The Ancestor's Tale
River Out of Eden
The Selfish Gene
The Blind Watchmaker
Climbing Mount Improbable 
Unweaving the Rainbow
A Devil’s Chaplain
The Extended Phenotype

The Ancestor's Tale  Richard Dawkins

Compared to The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Gould this is light reading. It only goes through 40 "generations" of our human ancestors and all of our "cousins" along the way. It discusses each ancestor, some of his relevant cousin species, and other interesting facts. The trip takes somewhere around 1.5 to 2 billion years and covers quite a lot of interesting sidelights. I really enjoyed the book.

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River Out of Eden     Richard Dawkins

C1 The Digital River All of us, in fact all living beings, share ond unassailable fact. Without exception, all of our ancestors survived long enough to have at least one offspring who lived long enough to reproduce. Many of their contemporaries did not, we are the survivofs of the fittest. Dawkins uses the metaphore of a river, a river of genes that makes its way through time. Gene group themselves into packages. These packages begin (at least since sex began) when two similar packages come together and create new packages. These new packages then join with other packages are formed. After a time, or perhaps because of some accident, packages disintegrate. The packages are temporary. The river of genes contiues on. The river contains many genes but it is the specific genes in a package that survives to produce the next generation. Genes transmit their information in a digital manner which gives the data much greater stability or reliability and much higher packing densithy than does analog data. Genes that survive long enough to replicate themselves are selected not only for their qualities byt for the qualities of all the genes in their particular package, the whole organism.

C2 Cultural Relativism The belief that all beliefs are equally valid, they are just held by different cultures. As Dawkins says, "Show me a cultural relativeist at 30,000 feet and I will show you a hypocrite." Airplanes built to scientific principles work, devices built to tribal or mythocal specifications donÕt. For esample, the beeswax wings of Icarios donÕt. Other examples are flying carpets, chariots of fire, etc.

We all have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 g grandparents, and so on. Go back n generations and we have 2 to the nth power ancestors. Before long we get a number greater than the total number of people who have ever lived. We are all incredibly inbreed and we are all cousins to everyone else. Using genetic methods it is possible to date the time of the first common ancestor of all existing humans. This 'African' Eve lived between 150 kya and 250 kya. There may be an "African" Adam but we don't have specific evidence currently to place his time, probably more recent than "Eve".

C3 Stealth  Nature (evolution) has a way of 'sneaking up" on you. Since evolution occurs in such small steps we really can't see it happening. This is actually not that different from many branches of science, its just that most brancehes of science do not, at present, have so much superstition aimed at them. Dawkins brings up many examples of seemingly "miraculous" evolution and explains how they conform to the natural laws of evolution. He calls this the "Arguement from Personal Incredulity". This arguement arises from the belief that "X", some ecological or revolutionary relationship is so complex that it couldn't have originated by means of gradual or partial steps. "It couldn't work if it was only half done." Dawkins calls this the "brittleness" arguement. If just one part breaks, the whold system fails. He uses the examaple of a 747 losing one or two engines, it will still fly. Eyes have independently evolved between 40 and 60 times and there are at least 9 different types of eyes. Two researchers have done studies that suggest that it would take no more than 400k generations to go from a light sensative cell to a fully developed fish eye. At this rate of evolution, a species of fish could evolve eyes, have then genetically removed by gene surgery, re-evolve them, etc. 15 times since the precursers of modern humans split from the precursers of modern chimps 6 mya. v

C4 Utility Functions  Scientists are quite good at answering "How" questions, not so good at answering "Why" questions. It does not follow, however, that anyone else (Theologians) are necessarily good at this, reference their internal disagreements. If we were to use either the engineers "reverse engineering" or the economists "utility function", what would we come up with as to the use of a given species? Can we (need we) come up with anything other than to reproduce themselves? ( I may be missing something, but I fail to see the utility of this chapter.)

C5 Replication  Stars sometimes explode, we call these novas and supernovas. Dawkins postulates a replication explosion. This is a billogical or information, and, to the extent that we have data, occurs on planets orbiting stars. Chemicals can carry information in their molecules, more complex molecules can carry more information. He postulates six stages in a replication explosion.

