joi, 8 aprilie 2010

The Selfish Gene

Last night I finished reading The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. It was very revealing and it changed a bit my perspective on life, only just a bit(one of the revolutionary moments was when I read On the origin of the species, by you know who: Ch. Darwin).

Ok, so the perspective that got changed was: I always expected that people were good in their nature, not stained by some primeval sin(as some religions might tell you ).

As I was reading it appeared that some of the strategies employed by people to live in this world might seem nice, and they are beautiful behaviors sometimes, but put in the perspective of a replicator which only tends to multiply in the gene pool and we can see ourselves only as vehicles. Now, all our behaviors are designed, and selected to maximize the replicators success in multiplying. So, in our time it might seem that being nice to one another gives us some advantages, but only think of the advantages it gives to the replicator. We all know the examples of altruism between kin or people sharing the same environment. Dawkins reintroduces the idea of an Evolutionary Stable Strategy(ESS- Maynard-Smith) to exemplify those strategies which are best adapted to the environment and give the more advantages to the replicator. After all, being nice is advantageous to us, because we can build trust to obtain benefits which in turn can be put as an opportunity to have better conditions for life, or at least to the point of the biggest importance to the replicator: our reproductive period when we pass on the replicator.

Of course human nature is more complex and sometimes it might seem a bit brutal to try to think of some altruistic behaviors only as a product of our selfish gene, but other times it might shed some understanding on other behaviors like, we do we sometimes not help those not around us. After all, it seems to me we do process some kind of discrimination regarding altruistic behavior between our in-group, kin, and the out-grup - “the others”.

In a more optimistic view I think if we only could use the information available to us to think, and view all the other people as some kind of relative with which we share a certain amount of genes we could see a lot more altruistic behaviors.

That’s only a hope for the nearest future. After all, although those who know me might not consider me an optimist I think optimistically about the future if we choose to use the knowledge and not let ourselves be used by it(as opposed to all the information of dubious provenience which circles around).

2 comentarii:

  1. Some time ago, the idea that all people are equal made my mind boggle. I could not digest the part with "no one is better or worse". I thought that any kind of equality between people is pure social convention.

    This changed when I realised that, indeed, our nature is too mobile to be deemed either good or bad. Each of us is capable of deeds we would conventionally consider "good" and of deeds we would conventionally consider "bad". If I generally do bad things and then, at one point, I do a couple of good things, does it mean I cease to be bad? How many good things do you need to do to neutralize the bad things you did and officially become good? I believe the good as well as the bad in us is impossible to quantify.

    Oh, and... one more thing. Let's imagine an average human being could look into the future and find out that, no matter how many good, even charitable and noble deeds he would do, all people would be cruel to him in the future. Do you really believe that this person would cease to do any good deeds whatsoever? Sometimes we can do good things with little effort. Would such a person cease to do such efortless good deeds... out of spite? To what end?

    Sure, if we would only address the animal perspective, maybe the selfish gene is the main engine. But when it comes to people, it seems that the will to reproduce is not that strong anymore... I think I can see various energies pushing them in whatever directions they choose - good or bad - who's to say?

  2. Regarding the cataloging of behaviors as good or bad only social standards and moral standards can offer a guidence.
    About the will to reproduce, it may not seem so powerful now to most of us(especially to those who think responsibly about the environment) but it is a force that is moving now just as fast as anytime. The only thing is that as a specie, humans, realized that postponing reproduction could have benefits, and those who choose to have fewer children think about the prospects of investing more in those children.

    Sadly, because not all of us have access to knowledge or reliable information, human population is still on rise and is affecting most the poorer countries(where the child death rate is highest).

    It is possible to come a time when there could be more altruistic behaviors in society, but then we must ask what is the purpose behind the acts. Most of the time they do have a hidden purpose,but there could be genuinely altruistic behaviors among those.

    Only the future will tell. Meanwhile we are here to make a stamp on our lives, and if we like it or not, on other peoples lives as well.

    Take care Silvana.