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Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder Paperback – April 5, 2000
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Why do poets and artists so often disparage science in their work? For that matter, why does so much scientific literature compare poorly with, say, the phone book? After struggling with questions like these for years, biologist Richard Dawkins has taken a wide-ranging view of the subjects of meaning and beauty in Unweaving the Rainbow, a deeply humanistic examination of science, mysticism, and human nature. Notably strong-willed in a profession of bet-hedgers and wait-and-seers, Dawkins carries the reader along on a romp through the natural and cultural worlds, determined that "science, at its best, should leave room for poetry."
Inspired by the frequently asked question, "Why do you bother getting up in the morning?" following publication of his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins set out determined to show that understanding nature's mechanics need not sap one's zest for life. Alternately enlightening and maddening, Unweaving the Rainbow will appeal to all thoughtful readers, whether wild-eyed technophiles or grumpy, cabin-dwelling Luddites. Excoriations of newspaper astrology columns follow quotes from Blake and Shakespeare, which are sandwiched between sparkling, easy-to-follow discussions of probability, behavior, and evolution. In Dawkins's world (and, he hopes, in ours), science is poetry; he ends his journey by referring to his title's author and subject, maintaining that "A Keats and a Newton, listening to each other, might hear the galaxies sing." --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Keats complained that Newton's experiments with prisms had destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow. Not so, says Oxford biologist Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) who, in an eloquent if prickly defense of the scientific enterprise, calls on the "two cultures" of science and poetry to learn from each other. Yet Dawkins cautions against "bad poetic science," i.e., seductive but misleading metaphors, and cites as an example " 'Gaia': the overrated romantic fancy of the whole world as an organism," a hypothesis proposed by atmospheric scientist James Lovelock and bacteriologist Lynn Margulis. Dawkins (continuing a celebrated battle that has been raging in the New York Review of Books) also lambastes paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould for "bad poetry," rejecting Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium, which holds that new species emerge during relatively short bursts of evolutionary advance. In these conversational, discursive essays, Dawkins is, as always, an elegant, witty popularizer, whether he is offering a crash course in DNA fingerprinting, explaining the origins of "mad cow disease" in weird proteins that spread like self-replicating viruses or discussing male birdsong as an auditory aphrodisiac for female birds. However, in venturing into realms beyond the immediate purview of science, he reveals his own biases, launching into a predictable, rather superficial assault on paranormal research, UFO reports, astrology and psychic phenomena, all of which he dismisses as products of fraud, illusion, sloppy observation or an exploitation of our natural appetite for wonder. Dawkins is most interesting when he theorizes that our brains have partly taken over from DNA the role of recording the environment, resulting in "virtual worlds" that alter the terrain in which our genes undergo natural selection. Agent, John Brockman. 50,000 first printing; first serial to the Sciences.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The title refers to the rainbow of visible light, but Dawkins points out that the same metaphor applies to a great many other processes, including sound, animal tracking, paleontology, and plenty of places where a greater understanding of logic, statistics and other data-based processes can enhance our lives considerably. I was especially taken by the chapter on science in the courtroom.
Dawkins may come off as too cynical for some people, but I prefer the term "skeptical", which is a good, solid, rational position to take. I've loved every book of his I've read, and expect to read every one I find.
Dawkins launches into elaborate scientific explanations in an easy-to-understand format and language. The book is brimming with scientific knowledge that anyone can understand. He 'unweaves' such mysteries as the structure of DNA, sound waves, the brain, and other scientific phenomena. At times, the lengthy explanations of certain things may tend toward the boring side: it really depends on what you're interested in whether or not you'll enjoy his lengthy dialectical insights. There's something in the book for everyone, though, and the variety of topics are sure to keep you entertained. The message that he tackles is powerful and well-written. Dawkins eloquently puts forth the majesty of a scientific understanding of the world, and urges the reader to attack the notion that science is too 'hard-to-understand' for the average person. He further asserts that to ignore scientific discoveries is a great disservice to humanity in general.
Unweaving the Rainbow should be read by anyone who has read Dawkins' other works and has felt disillusioned or depressed by what they saw as a purposeless worldview, or anyone interested in science in general, especially if you find certain aspects of scientific thought difficult to grasp.. Unlike some of his other works, Dawkins' atheism is not the main purpose of this book. I highly recommend Unweaving the Rainbow to anyone familiar with Dawkins.