As The Selfish Gene notches up 40 years in print, BBC News asked Richard Dawkins whether his most famous book is relevant today (answer: yes), whether he has any regrets about public spats over religion (no), and whether he is quitting Twitter (sort of).
“I’d so much rather talk about this than about politics.”
This, from a thinker most famous as a fearless firebrand, sounds rather incongruous. But as Prof Dawkins hunches over his laptop to dig up examples of biomorphs – the computer-generated “creatures” he conceived in the 1980s to illustrate artificial selection – it is transparently, genuinely felt.
Later, we touch on the fact that he sees public debate as a scientist’s responsibility. Right now, he wants to talk about molluscs.
“I don’t know whether you know the classic book by D’Arcy Thompson, On Growth and Form? He showed that all mollusc shells are a tube, which is enlarging as it coils around. You only need three numbers to specify a mollusc shell.”
Those three numbers can be plotted inside a cube, Prof Dawkins explains. “Evolution is then just a walk through this cube of all possible shells.”
In a computerised game he wrote in 1996, people could construct their own such walk by choosing for themselves which offspring would “breed” in successive generations of shells.
This game has now been resurrected online to mark the 20th anniversary of the book it arose from, Climbing Mount Improbable. Source: The gene’s still selfish: Dawkins’ famous idea turns 40