Why it’s time to lay the selfish gene to rest – David Dobbs – Aeon

The grasshopper, he noted, sports long legs and wings, walks low and slow, and dines discreetly in solitude. The locust scurries hurriedly and hoggishly on short, crooked legs and joins hungrily with others to form swarms that darken the sky and descend to chew the farmer’s fields bare.

Related, yes, just as grasshoppers and crickets are. But even someone as insect-ignorant as I could see that the hopper and the locust were wildly different animals — different species, doubtless, possibly different genera. So I was quite amazed when Rogers told us that grasshopper and locust are in fact the same species, even the same animal, and that, as Jekyll is Hyde, one can morph into the other at alarmingly short notice.

More at: Why it’s time to lay the selfish gene to rest – David Dobbs – Aeon.

An interesting article that is closely related to the last one I linked to.  It seems that genes are not the whole story in evolution.  That said, the title is a bit misleading since it implies that the selfish gene metaphor is wrong, when in reality it’s just incomplete.  Gene expression plays a crucial role, including it’s turning out, a heritable one.

I’ll admit a reluctance to giving up the gene only model, if just for its simplicity, but reality isn’t interested in our desires, and a commitment to truth often requires embracing complexities that challenge our paradigms.

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9 Responses to Why it’s time to lay the selfish gene to rest – David Dobbs – Aeon

  1. amanimal says:

    Thanks, that was good – educational. I need to explore that site more thoroughly and check it more regularly. They consistently have good stuff worth reading and it seems the pieces are often longer with more depth.

    On this piece, I think there is value in keeping it simple and straightforward for the public to allow for a basic understanding. I can appreciate West-Eberhard’s frustration though if it’s holding back the scientific community. Change isn’t easy.

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    • Thanks. And good to see your Animal avatar back!

      I have to admit that I don’t really watch the Aeon site that much. I got directed there through a RealClearScience feed. I discovered it after following the RealClearPolitics feed in my post ‘Righteous Mind’ spirit, but found their science feed to be pretty good. (Looking at their politics feed, on the other hand, requires a lot of patience, at least for me.)

      The only problem I see with keeping it simple for the public, is it leaves things open for people with agendas (IDers, etc) to claim that the public is being misled. If genes aren’t the whole story, I tend to think people should be told that. That said, I fully appreciate that a large part of science communication to the public involves simplifying to get the concepts across.

      I definitely agree that change isn’t easy.

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      • amanimal says:

        The avatar, yeah I just had to …

        http://aeon.co/magazine/being-human/how-consciousness-works/
        http://aeon.co/magazine/being-human/david-barash-evolution-consciousness/

        … are 2 of the more memorable pieces at ‘aeon’, the 1st of which I also found an audio presentation of:

        Re: “‘Righteous Mind’ spirit” – Paul Bloom has a new book out, ‘Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil’, apparently arguing that our morality owes more to our capacity for reason than intuition. No clue here – haven’t gotten to Haidt’s book yet.

        On educating the public, I didn’t mean to suggest keeping info from them, but similar to understanding that automobiles are propelled by fuel-burning engines it’s not necessary to know anything about camshafts, injector nozzles, etc. There’s more to it than just an engine and that info is available for the more curious.

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        • Thanks! Those were very interesting articles.

          I’ve heard of Bloom’s book, but didn’t realize it championed reason over intuition as a source of morality. That sounds like it might put it at odds with Haidt’s theories. Of course, Haidt wouldn’t dispute that reason has an effect on morality. We do, after all, have conflicting intuitions and impulses, and reason can help us decide how to resolve them, rather than just letting the strongest impulse of the moment win.

          Just looked at the Amazon page. It includes a brief interview with Bloom. He makes a brief remark about Hume which makes me wonder if he really understood what Hume was saying. Anyway, even Haidt, who I think does understand Hume, didn’t subscribe completely to Hume’s view. (Although I have to admit that I do, at least currently.)

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          • amanimal says:

            Thanks for the Amazon interview tip, I’d missed that. That was the impression I got on Bloom’s book anyway from:

            http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-roots-of-good-and-evil

            … which I didn’t get through because toward the end it seemed more Harris than Bloom. Anyway, after our discussion last week on computer consciousness and robot wasps I ordered Bruce Hood’s ‘Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable’ and am now reading. It’s a bit early to tell, but if Hood is right I just may be … human? 🙂

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          • The Hood book reminds of the notion that hit me when I was reading one of the Aeon articles last night. The same notion that hit me when reading a HuffPost article several weeks ago. Our “self awareness” may simply be our theory of mind turned on ourselves, and our insight into ourselves may be almost as limited as our insight into other minds. I’m still coming to grips with the implications of that.

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  2. amanimal says:

    “theory of mind turned on ourselves” – that phrase is familiar though I can’t place it now – do you recall the HP article? Brings to mind Gazzaniga’s “interpreter” and it not knowing the phrase “I don’t know.” and this chapter from ‘Advances in Experimental Social Psychology’ I found a while ago, but still haven’t found time to read:

    ‘The Introspection Illusion’, Pronin 2009
    http://goo.gl/oVUtn9

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