A semi-daily chronicle of my life as a musician, a family man, and a citizen of Oregon.

Apr 27, 2008

I was led to read this book by way of one of those six-degrees-of-separation links that make the world the place that it is... I was watching the excellent documentary "The Smartest Guys in the Room" about my former employer, Enron, and it struck with me that the movie mentions "The Selfish Gene" as being one of Jeff Skilling's favorite books. A reader of Stephen Jay Gould's, I already had a bit of an interest in genetics and understood the book to expound upon one of my favorite subjects, Darwinism, so I though I'd check it out for myself.

Richard Dawkins does a superb job of laying out his logic in a convincing and thorough manner, and there were a number of moments in reading the book that concepts long discarded to the periphery of my knowledge were brought into sharp focus. Some examples include the mechanisms of evolution during the days of the primordial soup, the workings of symbiosis and parasitism (and how and why they cross paths), and the concept of the game the "Prisoner's Dilemma"(as well as its relation to genetics).

I loved this book and would highly recommend to anyone with a slight interest in biology, evolution, or a curiosity for learning more about the fundamental forces at work in our world. I am somewhat amused that Dawkins' assertion, roughly and ineloquently summarized as organisms, including you and me, being the vehicle by which genes keep themselves immortal, is reminiscent of a Vonnegut book I read years ago called Hocus Pocus. More specifically, the similarities are to a book within the book Hocus Pocus, called the Elders of Tralfamadore, which contains one of my favorite sayings, that I say almost every day - "What germ ever lived a life this full of challenges and opportunities?"

Dawkins can be arrogant at times in a way that borders on hubris, but I find that this aspect of his writing is more a mechanism of his deep and considered thought and very quick intellect than of an overinflated ego. That said, it bears keeping in mind during this book that some critical thought and a questioning mind can be helpful in keeping Dawkins' assertions in perspective.