Richard Dawkins: “The Making of a Scientist” | Talks at Google

Richard Dawkins: “The Making of a Scientist” | Talks at Google


[MUSIC PLAYING] RICHARD DAWKINS:
Thank you very much. Some of my titles may be good. I’m quite pleased with
“The Blind Watchmaker,” as Ray Kurtzweil has said. “The Selfish Gene”
is not a bad title. But it’s unfortunately
been rather widely read by title only. Various critics have omitted
to read the rather substantial footnote, which is
the book itself. This new book, “An
Appetite for Wonder,” the subtitle is “The
Making of a Scientist,” it is a memoir of the
first half of my life, up to the age of 35,
and it culminates in the writing of
“The Selfish Gene.” So there’s going to be a
volume two, in two year’s time. It was all supposed to
have been one volume. But I kind of lost a
bit of stamina halfway through and decided I needed a
bit of positive reinforcement. So I asked the publisher
if I could split it in half and produce it in two volumes. And so it is actually a
rather natural breakpoint. “The Selfish Gene” was a fairly
natural breakpoint in my life. So I’m going to go through
with a set of readings, kind of strung together
with a bit of talk. The book begins with
ancestors, and goes on to my childhood,
and school days. And I got one or
two little anecdotes from school days, which
might be vaguely amusing. I was sent to boarding schools
of a rather British kind and rather young actually. I was first sent
to boarding school at the age of seven,
which is a bit too young to be sent away to school. I used to have fantasies
that the matron would turn into my mother. And I thought that since both
of them had dark, curly hair, it wouldn’t take too much of
a miracle to achieve that. So I’m going to read a
little bit about school days. I was an exceptionally untidy
and disorganized little boy in my early years. My first school reports
dwelt insistently on the theme of ink. Headmaster’s report– He
has produced some good work and well deserves his prize. A very inky little
boy at present, which is apt to spoil his work. Latin– He has made
steady progress. But unfortunately
when using ink, his written work
becomes very untidy. Mathematics– He
works very well. But I am not always
able to read his work. He must learn that ink is for
writing, not washing purposes. Ms. Benson, my elderly
French teacher, somehow managed to
omit the ink leitmotif. But even her report had
a sting in the tale. French– Plenty of ability,
good pronunciation, and a wonderful facility
in escaping work. I then went on to another
school, a secondary school, which was rather more
spartan in some ways. And I went through a
religious phase, which I then abandoned, and then
became rather rebellious. And with a couple of
friends, we refused to kneel down in chapel. And so everybody else was
kneeling down with bowed heads and we were sitting upright,
like islands of rebellion. It being an Anglican school,
they were very decent and didn’t take it out on us. They didn’t indoctrinate
or punish us in any way, which I think
is a nice advertisement for the Anglican church. I hate to think what
might have happened if we’d been to a school
run by a rival sect. My housemaster,
Mr. Ling, did make sort of an effort to reform me. I’m going to read
a little bit here. I’ve only recently learned that
my housemaster, Peter Ling, actually a nice man, if
rather too conformist, telephoned [? Johan ?]
Thomas, my zoology master, to voice his concern about me. In a recent letter
to me, Mr. Thomas reported that he warned
Mr. Ling that quote, “requiring someone like you
to attend chapel twice a day on Sunday was doing
you positive harm.” The phone went down
without comment. Mr. Ling also
summoned my parents for a heart-to-heart
talk over tea– that’s the way we do
things in England– about my rebellious
behavior in chapel. I knew nothing of this
at the time and my mother has only just told
me of the incident. Mr. Ling asked my parents
to try to persuade me to change my ways. My father said, approximately,
by my mother’s recollection, it’s not our business to
control him in that sort of way. That’s kind of thing
is your problem. And I’m afraid I must
decline your request. My parents’ attitude
to the whole affair with that it wasn’t important. Mr. Ling, as I said, was
in his way a decent man. A contemporary and friend
of mine in the same house recently told me the
following nice story. He was illicitly up in a
dormitory during the day, kissing one of the house maids. The pair panicked when they had
a heavy tread on the stairs. And my friend hastily
bundled the young woman up onto a window sill
and drew the curtains to hide her standing form. Mr. Ling came into
the room and must have noticed that only
one of the three windows had the curtains drawn. Even worse, my friend
noticed, to his horror, that the girl’s feet
were clearly visible, protruding under the curtain. He firmly believed
that Mr. Ling must have realized what was going on,
but pretended not to, perhaps on boys will be boys grounds. What are you doing up here in
the dormitory at this hour? Just came up to
change my socks, sir. Oh, well hurry on down. Good call on Mr. Ling’s part. That boy went on
to become probably the most successful
alumnus of his generation, the mighty chief
executive officer of one of the largest
