• Pfhorrest
    3.6k
    From a Darwinian standpoint rape advantages the rapist, but evidently not his victimOlivier5

    From a genetic standpoint, the rapist benefits iff there are viable offspring iff the victim benefits too.

    IOW if rape passes on the rapists’ genes it necessarily also passes on the victim’s genes.

    This genetic fact has no bearing on the moral status of rape, because genes are not moral patients, people are.
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    genes are not moral patients, people are.Pfhorrest

    My point entirely. Bringing genes in the equation does not help much.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    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.Olivier5

    What would an altruistic gene be? It can't be just a gene for altruism, since that's what selfish genes that yield altruism are. Extending Dawkins' metaphor, an altruistic gene would be a gene that sacrificed itself for the sake of another gene. Such a gene could then not be passed down to future generations. It makes no sense, so apparently the attraction to the idea is emotive, not scientific.

    In which case it seems like Midgley's error is less shocking than I first thought. The dislike for the idea of a gene behaving as if it were selfish, even though that is a useful metaphor for the actual behaviour, is all that it takes to invalidate a theory. One might wish that genes themselves behaved as perfect altruists, and it doesn't matter that this makes no sense, the important thing is it feels right. Anthropomorphism, where Dawkins intended mere metaphor, trumps science and logic, and hardly for the first time.
  • Coben
    1.6k
    Extending Dawkins' metaphor, an altruistic gene would be a gene that sacrificed itself for the sake of another gene. Such a gene could then not be passed down to future generations. It makes no sense, so apparently the attraction to the idea is emotive, not scientific.Kenosha Kid
    Alltruisitic behavior can benefit the speciies, the clan, the tribe - which means that genes in the group continue, and since other people in your group will also take care of you, your genes benefit. S, genes in your body, genes that are the same as yours or close in other bodies, and your species all benefit. Social mammals were all doing extremely well until one social mammal - us - got out of hand and started killing most of the others that they were not raising for food.

    This doesn't make genes selfish, which as you say is a metaphor.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    Alltruisitic behavior can benefit the speciies, the clan, the tribe - which means that genes in the group continue, and since other people in your group will also take care of you, your genes benefit.Coben

    That is precisely the metaphor: that altruistic behaviour benefits the genes that give rise to it. That is not an "altruistic gene" as in the opposite of what Dawkins described: that is a "selfish gene" for human altruism.
  • Coben
    1.6k
    From a genetic standpoint, the rapist benefits iff there are viable offspring iff the victim benefits too.Pfhorrest

    unless the rape is part of a deterioration of the group (causal, correlated, whatever). IOW if the behavior leads to a group that does not work well together, other groups and other sets of genes may wipe them out in war or they may not thrive for other reasons.
  • Coben
    1.6k
    And the interesting thing is that various species use quite different approaches, some could be labelled altruistic (individual to individual), some could be labeled selfish.
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    The dislike for the idea of a gene behaving as if it were selfish, even though that is a useful metaphor for the actual behaviour,Kenosha Kid

    Her point -- and I think it is correct -- is precisely that it is NOT a useful metaphor. That a better metaphor would be that the genes are strong (i.e. efficacious).

    an altruistic gene would be a gene that sacrificed itself for the sake of another gene.Kenosha Kid
    Not just. It could be a gene that 'collaborates' with other genes for an optimal outcome... A gene that works as part of a whole, like each player in an orchestra. Or it could be a metaphor for a gene (or set of alleles to be precise) that induces some capacity to empathy and altruism. Or it could mean that some of our collaborative and positive traits have been selected as efficacious, somehow, for the survival of the group.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    And the interesting thing is that various species use quite different approaches, some could be labelled altruistic (individual to individual), some could be labeled selfish.Coben

    Yes, but that's just anthropomorphism. To extend the metaphor accurately, you'd also have to see "altruistic" behaviour in genes, which is illogical.

