"You keep speaking as if evolution is a numbers game in the sense that the genes with the most copies win. I don't think that's quite right. There is no winning evolution or if it is it's that your genes survive. There are many more bacteria in the world than there are humans or sharks but I personally feel that humans should feel pretty good about themselves and sharks oughta feel really good about themselves. I don't think more copies is the right metric (if we have to choose metrics at all)."I was sure he'd disagree on the grounds that I was overstating his point about "winning", but apparently he had no concerns about that part:
"You keep speaking as if evolution is a numbers game in the sense that the genes with the most copies win. "This seems surprisingly wrong to me and weirdly teleological. First, I don't have any particular disagreement with his supposition, although I would note that the brute force method of simply maximizing reproduction can introduce obstacles to survival of the gene too (think about cancer - it does pretty well for itself until it kills its host). But sure, brute force is one way to make more of yourself. That was never really the issue.
Yes. That's what reproductive success aka fitness is. It wins in the sense that its genes become more frequent in the population, with the result that later generations are more like it.
Suppose someone who has the normal inclination to truck and barter also has the objective of maximizing the number of children he produces and rears as productive individuals capable of themselves producing and rearing children, instead of the objective of maximizing his own utility with a reasonably conventional utility function. Further suppose that this objective is hardwired into his genes, so that his descendants are likely to have the same objective.
My claim is that, over time, the number of people with that gene, hence the number who behave that way, will increase. Do you disagree?
You might find it worth actually reading _The Selfish Gene_, which I gather from your earlier comment you haven't done. I may be mistaken, but it sounds as though you have a seriously confused picture of how evolutionary biology works."
The issue is whether that's some kind of Darwinian golden ticket. Since natural selection hasn't selected that particular trait, that ought to give us pause I think.
Now as I noted to Friedman earlier I'm perfectly familiar with the argument of The Selfish Gene although I haven't read it. I don't deal with evolutionary biology day in and day out so I may have a slip of the tongue on genetic vs. species level phenomena every once in a while - particularly when talking more casually - but that seems minor compared to what Friedman is doing here. Evolution by natural selection is simply the point that the genes that are able to survive will survive. Persistence is the fundamental question. Will a gene persist or not? Prevalence is obviously relevant to persistence to a certain extent, but natural selection has little to say about what level of prevalence is good or bad except insofar as it contributes to persistence.
This is Dawkins's perspective, as far as I'm aware.
He repeatedly refers to both organisms and genes as "survival machines". The point is to survive, not to make more copies of yourself than anything else.
“We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.”Or:
“Was there to be any end to the gradual improvement in the techniques and artifices used by the replicators to ensure their own continuation in the world? There would be plenty of time for improvement. What weird engines of self-preservation would the millennia bring forth? Four thousand million years on, what was to be the fate of the ancient replicators?Or:
They did not die out, for they are past masters of the survival arts. But do not look for them floating loose in the sea; they gave up that cavalier freedom long ago. Now they swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control.
They are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.
“Prediction in a complex world is a chancy business. Every decision that a survival machine takes is a gamble, and it is the business of genes to program brains in advance so that on average they take decisions that pay off. The currency used in the casino of evolution is survival, strictly gene survival"Now I'm just utilizing google here, but I didn't find anything suggesting that Dawkins thinks that you win evolution by making more copies of yourself than anyone else. Repeatedly the concern is with persistence and survival. Indeed in a weird Paul Ehrlich type moment Dawkins gets very worried about human overpopulation and the threat it poses to the survival of the species. That's hardly the sort of view that Friedman is promoting.
Perhaps I have badly misunderstood evolution and Dawkins, but I really don't think so (at least as far as it concerns the subject here - I'm sure there's plenty else I misunderstand). I don't usually feel comfortable making the sort of sweeping pronouncements that David made about me, but I'm beginning to wonder if he fundamentally misunderstands it.