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Dawkins, Professor Richard - Unweaving the Rainbow - The seagull



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Professor Richard Dawkins – Unweaving the Rainbow

Think of a gliding gull adroitly riding the winds off a sea cliff.  It may not be flapping its wings, but this does not mean that its wing muscles are idle.  They and the tail muscles are constantly making tiny adjustments, sensitively fine tuning the bird’s flight surfaces to every eddy, every nuance of the air around it.  If we fed information about the state of all the nerves controlling these muscles into a computer, from moment to moment, the computer could in principle reconstruct every detail of the air currents through which the bird was gliding.

It would do this by assuming that the bird was well designed to stay aloft and n that assumption construct a continuously updated model of the air around it.

It would be a dynamic model, like a weather forecaster’s model of the world’s weather system, which is continuously revised by new data supplied by weather ships, satellites and ground stations and can be extrapolated to predict the future.  The weather model advises us about tomorrow’s weather; the gull model is theoretically capable of advising the bird on the anticipatory adjustments that it should make to its  wing and tail muscles in order to glide on into the next second.

The point we are working towards, of course, is that although no human programmer has yet constructed a computer model to advise gulls on how to adjust their wing and tail muscles, just such a model is surely being run continuously in the brain of our gull and of every other bird in flight.

Similar models, pre-programmed in outline and continuously updated by new sense data from millisecond to millisecond, are running inside the skull of every swimming fish, every galloping horse and echo ranging bat.

The source of the experience

Dawkins, Professor Richard

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Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Inherited genes