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Question about Dawkins' The Selfish Gene

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Question about Dawkins' The Selfish Gene

Postby SelfishGene » Mon May 31, 2010 3:41 pm

"We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes"
- Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

The above passage has been misinterpreted and so Dawkins rebutted them in his next book:

"(I) used the word 'blindly' in referring to genetic programming. But it is, of course, the genes that are blind, not the animals they program."
- Dawkins, The Extended Phenotype

However this rebuttal has raised more questions for me than it answered. When I read "blindly programmed" I assumed he meant by "blindly programmed by natural selection", but in his rebuttal he implies that it was "blindly programmed by genes".

Shouldn't the genes be regarded as the "code" not the "programmer"? Shouldn't the "programmer" label be left to natural selection? What are your thoughts?
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Re: Question about Dawkins' The Selfish Gene

Postby ernestenbert » Tue Jun 01, 2010 10:57 pm

It seems to me that he was referring to the genes as the actual organisms. The genes, to survive, constructed elaborate structures (us) to protect themselves. In this view, the genes are the players and we are just their vehicles. The point is that natural selection is more about the survival of genes than organisms. Organisms are constructs to ensure the genes survival. Note how a parent will sacrifice their life for a child. In this view, the genes are the blind archetects, building with the tools they aquire through natural selection, blindly, as it were.
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Postby JackBean » Wed Jun 02, 2010 10:32 am

I think (although I have not read it) that that's the point of selfish gene, that genes are actually those, who drive evolution, isn't it?
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Re: Question about Dawkins' The Selfish Gene

Postby SelfishGene » Wed Jun 02, 2010 3:24 pm

JackBean wrote:I think (although I have not read it) that that's the point of selfish gene, that genes are actually those, who drive evolution, isn't it?


The book argues that genes are the unit of selection and that the organism is its throw-away survival machine.

ernestenbert wrote:It seems to me that he was referring to the genes as the actual organisms. The genes, to survive, constructed elaborate structures (us) to protect themselves. In this view, the genes are the players and we are just their vehicles. The point is that natural selection is more about the survival of genes than organisms. Organisms are constructs to ensure the genes survival. Note how a parent will sacrifice their life for a child. In this view, the genes are the blind archetects, building with the tools they aquire through natural selection, blindly, as it were.


i understand the premise of the book in how the genes are the central figure in natural selection (i did after all read the book). What I was saying is that in this analogy to robotics, it'd be better to consider the genes as the code and natural selection as the blind programmer. In a different book, Dawkins uses an analogy that considers natural selection the blind watch maker, so it'd make sense to call it the blind programmer here.
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Postby Eous » Wed Jun 02, 2010 7:50 pm

i think this is a semantics issue. it seems to me that he never called the genes the programmer. "robot vehicles blindly programed" means that the organisms have a program (likely refering to genes) and that whatever did the programming had no intent or aim (as natural selection would not). i think that's how he intended it. he does not, in his rebuttal, imply that the genes created any program. when he says "genetic programming" that is clearly refering to the genes (which are a program), and when he says "animals they program" he might mean 'animals they act as a program for', which is an acceptable way to use the word. But, both the genes and natural selection are in his view, i would think, blind. The word 'program' can have many tenses and cases which change sentence meaning considerably.

also, though, i think the rebuttal is meant to be mostly comedic, and proper semantics are usually disregarded when aiming for comedy, such as with word play and the like.
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Re: Question about Dawkins' The Selfish Gene

Postby jevg » Fri Jul 02, 2010 12:42 pm

As I understand it Dawkins postulates that the gene is the unit of evolution.
In other words Natural Selection works at the level of genes.

As our knowledge of cell mechanisms has increased this hypothesis is being shown not to be very realistic.

The central dogma of biology i.e. DNA makes RNA makes Protein is now being seen as too simplistic.

The early RNA transcript of the gene,the supposedly unique source of information.,
compared to final, functional primary structure however differs considerably from the original DNA gene.
RNA editing is the mechanism that achieves this.

http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultran ... iting.html ditto

A good visual on the start and end sequences is provided. What you will see is that
the sequence of this linear chain of amino acids in a protein defines its primary structure but this only becomes a functional protein when it folds into its three-dimensional form.

How do proteins find the right conformation out of the simply endless number of potential three-dimensional forms that it could randomly fold into?
After all, the folding of a protein is not a chemical reaction.

Proteins are the biological workhorses that carry out vital functions in every cell. To carry out their task, proteins must fold into a complex three-dimensional structure, but what tells a protein which shape it should be and how does it achieve this?
Knowledge of this is still very sketchy.

Further to this, experiments have been carried out where the genome of a carp has been inserted into a enucleated eggs of goldfish
Normal carp have 33 to 36 vertebrae. However, the resulting cloned fish had between 26 and 28 vertebrae--the same number as goldfish--suggesting that mitochondrial DNA in the goldfish eggs had affected the carps' development.

It is quite clear that all the developmental information does not reside in the genes.
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