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Lecture 7

ANTHROP 3HI3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 7: Gene Page, Selfishness, The Selfish Gene

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Priscilla Medeiros

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Chapter 1 Why are people?
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o The intelligence of a life form is evaluated by whether or not they
have discovered evolution
o Darwin was the first to put together a coherent account of why we
o Evolution is not very disputed in todays society, but its significance is
not fully understood; zoology is a minority subject in universities and
philosophy doesnt focus much on Darwins theory of evolution
o This book will explore the consequences of the evolution theory for a
particular issue, rather than focus on general advocacy for Darwinism
o PURPOSE: To examine the biology of selfishness and altruism
o The human importance of this subject is centered on our social lives,
love/hate, fighting/cooperating, etc.
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o Lorenz, Ardrey, and Eibl-Eibesfeldt misunderstood how evolution
works they made the ERRONEOUS assumption that the important
thing in evolution is the good of the species (or the group) rather than
the good of the individual (or the gene)
o The argument of this book is that we, and all other animals, are
machines created by our genes
o Our genes have survived in a highly competitive world
o A predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless
o Gene selfishness gives rise to selfishness in individual behavior
o There are circumstances where a gene can achieve its own selfish
goals best by fostering a limited form of altruism at the level of
individual animals
o Universal welfare of the species as a whole does not make
evolutionary sense
o 1. This book is NOT advocating a form of morality based on evolution
Dawkins is not saying how humans ought to behave, he is saying
that a human society based simple on the genes law of selfishness
could end up in this way
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o Genetically inherited traits ARE modifiable (i.e.; it may be more
difficult to learn altruism since we are genetically programmed to be
selfish, but it isnt impossible
o Among animals, man is uniquely dominated by culture and learned
influences some would say that culture is so important that it
overrides genes in the understanding of human nature
o 2. This book is NOT an advocacy of one position or another in the
nature/nurture controversy
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o 3. This book is NOT a descriptive account of the detailed behavior of
man or of any other animal species
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o Altruism definition: An entity is said to be altruistic if it behaves in
such a way as to increase another such entitys welfare at the expense
of its own selfish behavior has the opposite effect
o Welfare is defined as chances of survival, even if the effect on actual
chances of survival SEEMS negligible
Even tiny influences on survival probability can have a major
impact on evolution
o The above definitions of altruism and selfishness are behavioral, not
subjective Dawkins doesnt care about the psychology of motives;
we can never know if an organism is REALLY doing it for
secret/subconscious selfish motives
o Definition of altruism only concerned with whether the effect of an act
is to lower or raise the survival prospects of the presumed altruists
and beneficiary
o It is hard to demonstrate the effects of behavior on long-term survival
o An apparently altruistic act is one that looks, superficially, as if it must
tend to make the altruist most likely to die, and the recipient more
likely to survive (however slightly)
It often turns out that acts of apparent altruism are really
selfishness in disguise
o Ex; Blackheaded gulls
Nest in large colonies, nests are only a few feet apart
When the chicks first hatch, they are small and easy to swallow
)t is common for a gull to eat its neighbors chicks – obtains a
good meal without having to leave its own nest unprotected
o Ex; Female praying mantis cannibalism
Mantises normally eat smaller insects such as flies, but will
attack almost anything
When they mate, the male mounts the female and copulates;
often, the female will eat the male by biting his head off, either
as the male is approaching, or immediately after he mounts, or
after they separate
The loss of the males head does not throw him off his sexual
stride the insect head is the seat of some inhibitory nerve
centers, so its possible that the female improves the males
sexual performance by eating his head (this is an added
benefit, in addition to the fact that she gets a good meal)
o Ex; Cowardly behavior of emperor penguins in Antarctic
Have been seen standing on the edge of the water, hesitating
before diving in, because of the danger of being eaten by seals
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So, they wait until a penguin jumps, and sometimes try to push
each other in
o More commonly, selfish behavior is classified as not sharing a valued
resource such as good, territory, or sexual partners
o Ex; stinging behavior of worker bees
Effective defense against honey robbers
But in the act of stinging, the bees vital internal organs are
torn out of the body and the bee dies soon afterwards
Suicide may preserve colonys vital good stocks, but she herself
is dead
This is an altruistic behavioral act by our definition
remember, we are not talking about conscious motives
o Ex; Small birds give alarm calls
Many small birds, when they see a predator, give an alarm
call, upon which the whole flock takes evasive action
There is indirect evidence that the bird who gives the alarm
call puts itself in danger because it attracts the predators
This is only a slight additional risk, but it seems to qualify as an
altruistic act by our definition
o Ex; parents and children
The commonest and most conspicuous acts of animal altruism
are done by parents, especially mothers, towards their children
They may incubate them, either in nests or their own bodies,
feed, and take risks in protecting them
Ex; many ground-nesting birds perform a distraction display,
where the parent bird mimics being injured in front of a
predator, and gives up its pretense at the last second to escape
the predator
o Chosen examples are never used as serious evidence for any
o Individual selfishness and individual altruism are explained by the
FUNDAMENTAL LAW that Dawkins calls gene selfishness
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Based on the misconception that living creatures evolve to do
things for the good of the species or for the good of the group
Perpetuation of the species is a consequence of reproduction,
so the function of reproduction is to perpetuate the species
Evolution works by natural selection, and natural selection
means differential survival of the fittest – but are we talking
about the fittest individuals, races, species, or what?
Basically, a group (species) has a better chance of
survival if individual members are prepared to sacrifice
themselves for the good of the group, rather than a
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