CULTURE

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Education for All Human Beings

[9.20.97]

Introduction
By John Brockman

Howard Gardner, Professor of Education at Harvard University, is deeply involved in educational reform, particularly in the United States. He is dismayed by how much of the discussion, both in the United States and abroad, is basically methodological and technical. "We argue endlessly: shall we have charter schools, shall we have vouchers, shall we have elected school boards, shall we have national standards, who gets to decide on them, should there be national tests, are unions the problem, are they solution, who funds education, etc.," he says. Those questions are not trivial, but he find a paucity of discussion of the purposes, the goals of education nowadays and in the foreseeable future.

Gardner, who is more or less on the progressive side of education, is struck by the fact that most of the attention is paid to people who can be described as conservative: "there's more attention paid to Allan Bloom's book The Closing of the American Mind and E.D. Hirsch 's book Cultural Literacy, both published ten years ago, than almost anything else that's been written on education in America in recent memory."

How do we push away the thickets and get to fundamentals? Howard is under no illusion that he's going to come up with answers that other people haven't come up with before; "Plato and Socrates had a lot to say on the topic, also Confucius and Rousseau among others," he notes. "But we can't simply repeat the traditional answers mindlessly. We can't just go back to the trivium and quadrivium because they seemed to work in the Middle Ages. We do know a lot about human beings that we didn't know before, and we know something about the shape of the world, which is very different than it has been in the past. I am pondering the constraints of education as well as the things that are changing; I am thinking about what we've learned about the mind and the brain and different cultures. I want to lay out something which at least I'd want to have for my kids, and at best what I'd want to have for kids everywhere."

Gardner has written fifteen books, nine of which have the word "mind" in the title. Read on and you will understand why.

—JB

He Confuses 1 And 2 The 200 I.Q.

[7.16.97]

Introduction

On Saturday, May 24, I received the following email message from the Swiss art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist:

"Dear John, I just got a very sad message that James Lee Byars died yesterday in Cairo. Very sick he spent the last 2 ,3 months of his life near the pharaohs.

Cordially,

Hans Ulrich."

On a visit to New York, Hans Ulrich had noticed that my office walls are covered with the framed works of art by James Lee, which, in each case, are pieces he mailed to me or stuffed under my door. Inevitably they were constructed out of exotic papers he had found in Chinatown and on which he either wrote in a his highly stylized script or microprinted lists of questions in a type size so tiny as to be unreadable to the naked eye.

James Lee, who defined the sophisticated edge of that world of ideas had been my neighbor, closest friend, and a collaborator of sorts. He had spent a number of years in Japan and had a decided zen-like epistemology in which there was no distinction between art and life. As one of us used to say (I sometimes get confused here): "what comes before performance?" In his case, the performance was an exercise in the interrogative. James Lee liked questions.

In The First Reader, Gertrude Stein wrote about how Johnny measured Jimmy and how Jimmy measured Johnny until the characters became meaningless and what remained was the act of measurement. She was the first writer who made integral to her work the idea of an indeterminate and discontinuous universe. Words represented neither character nor activity: they were "not imitations either of sounds or colors or emotions." Language was an intellectual re-creation. Through an emphasis on such stylistic devices as repetition she used language to deny meaning and representational concerns. As she pointed out, she would "write as if the fact of writing something were continually becoming true and completing itself, not as if it were leading to something." A rose is a rose is a rose. And a universe is a universe is a universe.

It was in this spirit that James Lee (Jimmy) and I (Johnny) began an intense dialogue around 1970 that sprang, in part from his interest in my early book, By the Late John Brockman (1969) and my fascination with his notion of "Einstein, Gertrude Stein, and Wittgenstein," which, by the end of our collaboration, had become "Einstein, Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein, and Frankenstein." We walked in Central Park nearly every day; we talked incessantly; we had dinners; we wore his plural clothing; we had fist fights; we asked each other the questions we were asking ourselves; we sought to write what he called "the perfect book." He liked "sentences that go 100 ways at once. You can't tell where the subject is, you can't tell what the subject is."

