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V: Counsel for the Prosecution (Lawrence Krauss)

#176: May - July 2021 (Non-Fiction)
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V: Counsel for the Prosecution (Lawrence Krauss)

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Books do Furnish a Life: An electrifying celebration of science writing

By Richard Dawkins


V: Counsel for the Prosecution: Interrogating Faith
In conversation with Lawrence Krauss
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Re: V: Counsel for the Prosecution (Lawrence Krauss)

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While I did get some good reading suggestions out of this book, it was really annoying that I had to pay so much for it. Yeah the interviews were good. But really this is all recycled material and it would have been a bit more sporting of the old chap to just publish a reading list on his website or something.
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Re: V: Counsel for the Prosecution (Lawrence Krauss)

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Mr. P wrote:While I did get some good reading suggestions out of this book, it was really annoying that I had to pay so much for it. Yeah the interviews were good. But really this is all recycled material and it would have been a bit more sporting of the old chap to just publish a reading list on his website or something.
I'd rather have had some fresh stuff, too, but am making the best of it. Dawkins didn't say, here's a lot of my minor writings I thought people might be interested in, but he could have, because they are minor things. That hasn't meant there is little that grabs me, though, so I guess it comes down to taste whether our thumbs go up or down. I appreciate his concision, though he might be a little too concise at times and I miss his point.
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Re: V: Counsel for the Prosecution (Lawrence Krauss)

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Just by the way, I was somewhat surprised at the absence of the word "meme" in this book. Did Dawkins never manage to work it in, in any of the occasional pieces he wrote? He was, after all, well known for a while because of that coinage, and there even appeared briefly a journal of memetics devoted to developing the new field. What happened? In the introduction to the 2005 30th anniversary edition of The Selfish Gene, Dawkins stated, "if the meme turns out to be a scientific idea" (my italics). So has he indeed decided that the meme is not science but metaphor? That was always the way I looked at the meme, as an interesting cultural metaphor for genes.
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Re: V: Counsel for the Prosecution (Lawrence Krauss)

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Mr. P wrote:While I did get some good reading suggestions out of this book, it was really annoying that I had to pay so much for it. Yeah the interviews were good. But really this is all recycled material and it would have been a bit more sporting of the old chap to just publish a reading list on his website or something.
This is certainly an odd book in the Dawkins ouevre. It's not one I would recommend, mostly because Dawkins has written so many other books that I feel would be better choices. It's also weird that it's not available in book form.

I also think the theme of books-do-furnish-a life doesn't quite encompass many of the included selections. This book could have easily been called "Odds and Ends", though it does include a great many forewards and afterwards that Dawkins has written for other authors. Some of these are really quite good and others not quite so interesting. But overall it's still a very worthwhile book. I just finished the essay on art, advertisement, and attraction and there's another one about how an animal is a model of its environment. Both of these were just fascinating.

I have a couple of new books to add to my growing list, thanks to Dawkins. One of them is E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology, which made quite a splash apparently when it first came out in 1975. The other book is Defenders of the Truth, by Ullica Segerstråle, which details the controversy of this book. Dawkins calls the attacks of Sociology an "onslaught" by left-wing ideologues. (Interestingly Jonathan Haidt makes a similiar assessment about this controversy in his book The Righteous Mind.

Anyway, though Dawkins defends E.O. Wilson on this front, he has been very critical of E.O. Wilson's support of group selection over the years. We get a taste of this in "The descent of Edward Wilson"— a review of Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth. I'm not really sure why Dawkins is so vehement against group selection. It seems to me quite feasible that both kin selection and group selection are at least partially correct.

By the way, if you haven't read The Social Conquest of Earth, I definitely recommend it. Even Dawkins says the stuff about the insects is mostly right. :-D
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Re: V: Counsel for the Prosecution (Lawrence Krauss)

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DWill wrote:Just by the way, I was somewhat surprised at the absence of the word "meme" in this book. Did Dawkins never manage to work it in, in any of the occasional pieces he wrote? He was, after all, well known for a while because of that coinage, and there even appeared briefly a journal of memetics devoted to developing the new field. What happened? In the introduction to the 2005 30th anniversary edition of The Selfish Gene, Dawkins stated, "if the meme turns out to be a scientific idea" (my italics). So has he indeed decided that the meme is not science but metaphor? That was always the way I looked at the meme, as an interesting cultural metaphor for genes.
That is interesting. I tend to think there's much more to memetics than as a metaphor for natural selection. But maybe as a new scientific discipline there's not much to talk about yet. Susan Blackmore is probably something of an expert on the subject, but her book—The Meme Machine—was published in 2000. Since then the subject seems to have lost its momentum.

Here's Robert Wright's review of Blackmore's book.

https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes ... ightt.html
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