    Her point -- and I think it is correct -- is precisely that it is NOT a useful metaphor. That a better metaphor would be that the genes are strong (i.e. efficacious).Olivier5

    Well it is a useful metaphor, insofar as it has pedagogical power, whereas just wanting genes to be altruistic on grounds of taste has none. Also, that was not her point. Her point rests on pretending that the metaphor is not a metaphor, such that she can construct the straw man that the selfish gene idea is some kind of social Darwinism and attack that straw man.
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    Well it is a useful metaphor, insofar as it has pedagogical powerKenosha Kid
    Interesting... What pedagogic power, may I ask?

    Also, that was not her point. Her point rests on pretending that the metaphor is not a metaphor, such that she can construct the straw man that the selfish gene idea is some kind of social Darwinism and attack that straw man.
    She makes a series of points, to be fair. One is that indeed Dawkins is ambiguous on the metaphor thing. Another points is that even if it was just a metaphor (which it's not), the 'selfish genes' idea would be a luridly simplistic and misleading metaphor, that it misrepresents the scientific knowledge about ethology and evolution. Yet another point is that doing so is immoral, as it leads Dawkins' readers to either rationalise and amplify their most selfish behaviors (if they are 'winners' in the economic game, their genes deserve it), or to fatalism (if they are 'losers' in this game, that's because they have losers genes).
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    Interesting... What pedagogic power, may I ask?Olivier5

    If this needs explaining at this point, you're rather admitting that you're criticising something you don't understand. Genes undergo mutations which may vary biological characteristics, and selection pressures choose from those characteristics, and thus those mutations, those that will be most frequently propagated via reproduction (e.g. the theory of natural selection). Thus metaphorically genes are adapting to propagate themselves. Even if the biological characteristic is altruistic, such as human altruism, the genes responsible for that altruism are individually adapting to increase their own longevity. This is a useful metaphor.

    Let's contrast this with what seems like a popular rebuttal on this thread, including Midgley's article on The Selfish Gene: " I'd like genes to be nice and friendly like nice friendly people. Therefore Dawkins is wrong and a social Darwinist and Nazi, and genes are altruistic and love one another and that's that." Science it ain't. There is no underlying literally true mechanism that this longed-for, anthropomorphising genetic altruism is a useful metaphor for. It doesn't even make sense. If a genetic mutation increases the likelihood of survival of an individual, it increases the likelihood of survival of all of the genes in that individual. It doesn't need to coordinate with other genetic mutations to do this, it simply needs to increase its own chance of survival.

    One is that indeed Dawkins is ambiguous on the metaphor thingOlivier5

    She claims this. This amounts to her choosing to pretend it's not always metaphorical. I recall no such instruction from Dawkins' book to cease taking genetic selfishness metaphorically, do you?

    Another points is that even if it was just a metaphor (which it's not)Olivier5

    Repeating the straw man doesn't make it real. This isn't pinocchio.

    the 'selfish genes' idea would be a luridly simplistic and misleading metaphor, that it misrepresents the scientific knowledge about ethology and evolutionOlivier5

    No. That's treating the metaphor as being literal. You do understand what a metaphor is, right?

    Yet another point is that doing so is immoral, as it leads Dawkins' readers to either rationalise and amplify their most selfish behaviors (if they are 'winners' in the economic game, their genes deserve it), or to fatalism (if they are 'losers' in this game, that's because they have losers genes).Olivier5

    Yeah no. I don't know whether Midgley is just pathologically dishonest, a moron, or, most likely, a mixture of both. You are free to dumb yourself down to her level, but most of us are perfectly aware that how genes propagate has absolutely nothing to do with how we ought to behave as humans. It does not, for instance, eradicate the view that humans themselves are intrinsically altruistic, any more than atomic theory eradicates the view that room temperature iron is a solid. So speak for yourself, not for those generally interested in actual science.
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    As an illustration of her verve (about memes):

    So, apparently, if we want to study (say) dances, we should stop asking what dances do for people and should ask only what they do for themselves. We shall no longer ask to what particular human tastes and needs they appeal, how people use them, how they are related to the other satisfactions of life, what feelings they express or what needs cause people to change
    them. Instead, presumably, we shall ask why dances, if they wanted a host, decided to parasitize people rather then elephants or octopuses.