  1. Replication Threshold: Some primarily chemical systems arises which is capable of replicating itself with occasional random mistakes.
  2. Phenotype Threshold: These chemical systems accumulate around themselves some sort of covering which assists the replication in surviving.
  3. Replicatior Team Threshold: Chemical systems (call it a gene) group together in a mutually beneficial clumps (call them cells).
  4. Many Cells Threshold: When groups of genes(cells) divide they can stick together and form multi cell organisms.
  5. High Speed Information Processing Threshold: On earth living creaturs developed neurons or nerve cells. This allows for rapid (remote) sensing and coordinated movement. A later stage would be true information (ganglia or brains).
  6. Consciousness Threshold: Organisms becoming aware of their surroundings and storing memories.
  7. Language Threshold: Being able to communicate with others and developing cooperatve activities.
  8. Cooperative Technology Threshold: Multiple individual organisms cooperating for the production of technologies.

  9. Somewhere in steps 6 - 8 the meme arises.
    (I am not sure about these last 3 (6-7-8) see Mithen: A Natural History of the Mind)
  10. Radio Threshold: Radio makes it possible for outside observers to notice that a star system has exploded as a replication bomb.
  11. Space Travel Threshold: The ability to travel to other star systems. We have only started to take the first steps toward this goal.

A selected bibliography and reading list of generally accessible books published between 1960 and 1995.

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The Selfish Gene    Richard Dawkins

C1  Dawkins states that there are levels at which evolution could take place: the gene, groups of genes, individual organisms, groups of organisms, species, and groups of species. He firmly states that the most productive and useful level of explanation is at the gene and groups of genes level. These are the only entities that maintain discrete physical existence throughout the ages. His purpose in this book is the examination of the biology of selfishness and altruism. Dawkins finds that the gene and groups of genes are the most useful points to begin this exploration.

C2  Darwin's "survival of the fittest" is a special case of a more general law: Survival of the Stable. Before life existed on earth there existed certain molecules that were extremely stable. Under the influence of energy and vast amounts of time some of these were modified such that they were capable of replicating themselves, in a manner probably similar to crystal formation. With more energy and time these continued to change (evolve). Novel methods of capturing the raw materials necessary for replication appeared and some of these molecules began collecting smaller molecules around themselves that acted as barriers. These became the first proto-cells. The molecules were to become genes and the barrier walls became cell walls.

C3 These early replicators may or may not have been DNA based. Some have hypothesized that the first replicators were attached to clay particles. Now they are all composed of DNA chains. The reproductive success of any particular gene depends upon the reproductive success of all the other genes with whom it shares a cell wall: an organism.

C4  Extended discussion of the interaction of genes, organisms, environment, and time.

C5 Digression:  Assume that individuals are selfish machines programmed to do whatever is best for his genes as a whole. The best strategy is not always obvious. One approach is the ESS or Environmentally Stable Strategy which, if adapted by most members of a population, cannot be bettered by an alternative strategy. A gene pool will become and environmentally stable set of genes. It is very difficult for a new gene to enter this pool as long as the environment remains constant.

C6  How genes are expressed in a population. The gene mathematics of altruistic behavior.

C7 Family Planning  Generally speaking, animals produce as many offspring as can be reasonably expected to survive. It is costly in terms of time and energy, to support an offspring from birth, laying, hatching, whatever, until they are able to survive on their own. There are several theories of how this number of offspring is determined, none entirely satisfactory.

C8 Parental Investment:  An investment by a parent in an individual offspring that increases the offspring's ability to survive and reproduce at the expense of investing in other offspring. Parents make an unconscious decision of how much to invest in each offspring and the offspring make a similar genetically based decision on how hard they struggle with their parents and siblings as to the amount of resources they can utilize for themselves.

C9 Sexual Conflict:  A mathematical and logical analysis of the efforts and choices made by males and females in selecting mates and raising offspring with regards to the number of offspring raised to adulthood.

