Monday, March 16, 2015

Dan Riskin. Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You (2014)

     Dan Riskin. Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You (2014) One of those popular science books that not only tells you lots of cool stuff, but changes the way you look at the world around you. Riskin takes us back to basics: Nature really is red in tooth and claw, and we’d better not forget it. He demonstrates this thesis under the headings of six of the seven deadly sins, carefully including human examples as well. We are animals, we must eat other living things to survive, and like them we want to maximise the odds that our DNA will be passed on by the next generation. Quoting Dawkins brilliant insight, Riskin reminds us that we are machines whose function is to ensure the survival of the DNA that constructs us.
    So what does it matter that we experience love and kindness and joy, and yearn for justice and truth and beauty? These emotions are merely part of the mechanism that guarantees that we will make babies, along with the other emotions that guarantee that we will try to survive long enough to make sure our babies can make babies too.
     That’s the bleak vision Riskin arrives at when he gets to pride, which is a peculiarly human sin. It makes us oblivious of our connection to and participation in the natural world of competition for every possible scrap of advantage. But turn this pride inside out: Instead of being proud of ability to change other creatures to our advantage, we should be proud of our ability to change ourselves to our advantage. We are capable of doing something that other animals can’t do, which is to plan for the long-range future, and curb and redirect those behaviours that give us immediate, short-term advantages over each other and other animals. That, says Riskin, is something to be proud of. We can refuse to be slaves to our DNA.  Evolution produced us, but it also made us capable of defying its process. Or more humbly, to take advantage of its processes to enable the survival of our DNA not only in the next generation, but in the  generations after that. With luck and savvy, and a huge dollop of rethinking of our purposes, maybe for thousands of generations into the future.
     A book worth reading on many levels. Riskin has a sense of humour, he writes well, he knows how to present examples that not only teach but also entertain. ***

No comments: