Just finished the selfish gene by Dr Richard Dawkins. It’s a very interesting piece of work. Dawkins himself describes that he has written it for three kind of audience who have always been looking at him over the shoulder once he was writing. The common reader, the student of subject of genetics and the expert. Richard describes that he has written this in the tradition of Darwin and one of his major aims is to clear misunderstandings around Darwin’s theory of natural selection and to explain it further. That is what Richard has done effectively in all the chapters. To understand what he is saying one needs to have at least some basic knowledge of genetics. Without this knowledge it’s not possible to fully comprehend the message and there is a significant chance to misunderstand the writer. Richard has some humble and realistic expressions and some sweeping over generalisations both. For example he says that the world is three billion years old but no one could understand the reasons for existence of life over it except for one person in 1859 and that was Charles Darwin. He describes that if a chimpanzee and and human shares 99.5% chromosome then the questions exists that we compare it and attempt to find the background reasons for the same. He addresses human grandiosity, stubbornness and egotism and says that humanity needs a lesson in humility. His subsequent description of his scientific findings and observations in the book are his attempt to deliver that lesson.
He prefixes everything that only a fool would believe in personification of genes and would consider human DNA as thinking object and he is not one. But he used the analogy of a computer where there is a hard drive in the background that controls all the software on the screen. Likewise genes control all what is manifested in human body. For the rest of 13 chapters then he shares in depth and detailed scientific observation carried about by him and multiple other scientists on human-gene behaviour that spans over 150 years ever since Mandel and Darwin commenced this journey. For sake of discussion he has personified gene and uses terms as gene pool, primeval soup and meme pool but all what he is describing is the behaviour exhibited by genes , manifested in all forms of life including animal and plant kingdom.
Richard says, “we are not thinking of the strategy as being consciously worked out by the individual. Remember that we are picturing the animal as a robot survival machine with a pre-programmed computer controlling the muscles. To write the strategy out as a set of simple instructions in English is just a convenient way for us to think about it. By some unspecified mechanism, the animal behaves as if he were following these instructions.”
Dawkins challenges every existing understanding of looking at the world that is considered “the only” explanation and invites reader to reflect upon the observations spread out in nature that are now recorded and shared by many.
Richard end the final chapter in following words
“I now close the topic of the new replicators, and end the chapter on a note of qualified hope. One unique feature of man, which may or may not have evolved memically, is his capacity for conscious foresight. Selfish genes (and, if you allow the speculation of this chapter, memes too) have no foresight. They are unconscious, blind, replicators. The fact that they replicate, together with certain further conditions means, willy nilly, that they will tend towards the evolution of qualities which, in the special sense of this book, can be called selfish. A simple replicator, whether gene or meme, cannot be expected to forgo short-term selfish advantage even if it would really pay it, in the long term, to do so. We saw this in the chapter on aggression. Even though a ‘conspiracy of doves’ would be better for every single individual than the evolutionarily stable strategy, natural selection is bound to favour the ESS.”
The overall message of book is quite bleak according to Richard and he shares examples like his publisher couldn’t sleep for three nights in view of negative passimistic and dark message of the book and a student from Australia wrote to him saying that it had such a negative impact on her mind that she felt it was better that she hadn’t read it.
To me the work has its own merit without the shadow of the slightest doubt, however where does it fall on subjectivity/objectively philosophical issue and how much Richard’s ambitious claims around the dismissal of faith, spirituality and other inner experiences are; is subject to ongoing debate and intelligent sons and daughters of the academic world are already accepting the challenge to continue the debate from dialectical perspective looking at the bigger picture than some gene tunnel vision alone.