international corporations in the world and a generous
benefactor of the school, endowing, among other things,
the Peter Ling Fellowship. I don’t mention the
name in the book. But I can divulge to you
that that boy was Sir Howard Stringer, who became the head of
the Sony Corporation, the only non-Japanese to do so. I then went on to
Oxford, which was I think the turning
point in my life really. It was wonderful to be
educated to become a scholar and to think,
rather than educated to learn about what
was in textbooks. And so I think a tremendous
lot to the Oxford experience. And in particular to
various mentors at Oxford and especially one,
Michael Cullen, who was the number
two to Niko Tinbergen, the great ethologist,
animal behaviorist, who later won the Nobel Prize. Niko Tinbergen was my
official research supervisor as a graduate student,
but Mike Cullen was the one who really
looked after me. And I want to read
to you– I hope I didn’t break
down when I do so. I occasionally choke
up a bit– the eulogy that I wrote for him
his at his funeral, in one of the Oxford
college chapels. He did not publish
many papers himself. Yet he worked prodigiously hard,
both in teaching and research. He was probably the
most sought after tutor in the entire
zoology department. The rest of his time–
he was always in a hurry and worked a hugely long
day– was devoted to research, but seldom his own research. Everybody who knew him has
the same story to tell. All the obituaries told it
in revealingly similar terms. You would have a problem
with your research. You knew exactly
where to go for help and there he would be for you. I see the scene as yesterday,
the lunchtime conversation in the kitchen, the wiry, boyish
figure in the red sweater, slightly hunched like
a spring wound up, with intense
intellectual energy, sometimes rocking back and
forth with concentration. The deeply intelligent
eyes, understanding what you meant even
before the words came out. The back of the envelope to aid
explanation, the occasionally skeptical, quizzical
tilt to the eyebrows, under the untidy hair. Then he would have to rush off. He always rushed
everywhere and disappeared. But next morning, the
answer to your problem would arrive, in Mike’s small,
distinctive handwriting, two pages, often some
algebra, diagrams, a key reference
to the literature, sometimes an apt verse
of his own composition, a fragment of Latin or classical
Greek, always encouragement. We were grateful, but
not grateful enough. If we had thought
about it, we would have realized he must
have been working on that mathematical model
of my research all evening. And it isn’t only for me
for whom he does this, everybody in the research
group gets the same treatment, and not just his own students. I was officially Niko’s
student, not Mike’s. Mike took me on,
without payment and without official recognition
when my research became more mathematical than
Niko could handle. When the time came to
me to write my thesis, it was my Mike Cullen who
read it, criticized it, helped me polish every line. And all this while he
was doing the same thing for his own, official students. When, we all should
have wondered, does he get time for
ordinary family life? When does he get time
for his own research? No wonder he so seldom
published anything. No wonder he never wrote
his long awaited book on animal communication. In truth, he should
have been joint author of just about every one of
the hundreds of papers that came out of that research group
during that golden period. In fact, his name appears
on virtually none of them, except in the
acknowledgement section. The worldly success
of scientists is charged for
promotion or honors by their published papers. Mike did not rate
highly on this index. But if he had consented to
add his name to his students’ publications as readily as
modern supervisors insist on putting their names on papers
to which they contribute much less, Mike would have been
a conventionally successful scientist, lauded with
conventional honors. As it is, he was a brilliantly
successful scientist, in a far deeper and truer sense. And I think we know which kind
of scientist we really admire. Oxford sadly lost
him to Australia. Years later in Melbourne,
at a party for me as visiting lecturer, I was
standing, probably rather stiffly, with a
drink in my hand. Suddenly, a familiar
figure shot into the room, in a hurry as ever. The rest of us were in suits,
but not this familiar figure. The years vanished away. Everything was the same. Though he must been well
into his 60s by then, he seemed still
to be in his 30s, the glow of boyish enthusiasm,
even the red sweater. Next day, he drove
me to the coast to see his beloved penguins,
stopping on the way to look at giant Australian
earthworms, many feet long. We tired the Sun with talking. Not, I think, about old
times and old friends, and certainly not
about ambition, grant getting, and
papers in “Nature.” But about new science
and new ideas. It was a perfect day,
the last day I saw him. We may know other scientists
as intelligent as Mike Cullen, though not many. We may know other scientists
who were as generous in support, though vanishing few. But I declare that we have no
nobody who had so much to give, combined with so much
generosity in giving it. From Oxford, I moved