    Now, to be fair, the memes of dances did come down from their platonic realm onto the puffins too. I don't know about octopuses.

  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    Thus metaphorically genes are adapting to propagate themselves. ... This is a useful metaphor.Kenosha Kid
    And where is the selfishness coming from? It's in the eye of the beholder. A better metaphor would be: alleles that survived were historically better at 'propagating themselves' [metaphorically] than those that didn't survive. That says nothing about their inherent selfishness or altruism. It's a good scientific metaphor. Much better though less dramatic than some Chicago mafioso metaphor, so less appealing to the kids.

    I recall no such instruction from Dawkins' book to cease taking genetic selfishness metaphorically, do you?Kenosha Kid
    Midgley quotes a few.

    that it misrepresents the scientific knowledge about ethology and evolution — Olivier5

    No. That's treating the metaphor as being literal. You do understand what a metaphor is, right?Kenosha Kid
    What part of "it misrepresents the scientific knowledge about ethology and evolution" did you fail to understand?

    It does not, for instance, eradicate the view that humans themselves are intrinsically altruistic.Kenosha Kid

    Why, I think it does, by saying that any altruism in transactional, a desguised selfishness.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    And where is the selfishness coming from? It's in the eye of the beholder.Olivier5

    Okay. So you don't know what a metaphor is. Fine. A metaphor describes a thing by comparing itself to another, more familiar thing, in certain relevant aspects. It is not a one-to-one equivalency between two things. When we speak of natural selection literally, it makes sense to ask where the ability for genes to undergo mutations that increase its propagation potential. That is a good question; natural selection is a good answer (the only scientific answer). When we describe this behaviour as "selfish" metaphorically, it does not make sense to ask where this selfishness came from as if it were a literal thing. Do you understand?

    Midgley quotes a few.Olivier5

    No, she decides that the metaphor has been abandoned without justification, because that's what suits her straw man. There's no point in which Dawkins says "Actually now this isn't a metaphor anymore." Dawkins reminds us many times, starting with the introduction, ending toward the end of the book, that this is just a useful metaphor, and yet Midgley's argument that he means it all literally is that he does not remind us every single time: "Not a word of caution about metaphors follows." This is the crux of Midgley's attack: there is no minimum number of times Dawkins can insist that selfishness is a metaphor such that she will accept that he means it metaphorically.

    This is entreating her readership to gross stupidity. She is saying: no matter how often he tells you something, it just won't sink in, will it?

    What part of "it misrepresents the scientific knowledge about ethology and evolution" did you fail to understand?Olivier5

    If you think the selfishness metaphor says anything at all about ethology, you have treated it not as a metaphor but in a literal sense.

    Why, I think it does, by saying that any altruism in transactional, a desguised selfishness.Olivier5

    And that's anthropomorphism, an inability to reconcile the literal fundamental altruism of humans and the metaphorical selfishness of genes. Genes aren't people. Metaphors aren't literally true.
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    When we describe this behaviour as "selfish" metaphorically, it does not make sense to ask where this selfishness came from as if it were a literal thing. Do you understand?Kenosha Kid

    What I understand is that the metaphor of "selfish gene" maps to itself, it has no content, nothing that it is alluding to other than itself.

    It doesn't actually mean anything more than "Let's see how the world would look like if the traditional perspective was reversed, that is, if we'd consider that genes were replicating themselves through us, instead of us through them."

