The Greed Gene

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Selfish genetic elements

Then a molecule managed to replicate itself, and then became more complex, and the gene was born. Better-equipped genes made—and make—for better-equipped organisms. Why does a male spider mate with a black widow, and after sex, get eaten up by the female? Do we count for nothing more in the universe than being mere carriers of some double-helix structures?

The issue also gets people riled up because Dawkins has never been a man to mince his words.


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As it happens, the outcome, in my view, is a decisive victory for the individual organism. The group is too wishy-washy an entity. Besides, Dawkins argues, a group or a species can survive only if individuals behave in their genetic self-interest and form alliances, and make sure that their genes are passed on. And that the genes have the conditions and opportunities to become hardier and replicate themselves more fluently. The important differences between genes emerge only in their effects. The technical word phenotype is used for the bodily manifestation of a gene, the effect that a gene has on the body Natural selection favours some genes rather than others not because of the nature of the genes themselves, but because of their consequences—their phenotypic effects But we shall now see that the phenotypic effects of a gene need to be thought of as all the effects that it has on the world The phenotypic effects of a gene are the tools by which it levers itself into the next generation.

'Greedy gene' that stops some people from feeling full discovered

All I am going to add is that the tools may reach outside the individual body wall Examples that spring to mind are artefacts like beaver dams, bird nests, and caddis houses. Dawkins defines the gene as a clutch of information that passes through bodies and affects them, but is not affected by them on the way through.

So, is the gene god? That is a question that Dawkins shoves in your face without ever asking it.

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Hence the two major sexes were born. The fundamental inequality that starts off with the females being a lot more invested in the child after conception can explain why we have so many single mothers in our society. The investment for males is lower, and hence are more likely to not invest resources in their offspring, since they can go and create more with someone else.

The Greed Gene

So how does the woman get the man to stick around and raise the child? One strategy is to court the male for a long time before allowing him to mate in order to increase his investment. The tail end of the book draws parallels between spread of memes and the propagation of genes.

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Both are replicators that use vehicles to spread themselves. The memes are passed on from one brain to another via writing, gestures, and speech. Memes are like genes in that they replicate and are responsive to pressures of selection. They spread through the behavior of the hosts in whom they reside, and those that replicate less than others can become extinct.

This section reminded me of the Contagious book by Jonah Berger which I read a few years ago: it talks about how ideas that provide social currency, are easily triggered, emotional, public, of practical value and packaged as stories spread the most. Very riveting, go read it. This is 7 in a series of book reviews published weekly on this site.

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