Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene (30th Anniv. Ed., 2006)

One of the dominant messages of The Selfish Gene (reinforced by the title essay of A Devil’s Chaplain) is that we should not derive our values from Darwinism, unless it is with a negative sign. Our brains have evolved to the point where we are capable of rebelling against our selfish genes. The fact that we can do so is made obvious by our use of contraceptives. The same principle can and should work on a wider scale.

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Terry Pratchett – Mort (1987)

The first pizza was created on the Disc by the Klatchian mystic Ronron “Revelation Joe” Shuwadhi, who claimed to have been given the recipe in a dream by the Creator of the Discworld Himself, Who had apparently added that it was what He had intended all along. Those desert travelers who had seen the original, which is reputedly miraculously preserved in the Forbidden City of Ee, say that what the Creator had in mind then was a fairly small cheese and pepperoni affair with a few black olives** and things like mountains and seas got added out of last-minute enthusiasm as so often happens.

**After the Schism of the Turnwise Ones and the deaths of some 25,000 people in the ensuing jihad the faithful were allowed to add one small bayleaf to the recipe.


Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

Eleven thousand successive generations of paramecia have been carefully nurtured in the test tube, with no senescence or aging apparent. (In humans, eleven thousand generations would take us all the way back to the dawn of our species.) Except for the slow buildup of mutations, the paramecia at the end of this train of generations were genetically identical to those at the beginning. In a way, the longing for immortality, so characteristic of Western civilization, is a longing for the ultimate regression into the past–to our single-celled ancestors in the seething primeval ocean.


J.R.R. Tolkien – The Two Towers (1954)

…But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten.

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Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

How can both Rubik’s Cube and nuclear Armageddon be discussed at equal length in one book by one author? Partly the answer is that life itself is a mixture of things of many sorts, little and big, light and serious, frivolous and formidable, and Metamagical Themas reflects that complexity. Life is not worth living if one can never afford to be delighted or have fun.

There is another way of explaining this huge gulf. Elegant mathematical structures can be as central to a serious modern worldview as are social concerns, and can deeply influence one’s ways of thinking about anything—even such somber and colossal things as total nuclear obliteration. In order to comprehend that which is incomprehensible because it is too huge or too complex, one needs simpler models. Often, mathematics can provide the right starting point, which is why beautiful mathematical concepts are so pervasive in explanations of the phenomena of nature on the micro-level.

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National Geographic (Oct. 2017)

Before the summer is out, a boy and more than 2,300 reindeer will die from anthrax on southern Yamal, and dozens of people will get sick–a direct result of thawing permafrost, which allowed animal carcasses buried during an outbreak in the 1940s to reemerge, still bearing infectious microbes.

“Life on the Edge”, by Gleb Raygorodetsky