on to Berkeley, where I spent two
years as a very junior assistant
professor, who loved it. But was then lured
back to Oxford, where I became a
university lecturer and eventually wrote
“The Selfish Gene,” after quite a while
there at Oxford. Throughout the book, I
tried to put, in addition to just stories about my
life and the people I knew, I tried to put little
asides, perhaps little scientific thoughts. And I want now to
read a couple of them. They really are asides. They could have come
anywhere, almost. The first is about–
actually the first two– are about the luck that we
all have in being here at all. And I introduce it in
the very first part of the book, where I’m
talking about my ancestors, including one Clinton George
Augustus Dawkins, 1808 to ’71. He was the British
consul in Venice and he was there during
the war against Austria. I have a cannonball
in my possession, sitting on a plinth, bearing an
inscription on a brass plate. I don’t know who’s is
the authorial voice and I don’t know
how reliable it is. But for what it is worth,
here is my translation from French, then the
language of diplomacy. One night, when he was
in bed, a cannonball penetrated the bed covers
and passed between his legs, but happily did him no more
than superficial damage. This narrow escape of my
ancestor’s vital parts took place before he
was to put them to use. And it is tempting to
attribute my own existence to a stroke of ballistic luck. A few inches closer to the fork
of Shakespeare’s radish and– But actually, my
existence, and yours, and the postman’s, hangs from
a far narrower thread of luck than that. We owe it to the precise timing
and placing of everything that ever happened since
the universe began. The incident of a cannonball
is only a dramatic example of a much more
general phenomenon. As I put it before,
if the second dinosaur to the left of the tall Cycad
tree had not happened to sneeze and thereby failed to catch the
tiny shrew-like ancestor of all the mammals, we would
none of us be here. We all can regard ourselves
as exquisitely improbable. But here, in a triumph
of hindsight, we are. And that theme of being lucky
to be here I come back to in the very last chapter, which
is called “Looking Back Along the Path,” in which I
tried to talk about all the different things
I described in my life and say what would
have happened if they had been a bit
different, if things had happened differently? What if Alois
Schicklgruber had happened to sneeze at a
particular moment, rather than some other
particular moment during any year before mid-1888,
when his son, Adolf Hitler, was conceived? You may know that Hitler’s
real surname was Schicklgruber. Heil Schicklgruber doesn’t
have the same ring, does it? Obviously, I have
not the faintest idea of the exact sequence
of events involved. And there are surely
no historical records of Herr Schicklgruber’s
sternutations, but I’m confident that a
change as trivial as a sneeze, in say 1858, would have been
more than enough to alter the course of history. The evil omen sperm
that engendered Adolf Hitler was one
of countless billions produced during
his father’s life. And the same goes for his
two grandfathers, four great grandfathers,
and so on back. It is not only plausible,
but I think certain, that a sneeze many years
before Hitler’s conception would have had knock-on
effects sufficient to derail the trivial circumstance that
one particular sperm, that one particular egg, thereby
changing the entire course of the 20th century,
including my existence. Of course, I’m not denying that
something like the Second World War might well have happened
even without Hitler. Nor am I saying that Hitler’s
evil madness was inevitably ordained by his genes. With a different
upbringing, Hitler might have turned out good,
or at least uninfluential. But certainly, his
very existence, and the war as it
turned out, depended upon the fortunate– well,
unfortunate– happenstance of a particular sperm’s luck. And I end that with a
poem from Aldous Huxley. A million million spermatozoa
All of them alive; Out of their cataclysm but one
poor Noah Dare hope to survive. And of that billion minus one
Might have been Shakespeare, another Newton, a new
Donne– But the One was Me. Shame to have ousted
your betters thus, Taking ark while the
others remained outside! Better for all of us,
froward Homunculus, if you’d quietly died! Well, I was told
to stop at 1:30. So I think maybe I’ll stop and
take questions at that point. Would that be a good idea? RAY KURTZWEIL: So that’s a
very interesting thought. I’ve had that thought of
the incredible improbability of my own existence. So I wonder what you thought is
on the incredible improbability of our universe having a
standard model with these 15 or so constants, which is
so precisely what they need to be to allow for a universe
that encodes information, which is the enabling
property for evolution to be at all possible? RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes. It’s a very interesting point. Not all physicists
accept that argument. Victor Stenger,
for example, says that actually the alleged
improbability of the universe is less than many people think. But assuming that it’s right
and that we have these 15 knobs, that each one represents
a fundamental constant and if any one of those knobs
