The Early Days of a Better Nation

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Well, that explains a lot

'It is not clear how the advancement of science tends towards the mental and moral improvement of the public.'

- The Charity Commission, 28 September 2006, cited in Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth, Bantam Press, 2009

... on page 436, the last page of a very good book.

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How do you rate Dawkins' The Selfish Gene Ken? I've never read it myself I must confess. I tried and I just couldn't get into it, in that 'bouncing off a book' way with which I'm sure you'll be familiar. ;)

Yeah, I'm all tooo familiar with bouncing off a book - but The Selfish Gene wasn't a book I bounced off. I read it avidly and the influence of it and The Blind Watchmaker is heavily thumbprinted in The Star Fraction.

As to how I rate it - it's worth persisting with, because it gets across certain evolutionary concepts in a way that no other book does.

Ken, you have just convinced me that I must flex my conceptual muscles a bit more and read The Selfish Gene. But first comes Axelrod.

Yes, Axelrod is a great help in getting one's head around The Selfish Gene. Any edition other than the first has an additional chapter on Axelrod, but even the earlier chapters are a lot clearer with a bit of game theory in the back of your mind.

Right Ken. Right now I have less than no intuition for game theory applied to biology. So I hope that Axelrod will help.

Presumably galleries displaying bits of embalmed shark, since this is fine art & gets charitable donations, are so much better at the moral & mental improvement of the public than, for example, polio vaccine.

Just saw this today, for the first time:

One could look over the past century and ask oneself, has the increased longevity been good, bad or indifferent?
---Leon Kass


Hi Gerald---I wonder what L. Kass' opinion is. What does 'Pillock' mean? Does it express your opinion?

According to Wikipedia Kass is 70 years old.
Hypocritical pillock.

Neil, just to spin that around, presumably the question is not whether morality and is better expressed via increased science and technology (such as giving out vacines) but whether there is actually some kind of positive feedback:

Depending on your definition of moral, it provides the honesty and stability to do science, distributed across time, space and people. Whereas mental ability, methodical hard work and crazy chance are the three cornerstones of scientific discovery. (Don't quote me on those, I just made them up :P )

So does science feed back into those same qualities? I know it gives people power, and I hope it gives them wisdom to use it, but I'm not sure.

Longevity is, in many ways, the biggest risk and the most difficult to figure out. We know that life expectancy in the U.S. is now 78 years and that on average women outlive men. But that doesn't tell us a thing about how long you might live. It just means that half the population will live beyond 78 and the other half will die before age 78, and, more likely than not, many of those living beyond age 78 will be women.

Good point Josh. To do science successfully requires a respect for objective facts which is sometimes counterproductive in other fields. The 18thC "Age of Reason" & "Scottish Enlightenment" while not totally reasonable or elightenedcould not have existed in any era before science had become widely respected.

On the other hand Auschwitz & nuclear MAD couldn't without industrialised science. On balance that puts science well ahead but it does tend to remove Man from the pinnacle of creation.

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