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I read Dawkins, and I know that his theory is more subtle than publicly perceived. But he did much disservice to himself with choosing metaphors and stressing their unsubtle interpretations.

For example, he says in the 1st chapter of "The Selfish Gene":

Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.

Yet, the point of his theory is that genes must be necessarily selfish in their own "ecology"; as his nice examples show, that does not mean that the organisms would be uncompromisingly selfish.

Metaphors aside, I do not think that Dawkins' theory is complete. In particular, niche construction theories might complement Dawkins' extended phenotype view in substantial ways. Dawkins' public image would likely improve if rival ideas would be met with more respect.

Short-term necessities exist, but they are not that much absolute. I can challenge the following "basic" views:

  • That tiny selfishness advantages grow big with time. The social or ecological environment might "fight" tiny selfishnesses with a variety of "tricks". Say, if you grab much food, you may get less reproductive chances for some "accidental" reasons.

  • That you don't have much chance of successful survival if you are less selfish than competitors. If you are strong (somewhere or everywhere) enough, you may have the freedom to be suboptimally greedy - with various positive upshots. Most species are apparently only as much greedy as it is necessary. Natural life does not look to be stressed of escalating competitions. Can you really see conspicuous supremacies, dominant control of resources, or emphatic struggling for life in a jungle? Even rats do not look stressed of anything similar to "rat races". Destructive competitions must be occurring not so often or lasting for long. You can "know" how to outlast and feast on them.

  • That you can't get to the long term if you cut your throat in the short term.. Extreme situations are true, but on the statistical scale they might be far less important. Very often, you can only do so much to avoid damage to your throat and tail - the luck decides a lot. Dealing (even gambling) with repetitive risks might be a more useful skill than an extra jump inch. And when it comes to (emergent) handling of risk, long term risks are probably no less manageable (and important) than short term risks.
by das monde on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 07:45:23 AM EST
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