River Out of Eden
by Richards Dawkins

BasicBooks, Harper-Collins, New York, 1995

"The river of my title is a river of DNA, and it flows through time, not space. It is a river of information, not a river of bones and tissues: a river of abstract instructions for building bodies, not a river of solid bodies themselves. The information passes through bodies and effects them, but it is not affected by them on its way through. The river is not only UNINFLUENCED by the experiences and achievements of the successive bodies through which it flows. It is also UNINFLUENCED by a potential source of contamination that, on the face of it, is much more powerful: sex." (emphasis mine, Naomi)

"Our genetic system, which is the universal system of all life on the planet, is digital to the core....Every cell in your body contains the equivalent of forty-six immense data tapes, reeling off digital characters via numerous reading heads working simultaneously. In every cell, these tapes--the chromosomes--contain the same information, but the reading heads in different kinds of cells seek out different parts of the database for their own specialist purposes. That is why muscle cells are different from liver cells. There is no spirit-driven life force, no throbbing, heaving, pullulating, protoplasmic, mystic jelly. Life is just bytes and bytes and bytes of digital information."

Richard Dawkins, a Fellow of New College at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, writes scientific stuff in metaphors which make the most complex esoteric descriptions understandable. His rivers explanation of how life branched from the big bang to me brings to my tiny education an illuminating flash that delights my imagination. Images like the following kept my interest throughout the entire book. - Naomi Sherer

"No bull ever abused a china shop as sex abuses the DNA archives."

"...how far do we have to go back until we come to a universal ancestor of every human alive in 1995? That's a much more difficult question, and it is the one to which I next want to turn. This one cannot be answered from the armchair. We need real information, measurements from the hard world of particular facts."

"Now with the molecular-biology revolution, there is an embarrassment of riches. It is molecular biology that has given us the charismatic African Eve."

"Whichever way you look at it, we are all, if you go back two million years, Africans."

"The river of DNA has been flowing through our ancestors in an unbroken line that spans not less than three thousand million years."

"The stickleback "sex bomb" is a classic example of a supernormal stimulus - a stimulus even more effective than the real thing."

"The wasp behaves like a washing machine that has been set back to an early stage in its program and doesn't "know" that it has already washed those clothes forty times without a break."

"Somewhere between windscreen wipers and tin openers on the one hand and rocks and the universe on the other lie living creatures. Living bodies and their organs are objects that, unlike rocks, seem to have purpose written all over them. Notoriously, of course, the apparent purposefulness of living bodies has dominated the classic Argument from Design, invoked by theologians from Aquinas to William Paley to modern "scientific" creationists."

"...nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous - indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose."

"The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference....DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music."

"At the inception of the life explosion there were no minds, no creativity and no intention. There was only chemistry."

Why not get a library copy or buy it now read it for yourself?

 

Naomi Sherer