James Lee inspired the idea that led to the Reality Club, which became Edge during the 1990s and the advent of the Web. And he was responsible for the Edge motto. He believed that to arrive at an axiology of societal knowledge it was pure folly to go to a Widener Library and read 6 million volumes of books. (In this regard he kept only four books at a time in a box in his minimally furnished room, replacing books as he read them.) This led to his creation of the World Question Center in which he planned to gather the 100 most brilliant minds in the world together in a room, lock them behind closed doors, and have them ask each other the questions they were asking themselves. The expected result, in theory, was to be a synthesis of all thought. But between idea and execution are many pitfalls. James Lee identified his 100 most brilliant minds (a few of them have graced the pages of this Site), called each of them, and asked what questions they were asking themselves. The result: 70 people hung up on him.

It took nearly two years of starting and finishing each others sentences, but we did write the book. Dozens of notebooks, hundreds of handwritten pages, were reduced to 100 sentences, one to a page. I publish it here for the first time.            

JB
 

p.s. A week after receiving news of James Lee's death, I went to my farm and found the following message on the answering machine time-stamped May 16. "Johnny, Jimmy — send ten thou right away for "The Perfect Book." Wire money to Byars, American Express, Cairo. Johnny, I'm dying in a hotel room in Egypt. Five hundred a day to eat through a tube. Johnny, this is it. Send the money. Call your publisher. Jimmy. Cairo. Click."

James Lee Byars
1932-1997
"Click"

(The New York Times, May 24, 1997:) "BYARS-James Lee, internationally renowned artist whose work concentrated on minimal hermetic forms, reduction towards essence and absence, and an acute sense of the ephemeral, died on Thursday, May 23, 1997, at the Anglo-American hospital in Cairo, Egypt. He was 65 years old."

JAMES LEE BYARS' Edge Bio Page


DARWIN AMONG THE MACHINES; OR, THE ORIGINS OF [ARTIFICIAL] LIFE

[7.7.97]

Introductions by
John Brockman and
George Dyson

I got to know George Dyson by attending several of Esther Dyson's PC Forum conferences, annual gatherings for the elite of the personal computer and software worlds. He was not a speaker, not even an industry player, just the younger brother. So why was I spending most of my free time hanging out and talking to him and not to the powers-that-be in the digital world?

An answer to this question can be gleaned by a reading of his new book about the evolution of mind and computers that derives both its title and outlook from Samuel Butler's 1863 essay "Darwin Among the Machines." Observing the beginnings of miniaturization, self-reproduction, and telecommunication among machines, Butler predicted that Nature's intelligence, only temporarily subservient to technology, would resurface to reclaim our creations as her own. Updating Butler's arguments, George has distilled the historical record to chronicle the origins of digital telecommunications and the evolution of digital computers.

George views the World Wide Web as a globally networked, electronic, sentient being. In the evolution of mind in the electronic network, on a level transcending our own, he finds that nature is on the side of the machines. As Danny Hillis noted: "history with a future."

- JB 


Exactly seven years ago, I found myself weaving through midtown Manhattan traffic with John Brockman, on our way to the Metropolitan Club, where Hugh Downs was to introduce my Reality Club debut presentation, "Baidarka: The Skin Boat as a Frame of Mind." I've been weaving in and out of traffic with Brockman ever since. Today he brings me back to the Reality Club to present some excerpts from my new book.

The following selections concern the dual origins of (artificial) life. I choose this subject for three reasons (besides the origins of life being a question that so many of us have been asking ourselves):

  1. The dual-origin theory allows me to credit my father, Freeman Dyson, with a hypothesis that may or may not apply correctly to the appearance of life the first time around. Right or wrong, the hypothesis deserves a second chance;
  2. The work of Nils Barricelli at the Institute for Advanced Study in the 1950s, summarized here, has not received the attention or recognition it deserves;
  3. The speculations and misconceptions of an amateur such as myself are sure to provoke discussion among the many professionals who visit Edge.