had been tuned ever so slightly different, the
universe as we know it would not have been possible. Galaxies would not have formed. Perhaps, stars would
not have formed. Therefore, the elements
would not have formed. Therefore, chemistry
wasn’t impossible. Therefore, life wouldn’t have
been possible, and so on. So there’s a temptation to see
the universe as a put-up job and to see a divine creator
as a divine knob twiddler, who twiddled these knobs to exactly
the right value in order to foreshadow, foreordain,
life, perhaps even human life. I find that a deeply
unsatisfying idea because of course it leaves totally
unexplained the divine knob twiddler himself. You need exactly
the same problem. If you can magic
him into existence, you might as well just magically
the fine-tuning into existence. Other physicists have resorted
to a multiverse theory, where they propose that this
universe, our visible universe, is only one of a bubbling
foam of universes. We are in one bubble. And the other
bubbles in the foam have different
physical constants. So there are billions of
universes in the multiverse, all with different values of
the physical constants, all with different
settings of the knobs. And with hindsight,
since we’re here, we obviously had to be in
one of the bubbles, however small a minority, which had
the right physical constants to give rise to galaxies, and
stars, and chemistry, and life. That’s the anthropic principle. It’s obviously a
lot more satisfying than the divine
knob twiddler idea. Other physicists say
that the 15 knobs, or how many ever there are,
are not free to vary anyway. There’s only one
way for them to be. But the standard
model of physics doesn’t yet tell us
what that way is. And we need a better physics,
which will one day tell us that the values of the
fundamental constants could only be that way. As Einstein put it,
rather unfortunately, in unfortunate
language, Einstein said what really interests
me is whether God had any choice in
setting up the universe? What he meant, of course, was is
there only one kind of universe that is possible to
have or are there lots of alternative ways in
which a universe might exist, in which case the
multiverse theory works? OK. I probably said
enough about that. The next question? AUDIENCE: OK. Something very
interesting I’ve noticed, I mean this is about
belief in a deity. What I’ve usually seen is
that some of the people who are exposed to
natural sciences, especially through high
school and college, they kind of start to understand
that– I mean at least go away from faith in a deity. Interestingly, I’ve
seen several scientists, usually in abstract mathematics
and sometimes computer science, who actually, as
the kind of grew up, they start believing in
maybe the abstract idea that is kind of similar to what
they’ve been experiencing. I was wondering what’s
your thoughts on that and what do you have
to say to those people? RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes. Some research has been done
on fellows of the National Academy of Sciences
in the United States, the elite scientists
of the United States and the equivalent
elite scientists of the British Commonwealth,
the Royal Society. And these two
independent studies have both come up
with the same result. That about 90% of these elite
scientists are nonbelievers. About 10% have some kind
of religious belief. And within that 10%, there is
a slightly greater tendency for physical scientists
and mathematical scientists to be believers than for
biological scientists, which agrees with
the observation that you’ve just made. Quite often when you meet
a religious scientist, it’s worth asking what
he really does believe. It often turns out to be a
kind of Einsteinian religion. I mean Einstein did not
believe in a personal god. Einstein used the
language of religion, used the language
of God, to refer to that which we
don’t yet understand. And he had a deep
and fitting reverence for that which we
don’t understand. And I think many
of us would agree that we feel– some
might call it spiritual when we think about the enormous
amount that we don’t yet know, the deep mysteries of
existence, the deep mysteries of the universe. But that’s hugely
different from believing in a personal god, the god
of Abraham, the god of Moses, the god of Jesus,
the god of Muhammad. And I think it does
a disservice to use the same language
for those two things. As to why biologists
should be slightly more likely to be nonreligious
than physicists, I think that might
come from the fact that Darwin’s theory of
evolution by natural selection is deeply anti-design in the
sense of deliberate design by a creative intelligence. If you think about it, the
great achievement of Darwin was to show that we don’t
need a creative intelligence. What Darwin showed is
that entities complicated enough to be creative designers,
things like a human brain– the human brain is
perhaps the only one we know– entities
complex enough to do that don’t suddenly
get magicked into existence. They come about through a
very slow, gradual process, exactly like the carving
out of the Grand Canyon, as Ray Kurtzweil said. So biologists are predisposed
to be hostile to any attempt to smuggle in an
intelligence by magic because we know how
