My conversation with Richard Dawkins: Washington D.C. (and your chance to submit questions)

Richard Dawkins is doing a four-appearance visit to the US next month:

The four stops on the tour are Los Angeles, Boulder, Washington, and Miami (with Dave Barry doing the discussion there!), and they’re being held to benefit the Center for Inquiry.

On May 24, at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C., I’ll have an hour’s conversation with Richard onstage, and then both of us will answer questions for half an hour—though I think people should be querying Richard and not me (I’m fully aware of whom they’re coming to see!).

Tickets are only $29, or, if you’re flush, $250 for the special VIP package. Go to the link in the first paragraph, or click on the screenshot below, for information on the event.

To buy tickets, go here or click on the screenshot below. They’ll go fast—as usual when Richard talks.

Finally, I’ll crowdsource here some questions or topics you’d like to hear Richard discuss. What would you like him to talk about, or what questions would you put to him? I have some ideas, of course, a few based on his upcoming book of essays; but some input from readers would be useful.  Everybody suggest one question! (I’ve already asked him the “boxers or briefs” question when we last chatted at Northwestern University. I also said he didn’t have to answer that one.)

If you’re in Washington, I’ll see you there. They’ll be selling my books as well as Richard’s, so you can have one with a cat drawn in for this special occasion.


  1. Posted April 4, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I wish I could attend!
    You should both come to Kansas City! I think it would be wonderfully refreshing to host you at KU!


  2. Austin Johnson
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Will this event be video recorded? I can’t make it live but I’d love to see this!

  3. Posted April 4, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Sadly, out of town on May 22. I found this interesting:

    • Posted April 4, 2017 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      Forgot to add my question: for many folks church/religion provides a sense of community and belonging. What might non-believers do locally to create a sense of community?

  4. rickflick
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Brilliant! I hope there are YouTube videos.

  5. Robert Seidel
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I have a question for the both of you: “What’s your favorite poem on a scientific theme?”

    (In Unweaving the Rainbow he discusses how the wonders of Science would make a great subject for poets, but that it’s a largely unexplored one. So I wonder if he, and you, have come across any good examples.)

    • stephen
      Posted April 5, 2017 at 4:33 am | Permalink

      I realise that your question is for Jerry and Richard,but have you come across Lucretius’ “De Rerum Natura” (“Von der Natur”)? There are several websites where you can find the complete text in Latin and English-I haven’t checked for German,although there are certainly translations available. I recommend the excellent “Perseus Project” from Tufts University as a resource.One might say that it is,strictly speaking,a philosophical poem;but the subject matter is definitely the stuff of modern science.Oh,btw,it has been regarded as poetry of the highest quality since ancient times…

      • Robert Seidel
        Posted April 5, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        I even own a copy, just didn’t come around to read it yet 🙂

        One of my favorites is this, by Wilhelm Busch:

        They had wine, they had an argument,
        what this was yet again;
        this Darwin business was nuts and meant
        ‘gainst the honor of men.

        They emptied many a half-pint,
        they stumbled through the doors,
        they grunted distinctly and came back home crawling on all fours.

  6. Posted April 4, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Wow! I would love to see Dawkins and Coyne together.

    My question: With forty years of reflection, do you think your idea of the meme is a success or failure?

    I know what PCC thinks (failure) and I know what Dennett thinks (they are the “crane” that supports our intellectual and cultural edifice), but what does Dawkins think?

    • Posted April 4, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      He discussed this to a degree in a couple of events with Sam Harris, which are free to download as Sam’s Waking Up podcasts. Short answer is that he personally didn’t develop the idea any more than to suggest is as a possible example of non-genetic Darwinian selection, but he thinks Dan Dennett and Susan Blackmore expanded on the idea in ways that he thinks are interesting and useful.

      • Posted April 4, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, I’ll check that out. After reading Dennett’s new book, I find the meme a more compelling idea.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 4, 2017 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

        I’d say the meme (as a concept) has turned out to be a highly successful meme.


        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 4, 2017 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

          – in Darwinian terms, that is.


  7. Geoff Toscano
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    My question, and actually this could be to you both, is that, given there is no empirical evidence to support any God, then to what extent do you have an interest, if any, in ontological arguments, and others based solely on linguistics? I might say that I regard the Kalam Cosmological Argument, or the argument from morality, or the fine tuning argument, as nothing more than matters of semantics.

  8. Posted April 4, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Sounds like great fun, and educational to boot.

  9. Posted April 4, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    This question could go to either or both, and might even be suitable for some back-and-forth.

    In your academic careers, what’s the biggest windmill you’ve tilted at?

    That is, there’ve been some famous examples in history of grand ideas that everybody thought were almost certain to be true, but eventually turned out to be fruitless — with the Luminiferous Aether one of the best known.

    But the same pattern repeats itself at all levels…so what’s yours? And what was it like over the course of the idea’s evolution? What were you thinking when you were confident in the idea, what did it feel like as the cracks started to show, how did you pick up the pieces after failure was certain, what’s the aftertaste today like…?



  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    It would have been about a month since the the Walk for Science had taken place in Washington and elsewhere. Perhaps you could ask him what he thought of it, and what more can prominent scientists do to persuade the public that they have been duped by politicians and special interests into thinking that climate change is somehow not happening, or not man-made.

  11. Wombat Waggler
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Is adult gullibility an evolutionary adaptation?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 4, 2017 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      As opposed to a juvenile trait unhelpfully retained into apparent maturity? I’m having a brain fade over what the technical term is.

  12. Posted April 4, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I have a two part question: Who is his favorite Beatle, and why is George the correct answer?

  13. Posted April 4, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Come ON, people! You can do better than this!

  14. eric
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    If you had a device that let you peek back in time, but only for a single 100-year period, what would you peek at? Origin of life? Beginning of multicellularity? Dinosaurs? Origin of our own species? Beginnings of civilization?

  15. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    1) Are you concerned about science-fiction that accepts evolution but drastically falsifies the theory? How could a science-fiction novel embrace evolution and portray it accurately? What would such a novel be like?

    2) Why are you fond of the relatively few religious authors you like? (Evelyn Waugh and William Butler Yeats)

    3) Will your wife ever return to acting, like make a guest appearance on “Doctor Who” as her old character?

    And….trick question
    4) Given a choice between watching a boxing such as “Raging Bull” or “Rocky” or a courtroom drama such as “Twelve Angry Men”, which would you watch?
    [After RD answers ‘courtroom drama’, “Ah, the settles the boxers or briefs question, Thank you.” 🙂 ]

  16. Alex T.
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Would like to know if Richard shares a similar view as you and Sam Harris regarding Free Will – or is he more partial to Dan Dennett’s compatiblistic view.

  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Richard Dawkins and Dave Barry — now there’s an odd-couple pairing for ya. Will they be discussing biology or boogers?

    Either way, I wouldn’t miss it.

  18. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Since Richard often deals with people who oppose logic and what he explains (logically), I’d like to ask, How do you stay resilient in the face of such overwhelming opposition?

  19. Posted April 4, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I’ll be there, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing you again. Richard too of course.

  20. Paul Dymnicki
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Should the core of science, the scientific argument, be promoted more than what science has achieved,
    It always seems to me that when naive people scoff at any scientific claim it’s because they do not understand the sound reasoning behind that claim.

  21. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Some biologists have been proposing that factors like epigenetic inheritance and environmental engineering are sufficiently novel that there needs to be a Big Revision in the Modern Synthesis of evolutionary theory. What do you think about this ?

  22. Steve Pollard
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Are we still evolving? How do you know?

  23. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    If you only now had started writing The Selfish Gene, what would you include in it that is not now in that book? What would you take out?

  24. rickflick
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    What’s the main reason you are skeptical about group selection as a basis for understanding altruism?

    • Posted April 4, 2017 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      I think he would say it is because such a gene pool would be invaded by selfish interlopers, but let’s ask and find out.

  25. Steve Kern
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    I believe that a significant impediment to the widespread understanding and acceptance of human evolution is the failure to teach logic (and a bit of epistemology) in our education system. I believe that logic is taught in Britain in the fifth or sixth grade. Why not here? Are there forces at work that seek to prevent teaching kids how to think? How to spot a bad argument when they see one? Can we overcome this?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 4, 2017 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      I believe that logic is taught in Britain in the fifth or sixth grade.

      I just don’t understand that “grade” system, if there is such a thing. If the descriptions I’ve head of it being something like the number of years of completed schooling (plus 1), then it could refer to pretty much any age between 8 and 12, which is as precise as something not very precise.
      Regardless of which, I don’t recall any formal teaching of logic in my tuition, except in Physics (logic gates and how to calculate with them, in the electronics module) and a little in the after-hours Computing course before it got shut down.
      Which one of the countries of the Formerly United Kingdom did this teaching happen in?

  26. veroxitatis
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    A couple of questions.

    * How far are we from a theory (as opposed to hypotheses) of the origin of life?

    * Do you think that either or both of the following events will have a significant impact on the continuance of the “God Delusion”? – (a)the discovery of life (particularly sentient life) on another planet. (b) the fabrication by man, from the bottom up, of life. What other discoveries, events or scientific experiments, in your opinions, would have a significantly widespread effect.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 4, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      A couple of questions.
      * How far are we from a theory (as opposed to hypotheses) of the origin of life?

      That presupposes the answer to a somewhat different question : how many times on Earth (or, at a stretch, on Earth and Mars, with short-range panspermia) do you think life did arise before (and possibly after) the origin of the lineage that gave rise to the last common ancestor of the well-known kingdoms (domains) of life recognised today?
      At this time, I think we’d be very hard put to decide between a “metabolism-first” or an “information-first” origin of life, and it is possible that both routes were initially taken, though only one survived.
      (There’s also the possibility that we don’t yet recognise all forms of life on Earth. If, for example, there were organisms in some dark little corner which did not use DNA, even things like Venter’s scatter-gun sampling of biomes is unlikely to detect it.)

      • veroxitatis
        Posted April 5, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        Thanks. I was trying to keep things simple, partly on account of my lack of deep knowledge on the subject and partly because I think fairly open questions are best in this context.

  27. Posted April 4, 2017 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    “The previous comment has writing errors please take better this”

    Hello I´m from Nuevo Laredo Tamaulipas, Mexico. I´m a militant atheist. I´m a follower of many rationalist and scientist, my question is about the Dawkins theoretical work in his book The Extended Phenotype and the experimental work by Hopi Hoekstra evolutionary scientist of Harvard University she won the recognition by The National Academy of Sciences, she is a member since 2015, she evidencing correctly the theoretical Dawkins work, ¿Dawkins could tell us about this progress in science? 🙂

    My name is Angel Cardiel. Krisangel23 or Richard Hawkins are nick names.

    Please take video of the conversation and upload them to you tube 🙂

    I have a atheist´s group of translators, We have translated videos of Dawkins and many other rationalists into Spanish and spread them to the Spanish or hispanic atheist community.

  28. Pikolo
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Has mr Dawkins heard of Gravmass and what does he think of this peculiar way of secularizing holidays?

  29. Posted April 4, 2017 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Many years ago, I met Dawkins after a tremendous talk at the University of Washington in Seattle. He was (and is) a hero of mine because The Selfish Gene changed my entire world view. Before his talk I had just read (skimmed, actually) Behe’s ridiculous book Darwin’s Black Box. I asked him what he thought of it. He responded by asking me, with an intense stare, what I thought of it. I was so unprepared for a question as an answer to my question, and that intense look, that I freaked out and said “not much” and hurried off. I have always regretted not engaging Dawkins in a discussion of the falsity of Intelligent Design.

  30. Dan
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    My question:

    Nine years ago, you attended a screening of Expelled with PZ Myers, where he was proud to be a “sabot” for getting you in. After your dust-up with the regressive leftists, PZ Myers has sided with them and attacked you.

    What are your thoughts on PZ Myers since then, and of the state of the left with the advent of the Social Justice Warriors?

  31. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Umm, difficult.

    OK, in The Blind Watchmaker, Richard mentions as an example of possible abiogenesis mechanism, Cairns-Smith’s clay minerals theory. If Richard were writing it today, would he still use that or would he use some other theory?

    (Before I read Blind Watchmaker, I was an atheist but with big gaps in my understanding of how we got here. After reading it, I felt my atheism was intellectually coherent. (I know I’m paraphrasing someone else here))


    • Dan
      Posted April 5, 2017 at 6:35 am | Permalink

      In a latter book after TBW (I don’t recall the exact one), Dawkins says that the Cairns-Smith hypothesis is very speculative and only suggested it as one possible abiogenetic theory. I think he used another theory in another book.

      He also said that he finds the RNA World hypothesis plausible in The Greatest Show on Earth.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 5, 2017 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        Well, in TBW itself, Dawkins did say the Cairns-Smith hypothesis is, as you say, speculative and just one possible example.

        Could be worth asking him what he thinks is currently the ‘best bet’ for a theory of abiogenesis.


        • Dan
          Posted April 5, 2017 at 8:27 am | Permalink

          That’s true. The smart bet is on the RNA World hypo, and I think CRD will concur.

  32. Daniel Engblom
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    Merely a comment I hope might be relayed to Dawkins:
    I find it extremely funny how many biologists feel a pressure to try and be revolutionaries, overturning Darwin and “the orthodoxy”, and so they fruitlessly continue now for a couple of decades with “group selection”, “Epigenetics”, “Niche construction”, “Plasticity”, “Evo-Devo” etc, exaggerating their impact on Evolution and trying to push Natural Selection into a minor role in the grand scheme of things.

    And failing, because these ideas aren’t as big and earth-shattering as they promote.

    And yet, for all their want of success and recognition, to leave a mark on the world, it is the biologists like Dawkins & Jerry Coyne who are more successful, recognised, heard and applauded for their work, in relaying the orthodoxy in mainstream biology, in poetic, precise and clear language for a wider audience.
    You guys actually have done scientific advancement (you on speciation and Dawkins on the Extended Phenotype), but most people don’t know you for that work.

  33. largeswope
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    The United States is an odd country in that instead of moving away from religion, like most industrialized countries, we are a very religious country. One of the thoughts as to why is the US has never had a state religion. With our current political situation we are pretty close to Christianity as our state religion. Do you think the Christian political agenda will swing the nation more religious or less religious?

    • veroxitatis
      Posted April 5, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      Is it not largely because the US is a country inhabited to an enormous degree by the descendants of emigrants escaping religious persecution or coming from almost peasant like agricultural societies where faiths were particularly deep rooted.

  34. Pluto Animus
    Posted April 5, 2017 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Question for Dawkins (the old Free Will Problem, but worded my way — with apologies to Jerry, as I know this is one of his pet subjects):

    We probably can agree that a developing human embryo’s cells all behave in ways determined by its internal and external environments. Physical and chemical reactions determine the course of development. The changes in the embryo proceed blindly, and the embryo is unable to resist the impersonal forces that impinge upon it.

    But if this is the case, then at what point do groups of cells in the nervous system divorce themselves from these pervasive imperatives and behave in self-determined ways, leading to free will?

    In other words, what makes it possible for the human brain to resist the impersonal forces that impinge upon it and generate spontaneous thoughts and decisions?

    And can you imagine how this process might occur?

    (Thanks, Jerry, for soliciting our questions!)

  35. Posted April 5, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Q: Organic chemists dismiss the idea that life could be based on chemistry of elements other than carbon. However, I have heard it claimed that if one was in a sufficiently ammonia rich environment (elsewhere in the universe, not on Earth) ammonia might be plausible (for very slow moving creatures) a suitable biosolvent (instead of water). Comments?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 5, 2017 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      Why not silicon-based? You’ve got rigid compounds (silicates – analogous to carbonates?), flexible rubber-like compounds (silicones)… I would have thought you could construct a being with a skeleton and ‘fleshy’ bits out of silicon. (Or is carbon so much better at chemical combinations that it would greedily ‘take over’ the process?)


      • Dan
        Posted April 5, 2017 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

        Silicon-based life forms have been a staple of science fiction since about the 1970s. They wanted something exotic so they’re differentiating in from carbon-based life forms.

        The thing is that carbon is the 4th most common element in the universe while silicon is 8th, and in fact Carbon is 7x more abundant than silicon. Also, carbon very readily combines with other elements (that’s why carbon is called the slut of the periodic table), and produces long, stable chains of molecules.

        Why be exotic? Carbon-based life makes sense in our universe. It is no accident that it is the basis for life here on Earth. It is more likely that life out there will be familiar to students of organic chemistry here.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 6, 2017 at 12:26 am | Permalink

          I agree, but the premise of the original question was elements-other-than-carbon. Which I assume requires us to postulate an environment where carbon is in very short supply.


          • Posted April 6, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

            Silicon-silicon bonds are much weaker, and so chains are harder. Think of nucleic acids or proteins – you need chains of hundreds or thousands of atoms. Doesn’t happen with silicon. (Or so they all tell me.)

            • Posted April 6, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

              I’m also hard-pressed to imagine an environment where silicon is abundant but carbon isn’t. Stellar nucleosynthesis and planetary accretion just doesn’t work like that — at least, not as I, a layman, understand it.

              But I’m also compelled to point out that, assuming human civilization doesn’t implode first, it’s pretty much a sure bet that we’ll have silicon-based life here on Earth. We’re not all that far away. What’s more, said silicon-based life will be (somewhat) intelligently designed, and much better adapted to interplanetary environments. As such, it’s conceivable that, over a perspective on the scale of stellar lifetimes, silicon-based life may well turn out to be more prolific, with carbon-based life little more than a bootstrapping mechanism.

              Highly speculative, of course. But also much more plausible than silicon-based de novo abiogenesis.




              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 6, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

                I imagine a future when we humans shed our meat bags and much like John Cavil think:

                I don’t want to be human. I want to see gamma rays, I want to hear X-rays, and I want to smell dark matter. Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly, because I have to—I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid, limiting spoken language, but I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws, and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me. I’m a machine, and I can know much more.

              • Posted April 6, 2017 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

                It’s a fascinating dream — one filled in no small part about existential questions about the self. As in, in what sense would such a future you still be you? Are you still the same you as you were when you were ten? Think of everything you imagined about life at your age when you were ten…how much did you get right, how much spectacularly worng?

                And, at the other end of the spectrum…do we not already hear X-rays and smell dark matter? Sure, not directly with senses were were born with wired into our brains…but, if blind people can “see” by feeling relief sculptures, why should it matter that we hear X-rays with our eyes by way of spectrum-analyzing imagery?

                You might even get your wish sooner than many people think. Elon Musk is not-so-subtly dropping hints that he’s working on non-surgical direct neural interfacing in order to address what he describes as a “bandwidth problem.” Personally, I’d be very late to join that particular party…but I won’t make any promises that my hypothetical old-and-decrepit future self would laugh at.

                …but, if I do…would I still be me? And, if not, would that be a bad thing, or a good thing?




              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 6, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

                I would like to explore seeing the spectrum more like what would things look like if we saw all the wave lengths?

                I often wanted to write about such a thing and explore the questions you asked because what would the self be with potentially unlimited cognitive powers that perhaps need not be constrained and existed in some cloud somewhere or some other space-time like the Mind in Consider Phlebas. I see the meat sacks as our first phase and they’d be considered almost like larvae by the others who had moved to a machine body. How would people handle it? Would they lose it? Would everyone be able or allowed to transition? Who could reproduce?

              • Posted April 6, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

                I would like to explore seeing the spectrum more like what would things look like if we saw all the wave lengths?

                Very difficult to say. Even increasing the spectral bandwidth within the octave that’s the visible part of the spectrum would radically change perception. For example…you could have a given color sample displayed side-by-side on a monitor, paint chip, and LED bulb that you and pretty much everybody else would agree is the same color, but each has a radically different spectrum.

                One way to sort-of imagine it is with those tests for colorblindness. You know how they’re easy to read (assuming you’re not colorblind), but all the splotches are similar colors? With increased spectral resolution, the differences in the color become more and more apparent.

                For colors outside the visible spectrum…well, you can play some tricks with fatigue to give you the perception of colors that aren’t real. Adding receptors outside the spectrum would feel something not entirely unlike that.

                At some point, though, you’ll start to bump into the mind’s bandwidth limitation. If you pay closely enough, you’ll realize that you don’t actually see all that much of what’s in your visual field — just as you generally don’t perceive much of anything. Instead, most of your mental attention is directed at that never-ending internal monologue we all have going on, and much of our perception is filtered through that monologue. You tend not to see things so much as they are as what you expect them to be — and, even more, as representational abstracts. You don’t see the details of the glass on the table so much as you see a glass-shaped icon with a mental “glass” label attached to it. You’ll probably pick it up and drink from it many times without its existence even registering on your mind.

                And, in such a context…how much would adding to the data input stream really change things?

                It’s important to keep track of the fact that we live in our minds, and that our minds are, essentially, virtual realities that’re logically perfectly isolated from everything else. You really could be the proverbial brain in a vat or Matrix subroutine, and your subjective experience would be exactly the same — and what are we if not our subjective experiences? In that sense, Chopra is right in that the Moon only exists when you think of it; in the very small universe that is nevertheless the entirety of your existence, the Moon really does pop into and out of being coincidental with your thoughts of it.

                Of course, there’s overwhelming reason to be skeptical in the extreme of the various conspiracy theories and simply accept external reality as it is. Even were you to favor the conspiracy route, how would you pick between them? Brain vat or Matrix?

                And, if you accept the picture painted by science — a provisional conclusion, to be sure, but one warranting overwhelming confidence — then you can expand your own internal mental model / universe to encompass things such as not only your own visual acuity but that of various other sensing devices. And, at that point, its basically semantics as to whether or not the optics are part of your body….




