Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life

Posted by nliakos on February 24, 2015

by Richard Dawkins (BasicBooks 1995)

Dawkins’ river is a river of genes leading from the first living thing on earth directly to all living things now on earth. We are what we are because our genes “want” to self-replicate: “. . . all living things are survival machines programmed to propagate the digital database that did the programming.” It’s a humbling thought.

There is also a chapter on mitochondrial DNA and how we are all closer relatives than we could have guessed (not just you and me, but you and me and that polar bear and that invertebrate).

Chapter 3, “Do Good by Stealth,” explains why creationism is not worthy of our time, and Chapter 4, “God’s Utility Function,” which is the survival of DNA, regardless of the suffering this may cause: “DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”

Chapter 5, “The Replication Bomb”, refers to self-replicating life which culminates in “intelligent life” (us) able to send signals out beyond our own atmosphere, a process that takes us past several thresholds beginning with the replicator threshold, continuing through the many-cells threshold, the nerve-cells threshold, and the language threshold, culminating in the radio threshold.

But it’s not actually us–it’s all just DNA. We are a by-product of our DNA, or one of the many vehicles that it uses to replicate itself. I already knew this on a certain level, but Dawkins explains it all quite clearly, as if he were sitting in my living room talking me through it.

I have already started Climbing Mount Improbable.  These books are all pretty old, and they have been on my list for quite a long time. But better late than never!

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