Please explain this paragraph from The Selfish Gene

In summary, The Selfish Gene is a book that discusses the role of genes in evolution. Sometimes it becomes very annoying for the reader because the author tries to get his point across in a way that can be confusing. Some things are way confusing for the reader, specifically the idea of genetic selection. Although the author tries to make his case, he fails to do so in a clear and concise manner. In addition, some of the statements made in this book are not fully understood.
  • #1
mishrashubham
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Please explain this paragraph from "The Selfish Gene"

edit: I just noticed that I misspelled 'Selfish' in the title. However I have no idea how to edit the title after posting so kindly ignore the mistake.

I have been reading "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins and all the while he looks like a desperate man trying to get his point across Sometimes it becomes very annoying. (No offense to Mr Dawkins or his fans). Somethings are way confusing for me. I don't know but may be it is because of the education system where evolution and natural selection is always taught species central, that I am finding this gene central idea hard to grasp. Nevertheless I still am not able to understand this paragraph in his third chapter "Immortal Coils" on page 34 (at least in my copy of the book, the page number might differ depending on the edition).
Here it goes

In sexually reproducing species, the individual is too large and too temporary a genetic unit to qualify as a significant unit of natural selection.* The group of individuals is an even larger unit. Genetically speaking, individuals and groups are like clouds in the sky or dust-storms in the desert. They are temporary aggregations or federations. They are not stable through evolutionary time. Populations may last a long while, but they are constantly blending with other populations and so losing their identity. They are also subject to evolutionary change from within. A population is not a discrete enough entity to be a unit of natural selection, not stable and unitary enough to be 'selected' in preference to another population.
An individual body seems discrete enough while it lasts, but alas, how long is that? Each individual is unique. You cannot get evolution by selecting between entities when there is only one copy of each entity! Sexual reproduction is not replication. Just as a population is contaminated by other populations, so an individual's posterity is contaminated by that of his sexual partner. Your children are only half you, your grandchildren only a quarter you. In a few generations the most you can hope for is a large number of descendants, each of whom bears only a tiny portion of you—a few genes—even if a few do bear your surname as well.

What I don't understand is why does something need to be stable in order for it to undergo evolution. Isn't natural selection the survival of the most stable as Mr Dawkins himself puts it?

Also why is he so bent upon trying to prove that genes are the unit of natural selection? I mean DNA is just the code and a body is its execution. How does it matter whether it is the organism or the gene, aren't both the same thing?

And what does he mean by this statement? " You cannot get evolution by selecting between entities when there is only one copy of each entity! Sexual reproduction is not replication."

Please Explain
Thank You
 
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  • #2


Genes are more stable than their expressions, since they are code, not execution.

See Dawkins' more technical book, "The Extended Phenotype" He has a whole chapter on the stability of the genome over time.
 
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  • #3


Oh great! I see that the title spelling is fixed now. Thanks to whoever did that.

ormondotvos said:
Genes are more stable than their expressions, since they are code, not execution.
What Mr Dawkins says is that organisms are mortals whereas genes are immortal because organisms die, while the genes continue to live because the jump through generations. He says that since genes effectively copy themselves, they survive indefinitely. However a new copy of a gene are not the same things though they share a very fundamental thing that they are made of the same sequence of atoms. However isn't an animal related to its offspring in the same manner i.e. the offspring is just another copy of the parent sharing a very fundamental relation that they belong to the same species? In that sense we can call even organisms immortal. Here the individual animal or the molecule of the gene does not exist indefinitely but copies of them do. Why then are genes immortal while organisms are not (here 'gene' and 'organism' do not refer to that specific individual or molecule but a collective sense)?

Also please explain what he means by the following statement

Richard Dawkins said:
" You cannot get evolution by selecting between entities when there is only one copy of each entity! Sexual reproduction is not replication."
 
  • #4


Copy of the gene is (in most cases) a perfect copy of the original, you can't say that about offspring.
 
  • #5


mishrashubham said:
edit: I just noticed that I misspelled 'Selfish' in the title. However I have no idea how to edit the title after posting so kindly ignore the mistake.

I have been reading "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins and all the while he looks like a desperate man trying to get his point across Sometimes it becomes very annoying. (No offense to Mr Dawkins or his fans). Somethings are way confusing for me. I don't know but may be it is because of the education system where evolution and natural selection is always taught species central, that I am finding this gene central idea hard to grasp. Nevertheless I still am not able to understand this paragraph in his third chapter "Immortal Coils" on page 34 (at least in my copy of the book, the page number might differ depending on the edition).
Here it goes
What I don't understand is why does something need to be stable in order for it to undergo evolution.

Because things which were not "stable enough" would mitigate the effects of selection over generations-Thus, evolution would be impossible. If genes changed as often as organisms, there could be no long-term adaptation and evolution to environments. In his wordy-way, that is all Dawkins is saying here. Ie; that evolutionary change can only be accomplished if there are stable enough hereditary units be "remembered" into future generations (ie; passed on).

When we talk about selection, we can talk about it at different levels. The species or lineage, the population, the family group, the individual, the chromosome, the gene, etc. Selection can happen at any of those levels (though for the higher ones the relevance of selection is hotly debated), but the most important (evolutionary speaking) is selection at the level of the gene.

mishrashubham said:
Isn't natural selection the survival of the most stable as Mr Dawkins himself puts it?

No, natural selection is the driver or "ratchet" for evolutionary change--The differential survival and reproduction of variant forms (and as Dawkins points out, most importantly variant genes). NS pits genes against genes, individuals are only a temporary expression of those genes. The individual, again as Dawkins points out, is not the major contributor to future generations. It is the gene, competing against other genes. In this view, we are vehicles or tools for our genes to propagate themselves.