intelligence comes about. We know how it comes
about that brains exist which are
capable of designing planes, and cameras,
and computers. So that may be why there’s
a slightly greater bias. But all scientists of these two
elite groups, the Royal Society and the National Academy,
only about 10% are religious. And even they, one
wonders whether they’re religious in the
Einsteinian sense, rather than the personal god sense. AUDIENCE: Thank you. AUDIENCE: Hi. You’ve done all
kinds of great works. I’m sorry to follow
up a religion question with another religion
question, but– RICHARD DAWKINS: They
usually are, I have to say. RAY KURTZWEIL: This might be
a gross oversimplification or perhaps even a
misinterpretation of your work. But something that struck
me as one of the arguments in “The God Delusion”
is sort of we can as biological
entities, conscious ones, realize maybe the
pull towards religion and how that affects us and
choose to not follow that. And I’m wondering how
you would compare that with other things that might
be a part of our nature, sort of chemically
and physically as biological beings, what
that means to how we react to other things, in
addition to religion, such as sexual desire, or
love, and other aspects that might be considered “better?” RICHARD DAWKINS: Right. So I think I may have
got the question. Things like sexual
desire are built into us by natural selection for reasons
we can clearly understand. I mean obviously
natural selection is all about the surviving
of genes and genes get passed on by reproduction. And we need sex
for reproduction. And so we have rules
of thumb in our brain which make us lust
after the opposite sex. Other things, like religion,
might come from something a bit analogous to that. I mean I don’t think religion
has a direct genetic survival value in the way that
sexual lust does. But perhaps another
way to put it would be that there are
psychological predispositions which under the right
cultural circumstances manifest themselves as religion. And I suppose you
could say in a way that sexual lust, under the
right cultural conditions, manifests itself as great
poetry like “Romeo and Juliet.” So it’s not all that different. The kind of psychological
predisposition I’m thinking of is well, because we’re
very social animals, we have a natural tendency
to calculate debts to others, things that we owe
to others because reciprocation is so important for
good Darwinian reasons. And so we are aware
of who owes us what. We are aware of whom
we owe things to. And when something
really good happens, we swim so much in a
sea of other people that we naturally think
we need to thank somebody because so much of
what happens to us is because of
social interactions. And so we feel a need to thank. And often there really
is somebody to thank. Often, it really
is another person who is responsible for the good
thing that’s happened to us and so we thank them. But when there’s no other
person to be responsible for– to be grateful to, if
say the weather turns out nice for our barbecue-
take a trivial example– we still feel the
impulse to thank. But there’s nobody to thank. I mean nobody actually called
the weather to be nice. So you thank God. So maybe that’s
a small component of the psychological
predisposition that led to religion. Another one might
be the tendency for children to obey and
believe their parents. In the wild state,
a child is extremely vulnerable to being killed by
accident and by foolishness. So a child brain might
be naturally selected, comes into the
world preprogrammed with the rule,
whatever else you do, believe what your
parents tell you. If they tell you not to
go too close to the cliff, don’t ask questions, just obey. If they tell you not to pick up
a snake, don’t ask questions. Don’t obey the sort of
scientific curiosity impulse. Just obey your parents. Don’t touch that snake. Well, if the child
brain is preprogrammed with that rule of thumb, obey
and believe your parents, it has no means
of distinguishing between good advice like
“don’t touch the snake” and bad or at least
time-wasting advice like “perform a sacrifice at
the time of the full moon” or “pray five times a
day, facing the East.” How could the child know
which is good advice and which is bad? If it knew, it wouldn’t
need the advice. It would just know. So the child brain
is preprogrammed, just as a computer is built, to
obey whatever instructions it’s given, in its own
machine language. And that’s why computers are
vulnerable to computer viruses. A computer doesn’t
have any filter that says the instructions
I’m now being given are evil instructions, designed
to wipe somebody’s hard disk and destroy their
doctoral thesis. Why do people do
that, by the way? Can you imagine? The computer is simply built to
obey whatever instructions it’s given in the appropriate
machine language. And that’s why it’s vulnerable
to computer viruses. And so another way to put
what I’ve just suggested is that religions are computer
viruses, the mind viruses. AUDIENCE: I guess just to be
blunt about it, to go forward, to follow that
analogy sort of, why is following those
predispositions towards religion sort of bad? I get that impression from–
as opposed to following say love, which might be another
