Realm Of Randomness

June 1, 2008

The Blind Watchmaker

Filed under: Book,Evolution,Intelligent Design,Review,Science — Randomizer @ 3:55 pm

Yeah, I know it’s been a while since I last posted. Call it a combination of longer hours at work and more things to do when I come back home, but this year has so far been a lot more ‘outdoorsy’ than any of the past three and I’m quite happy about that. Unfortunately, my reading time has been drastically shortened, and so it’s no wonder that completing ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ took me close to 3 months, when it should have been more like 2 weeks!

I loved this book by Richard Dawkins and wished I had read the whole thing in a stretch, because by the time I reached the last chapter, I had close to forgotten what happened in the first. I totally recommend this book, and do hope that once you start, you read at least a chapter a day to maintain the flow.

Dawkins has come to be more of the ‘face of Atheism’ these days, and that is quite sad because that is really not his forte. Evolutionary biology is his area of expertise and Atheism is just a mere consequence of the realities he came to accept being so convinced about this theory and what it actually means. This book, in many ways helped me celebrate the completion of one year since coming to terms with life and the universe and it has made me a lot more confident about this topic.

What surprised me most while reading the book was that the author not only has decades worth of knowledge about biology, but is also very well versed in computer programming and mathematics. He frequently uses these to help make his point, and as a programmer, it was pretty great to see things explained your way.

The book talks about a lot of things:

  • What exactly evolution is, and isn’t
  • How our organs appear to be ‘designed’, but why they aren’t
  • The technicalities – DNA/RNA, genes, traits
  • Does evolution occur gradually or in spurts ?
  • Debunking alternate theories

You might be wondering – what’s with the weird title of the book? I did too. It is actually a reference to the Watchmaker argument that says that if you are walking on a beach one day and stumble upon a watch in the sand, would you assume that the watch ‘just happened’ or that someone ‘designed’ it and left it there? Obviously, you assume the latter – and if you do, can’t we also say that living things (which are FAR more complicated than mere watches) were also ‘designed’ or ‘created’ the same way by God / Creator / Intelligent Designer?

Read the book to find out!

December 10, 2007

The Fountainhead

Filed under: Book,Opinion,Philosophy,Review — Randomizer @ 2:49 am

[Disclaimer: The following is a discussion on Ayn Rand’s book, the Fountainhead. For those who haven’t read it, and intend to, please come back once you have! ]

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So, finally, after years and years of being on my I-must-read-this-book-at-some-point-in-life list, I completed it, though admittedly over a period of 2 months of sporadic reading. While some of the pages at the half-point were a serious drag, I managed to get through them and was glad that I didn’t give up on it mid way. I totally enjoyed the second half of the book.

Critiquing this book, of course, is no easy task – for simply put, it was a literary masterpiece. Ayn Rand is a genius with words. Writing 700 pages worth of words, where every other sentence needed at least a moment or two to completely comprehend what was being spoken about, was surely an amazing feat, and I was completely bowled over by her writing – it was like watching an artist at work.

Some quotes I loved from the book

Gail Wynand, driving in his car and thinking to himself about how people his age (mid 50’s) are desperately searching for meaning in their life, but he is fully aware of what that is to him:

I am Gail Wynand, the man who has committed every crime except the foremost one: that of ascribing futility to the wonderful fact of existence and seeking justification beyond myself. This is my pride: that now, thinking of the end, I do not cry like all men of my age: but what was the use and the meaning? I was the use and meaning, I , Gail Wynand. That I lived and that I acted.

Gail Wynand again, in conversation with Dominique on their yacht, contemplating how ‘humbled’ they should feel looking at the vast, endless ocean around them..

Dominique: You’ve never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean.

Gail: Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I ? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man’s magnificent capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space.

Finally, nearing the conclusion of the book, a memorable line

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

More memorable quotes from the fountainhead are available here and here.

My critique

Okay. So I expected The Fountainhead to be this book that would change me completely…. but to me, this book was more like poetry. I just kept going ‘wow’ at all her flowery prose, and the philosophy and content of her writing didn’t have as much of an impact as it probably would have had if I’d read this at 17 . Some things in the book I really didn’t like:

  • Roark had no competition: Roark was sold to the reader for free, like a mother spoon-feeding her baby. He was given great firm looks, and he was the best architect by far. Who was Howard’s competition? Was it Peter Keating – who right from page one is described as a good-for-nothing poser of an architect? Was it Elsworth Toohey, who is pure evil, throughout? Gail Wynand came close, but he is intimidated by even the sight of Roark, right from the first time they meet! Ayn Rand did *not* convince me that Howard Roark achieved success because of his individualism, and NOT his obvious expertise over everyone else in the realm of architecture. Had there been another character who was equally as good an architect , but who was not as individualistic, it would have given the reader at least the choice of deciding his/her preference. In this book, Peter Keating was not competition enough to convince me that individualism triumphed.
  • Roark did not seem real: For the first half of the book, Roark was described as someone whose mere sight made people around him feel humbled… like he was the embodiment of human existence – a life form in its purest state – like a walking, spiritual soul. Rand’s physical description of Roark – orange hair and so on – did not fit the meta-physical aura in which he is described throughout the book, and I found it extremely hard to visualize him when reading the book.
  • Dominique Francon was an alien, much like Roark. So in the first half of the book, she sacrifices herself to the ‘lowest man for the lowest possible motive’ by marrying Peter Keating … I cannot imagine any woman doing this – this simply wasn’t a woman. Nor can I imagine such a woman going on to marry Gail Wynand, either… when she is totally in love with Roark, right from day one. She becomes a lot more ‘human’ only towards the end. I totally disliked this character in the first half of the book, as I simply couldn’t imagine a real-life version of her.
  • Individualism for the cream of the crop: Howard Roark could afford sitting on his high horse throughout the book because of one simple fact – he was the best architect in New York, and his creations were described to be so magnificent that people wanted to destroy it just because such an amazing thing did not deserve to be seen by mere mortal men. Well, to this, all I say is – if you are the best anyway, you can afford to have this ‘my way or the highway’ attitude. Anything short of the best – and you will have an ending much, much different from that of Roark. There is no mention anywhere in the book, of the fate of the layman who is individualistic.
  • Not a word on compassion: So Altruism takes a beating in this book, and this is frankly one of the concepts that the author has definitely made me question. Unfortunately, the face of altruism in this book, is the Evil Elsworth Toohey, who is merely trying to feed altruism to the masses so he can ‘rule the world’ when everyone buys his socialistic agenda. But what of the compassion of man for his fellow man? Charity is what takes care of the world’s orphans, the old, and the crippled. This unnecessary attack on charity was a turnoff from an otherwise splendid book.

Overall, it was a fantastic read, and at an age like 1943, when these concepts were not mainstream, it was an amazing feat to have thought these thoughts and written them with such skill. The Fountainhead is definitely a tribute to the spirit of man, and it is a book I shall read again at some point in the future.

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