C10 Memes:  A Gene is a biological replication. A meme (from the Greek root of mimeme) is a cultural (or linguistic) replication. The science of memes is not nearly as advanced as the science of genes (genetics) but there are many similarities and it seems to offer some hope for our understanding. An interesting point is that it seems to work by Lamarkian hereditary principles.

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The Blind Watchmaker     Richard Dawkins

C1  At its heart this is a very simple book. Dawkins simply takes many of the arguments that believers in creationism and intelligent design (referring primarily to those espousing the current political theory) use in their diatribes against modern Darwinian evolutionary theory and demonstrates the falsity of these arguments. In doing this he uses the metaphor of the Blind Watchmaker as used by the theologian William Paley in 1802. Paleys question was, "Could a blind watchmaker build this fine watch that I see before me?" Paleys answer was "No, not without some prior design." Dawkins answer is "Yes, and the design criteria was set by the natural selection component of evolution and each successful step along the way was rewarded by successful offspring and each unsuccessful step was punished by death before producing offspring." A sequential argument might be, "If we have divine design, how can we have more than one kind of watch, with natural selection we would have many competing designs."

C2  Discussion of echolocation: bats, radar, sonar, doppler effect and other arguments based on Personal Incredulity (and often total ignorance of the facts).

C3  Evolution is the process of the accumulation of very small changes, each of which has been selected by non-random selection over millions if not billions of years. The chapter contains an extended discussion of the use of computer simulation to emulate and explore some aspects of evolution Ð Biomorphs.

C4  A philosophical discussion of the eye and ear (echolocation) and how organs for these have evolved in several different ways throughout the animal kingdom. At least 40 separate evolutions of the eye (with an option on 60). No number given for ears.

C5  DNA, RNA. A, C, T, G, and the other buzzwords of genetics. How genetic information is passed down through the years and some of the chemical restraints to genetics.

C6  What is a miracle? One mathematically useful definition that it is an event that has a very small probability of happening. How did life on earth begin? The probabilities of various types of "miracles".

C7  Constructive Evolution. Genes can only work in an environment that allows them to express themselves. An example: genes for tearing incisors would be wasted on a sheep, likewise grinding molar genes would be useless in a tiger. To rephrase, grinding molar genes evolve in concert with long digestive system genes which can digest plant materials and tearing incisor genes evolve in concert with short meat eating digestive system genes. Groups of animals (species, etc.) evolve in concert, e.g. cheetahs and gazelles Ð wolves and caribou. Another factor to be considered, as one species evolves in the ability to run fast, these features, increased leg length, bigger muscles, incur costs in terms of more calories required, increased turning radius, etc. E.Q. Encephalization Quotient. The log ratio of brain weight to body weight standardized within major animal group.

C8  Positive and negative feedback, sexual selection.

C9 Punctuated equilibrium  Interesting factoid: The Children of Israel took 40 years to cross the Sinai to the Promised Land. That is approximately 200 miles. That would average about 5 miles per year = 26.400 ft/yr. = 72+ ft/day = 3 ft/hour = 508 ft/week. Given an 8-hour workday and weekends, that is about 12.7 feet per working hour.

Given straight Darwinian gradualism that's 3 feet per hour. With slightly irregular evolution that would be about 13 feet per hour with rest periods. Now if the Children were to amble along for a week or so, stop and take a year long sabbatical, perhaps take a side trip or two, and gather up everyone and amble along for another week or so. Perhaps we could call this a punctuated trip to the Promised Land. The question is not: "Does evolution proceed at an absolutely constant rate over time?" The real question is: "Do the ideas imbedded within 'punctuated equilibrium' add to the usefulness of the general theory of evolution?"

C10 Classification  What is the science of putting things into categories? Taxonomy! Hopefully the categories have some underlying meaning for the subject matter. Sometimes the only requirement is the categorization and later retrieval of information like libraries. Presumably the biological sciences have an underlying categorization, what species evolved from which species? The problem is how to discern this relationship for each set of species in the history of the earth. Easy to say but not so easy to perform. In the taxonomy community there is extensive debate, sometimes acrimonious, as to the proper approach(s) and tools to attack the problem. It turns our that different approaches yield different results.

