Friday, December 17, 2010

It only adds

Some people think that unweaving the rainbow reduces the charm of the rainbow. I belong to the opposite camp. Before becoming interested in reading about evolution, I would have had only a vague understanding of what Richard Feynman was talking about in the beginning of the video in the previous link. Now I have a better idea of how the co-evolutionary relationship between flowers and their pollinators give rise to complex adaptations. In Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins writes:
There is an anaesthetic of familiarity, a sedative of ordinariness, which dulls the senses and hides the wonder of existence. For those of us not gifted in poetry, it is at least worthwhile from time to time making an effort to shake off the anaesthetic. What is the best way of countering the sluggish habituation brought about by our gradual crawl from babyhood? We can't actually fly to another planet. But we can recapture that sense of having just tumbled out to life on a new world by looking at our own world in unfamiliar ways.
In Climbing Mount Improbable, Richard Dawkins writes:
The genes of an elephant or a human, like the genes of a virus, can be seen as a Duplicate Me computer program. Virus genes are coded instructions that say (if they happen to be parasitizing an elephant): 'Elephant cells, duplicate me.' Elephant genes say: 'Elephant cells, work together to make a new elephant, which must be programmed in its turn to grow and make more elephants, all programmed to duplicate me.' The principle is the same. It is just that some Duplicate Me programs are more indirect and longwinded than others.
To put it another way, as Samuel Butler said, “A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg.” I loved this new way of looking at living creatures which I was not familiar with earlier. It was like suddenly being able to see the second view of the Necker Cube. Reading about evolution and astronomy gave me some idea of Blake's words:
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
But Blake was a mystic and would have written his lines to mean the opposite of what I thought they meant. It is ironical that when I can't physically move an inch of my own volition, my mind delights in traversing vast expanses of time and space. The late George Carlin seems to have been a man after my own heart. (But my interest doesn't extend to a desire to own celestial bodies.) This is the type of conversation that would have me all ears even though some of it is beyond my level of incompetence because, as Feynman says in the video in the first link of this post, there is a 'difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.' (Note: The discussion has nothing to do with what the good professors at IIMA slogged to drill into my head.)


  1. "difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something" - my experience thus far reading this book:

    foolishly, i plod on...

    you might actually understand it

  2. Kailash,

    Sounds good but I don't know how much I will understand!