A gene's "aim" is not to change, but to propagate itself in future vehicles. Luckily for us (for we would not be if it were not the case) genes cannot do this in a perfect fashion. They are forced to change through inherent error in biological replication.

mishrashubham said:
Also why is he so bent upon trying to prove that genes are the unit of natural selection? I mean DNA is just the code and a body is its execution. How does it matter whether it is the organism or the gene, aren't both the same thing?

Because until he wrote the selfish gene individuals were looked at the prima donna of evolutionary change. They aren't however, for the reasons he explains in the book (well they can be to an extent, but I think most working biologists would agree that the major player for change is selection of the gene, remember this is biology rules aren't hard and fast).

No organisms are not the same thing as the genes. Look at your quote;

Your children are only half you, your grandchildren only a quarter you. In a few generations the most you can hope for is a large number of descendants, each of whom bears only a tiny portion of you—a few genes—even if a few do bear your surname as well.

You are only a vehicle for your genes to make it (possibly) into future generations. DNA is a "code" as an analogy works only if you understand the limitations of the analogy. This is probably one of the things I see people (many biology students) wrestle with the most--Because DNA is not a "code" or "blueprint" for an organism.
mishrashubham said:
And what does he mean by this statement? " You cannot get evolution by selecting between entities when there is only one copy of each entity! Sexual reproduction is not replication."

Please Explain
Thank You
Remember "genes against genes". Evolution (the change in allele frequencies over time) requires there to be "populations" of identical entities for change over geological time. The change of "populations over time" only makes sense when think about shifting frequencies of identical (or near identical) units which selection can act upon, namely the gene. You can't have a population of "organism frequencies" which change over time, as organisms aren't transmissible and since at the level of "organism" they are unique, they couldn't "shift" even if they were transmissible.

For the second part of the above quote, look at the next line;

Just as a population is contaminated by other populations, so an individual's posterity is contaminated by that of his sexual partner.

Your children a reproduction event, not a replication event (though you can argue that asexual organisms are "replicators", but that just adds a whole lot of messy to the subject). The point of sexually "reproducing" is to make varied vehicles that give genes the chance to interact in new permutations with other genes. Without this benefit, sex would not be a cost-worthy mode of reproduction (ie; "the two fold cost of sex"). Replication in this system occurs during the first cycle of meiosis. Everything after that is simply a postscript to the game that genes play.
 
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  • #6


Thanks Bobze that cleared a lot of things.
 
  • #7
How can a gene be the unit of selection when it is never naked to selection? It is the organism that brings it all together. I am not an expert by any means but here is Mayr on this subject:

For Darwin and most evolutionists since 1859 the individual organism was the object of selection. The individual is the entity which survives or not, which reproduces or not, and which reproduces successfully or not.

Even though most evolutionists agree that the individual organism is the principal object of selection, there is great dissension about also accepting as the object of selection the lower or higher levels in the hierarchies of the living world.

The Gene.

The proposal by Williams (7) to adopt the gene as the object of selection not only conformed to the prevailing reductionist spirit of the time but also fitted into the thinking of many geneticists who in the mathematical analyses of population genetics had adopted the gene as the principal entity of evolutionary change. Williams’s proposal was strongly endorsed by Dawkins (9). This idea of the gene as the target of selection was at first widely accepted, for instance by Lewontin (10). But eventually it was severely criticized (11, 12), and even its original supporters have now moderated their claims. The critics pointed out that “naked genes,” “not being independent objects” (9), are not “visible” to selection and therefore can never serve as the target. Furthermore, the same gene, for instance the human sickle cell gene, may be beneficial in heterozygous condition (in Plasmodium falciparum areas) but deleterious and often lethal in the homozygous state. Many genes have different fitness values when placed into different genotypes. Genic selectionism is also invalidated by the pleiotropy of many genes and the interaction of genes controlling polygenic components of the phenotype. On one occasion Dawkins (ref. 13, point 7) himself admits that the gene is not an object of selection: “. . . genetic replicators are selected not directly, but by proxy . . . [by] their phenotypic effects.” Precisely! Nor are combinations of genes, as for instance chromosomes, independent objects of selection; only their carriers are.

http://www.pnas.org/content/94/6/2091.full

Mayr again on this subject:

Well, Darwinism will not have to do any going, because it's already here. In the last 50 years, ever since the "Evolutionary Synthesis" of the 1940s, the basic theory of Darwinism has not changed, with perhaps one exception, that is the question of the target of selection. What's the object of a selective act? For Darwin, who didn't know any better, it was the individual — and it turns out he was right.

An individual either survives or doesn't, an individual either reproduces or doesn't, an individual either reproduces very successfully or it doesn't. The idea that a few people have about the gene being the target of selection is completely impractical; a gene is never visible to natural selection, and in the genotype, it is always in the context with other genes, and the interaction with those other genes make a particular gene either more favorable or less favorable. In fact, Dobzhanksy, for instance, worked quite a bit on so-called lethal chromosomes which are highly successful in one combination, and lethal in another. Therefore people like Dawkins in England who still think the gene is the target of selection are evidently wrong. In the 30's and 40's, it was widely accepted that genes were the target of selection, because that was the only way they could be made accessible to mathematics, but now we know that it is really the whole genotype of the individual, not the gene. Except for that slight revision, the basic Darwinian theory hasn't changed in the last 50 years.

