am 27. März 2000
Not many people have the gift of taking some common event and deconstructing it to the nth degree, while making it all seem quite normal. As in his other books (Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, etc.) Mr. Dawkins makes your mind boggle at the way nature use very simple (?) building blocks to fashion something extraordinary ... like us. You are set back on your heels when you realise that your body is largely composed of modified bacteria, without which we could not exist. He goes on to expound on how we see and from there how our brain interprets the world, comparing it to Virtual Reality (no comparison!) - anyone who has experienced any form of VR will understand the immense computing power it takes to present even a half-decent rendition, but the brain does this continuously AND has time to dream, imagine, remember past events and places all in real-time - I doubt if enough teraflops of computer power exist in the world even now to do that.
The main thrust of the book is the poetry of science; how, by understanding more about the way the universe works, we can appreciate the wonder of it all the better - open our minds to something more beautiful than just the outward appearance of a beautiful object - even make us see the beauty in some not-so- pleasant sights!
In this book he uses well thought-out, easy-to-grasp concepts to explode myths, de-bunk charlatans, and de-mystify magic (a little TOO vitriolic at times, I fear!) - all with the intention of opening our minds to the concept of evolution (specifically Darwinism). He takes us from rainbows to barcodes to DNA in easy stages, explaining in graphic (but never tedious) detail just how nature can (and will) evolve all its wonders.
Sometimes I had to put the book on one side just to let the enormity of it all sink in. I still find it hard to grasp the vastness of time it required for nature to accomplish all that it has - yes, I can imagine a thousand years; a million? ... I'm struggling now; a billion? ... overload! But that's what you need to do to come to grips with the evolutionary process. I suspect it's this lack of comprehension / imagination that is behind the beliefs of many Creationists, or maybe a refusal to accept that evolution can happen without some 'intervention'. Having laid myself open to attack, I can only recommend that you read what Mr. Dawkins has to say and make up your own mind who has the right of it.
John Keats beklagte zu Beginn des 19. Jahrhunderts, dass Newton den Regenbogen entzaubert habe, da er dessen Farben auf die Spektren eines Prismas reduziert habe. Richard Dawkins, obwohl ein großer Fan des Dichters der Romantik, behauptet, dass Keats hier völlig falsch liege, denn: "The poetry is in the science" (18).
"Unweaving the Rainbow" ist eine Liebeserklärung an die Wissenschaft und deren verkanntes poetisches Potential. Im ersten Teil des Buches erklärt Dawkins dem Leser einige Errungenschaften der Wissenschaft, die unser aller Leben bereichert und es deshalb nicht verdient haben, als unästhetische Spielverderberei bezeichnet zu werden. Relativitäts- und Quantentheorie sowie der genetische Fingerabdruck wirken zwar recht technokratisch, seien aber beeindruckender und schöner als so manches Gedicht.
Ab dem 7. Kapitel ("Unweaving the Uncanny") konzentriert sich Dawkins auf die pseudowissenschaftlichen Scharlatane (Horoskope usw.), die gegen die Schönheit der wahren Wissenschaft keine Chance haben. Ebenso attackiert der Autor die verschiedenen Welterklärungsversuche der diversen Religionen, die durch ihr fantasieloses Zurückgreifen auf einen metaphysischen Schöpfer gar nicht in der Lage seien, die Welt als Ergebnis eines evolutionären Prozesses von mehreren Milliarden Jahren in ihrer ganzen Pracht zu genießen.
Höhepunkte des Buches sind die Passagen über die Wirkungsmechanismen der Evolution, dem Spezialgebiet des wortgewaltigen Verfechters von Darwins Lehre.
