Mentom - Singapore 2012

© Mentom – May 2012

The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins

Sunday 26 October 2008, by Mentom

All the versions of this article:

  • English

Dawkins’ book, writted and edited as early as 1976, is a new view on evolution, building upon Darwins theory but opening a totally new direction of thinking.

Contrarily to what is taught to us in school, it is not the species as a whole entity that is struggling for survival, but everybody has his own battle.

We are the vehicles for the selfish gene

The most radical idea of Dawkins is, that we are only "vehicles" or "survivor roboters", blindly executing the orders that are programmed in our genes. It is not that we use genes to reproduce ourselves, but THEY are using US to reproduce themselves. All the evolution started with DNA beeing able to replicate, and everything else has only been built around it to protect the replication and guarantee a survival in a world full of concurrents. Thus, the "selfish gene". We could also think of this book as the explanation of what drives us to be egoistic or altruistic.

The book is very comprehensively written and highly readable. Almost everywhere Dawkins uses real-life examples that are understandable for everyone; and initally trivial cases are gradually built into more complex structures.

The origins of Life

The first chapters present very plausibly our current state of knowledge on the origins of life on earth : the emerging of complex molecules from the primordial soup, until one day they acquired by chance the ability to replicate themselves using other free floating molecules’ as the replication material. The rapidely decreasing amount of "food" led to more and more complex structures, until the today’s state. But we are still merely "wrappers" around the orginal replicator molecules.

Why are we so egoistic?

The following chapters try to illustrate the theory of the "selfish gene" on today’s world and explain behavioural patterns in the nature based on this theory, using a multitude of examples. A number of problems that cannot be explained using the current evolutional theory seem to be solved using the new approach.

Why a bee should give up her own chance to reproduce and help instead her sisters and brothers? Why parents always fight and cannot trust each other? Why do we care for our family but much less for other people? Why male paradise birds developed bright colors and long feathers, why female paradise birds remain grey? When animals do cooperate and why? The list of fascinating examples is sheer endless.

Even if the "scientific proof" is outstanding, the theory seems convincing. But even for a critical reader, brings a lot of interesting information and certainly makes him see things from a different angle.

The only chapters I could not quite follow was the topic of the so-called "memes", which are a sort of a new life form since humans transmit information one to another. A "meme" is such an information unit, such as a cooking receipt or a tune from a Michael Jackson song, and they have different chances to "survive", depending on their content. While the idea is certainly interesting by throwing up the question on what is actually "life", I found it a bit difficult to swallow.

Richard Dawkins

Some words on the author : Richard Dawkins is an atheist, secular humanist, sceptic and scientific rationalist. He has widely been referred to in the media as "Darwin’s Rottweiler", by analogy with English biologist T. H. Huxley, who was known as "Darwin’s Bulldog" for his advocacy of natural selection. In his new book "The God Delusion", Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that faith qualifies as a delusion − as a fixed false belief.


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