May 24, 2016


The gene's still selfish: Dawkins' famous idea turns 40 (Jonathan Webb, 5/24/16, BBC News)

"I don't know whether you know the classic book by D'Arcy Thompson, On Growth and Form? He showed that all mollusc shells are a tube, which is enlarging as it coils around. You only need three numbers to specify a mollusc shell."

Those three numbers can be plotted inside a cube, Prof Dawkins explains. "Evolution is then just a walk through this cube of all possible shells."

In a computerised game he wrote in 1996, people could construct their own such walk by choosing for themselves which offspring would "breed" in successive generations of shells.

This game has now been resurrected online to mark the 20th anniversary of the book it arose from, Climbing Mount Improbable.

Alongside the shell game sits an ancestral explanatory exercise: the biomorphs. These were first programmed 10 years earlier, when Dawkins wrote The Blind Watchmaker. He clearly remembers getting lost in the work.

"When I discovered that I could actually start getting something that looked like an insect, I got really obsessed with the idea of breeding insects."

As the biomorphs grow from simple, branching stick-shrubs into more elaborate and occasionally familiar shapes, they make an important point - and one that is better grasped by being involved than by hearing it explained.

"You get much more of an idea of what it's like to breed dogs from wolves, or to breed cauliflower from wild cabbage," Prof Dawkins says, clearly enjoying the sight of the spindly shapes evolving again on his screen.

It was bad enough when Mayr disposed of the idea of species, but when Dawkins declared in favor of intelligent design the jig was up.

Posted by at May 24, 2016 3:40 PM