Ali Alyami's Reviews > The Selfish Gene

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
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Jun 09, 12

Read from March 21 to June 08, 2012

Finally, and after an excessive period of time, the main cause of which was college overwhelming demands, I managed to read and finish, from cover to cover, the book that launched the fame of the most distinguished evolutionary biologist in the world (Richard Dawkins): The Selfish Gene.

Dawkins is often characterized as the World's Most Outspoken Atheist. This may be true, but it's concerned with a relatively recent development in his character. I think such reduction is misleading and unfair, quite frankly. Dawkins is an intelligent evolutionary biologist and he has contributed a lot to the field over the past three or four decades. He is very passionate about Darwinian Evolution that I'm surprised that he's not been referred to as "Darwin's pitbull" as much as Sir Huxley was known as "Darwin's Bulldog"!

The book is an attempt by Dawkins to offer a meticulous explanation of organisms' behavior, especially animals. Animal behavior is such an intriguing subject, indeed!. Dawkins tries to explore this phenomenal world through the lens of what he calls, "The Selfish Gene Theory".

The Selfish Gene Theory establishes that organisms evolve by Natural Selection, but the unit of selection is, surprisingly and against all common knowledge and conventions, the gene. It's not the species, as I used to firmly hold, not even the individual, but the gene, the selfish gene. Genes were here first long before us the multi-cellular organisms. In addition, they are "the replicators" who will live on, unlike us the mortals. They are the immortal units of selection, and we merely are "survival machines" as Dawkins affirms throughout the whole book. This, to me, has a very profound implication. It seems to me to negate the "hypothesis" of morality being also a product of our evolution because if the Selfish Gene Theory is true, then I don't see how the "survival of the species" would have mattered from the first place. However, Dawkins makes the case that selfish genes might "program" survival machines to adopt some forms of "altruistic" behaviors to meet their "selfish" ends.

Dawkins' language is that of a "reductionist" which doesn't surprise me as a student of biology familiar with the scientific doctrine of "Occam's Razor". However, I understand how his language might disturb some readers. Dawkins reduces all forms of relationships and attributes them to "genetic" factors including those among family members. Altruistic behavior vs. selfish behavior can all be calculated mathematically. Your mother cares about you because you contain half of her genes! Forget love, affection, and all of that emotional talk. We're merely survival machines designed by our selfish genes to propagate them. Pretty disturbing, huh?

Yet, this also has a crucial implication. Dawkins affirms in the beginning of the book that it's one of "biology", not "ethics". He states that we are "selfish by nature", but we can teach our children to be altruistic. To me, this raises a very important question: doesn't that assert that we, indeed, possess free will? This is a profound implication that I believe Dawkins was not aware of when first writing this book. He attempts to briefly discuss this matter in the endnotes by rejecting it, but I think he didn't succeed.There's some form of dualism that the theory suggests in our case: the conscious Homo sapiens.It's very evident and prevalent.

One chapter of the book is devoted to what Dawkins call, "memes". It's such a great idea and it shows Dawkins' skill as a "philosopher". Simply, a meme is a "replicating idea" as Daniel Dennett defines it. It makes so much sense to me that memes are replicators just like genes floating from one mind to another and manipulating subjects to insure their survival. It seems to me that religion is an example of a meme that replicates itself (from followers to followers) and struggle for survival through consistent "adaptation" (modification)! Dawkins' animosity towards religion is probably as old as this book is, but he offers a very mild criticism of it which makes sense given that it's not really the center focus of this book.

The Selfish Gene Theory is a revolutionary idea. However, even more revolutionary is the concept of "The Extended Phenotype" which illustrates the "long reach of the gene". Dawkins dedicates a whole book to this idea, and devotes the last chapter to it. The notion simply suggests that selfish genes influence very "indirect" behaviors such as, building nests in birds. I must read his book "The Extended Phenotype" since Dawkins explores the idea much more deeply and thoroughly.

To conclude, the Selfish Gene Theory (or should I say hypothesis?) is indeed a profound seductive idea as an explanation of organisms' innate behavior. I don't know, though, how much of it is predicated upon scientific evidence and how much is mere speculation, but I do know that the book is a must-read for anyone interested in animal behavior. The book brilliantly offers answers to puzzling phenomenons, but it also raises a lot of profound questions.

"The only kind of entity that has to exists in order for life to arise, anywhere in the universe, is the immortal replicator." - R. Dawkins
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Reading Progress

03/22/2012 page 12
3.0%
03/22/2012 page 12
3.0% "I'm already learning new concepts regarding evolution. Dawkins' writing is just brilliant!"
03/23/2012 page 21
6.0% "So we're just machines for our selfish genes to survive. Very interesting book indeed!"
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Rakan amazing review bro!


message 2: by Ali (last edited Jun 10, 2012 09:23PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ali Alyami Thanks, dude! Yea, I dedicated a significant portion of my time to write this. I'm glad you enjoyed it.


message 3: by Harold (new)

Harold Smithson (Suicide punishable by Death) To read this review and then see you write "dude" in the comments... It may be immature of me, but that just made my day.


message 4: by Ali (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ali Alyami Haha! I'm not always serious if that's what you mean. You're welcome, Harold!


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