C11 Alternative Theories of Evolution  The first scientifically based theory of evolution as Lamarkism, from Chevalier de Lamark, in the late 1700's and early 1800's. His theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics came before Darwin. Darwin's theory of evolution, first published in 1859, came about in part because Lamarkism had failed to produce any useful results. There are other minor disagreements regarding the form of evolutionary theory but these are very minor.

Dawkins points out the difference between a plan or blueprint and a recipe. Lamarkism and Creationism / Intelligent Design are based on the blueprint model. Darwinian evolution is based on the recipe model. The recipe model is the only theory that corresponds to what we know of embryology.

The only other potentially viable theories are Creationism and Intelligent Design. The problems with these are there is no empirical evidence for them and they are not useful in terms of predicting any other relationships. They are based entirely on the creation myths of one (or several) Near Eastern tribes to the exclusion of almost all other peoples of that general time period.

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Climbing Mount Improbable   Richard Dawkins

C1  Mimicry, design, designoids, camouflage, selective breeding (for dogs and plants), biomorphs.  A serious jumble of a chapter, an introduction to the entire book.

C2  Spider Webs  How do you catch a flying insect?  Fly fast and have good eyes – as in a swift, or fly at night and use echolocation – as in bats.  Next solution family: sit and wait, creep slow and have a fast tongue (frogs & chameleon), or fast arms (mantis).  The cost for both is in maintaining powerful wings or a long tongue.  Another possibility is to make a net with reusable components.  Spiders have perfected this.  After the intro, the first part of the chapter discusses the many ways in which spiders construct their webs.  The second part of he chapter discusses the many ways in which spiders construct their webs.  The second part of the chapter discusses a number of details of computer simulations of spider webs.  The final pages are devoted to a very complex and realistic simulation of fish.

C3  Mt. Improbable  A description of the huge and forbidding front side of the massive Mt. Improbable.  It has a seemingly impossible to climb vertical face.  However, if we go around to the back side it has a very gentle slope with few difficulties to scale.  The only problem is that the back side extends a long way (back in time).  Many people (reputable scientists included) look up at the face of Mt. Improbable and state that it would be impossible to climb (or leap) up the face in a single climb (step).  They are right, it would be impossible to go from the lifeless surface of the earth 4 billion years ago to a whale, a hummingbird, or even a T. rex in a single step without some sort of (divine?) intervention.  However, if you just travel around to the back it is a gentle slope and the steps between life forms are easily traveled.  Even though each step may be slightly unlikely, there are billions of years and billions of organisms to take those steps.

Evolution requires two basic elements.  Small differences between parents and offspring and differential selection between offspring.  The small differences between parents and offspring may or may not be random, the “random” mutations; but the differential selection “natural selection” is definitely not.  Those among the offspring who are slightly more fit have a better chance of mating and producing offspring of their own.  Natural populations typically come pre-equipped with considerable variation, Biston betularia, a moth, involved in the famous case of dark moths on polluted trees around London and lighter moths in unpolluted country areas.  This species has always had a few dark members.  With pollution darkening trees and offering dark moths a place to hide, selection is changing the ratio of dark to light moths in the population.

C4  Flying  Big animals can’t fly, some medium sized animals can fly, most small animals can fly, and all very small animals can fly.  Very small animals (mainly insects), so called aerial plankton, don’t need wings at all.  Many slightly larger have very tiny wing stumps, these act as thermoregulatory organs.  Still larger insects have very small true wings.  Many species of mammals around squirrel size have developed gliding flight.  These are joined by at least one snake, lizard, and frog.  Several fish and squid species also glide significant distances through the air.  There is some controversy whether birds (dinosaurs) developed flight by jumping after insects or by gliding from trees or rocks.

