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

DEEP COMMONALITIES
BETWEEN LIFE AND MIND

Steven Pinker

US television talk-show host Jay Leno, interviewing a
passerby: How do you think Mount Rushmore was
formed?

Passerby: Erosion?

Leno: Well, how do you think the rain knew to not only
pick four presidents—but four of our greatest presi-
dents? How did the rain know to put the beard on
Lincoln and not on Jefferson?

Passerby: Oh, just luck, I guess.

I AM a cognitive scientist, someone who studies the nature of intelligence and the workings of the mind. Yet one of my most profound scientific influences has been Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist. The influence runs deeper than the fact that the mind is a product of the brain and the brain a product of evolution; such an influence could apply to someone who studies any organ of any organism. The significance of Dawkins' ideas, for me and many others, runs to his characterization of the very nature of life and to a theme that runs throughout his writings: the possibility of deep commonalities between life and mind.

Scientists, unlike literary scholars, are ordinarily not a fitting subject of exegesis and thematic analysis. A scientist's writings should be transparent, revealing facts and explanations directly. Yet I find that Dawkins' ideas repay close reflection and reexamination, not because he is a guru issuing enigmatic pronouncements for others to ponder, but because he continually

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