Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: Unweaving the Rainbow - Richard Dawkins

31487Unweaving the Rainbow
Richard Dawkins
Series: N/A
Genre: Science, Nonfiction, Philosophy
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Bloody good.
On Goodreads

Bit out of the usual books we review, but it's beautifully written, succinct, and deals with a powerful idea: the idea that, somehow, scientific understanding diminishes the aspect of wonder and awe that one has for the universe. In fact, Dawkins strives to posit and prove quite the opposite: that understanding increases awe and beauty and pseudoscientific nonsense diminishes them. And he does it brilliantly.

I'll take the shortcomings first. The first half or so of the book suffers from Dawkins's rhetoric, which he admittedly loses himself in. Thankfully the words and ideas are quite intriguing so I definitely stood the lengthy discourse on the skewed and misrepresenting views of those who try to make science 'fun', such as 'whacky' conventions where the word science itself is not used because it leaves a bad taste. The first part of the book seems to be Dawkins endeavoring to firmly set this book apart from the 'cold, bleak' views that were presented in his previous ones, full of their 'barren desolation . . . their sense that life is 'empty and purposeless''. The book is, of course, a personal response as well, to those who read The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion and see a 'blind' and natural universe too devoid for them, and meaningless. To them I say, read The Ancestor's Tale. And this book. Good shit.

Immensely pleasing, however, is his skill with poetic prose and forthrightness. He begins this book with the statement, 'We are going to die and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.' Well, call me hooked, Richard. This is a kind of direct prose, rather than an abstract and unintelligible thing one may expect from a scientist. Which is one of the reasons I love this book. It actively diffuses and derides its oppositions. The conventions set against Dawkins are dealt with with deft hands. Even the most moderate, he addresses, nodding to Peter Atkins in his premise: 'Gone is the purpose; all that's left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the universe.' Scientists face this unyielding emptiness as well, and the latter half of this book seems to help them, after it begins to deal less with the harshly opposed.

Equally engaging is the development of the book, as it works from his premise to the major vantage points whereupon we can stand to understand the reaches of his positions. Yeah, I know that sounded terribly boring but it's a pretty fluid way to describe how science adds beauty as it leaves Dawkins time to linger on his 'genetic book of the dead' at the end, because he has already dealt with society and whatnot in the 'barcode' chapters.

One of my favorite parts was the bit on Information Theory, the rather vague and still young field of understanding the world. 'We are digital archives of the African Pliocene, even of Devonian seas; walking repositories of wisdom out of the old days. You could spend a lifetime reading in this ancient library and die unstated by the wonder of it.' Can we just. Can we just take a moment to appreciate the beauty herein.

This book is good. Read it. It's short, it muses to the world and back and it will spin your mind and make you re-think what you know about evolution, what you know about science and society and poetry and awe and reason.

- Marlon

Science and beauty, are they separate for you?
Let us know in the comments!

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