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BookReview: The Blind Watchmaker
by Richard Dawkins, W. W. Norton, 1986, 0-393-315703-3

[p51] If you don't know anything about computers, just remember that they are machines that do exactly what you tell them but often surprise you in the result.

[p65] The point of the story is that even though it was I that programmed the computer, telling it in great detail what to do, nevertheless I didn't paln the animals that evolved, and I was totally surprised by them when I first saw their precursors. So powerless was I to control the evolution that, even when I very much wanted to retrace a particular evolutionary pathway it proved all but impossible to do so. I don't believe I would ever have found my insects again if I hadn't had a printed picture of the complete set of their evolutionary precursors, and even then it was difficult and tedious. Does the powerlessness of the programmer to control or predict the course of evolution in the computer seem paradoxical? Does it mean that something mysterious, even mystical was going on inside the computer? Of course ont. Nor is there anything mystical going on in the evolution of real animals and plants.

[p66] The art of writing a good chess program is thinking of efficient short cuts through the search-space. Cumulative selection, wether artificial selection as in the computer model or natural selection out there in the real world, is an efficeint search procedure, and its consequences look very like creative intelligence. That, after all, is what William Paley's Argument from Design was all about. Technically, all that we are doing, when we play the computer biomorph game is finding animals that, in a mathematical sense, are wating to be found. What it feels like is a process of artistic creation.

[p67] (The important thing to remember about mathematics is not to be frightened. It isn't as difficult as the mathematical priesthood sometimes pretends. Whenever I feel intimidated, I always remember Silvanus Thompson's dictum in Calculus Made Easy: 'What one fool can do, another can'.)

[p86] Anti-evolution propaganda is full of alleged examples of complex systems that 'could not possibly' have passed through a gradual series of intermediates. This is often just another case of the rather pathetic 'Argument from Personal Incredulity' that we met in Chapter 2.

[p90] How did snake venom get its start? Many animals bite, and any animal's spit contains proteins which, if they get into a wound, may cause an allergic reaction. Even so-called non-venomous snakes can give bites that cause a painful reaction in some people. There is a continuos, graded series from ordinay spit to deadly venom.

[p92] No sensible designer would have conceived such a monstrosity if given a free hand to create a flatfish on a clean drawing board. I suspect the most sensible designers would think in terms of of something more like a skate. But evolution never starts from a clean drawing board. It has to start from what is already there.

[p189] Different people are at liberty to come up with different methods of doing the calculations, but probably the most authoritative index is the 'encephalization quotient' or EQ used by Harry Jerison, a leading American authority on brain history.

[p255] This book is mainly about evolution as the solution of the complex 'design' problem; evolution as the true explanation for the phenomena that Paley thought proved the existence of the divine watchmaker.

Via Rob 2002
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