C5  Vision  Eyes have independently evolved at least 40 times and probably more than 60 times.  Vision has developed using 9 different techniques.  One study calculated hat it would take 364,000 generations using a selection factor of 0.005% to produce a good fish eye with a lens.  For small marine animals like marine worms, mollusks, and small fish a generation is about a year or less.  It would take less than one half a million years to evolve a very sophisticated eye.  This is a mere eye blink in terms of the geological time since life began on earth.  Some of the types of eyes are:  Very simple eyes (simple photoreceptor, pigment eye cup eyes), Compound eyes (proto compound eyes, superposition eyes, neural superposition eyes, opposition eyes), Camera type eyes (near pin hole eyes, reflecting pigment eyes, nautiloid eyes, vitreous eyes, mirror eyes, cephalopod eyes, spider eyes, fish eyes, corneal eyes of land vertebrates).

C6  The mathematics of shells  What seashells (and horns) are mathematically possible, what are physically realistic, and which ones actually exist.  Not too relevant but a survey of what life forms are possible and what ones are not.

C7  Symmetry  Animals display many kinds of symmetry.  However the most common and useful to larger animals seem to be right-left or bilateral symmetry.  He explores the issue both in terms of natural history and with computer simulation.  Symmetry reduces the amount of genetic information necessary to generate a living individual and to keep both sides of the body operating in unity with each other.  Can you imagine the difficulties of trying to walk on a straight line if one of your legs was, say 3 ft long, and the other was 2 ft long?  However he fails to take into account that rare Western U.S. species called the “Side Hill Gouger”.  Numerous authorities have testified to this animal’s ability to run along the side of steep hillsides at a very high rate of speed and agility.  These authorities, known as “Old Timers”, attribute this speed and agility to the animals having one set of legs, those on the uphill side, shorter than those on the downhill side.

C8  Flowers  Flowers evolved as a mechanism to provide bees with pollen and nectar, bees evolved as a device to transfer pollen from plant to plant.  Flower petals are advertising signs for nectar supplies.  Bees and flowers have evolved in unison to the benefit of both species.  There are more instances of such mutually evolving benefits of plants and animals.

C9  Replication - Duplication  Robots, viruses, duplication matching, TRIP (Total Replication of Instructions Program), nanotechnologly, and gigatechnology.

C10  Figs and Wasps  There are more than 900 species of figs and each has its own species of fig wasp which pollinates the figs.  There are also predators of these wasps and secondary wasps who deposit eggs in developing figs and wasps who reuse the holes made by these wasps to lay their eggs.  There are also flying and non-flying male wasps.  Figs and their linked wasps form an extraordinarily complex set of parallel evolving species and ways of life.

   Are we missing something here?  Ends abruptly.

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Unweaving the Rainbow   Richard Dawkins

C1  Familiarity  The miracle of being alive.  The improbabilitly of being alive at this moment in time.  The metaphore of writing the story of this year on a single sheet of paper.  Then writing the story of last year on another piece of paper and placing it on top of the first one.  Now keep on going.  We now have a yardstick, one piece of paper per year.  At this rate 1000 years would fit in 4 inches.  To read about Caesar or Jesus you would look about 8 inches up.  You could comfortably sit on all recorded history.  The use of fire was discovered perhaps 1/2 million years ago, that would be a little higher than the Statue of Liberty.  Lucy, our heroine of the australopithecine, would be in a book at about the height of the tallest building on earth.  Our last ancestor we shared with the chimps would be about twice that high.  To read the story of a trilobite we would have to use a rocket to reach about 35 miles high.  We have an incredible history.

C2  A drawing room of poets and scientists  He bemoans the fact that most scientists can’t write like poets and poets seldom get their inspiration from science.  He discusses the Kennewick Man and post-modernism.  He complains about the “dumbing down” and bastardization of science.

C3  Barcodes in the stars  Dawkins begins with a short section of a poem by Keats which includes the phrase, “Unweave a rainbow . . . “.  Keats evidently believed that Newton had destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to the prismatic colours.  It would seem that many poets and uneducated persons believe that science destroyies the mystery and beauty of life.  Dawkins disagrees.  A variant of using a simple prism to study light is to pass the light through a  narrow slit before it hit the prism.  Scattered along the prism you can see narrow dark line, called Fraunhofer lines after the person who cataloged  and described them.  This simple technique transferred the stars from simple points to vast chemical factories that we can study and determine their motions, temperatures, sizes, etc.  We can also study the contenets of the space between the star and earth.  These are the “barcodes” he refers to in the title.  He goes on to discuss color vision and what can be learned using light.

