The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

Famed book on sociobiology publish in the late 1970’s.

Built upon the legacy of Hamilton and Williams’ insights, Dawkins critically and commercially successful work on a DNA-centric view of behaviour catapulted him to prominence.

Intellectual and interesting this read on the world around us beholds a philosophical shift of our perception of behaviour. The book has several insightful views of the underlying causes of genemanship, aggression, altruism, sexual selection and generational conflicts.

At its core Dawkins basis his thesis on the argument that replicators (or stable molecules that replicate) are the foundation of behavior among living organisms. From his point of view a gene is a replicator whose rival is its allele and survives by indirectly instructing their survival machines by protein synthesis. A gene therefore must be selfish to be successful and may assist other replicas of “itself” sitting in other bodies (explaining kinship behavior). Nevertheless genes can cooperate if they gain an advantage, especially if it sets them up in a more successful environment for spreading (ex: egg/sperm). This relationship genes have among one another and by extension organisms has led the author to explain why some behaviour can be observed within animals. Without going into detail he makes the case that “Grudger” and “Cheat” strategies will emerge as an ESS (Evolutionary stable strategy) in a delayed reciprocal altruism environment and an “Retaliator” strategy is a situation involving aggression. He equally provides an explanation of apparent “nice” (providing assisting at its own expense) behavior that can be observed in nature. This counterintuitive reaction can be explained as being a winning strategy in iterated encounters without being an ESS.

What I found most interesting was his perspective on the “Battle of sexes” and “Battle of Generation”. It is fascinating to view the relationship male/female as an investment fight females willing to make the best investment with the less amount of risk and males willing to make the best benefits for the least amount of investment. The fight is equally interesting of parents and their offspring. As the child parental attention is crucial for his survival parents struggle into detecting where their commitment is most beneficial (other offspring or themselves) Most of the arguments in this book can be into some extent be understood by intuitive observation. Nevertheless Prof. Dawkins provides a methodical and mathematical framework within his work. This book provides great insight, even today with what is currently understood of molecular mechanisms his arguments are still relevant and enjoyable to understand.

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