Reading – The Principles of “The Selfish Gene”

Richard Dawkins is the author of the famous book The Selfish Gene. In this book, he tackles some of the most intriguing questions ever asked by mankind: What is reality? Where did the human mind come from? Where does intelligence come from? These have been tackled by Dawkins over the last 20 years, and each time he has tackled these questions, he has made a profound and wide impact on humanity.

The main thesis of The Selfish Gene is that Darwinian principles on which our society stands are no longer valid. In particular, Dawkins examines the use of religion as a measure of societal success and moral judgment. He argues that by using the “laws of the jungle” as a standard for evaluating societal success or failure, we are not opening up any new options but simply replacing one set of arbitrary rules with another. Furthermore, Dawkins suggests that morality can be explained by the workings of the “selfish gene.” In other words, through studying the genetic code, we can learn how humans feel about the things they do and how their choices might affect the future of the species.

The Selfish Gene uses some clever metaphors to explain natural selection and evolution. For example, the book compares human emotions to the “selfish gene,” highlighting how they affect our personal and professional lives. On one hand, humans seem to value our own feelings very highly, so if we are depressed, our own feelings will likely have some sort of effect on our lives. But this is not always necessarily the case; Dawkins notes that sometimes our feelings may simply be part of a “matrix of survival instincts that have been inherited through the generations.” What we think of as values or attitudes may actually have more to do with our genes than our instincts.

The Selfish Gene also uses an intriguing metaphor involving two cavemen living in separate boxes. One is locked away in a dark room while the other begins to brave the dangerous waters of the cave by climbing out onto a rock. The Selfish Gene then shows us how one of these cavemen’s choices could result in his death. The different choices made by his ” clone” (his brother) would form a new, altruistic, and more socially beneficial human society.

The Selfish Gene also employs some important concepts from anthropology and genetics to further its message. For example, Dawkins suggests that our impulses to help and harm have a central role for genes in our evolutionary past. The Selfish Gene also posits human selfishness as having a central role in our lives. Humans are quick to anger and want to look good to themselves. This again ties in with Darwin’s ideas on why individuals who have large numbers of friends and relatives are more likely to survive and thrive than those who don’t. It is the case that a social network and a sense of community can promote cooperation and group selection.

The Selfish Gene borrows heavily from other works in the field. In fact, the book has been likened to The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin and The Descent of Man by primatologist Henry Wilson. Although Dawkins does add new twists and insights to the common Darwinian theme – such as:

  • the concept of gene selection and
  • altruism.

Much of what he writes about has already been explored by many other scientists. The main thrust of his argument is that natural selection is nothing random but rather an element of deception going on. We choose our own selfishness.

The argument that Dawkins puts forward here is not entirely new. Many other scientists have expressed similar thoughts, especially over the last decade or so. Dawkins puts forward the key point that we all have evolved into organisms with certain genes programmed into us by our parents. This means that this selection is actually just one way that we all differ from each other. This difference is now becoming increasingly noticeable because of the rapid spread of genes across the globe.

This point is actually a crucial one. Because Dawkins points out that we all carry the same genes, and because those genes act in a fairly simple fashion, it means that all of us are born with very similar traits – in that we have all got basically the same genetic makeup. However, that isn’t the whole story. The DNA that forms the genetic makeup of our bodies is relatively simple. It consists of mostly pairs of amino acids that regulate and control our physical and mental responses. Dawkins shows us that this relatively simple set of instructions (designed by our parent’s thousands of years ago) is the key to forming altruistic behaviors and traits.

Reading – The Principles of “The Selfish Gene”