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/mayr/mayr_print.html
 
  • #8
Freeman Dyson said:
How can a gene be the unit of selection when it is never naked to selection? It is the organism that brings it all together. I am not an expert by any means but here is Mayr on this subject:http://www.pnas.org/content/94/6/2091.full

Mayr again on this subject:
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/mayr/mayr_print.html
As I pointed out above, selection happens at all levels--Biologists, like any people with very specialized knowledge like to argue about the details though. I think its silly to think that selection must happen at "one or the other", certain things (like altruism) couldn't happen from selection on the individual (as altruistic behavior reduces the fitness of the individual, but when viewed as a group passes a Simpson's paradox and works out okay).

The reason that "most" selection is on that of the gene, is because the gene is what is expressed in the phenotype of the organism. So selection is acting on a phenotypic trait, determined by a gene.

Interestingly enough, genes can act without providing a benefit at higher units, such as transposable elements. Sure though, sometimes selection certainly does occur at the level of the cell (cancer), the organism, the group, the population, the lineage (350,000 species of beetles anyone?!) etc
 
  • #9


bobze said:
As I pointed out above, selection happens at all levels--Biologists, like any people with very specialized knowledge like to argue about the details though.

Exactly! That is what I meant in my first post too. There is no point in arguing whether it is the organism or the gene which is the unit of natural selection because if the organism survives and reproduces, its genes will get forwarded through generations, and if the genes survive then it will be able to produce new organisms. It is like the chicken and egg story.
 
  • #10


bobze said:
As I pointed out above, selection happens at all levels--Biologists, like any people with very specialized knowledge like to argue about the details though. I think its silly to think that selection must happen at "one or the other", certain things (like altruism) couldn't happen from selection on the individual (as altruistic behavior reduces the fitness of the individual, but when viewed as a group passes a Simpson's paradox and works out okay).

The reason that "most" selection is on that of the gene, is because the gene is what is expressed in the phenotype of the organism. So selection is acting on a phenotypic trait, determined by a gene.

Interestingly enough, genes can act without providing a benefit at higher units, such as transposable elements. Sure though, sometimes selection certainly does occur at the level of the cell (cancer), the organism, the group, the population, the lineage (350,000 species of beetles anyone?!) etc

Who even says that humans are altruistic, much less genetically wired for it? That is an assumption piled on another assumption.

But the phenotype cannot simply be reduced and attributed to only the gene. It is the organism that brings together the gene and the environment, and therefore the phenotype. Selection is acting on the organism's worth as a whole, not of the worth of individual genes.
 
  • #11


Freeman Dyson said:
Who even says that humans are altruistic, much less genetically wired for it? That is an assumption piled on another assumption.
There are numerous studies on the presence of altruisitc behaviour in humans, primates and other species. The preponderance of evidence weighs heavily on such behaviour being gentically determined. No assumptions are necessary, or involved.
 
  • #12


Ophiolite said:
There are numerous studies on the presence of altruisitc behaviour in humans, primates and other species. The preponderance of evidence weighs heavily on such behaviour being gentically determined. No assumptions are necessary, or involved.

I don't think that is true at all. It is still an assumption. There also millions of exampes of humans not being altruistic. More in certain environments than others.
 
  • #13


Freeman Dyson said:
I don't think that is true at all. It is still an assumption. There also millions of exampes of humans not being altruistic. More in certain environments than others.

Having the capability of altruism doesn't mean that altruistic choices are the only ones you can make...
 
  • #14


Well speaking about altruism,I was thinking how we can explain things such as adoption. Because using one's own resources to raise a genetically unrelated child doesn't seem to make evolutionary sense. That made me reconsider the 'good of the species theory' since it made sense that if you cannot have your own child at least raise someone else's child so that it may lead to the growth of the species. But then that argument fails, because how do we then explain keeping pets? Pets like dogs and cats and tortoises and mice and hamsters and parrots and all sorts of other animals are obviously not a part of our species so why does a large chunk of the human population feels like keeping pets? I have tried to find some answers for this and I've got some really amazing things. Some say it is a psychological effect and has no evolutionary significance since it arises as a way of satisfying the emotional need of a companion of a person. Leftover emotions that need a way to express themselves. Some say it is because of people's love of animals (the evolutionary reason of which I'm trying to find). I have even heard that they act as ornaments in the house albeit a moving one! However it still remains in my mind as a mystery.
 
  • #15


mishrashubham said:
Well speaking about altruism,I was thinking how we can explain things such as adoption. Because using one's own resources to raise a genetically unrelated child doesn't seem to make evolutionary sense. That made me reconsider the 'good of the species theory' since it made sense that if you cannot have your own child at least raise someone else's child so that it may lead to the growth of the species. But then that argument fails, because how do we then explain keeping pets? Pets like dogs and cats and tortoises and mice and hamsters and parrots and all sorts of other animals are obviously not a part of our species so why does a large chunk of the human population feels like keeping pets? I have tried to find some answers for this and I've got some really amazing things. Some say it is a psychological effect and has no evolutionary significance since it arises as a way of satisfying the emotional need of a companion of a person. Leftover emotions that need a way to express themselves. Some say it is because of people's love of animals (the evolutionary reason of which I'm trying to find). I have even heard that they act as ornaments in the house albeit a moving one! However it still remains in my mind as a mystery.

The idea of evolution explaining altruism is just another "just so story". Stories that Dawkins has been peddling to the public and banking in on for years.

