• Olivier5
    834

    Happens a lot. Ruthless competition is not the only thing that happens in evolution. Love, or if you prefer, sex plays the central role.
  • Olivier5
    834
    Eh. I read a bunch of his books years ago and was never tempted to reach this conclusion. YMMV.Srap Tasmaner

    Eh, Mary Midgley quotes him:

    The argument of this book is that we, and all other animals, are machines created by our genes. Like successful Chicago gangsters, our genes have survived, in some cases for millions of years, in a highly competitive world. This entitles us to expect certain qualities in our genes. I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in our genes is ruthless selfishness.
  • Olivier5
    834

    Okay so he changed his mind at some point. A good point for him I suppose.
  • Olivier5
    834
    Back to Midgley. I really liked this part where she quotes Jane Goodall:

    " In the species most like our own, lasting resentment after injuries is by no means a prominent or important motive. In some cases, of course, immediate fighting is possible, but prolonged grudge-bearing is rare and trivial. Jane Goodall notes with interest how in her chimps the usual effect of an injury is something very different—a distressed approach to the aggressor with a demand for reconciliation. What seems to be most noticed is not the injury itself, but the failure of the social bond:

    A chimpanzee, after being threatened or attacked by a superior, may follow the aggressor, screaming and crouching to the ground or holding out his hand. He is, in fact, begging a reassuring touch from the other.

    Sometimes he will not relax until he has been touched or patted, kissed or embraced
    (In the Shadow of Man, p. 221).

    While a male chimpanzee is quick to threaten or attack a subordinate, he is usually equally quick to calm his victim with a touch, a pat on the back, an embrace of reassurance. And Flo, after Mike's vicious attack, and even while her hand dripped blood where she had scraped it against a rock, had hurried after Mike, screaming in her hoarse voice, until he turned. Then as she approached him, crouched low in apprehension, he had patted her again and again on her head, and as she quietened, had given her a final reassurance by leaning forward to press his lips on her brow (p. 114).

    As she points out, this reaction makes it possible to resume the relationship as though the injury had never taken place. (A community of retentive 'grudgers' would by contrast be a terribly insecure one; no lapses would be tolerated.) She rightly remarks, too, that small human children do the same thing. It is only for adult human beings, with their much stronger powers of memory, imagination and foresight, that this simple reaction becomes impossible. "
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k


    The Gombe Chimpanzee War lasted nearly four years.

    People and other animals aren't just selfish or just cooperative and nobody worth listening to was ever saying they are, not even Dawkins. The question is how to knit together the blind, mechanical reproduction of genetic material with the layered, complex behavior of the creatures carrying that material.
  • Olivier5
    834
    The question is how to knit together the blind, mechanical reproduction of genetic material with the layered, complex behavior of the creatures carrying that material.Srap Tasmaner
    That's a good question alright. Some argue that rape fantasies have been genetically selected by our evolutionary history, for instance. E.g. our history is one of rape --> we developed some liking to it --> more rapes happened. What would be the moral consequences if it was proven true?

    a. To pardon at least some rapists, those who can prove their genes made them do it?

    b. To edit out of our genome the guilty genes by various eugenic techniques?

    c. To punish rape harshly, while playing out our age-old fantasies with consenting adults?

    I vote for c., if anyone needs to know. It is not radically new but more needs to be done (on both fronts of solution c).

    My point here is to show that the gene argument brings very little that is actually new to this debate. Moralists have been warning us of the bestial nature of man since what? The Jurassic? No wait...
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k


    It would take a lot to convince me there's a "rape gene". I'm not sure that even makes sense.
  • Olivier5
    834
    It's just an example of how involving the genes brings nothing to the fore. Replace 'rape' with 'selfishness' if you prefer. Did we need Dawkins to tell us that human nature includes it's fair share of selfishness, greed, egocentrism, and narcissism? Was that still a scoop in 1976?
  • Banno
    9.6k
    The male peacock tail was selected because it pleased the ladies of the species.Olivier5

    Here's the odd thing; why does it please the ladies? It must be, so the myth would have us believe, because partnering with a male with a big tail somehow helps the female's genes to survive...

    How's that?

    Evolution is messy, and we should have in mind the chaotic interplay between genes and environment, not a smooth ride for the egoist.

    This by way of agreement - with most of the posters here.
  • Banno
    9.6k
    Interesting that so much of Dawkins' subsequent writing is apologetic. I'm thinking that Midgley's critique stung, as was intended, and that led to his change instance.
  • flaco
    28
    It seems to me that Dawkins was shifting the focus from the gene propagating devices (e.g. humans or any other living things) to the genes themselves. So it is the genes that are selfish (that word is a metaphor for propagation probability). If it is advantageous for the gene propagating device to be altruistic, then so be it. No problem. But if the behavior of the gene propagating device seems to be such that it will reduce the probability of gene propagation, that is behavior that needs to be explained.
  • Olivier5
    834
    It must be, so the myth would have us believe, because partnering with a male with a big tail somehow helps the female's genes to survive.Banno
    The best theory I know is that nice feathers in male birds code for health and fitness, which would be why they are seen as attractive by the ladies in most bird species.

    This does not explain the extravaganza that a peacock trail is. Most probably Darwin was right and it's just that the sexual pairing system of peacocks (complete with mating dances and rituals of course) went in overdrive somehow, with the ladies really really liking them shiny colors.
  • Banno
    9.6k
    As for Midgley's tone -

    Women "of a certain age" become invisible; no longer sexually desirable, they fade into the social background. The granny in front of you at the checkout, the one you stoped for at the pedestrian crossing, they never enter into your consciousness.

