Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think : Reflections by Scientists, Writers, and Philosophers

By Alan Grafen; Mark Ridley | Go to book overview

BALLOONING PARROTS AND
SEMI-LUNAR GERMS

Andrew F. Read

PILLOW talk first introduced me to The Selfish Gene. I remember the scene quite vividly, perhaps because of the weather. Sun was streaming into the room and it was exceptionally warm; in New Zealand's southernmost university town, such mornings were rare. I was a second year zoology undergraduate and my then girlfriend was majoring in English literature. I was a great deal more interested in her than in literature, but on this particular morning she told me about a weird biology book she'd had as a set text. I was surprised that a biology book would appear in a literature course, but she said that it was used to discuss the role of metaphor and then said, I believe without irony, that the author proposed that genes had emotions. We both laughed at this lunacy, and I suggested that she should read a sensible evolutionary thinker like Stephen Jay Gould.

Incredible as it now seems, my first physical encounter with the book was after I had finished my four year Zoology degree specializing in evolution, ecology, and behaviour. The limitations of my formal education were, I like to think, more than offset by the summer jobs I had with the New Zealand Wildlife Service on remote mountains and offshore islands. The best job came immediately after finals, when I had the extraordinary good fortune to work on the kakapo conservation program during a breeding season. Kakapo are the world's strangest and most fabulous birds. But to me then, as a budding evolutionary biologist, I came to see them as an intellectual affront. I just could not figure out how kakapo could be like they are; I couldn't even figure out how one might figure it out. Certainly, my extensive Stephen Jay Gould

-3-

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