biological process that we follow [INAUDIBLE]. RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes. No, I didn’t mean
to say it’s bad. It could be good. And I mean I’m not sure
how widely it’s done, but it has been suggested
that computer viruses too could be good. That you could– if it
comes from anywhere, it probably come from
Google actually– the idea that you could use the
principle of a program that spreads itself, because it
spreads, because it spreads, because it spreads,
because it contains the instruction, spread
me around the internet. It could be benign. I mean you could spread a good
mind virus, a good computer virus. So there’s nothing that says
that the analogy to computer viruses has to have to be bad. But it could be. And in some cases, I
think it probably is. At best, some of them
might be time wasting. I mean it is an awful
waste of time spending hours on your knees praying
to some nonexistent spook. AUDIENCE: I, of course,
have another question on atheism and religion. [LAUGHTER] So my question,
organized religion of course has a long history of sexism. And you might expect atheism
to do better in this regard. And I think it’s
true that it does. But organized atheism
also had several incidents with male-dominated events,
both in terms of audience and in terms of people speaking,
and also major incidents, both at conferences and
in online discussions. And you yourself have been
criticized in this regard. And I’m wondering is there
some reason that atheism falls victim to
the same traps as– RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, I think
it’s a very unfortunate thing that many institutions
fall victim to. And it would be quite surprising
if atheist conferences and atheist organizations
were completely immune to it. AUDIENCE: Is there some
way we could better? RICHARD DAWKINS: Sorry? AUDIENCE: Is there some
way we could do better? Something that [INAUDIBLE]? RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes. I mean I think we all
need to do better. I think it’s pretty clear that
there’s nothing particularly bad about this in
the atheist world. But there is a need to
do better certainly. Yes, I agree. AUDIENCE: Is there some
way we could do better? Like something we could
do differently maybe? RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, I mean
treat all human beings as of equal worth and don’t looked
down upon 50% of the population because they happen to
have different genitals. [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: So I don’t have
a question about religion. [APPLAUSE] In your
book, you were reflecting on a bunch of
different memories, one of them of somebody
who has passed. I was wondering if you’d
be willing to share a memory about somebody
else who has passed, Christopher Hitchens? Is there any favorite
memory that you might find useful
to share with us? RICHARD DAWKINS:
I think he was– I mean I was a friend of his,
but only in his later life. I wasn’t one of the early
coterie of friends like Martin Amis, and Salman
Rushdie, and Ian McEwan. So I only met him I think after
2006, when we both published books at around the same
time, on a similar theme. He was, I think, the
most spellbinding orator I ever heard. He was a magnificent speaker,
a beautiful, resonant voice, superbly resourceful, with
what must have been something close to a photographic memory,
able to pull out examples with great speed and to
best anybody in debate. I once wrote a
puff for him which said something like if you are
a religious apologist invited to have a debate with
Christopher Hitchens, decline. He was a warm, friendly man. He didn’t suffer fools gladly,
but he was patient as well. I had enormous
admiration for him. I disagreed with him
on certain things. I disagreed with him over
the Iraq War, for example. He was impossible
to typecast on sort of standard left,
right continuum. He was his own man in
that, as in so much else. His approach to atheism came
from a slightly different direction than mine. Mine is more scientific. So for me, what
really matters is the truth about the universe. And the god hypothesis,
it seems to me to be an alternative
hypothesis about the nature of the universe and its origins,
which is I think clearly false. And so for me, it’s
a scientific battle. For Christopher, I think it
was more a political one. I think he saw religions
as political organizations. And he saw God as a
sort of divine dictator. And he saw the kingdom of God
as a kind of divine North Korea. Perhaps, enough of that. AUDIENCE: I was looking at
some of your personal details earlier. And was surprised to see that
you’re married to the best “Doctor Who” companion ever. RICHARD DAWKINS: Here, here. AUDIENCE: And I’d
like to know are you a big fan of “Doctor Who?” RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, I became
a big fan of “Doctor Who” only after I met her actually,
I’m ashamed to admit. I’d heard of “Doctor Who.” But I’d never actually
watched any of the episodes. And then after we married,
I did watch, not DVDs, it was– what do you call them? Tapes, yeah. [LAUGHTER] And I did become a
fan of those tapes. I loved them. Not least actually,
because in her time, which was the Tom Baker
era, who many people regard as the definitive
Doctor as well, the script was written
by Douglas Adams. And was consequently witty,
satirical, and appreciated on different– I mean it
was a children’s program. And it’s appreciated
much by children. But also, there
was a witty irony, which was appreciated
by adults as well. And that’s got Douglas
Adams written all over it. And you can appreciate Douglas’s
episodes of “Doctor Who,” which included the Tom
Baker and Lalla Ward times as beautiful satire,
of the same kind of satire as he was to use also in
the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” and in his Dirk Gently series. So making science
into comedy– laughing at, in a sort of genial,
benevolent, satirical way, scientific ideas– and
satirizing contemporary life was something that he
did supremely well. And that got into “Doctor
Who” at that time. AUDIENCE: Hi. I personally
believe that we live in a universe which is
governed by physical laws. That’s it’s not
necessary to have spirits or anything like that. I understand that other
people, their behavior may be explainable
using physical processes and that I should apply
that to myself also. But I’m struggling at
the moment with where does this kind of
sensation come from, my consciousness, my
awareness of myself? And I don’t really have an
answer for that at the moment. So I wonder if you could help? [LAUGHTER] RICHARD DAWKINS: I mean
ditto, ditto, ditto. I am as mystified as you. I feel exactly the same way. I am aware that my brain is the
product of natural selection, evolution by natural selection. And it is a machine. It’s an on-board computer. It’s helped my
ancestors to survive on the African plains, in
the Pleistocene and before. And somehow an emergent
property of that large brain is the feeling of subjective
consciousness, which makes me know that
I’m me and not you. Makes me believe that
you have a personality and you have a consciousness,
which is similar to mine, that I can never actually
get inside your mind, nor can you get inside mine. That doesn’t make
you a solipsist. It’s the exact
opposite, of course. A solipsist is
someone who thinks that he’s the only
person that there is and everybody else is, as
it were, part of his dream. There was a nice story
by Bertrand Russell. That he had a letter from a lady
who said, Dear Lord Russell, I’m delighted to hear
that you are a solipsist. There are so few of
us around these days. I suppose that people
like you and me have to think that something
about making a brain which is good at navigating through
the world in a versatile way, coping with all sorts of
different things that happen, not moving through
a stereotype world like some computer programs,
which can only navigate through a world of
colored bricks or a table or something of that sort. We have to navigate through
a very versatile world. Above all, we have to navigate
through a world in which the dominant things that we see,
we encounter are other people. Like ourselves. We have to interact with sexual
partners, with business rivals, with business companions,
with co-workers, with possible enemies,
with children. All the time, we’re
surrounded by people and we have to
interact with them. I suppose you could
say that something about needing to interact
with other people might facilitate the setting
up of a model in the head. We all have models in the head
of the world in which we move. I mean when we see
something, what we’re doing is constructing a model in
the head of that something. And you can show this
with visual illusions. When you construct a similar
model of the other people you’re having to deal with
and you have to put yourself in their place, maybe something
about the model of other people that you have to make
necessitates the generation of subjective consciousness. But that doesn’t
really do it, does it? That’s sort of based on an
idea of Nicholas Humphrey. Daniel Dennett has
more advanced ideas in his book,
“Consciousness Explained.” And I think I better not
go on too much with that. But you could look at
“Consciousness Explained” and see if that does it for you. There’s other people who
are attempting to do it. I sort of feel it’s
one of those things that maybe one day it’ll
seem awfully obvious and how could we be so
stupid as not to realize it. But at present, it does
seem to be a deep mystery. Sorry about that. AUDIENCE: So I read
the big footnotes to “The Selfish Gene.” And one of my
takeaways from it is that it’s really not
about being selfish. I was absolutely uplifted by how
much cooperation helps people. And somehow like the
reasoning in this book kind of flipped me over. So my plea would be, could
you write more articles with maybe better,
catchier titles? And my suggestion would be– I
don’t know who to attribute it, but I love this one,
Snuggle for Survival. RICHARD DAWKINS: OK. Thank you. Yes. I mean you’re absolutely right. That the central message
of “The Selfish Gene” is not that we are selfish. Still less is it that
we should be selfish. It’s actually mostly
a book about altruism, snuggling if you wish
to put it that way. And it is true that title– I
think most of my other titles have been OK, actually,
“The Blind Watchmaker,” “Unweaving the Rainbow,”
“Climbing Mount Improbable,” and so on. I did show an early
pair of chapters to a well-known London
publisher before I gave it the title, “The Selfish Gene.” He said you can’t call
it “The Selfish Gene.” It’s a down word.
