Books That Inspire 2002

The Selfish Gene
Richard Dawkins

I regard this book as the best popular explanation of evolution. It maintains rigor while stripping away irrelevant details to focus on the important concepts involved. The first time I read The Selfish Gene, it inspired me to pursue a clearer understanding of evolution in order to better understand the natural world. The second time it inspired me to study "genetic computation" methods - optimization methods based on the replicators known as genes. These methods are powerful tools for finding solutions to difficult problems in many domains. The third time it inspired me to invent "memetic learning" methods - optimization methods based on the replicators known as memes. Memes, both in term and in concept have their origin in chapter eleven of The Selfish Gene, when Dawkins sought an example of another replicator system besides the well-known genetic one; he took as his example the way culture evolves. Memetic learning methods improve solution quality much more rapidly than genetic computation methods because the selection process with memes can be informed. The Selfish Gene is a classic - not bad for a work that the author undertook while awaiting other opportunities.
Dean Hougen
Assistant Professor
Computer Science