    So it's a different perspective to evolution, one driven by genes rather than by the fitness of individuals to their social and ecological environment.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    What I understand is that the metaphor of "selfish gene" maps to itself, it has no content, nothing that it is alluding to other than itself.Olivier5

    Then you do not understand the metaphor no matter how often it is explained to you. This is a limit of your understanding, not of the metaphor, and certainly not of the underlying theory.
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    Okay so it means "natural selection works on genes, eliminates the weak ones, and keeps the strong". Fair enough.

    The Strong Gene, then. Or "Gene the Survivor".
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    Okay so it means "natural selection works on genes, eliminates the weak ones, and keeps the strong". Fair enough.

    The Strong Gene, then.
    Olivier5

    It means what I said it means:

    Thus metaphorically genes are adapting to propagate themselves. Even if the biological characteristic is altruistic, such as human altruism, the genes responsible for that altruism are individually adapting to increase their own longevity.Kenosha Kid

    I cannot understand this from 'strong gene', although if the argument is now merely a question of which single metaphor we prefer, it seems like the previous argument is very much resolved.
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    Yes, it's about finding a less negative, less jaundiced, less Thatcherist metaphor, one that more genuinely reflects the scientific data, without all the emotional bias.

    "Gene the Survivor" is my favorite. It rolls off the tongue nicely, is dramatic enough for the kids, with just a tinge of Nitschean theater, and it almost rhymes with Conan the Barbarian. But it also expresses well the resilience of life, and the important idea that our hero Gene has survived SO FAR. We may be adapted to our past but are we adapted to our present?

    Gene the Survivor's movie is TO BE CONTINUED...
  • unenlightened
    5.3k
    And that's anthropomorphism, an inability to reconcile the literal fundamental altruism of humans and the metaphorical selfishness of genes. Genes aren't people. Metaphors aren't literally true.Kenosha Kid

    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. . . Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish (pp. 2-3, my italics). — Midgeley quoting Dawkins


    Metaphors aren't literally true. The world is not literally highly competitive, and this does not entitle us to expect certain qualities in our genes, like ruthless selfishness, because it's a metaphor, and so genes are not literally ruthless or selfish. And because genes are not literally selfish, we are not born selfish.
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    And because genes are not literally selfish, we are not born selfish.unenlightened

    Indeed. But we are born survivors, so the better metaphor is: "Gene the Survivor".

    Now I wonder, who could play the part if it was made in a movie? Vin Diesel? Jean-Claude Van Damme?
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    Metaphors aren't literally true. The world is not literally highly competitive, and this does not entitle us to expect certain qualities in our genes, like ruthless selfishness, because it's a metaphor, and so genes are not literally ruthless or selfish. And because genes are not literally selfish, we are not born selfish.unenlightened

    We are not born literally selfish, that's correct. We are born from stuff that's metaphorically selfish.

    The world is not literally highly competitive,unenlightened

    Where has anyone said that competition in nature is a metaphor? It's one of the three postulates of natural selection.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    Now I wonder, who could play the part if it was made in a movie? Vin Diesel? Jean-Claude Van Damme?Olivier5

    If it were the 70s, I'd vote for someone grittier like... Gene Hackman.
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    Brilliant!

    360_10q_0613.jpg
    GENE THE SURVIVOR
    (episode MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMCCCCLXXXIV)
  • creativesoul
    9.1k
    We are born from stuff that's metaphorically selfish.Kenosha Kid

    Gibberish.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    Gibberish.creativesoul

    Sound argument, I have no rebuttal.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    GENE THE SURVIVOR
    (episode MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMCCCCLXXXIV)
    Olivier5

    :rofl: Basically we're describing The Royal Tenenbaums.
  • creativesoul
    9.1k


    What does it take in order for something to be metaphorically selfish?
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    I was thinking of something a little more epic than that.

    March_or_Die-835628629-large.jpg
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    What does it take in order for something to be metaphorically selfish?creativesoul

    Can you just scroll up? Saves having to repost the same thing many times. Cheers!
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