C4  Barcodes on the air  Sound and sound waves.  Insect ears hear by sensing air movement not pressure.  He discusses wave forms and Fourier analysis, birdsongs, and speach.

C5  Barcodes at the bar  Using DNA and other scientifically based markers in legal matters.  The problems with this form of identification and how to avoid them.  The large numbers and probability pitfalls of using this evidence without truly understanding them.

C6  Hoodwink’d  Why are we so fascinated by astrologers and other charlatins and seemingly ignore the true beauty of the actual universe?  He lists several predictions by learned men that were quickly shown to be pure fantasy.  Why credulity in children is extremely useful to them but commonly results in foolishness in adults.

C7  Unweaving the uncanny  The supposed feats of mentalists can seem amazing until they are evaluated.  Their main skill is in convincing you not to evaluate their predictions.  Often the reason is simple fraud, other times simple probability analysis will show how the prediction was done.  Skinnerian “superstitious” behavior is also quite prevalent.  Statistical analysis, double blind studies, false positive and false negative results, costs and benefits associated with false positive and false negative errors; these are some of the techniques that can be used to evaluate relationships.  We have a problem because our brains evolved in a hunter-gatherer culture and our modern world doesn’t respond well to our inherited truth detection capabilities.

C8  Bad science and poetry  Poetry and science should inspire each other but without good science the end result will always end up just being dumb.  He cites a number of examples of (sometimes good) poetry based on bad science.   Dawkins is especially discomforted by Stephen Jay Gould because he is such a good writer but sometimes his metaphores and figures of speech can lead peaple into misinterpreting what he is truly saying.

C9  The Selfish Cooperator  Selfishness and self centered behavior, his “The Selfish Gene” has led some astray.  Sometimes in an effort to be successful, the best strategy is to cooperate with others.  The individual genes of each species must work well together with the rest of the genes in that particular species group.

C10  The Genetic Book of the Dead  Genes are selected in the reproduction game by residing in the bodies of the winners.  By examining the animal you can get a very good idea of the environment in which it evolved.  He has an extended discussion of the genetics of the cuckoo and how it evolved in concert with the genes of the species which it uses as surrigate parents.

C11  Reweaving the world  How does one recognize features in the world?  The nervous system seems to react primarily to changes in information.  We construct models where expected features are seldom noted and unexpected features are described in great detail.  If expected features are not present, we tend to create them internally.  This can cause illusions.  We all live in a “virtual reality” of our own creation which works wonderfully until the world changes in such a way that it contradicts our image of it.

C12  The Balloon of the Mind  The biologists of any age have tended to use the technology of their time to describe the working of organisms.  Why did our brain expand so rapidly over the last million years?  How did language come about?  How did art begin?  How did we learn to use projectile weapons?  Memes, how did they arise and are they found in any other species?

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A Devil’s Chaplain   Richard Dawkins

Dawkins has been described as “Darwins Pit Bull”.  This book demonstrates why.  He can give big slobbery kisses or go for the jugular and accidently get the spinal cord because it was in the neighborhood.  A good man to have at your back in a fight.  It is a compendium of essays written over 25 years.

1  Science and Sensibility
1.1  A Devil’s Chaplain
  Would an intelligent (and merciful) designer plan a system in which several varieties of wasps string their prey into parallelization so that the wasp larva has live meat to eat from the inside out?  Dawkins says, referring to humans, “We, alone on earth, can rebel against the selfish regulators.” in referring to the mandates of, “The Selfish Gene”.

1.2  What is True?  Truth is what nature says it is, not what (potentially) biased humans say.  Religious missionaries are successful not because of the merits of their religion but because of the merits of their science based technology that is incorporated into their messages.

1.3  Gaps in the Mind  The discontinuous mind.  When does A become B?  Only when there are no intermediate forms.  Examples are white, colored, or black from human racism.  Another example is so called “ring species”.  In Britain there are Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and they never interbreed.  If you look at Herring gulls around the North Pole, as you move to Canada, to Alaska, to Siberia, and back to Europe the gulls look less and less like Herring Gulls and more and more like Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  By the time you get back to Britain they are identical to the Lesser Black-backed Gulls that existed along with the original Herring Gulls in Britain.  How can you tell where one starts and the other stops.  They only differ in the probability of successful breeding between any two individual gulls.  There are a number of similar “ring species”.  In fact nearly all related species stated out as “ring species”.  It is just that for most of them the intermediate steps (subspecies?) no longer exist (became extinct?).

Interesting thought experiment.  Take your mothers hand, now she takes her mothers hand, now she takes ... and so on with each mother-daughter pair until we get back to the great ... grandmother who was ancestor to both you and a chimpanzee.  How long would this line be?  Assuming 3 feet between each pair - the line would be about 300 miles long.  You may have evolved more than I have, I was born when my mother was about 40, she was born when my grandmother was about 40, but it probably evens out after a few more generations.  Now imagine the other daughter of the great ... grandmother, the one on the chimp side.  If each {person/chimp} pair faces each other they are all looking at their cousins, first cousins, second cousins, third ... .  Actually this isn’t quite correct, modern day chimps take less time between generations than humans do so chimps have evolved further than we humans have.

1.4  Science, Genetics and Ethics:  Memo for Tony Blair  Scientists are not special because of their knowledge but because of their method of acquiring it.  Discussion from genetics and ethics.

1.5  Trial by Jury
  What is an adequate sample size for a jury?  Should they be independent? ie. not all grouped into l room?  How about two (or more) independent and isolated from each other, juries or judges, decide the case.  If they agree () or (2 of 3), (3 of 5), (3 of 4), etc. that is the verdict, if not - a hung jury(s) and try again.

1.6  Crystalline Truth and Crystal Balls  Some of the science and pseudo-science of chrystals.

1.7  Postmodernism Disrobed  Book review.  How to string together meaningless words and have it sound profound.  Check the web site at http://www.elsewhere.org/cgi.bin/postmodern/  (sorry, didn’t work for me).

1.8  Joy of Living Dangerously  Sanderson of Oundle  On the stupidity of much of modern education.  A sort of eulogy for the Headmaster of Oundle, Dawkins’ old school.  Could we have Dawkins appointed Director of “No Child Left Behind”?

2.1 Light Will Be Thrown
  Sexual selection in evolution.  Disagreement between Wallace and Darwin.  Wallace saw utility, Darwin also saw aesthetic whim.  The idea that human races differ only in terms of sexual attractiveness.

2.2  Darwin Triumphant  If an advanced alien were to arrive on earth would it find that Darwin was the greatest thinker in human history?  General discussion of evolution.   There seem to be only two ways of getting from a design to a completed structure.  One is via a blueprint or plan and the other is via a recipe.  Building or machines are built without any intermediate steps by using the blueprint or plan methodology.  Instructions for cooking and living organisms seem to work better using the recipe method.

2.3  The “Information Challenge”  Evaluating the genetic code in terms of information content, Shannon etc.  The information content of a species can be evaluated by determining the total number of unique genes in the total gene pool.

2.4  Genes Aren’t Us  Genes act in many ways to control our bodies and behavior.  They act both as recipies and as blueprints and all effects are modified by the environment.  The sorting out of exact causality is far beyond our capabilities.

2.5  Son of Moore’s Law  Genetics today is pure information technology.  This is why an antifreeze gene from an Arctic fish can be cut and pasted into a tomato.
Moore’s Law:  Computer power doubles every 18 months.
Nathan’s Law:  Software grows faster than Moore’s Law, that is why we have Moore’s Law.
Son of Moore’s Law:  The increase in our capacity to sequence DNA is exponential and doubles every 27 months.  If this law holds, by 2050 you should be able to do a complete personal gene sequencing for the same price that we now pay for a simple X-ray now.  This could result in absolute personalized drug prescriptions by 2050.  Pro life seems to mean pro White Anglo-Saxon male life with their necessary (only for reproductive use) female counterparts.

