A rather bright and witty fellow who delights in
being controversial and pleasant at the same time.
Currently the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science,
Oxford University. The chair was endowed in 1995 by CharlesSimonyi
Books by Dawkins include...
The Selfish Gene
introduces the notion of
natural selection applied to the individual gene.
If one considers an organism to be simply a vehicle
that genes construct to carry themselves about then
the survival value of any particular gene product
must be calculated based on the propagation of any
identical copy. This allows Dawkins to apply cold
Darwinian logic to previously difficult to explain
behaviors, like altruism.
The Extended Phenotype
is Dawkins response to
selfish gene criticism from his peers. He makes
more careful arguments and doesn't shy away from
references. I found it handy to have a dictionary
of biological terms on my lap as I read.
The Blind Watchmaker
is, among other things, serious attempt to
refute creationist literature by offering clear
and compelling explanations of the many facets
of evolutionary theory. In one chapter
he describes a program in which the evolution of
a parametrically described figure is directed by manually selecting
the most desired of several randomly adjusted progeny.
The program's rapid convergence surprised even Dawkins.
(Dawkins had constructed what JohnHolland
would call a GeneticAlgorithm
This book is also an excellent introduction to Evolutionary Biology for anyone who is wondering how it might work, but isn't sure. The book is intended for a wide audience and is not at all technical.
Dawkins introduced the notion of memes
, the mental equivalent of genes, intending it merely as an illustration of a selection processes taking place in other than a strictly biological environment. The concept has infected
many diciplines and led to the recent founding of the JournalOfMemetics
. We can think of PatternsAsMemes
It should be noted that Dawkins probably doesn't think of "memetics" as a scientific theory with proper standing, but more as a good analogy to clarify our thinking about "real" evolution, that of genetic systems. See MemesShmemes for some critical views on memes.
And it should really be noted that he doesn't think of genes as actually being selfish either, just that they exhibit behaviour which could be regarded as selfish. (Being a logical positivist myself, I'd say he probably should.) Also, lots of great ideas about the workings of evolution are brought up in the book 'Erehwon' by SamuelButler?
( which I mention here because I think he deserves a lot of the credit that has been distributed to others ) --RichardCordova
When my eldest daughter was about two I gave her the BlindWatchmaker?
program and asked her to "make a big circle", "make a long thin line", etc. She was able to make the requested figures in a few generations. Of course she (or I, for that matter) couldn't have manipulated the genome to create the same figure. This led me to postulate a new kind of programming, AnalyticProgramming?
, where programs are generated automatically and the "programmer" says whether they are correct or not. I haven't done much with the idea since, but I'd love to explore it in the future.
Isn't that what they call GeneticProgramming ?
Yes and No. It's the distinction between supervised learning (what Kent calls AnalyticProgramming?
) and unsupervised learning (see e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unsupervised_learning
). You can apply it to GeneticAlgorithm
s or to many other learning methods like SupportVectorMachine?
s and others. It depends on the way the learning algorithm gets feedback (explicit if supervised). The unsupervised case really is the more difficult one because the question whether an answer is OK is needed too, but must be inferred somehow (statistics or analytic).