively in-depth information), can we then assume that some living members of the researcher's present-day generations might be likely to express those same ancestral characteristics?

• Inversely, when we've found exceptional physical or psychological characteristics in a particular living member of the researcher's present-day generations, is it thinkable that our family-history research might enable us to identify a particular great-grandparent who could be looked upon as the biological source of those characteristics?

Questions of this kind arise, of course, when a family-history researcher happens to run into various disturbing ancestors. In my maternal-oriented book A Little Bit of Irish, I ran into ancestors in the bushranger domain, and I was tempted to wonder whether some of that behavior might have "rubbed off" onto members of recent generations. In the accompanying paternal-oriented book, They Sought the Last of Lands, I was particularly troubled by the crazy case of my English great-grandfather William Skyvington [1868-1959], and I couldn't help but wonder if I might have inherited a dangerous dose of his nutty fruitcake genes.

Let me drag into the picture my most-admired source of scientific wisdom: Richard Dawkins.

I would like to evoke his literary masterpiece of 2004, The Ancestor's Tale, which might be described as a time-reversed variation of The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678).

Richard Dawkins is not at all the sort of person who makes a point of rambling on (like me) about his personal ancestors. It's not for want of expert knowledge about genealogical research that Dawkins remains underspoken about his ancestors; it's surely because he realizes (as I'm certain to realize sooner or later, if I become a little wiser) that we're likely to make silly blunders as soon as we dare to describe our personal ancestors as if we knew all about them. Here's how Dawkins speaks politely about his recent ancestors:
I remember my four grandparents clearly, but of my eight great-grandparents I know a handful of fragmentary anecdotes. One great-grandfather habitually sang a certain nonsense rhyme (which I can sing), but only while lacing his boots. Another was greedy for cream, and would knock the chess board over when losing. A third was a country doctor. That is about my limit. How have eight entire lives been so reduced? How, when the chain of informants connecting us back to the eyewitness seems so short, and human conversation so rich, could all those thousands of personal details that made up the lifetimes of eight human individuals be so fast forgotten?
Dawkins talks a little of a group of distinguished human beings: our Tasmanians. I referred to these exceptional people, who played a rather special role in the history of human beings, in an earlier blog post:

I strongly recommend this Dawkins tale to readers who would be interested in discovering the great writer in a pleasant readable context that is relatively free of difficult scientific technicalities, while steering totally clear of religious themes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Charles Darwin [1809-1882] "relatively little known in France"

In view of my total enthusiasm for the work in evolutionary biology of my hero Richard Dawkins, it's surprising that I should be equally enthusiastic about living in France, where Charles Darwin [1809-1882], founder of the theory of evolution, is designated, rightly or wrongly, as "relatively little known". I prefer to think it's a journalistic slip of the pen. In any case, there's a presentation at the Cité des Sciences in Paris, until the end of July 2016,  of this illustrious Englishman Darwin and his research work.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Love letters to Richard Dawkins

This is the second video instalment of Richard Dawkins reading some of his hate mail. It’s hilarious.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Survival of the fittest

There's no doubt in my mind that Richard Dawkins will survive, for he's surely one of the fittest thinkers on our planet Earth.

The poor man (no doubt a millionaire) is constantly under attack. The latest case of mild anti-Dawkins impertinence comes from an unexpected critic: the great US biologist Edward Osborne Wilson, who’s a world authority on ants, and “the father of sociobiology” (the investigation of animals who live in a societal context).

During a recent BBC interview, Wilson was asked to comment upon differences between his views of natural selection and those of Dawkins. The 85-year-old Harvard professor replied:
“There is no dispute between me and Richard Dawkins and there never has been, because he’s a journalist, and journalists are people that report what the scientists have found and the arguments I’ve had have actually been with scientists doing research.”
Now, lots of people would be thrilled to be described as a journalist by a distinguished scientist such as Wilson, who has been awarded two Pulitzer Prizes for general non-fiction. If Wilson were to declare publicly that William Skyvington is a journalist, I would be awfully proud, and I would promptly start to inundate many of the world’s great newspapers with freelance articles… about my dog Fitzroy, for example. But I suspect that the former Oxford professor Richard Dawkins is not necessarily happy to be labeled as a mere journalist by an old fellow born in Alabama.

In fact, a couple of years ago, Dawkins sacrificed all chances of remaining a good buddy of the Harvard man when his review of Wilson’s latest book culminated in the following advice:
“… this is not a book to be tossed lightly aside. It should be thrown with great force. And sincere regret.”
Is the Wilson/Dawkins dispute merely a storm in an academic teacup between two strong egos? Not at all. Their conflict, very real and profound, concerns one of the most fundamental aspects of evolutionary theory. In a nutshell: When genetic mutations affect the “fitness” (survival potential) of members of a set of living creatures, how do we identify the beneficiaries (either positive, negative or neutral) of the newly-created situation?

At the risk of putting my neck on the block, I would say that, over the century and a half since the publication of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin,  there have been three kinds of reactions to this question.

