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tv   [untitled]    September 28, 2011 9:30pm-10:00pm EDT

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for the nice conversations of great minds i'm very pleased to be joined by a british f. ologist an evolutionary biologist professor richard dawkins is a scientist and author of his life work his educated millions and challenge the popular beliefs of a generation as are dawkins is best known for the ideas laid out at his landmark book the selfish gene and develop further in the extended phenotype which is the radical notion that darwinian selection happens not at the level of the individual but at the level of our d.n.a. implies that humans evolved for only one purpose to serve our genes he's also equally well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design is an atheist and humanist and a vice president of the british humanist association and supporter of the rights movement professor dawkins is becoming has become a leading figure of new atheism the english language version of his groundbreaking book the god delusion argues that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is
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a delusion has sold more than two million copies and been translated into more than thirty languages is an emeritus fellow at the university of oxford and founder of the richard dawkins dawkins foundation for reason and science he joins me now from our studios in miami professor dawkins welcome it's a pleasure thank you it's a pleasure and an honor to have you with us in the selfish gene you shook up the discussion of natural selection you coined the term selfish gene as a way if you correct me if i have this wrong please as a way of expressing the gene centered view of evolution as opposed to views focused on group selection given that you also say that genes just are that they can survive independently of the cell the cell can survive in a part of the organism how do you reckon to reconcile the need for biological cooperation with your hypothesis of a selfish gene. cooperation takes place at the level of the individual individuals cooperate genes selfish the whole point about the selfish gene is not that
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individuals are selfish but individuals may well very well be ultra risky uncooperative as a result of their genes being being selfish and obviously that takes a book to explain but it does not mean that individuals are selfish still less that they should be selfish. point taken and a good point i'm curious about the genes been selfish the visual genes themselves. why we have actually of. twenty some odd minutes or talk on can you can you explain . your reasoning others yeah well obviously genes are their innovative d.n.a. so they can't actually be selfish in the same sense as we are they don't actually have have motives they're not conscious they don't think but a gene that causes individuals to behave in such a way as to foster the welfare of that gene will survive and so it's the self
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interest of the gene and that sort of metaphorical sense but i mean what you will not get is natural selection favoring a gene that sacrifices itself for the benefit of other genes but you may very well get individual sacrifices itself for the benefit of other individuals wouldn't wouldn't that. willingness to sacrifice yourself for other individuals be seen driven behavior. yes it would and that's the point that a gene that makes and the individuals that criticize itself the individual self for the benefit of the gene will survive and that would often mean for the benefit of copies of the gene in the individual to mention really close relatives right so in other words our altruistic impulses the desire not to be selfish but to care for our family for friends for
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a community and to sacrifice for them actually perpetuates our genes even if we don't produce offspring because those genes are also appearing in others of our of our local family. that's correct ok genes aren't static will express various a wheels in response to the environment around spontaneous development so we act as easy response to food poisoning for example or i think a pretty good example so how does that entire concept of an interactive phenotype fit into your theory. what you're talking about is the expression of genes so that's projections that in you may or may not express themselves and whether they express themselves may depend upon the environment they depend upon your food may depend upon your age and so on so the genes themselves. just in you and they may or may not get passed on to your offspring but how they express themselves will depend very much on the environment notably by the other genes that happen to share the
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body with them and not just in an individual organ or cell or quite close area but. more broadly. yes. and also it would be their interaction with. with other genetic material for example my understanding is that more than half of the total d.n.a. in our body is not human genes it's all the viruses and bacteria and fungi and other. well that's that's true i mean that's very interesting and and yes interaction with with the bacteria for example in our gut which are massively numerous in our guts and even within every one of our cells the mitochondria which of these vital little organelles that are responsible for giving us energy they were once upon a time bacteria and they reproduce by the same means as bacteria do reproduce as an
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entirely independent population inside ourselves and they get passed on in the egg to the next generation so that at some point in the past cells were infected by bacteria and thus began the evolutionary process that loads of mitochondria and cells. in a very remote past yeah i'm curious if if in your in your work you've come across anything that might indicate the phage is really phages or the super smart for laws for viewers the super small viruses that in fact only bacteria rather than entire if they have played a role in modifying the genes of bacteria that we then interact with and that may in fact modify our genes or any evidence or very probably yes very very probably bacteria rather different from us in that bacteria are constantly swapping genetic material rather like we computers copy and paste bits of text from one document
