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Reconsiderations: Richard Dawkins and His Selfish Meme

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  • bowmanthebard
    Pat Shipman writes in the New York Sun: http://www2.nysun.com/article/75178 ... This is a stunning misreading of Dawkins, worthy of Mary Midgley herself.
    Message 1 of 2 , Apr 26, 2008
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      Pat Shipman writes in the New York Sun:

      http://www2.nysun.com/article/75178

      > In Mr. Dawkins's view, the organisms containing
      > those genes are merely "lumbering robots" or
      > "survival machines" that house and carry genetic
      > information. The implication is that, in these
      > terms, selfishness, even ruthless selfishness,
      > pays off, and altruism does not.

      This is a stunning misreading of Dawkins, worthy of Mary Midgley
      herself. Selfish genes can cause altruistic behavior on the part of
      the survival machine as much as selfish behavior. All that's required
      is that the altruistic behavior promotes the proliferation of the gene
      that causes it.

      An analogy: Rupert Murdoch closed down his old linotype printing
      presses in Fleet Street so that he could produce more newspapers in
      Wapping. If you think of the Fleet Street printing press as a
      "survival machine" for Rupert Murdoch et al, its behavior was
      "altruistic" -- it gave its life so that the Wapping alternative could
      thrive. But of course the agents that caused this "altruistic"
      behavior were not acting altruistically. (Anyone here want to call
      Rupert Murdoch "altruistic"?)

      > Some predicted that this book would be the death
      > knell of the idea of group selection. No longer
      > would evolutionary biologists suggest that
      > natural selection worked to promote the good of
      > the species (group selection) or even the
      > individual and his close relatives who share many
      > of his genes (kin selection, a type of group
      > selection).

      This convinces me more than ever that group selectionism is embraced
      only by those who do not understand the gene's eye view. "Kin
      selection" is certainly not "a type of group selection". The writer is
      confusing two senses of the word 'selection'. In kin selection, a
      survival machine "selects" or favors other survival machines that
      carry copies of the same genes as itself. This behavior promotes the
      proliferation of the shared genes. But in group selection, by
      contrast, Nature ITSELF favors one group over another, which allows
      the individuals who belong to it to be fecund, which in turn allows
      the genes they carry to proliferate, in that order.

      Let's leave the question whether this actually happens aside.

      Widespread confusion over the words 'selfish' and 'selection' suggests
      to me that we should use the word 'nepotistic' instead of 'selfish'
      for genes, and avoid the term 'kin selection' altogether.

      Jeremy Bowman
    • steve moxon
      Jeremy continues as if the recent insights in biology never happened. The imperative in biology is maximisation (over various timescales) of gene replication
      Message 2 of 2 , Apr 26, 2008
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        Jeremy continues as if the recent insights in biology never happened.
        The imperative in biology is maximisation (over various timescales) of gene replication within the local reproducing group. Selection takes place simultaneously at the various levels both infra- and super-individual, with the selection of what is adaptive over the longer term even if it is maladaptive short-term, owing to 'lineage selection'.
        The overall dynamic in biology is therefore not 'selfishness'.
        A gene-centred approach is merely a perspective which needs a population genetics perspective to balance it.
         
        Steve Moxon (author of The Woman Racket: The new science explaining how the sexes relate at work in play and in society. Out through Imprint Academic. Now in paperback. Details & extracts:
        http://www.imprint-academic.com/moxon
         
         
        ----- Original Message -----
        Sent: Saturday, April 26, 2008 12:07 PM
        Subject: [evol-psych] Reconsiderations: Richard Dawkins and His Selfish Meme

        Pat Shipman writes in the New York Sun:

        http://www2. nysun.com/ article/75178

        > In Mr. Dawkins's view, the organisms containing
        > those genes are merely "lumbering robots" or
        > "survival machines" that house and carry genetic
        > information. The implication is that, in these
        > terms, selfishness, even ruthless selfishness,
        > pays off, and altruism does not.

        This is a stunning misreading of Dawkins, worthy of Mary Midgley
        herself. Selfish genes can cause altruistic behavior on the part of
        the survival machine as much as selfish behavior. All that's required
        is that the altruistic behavior promotes the proliferation of the gene
        that causes it.

        An analogy: Rupert Murdoch closed down his old linotype printing
        presses in Fleet Street so that he could produce more newspapers in
        Wapping. If you think of the Fleet Street printing press as a
        "survival machine" for Rupert Murdoch et al, its behavior was
        "altruistic" -- it gave its life so that the Wapping alternative could
        thrive. But of course the agents that caused this "altruistic"
        behavior were not acting altruistically. (Anyone here want to call
        Rupert Murdoch "altruistic" ?)

        > Some predicted that this book would be the death
        > knell of the idea of group selection. No longer
        > would evolutionary biologists suggest that
        > natural selection worked to promote the good of
        > the species (group selection) or even the
        > individual and his close relatives who share many
        > of his genes (kin selection, a type of group
        > selection).

        This convinces me more than ever that group selectionism is embraced
        only by those who do not understand the gene's eye view. "Kin
        selection" is certainly not "a type of group selection". The writer is
        confusing two senses of the word 'selection'. In kin selection, a
        survival machine "selects" or favors other survival machines that
        carry copies of the same genes as itself. This behavior promotes the
        proliferation of the shared genes. But in group selection, by
        contrast, Nature ITSELF favors one group over another, which allows
        the individuals who belong to it to be fecund, which in turn allows
        the genes they carry to proliferate, in that order.

        Let's leave the question whether this actually happens aside.

        Widespread confusion over the words 'selfish' and 'selection' suggests
        to me that we should use the word 'nepotistic' instead of 'selfish'
        for genes, and avoid the term 'kin selection' altogether.

        Jeremy Bowman


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