1. The nicest and most convenient answer is designated globally as adaptationism. The gist of this explanation is that mutations tend to modify all living creatures in such a way that future generations of their descendants will be better adapted to handling the challenges of their daily existence. In our “best of all possible worlds”, mutations enable giraffes to grow longer necks so that they’ll be able to reach tasty leaves on tall trees. These days, few folk (apart from religious crackpots of various flavors) would be content with this adaptationist answer… which doesn’t even take into account the ugly realities (see Dawkins for ample explanations) of giraffe necks.

2. Most observers have imagined, often on the basis of common sense, that evolution’s famous fitness to survive is to be applied to such-and-such a category of animals… where the term “category” usually means a family or a species. For example, mutations that camouflaged grubs with respect to their background (reducing their role as bird fodder) were “aimed” (insofar as evolution might be thought of as aiming at anything at all) at making life safer for grubs in general. These days, whenever evolutionary explanations of this kind are evoked, the keyword is “group”, since fitness for survival is thought of as affecting such-and-such a group to which the mutated specimens belong. And this remains the level at which E O Wilson seeks to interpret evolutionary theory.

3. Starting with the celebrated publication of The Selfish Gene in 1976, Richard Dawkins upset the apple cart by proclaiming that the primary beneficiaries of evolutionary mutations are not at all the bulky creatures (organisms) that we run into in the everyday world, but rather the tiny almost-abstract entities known as genes. Many would-be readers were put off by the book’s title. What on earth was this selfish little Homunculus, designated as a gene? Was Dawkins suggesting that this nasty invisible microbe, intent upon getting its way on the planet Earth, might be a scientific model for our human societies? What an ugly idea! But worse still, the explanations of Dawkins called upon a nice but often nasty concept: kinship.

In other words, not only are the Dawkins genes selfish, but they spend their time trying to keep things in the family, in notorious Sicilian traditions. [I'm joking, of course.]

Now, all I’ve just said is more or less true, and it’s easy to see that a conflict might have arisen between Wilson and Dawkins. The former prefers to imagine that genetic mutations make his ants and bees happier, whereas the latter asserts that egocentric genes don’t really give a sentimental shit about worldly entities (organisms) such as birds and bees; all they’re concerned about is their fellow-strings of DNA, devoid of souls, sentiments and subtle intentions.

The scientific arena is so terribly arid that it’s a godsend that two famous pugilists should arrive on the empty scene, and start slugging stupidly at one another. But Wilson versus Dawkins is a bad match. An unfair fight. It's not a question of age, but of acuity.

Now, to celebrate the victory of a fight that never really took place: If ever you weren’t familiar with Richard Dawkins, I suggest that you listen to our intellectual hero for a moment (28 minutes).

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Infinitesimally slow changes

Four sisters. Forty years. This simple and beautiful pictorial story started in 1975 with a delightful image.

— photo by Nicholas Nixon, annotated by William Skyvington

The original photo was taken in Connecticut by Nicholas Nixon, who happened to be the husband of the young woman named Bebe Brown. Afterwards—year in, year out, for 40 years—Nicholas called upon his wife and her sisters for the creation of an updated portrait. Click here to see the result, published by the New York Times.

I’m reminded of a fascinating theme for reflection, inspired by Richard Dawkins, concerning the impossibility of ascertaining the moment at which one kind of being is transformed into another kind of being, one species into another, one fossil into another. Was there a year in which the lovely Brown sisters ceased to be “girls”, changing into “young women”, followed by later years in which they became “women”, then “middle-aged women” ? No, it would be pointless, if not stupid, to seek such punctual moments. Everything happened gradually.

We are often tempted to imagine that life is punctuated by so-called events, when the present leaps instantly towards the future. In fact, time never “leaps”. It simply nudges imperceptibly forwards… as in the case of the Brown sisters.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Free Assange now!

Click to enlarge

Richard Dawkins has just retweeted a message from WikiLeaks informing us that, as of today, the UK has spent 7 million quid of taxpayers’ dough in their attempts to foil the asylum of Julian Assange.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Celebrated Gerin elixir

In my blog post of 6 October 2012, entitled Pierrot wanted a wife [display], I spoke of the local Gerin family, one of whom, Hippolyte Gerin [1884-1957], was the owner of my property at Gamone during the first half of the 20th century. I never knew exactly how Hippolyte earned his living on these beautiful but harsh Alpine slopes. Amazingly, the British scientist Richard Dawkins has provided a quite plausible answer. It would appear that members of that ancient family produced a celebrated elixir: a transparent narcotic substance that became known as Gerin Oil, which was beautifully bottled and marketed under the name Geriniol.

Click here to see Dawkins’s scholarly presentation of this strange affair.

PS Readers will have understood, I hope, that the terms "Gerin Oil" and "Geriniol" are simply anagrams of the word "religion". I guess that Dawkins invented this fine irony. I should explain, for those who are interested, that my Photoshopped bottle originally held a mythical liquid known (among believers) as "holy water". On the other hand, the Gerin people here at Gamone were perfectly real.