Mast Kalandar

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Mon, 22 Jan 2007

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A different crticism of Dawkins

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  1. Dawkins is addressing the wrong people. What the majority of adults think does not really matter in the long run. He needs to be writing for under-eighteens --- those who are still not fixed in their ways.

  2. Dawkins is too emphatic. He needs to make what he says interesting enough so that people won't bother to discuss outdated philosophical ideas. He should not be attempting to "convert"; he should be attempting to "create interest".

  3. Dawkins is too boring. He takes himself too seriously. If he wants to reach his audience he needs to laugh at himself. He needs to make it clear that ridiculing scientific theories is very much part of scientific activity.

  4. He should read authors like Terry Pratchett, Eric Idle, Robert Sawyer, Douglas Adams etc and learn from their style. The author of the Church of Google web site (pointed out by Meena) is more likely to have an effect on changing people's perspective than Dawkins.

Some responses

Sourendu Gupta wrote:

An example. In my mind a book such as Simon Singh's fermat book is awful, because it talks about "automorphic forms" and the Weil-Taniyama-Shimura conjecture without ever saying what they are.

I agree with Rahul that you are a bit harsh on Simon Singh. These are difficult topics to write on---perhaps he was not really well prepared to write on them. Remember that he was spurred to write these books based on his work on the TV programme. There is a big gap between what you need for a TV show and what you need for a book.

Where he did succeed (IMO) is in bringing out the sociology of how "concepts of notions of ideas" develop into theorems with this specific case as an example. So the book is about mathematicians not mathematics.

In Kapil's category I only remember what I read as a kid: "One two three infinity" by Gamow, and, much later, his Mr. Tompkins books.

I think you are being too narrow in your interpretation of science writing. Even "Feynman lectures in Physics" qualify according to me---we started reading them we were about 18! For that matter "QED" by Feynman is nice too. The "TeX Book" by Knuth is quite a fun book.

By the way Dover has released some new books in (available in India through IBA). Specifically, "The World of Mathematics in four volumes" and Klein's "Elementary Mathematics from an Advanced standpoint". I've managed to buy the latter but the former is already "sold-out" in the bookshop here!

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