- George Dyson


Engineering Formalism and Artistry: The Yin and Yang of Multimedia

[5.19.97]

Introduction
By John Brockman

CD-ROM developer and publisher Luyen Chou stopped using the word multimedia because nobody knows what it means. He is interested in "interactivity" — media that forces an interaction with your brain — or the synapses in your brain. "Most people consider interactivity to stop at the fingertips, so if you look at what most people consider interactive, a remote control for a television, or a light switch in a home, would be considered interactive. That's not very interesting to me," he says. What interests him is how we build media that forces an engagement with the mind, and very little is doing that right now. That's the direction that he's trying to take interactivity.

His company, Learn Technologies Interactive, produces products that sell, products which are also both interesting and enlightening. ("Qin" has already sold 100,000 copies). In February they received both recognition and notoriety by winning the Milia D'Or at Milia in Cannes for the best Culture and Art product. What was the reaction of the French audience to an American company walking away with the top award for a CD-ROM based on an art exhibit at the National Museum of American Art ? They booed him off the stage. C'est dommage, Luyen.

Luyen Chou is "The Mandarin." 

—JB

A Possible Solution For The Problem Of Time In Quantum Cosmology

[4.6.97]

Introduction
By John Brockman

In The Third Culture, I noted that physicists had come to the wrong book. They had little to say about the other scientists, and, vice versa. This may have to do with the fact that the language of physics is mathematics; it may also be that ideas about complexity and evolution have not had the same relevance for cosmology and physics as they have for biology and computer science. Astronomers have studied the spectra of light emitted by distant stars billions of years ago, and have so far found no indication that the laws of physics have changed over this epoch.

Cosmology, which came into its own as a science only about thirty years ago, is concerned in part with pinning down the parameters of the universe: its expansion rate, the amount of its mass, the nature of its "dark matter." Cosmologists today are also speculating on more far-reaching questions, such as how the universe was created and how its structure was determined. While some cosmologists are speculating that the laws of physics might explain the origin of the universe, the origin of the laws themselves is a problem so unfathomable that it is rarely discussed. Might the principles of adaptive complexity be at work? Is there a way in which the universe may have organized itself? Does the "anthropic principle"óthe notion that the existence of intelligent observers like us is in some sense a factor in the universe's existenceóhave any useful part to play in cosmology?

The theoretical physicist Lee Smolin is interested in the problem of quantum gravityóof reconciling quantum theory with Einstein's gravitational theory, the theory of general relativity, to produce a correct picture of spacetime. He also thinks about creating what he calls a theory of the whole universe, which would explain its evolution, and he has invented a method by which natural selection might operate on the cosmic scale.

The cosmologist Sir Martin Rees noted in The Third Culture that "one of the key issues in physics is to reconcile gravity with the quantum principle and the microphysical forces. There are various schools of thought; the Stephen Hawking School, the Roger Penrose School, and a number of others. My view is that we're a long way away from a consensus in that field, but Smolin and Ashtekar have injected important new ideas into that debate."

"Quantum gravity was one of the subjects beyond the fringe, when John Wheeler talked about it in the 1950s. Now it's something where serious approaches are being adopted. But we're still a long way from experimental test. Lee Smolin's most important insight was to suggest a new way of looking at space and time in terms of a lattice structure on a tiny scale. It relates in a way to Wheeler's very farsighted ideas of spacetime foam: the idea that if you look at space and time on a very tiny scale, there are no longer three dimensions of space and one of time but the dimensions all get screwed up in a complicated way.

"The other idea with which Smolin is associated is "natural selection" of universes. He's saying that in some sense the universes that allow complexity and evolution reproduce themselves more efficiently than other universes. The ensemble itself is thus evolving in some complicated way. When stars die, they sometimes form black holes. (This is something which I wear my astrophysical hat to study.) Smolin speculatesóas others, like Alan Guth, have also doneóthat inside a black hole it's possible for a small region to, as it were, sprout into a new universe. We don't see it, but it inflates into some new dimension. Smolin takes that idea on board, but then introduces another conjecture, which is that the laws of nature in the new universe are related to those in the previous universe. This differs from Andrei Linde's idea of a random ensemble, because Smolin supposes that the new universe retains physical laws not too different from its parent universe. What that would mean is that universes big and complex enough to allow stars to form, evolve, and die, and which can therefore produce lots of black holes, would have more progeny, because each black hole can then lead to a new universe; whereas a universe that didn't allow stars and black holes to form would have no progeny. Therefore Smolin claims that the ensemble of universes may evolve not randomly but by some Darwinian selection, in favor of the potentially complex universes."

The physicist Alan Guth points out that "a possible reason that Discover magazine dubbed Lee "The New Einstein" on a recent cover is that his work is motivated by the same goalóto construct a unified theory of physicsóand his approach is to keep Einstein's original theory as the fundamental basis of it. Superstring theory basically puts Einstein's theory in the background. The belief is that Einstein's theory will reemerge as a low-energy limit, but it's not the fundamental ingredient of the theory. The fundamental ingredient of the superstring theory is this microscopic string. In Smolin's formulation, the fundamental ingredient remains the gravitational field, and the goal is to treat it quantum mechanically. What he hopes to do that's different from the failed approachóthe approach that successfully quantizes electromagnetism but fails for gravityó is to exploit the fact that the theory of gravity is fundamentally nonlinear."

"The relativity physicists belong to a small club. It's a club that has yet to convince the majority of the community that the approach they're pursuing is the right one. Certainly Smolin is welcome to come and give seminars, and at major conferences he and his colleagues are invited to speak. The physics community is interested in hearing what they have to say. But the majority looks to the superstring approach to answer essentially the same questions."

The physicist Murray Gell-Mann noted "Smolin? Oh, is he that young guy with those crazy ideas? He may not be wrong!"

The synthetic path to investigating the world is the logical space occupied by Gell-Mann, the biologist Stuart Kauffman, the computer scientist Christopher G. Langton, and the physicist J. Doyne Farmer, and their colleagues in and around Los Alamos and the Santa Fe Institute.

The Santa Fe Institute was founded in 1984 by a group that included Gell-Mann, then at the California Institute of Technology, and the Los Alamos chemist George Cowan. Some say it came into being as a haven for bored physicists. Indeed, the end of the reductionist program in physics may well be an epistemological demise, in which the ultimate question is neither asked nor answered but instead the terms of the inquiry are transformed. This is what is happening in Santa Fe.

Stuart Kauffman is a theoretical biologist who studies the origin of life and the origins of molecular organization. Twenty-five years ago, he developed the Kauffman models, which are random networks exhibiting a kind of self-organization that he terms "order for free." Kauffman is not easy. His models are rigorous, mathematical, and, to many of his colleagues, somewhat difficult to understand. A key to his worldview is the notion that convergent rather than divergent flow plays the deciding role in the evolution of life. With his colleague Christopher G. Langton, he believes that the complex systems best able to adapt are those poised on the border between chaos and disorder.

Kauffman asks a question that goes beyond those asked by other evolutionary theorists: if selection is operating all the time, how do we build a theory that combines self-organization (order for free) and selection? The answer lies in a "new" biology, somewhat similar to that proposed by Brian Goodwin, in which natural selection is married to structuralism.

The evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould noted in The Third Culture that "He's following in the structuralist tradition, which should not be seen as contrary to Darwin but as helpful to Darwin. Structural principles set constraints, and natural selection must work within them. His "order for free" is an outcome of sets of constraints; it shows that a great deal of order can be produced just from the physical attributes of matter and the structural principles of organization. You don't need a special Darwinian argument; that's what he means by "order for free." It's a very good phrase, because a strict Darwinian thinks that all sensible order has to come from natural selection. That's not true."

According to the computer scientist Danny (W. Daniel) Hillis: "Stuart Kauffman is a strange creature, because he's a theoretical biologist, which is almost an oxymoron. In physics, there are the theoretical types and the experimental types, and there's a good understanding of what the relationship is between them. There's a tremendous respect for the theoreticians. In physics, the theory is almost the real stuff, and the experiments are just an approximation to test the theory. If you get something a little bit wrong, then it's probably an experimental error. The theory is the thing of perfection, unless you find an experiment that shows that you need to shift to another theory. When Eddington went off during a solar eclipse to measure the bending of starlight by the sun and thus to test Einstein's general-relativity theory, somebody asked Einstein what he would think if Eddington's measurements failed to support his theory, and Einstein's comment was, "Then I would have felt sorry for the dear Lord. The theory is correct."