    Until they become annoyed.

    At which stage they verge on omnipotence. Nothing takes one aback so much as being told by one's great mother. One can't hit back, you see. Physically or verbally. What is said has to be taken on board.

    As a rhetorical device, her tone fits.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k
    Did we need Dawkins to tell us that human nature includes it's fair share of selfishness, greed, egocentrism, and narcissism?Olivier5

    I don't think that's why he wrote any of those books.

    You could, you know, look at Dawkins in exactly the opposite way: the machinery that underpins life is in itself relatively simple and serves only to replicate certain molecules for no particular reason; but the mathematics of differential reproduction leads to the extraordinary variety of form and behavior we observe. You insist on the narrowness and simplicity of inheritance to reveal just how powerful evolution by natural selection is, that it can make all this out of almost nothing.
  • Banno
    9.6k
    The tail is an absurdity. At some stage selection when off in a direction it probably shouldn't have, but was unable to turn back.
  • Olivier5
    834
    Take it as a florish of evolution, a flare of artistic creativity.
  • Banno
    9.6k
    Ach, it fitted the tone of the times, along with Milton Friedman and all that garbage about self interest.
  • Banno
    9.6k
    Does rape advantage the woman raped?

    There's something curiously masculinist here...
  • Banno
    9.6k
    It seems to me that Dawkins was shifting the focus from the gene propagating devices (e.g. humans or any other living things) to the genes themselves.flaco

    Yep, and in so doing used a metaphor that should rightly be dropped.
  • Olivier5
    834
    From a Darwinian standpoint rape advantages the rapist, but evidently not his victim, just like parasitism only benefits the parasite, not the host.
  • Olivier5
    834
    Ach, it fitted the tone of the times, along with Milton Friedman and all that garbage about self interest.Banno

    Okay. Well spotted. There's some truth to the point that capitalism has something competitive that fits our nature of competitive animals, as long as one remembers that capitalism amplifies human greed, and puts us on a runaway train to climatic hell.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k
    From a Darwinian standpoint rape advantages the rapistOlivier5

    Not shown.

    it fitted the tone of the times, along with Milton Friedman and all that garbage about self interest.Banno

    Horseshit.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.3k
    Here's the odd thing; why does it please the ladies? It must be, so the myth would have us believe, because partnering with a male with a big tail somehow helps the female's genes to survive...Banno

    Yes, through her sons with big tails that will please females.
  • Banno
    9.6k
    Horseshit.Srap Tasmaner

    Not your best argument.
  • frank
    5.5k
    Why do scientists want to be metaphysicians? Partly power trip, maybe.

    Why do the philosophically minded want to ground their views in science? Because otherwise they're just flailing in the wind. That's not comfortable.
  • flaco
    28
    Why do the philosophically minded want to ground their views in science? Because otherwise they're just flailing in the wind. That's not comfortable.frank

    Plus, there's lots of new science. It seems like a rich field to find new ways to approach philosophical issues.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k
    Not your best argument.Banno

    it fitted the tone of the times, along with Milton Friedman and all that garbage about self interest.Banno

    Or yours.

    But I will grant you -- if only to make @unenlightened's ears bleed -- that there was at the time a convergence of economics and evolutionary theory to the extent that they both relied more and more on game theory. In both cases, this is largely a retooling of existing theory, as I understand it. But there is a difference: the economic theory being retooled was not empirical at all. We're in a somewhat different position with evolutionary biology because we know empirically how inheritance works and we know empirically that the distribution of alleles in a population can change over time; evolutionary game theory just provides a framework for known, rather than, as in economics, postulated effects.

    Which is not to say there's any reason to think Dawkins thought of evolutionary biology as an application of laissez faire economics.
  • Olivier5
    834
    As for Midgley's toneBanno

    I'm reading her wikipedia entry and the Philosophy Now article about her. I like her a lot so far, so thanks for the introduction.

    She always was a polemist, a fighter, a sarcastic and down-to-earth writer. The paper you posted, Gene-juggling, is complex, a bit convoluted, but acerbic and assertive, and as you said, it works. There's something shrudely effective in her very British wit. I don't think age had much to do with it.

    The last sentence I read in the PN bio was:

    To understand how Midgley became a fierce philosophical rebel, we have to go back to Oxford in the Second World War.
    So it seems to go way back.

    I totally subscribe to this (from wiki):

    Midgley argued that philosophy is like plumbing, something that nobody notices until it goes wrong.

    Also she wrote about the problem of evil in an agnostic/atheist frame, which is a topic that gives me much puzzlement. So I'll try and read that.
  • Banno
    9.6k
    :smile:

    Oh, well, it was a decent theory....
  • Olivier5
    834

    I think you are correct that it was part of the zeitgeist. It was certainly central to Midgley's beef. She called Dawkins' theory "biological Thatcherism".

    I note that The Selfish Gene is mainly based on the work of William Hamilton in the hippy, community-oriented 1960's, which was about the theoretical genetic basis of altruism. A decade later in Dawkins' book, the same ideas are presented in defense of individualism. Hypothesis: the change in zeitgeist explains the change of perspective here.

    Said more crudely, a book making more or less the same Hamiltonian case about how our social behavior might have some evolutionary background rather than be pure 'nurture', but titled "The Altruistic Gene" would not have sold so well in the late seventies. It would not have resonated quite as much as "The Selfish Gene" did.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment