Very stylish and lucid. I liked the writing.
Who controls whom ? It is difficult to say. I will say that this is one of my favourite topics along with ethics and media. My understanding is that it is very tough to say who controls whom. The basic premise of natural selection says "the survival or the fittest". So genes are allowed to mutate in any which fashion they happen to. However, only that gene will survive that can propagate itself due to natural selection. This has been happening over millions and millions of years shaping us in ways that are better and better and better able to survive. So it is right to say that all of us are unconsciously hardwired to want to propagate our genes, because if we were not so, we would not survive millions of ears of natural selection.
I think what most of us don't realise that The Selfish Gene is not just a great book explaining evolutionary theory to lay people. When it was published, it was, despite not presenting any new original research, was a bombshell in terms of re-organizing the way scientists themselves looked at evolution. The 'gene's-eye view' was not common even down to the 90s. The Selfish Gene by clearly arguing for utilizing this view made a big difference. I think, in many ways, its the redefining of a paradigm that Dawkins has done which though already 'discovered' and reported in literature was not realised and accepted by the scientific community.
Wow, I can't understand what the hell he's talking about. Must be a brilliant book!
Dear Mr Richard Dawkins,
I ahve discovered you trough the "God delusion" where you tackle issues that have been puzzling me over years and I was so happy to see that i am not alone in my dilemas and beliefs (or the lack of it), :).
I have just read your "Selfish gene", I wish I had read it earlier , but hey, i am from Kosovo, i.e. ex-Yugoslavia and we were busy ensuring the survival of our genes as good vehicles that we are (there is no irony here just fyi, :) ).
There are so many things that go through my mind while I read everything that you wrote, but one thing is really puzzling me heavily. That is the question of "Do genes learn?" and moreover, "Are they able to pass on what they learned (that is if they did) to the next generations?".
You see, the more I think about it, the more convinced I get that evolution with genes that would not be capable of learning would be much different from the one that we are experiencing and going through. While i am not trying to dispute the "survival of the stablest" or "survival of the fittest" I somehow have a problem to accept that that is the only premise on which life as we know it on earth has evolved. If you ask me for deductive reasoning I could describe it as follows. We see insects that have the shape and colors of the leaves common in their habitat and explain this with the fact that these are the survivors and all other related species of those insects that have mutated to some other shape must have been exterminated by predators. But the question that I have is, how do mutations "know" which shape to try to imitate. Why are there no mutations of insects developing a shape of the human ear for example. The fact that the mutations happen in the direction of approximation to the shape of the leave seems more to me more than genetic gambling over millions of years having as end result organisms or vehicles that imitate one another in shape and color so as to cheat the predators. I just saw on a TV documentary how some leaves develop on their leavs an extension that looks like insects eggs with the aim that no insects drop their eggs on them i.e. the insects will think that some other insect has dropped eggs and that there will be not enogh food for their baby if there is someone there already. Now, how did that plant come (by chance) to develop a shape that is exactly in shape and color like the insects eggs. Why did it not develop various shapes (one of which could by mere chance be similar to a human ear) so that we could see that all those wrong shapes are going extinct i.e. not surviving. Of course this latter statement is an oversimplification of my idea but I hope you do understand my dilema and what I am hinting to. I think I could use half of your own examples of evolution and survival of the stablest and use them (by chosing the right deduction steps) to argue that genes do learn and that this knowledge is passed on to the next generation. But let us not full ourselves, this learning is in quantity and pace zillions times smaller and slower than the 'cultural learning" that we humans gain and pass on through our culture and "memes".
Ah, talking about memes, yes, if genes are so good in survival that they have come up with very complicated and sophisticated survival machines such as ourselves or insects, why should they not be able to use those machines to perceive the world through those very machines and use those perceptions to design a better machine in the next cycle using memes (or maybe memes using genes) i.e. every time the genes go back to the drawing board (to use your beautiful analogy) they simply "say", - Ok, in the previous cycle (life) x, y and z went well while X, Y and Z went wrong. Let us do modifications a, b and c and see whether X,Y and Z work better in the next cycle. And since we are not very sure about the external factors that will influence our survival machine, let us do more instances of modified vehicles (i.e. more children) and those that are stablest (or fittest) will survive (if not all). Thus, the better the genes are in predictions of the external factors that will influence their survival machines the better their chances for survival. Which, we could conclude, makes the "learning" attribute of the genes as important as the ability to replicate. I think first came the replication, which lead to the pre-medieval soup as you call it. But in order for this soup to evolve to "survival machines", there must have been a molecule that (by chance - or maybe not) started to "remember" what went wrong in the previous replicating cycle in terms of survival and tries to remedy this in the next replicating cycle. Of course this is one possible scenario. Everything further to this in evolution is a matter of replication, remembering, learning, modifying (mutating) the design for replication in the next cycle (life) using the learned material - and all in the name of surviving as a gene for as long as it gets. This is of course the gene's perspective, and if we accept your theory of existence of memes, than genes use memes in order to better themselves in surviving. However, from the perspective of memes, they might be using genes (who are so good in spreading through their survival machines/vehicles) to spread as far as possible throughout universe if you want. I hope the latter statement is not taken as exaggerated, at the end of the day, e humans are sending radio signals to potential extraterrestrials in universe. Even if there are no other intelligent being to capture them, the memes are being spread. And that is the ultimate purpose of both genes and memes - to spread as far as possible in time-space.
I think if we would develop this further, we could even conclude that there is no such a thing as a gene in reality or a meme. To use the analogy of the space-time term, we could maybe in reality only speak about meme-genes as an inseparable thing. It seems to me that most fundamental things in nature have such dual nature, like the light e.g. it is corpuscular and a wave at the same time, space it seems is inseparable from time and vice versa. It could be very possible that genes without memes can not have a real meaning (and vice versa) and that this is an inseparable term trapped in an eternal marriage.
The next question I would ask is then, what came first, memes or genes, or did they come to be in existence at the same time.
Oh, I need to think about survival now, have some dinner, my genes are asking and my memes are acting
Sincerely looking for your reply to this dilemma. Regardless of your response, remaining a big fan of yours.
I have created a group in flickr for artistic photographs where only those accepted by all art juror - members remain. I think it is a nice modest model of evolution. Only those that are"accepted" or stable survive (btw not necessarily the best pictures posted to the pool), there is no collective conscience of the group, but individual members are learning - though very slowly and with a lot of frustration what survives and what not.
This is where people post, and what you see are those pictures that survive. But th members that post are not blind, they do look once in a while what is surviving from their pictures nd compare with other surivors and than try to adapt their style to be liked by everyone. Note that some very, very talented photographers tried the game and left very frustrated because they were not ready to adapt and change and they found the fact that some people may not like their art as horrifying.
with best regards
I am posting this letter also in my personal blog just for the sake of record,