A just-so story, also called the ad hoc fallacy, is a term used in academic anthropology, biological sciences, social sciences, and philosophy. It describes an unverifiable and unfalsifiable narrative explanation for a cultural practice, a biological trait, or behavior of humans or other animals. The use of the term is an implicit criticism that reminds the hearer of the essentially fictional and unprovable nature of such an explanation.

Critics assert that many hypotheses put forward to explain the adaptive nature of human behavioural traits are "Just-so stories"; neat adaptive explanations for the evolution of given traits that do not rest on any evidence beyond their own internal logic. They allege that evolutionary psychology can predict many, or even all, behaviours for a given situation, including contradictory ones. Therefore many human behaviours will always fit some hypotheses. Noam Chomsky noted:

"You find that people cooperate, you say, ‘Yeah, that contributes to their genes' perpetuating.’ You find that they fight, you say, ‘Sure, that’s obvious, because it means that their genes perpetuate and not somebody else's. In fact, just about anything you find, you can make up some story for it."[2][3]

And that is all they are, stories. And Dawkins loves telling them.Jerry Coyne:

In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics. For evolutionary biology is a historical science, laden with history's inevitable imponderables. We evolutionary biologists cannot generate a Cretaceous Park to observe exactly what killed the dinosaurs; and, unlike "harder" scientists, we usually cannot resolve issues with a simple experiment, such as adding tube A to tube B and noting the color of the mixture.

The latest deadweight dragging us closer to phrenology is "evolutionary psychology," or the science formerly known as sociobiology, which studies the evolutionary roots of human behavior

Unfortunately, evolutionary psychologists routinely confuse theory and speculation. Unlike bones, behavior does not fossilize, and understanding its evolution often involves concocting stories that sound plausible but are hard to test. Depression, for example, is seen as a trait favored by natural selection to enable us to solve our problems by withdrawing, reflecting, and hence enhancing our future reproduction. Plausible? Maybe. Scientifically testable? Absolutely not. If evolutionary biology is a soft science, then evolutionary psychology is its flabby underbelly.
 
  • #16
Freeman Dyson said:
The idea of evolution explaining altruism is just another "just so story". Stories that Dawkins has been peddling to the public and banking in on for years.





And that is all they are, stories. And Dawkins loves telling them.


Jerry Coyne:


There are different "types" of "altruism" some (which aren't how normally define the word) involve kin selection. Others, while a negative cost to the individual can still be shown to increase in a group;

http://philosophy.wisc.edu/sober/Simpson%27s%20paradox%20SD%20S%20and%20A%2012%202008%202.pdf"

Much support also comes game theory based modeling of social interactions;

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/altruism-biological/"

And from talkorigins for good measure;

Evolution cannot explain moral behavior, especially altruism. Evolutionary fitness is selfish; individuals win only by benefitting themselves and their offspring.
Source:
Dembski, William A., 2004. Reflections on human origins. http://www.designinference.com/documents/2004.06.Human_Origins.pdf
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. 1985. Life--How Did It Get Here? Brooklyn, NY, p. 177.


1. The claim ignores what happens when organisms live socially. In fact, much about morals can be explained by evolution. Since humans are social animals and they benefit from interactions with others, natural selection should favor behavior that allows us to better get along with others.

Fairness and cooperation have value for dealing with people repeatedly (Nowak et al. 2000). The emotions involved with such justice could have evolved when humans lived in small groups (Sigmund et al. 2002). Optional participation can foil even anonymous exploitation and make cooperation advantageous in large groups (Hauert et al. 2002).

Kin selection can explain some altruistic behavior toward close relatives; because they share many of the same genes, helping them benefits the giver's genes, too. In societies, altruism benefits the giver because when others see someone acting altruistically, they are more likely to give to that person (Wedekind and Milinski 2000). In the long term, the generous person benefits from an improved reputation (Wedekind and Braithwaite 2002). Altruistic punishment (punishing another even at cost to yourself) allows cooperation to flourish even in groups of unrelated strangers; the abstract of Fehr and Gächter (2002) is worth quoting in full:

Human cooperation is an evolutionary puzzle. Unlike other creatures, people frequently cooperate with genetically unrelated strangers, often in large groups, with people they will never meet again, and when reputation gains are small or absent. These patterns of cooperation cannot be explained by the nepotistic motives associated with the evolutionary theory of kin selection and the selfish motives associated with signalling theory or the theory of reciprocal altruism. Here we show experimentally that the altruistic punishment of defectors is a key motive for the explanation of cooperation. Altruistic punishment means that individuals punish, although the punishment is costly for them and yields no material gain. We show that cooperation flourishes if altruistic punishment is possible, and breaks down if it is ruled out. The evidence indicates that negative emotions towards defectors are the proximate mechanism behind altruistic punishment. These results suggest that future study of the evolution of human cooperation should include a strong focus on explaining altruistic punishment.

Finally, evolution does not require that all traits be adaptive 100 percent of the time. The altruism that benefits oneself most of the time may contribute to life-risking behavior in some infrequent circumstances.

2. This claim is an argument from incredulity. Not knowing an explanation does not mean no explanation exists. And as noted above, much of the explanation is known already.

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB411.html"
 
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  • #17


As I have said before on this forum, this term altruism does seem to generate a great deal of misunderstanding and a good deal of pointless going round in circles over exactly what altruism is. It is abundantly clear, Freeman Dyson (how you fail to live up to the scientific dispassion of the man whose name you have seen fit to assume) that you are wrong. Altruism does exist in human beings and there is not the least assumption, only scientific dispassion, in the recognition of that. The false assumption that you appear to be making is that every example of human beings failing to act altruistically, and it is quite accepted that there are many such examples, constitutes a disproof of its existence. They do not.

