This Is My Vision Of “Life”: A Conversation With Richard Dawkins

May 1, 2015

by John Brockman

On January 2, 1997, Edge published in its inaugural edition, “Science, Delusion, And The Appetite For Wonder: A Talk With Richard Dawkins”, the complete text of the Richard Dimbleby Lecture which he had delivered a few weeks earlier on BBC Television in his role at that time as the Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.

Over the years Dawkins has been among the most frequent (and valued) Edge contributors, and our pages are filled with his elegant writing and brilliant thinking. On a trip to England this month, it occurred to me all of his contributions on Edge had been the result either of his public speaking or his writing. I realized that I had never asked him to sit down for a one-to-one videotaped interview. After making arrangements, we met at noon on Saturday, April 11th, in the Enthoven Room of New College to have an Edge conversation. I am pleased to present the video and the transcript below. [ED NOTE: The accompanying soundtrack of the New College bells for the first 22 minutes was not part of the plan.]


Natural selection is about the differential survival of coded information which has power to influence its probability of being replicated, which pretty much means genes. Coded information, which has the power to make copies of itself—“replicator”—whenever that comes into existence in the universe, it potentially could be the basis for some kind of Darwinian selection. And when that happens, you then have the opportunity for this extraordinary phenomenon which we call “life”.

My conjecture is that if there is life elsewhere in the universe, it will be Darwinian life. I think there’s only one way for this hyper complex phenomenon which we call “life” to arise from the laws of physics. The laws of physics—if you throw a stone up in the air, it describes a parabola, and that’s it. But biology, without ever violating the laws of physics, does the most extraordinary things; it produces machines which can run, and walk, and fly, and dig, and swing through the trees, and think, and produce the whole of human technology, human art, human music. This all comes about because at some point in history, about 4 billion years ago, a replicating entity arose, not a gene as we would now see it, but something functionally equivalent to a gene, which because it had the power to replicate and the power to influence its own probability of replicating, and replicated with slight errors, gave rise to the whole of life.

If you ask me what my ambition would be, it would be that everybody would understand what an extraordinary, remarkable thing it is that they exist, in a world which would otherwise just be plain physics. The key to the process is self-replication. The key to the process is that … let’s call them “genes” because nowadays they pretty much all are genes. Genes have different probabilities of surviving. The ones that survive, because they have such high fidelity replication, are the ones which we see in the world, the ones which dominate gene pools in the world. So for me, the replicator, the gene, DNA, is absolutely key to the whole process of Darwinian natural selection. So when you ask the question, what about group selection, what about higher levels of selection, what about different levels of selection, everything comes down to gene selection. Gene selection is fundamentally what is really going on.

Watch the video and read the full transcript by clicking the name of the source located below.

14 comments on “This Is My Vision Of “Life”: A Conversation With Richard Dawkins

  • Before Christianity got its tentacles on the human mind, an ancient Greek could conceivably have stumbled on the idea of natural selection. They had artificial selection. Had that happened, we might not even have a word “evolution”. It would just seem the natural way things happen. Mendel’s experiments could have been done long ago too. Their discovery required no advanced technology.

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  • 2
    maria melo says:

    It seems Prof, Dawkins thinks on those issues as the air he breaths.
    It seems he has a real vocation as professor.

    It must be difficult to play a monologue (I would rum away from cameras).
    I could watch and listen to the vídeo right away. (hope I could learn something, who knows ?).

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  • But the ancients did understand. Lucretius in his great 7000 line poem The Nature of Things written 50 years before Christianity was invented wrote all things come about by the random meeting of indivisible unseen particles. With out random selection no life. In a commentary about this Virgil wrote “Happy is he who has discovered the causes of things and has cast beneath his feet[a] all fears, unavoidable fate, and the din of the devouring Underworld.”

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  • “I am Richard Dawkins, and I approve of this message.”

    No matter how much I rack my brain, I can’t think of an alternative mechanism for life and complexity over than Natural Selection, that could do the job of turning chemistry into biology and then evolving further.

    Must write a Game Of Life program of my own, some day…

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  • It’s terrible that I was Muslim. And the word’s can’t describe my life. This is my first cm and i know it’s not Link to the point but…
    I’m asking you Start from Islam professor.
    There is a few Muslims in my country.
    You have very fans in iran.we love you

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  • Thanks for presenting the video: This Is My Vision Of “Life”, I enjoyed watching and listening to it. Will we get to know more about the computer programs?

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  • How come members of human species have 2 hands with 5 fingers each and 2 feet with 5 toes each? Why not four instead of 2 hands? Was there a single original replicator?

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  • Zarra
    May 17, 2015 at 11:57 am

    How come members of human species have 2 hands with 5 fingers each and 2 feet with 5 toes each? Why not four instead of 2 hands? Was there a single original replicator?

    The limbs and hands of vertebrate tetrapods, evolved from the fins of fishes which walked on the sea floor and eventually evolved into amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.

    The origin of tetrapods

    This series of X-ray photos shows some of the “hands” which have evolved in different animals.

    While most people have five fingers or five toes on each limb, variations and mutations are possible, but will only become established in the population if they give an advantage. Some people do have more than 5 digits per limb, as this article shows:-

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  • It is not terrible that you were a muslim (as for most people, we cannot help being born and raised in the system we come from…), but it is fantastic that you have left (your) religion behind you 😉
    welcome to the debate, mate..

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  • 14
    william says:

    I have strong beliefs in physics even though am not a good one but in such evolutionary beliefs what has one to the laws of space were something in it lies your concious state of being. Are you really concious. As we have rules for physics to explain equations and prove and disprove theories are we saying from evolution we are left in the exhibition of what proof evolution brings. Sure religion can be walked by and theoriesed but doesnt the never ending eye focus on the same equation many times. As a christian i love science because it brings a sense of joy and colors the eye has yet to be seen such like space we have yet ti grasp. As a christian i have seen the power of evolutuion rise to different legnths. And like to share. Have we not have laws and guidance set in our hearts uncounciously. As we draw the picture for science dont we desire the future. But statued just like our ancestors our religion is seen extinct in the evolutionary process the rules which set our hearts has been overturned by science. We see physical and no one is left to say it once was just fiction in a book. In science have not laws seen disasters and madness but through through the laws of my religion has not the laws evolved to grasp a space where science can give breathe life. As needed by observation i stand by my religion and have rules by my observations. But can one be concious of god stands in the hands of evolution.

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