Saturday, June 25, 2011

No Choreographer

Most of the time I like to have a book of non-fiction on the go, along with a novel. As the mood takes me I can then switch from one to the other -- I'm sure many of my readers do the same. I find, however, that fiction usually wins the day [or night] and for a long while now I've seemed to abandon a truly remarkable piece of non-fiction entitled The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, by Richard Dawkins.
I stopped reading it at about 3/4's through and have yet to finish it, much to the chagrin of a friend of mine who continues to remind me of my tardiness. He is wanting to discuss the latter stages of the book with me -- but I seem to always have my nose in a novel.
I love how Dawkins writes, he makes scientific knowledge accessible to the common reader. In the 8th chapter of this, his latest book, there is a subsection entitled No Choreographer and I found it immensely fascinating. Dawkins [an atheist] argues that there is always a lengthy and intricate process behind what we observe as a 'designed' end product. This end product [for instance, the human body itself] "emerges as a consequence of rules being locally obeyed by individual cells, with no reference to anything that could be called an overall global plan."
Of course, not everyone would agree with a lot of what Richard Dawkins says -- but it seems to me that to do so [to disagree] is to elevate myth and fantasy above science and reason.
At any rate, I was impressed with his analogous reference to the flocking behaviour of starlings, to illustrate his point. Every day in the winter season at Otmoor, near Oxford England, the spectacle of the starlings occurs. Thousands upon thousands of birds fly in their broiling, roiling swarms, and yet they never collide with one another.
The edges of the swarms are sharply defined, they come to an abrupt boundary.
And "the density of the birds just inside the boundary is no less than in the middle of the flock, while it is zero outside the boundary."
Dawkins notes that "What is remarkable about the starlings' behaviour is that, despite all appearances, there is no choreographer and, as far as we know, no leader. Each individual bird is just following local rules."
I located the exact clip on YouTube from which Dawkins extracted the still photos for his book, and it is really an amazing scene to watch.

I am aware that someone could watch this and conclude that there is indeed a choreographer [or Choreographer] at work here, and at one time in my life I would have arrived at that conclusion. But when you really stop to think of it, such a conclusion is foolishness, and actually detracts from the real beauty of what is taking place.



BBB said...

Said friend calling.

Come on Capriano it's because Dawkins is focusing on the lab science of evolution. It can be tough going. That being said the final chapters are really outstanding leaving you gobsmacked.

P.S. Get ur done.

Cipriano said...

Dear BBB -- I intend to get on this in the next few days. It's such a great book, I can't believe I've neglected it for so long.