So, as I did before, let’s go through it again: There is a behaviour, perfectly observable in a scientifically dispassionate way, free from any assumption, among hymenoptera that scientists have seen fit to call ‘altruism’. It presents a serious challenge to rigorous Darwinian evolutionary theory, because at first, it appears to be entirely contrary to it. Scientists have invested a great deal of effort in working out why it is in fact, entirely compatible with Darwinian evolutionary theory, and as such, is a useful demonstration of the fact that Darwinian evolution is not just as straight forward as some people sometimes seem to think. Having arrived at that explanation, it has proved possible to identify examples of it in many other species, including humans, although the way it manifests itself in different species can be quite different to the way it manifests itself among hymenoptera.

An excellent example of it among human beings is in the way that step parents tend to have a harder time of it making strong emotional bonds with their step children than do natural parents with their biological offspring. Of course, there are many examples of step parents who have made great sacrifice for their step children, and a good number of examples of natural parents who have treated their natural offspring appallingly – and for that matter, examples of grown-up natural offspring who have been equally inhumane to their natural parents. None of these things prove or disprove the existence or non-existence of altruism as a genetically programmed behaviour in humans. At a demographic level, recognising that, in general, step parents and step children have a harder time bonding than do natural parents / children is a manifestation of the same basic phenomenon that drives the strange behaviour of hymenoptera. Scientists call that ‘altruism’. And it is all about genes looking after their own interests. Something Dawkins called ‘The Selfish Gene’.
 
  • #18


Ken Natton said:
As I have said before on this forum, this term altruism does seem to generate a great deal of misunderstanding and a good deal of pointless going round in circles over exactly what altruism is. It is abundantly clear, Freeman Dyson (how you fail to live up to the scientific dispassion of the man whose name you have seen fit to assume) that you are wrong. Altruism does exist in human beings and there is not the least assumption, only scientific dispassion, in the recognition of that. The false assumption that you appear to be making is that every example of human beings failing to act altruistically, and it is quite accepted that there are many such examples, constitutes a disproof of its existence. They do not.

So, as I did before, let’s go through it again: There is a behaviour, perfectly observable in a scientifically dispassionate way, free from any assumption, among hymenoptera that scientists have seen fit to call ‘altruism’. It presents a serious challenge to rigorous Darwinian evolutionary theory, because at first, it appears to be entirely contrary to it. Scientists have invested a great deal of effort in working out why it is in fact, entirely compatible with Darwinian evolutionary theory, and as such, is a useful demonstration of the fact that Darwinian evolution is not just as straight forward as some people sometimes seem to think. Having arrived at that explanation, it has proved possible to identify examples of it in many other species, including humans, although the way it manifests itself in different species can be quite different to the way it manifests itself among hymenoptera.

An excellent example of it among human beings is in the way that step parents tend to have a harder time of it making strong emotional bonds with their step children than do natural parents with their biological offspring. Of course, there are many examples of step parents who have made great sacrifice for their step children, and a good number of examples of natural parents who have treated their natural offspring appallingly – and for that matter, examples of grown-up natural offspring who have been equally inhumane to their natural parents. None of these things prove or disprove the existence or non-existence of altruism as a genetically programmed behaviour in humans. At a demographic level, recognising that, in general, step parents and step children have a harder time bonding than do natural parents / children is a manifestation of the same basic phenomenon that drives the strange behaviour of hymenoptera. Scientists call that ‘altruism’. And it is all about genes looking after their own interests. Something Dawkins called ‘The Selfish Gene’.

Freeman Dyson may be dispassionate but Richard Dawkins is not. Nor does my using his name on an internet site think I am "fit to assume" him. Anymore than wearing a professional athletes jersey is a statement that I am as capable of doing what that athlete does. I am a fan. Now that that fallacy has been washed away..

I never said altruism doesn't exist at all in human populations, I questioned whether it was prevalent enough to make the claims people like Dawkins do. The fact that you have created stories to make it compatible with darwinian evolution, does not mean it is a product of evolution. It just means you have created stories. That is my point. The bottom line is that Dawkins is going well beyond the facts and uses clumsy metaphors to obscure that fact.

Genes are not interested in anything and don't look after any "interests". Please speak in precise terms and not sloppy, anthropomorphic metaphors.
 
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  • #19


Freeman Dyson said:
Freeman Dyson may be dispassionate but Richard Dawkins is not. Nor does my using his name on an internet site think I am "fit to assume" him. Anymore than wearing a professional athletes jersey is a statement that I am as capable of doing what that athlete does. I am a fan. Now that that fallacy has been washed away..

I never said altruism doesn't exist at all in human populations, I questioned whether it was prevalent enough to make the claims people like Dawkins do. The fact that you have created stories to make it compatible with darwinian evolution, does not mean it is a product of evolution. It just means you have created stories. That is my point. The bottom line is that Dawkins is going well beyond the facts and uses clumsy metaphors to obscure that fact.

Genes are not interested in anything and don't look after any "interests". Please speak in precise terms and not sloppy, anthropomorphic metaphors.

With great respect Mr. (phony) Dyson I would like to state that we are not going anywhere with this argument. I would highly appreciate if you might contribute to the discussion and try to ponder over the original question of the reasons for the existence of an apparently altruistic behaviour i.e. caring for others offspring; evolutionary or otherwise.I myself have been trying to think and observe real life examples but so far I have not been able to find anything significant.
 
