Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, one of nonfiction's bad boys, is the author of 2013's An Appetite for Wonder, the first volume of what will be a two-part memoir.

From his Q & A with Rowan Hooper for NewScientist (reprinted at Slate):

RH: [One] battle of yours has been against group selection—the idea that evolution works by selecting traits that benefit groups, not genes. You destroyed that paradigm, but then it came back again.

RD: Something else came back under the same name. If you look carefully, it turns out to be things like kin selection rebranded as group selection. That irritates me because I think it is wantonly obscuring something that was actually rather clear.

I think part of why it came back is political. Sociologists love group selection, I think because they are more influenced by emotive evaluations of human impulses. I think people want altruism to be a kind of driving force; there's no such thing as a driving force. They want altruism to be fundamental whereas I want it to be explained. Selfish genes actually explain altruistic individuals, and to me that's crystal-clear.

RH: What subjects currently interest you in evolutionary biology?

RD: I'm fascinated by the way molecular genetics has become a branch of information technology. I wonder with hindsight whether it had to be that way, whether natural selection couldn't really work unless genetics was digital, high-fidelity, a kind of computer science. In other words, can we predict that, if there's life elsewhere in the universe, it will have the same kind of ...[read on]
Richard Dawkins is Lee Child's hero (outside of literature).

Learn about Richard Dawkins's five favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue