Unweaving the Rainbow
Science delusion and the appetite for wonder
Richard Dawkins, Penguin Books, PP313.
There is concern, at least among the more thoughful sections of educators
There is a decline of interest in science courses. The decline in science education has a direct bearing, in my opnion, on the goowth in India in recent times of a wave of religious fanaticism, fake godmen and godwomen and the hold of superstitions of all varieties on the Indian society.
This remarkable book, issued by the Penguin, must serve as an indispensible reading in all schools and public libraries.
Luckily thius book written by Richard Dawkins, one of the well-known public faces in the British academic and public platforms as a ‘populariser’ of science.
He is the first professor of a chair, again a unique distinction of the Oxford University, specially created as “the Professor of the Public Understanding of Science”.
All his books, The Selfish Gene (1976), The Blind Watchmaker etc. have been international best sellers. So too this book.
What the book conveys: the real pleasure and jou of living in the world man gets only when he knows the reality of the sciences. The science knowledge is the real knowledge, Scientific knowledge is now being popularised by some of the great scientists living today.Stephen Hawking, Roger Pensore and others have really raised the level or public interest and understanding of some of the fundamental thinking that is taking place today.
The title of the book is taken from poet John Keats, Keats believed that Newton had destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to prismatic colours. Says Dawkins: Keats could hardly have been more wrong! Says the author:My aim is to take the reade5s who are tempted to share Keats views towards the opposite conclusion! How? Science ought to vbe the source and inspiration for great poetry. By implication for all the joys and happiness of living, for much of the aesthetics of living, appreciating life’s many beauties and wonders. Keats also could be a more likeable human being and that doesn’t make Newton’s contribution by”unweaving the rainbow” colours into spectroscopy that proved the key to understanding cosmos.
The ordinary people with lot of superstitions feel cheated if the mysteries of the world are explained scientifically. This is true in all of our day to day experiences too, aren’t they?
People love mysteries, feel confident when a spiritualist or other godmen or godwomen gove instant solutions to life’s perceived problems. This is plain cheating and makes our lives meaningless and superficial.How? Says Dawkins: “I believe that an orderly universe, one indifferent to human preoccupation, in which everything has an explanation even if we still have a long way to go before we find it, is a mor beautiful, more wonderful place than a universe tricked out with capricious, magic”.
The author is a modern-day Darwin, his book on the ’selfish genes’ gives a new insight into how our evolution is taking place and how our future would be. The book has interesting chapters, each a new thought process in itself. The whole book had arisen out of many small newspaper articles and television talks and therefore the readers must read the book as a bedside reading and each page is worth reflecting many times. These are the opening words of Dawkins!
But the chill you get when he describes the physics, time, space, microbiological details could put you off. But the text is woven in a clever way with apt literary quotationa that makes the reading engaging. Finally we feel like saying : yes, life in the vast cosmos is more a chance, a chaos is all that is to life. But then, as Dawkins argues and we get convinced it is this planet, out of a million, that sustains life and that is a positive news, the earth is a paradise by any standards”.
What is the ‘use’ of science? The author quotes Michael Faraday who asked in a similar context: “What is the ‘use’ of a new born child?’. Its life is just work to go in living? Useful to stay alive? There must be added value, Life should be devoted ‘living’ that life, not just working to stop it ending. We have to “live, spend our brief life, brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe, wondering why we were born, such a thought only makes us rejoice in living, dreaming, enjoying arts, thoughts, heritage buildings etc”.
He says further: “There is an unaesthetic of familiarity, a sedative of ordinariness which dulls our senses and hides the wonder of existence”. The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion like music and poetry. The time we have for living it (the aesthetic passion, the experience of the) is finite.”
The author has a felicity for simple language and inventive imagination. Our evolution, the human brain, the unique gift of man for language is all like software/hardware co-evolution. Some random event nudging over a threshold, a critical mass that explodes and self-feeds for perpetuating. His examples of how the computer analogy fits with our evolution is exhilerating. The invention of mouse(1960s) led to graphical user interface (GUI) (1970s) which was (1983) in turn commercialisedf by Apple- the most commercially successful today, Windows.
The knowledge and experience of the scientific truths, the scientific world, the universe the cosmos, our biological evolution is the only truth or experience worth experiencing, rather than the supposed appeal to uncritical belief, blind faith in some mystical spiritualism of which we have so many pretenders.
These pretenders haven’t advanced mankind’s all achievements, be it the material achievements or the evolution of knowledge. All these advances are made by science, the human effort, the hard work, deep reflections, men like Socrates to Newton to Decaretes, to our own present day scientists.