Das Thema Poesie bildet den Kern des Buches und Dawkins selbst produziert ein Stück wissenschaftlicher Poesie. Wenn man seine Erklärungen der Rätsel unserer Welt liest, fragt man sich, warum sich immer noch so viele Menschen nach irgendwelchen Schöpfergestalten sehnen. Gerade eben hat der 65-jährige mit "The God Delusion" seine kompromisslose Abrechnung mit dem Phänomen Religion vorgelegt, die weltweit für Furore sorgt.
am 21. November 1999
Richard Dawkins reminds me of the protagonist in Plato's Cave analogy: one of those rare individuals who staggers out of the stygian depths of human ignorance and catches a brief but blinding glimpse of the way things actually are. However, on his joyous return to the cave to tell people about the marvel and wonder of what he has just witnessed, he is attacked and killed for ruining our blissfull stupidity. In other words, Dawkins is attempting to spread his (and science's) message about the external reality that we reside in, but the masses just don't want to hear it. They want their "spirituality" and "mysticism", whatever those things are supposed mean (looked 'em up in the dictionary and all i got were a few vague, circular, and ultimately meaningless definitions-not that i was surprised, however). Dawkins thinks that as long as people have an open mind and a decent ability to comprehend english, they will see the beauty of what he is saying-that the universe is bigger, better, more beautiful, amazing, awe-inspiring, and just completely more mind-blowing than anything that any religion or cult purported it to be. Judging from the many of the reviews, this is simply not the case. They would rather have their tiny, impotent god, their narrow-minded ideology that is responsible for much of the hatred and bigotry that we find lurking around us. People do not want to be told that they are just another animal, on just another planet, orbiting just another star, found in just another galaxy, which in turn, is perhaps in just another universe. We shout out against this clear voice of reason that we are the center of the universe, because our collective ego knows no bounds. We are not just animals we say desparately, trying to convince ourselves more than anyone else. Poor Mr. Dawkins; his intelligence, wit, clarity, and excellent prose style is wasted on these philistines, these "christians" and other self-righteous types, who would like nothing more than to see Mr. Dawkins "sin" of thinking rationally and not assuming that we, that hateful, murdering, genocidal portion of the animal kingdom that calls itself humanity, are the reason for the existence of everything, although our existence is necessary for nothing. Give us back our purpose, we shout at Mr. Dawkins, so that we won't have to realize how empty and shallow our lives actually are. Do not tell us that we are not immortal, we howl, so that we won't realize how much of our lives have been wasted in the pointless rat-race of capitalist America, home of the free and land of the depraved. We retort "your science cannot explain art, music, or literature", ignoring the fact that our god cannot even explain our existence-the same god who told us that the earth is flat and slavery is a-ok, as long as you give money to the church. However, Mr.Dawkins is not afraid of us, the great anti-intellectual american beast, and that is what makes us hate him even more.
am 23. Dezember 1999
This needn't be printed here, as it is only a reflection of my thoughts on the reviewers and not a commentary on the book itself. But then, that, I think, is the very point. I find it most interesting as I browse through the reviews and examine the "helpful" tallies, that this review session seems to have served more as a forum for a discussion of God vs. science than a real dialog on the merits of the book. (In fact, I find it telling that I was tempted to vote on the reviews based not on their helpfulness, but on how I felt about the viewpoint which they expressed.) I wonder then, if a book that has managed to provoke this much thought isn't somehow valuable regardless of whether or not one agrees with it? For isn't literature nothing if not an ongoing discussion? Just food for thought....
am 20. Juni 1999
I applaud the scrupulous research and integrity that went into the making of this book, and the warmth and generosity (and righteous indignation when necessary) of its tone. "Unweaving the Rainbow" will become a classic, sections excerpted into anthologies to be taught as examples of clear, rational content and of powerful, persuasive, and effective prose.
Bravely, honestly, logically, with good humor and grace, Dawkins stands up for what he believes. And he believes that the study of science is essential for helping us to understand and appreciate ourselves and others and the world around us: why we do what we do, feel the way we feel; how the laws of nature work and what that means to the way we live our lives. If I could sum up the message of twentieth-century literature (which I have taught at the university level for nearly thirty years now) in one sentence, it would be the same poignant conclusion that Dawkins reaches in this book of science: We are able to care for each other and the world more deeply when we realize we are all we've got, and our time here is brief indeed: "The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that makes life worth living and it does so, if anything, MORE effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living it is finite." [caps mine]
Science can reveal why we do what we do, feel the way we feel. All of us in different countries, unlike in so many ways - Dawkins shows us a common ground, a way to touch each other's lives in communication, a way to live lives of exuberant celebration. Poetry tells the story of what it means to be human in this particular time and this particular place, universal connections between all the things in the world and all the people. So does this exhilarating book of science, which (like listening to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy") makes me happy to be alive.
