Reading Today-The Blind Watchmaker by DawkinsSomervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas


Reading Today-The Blind Watchmaker by Dawkins

31 July 2008 at 9:53:13 AM

I realized in the last couple of months that I actually don't have a solid understanding of evolution. In a couple of books I've read recently, which includes The God Delusion, also by Dawkins, the thought is mentioned that Americans, in particular, don't seem to have a solid understanding of evolution. I recently saw an article from National Geographic that showed that Americans rate last, second only to Turkey, compared to the rest of the civilized world, in their knowledge of scientific evolution. I thought back to what I recalled from my science classes and, frankly, it wasn't much. The one thing I recall aboutDarwin is the island of Galapagos, but nothing in particular about that but giant turtles.

In the same way that when I started reading about politics, I had some pre-defined and mostly idealistic ways of how politics worked, and now question almost anything I read that has a political origin, I want to turn that same interested, questioning methodology to science and religion questions. Seems to me that, again, equating this to politics, when a person decides to have blind faith in a system without looking under the hood, determining if an idea or statement is reasonable or true, then one is apt to be manipulated by those who count on people remaining uncurious (you may remember that adjective was used to describe Bush and I believe it can also be used to describe the small percentage of Bush followers who still believe what he says).

So as part of my summer reading, I got The Blind Watchmaker. I'm going to make comments on what I'm reading occasionally.

From the first chapter, which talks about reductionalism as a way to want to find out how things work. I can relate to this from my perspective of looking at network operating systems. APSTNDP will be familiar to those who examine the layers of an OS and in the same way that one doesn't describe the OS in the detailed terms that an architecture requires, but might say instead, the operating system gets or sends commands from the applications or hardware, such as a mouse, etc, knowing a high level of how something works nonetheless doesn't preclude wanting to know, for example, how it is that TCP/IP sends and receives data at the transport  and network layers. Each layer also doesn't have to know what the next layer is doing but only concern itself with it's own duties, which can be quite, quite detailed and intricate, so that one could spend a lot of time reading about TCP but not the details at, say, the session layer. Most people may not care to know at the very lowest and most intricate level what an OS is doing, but reductionism, as I understand it, is reducing each function to finer and finer levels of detail... in order to understand precisely HOW it works. From page 21

If you read trendy intellectual magazines, you may have noticed that *reductionism* is one of those things, like sin, that are only mentioned by people who are against it. To call oneself a reductionist will sound, in some circles, a bit like admitting to eating babies. But, just as nobody actually eats babies, so noboey is actually a reductionist in an y sense worth being against. The nonexistent reductionist- the sort that everybody is against, but who exists only in their imaginations-tries to explain complicated things directly in terms of the smallest parts, even, in some extreme versions of the myth, as a the sum of the parts! The hierarchical reductionist, on the other hand, explains a complex entity at any particular level in the hierarchy of organization, in terms of entities only one level down the hierarchy; entities which, themselves, are likely to be complex enough to need further reducing to their own component parts and so on. It goes without saying- though the mythical, baby eating reductionist is reputed to deny this- that the kinds of explanations which are suitable at high levels in the hierarchy are quite different than the kinds of explanations which are suitable at lower levels.

Absolutely. It's like the difference between explaining that a computer has to get information to and from another computer, and talking about whether one does it at the network layer, with protocols like IPX or NetBIOS that operate at the network layer, or TCP or SPX that provide acknowledgements and sequencing at the transport. I mean, reductionism is wanting to read THIS with the diagrams as opposed to just knowing that TCP/IP is a protocol.

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