Is the selfish gene really selfish? | Meditative Diaries



Is the selfish gene really selfish?

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Many of you have heard of this famous book by Biologist Richard Dawkins called “The Selfish Gene”. This is a book that tries to describe the process of evolution in simple words, implying (I think) that the basis of biological evolution is the genes . I didn’t read the whole book but there was a part in the very beginning of the book that was incredibly interesting and it leads, i think to the question of the title.. is the Selfish Gene really selfish?

In that point of the book Dawkins referred to a very primordial stage where life was much different from what we know as life. I am a biologist but my knowledge is rather limited after having no contact with biology for almost 11 years.. but i will try to describe how was life in these early stages in simple words based on what Dawkins says.. There was a primordial soup where, for some reason, there were a few molecules that were able to copy themselves.. imagine long molecules like the genes – genes look like a chain consisting of smaller molecules called nucleotides -. So the case in this primordial soup was that there were these long molecules (like genes – we will call them “copiers”) and small molecules (like nucleotides – we will call them “SM”). Copiers were able to attach with the SM (small molecules) and bringing many of them together they were able to create a rather accurate copy of themselves. All these processes are just happening naturally because of several natural forces that are taking place between the several molecules (chemical bonds etc). Now, when there is a plethora of the several “types” of SM and not that many copiers, a copier can easily attract the SM that it needs in order to copy itself. While more copiers are created (by copying themselves) necessarily nucleotides are getting more rare and  obviously it becomes harder for the copiers to find the necessary SMs in order to be reproduced. So the competition between copiers is increasing in order for them to find the ingredients they need to duplicate themselves.

But its a completely natural competition.. copiers naturally bind with an SM if an SM is accessible.. if not then the copier just can’t be reproduced. There is nothing selfish in the process of self-reproduction, there is complete absence of selfish motive in this competition.. no violence, no greed, no intellectual strategies. And there is not despair, sorrow, pain or anything else when reproduction is not possible. Things just happen, naturally, life flows, other copiers are duplicated while others not, with the absence of the intellectual drama. It seems the term Darwin used to describe evolution (Natural Selection) seems so sane.. actually evolution happens naturally.

Now let’s look what is the scenery now.. there is competition for resources that (due to technological advancements) are in abundance, there is violence, conflict, war, sorrow, pain and death out there. And there is anger, violence, jealousy, attachment, possession, dominance and submission, manipulation inside.  And people say “come on, its natural to be violent, it’s natural to be suspicious, to be competitive, its our nature to be selfish”. Can nature ever be selfish? I think no.. nature just is, life just is, right Now! Probably its when Time intervenes that selfishness is created..



Jorge Kapa

The speaker is never important but you may examine the message, if you wish


    • Cooperation – does the very act not involve selfish motivation? If yes, it’s selfish, if no, it’s love.

      There are certainly moments of love in human interactions – empathy for another is relatively non-selfish – if I see you fall, I rush to help you up immediately and instinctively. Fairly common. But in the bigger picture – the political and hierarchical landscape, selfishness seems to be king.

      The result of gene or culture? But why shouldn’t the two be linked? And is not the culture the individual and vice versa?

      We’re a strange mix of selfishness and love, although I hesitate to balance the ratio.

    • no need to estimate, i think.. i just wanted to point out all these excuses/justification like “its natural to be selfish, this is a part of my nature” are nothing more than an excuse

    • i think each and every knowledge can affect us by conditioning us..though again i am not sure.. yes, Darwin’s theory is a factor that is possible to bring about conditioning.. hopefully i am on topic,sorry if i didn’t understand again :/

    • It was what you said, George, about replicating molecules.
      It seems to me there is a pattern emerging: the pattern that is emerging is the emergence of pattern.
      In brief, following just one branch: [trajectories] combine to produce matter and space; quarks etc combine to make atomic elements which are more varied interesting; elements combine to make molecules; molecules combine to make cells; cells combine to make animals; animals combine to make colonies and other things; colonies combine to make ecosystems; …
      Anyway, at each level, there are innate tendencies to reversion to a more primitive state, electrostatic repulsion at the atomic scale, for example; selfishness (or “sin” maybe)
      at our level. We overcome this to co-operate and so we have cells, societies etc. Together a group of molecules can assemble a new kind of molecule.
      Together, humans can design computers.
      Co-operation leads, at every level and scale, to greater diversity, form, and the creation of new things.
      At every scale.
      At our scale I see what we’ve created already (e.g. the computer I’m using, the music we sang this evening) and it’s wonderful, but how much more might we create if more of us were unselfish and we could cooperate more effectively….


    • i think Oliver, cooperation is quite useful but only if behind this cooperation is intelligence, love.. cooperation also created the atomic bomb.. what do you think about that?

    • Or perhaps he was just wrong/inaccurate or found his findings to fit an agenda…i have no clue but i do know his name has been used to ‘justify’ much injustice and animalistic behaviour

  1. The self-centered activity, is observed in man, as also in animals, competition among lions and hyenas, ape families, a war for territory, for dominion, many parasites kill their host using him as a vehicle, and so on. Also symbiosis and cooperation is observed in nature, and altruistic behavior is also observed in nature, such in dolphins rescuing or defending animals of different species (e.g. humans, pilot whales) . Scientists now are discarding the “selfish gene” idea, realizing genetic change as an active process that cells carry out on their genomes. But the fact is, that we humans are habitually observing nature through metaphors, altruism, selfishness, through the screen of ideas that divide the observer and the observed. So time intervenes in observation, and if we deny time, we might see nature as it is, competition is not to be accepted or rejected, it is a fact. Selfishness is not a thing that needs analysis through biological schools of thought, it is a fact as altruism is a fact. The problem is to see the fact and act, to see conflict and deny it, no matter if it is inherited from the animal or acquired in a gene, not seeking an answer in digging with the dagger of psychoanalysis, or biology, or any other knowledge, choice, authority.

  2. absolutely right Antonio! This post wasn’t intending to provide an intellectual argument against the idea that we are by nature selfish.. it just wanted to raise doubt regarding this idea that selfishness is a part of our nature, implying this can’t change..

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