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comment by Meriadoc
Meriadoc  ·  2885 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Why it's time to lay the selfish gene to rest

    ‘The gene does not lead,’ she says. ‘It follows.’

Absolutely wonderful. I've always had a suspicion there was something more to the whole concept, but that's to be expected because of how extremely complex evolution is. They stated it well later in the article:

    It’s easy to see why [many biologists stick to the gene-centric model]: even though life is a zillion bits of biology repeatedly rearranging themselves in a webwork of constantly modulated feedback loops, the selfish-gene model offers a step-by-step account as neat as a three-step flow chart. Gene, trait, phenotype, done.

Do you think this is because of how hard scientists already have to work in the field to even have the general public accept evolution already, or simply because it frames it for them, as scientists, as a way to finally make sense of a frustratingly difficult process?





theadvancedapes  ·  2885 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I think this article is fantastic (that's why I shared) but we have to be careful now not to just throw out the idea of the "selfish gene". Remember, in the article itself Dobbs states as much:

    Wray and West-Eberhard don’t say that Dawkins is dead wrong. They and other evolutionary theorists [...] have been calling for an ‘extended modern synthesis’ for more than two decades. They do so even though they agree with most of what Dawkins says a gene does.

The gene is still the lowest, indivisible, organic unit of selection in biological evolution (as we understand it on Earth). No evidence from genetics (thus far) changes this. The gene is still selfish, even if there are biological phenomena like gene expression which allow selfish genes to behave according to larger sets of rules within the "social genome".

From my understanding it sort of works in a similar way to how humans behave in society. Individual humans are selfish (as everything is in a primordial sense). However, we also have evolved as social animals and get intrinsic rewards for being altruistic. So we are selfish in a very complex social environment, and this means that being altruistic is itself technically being selfish.

E.g., We don't like being lonely. We can get more accomplished in large networks. This is fundamentally why we we are nice to people/collaborate with people. Because we can get something out of it for ourselves.

So even though genes can express themselves ("be read") in different ways causing phenotypic changes (i.e., you don't necessarily need the emergence of a new gene to drive evolution) the gene still causes itself to become passed on (even if it was "following" instead of "leading".

I guess at the end of the day I have to say that a new synthesis should not exclude the "selfish gene" as a useful concept or metaphor. But we do need to recognize that evolution is not just driven by "gene, trait, phenotype". That is obviously wrong.

At the end of the day though, I can't help but recall this classic Dawkins quote when people try to marginalize The Selfish Gene as a fundamental contribution to modern biology:

    I can see how the title 'The Selfish Gene' could be misunderstood, especially by those philosophers who prefer to read a book by title only, omitting the rather extensive footnote which is the book itself.