  • #20


I saw this on yahoo site It has an interesting debate that concerns Mr. Dawkins and his thinking. (check the best answer by Andrew)
 
  • #21


Here's the link http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100916192454AAokeX4

And sorry for triple posting (I realized things a bit too late)
 
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  • #22
Ken Natton said:
As I have said before on this forum, this term altruism does seem to generate a great deal of misunderstanding and a good deal of pointless going round in circles over exactly what altruism is. It is abundantly clear, Freeman Dyson (how you fail to live up to the scientific dispassion of the man whose name you have seen fit to assume) that you are wrong. Altruism does exist in human beings and there is not the least assumption, only scientific dispassion, in the recognition of that. The false assumption that you appear to be making is that every example of human beings failing to act altruistically, and it is quite accepted that there are many such examples, constitutes a disproof of its existence. They do not.

So, as I did before, let’s go through it again: There is a behaviour, perfectly observable in a scientifically dispassionate way, free from any assumption, among hymenoptera that scientists have seen fit to call ‘altruism’. It presents a serious challenge to rigorous Darwinian evolutionary theory, because at first, it appears to be entirely contrary to it. Scientists have invested a great deal of effort in working out why it is in fact, entirely compatible with Darwinian evolutionary theory, and as such, is a useful demonstration of the fact that Darwinian evolution is not just as straight forward as some people sometimes seem to think. Having arrived at that explanation, it has proved possible to identify examples of it in many other species, including humans, although the way it manifests itself in different species can be quite different to the way it manifests itself among hymenoptera.

An excellent example of it among human beings is in the way that step parents tend to have a harder time of it making strong emotional bonds with their step children than do natural parents with their biological offspring. Of course, there are many examples of step parents who have made great sacrifice for their step children, and a good number of examples of natural parents who have treated their natural offspring appallingly – and for that matter, examples of grown-up natural offspring who have been equally inhumane to their natural parents. None of these things prove or disprove the existence or non-existence of altruism as a genetically programmed behaviour in humans. At a demographic level, recognising that, in general, step parents and step children have a harder time bonding than do natural parents / children is a manifestation of the same basic phenomenon that drives the strange behaviour of hymenoptera. Scientists call that ‘altruism’. And it is all about genes looking after their own interests. Something Dawkins called ‘The Selfish Gene’.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science on June 10, 2010 had an article that I thought was important to this discussion.

Oxytocin Promotes “Tend and Defend” Response, Researchers Report in Science

A soldier and a mother may share some interesting brain chemistry, according to a study in the 11 June issue of Science.

The hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin, perhaps best known for its roles in maternal behavior and social bonding, also appears to foster “parochial altruism,” according to Carsten De Dreu of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and colleagues.

This behavior combines altruism, whereby individuals act to benefit group members at a personal cost, with hostile behavior toward other groups (parochialism.) For example, soldiers who fight against an enemy, at risk to themselves, to protect their country, exhibit parochial altruism. The trait has figured prominently in evolutionary explanations of human social behavior, including explanations devised by Charles Darwin.

De Dreu and his colleagues examined whether parochial altruism has its biological basis in brain oxytocin. In three experiments, all on male volunteers, they compared the choices of individuals who received a dose of oxytocin via nasal spray with those who received a placebo. The volunteers were assigned to three-person groups and introduced to a game in which they made confidential decisions that had financial consequences for themselves, their fellow group members, and the competing groups.

The results indicated that oxytocin drives a “tend and defend” response, promoting in-group trust and cooperation, and defensive, but not offensive, aggression toward competing out-groups. The hormone appears to have this effect regardless of how naturally cooperative people are.
http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2010/0610sp_oxytocin.shtml

I need to address an issue from another topic that's a bit overdue, but I thought this one to be quite important too.
 
  • #23
The American Association for the Advancement of Science on June 10, 2010 had an article that I thought was important to this discussion.

Oxytocin Promotes “Tend and Defend” Response, Researchers Report in Science

A soldier and a mother may share some interesting brain chemistry, according to a study in the 11 June issue of Science.

The hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin, perhaps best known for its roles in maternal behavior and social bonding, also appears to foster “parochial altruism,” according to Carsten De Dreu of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and colleagues.

This behavior combines altruism, whereby individuals act to benefit group members at a personal cost, with hostile behavior toward other groups (parochialism.) For example, soldiers who fight against an enemy, at risk to themselves, to protect their country, exhibit parochial altruism. The trait has figured prominently in evolutionary explanations of human social behavior, including explanations devised by Charles Darwin.

De Dreu and his colleagues examined whether parochial altruism has its biological basis in brain oxytocin. In three experiments, all on male volunteers, they compared the choices of individuals who received a dose of oxytocin via nasal spray with those who received a placebo. The volunteers were assigned to three-person groups and introduced to a game in which they made confidential decisions that had financial consequences for themselves, their fellow group members, and the competing groups.

The results indicated that oxytocin drives a “tend and defend” response, promoting in-group trust and cooperation, and defensive, but not offensive, aggression toward competing out-groups. The hormone appears to have this effect regardless of how naturally cooperative people are.
http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/20...oxytocin.shtml

Thanks viewsofmars for that article The correlation with oxytocin shows that altruism as we see it today is primarily linked with mammals and mammalian characteristics. mammals care for their young and the feeling of affection comes from certain hormones oxytoin being one of the Probably adoption an be considered as a side effect or an expression of these motherly instincts even when an actual child is not present. In that case it is never meant to have evolutionary impact.
 