“Selfish” is a down word. Call it The Immortal Gene. And that would have
been good, I think, because it does also convey
another aspect of it. The reason why
natural selection can be said to work at
the level of the gene is that genes are immortal,
or potentially immortal. And therefore, in the
long-term, survival of genes is what really matters. And if they were not
potentially immortal, it wouldn’t matter which one
survived and which ones didn’t. So “the immortal gene,” it’s
a phrase I use in the book. And that possibly
would have been better. I also suggested
in the book that it could have been called
The Slightly Selfish Big Bit of Chromosome, With the
Even More Selfish Little Bit of Chromosome. RAY KURTZWEIL: Let me ask
you to actually follow up on this last question. You described religion
as a set of mind viruses. Another word for
mind virus is meme, which is your I
think very apt word. And some of those memes
could be bad or good. And I think one of the
good memes from religion is the golden rule, which
is a synonym for altruism, which you just alluded to. And you had a very interesting
thesis in “The Selfish Gene” about how altruism originates
or evolves in nature. So maybe you could
sum up by sharing your view of how
altruism evolves? RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes. The golden rule, of course,
is terribly important. I think it would be unfair
to attribute it to religion. It’s true that many of the
great religions have adopted it. But I think it actually does
have older roots than that. And that’s really what
you’re asking about, which is the evolutionary
roots of the golden rule. Do as you would be done
by, so unto others as you would have them do unto you. Altruism has two main
evolutionary roots. One is that. One is reciprocation. One is the survival value of
doing good turns because others may do good turns to you. And the mathematical theory
of that, the best way to approach it, is the
mathematical theory of games. And the theory has
been well worked out. And it does indeed work in
an evolutionary context. And a lot of “The
Selfish Gene” is actually about the game theory of–
well, game theory generally, including aggression
and reciprocation. The other main source
of altruism is kinship. It’s easy to see nowadays–
it wasn’t originally– but nowadays, we can
see that any gene that makes an individual animal
behave altruistically towards genetic relatives
has, other things being equal, a good chance of
propagating itself because those genetic
relatives statistically are likely to contain
copies of the same gene. And so anyone can see that
that’s true for offspring. What W.D. Hamilton
showed is that it’s also true of collateral
kin, like nephews and nieces, and
cousins, and siblings. Well, humans probably
spent a large part of their ancestral
life in small bands, perhaps rather like baboons,
in which they were surrounded by a group, a clan,
who would have been mostly cousins,
mostly relatives. And therefore, there would have
been a genetic kinship pressure to be altruistic towards
everybody in your band, which pretty much meant
everybody you ever meet. And at the same time, since
you meet the same people over and over
again in your band, you’re going to meet them again
and again throughout your life, that is perfect raw
material for reciprocation. It’s perfect conditions
for the evolution of reciprocation, reciprocal
altruism, the golden rule in one way, putting it. So the fact that humans went
around in limited bands, clans, fostered altruism
in these two different ways and provided what
could be called a lust to be nice, which was
analogous to the lust for sex. The lust for sex worked
because before the days of contraception, sex tended
to be followed by babies. Nowadays, sex very often
is not followed by babies because we’re all
wise to contraception. And so we still enjoy sex, even
though we know perfectly well cognitively that
we’ve separated it, we’ve dissociated it from
its Darwinian function. But we still have the lust. And why on earth, shouldn’t we? Because the lust was
built into our brains at a time when contraception
had not been invented. Natural selection doesn’t
have cognitive wisdom. Natural selection simply builds
in clockwork rules of thumb. The lust for sex is just
such a clockwork rule. And the lust to be nice is also. Because it evolved
at a time when we did live in small groups. Nowadays, we don’t
live in small groups. We live in large
cities, where we are not surrounded by cousins. And we’re not
surrounded by people we’re going to meet again
and again in our lives. We’re surrounded by
perfect strangers. But the lust to be nice is still
there, just as the lust for sex is still there. The lust to be nice still works. We still feel empathy
towards somebody in distress. We still feel we want to
do a good turn to people who is neither related
to us, nor in a position to give the good turn back. But it’s there. And we feel it. It’s an extremely
powerful emotion. There are a few
people, and we call them psychopaths,
who don’t have it. But most of us do have it. Most of us do have empathy. Most of us do have pity
for people in misfortune. Most of us give to
charity and so on. So I think that
would be my attempt at a Darwinian explanation
for the origin of altruism. And it becomes, of course,
much more sophisticated due to cultural evolution,
which you can if you wish, interpret in terms of
memes, not in what it does. Thank you very much.