As a poet and teacher of creative writing (the headline above is taken from one of my Darwin poems), I find the POETRY of Unweaving to be as good as any being written anywhere today - and better than much of it. I would give anything to have described "the thread . . . by which our existence hangs" as "wincingly tenuous" ( 2). The joy of those last two words, one sound briefly kissing the other and passing gracefully on, my favorite kind of rhyme and devilishly difficult to accomplish.
The diction: "A fawn's pelage is a painting of the dappled pattern of sunlight filtered through trees onto the woodland floor" (240).
The metaphors and similes: "[Scientists] assist the imagination back to the hot birth of time and forward to the eternal cold . . ." (16). I have given birth, and "hot" is le mot juste. How beautifully intuitive he is: how else could a male know? A perfect analogy weds the factually accurate (literal truths) with the non-factually accurate (figurative truths). And Dawkins calls always for accuracy. That's where he departs from those who insist on holding on to an [eternal]- life preserver, the supernatural faith of their childhoods, instead of taking the trouble to build, plank by thoughtful plank, a boat that will float in real water. He understands and sympathizes with their needs - most of the book is devoted to explaining how such delusions are born of our very natural "appetite for wonder." But their needs (and all the false analogies in the world) cannot turn wishful thinking into fact, cannot unwrite the laws of nature. When I was a child, I thought as a child; as an adult, I want to put away believing that childish (irrational) things are reality, while maintaining a child-like (imaginative) sense of curiosity and awe. "Unweaving the Rainbow" helps me do both.
The humor: how the skin of a squid behaves like an LED screen, and "the skinflicks it shows are spectacular" (7). "The total area of membranous structure inside one of us works out at more than 200 acres. That's a respectable farm" (9).
The eloquence of Unweaving goes on and on, every page with the teeming abundance of a Burgess Shale. BUT (I can tell you as a writer) such a work can evolve only by "gradual accumulation," many drafts ending in the trash can, many excursions down dead-end streets. No "long-jump mutations." No "top- down" inspiration. Just hard work and perspiration here on the ground.
A few readers might say he treads on their cherished flowers (some of these flowers being "wild" indeed); but most will thrill to the way he treads on the weeds of superstition and ignorance, plants new seeds of thought to bloom in our minds, points out new "flowers" of beauty in the natural world that we had not noticed before.
Thank you, Richard Dawkins, for sharing with us your extraordinary mind, your passionate quest for honesty and accuracy, your perceptive awareness of the importance of human relationships - and most of all for this splendid rendering of the natural world.
am 2. Dezember 1998
I was as excied as everybody else was to find a new Richard Dawkin's book and I'm glad I had the chance to read this despite it's (few) flaws. In it's favor, I think it may have been the most important book in the field of popular science published this year if only for it's expressed wide-eyed admiration for the natural world. I believe that most of the scientific community shares this almost childish sense of wonder but sacrifices it's appearance at the altar of popular logical misconceptions. Dawkins' view that science magnifies the beauty of the observed object is common among scientists and science afficionados but almost unheard in the general populace. And that, in essence, is the power of this book. He is speaking, once again, to everyone, without condescension or affectation to convince the unconvinced. He doesn't seem to rely on the fact that his core audience will respond positively, but instead, works very diligently, preparing anecdotes and numbers to support his thesis. And one reason why this book wears so well is that he DOES have a masterful sense of the difference between good, illuminating scientific poetry and the damaging tautological rhetoric he attempts here to bring to light. He uses the former masterfully and sniffs out the latter mercilessly. On the down side, I was disappointed by the lack of instances taken from real life experiences of popular scientists that may have illustrated their passion for the beauty of the universe and universalized his point. (The story about Richard Feynman and the inverted lawn sprinkler recounted in James Gleick's 'Genius' would have worked nicely) As well, his thinly veiled distaste for Gould is starting to look more and more like interdisciplinary catfighting, serving both of them poorly. And at times the book almost seems to digress into territory covered by "Selfish Gene" and other Dawkins' books in a seemingly laboured attempt to make this a free-standing exposition. Despite this, however, his writing style and the compelling content make this book very uplifting and engaging read.