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into another area constantly swapping exchanging copying and pasting the genetic material into into other bacteria and viruses phage is play a role in that yes i've had over the years a number of political discussions. which is typically the topic of my programs other than this segment and have. some particular people who are. followers of iran actually quote you and suggest your selfish gene metaphor and the economics of milton friedman or frederick van hired and the modern libertarian movement are the same thing and that your selfish gene movement or your self-esteem. hypothesis assertion how you have to fill in the word so i don't have the correct word. and i would in films
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that not informs their movement but demonstrates the validity of of individual selfishness i'm curious how you would respond because i'm sure. that one of the most surprising things that happened after the selfish gene was was published with that i started getting letters from rightwing libertarians in america i've never even met a rightwing libertarian but they started writing to me and total misunderstanding as i said before gene's a selfish and that's nothing to do with whether individuals and selfish or rather it's a very complicated relationship and in particular it says nothing whatever about the moral rightness or wrongness of being selfish you could take a stand on that option which is based upon something quite different from my standard an evolutionary biology there's no reason why somebody shouldn't read the selfish gene and as it happens be a right wing libertarian but absolutely there is no reason why they should read and selfish gene and therefore become
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a right wing libertarian i have always voted on the left in british elections it's interesting i'm curious your thoughts on the relationship between genetics and political worldview there's been a fair amount of speculation and writing and in recent months about the genetics or at least the neurobiology of politics of political worldview. how do you think that that whole dance plays out at the at the level of genes. well i mean one's political opinions like everything else that no one is but he was about everything governed by one's brain and brains are of course built by genes interacting with each other and with the environment in the process is the only gene so there are doubtless kinetically influence differences in brains which affect political opinions which is going to be very complicated and i would hesitate to
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say anything in detail about just this so it would be more like. there is no gene for race there are just genes for all these various characteristics there is no gene for being a conservative or liberal there are genes that might give people certain proclivities that would cause them to draw toward one of the other that's right didn't it yes in very complicated interaction with other genes and with upbringing education and so on you write and talk a lot and i apologize i've only read two of your books but i've read pieces of many others and and a lot of commentary over the years you've read and talk a lot about classical classical concept of gradual darwinian evolution i'm curious and my apologies if you've already. dealt with this morning or books i just missed it about your thoughts on stephen jay gould's concept of punctuated equilibrium as an enhancement to darwin the concept that. evolution really macroevolution
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specie evolution is not generally the slow gradual process but rather there are periodic disasters that happen that wipe out ninety plus percent of a of an individual or group and the small subset of their group that is most. adapted to the new environment even though they may have been maladapted to the earlier environment are the ones that continue to survive and maybe even that accounts for gaps in the fossil record i'm curious your thoughts on about. well what you have just outlined is not really punctuated equilibrium although you could be forgiven for thinking that because punctuated equilibrium was expressed in such a confused way that anybody would be forgiven for muddling up at least three different things what you've just described is the phenomenon of mass extinction which is indeed very important every few every twenty or thirty. million years or so you may get a mass extinction and then occasionally get
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a very very large mass extinction and after that in a sense evolution kind of starts all over again so when the dinosaurs went extinct sixty five million years ago. the the mammals which up to them had been rather small bit players in in the in the drama suddenly flourished because the dinosaurs had gone and gave rise to all the great diversity of mammals that we see today now that pattern of periodic mass extinctions followed by a new flowering of evolutionary diversity that is undoubtedly true that happens that is not punctuated equilibrium. point to equilibrium is the idea that there are if you follow the evolution of only one lineage through the fossil record you may see long periods of stay six where nothing very much happens they stay pretty much the way they are and then suddenly there's a jump to a rather different form now even that is confused it's confusing for of course the models are two different things it muddles up one idea which is that there really
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is a sudden leap in evolution a macro mutation a child is born of a different species from its parents that's one possible interpretation which i think is wrong on. the other possible interpretation is that evolution has been going on but very rapidly during the time when as it were paleontologists aren't looking during the time when fossils are not being laid down perhaps the fossils have been laid down in a different geographic. area so if you dig in any one place you don't see the change what you see is a what looks like a sudden change because. animals that have been evolving in a different area suddenly read migrate into the area where you're digging so that looks like a sudden jump now that's perfectly plausible but probably happened that probably does account for some of the apparent gaps in the fossil record but i do deprecate
