Friday, August 09, 2013

Richard Dawkins's most baffling tweet

In the midst of yet another round of Muslim-bashing, Richard Dawkins today tweeted something truly baffling to me:
Aliens knowledge. Same fundamental physical constants, but they may, unlike us, have worked out why they have the values they do.
What perplexes me about this is that I believe we do understand why we have the values we do. Moreover, the reason we understand is largely due to Dawkins himself.  Him and Robert Axelrod (and Dawkins obviously knows about Axelrod's work because he added a chapter about it to the 1989 edition of The Selfish Gene).  We have the values we do because our values help the genes and memes that produce those values in order to help replicate themselves in a process of Darwinian evolution subject to the constraints of game theory.  (And if you don't know what that means then you should read The Selfish Gene and The Evolution of Cooperation.  And if you're feeling really ambitious, The Extended Phenotype.)

So what on earth could Dawkins have possibly meant by this?

[UPDATE: I misinterpreted Dawkins's tweet.  See the comments and this post for more info.]


Anonymous said...

Surely he meant the aliens had worked out why the constants have the values they do, not the aliens. I think he was speaking of physics, not sociology.

Tony Mach said...

I don't fully understand it either, but I think Dawkins meant something different: When he tweeted of those "physical constants", I think he referred to *basic* physical constants, what is AFAIK called the "anthropic principle" – and not to biologic evolution. Things like having three spatial dimensions – e.g. if our Universe had four spatial dimensions instead of three, we could not have things like orbits, stars, solar systems, planets and so forth. Yet we don't know *why* we have three spatial dimensions in our Universe. As far as I know, there is no explanation for this (and why other physical constants have the value they have).

And while we don't even know if (or if not) Aliens in *our* *galaxy* exist, they surely exist somewhere in The Universe in *other* galaxies – when considering what exists outside of our own Milky Way, then the numbers get so large, there HAVE to be aliens out there. Pitty we will never be able to contact them, unless we discover some radically different physical laws. (Even the hypothetical "warp drive", should it ever be possible to build it, would not allow us to leave our Milky Way to explore other far away galaxies – or at least that what I have read, I think on the very nice blog "Centauri Dreams").

Tony Mach said...

Oh, after reading Dawkins' racist outburst, I think I know what he meant:
He took hypothetical "Aliens" and their advanced hypothetical "Alien knowledge" as an rhetoric element.

While I think a (thoughtful) fight against all religions is something humanity needs, people like Dawkins should be careful what they say, and from what positions they lead this fight. If Dawkins wants to prove his superiority and the superiority of all non-Muslims, then he is part of the problem that we have in the world.

Ron said...

Oh, duh, of course. I took "the aliens" as the antecedent for "they" rather than "physical constants."

Interestingly I posed this question to Dawkins via email, and his response was *not* to point out that I had misinterpreted his tweet, but rather to answer the question as I posed it. I'm planning to post his reply, but I want to get his permission first.