Jerzy's Reviews > The Selfish Gene

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
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Jul 02, 09

bookshelves: science
Read in July, 2009

To understand the basic idea, you just need to know where the stress is in the title. Before reading the book, people often think he means to say we have *Selfish* Genes instead of *Cooperative* Genes. But in fact, Dawkins is just saying that evolutionary theory makes more sense once you accept that it's not the Selfish *Individual* or the Selfish *Species* that's trying to propagate itself -- it's the *Gene* that's being Selfish.
In other words, genes (loosely defined here as the smallest bits of DNA that it makes sense to treat as cohesive units with genetic effects) are replicators, and we are the vehicles which they use to move about, protect themselves, and make copies of themselves. This is not a testable hypothesis, but rather it's another way of thinking about evolution that helps resolve some previous questions and makes it easier to come up with the "right" testable hypotheses.
Again, Dawkins has a fascinating, clear, thought-provoking story to tell when he's not just crotchety-old-man-ranting against religion. If I'd read this before I started my statistics degree, I seriously might well have studied mathematical genetics instead... Chapter 12 has a really great section on the prisoner's dilemma applied to biology and on ways in which computer simulations can help biologists think about what they study.
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