Edge: LAMENT FOR DOUGLAS By Richard Dawkins

My daughter and I listened to Hitchhiker’s Guide and some of Restaurant, read by Douglas Adams, on our car trip this week. It made me think a lot about who this guy was and what genius he had at explaining perspective, relative meaning, etc.
In the current climate of “intelligent design” claptrap, I thought this a lovely bit related by Dawkins:
Edge: LAMENT FOR DOUGLAS By Richard Dawkins

To illustrate the vain conceit that the universe must be somehow pre-ordained for us, because we are so well-suited to live in it, he mimed a wonderfully funny imitation of a puddle of water, fitting itself snugly into a depression in the ground, the depression uncannily being exactly the same shape as the puddle. Or there’s this parable, which he told with huge enjoyment, whose moral leaps out with no further explanation. A man didn’t understand how televisions work, and was convinced that there must be lots of little men inside the box. manipulating images at high speed. An engineer explained to him about high frequency modulations of the electromagnetic spectrum, about transmitters and receivers, about amplifiers and cathode ray tubes, about scan lines moving across and down a phosphorescent screen. The man listened to the engineer with careful attention, nodding his head at every step of the argument. At the end he pronounced himself satisfied. He really did now understand how televisions work. “But I expect there are just a few little men in there, aren’t there?”

Incredible complexity from simple things

I’ve been pondering lately how complex something can be with only a few facets of adjustment. How very simple choices or factors can render near-infinite sophistication. And then I see this:

Wired News: Humans Aren’t So Complicated

A refined map of the human genome shows that humans have even fewer genes than previously thought — less than 25,000, about the same as a mustard green.

Grow your logic.

How is it that I’ve gotten so out of the loop that I missed this book? I ran across a link to it in Peter Morville’s excellent article (itself worthy of a few thorough readings) and was glad to see somebody else putting into much better and more complete expression something I’ve been inarticulately grunting for a long time: that things like ‘artificial intelligence’ or even complex human systems — you know, like, corporations — are going to have to somehow embrace biological structures, organic methods. Whatever those are.

I only just started reading this book, but it sounds like it’s making a great case for this point of view. Looks like a really fun read too.

Kevin Kelly — Chapter 1: The Made and the Born

For the world of our own making has become so complicated that we must turn to the world of the born to understand how to manage it. That is, the more mechanical we make our fabricated environment, the more biological it will eventually have to be if it is to work at all. Our future is technological; but it will not be a world of gray steel. Rather our technological future is headed toward a neo-biological civilization.

Omni Magazine Shrine

Please visit the OmniShrine Wiki!

Rather than commenting on this blog, where hardly anyone will ever see what you said or asked, why not post your thoughts in a space that’s more suitable?

Try the OmniShrine Wiki!

I set it up so that fans of Omni can share information, and also be able to subscribe to comments or page changes, so that you can more easily keep up with the conversation!

The comment area on this post doesn’t act like a discussion list; there’s no way for anyone to be alerted of a question or an answer to one posted. That’s why the wiki is your best bet.


My original post is below. The omnimag.com link no longer takes you to the site I referenced back in 2003, but you can still see the glorious prehistoric black-background web experience via the magical “Wayback Machine” archive here via the Wayback Machine.


Growing up, I was an avid reader of Omni Magazine.
I lost touch with it after high school, and I heard they’d tried doing their thing online, but then it had kind of died on the vine.
And I ran across the site today…how weird, that it’s still sitting there. A ghost town.
The design is so perfect for mid-to-late 90s ‘cool’ website design. Lots of 3D shapes floating in black space.
I wonder if anybody still tries entering the “Deconstructing the Titanic Sweepstakes” there?

Dawkins Interview in '95

Wired had an article in 1995 that, bless their enterprising little hearts, is still available lo these many years later online, about Richard Dawkins, Mr. Meme-Coiner himself. Here’s a quote: Dawkins’s revolutionary evolutionary rhetoric has particularly inspired researchers of artificial life. Indeed, Dawkins’s work has created new contexts for exploring genetic algorithms and has sensitized the growing community of artificial-life researchers to the evolutionary dynamics of their software creations. Much as Herbert Simon and Marvin Minsky framed the agenda for artificial intelligence, Richard Dawkins has effectively defined the evolutionary agendas for artificial life. If you want to understand the future of natural and synthetic evolution, you have to read Richard Dawkins.