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  • #24
Continuing onward with subtopic:altruism as noted in #22.

mishrashubham said:
Thanks viewsofmars for that article The correlation with oxytocin shows that altruism as we see it today is primarily linked with mammals and mammalian characteristics. mammals care for their young and the feeling of affection comes from certain hormones oxytoin being one of the Probably adoption an be considered as a side effect or an expression of these motherly instincts even when an actual child is not present. In that case it is never meant to have evolutionary impact.

Hello mishrashubham.:smile: It seems the link I gave isn't working at this time. Here it is
(http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2010/0610sp_oxytocin.shtml) and the podcast (http://podcasts.aaas.org/science_podcast/SciencePodcast_100611.mp3). Oxytocin is a hormone. I disagree with your comment 'it is never meant to have evolutionary impact'. Also, Charles Darwin (Darwinism means evolution)still has an impact on evolution as noted below. :smile:

"Oxytocin, the 'hugging hormone' causes aggression toward competing groups"
Researchers from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and Leiden University are the first to reveal a neurobiological cause of conflicts between groups. They posit that oxytocin, a neuropeptide produced in the brain that functions as a hormone and neurotransmitter, causes people to demonstrate preferential treatment towards people in their own group and aggressive behaviour towards members of other competing groups.

With their results, the researchers are able to further refine the currently held assumption that oxytocin makes people more pleasant and more altruistic. Their findings were published last week in the journal Science.

Altruism only applies within groups
An important modification that came out of the research was that oxytocin, commonly known as the 'hugging hornmone', causes defensive aggression. The aggression was focused on neutralising a threatening group; if the competing group did not constitute a threat, oxytocin only led to altruism towards the subject's own group. These findings provide a neurobiological explanation for the fact that conflicts between groups escalate when people regard other groups as a threat. Where this is not the case, for example when there is a physical barrier between the territory of the two groups, the likelihood of violent conflicts is less.

Altruism difficult to understand from classical economic perspective
The researchers, supervised by Professor Carsten de Dreu from the UvA and Professor Eric van Dijk from Leiden University, questioned why oxytocin promotes altruistic behaviour. From the viewpoint of classical economic theory, altruism is difficult to understand. However, an evolutionary perspective suggests that people exhibit altruistic behaviour in order to make their own group more effective and stronger, which in the long term also benefits the individual. Seen in this light, aggressive behaviour towards competing groups is an indirect form of loyal, altruistic behaviour towards one's own group, which becomes stronger as competing groups become weaker.

Darwin
Charles Darwin notes that groups where the members are altruistic towards their own group and aggressive towards other groups have a greater chance of survival than groups where there is a lack of such altruism. The researchers reasoned that if this evolutionary perspective is correct, there should be neurobiological mechanisms that direct this altruism and aggression simultaneously. The discovery that oxytocin promotes both altruism to one's own group and aggression towards competing groups supports this theory.

Please read on. . .
http://www.news.leiden.edu/news/oxy...auses-agression-towards-competing-groups.html

The Society of Neuroscience in November 2010 published the following:

STUDIES EXPAND OXYTOCIN’S ROLE BEYOND “CUDDLE HORMONE”

Research has implications for relationships, addiction, psychiatric disorders, advertising, and more
SAN DIEGO — New human research suggests the chemical oxytocin — dubbed the “cuddle hormone” because of its importance in bonding between romantic partners and mothers and children — also influences feelings of well-being and sensitivity to advertising. Additional animal research shows that oxytocin may relieve stress and anxiety in social settings and may be more rewarding than cocaine to new mothers. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2010, the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

Oxytocin is best known for its vital role in childbirth and breastfeeding, and animal studies have shown that it is also important in monogamous social relationships. Recently, economic research in humans implicated oxytocin in trust and empathy.Today’s new findings show that:

• Oxytocin is linked to happiness and well-being. When trusted with money from a stranger, women who showed the greatest increase in oxytocin also reported being more satisfied with their lives, resilient to adverse events, and less likely to be depressed (Paul Zak, PhD, abstract 387.18, see attached summary).
• Oxytocin increases sensitivity to advertising. Researchers found that after sniffing oxytocin, people were more empathetic toward public service announcements and more likely to donate to their causes (Paul Zak, PhD, abstract 387.21, see attached summary).
• In the presence of their newborns, rat mothers’ brains did not respond to learned cues associated with addictive drugs. This suggests that maternal bonds — a function of oxytocin — profoundly influence brain activity and behavior, with important implications for drug-addicted mothers (Martha Caffrey, abstract 888.22, see attached summary).
• Oxytocin reduces anxiety in stressed animals, but only if they recover in the presence of a friend. It is less effective at relieving stress for isolated animals, suggesting that social contact is an important factor in its ability to reduce anxiety (Jason Yee, PhD, abstract 190.7, see attached summary).
Other recent findings discussed show that:
• Oxytocin is important in evaluating social signals and may be as rewarding as drugs of abuse in some monogamous animals. The findings have important implications for designing novel treatments for several psychiatric disorders that affect social interactions, including autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia (Larry Young, PhD, see attached speaker’s summary).

“Converging evidence from different research studies indicates oxytocin and other hormones have a profound influence on value judgments, shaping emotions and behaviors in humans and other animals,” said press conference moderator Margaret M. McCarthy, PhD, from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, an expert on the effects of hormones on the developing brain.

This research was supported by national funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as private and philanthropic organizations.
http://www.sfn.org/am2010/press/OmniPress/data/press/001.pdf
 
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  • #25


Freeman Dyson said:
How can a gene be the unit of selection when it is never naked to selection? It is the organism that brings it all together.

Dawkins would reply that it is true that embryology is not particulate, but this does not mean that heredity is not.
 
