24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Entertaining, inspiring and even politically correct!, 19 May 2002
As a geology student I mainly use to read Dawkins' books out of curiosity for evolutionary biology and appreciation for his debating skills, not because they've got anything to do with my field. This one was different though, as I knew it would be about scientific thought in general, so possibly of more interest to anyone into science, no matter what their specific expertise.....
I have to say now, after reading it not once but twice, I am glad I have to disagree with nearly all the negative critics I read on this book, and there seem to have appeared lots, both on Amazon websites and on various magazines and journals. Which was, incidentally, one more reason for me to grow curious about this essay....
"Unweaving The Rainbow" is a collection of informal personal reflections on what science is all about, what it means to some of us from an emotional viewpoint, and how it fares when compared to other cultural orientations that seem to be more widespread, like arts and humanities, or (in stark contrast to science!) superstition, pseudo-science and metaphysical spiritualism. There's no technical discussion of any topics in the philosophy of science, just the knowledgeable digressions of someone with something to say. My only quibble is that the last four chapters seem to stray somewhat far out of the book's main purpose, delving deeper and more exclusively into the realm of "extended" biology, following an evolutionary thread that starts with Dawkins' typical metaphors on the role of genes in the game of life and ends with a touch of cultural anthropology and psychology.... But then again, it's just one more example of how science can be beautiful and fulfilling, though still lacking answers to some of our questions (but working on it, and you never know....) One might as well consider that the book's goal could have been just expressing the author's views on anything he wished, and there my quibble falls!
Somebody says that Dawkins takes on an extreme position, closure to anything that's not scientific, cultural intolerance and nasty undertones... Well, I haven't found any such attitude in here. In fact, I expected his firm, worked-up arguments against religion possibly to be one of the central themes, but I was wrong... His prose flows quiet and clear, humorous, never bitter to anyone. No hint of a temper, just reasoning, and wonder here and there, to remind us that he probably isn't just a scary Oxford professor, but also a human being (who'd suspect that??!!).
Sure, his words are spoken out clear, and they may sound arrogant and intolerantly confrontational when addressed at those who believe in magic, superstition, spiritualism of outlandish sorts, fake science, religious integralism, and the like. But it is my impression that such hard feelings aren't on the part of science, but of its opponents, especially when they notice their arguments can be easily dismissed when someone wants to take time and examine their claims, passing from careless, informal small-talk to "official" testing and debating (and subsequent disclosing of embarrassing truths!). Contrary to what some people believe, honest science DOESN'T harbour ANY superiority complex, as even its results are always prone to doubt and rejection under due evidence. Rather, it's nonsensical thinking that suffers from an inferiority complex. The harshness wasn't in Dawkins' words,probably just in some of his readers' hearts when they felt called out on faults in their ideas.
Other critics, mainly in Italy, lamented a closure to the value of literary and figurative arts and to humanities in general, as if Dawkins had stated that science is the only worthy intellectual quest. Another one, on a famous magazine, commented on the author's supposedly misleading recourse only to those poetic quotations that could sound as casting doubt onto science, whereas he would ignore so many other artists who made no bones about their admiration for scientific achievements. Again, I can't find any single example of an antiliterary position anywhere here, no hint at "the two cultures", but rather an implicit enjoyment and even praise of poetry, music and such. And more logically, if I wanted to defend science from its detractors, or from those people who seem to misunderstand its ways and purpose, I would draw examples from them to better point out what I deem to be wrong specifically in their words, I certainly wouldn't mention just anyone else at random!
This is an interesting read that hopes to make you think a little more with your own mind and to let you notice that the world, life and the universe as we know them, anything around and about us, it's all wonderful and awe-inspiring also when you try to understand with a down-to-earth, sensible approach. There seems to be no clear evidence for fairies in the woods yet (thus far!), but we can enjoy hiking just the same, all those plants with their incredible chemical life-tricks, a menagerie of funny warblers with a song for everything they want to do, rocks with ancient though somewhat silent stories to tell, and a star high above that runs big part of the show just by casting its intangible light! Well, this is beautiful enough isn't it... And if there are fairies somewhere we'll certainly find out more about them. But only just IF!