am 11. Januar 1999
If you have read the reviews of Unweaving The Rainbow, Richard Dawkin's most recent book, as published in several large newspapers you could be excused for thinking this book to be less worthy than his previous offerings. Not so. In some ways this is his best work to date and as far as his critics are concerned, it could be said to be too good. There are really two stories in this book which divide roughly into the first and second half. The first half concerns science and its role in modern culture. It is this story that has so annoyed many of the literary and media worlds and has prompted some extraordinary vicious personal attacks against Dawkins (one cannot avoid noting that these critics were unable to mount a single scientific argument). Dawkins lays waste to literary pretensions and notions of cultural superiority. But Dawkins also criticizes science and coins the new terms of bad poetic science and good poetic science. Dawkins believes it is good poetic science that guides our way to C.P. Snow's Third Culture.
In the last four chapters Dawkins switches back to his ground of evolutionary biology and it is vintage Dawkins. (If one wanted to quibble it could be said that the book is somewhat uneven in assumed knowledge and complexity, but as I say, this is a quibble). It is all there; the radical yet carefully argued new ideas, together with new ways of appreciating the expanatory power of natural selection when seen as operating through minimal replicators, be they genes or memes. The chapters on our virtual reality software functioning as part of the environment in genes and memes are selected is original and important. A superb book from our Darwin.
am 11. November 1998
The excitement of devouring Dawkins' latest book the moment it became available was not in the least diminished after reading it. Travelling from page to page of "Unweaving the Rainbow" lays waste to the myth that the excitement lies in the anticipation. Dawkins' ability to instill understanding and appreciation of science in the reader is alive and well. The subject matter is interestingly varied with many following the common theme of how science is able to explain a mystery without destroying its beauty but instead enhancing it. Even Keats might change his mind! Dawkins also addresses the age-old question science-lovers are asked; "How can you get up in the morning?" by turning the question on its head, showing that many of us filled with wonder are inspired to do science not to quench that wonder but to transform it into something much more beautiful, poetic, and meaningful: understanding. Those same people aren't filled with despair but exuberance, passion, and as Iggy Pop might say; a lust for life. Dawkins continues to be relentless in his defense of science and readers can appreciate why. He claims an inability to write such words in the form of poetry hoping others will eventually do so but I question his inability, his words are certainly poetry for many of us.
am 12. Dezember 1998
This book needed to be written. Using the motif, from Keats, of unweaving the rainbow, Dawkins draws out threads of our understanding of the universe, of the evolution of life, and the evolution of our minds, gleaned from the evidence of the patterns and codes that surround us. He shows that, far from diminishing the strength of our experience, as reflected in Keats' fear of the 'cold touch of philosophy', scientific insight rather deepens our sense of beauty and wonder. Unweaving the Rainbow forms a vital antidote both to the frequently shabby and vulgar efforts that go by the name of popularizing science, and to the false and gaudy glitter of pseudoscience. Dawkins illustrates that great science and poetic vision can be, and indeed have often been, mutually enhancing. Shot through with warmth and humanity, and sparkling with extracts from some of poetry's finest gems, the message of the book resonates with those of us who have been drawn to science through our sense of wonder at the world around us. Science reveals the astonishing richness of that world, and makes us want to look again and again in awe. So who needs magic?
am 25. Oktober 1999
While the reviews are all either glowingly positive or else critical of Dawkin's project as a whole, I appreciate his descriptions of poetic science as not just meaning science that we find beautiful or inspiring, but also of how we can have "bad poetry", where we seek to find parallels and analogies along the most tenuous links. However, this argument can go two ways: to bombastically criticise the easy targets, or to explore those who are deluded and believe that they are adhering to the scientific method, whatever their particular slant on that one is. Dawkins achieves an excellent balance in this task. His initial project is to show how much more beautiful and inspiring science can make the world: not just to see something, but to understand it and hence fire the imagination and see far beyond what the naked eye sees. His continuation of this topic beyond breathless and wondrous examples of rainbows and stars is handled superbly, a good mix of the dangers and delights of getting carried away with this approach.