  • #26


Freeman Dyson said:
Genes are not interested in anything and don't look after any "interests". Please speak in precise terms and not sloppy, anthropomorphic metaphors.

Mary Midgley made the same objections back in the 80s, saying that she saw no point in attending to Dawkins, thinking it unnecessary to break a butterfly upon a wheel. Dawkins rebuked her for being condescending and not understanding the value in a useful metaphor.

When we say that genes is "selfish" we are not postulating that genes are sentient beings with selfish motives, but rather that a genetic basis that have certain influences that, if all other factors remain constant, makes it statistically more probable for an organism to look or act in a certain way that furthers the reproductive spread of said genetic basis compared with its alleles.

As for your disdain for metaphor: most areas of science uses metaphors and models as aids for understanding.
 
  • #27


I wasn’t about to get involved in a pointless sniping exchange, it is clear enough that Freeman Dyson has demonstrated only that he does not understand altruism, in the sense of the genetically programmed behaviour identified by science, and observable across a broad spectrum of species. In point of fact, he has a case to suggest that to describe genes as selfish, or as ‘looking after their own interests’ is anthropomorphic, but as Mkorr points out, this is just the mode of speaking we tend to fall into when describing such things. On that wonderful clip of Feynman explaining fire, he talks about how ‘oxygen atoms and carbon atoms like to be together’ and talks about how excited they get about getting together. Of course, it is a key point that Feynman is, in his inimitable fashion, just explaining it for the layman in an interesting and entertaining way. Of course Feynman understood very well the deeper physical explanation about the ground states of electrons, and how they find a lower ground state in a molecule of carbon dioxide than they do in individual carbon atoms and molecules of pairs of oxygen atoms. He understood that the reason you have to start by putting some energy in is to get the oxygen molecules to separate into individual atoms before they can fall into the lower energy state of the carbon dioxide molecule, giving off their excess energy and thus making the reaction self-sustaining. But he explains it as being like the oxygen atoms have to roll up the side of a volcano, so that they need a certain amount of energy before they can roll high enough to make it over the top and fall into the centre of the volcano where they find their carbon partner.

So, like carbon atoms and oxygen atoms, genes are not sentient and cannot ‘look after their own interests’ as such. But the very reason that the genes that have survived for millions upon millions of years have done so, is because they have an inbuilt mechanism to replicate themselves as many times as possible no matter what the cost to any other competing mechanism. One might explain that in terms of a selfish tendency to look after its own interests with a complete disregard for the interests of anyone, or anything else. But for the greater potential to succeed in its aim of maximum self-replication offered by complex multi-cellular organisms, genes have had to ‘learn’ to co-operate. Sometimes, individual genes break out of that co-operative and return to outright selfish behaviour – a condition we call cancer. But that same co-operative behaviour in the promotion of a greater common good is sometimes observable in the higher organisms themselves. That is called altruism.
 
  • #28


Ken Natton said:
So, like carbon atoms and oxygen atoms, genes are not sentient and cannot ‘look after their own interests’ as such. But the very reason that the genes that have survived for millions upon millions of years have done so, is because they have an inbuilt mechanism to replicate themselves as many times as possible no matter what the cost to any other competing mechanism. One might explain that in terms of a selfish tendency to look after its own interests with a complete disregard for the interests of anyone, or anything else. But for the greater potential to succeed in its aim of maximum self-replication offered by complex multi-cellular organisms, genes have had to ‘learn’ to co-operate. Sometimes, individual genes break out of that co-operative and return to outright selfish behaviour – a condition we call cancer. But that same co-operative behaviour in the promotion of a greater common good is sometimes observable in the higher organisms themselves. That is called altruism.

Thanks Ken for making it clear what altruism exactly is.

However I still need opinions. Can I be right in thinking that the behaviour involved in adoption is just an evolutionary side effect i.e. it does not arise because of it giving some advantage to the organism?
 
  • #29


Freeman Dyson said:
IThe bottom line is that Dawkins is going well beyond the facts and uses clumsy metaphors to obscure that fact.

Genes are not interested in anything and don't look after any "interests". .
An interesting dichotomy: you use Dawkins' selfish gene concept to condemn Dawkins.
 

Related to Please explain this paragraph from The Selfish Gene

1. What is the main argument in "The Selfish Gene"?

The main argument in "The Selfish Gene" is that genes, not individuals, are the fundamental unit of natural selection and evolution. The book argues that genes are "selfish" in their desire to survive and replicate, and that this drives the evolution of complex organisms and behaviors.

2. How does the author support this argument?

The author, Richard Dawkins, supports his argument through examples and evidence from biology, genetics, and evolutionary theory. He also uses analogies and thought experiments to illustrate his points and make them more accessible to readers.

3. What does the paragraph mean when it says "genes are selfish"?

When the paragraph says "genes are selfish," it means that genes have a strong drive to survive and reproduce, even at the expense of the individual organism. This explains why some characteristics and behaviors that may seem detrimental to an individual's survival are still passed on to future generations.

4. What is the significance of genes being the fundamental unit of natural selection?

The significance of genes being the fundamental unit of natural selection is that it shifts the focus from individual organisms to the genetic material that makes up these organisms. This allows for a better understanding of why certain traits and behaviors are favored by natural selection, and how they are passed on to future generations.

5. How does the concept of the "selfish gene" relate to human behavior?

The concept of the "selfish gene" relates to human behavior by suggesting that our actions and behaviors are ultimately driven by our genes' desire to survive and reproduce. This does not mean that humans are purely selfish, but rather that our behaviors and instincts are shaped by our genetic makeup and evolutionary history.

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