Posted: Feb 22, 2020 1:48 pm
by zoon
jamest wrote:
felltoearth wrote:
jamest wrote:How do you hard-wire 'reciprocity' into the 'selfish gene'? Make your fucking minds up! :nono:

You need to read the book before you open your yap. Your ignorance is showing.

Maybe you should read the book yourself, as your post here implies that you have no fuckin' clue.

The first paragraph of chapter 6 in the book “The Selfish Gene” reads (my bolding):

What is the selfish gene? It is not just one single physical bit of DNA. Just as in the primeval soup, it is all replicas of a particular bit of DNA, distributed throughout the world. If we allow ourselves the licence of talking about genes as if they had conscious aims, always reassuring ourselves that we could translate our sloppy language back into respectable terms if we wanted to, we can ask the question, what is a single selfish gene trying to do? It is trying to get more numerous in the gene pool. Basically it does this by helping to program the bodies in which it finds itself to survive and tr reproduce. But now we are emphasizing that ‘it’ is a distributed agency, existing in many different individuals at once. The key point of this chapter is that a gene might be able to assist replicas of itself that are sitting in other bodies. If so, this would appear as individual altruism but it would be brought about by gene selfishness.

The bolded sentences are not just the key point of the chapter, they are the key point of the book, although they are tucked away in the middle. In jamest’s defence, it is fair to say that Dawkins spends much of the first and last chapters in “The Selfish Gene” emphasising that kin altruism on its own fails miserably to provide a theoretical background for human morality, which is largely about treating people according to the same principles, irrespective of family relationships. Kin altruism is genuine altruism, it’s seen in millions of species, and it’s reasonably straightforward to understand in terms of natural selection, but it is if anything worse than useless when attempting to put human moral systems into an evolutionary context. Kin altruism is helpful if we want to understand nepotism and racism, but, on its own, it implies that the kind of behaviour we normally think of as moral would be lost from the gene pool.

The older idea for explaining the evolution of altruism through natural selection, was group selection, not kin selection. This willingness to put the group first was Darwin’s approach to explaining the evolution both of colony insects like honeybees, and of human morality. Before the 1960s, most researchers into evolution agreed with Darwin, and could argue that morality arose from group selection. Hamilton’s work showed that for understanding natural selection, kin altruism is right and group selection (to the extent that it disagrees with kin altruism) is wrong, and his conclusion still stands. Unfortunately for people trying to reconcile morality and evolution, this clear superiority of kin altruism for explaining the mechanism of the evolution of altruism destroyed the earlier attempt at reconciliation. Dawkins meets this head-on in “The Selfish Gene”, he claims repeatedly that evolution by natural selection cannot explain morality, and that if we want to be moral, we must rise above our evolved nature (which then raises the questions, how and why?)

Evolution by natural selection is cleverer than Dawkins, writing in the 1970s, supposed. The unique human capacity for extensive cooperation through reciprocity with non-relatives is not in itself altruistic, it depends on an intelligent calculation of costs and benefits, and there’s every reason to think it evolved through natural selection; the better co-operators got more net benefits and passed on more of their genes. For reciprocity to work repeatedly and in detail, it’s necessary for at least one of the participants to be able to calculate costs and benefits not just for themselves, but for the other person as well; this is where Theory of Mind is essential for the human capacity to cooperate with non-relatives. (Understanding human brains as mechanisms is a non-starter for human-sized brains, our evolved Theory of Mind uses the short cut of assuming, generally correctly, that another person’s brain is like mine.) Once Theory of Mind had evolved, more intelligence would have enabled the multiple benefits of better cooperation, it’s likely that this is at least part of the reason why human brains became larger.

Morality appears to be, and probably is, an evolved mechanism (or collection of mechanisms) for maintaining a high level of cooperation among individuals who are not automatically altruistic towards each other. Cooperation between non-relatives is always at risk from cheating, everyone would prefer to gain the benefits from others being altruistic, while not themselves suffering the costs. Evolved morality, supplemented by thought-through legal systems, encourages group action to bring individual cheats into line; it’s this constant background threat which keeps most of us, most of the time, close enough to the strait and narrow path of virtue for a high level of cooperation to continue. This high level of cooperation can include principles which apply to everyone equally, such as not harming anyone without good reason.