"In biology, however, this is reversed. The experimental is on top, and the theory is considered poor stuff Everything in biology is data. The way to acquire respect is to spend hours in the lab, and have your students and postdocs spend hours in the lab, getting data. In some sense, you're not licensed to theorize unless you get the data. And you're allowed to theorize only about your own dataóor at the very least you need to have collected data before you get the right to theorize about other data."

"Stuart is of the rare breed that generates theories without being an experimentalist. He takes the trouble to understand things, such as dynamical-systems theory, and tries to connect those into biology, so he becomes a conduit of ideas that are coming out of physics, from the theorists in physics, into biology."

Kauffman and Smolin began working together a year ago and a result of this collaboration is a paper entitled "A Possible Solution For The Problem Of Time In Quantum Cosmology". An introductory letter from Smolin with initial comments from the theoretical physicist Julian Barbour and Murray Gell-Mann begin the related thread in the Reality Club.

While some of this material, particularly in the paper, is mathematical, most of it is readable by non-scientists. A few weeks ago I received an email from the novelist Bruce Sterling, who wrote: "This is truly a remarkably interesting mailing list; despite its recherche topics it seduces me into reading it almost every time." It is in this spirit I present Stu Kauffman and Lee Smolin's paper, "A Possible Solution For The Problem Of Time In Quantum Cosmology."

— JB

A Big Theory Of Culture

[3.31.97]

Introduction by
Stewart Brand 

Here's what I greatly appreciate about Brian Eno, apart from the pleasure I take from his friendship and from the pure delight of his music and art...

Like all significant artists, Brian works from a deep and complex and evolving frame of reference. Unlike most artists, and like most scientists, he talks about that frame of reference. He's not worried that your experience of his art might be sullied by your understanding something about what he's up to — rather the opposite: he would like to include you in the process.

This is risky, but valuable. It's risky because once viewers or listeners know what the artist is attempting, they have criteria for judging when he has failed.

Brian's approach is valuable because it is so inviting. The informed viewer or listener is invited to think like an artist and therefore in a sense to become an artist. This is good for art and good for civilization.

I think that's what makes Brian's book, A Year With Swollen Appendices, so appealing. Brian is famous, and that makes us interested, and he's charming in print as well as in person, so we engage him comfortably. But what gets us about the book is how revealing it is. We see what a good artist does with his mind all day. It's inspiring.

There's a further benefit to telling all, this time to the artist. By not keeping his frame of reference secret, Brian is freed from binding allegiance to whatever he was thinking when he first became successful. You don't cling to secrets you've told. You move on, and your work keeps being surprising as a result. Maybe this approach works best with artists who are easily bored. Brian is, after all, the author/composer/performer of the tune (now a well-known meme), "Been there, done that."  

—SB

Organs Of Computation

[1.10.97]

Introduction
By John Brockman

One of the central metaphors of the third culture is computation. The computer does computation and the mind does computation. To understand what makes birds fly, you may look at airplanes, because there are principles of flight and aerodynamics that apply to anything that flies. That is how the idea of computation figures into the new ways in which scientists are thinking about complicated systems.

At first, people who wanted to be scientific about the mind tried to treat it by looking for fundamentals, as in physics. We had waves of so-called mathematical psychology, and before that psychologists were trying to find a simple building block-an "atom"-with which to reconstruct the mind. That approach did not work. It turns out that minds, which are brains, are extremely complicated artifacts of natural selection, and as such they have many emergent properties that can best be understood from an engineering point of view.

We are also discovering that the world itself is very "kludgey"; it is made up of curious Rube Goldberg mechanisms that do cute tricks. This does not sit well with those who want science to be crystalline and precise, like Newton's pure mathematics. The idea that nature might be composed of Rube Goldberg machines is deeply offensive to people who have a strong esthetic drive-those who say that science must be beautiful, that it must be pure, that everything should be symmetrical and deducible from first principles. That esthetic has been a great motivating force in science, since Plato.

