The selfish gene.


Original title: c

Title of this edition: The selfish gene.

Author: Richard Dawkins.

Gender: Divulgation.


Editorial: Oxford University Press.

Edition year: 1, 1989.

Prizes: …

Synopsis [Warning: Spoiler]: The gen is the basic entity in terms of evolution. When you think of evolution you need to think of the gen as a self-replicating structure that competes with other gens for the materials to replicate. The best ones will replicate, the worst… well, there is no second price. In this challenge the gens choose to cooperate, to be selfish and to build elaborate survival machines known as cells, tissues and bodies.

Personal Review:  My field is physics, but I have some background in complex systems, and viewing this book from that perspective, this is a must read.

What is important here is that this book will go a little bit further than the “survival of the best fittest”. Allowing people with a good scientific level to reason into further details and general public to have access to a more updated view inside the field.

I think what the book does very well is turning the table and putting the gene and not the individual as the key element in the evolution game. This allows to go further into the implications of evolution and the book discusses a few examples quite interesting.

For those not willing to read it, this video tells more or less the key elements of the book.

Something that the book also introduces is the meme idea. Meme’s have been around since humans begun to create abstractions from the reality, but it is not until very recently that the idea of meme has hit the big public. As in the gene pool, there is a meme pool where meme’s compete for time in human brains, the more interesting (or funny), the more attraction and the best chances to survive longer time and pass from one mind to another (self-replicate). Chances to mutate or evolve may be different from meme to meme. For instance a Mozart’s composition is a meme that will not evolve quite fast, but still remain in many brains, while the internet memes change and mix together quite fast.

A quite interesting observation is that some memes cooperate together (as genes do). For instance, religion is a meme and celibacy is another meme. There is no reason for them to cooperate, but the fact is that if they do, there is more chances for them to survive. The idea here is that if monks practice celibacy, they will expend more time into the religion, making it possible for the religion to self-replicate.

Bear in mind that this is an essay and that some terms are quite vague, so it is easy to generalize them from one context to another. That doesn’t mean applying the ideas to a field will help making advances in the field. For instance, car shapes can be think as a meme that self-replicates and evolves. Since every new generation goes back to the designing table and starts from ideas that worked in the previous version… there is parallelism with evolution. But this doesn’t mean you will know how to design the new car. You know what you should not put on the car and that some features can be kept, but you will have no idea about how to proceed.

In resume, I encourage you to read it, because I learn quite a lot from it and I’m now willing to read its continuation, the extended phenotype.


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