Wonderment

DAWKINS - MagicReality01 DAWKINS - MagicReality02

Just a quick checking-in, with my thoughts on Richard Dawkins in tow; I write this when I’m supposed to be reading Proust, plus there’s a party I don’t want to go to but I really have to go to, and, ick, people. Anyway. So. P.—you again, dammit—gave me The Magic of Reality for my 23rd birthday, and since then I’ve been reading this on and off. Mostly in bursts, really; the book, though fun, tends to be a mind-numbing cascade of information. Sanity must be preserved: The book breaks down complex scientific truths more manageably, but, you know, brain hurt happens.

The book’s written for a younger crowd, and I believe Dawkins wanted this to stand alongside [if not in place of] storybooks on myth-making heroes and fairytales. And, sure, bibles and their parables. But the grumpy atheist we’ve come to know in Dawkins is muted. He’s just this midly-peeved, impatient, and ultimately dismissive aura hovering over all the science-yum. (I’ve noticed, though, an awkwardness to the voice—but perhaps I’ve read him when he’s let loose, when he doesn’t need to temper?)

The focus is on Science and its many wonders, even though, yes, the argument for each chapter is grounded on dismantling myth and religion. [No, silly, some blonde sun-god does not pull a chariot across the sky—the earth revolves on its axis!] Myth, Dawkins keeps repeating, came to be in the days of yore because of an ignorance not through our own fault. We weren’t capable then of the best answers to our questions, not yet. But to continue believing in these myths [i.e., religion]—to accept them as fact, despite the evidence that science offers—despite science assiduously, even gleefully, searching for the answers—just makes one a dodo. (That’s the Dawkins I know.)

Dawkins wants me to raise a skeptical child—yes, I’d like to keep this in my shelves, within easy reach of some little monster, eventually. A child who believes in fact, embraces speculations, but relies on logic, evidence, and common sense—without sacrificing an imagination that’s the very foundation of these vast myths he’s dismissively disassembled. A child who’d rather lose himself in the wonder of reality, one ceaselessly amazing because it what is true. (It’s why I like science so much: It assuages your curiosity, and it keeps reminding you how everything makes sense, because the world has rules—serendipity that abounds, the awe-inspiring logic of different grades of intricacy.)

Well, at least I hope that’s what he wants. Either way, that’s what I plan to do to little creatures—the gods be willing, and all that jazz. In the meantime, I’m happy to do that myself. [ETA: I admit to rethinking this read-to-a-young’un thing. See, when I was a child, I read this kid's encyclopedia that talked about how the sun would burn itself up, how all life would suffer as a consequence, how everything would subsequently perish. "In a billion years" was not a consolation. I carried that knowledge inside me for so long, and I couldn't tell anyone because they were supposed to already know.]

A tip: If you’re going to get one for keeps, do find the hardcover copy I have, the one that’s sure to have Dave McKean’s breathtakingly clever illustrations in color. This would have been less of a fun book if it weren’t for the art. Dave McKean, and a science delivered—argued—by Dawkins? Delicious. Just brain-hurty deliciousness.

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