RE: virus: Dawkins is an idiot

Richard Brodie (
Wed, 20 Nov 1996 11:36:51 -0800

David Leeper wrote:

>"Dawkins holds the Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of
>at the Oxford University"
>...translates into:
>"Dawkins writes storybooks."
>This, better than anything else, shows how far Dawkins has dropped in
>eyes since I've read CMI.


Are you not in favor of public understanding of science? Or do you just
think that enlightening the masses is an unworthy pursuit compared with
prancing atop rarefied intellectual Alps?

Many of the issues you raise with Dawkins, I think, come from your
desire to read a popular science book as if it were a refereed
scientific paper. Look! Do you want people to understand natural
selection or not? Dawkins is teaching a simple model. It's not "wrong"
for him to ignore other models that conflict.

You seem to have a confusion around Dawkins's use of the word "fitness"
as regards "going downhill" on Mount Improbable. Why would you think
that a whale's reverting to fins is going downhill? Once aquatic, fins
clearly make him more fit as a vehicle to replicate the DNA that creates
him. The shape of the phenotype has nothing to do with the direction of
the "hill." The fact that fins existed in the past in other phenotypes
is of no concern to the DNA. A "new" idea is not necessarily more fit
than an old one. Dawkins's point is that natural selection microselects
at each generation for traits that enhance replication, and
statistically can't see around a blind corner to grant a temporary
reduction in relative fitness for a huge future gain.

If you haven't read Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," I'd like to
recommend it (it's available at the Memetics Bookstore, Dennett does a great job
of explaining the vastness of design space and why natural selection
does get caught in local maxima. Beyond that, realize that all fitness
is relative. In a stone-paper-scissors world, scissors would be selected
in a predominantly paper population, paper in a stone, and stone in a
scissors. The "Mount Improbable" analogy breaks down if you look at
evolution as progressing toward something "better" -- it's not. It just

Richard Brodie +1.206.688.8600
CEO, Brodie Technology Group, Inc., Bellevue, WA, USA
Do you know what a "meme" is?