3 The Infected Mind  References: Humphrey-The Mind Made Flesh, Robert Hinde-Why Gods Persist, and Pascal Boyer-Religion Explained

3.1  Chinese Junk and Chinese Whispers   From simple imitation of a gesture or phrase to self correcting behavior patterns such as the folding of paper Chinese junk and on to scholarly books.  An introduction to memes.

3.2  Viruses of the Mind  The human child is built to absorb (replicate) knowledge.  Data replication compared to computer viruses.  How religion is spread by mental viruses (memes).  Includes a medical textbook like description of religion and its symptoms.

3.3  The Great Convergence  When it comes to Baal and the Golden Calf, Thor and Wotan, Poseidon and Apollo, Mithras and Ammon Ra, most present day theists are atheists, most present day atheist just extend this list to just one more god.

3.4  Dolly and the Cloth Heads  A clone of a human would have exactly the same relationship to the donor as one identical twin has to the other.

3.5  Time to Stand Up  A justifiable rant following 9/11.  No religion as such caused 9/11, equally no religion caused the Crusades a thousand years earlier.  They were both caused by individuals for their own reasons.  However the advertised reason for both was religion.  Religion and our seeming need to blame some existing group for real or imagined wrongs perpetrated by some specific individual(s) in the past.

4 They Told Me, Heraclitus  Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide), W. D. Hamilton (important evolutionary theorist) and John Diamond (wrote a book on medical charlatans as he was dying of cancer).

5  Even the Ranks of Tuscany  Book Reviews:  A Wonderful Life:  Stephen J. Gould  A review of Ever Since Darwin: S J Gould, a review of Pluto’s Republic by Peter Medawar and Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes by S J Gould.  Reviews of Wonderful Life by S J Gould.  Review of Full House by S J Gould.  A joint letter (and a bit of an eulogy) that Gould never get the chance to complete.

6  There is all Africa and her Prodigies in us
  On our African Heritage:  Forward to Pyramids of Life by Croze and Reader, Forward to Red Strangers by Elspeth Huxley.  Forward to The Lion Children by Angus, Masie, and Travers McNeice.  A short review of a visit to Africa and a Christmas visit with Richard and Meave Leakey.

7  A prayer for my Daughter  An open letter to his daughter.  He warns her of the many traps and pitfalls that await  a young person as they are entering life on their own.  There things that every parent should explain to their child, either by their actions or verbally.

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The Extended Phenotype

Some of Dawkins' book are very hard to summarize, this is one.  He says so much and covers so much ground that the only way to do the book justice is to repeat almost everything he says.  Why bother, just get the original book.  The book is a follow on to his "The Selfish Gene".  That book was for more of a general audience.  This book is designed for his professional colleagues, evolutionary biologists, ethologists, and sociobiologists, ecologists, and philosophers and humanists interested in evolutionary science, including graduate and undergraduate students in all these disciplines.  Being none of the above it was a little tough sledding in spots.  And he is writing this before most of the knowledge of DNA was discovered (copyright 1982).  One of the main things that I got out of the book is that the expression of genes in a living organism is vastly more complex than I had ever dreamed it was.  He spends a lot of time describing a typical expression of a gene or set of genes and how it has been viewed and then asking a lot of questions and describing a number of counter-examples.  

Not being a professional in the field I have not seen any of the critical reviews of this book.  I personally would be terrified if I was asked to write one.  He covers so much and from so many points of view that it would be very difficult to know where to start.  He doesn't cover anything in real depth but that really can't be criticized because it could easily take volumes for almost any of his subjects, plus a large amount of independent research.  His book is almost a philosophical plan for what needs to be done in the life sciences for the next 20 or 30 years if not more.  One comes away from this book with an amazement as to how much is really known as well as an understanding as to how much is now known.  To those with the proper knowledge and intellectual tools there should be a series of internal thoughts as to the pieces are related and ideas as to how some of these things could be explored.  

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