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Unweaving the Rainbow

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Chemtrail Central > The Neutral Zone

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Duncan Kunz

Joined: 19 Oct 2000
Posts: 582
Unweaving the Rainbow PostWed Sep 05, 2001 5:42 pm  Reply with quote  

Dear Colleagues:

I almost never cut-and-paste articles to a forum, but I'm making an exception today. I read the review below and immediately called Borders Books and ordered a copy. For many here, this would be a painful read, but I have a feeling that reading it (and I haven't, yet) could make some major changes in your life.

"Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder" (Houghton Mifflin) By Richard Dawkins

Reviewed by David Bloomberg

Richard Dawkins, like the late Carl Sagan before him, wants the general public to better understand and appreciate science. He was recently chosen as the first Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. "Unweaving the Rainbow" is his first book since being appointed to that position, and its purpose is to explain the poetry of science.

The title comes from poet John Keats, who criticized Isaac Newton for explaining the rainbow as a prismatic splitting of white light. Keats said Newton had destroyed the poetry of a rainbow by unweaving it, but Dawkins says that science should not be thought of as being in opposition to poetry, but rather as an inspiration.

Dawkins responds to Keats by saying that mysteries don't lose their charm, or poetry, when they are solved. He notes that the solution is often more beautiful than the original puzzle. Is it more inspiring to look at a rainbow and just see the colors, or to understand how the light from our sun travels to Earth and then bounces off of suspended water droplets to form such a stunning sight? Understanding how a rainbow forms takes away none of the beauty, and adds the poetry of science.

In fact, by unweaving the rainbow, Dawkins points out that scientists have discovered information about the nature of stars, the expanding universe, and many other pieces of scientific poetry dependent upon the use of information from light itself.

To examine the poetry of science, Dawkins looks at several examples, including evolutionary biology (his specialty) and DNA fingerprinting. He uses the latter to show how science is often ignored in the courtrooms and how everybody (especially lawyers and judges) could be better citizens if they knew more about science.

In discussing why more people don't appreciate science, Dawkins contends that the same spirit of wonder that can lead people to mysticism also moves scientists. It is a form of questioning and seeking, albeit a misdirected form in the first case.

Through two chapters, he minces no words in discussing these types of beliefs. For example, he wonders how people can find the "meaningless pap" of astrology appealing, especially when there is so much real beauty in astronomy. He also questions why professional astrologers and psychics are not arrested for fraud. Since they make false claims regarding their product, shouldn't they be treated like anybody else who would do the same?

If the same spirit leads some to paranormalism and others to science, what causes the difference? Dawkins believes it is a function of natural selection-if an adult authority figure tells a child not to play with snakes, and the child ignores this advice, the child may not live to reproduce. Thus, people have evolved to listen to authority figures-at least as children. The byproduct, Dawkins says, is that children also tend to believe things that aren't true if they are told those things by a similar authority figure.

Children need to be credulous because they need to take in as much information as possible so they can survive in our knowledge-based society. But while such credulity is healthy in a child, Dawkins says that growing up should include cultivating a healthy amount of skepticism. That, he says, is where many fail, perhaps because they long for "the lost securities and comforts of childhood."

Another point Dawkins tackles is coincidence and the human inclination to seek patterns. Some people see a face on Mars where only a natural geological formation exists. Some believe there must be some sort of magical connection when a friend calls shortly after they were thinking about him; they fail to notice the number of times they thought about other people who didn't call. Some listen to a "psychic" and remember only the few general "hits" while forgetting all the misses.

But what does all of this have to do with the poetry of science? Dawkins shows that while mythological beliefs like these often seem poetic, they constitute, at best, bad scientific poetry. In these cases, the poetry has overtaken the science, and while it often looks good and is entertaining to read, the science is left behind. This does not only happen with paranormalists, but sometimes with other scientists as well, and Dawkins gives blame where it is due.

Good science gives rise to good poetry. It enlightens us, sparks our interest, and excites us. That is what Dawkins wants to tell the world. A person doesn't have to choose between poetry and science. The two should come together, spurring each other on to greater heights than either could have achieved alone.

Duncan Kunz /
Mesa AZ / 480-891-2525
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Joined: 08 Mar 2001
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Location: Lubbock, Texas
PostWed Sep 05, 2001 10:12 pm  Reply with quote  

I'm glad you cut-and-pasted that, Duncan. There is poetry in science, when you see all that's involved even in the simple things.

On a completely different topic, I was surprised to see Phil Condit on Fox, giving us a convincing story about the economic superiority of Boeing's Sonic Cruiser. Too bad the "other" Condit is not as charming or well-spoken.

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Duncan Kunz

Joined: 19 Oct 2000
Posts: 582
PostWed Sep 05, 2001 10:19 pm  Reply with quote  

Hi, 3T3L1!

Hi, Daddy!
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