book jacket

Naomi Sherer reviews...

Unweaving The Rainbow
Richard Dawkins

"The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver."

"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born."

Dawkins reminds us that the possible humans that go unborn outnumber the 'sands of grain of Arabia'.

"And those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because of the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people."

Tell the folks who only have sex to procreate that their progeny is one in thousands. Don't for the world enjoy life as you go along. The running theme of "Unweaving the Rainbow" is that each person has one life, a relatively short life in the overall scheme, and that life should be enjoyed because it can never be relived. Science has increased the understanding of the world making it even more awesome than it was to our early ancestors who simply marveled at the sparkling stars or shivered with pleasure as they looked into the campfire and licked the juice of a roasted hare from their fingers.

No supernatural being oversees our conception nor does that fantasy character guide and shape the events in our lives. We procreate because we need to just to prevent our species going the way of the passenger pigeon.

And while we may procreate thoughtlessly, although quite pleasurably, we can understand the science of fertilization without diminishing the awe of the resulting birth nine months later.

"What is the use of bringing a baby into the world if the only thing it does with its life is just work to go on living? If everything is judged by how 'useful' it is -- useful for staying alive, that is -- we are left facing a futile circularity. There must be some added value. At least a part of life should be devoted to living that life, not just working to stop it ending. This is how we rightly justify spending taxpayer's money on the arts. It is one of the justifications properly offered for conserving rare species and beautiful buildings. It is how we answer those barbarians who think that wild elephants and historic houses should be preserved only if they 'pay their way'. And science is the same. Of course science pays its way; of course it is useful. But that is not all it is.

Dawkins considers the impulses to awe, reverence and wonder that lead mystics to paranormal superstition as precisely the impulses that lead others to science. He makes many connections from science to poetry throughout the book.

"Scientists transform the way we think about the larger universe. They assist the imagination back to the hot birth of time and forward to the eternal cold, or, in Keat's words, to spring direct towards the galaxy."

Scientists value reaching the truth above winning the case in all deliberations. Dawkins suggests that training of decision-makers in the scientific ways of thinking would help any committee in assembling facts and reaching conclusions.

We carry over our childhood naivety of believing what we are told. But as adults the trusting credulity allows us to be hoodwinked by faery fancy. Sometimes fortunes are lost by accepting scams presented in clever ways. Growing up should include the cultivation of healthy skeptism.

Science sets out to prove 'a point' thereby encouraging skeptical thinking.


Dawkins compares brain functions to computer actions. In our dreams, our simulation software sets up conditions that do not exist, probably never could exist. He says: "remember that all our heads contain powerful and ultra-realistic simulations software." Such software could bring up a ghost or dragon or saintly virgin in no time flat.

"For completeness we must note that the brain itself, and its virtual reality software, are ultimately the products of natural selection of ancestral genes."


Chapter titles like Barcodes in the Stars, Hoodwink'd with Faery Fancy, and the Genetic Book of the Dead enticed me continue reading.

What scientists have discovered
increases my appetite for wonder.
It could do the same for you.

Buy It Now

Unweaving The Rainbow
by Richard Dawkins
Houghton Mifflin Company

Consider novels by Naomi Sherer available on Amazon

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Coming Soon: Beyond Namche, The Open Door, Wildly in the Rockies


Naomi Sherer


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