Counteracting it is the esthetic that says the beauties of nature come from the interaction of mind-boggling complexities, and that it is complexity essentially most of the way down. The computational perspective-machines made out of machines made out of machines-is on the ascendant.

The experimental psychologist Steven Pinker is a unifier, someone who ties a lot of big ideas together. He has studied visual cognition and language acquisition in the laboratory, and was one of the first to develop computational models of how children learn the words and grammar of their first language. He has merged Chomskyan ideas about an innate language faculty with the Darwinian theory of adaptation and natural selection. Pinker also wrote one of the most influential critiques of neural-network models of the mind. His 1994 book The Language Instinct discussed all aspects of language in a unified, Darwinian framework, and in a new book he tries to do the same for the rest of the mind, explaining "what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life." One of the central metaphors of the third culture is computation. The computer does computation and the mind does computation. To understand what makes birds fly, you may look at airplanes, because there are principles of flight and aerodynamics that apply to anything that flies. That is how the idea of computation figures into the new ways in which scientists are thinking about complicated systems.

At first, people who wanted to be scientific about the mind tried to treat it by looking for fundamentals, as in physics. We had waves of so-called mathematical psychology, and before that psychologists were trying to find a simple building block-an "atom"-with which to reconstruct the mind. That approach did not work. It turns out that minds, which are brains, are extremely complicated artifacts of natural selection, and as such they have many emergent properties that can best be understood from an engineering point of view.

We are also discovering that the world itself is very "kludgey"; it is made up of curious Rube Goldberg mechanisms that do cute tricks. This does not sit well with those who want science to be crystalline and precise, like Newton's pure mathematics. The idea that nature might be composed of Rube Goldberg machines is deeply offensive to people who have a strong esthetic drive-those who say that science must be beautiful, that it must be pure, that everything should be symmetrical and deducible from first principles. That esthetic has been a great motivating force in science, since Plato.

Counteracting it is the esthetic that says the beauties of nature come from the interaction of mind-boggling complexities, and that it is complexity essentially most of the way down. The computational perspective-machines made out of machines made out of machines-is on the ascendant.

The experimental psychologist Steven Pinker is a unifier, someone who ties a lot of big ideas together. He has studied visual cognition and language acquisition in the laboratory, and was one of the first to develop computational models of how children learn the words and grammar of their first language. He has merged Chomskyan ideas about an innate language faculty with the Darwinian theory of adaptation and natural selection. Pinker also wrote one of the most influential critiques of neural-network models of the mind. His 1994 book The Language Instinct discussed all aspects of language in a unified, Darwinian framework, and in a new book he tries to do the same for the rest of the mind, explaining "what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life."

-JB

THE REALITY CLUB: Steven Mithen, Steven Quartz, Nicholas Humphrey, Patricia S. Churchland, Sandra Blakeslee, Steven Pinker, Nicholas Humphrey, Richard Potts


 

SCIENCE, DELUSION, AND THE APPETITE FOR WONDER

[1.2.97]

Introduction by John Brockman 
 
The universe is changing in time, and it has evolved from something simpler to something more complex. That is the lesson to be learned from recent advances in evolutionary theory; the emergence of order has colored biology since Darwin and twentieth-century cosmology alike. 
 
In Darwin's day, the exact manner of the inheritance of characteristics was not known; Darwin himself believed that certain characteristics were acquired by an organism as a result of environmental change and could be passed to the organism's offspring, an idea popularized by the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. In 1900, the work done by Mendel some fifty years earlier was brought to light, and the gene, though its exact nature was unknown at the time, became a player in "the modern synthesis" of Mendel and Darwin. This synthesis, which reconciled genetics per se with Darwin's vision of natural selection, was carried out in the early 1930s by R.A. Fisher, J.B.S. Haldane, and Sewall Wright, and augmented a few years later by the work of the paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, the biologist Ernst Mayr, and the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, who expanded on this neo-Darwinian paradigm. Nevertheless, there is still discord in the ranks of evolutionary biologists. The principal debates are concerned with the mechanism of speciation; whether natural selection operates at the level of the gene, the organism, or the species, or all three; and also with the relative importance of other factors, such as natural catastrophes. 
 
Richard Dawkins is firmly in the Darwinist camp. "It rapidly became clear to me," he says, "that the most imaginative way of looking at evolution, and the most inspiring way of teaching it, was to say that it's all about the genes. It's the genes that, for their own good, are manipulating the bodies they ride about in. The individual organism is a survival machine for its genes."
 
Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and the Charles Simonyi Professor For The Understanding Of Science at Oxford University; Fellow of New College; author of The Selfish Gene (1976, 2d ed. 1989), The Extended Phenotype (1982), The Blind Watchmaker (1986), River out of Eden (1995), and Climbing Mount Improbable (1996). He is a gifted writer, who is known for his popularization of Darwinian ideas as well as for original thinking on evolutionary theory. He has invented telling metaphors that illuminate the Darwinian debate: His book The Selfish Gene argues that genes—molecules of DNA—are the fundamental units of natural selection, the "replicators." Organisms, including ourselves, are "vehicles," the packaging for "replicators." The success or failure of replicators is based on their ability to build successful vehicles. There is a complementarity in the relationship: vehicles propagate their replicators, not themselves; replicators make vehicles. In The Extended Phenotype, he goes beyond the body to the family, the social group, the architecture, the environment that animals create, and sees these as part of the phenotype—the embodiment of the genes. He also takes a Darwinian view of culture, exemplified in his invention of the "meme," the unit of cultural inheritance; memes are essentially ideas, and they, too, are operated on by natural selection.
 
Richard Dawkins enjoys the high regard of his peers both for his writing and his thinking. Sir John Maddox, editor emeritus of Nature, notes that "Climbing Mount Improbable has the grandeur of Darwin's Origin of the Species, but that's not surprising—it covers the same ground. Nobody can look at this book and then put it down unread—and nobody who reads it can fail to understand what Darwin is all about." According to Danny Hillis, "notions like selfish genes, memes, and extended phenotype are powerful and exciting. They make me think differently. Unfortunately, I spend a lot of time arguing against people who have overinterpreted these ideas. They're too easily misunderstood as explaining more than they do. So you see, this Dawkins is a dangerous guy. Like Marx. Or Darwin."
 
In his role as the Charles Simonyi Professor For The Understanding Of Science at Oxford University, Dawkins regularly talks to the public regarding his views on the wonders of science. Several weeks ago, on November 12th, 1996, he delievered the Richard Dimbleby Lecture on BBC1 Television in England, entitled "Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder." The complete text appears below.- 
 
 
 
"Implications of Natural Selection and The Laws of Physics" — Lee Smolin

 

Chapter 2 "THE PATTERN OF LIFE'S HISTORY"

[5.7.96]

Stuart Kauffman: Steve is extremely bright, inventive. He thoroughly understands paleontology; he thoroughly understands evolutionary biology. He has performed an enormous service in getting people to think about punctuated equilibrium, because you see the process of stasis/sudden change, which is a puzzle. It's the cessation of change for long periods of time. Since you always have mutations, why don't things continue changing? You either have to say that the particular form is highly adapted, optimal, and exists in a stable environment, or you have to be very puzzled. Steve has been enormously important in that sense.

__________

STEPHEN JAY GOULD is an evolutionary biologist, a paleontologist, and a snail geneticist; professor of zoology at Harvard University; MacArthur Fellow; author of, among others, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977), The Mismeasure of Man (1981), The Flamingo's Smile (1985), Wonderful Life (1989), Bully for Brontosaurus (1992), Dinosaur in a Haystack (1996), and Full House (1996).

Stephen Jay Gould's Edge Bio Page

Chapter 4 "BIOLOGY IS JUST A DANCE"

[5.7.96]

Francisco Varela: Brian should be described as a theoretical biologist. He was introduced into biology from early days, but more recently he has had a structuralist perspective, reaching for fundamental patterns on some expression of life. In that sense, he has come in with a new message, into a biology that's more or less fixated on components and molecules.

__________

BRIAN GOODWIN is a biologist; professor of biology at the Open University, outside London; author of How the Leopard Changed Its Spots (1994).

Brian Goodwin's Edge Bio Page


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