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the use of the word of the phrase punctuated equilibrium because from the very start from eldridge and builds the initial introduction of it it like it has been confused not least by the british who themselves are interesting though it's been twenty years or worse and so since i read gould so thank you for correcting others we will get back we like to get back to. back to you i'd like you to go through conversation of religion and spirituality and some of the other issues you tackled some of your other books in just a moment but first we have to take a break just for a second more conversations with great minds with richard dawkins we come back in just. drives the world the fear mongering used by politicians who makes decisions to break through get through the pretty maid who can you trust no one who is in view with the global machinery to see where we had
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a state controlled capitalism is called satchels when nobody dares to ask we do our t. question more. fit. for. well the background decisions the great minds that i'm speaking with evolutionary scientists richard dawkins his work has made him a leading figure in new atheism preserv'd new book the magic of reality how we know what's really true will be released in the united states on october fourth and
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professor dawkins welcome back. your new book the magic of reality how we know it's really true and some of your other works in the god delusion for example you were in. actually let me let me go to the magic of reality first i this is just a beautifully illustrated book and and make science so it's simple to basically people of any age you ask the first question of the first chapter what is reality what is magic is almost an existential question you want to take a whack at that. well this is a book designed for young people primarily but actually four for all ages and i'm trying to make the point that magic has and in the sense of supernatural magic magic spells as in fairy tales and miracles and harry potter and things but the reality real science where there aren't any miracles is much more exciting and much
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more magical in the good sense of the sort of poetic magic when we say it's magical looking up at the milky way at night that kind of thing so i'm trying to show that myths can be fun and there are plenty of myths in the book but science is better and science is more interesting more fascinating more in throwing and that takes reality seriously we don't have miracles we don't have supernatural scales we don't have have magic in that sense what we have is reality which is magical is wonderful and we study it by the methods of science and speaking of reality and and magic and i would put probably most religions in the category of magic. but perhaps you do in the u.k. you have religious fundamentalists but they're largely politically marginalized here in the united states basically the religious fundamentalists have become
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a portal through which candidates for the presidency must pass particular i wouldn't cite you think this may have something to do with your country having had the experience of religious zealots like crowd while a guy fawkes whereas we'd hear they've never heard of for the accuracy. it's very difficult to know it's a curious anomaly because if you look worldwide religion is pretty much a third world problem religion goes with lack of education goes with poverty it goes with despair and i mean that's why in western europe religion is dying all except for the muslims but in. christendom in western europe christendom religion is dying because of prosperity and everything that one would think that america has and indeed does have and yet half of america very nearly half is not only religious preposterously so i mean half forty percent of the american electorate
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actually believe that the world is only six thousand years old or less than ten thousand years old which is a quite ludicrous error it's not a slight error it's a massive error and this is something which it stands out like a sore thumb you expect to find that in islamic countries and you do you expect to find that in iran pakistan afghanistan and so on you cannot expect to find it in the richest and most highly educated country in the in the world but i think you possibly can get a clue to it by noticing that those parts of the united states which are most. influenced by this kind of fundamentalism tend to be those parts that that are less well educated that are. less less prosperous less look looked after and so there might be a tendency for people who have. who don't have
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a very very nice life for one reason or another to turn to religion as a kind of of refuge and that's one theory that i've heard advanced there are others mean another theory is that because the united states has a constitution which church and state is very rigidly separated unlike in western europe where may. countries including britain have an established church and because we have an established church it's been argued religion has become sort of boring it's a church is the place you go to to be married and and to be buried but otherwise you don't go to church but in america where there is a constitutional separation between church and state perhaps this is freed up religion to become free enterprise and to use all the sort of tricks of capitalism of advertising and so on and that may be why it's taken such a hold of the less educated classes in america and not only that we give them complete tax breaks so you end up with tax rates of just shopping yes indeed so you
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know what people like pat robertson is a billionaire with a b as a result of this i'm curious if our genes are controlling our behavior and many people have had experiences that they would describe as deeply spiritual and thus maybe draw them to religion why would a gene echo why would such a gene echo down through the generations. well it's a difficult thing to say that genes control us we are. very much influenced by our education by our environment so i'm not sure that i would want to. ask that in a in a sort of genetic way it's probably true as we said in the earlier on in our conversation when genes do influence brains and brains are what decide whether your are going to be religious or not and so there might be a genetic component in whether you are. in whether you tend to be drawn to religion
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or you mentioned the word spiritual and that's a much misused word because people often use the ritual to mean the kind of thing that i mean by the magic of reality i mean by looking up at the stars and being filled with wonder am filled with joy at seeing this as you pen. sights of the universe all looking down a microscope or thinking or going to the grand canyon and looking down through the layers of your logical climb i mean that's magical in the sense of the magic of reality and you could even call that spiritual but i rather resent the hijacking of that call it spiritual if you like i prefer not to i rather resent the hijacking of that feeling which i feel and which any of my scientist friends feel hijacking my religion it is not a monopoly of religion we all feel it and we all are capable of feeling this is the human condition. very well sir in the garden allusion you're asserting that
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a supernatural creator doesn't exist in the belief that a personal god qualifies as at the you also make that argument for the belief in any sort of consciousness be on the individual for example could it be that the universe itself is a conscious organism and work sproat one expression of it within it or for that matter what is consciousness. well i don't know what consciousness is and it's a very difficult philosophical question i don't think it's probably going to be helpful to talk about the universe as a whole being conscious i know that some rather mystical philosophers are suggested something like that i think that whatever consciousness is it's manifested by brain as something to do with brains are all the functional equivalent to brain time and i wouldn't rule out the one day somebody might build an electronic computer which was programmed in such a way that that it was conscious that seems to me to be actually quite likely. but it comes from very very complex organizations such as the grain which is an
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extremely complicated organization of billions of. neurons and if anybody makes a computer that's conscious that again will be extremely complicated with many many many. units in electronic units do you think there are no i don't think it's help. well to think that consciousness resides in the universe as a whole i think consciousness is something that emerges by the evolutionary process in the universe wherever in the universe brains or something functionally equivalent to brains emerge evolve do you think it's conceivable that as the internet of the number of computers connected to it begins to approach. in numbers that are similar to the number of axioms and ganglions and synopses of the brain. that the internet itself may use and consciousness emerges from it the consciousness may emerge from here. that is
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a fascinating science fiction speculation and before we laugh it away we should remember that that's pretty much what did happen in the evolution of brains because brains started off as very simple and never systems and then the simple never systems got bigger and bigger and bigger and more and more interconnected in complicated ways and that is what's happening to the internet and so i wouldn't absolutely rule out the possibility that sometime in the future something likely internet probably very different from the way the internet is now but something like the internet or global network of electronic connections between computing devices all over the world might develop something like the same properties as the brain evolved millions of years ago it would be quite remarkable to want to turn your computer on. hello there professor. i'm sure that's already
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a possibility i'm sure that's already part of it but only really literally it would be a bit of a trick it would be a bit of a bit of a fake over the world but your book the magic of reality we have just two minutes left here and i want to be sure. you ask a number of great questions if you're always the first person for example. well yes . and that's chapter two of the book every every chapter in the book is a question like that and every chapter begins with myths and then goes into the science so who really was the first person will never really was a first person because every animal ever born is of the same species was of the same species as its parents and so there never was a first homo sapien hence born to homo erectus parent it all happened gradually but if you stick together enough generations going back into the past then you will find a gradual turning into apes and monkeys and shrews and and. going back to fish and beyond so we are descended from fish. but every single creature that
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was ever born is of the same species was of the same species as its parents the process is so gradual rather like the movement of the hour hand of your watch you can't see it move but if you wait long enough you see that it has moved a professor it's a story we have just only thirty seconds left the main message that you would want our viewers to know about your work. i'm passionate about the truth and the truth can be ascertained by science evidence never believe anything until you've seen the evidence it's brilliant professor richard dawkins thank you so very much. thank you very much to watch this conversation again as well as other conversations with great minds go to our website conversations with great minds dot com. as the big picture for tonight for more information on the stories we've covered visit our website tom hartman dot com free speech dot org and on t.
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