              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 7, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

                We are out minds and that’s why seeeing reality from a different mind would be so fun or maddening. If we could see the full spectrum, the world would be very bright indeed.

              • rickflick
                Posted April 6, 2017 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

                Hallucinogens might do the trick.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted April 6, 2017 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

              OK, that could be an insuperable obstacle to development of any self-perpetuating silicon-based ‘life’.


  36. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 10, 2017 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    A question while I have a moment to jot it down:

    What is it about religion that makes it so unlike anything else?

    To ask it from a different angle, is there anything that religion is like?

    I can expand on this question a bit but sorry if I go off the handle – its the nature of the question I think – and this has to be paraphrasing since I’m in a rush : A.C. Grayling in The God Question, has described religion as something like an amorphous mass, which, when attacked with the intellect, adapts and reconfigures to avoid the blow. Steven Weinberg described religion as “a mile wide and an inch thick”. Christopher Hitchens has said relgion infects us at are deepest levels. You (Richard Dawkins) has observed that religion is like a disease – this makes getting rid of it no trivial task. Religious adherents can be found from Nobel Prize winning scientists, friendly neighbors, to the worst monsters in history, the most tedious circumlocutions of theologians, and the most intellectually impoverished residents of the remotest backwaters. What links these completely different people? Religion. The news reports a blast that rocks a middle eastern city. What is the cause? religion.

    Perhaps its just me, but in my daily experience, I can always find some thing where some aspect of religion comes and touches it. Signs on peoples’ lawns. A newborn baby. A wonderful feeling of watching a sunrise. A moral dilemma, a political discussion, A lovely walk, the death of a loved one, news of a recent bombing, the passing of a law. The examples I mentioned are all completely different, yet, religion somehow can makes its way into the conversation, and almost as a given. With such examples, we walk the “mile” that Weinberg described. Why can’t we be infected by other things? perhaps to compare from the study of the natural world – calculus? Certainly, calculus is applicable to countless things in everyday life. Likelihood? Will we hear about the latest attack of the Probabilists vs. Frequentists? Likelihood is certainly applicable to everyday, “middle world” life? It will never happen.

    To conclude ..?.. what is it about religion that infects us so broadly, yet, no other thing can be said to be so penetrating?

    … I might think of another question later. As for the volume of this one^^^^, of course, PCC(E), I trust your editorial judgement.

    • Dan
      Posted April 10, 2017 at 5:53 am | Permalink

      You might find Pascal Boyer’s book Religion Explained to be of some use.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted April 10, 2017 at 6:15 am | Permalink

        Interesting pick – thanks!

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted April 21, 2017 at 6:06 am | Permalink

        Just a follow up to this good book recommendation.

        If a book says it’s about “the evolutionary origins” of something, I by default give it a low “I have to read this” score. The subtitle of this book is “the evolutionary origins of religious thought”, so I think I originally blew it off.

        However, giving it a chance – with the proverbial “open mind” perhaps – I’m glad I got this recommendation.

  37. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I have another question to submit. I couldn’t come up with a short version, but I’ll give it a title so we know where its going:

    The “Religion-shaped hole” and politics.

    We have all heard of a “god-shaped hole”, that is posited to be in all human beings’ thinking patterns, and is used to explain for instance why one person likes one god, then the other person has a different god, or possibly for instance the teleological nature of Aristotelian physics. Do you think there can be a “religion-shaped hole”? Such that in the period when an individual has made the step of getting rid of “their” religion, this “religion-shaped hole” can get occupied by other things that can be of course another religion, or a cult, but importantly, can also not be characterized as any specific religion – such as politics, or a political party? I think this could explain the poisonous nature of politics in the United States at least, starting all the way down in the voting families, thus producing a group of highly dysfunctional elected representatives. This is slightly different from outright state religions, or governments where supernatural religion competes, and is banned by, the ruling class, and perhaps more pernicious. I’d emphasize that some individuals might find themselves losing their religion, but for reasons that we don’t usually consider, such as they were simply lazy, or lost interest, and had never sought any books on the subject. Such a scenario I think is specifically what this question is about, where the individual doesn’t know in advance to take care to guard the “religion-shaped hole”, as if it were a wound that can get infected with other equally dangerous things. I think the idea of atheist churches that has previously been floated by Alain de Botton and others unwittingly speaks to this scenario, but the authors never acknowledged how dangerous a scenario it could be.

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