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The Eyes of Richard Dawkins

Given all the ways life could have evolved on a million planets, how might we picture aliens? Or, as Henry Finder put it to Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and author of “The Blind Watchmaker,” did the Cantina scene in “Star Wars” suffer from a poverty of imagination? What else might an alien have, other than a drink in his hand? “Eyes,” Dawkins said, would be a good guess; basic eyes, with variations, evolved on Earth more than a dozen times, suggesting that they would show up almost anywhere eventually. (In contrast, one doesn’t see anatomical wheels, except maybe in some bacteria; wheels are tricky.) Dawkins went on to imagine just how strange a planet would have to be for its inhabitants to be eyeless—it involved fogs and slurries, and didn’t sound practical as a place for life to arise. “Lucas vindicated,” Finder said.

Our own eyes are imperfect contraptions, Dawkins said; any engineer “would send them right back.” Parts are backward; the octopus’s eye, in contrast, has it right. A questioner, who said that he was disappointed in eyes—his and everyone’s—asked if evolution would produce better ones that wouldn’t need glasses so often. Probably not, Dawkins said, considering the lack of selective pressure: “Quite the contrary.”
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TAGGED: REVIEWS, RICHARD DAWKINS


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