River Out of Eden – Dawkins

This was a really enjoyable read from Dawkins before he became the poster-child of atheism.

However, if you are interested in learning more about evolution and DNA then I would recommend The Selfish Gene by Dawkins instead. It’s much more comprehensive and useful.

A beautiful read regardless.

Notes

  • Evolution does not always create the most efficient society (efficient at reproduction), but one where the expenditure cost to raising a male or female is equal over the average.
  • I said to Brian that capitalism is “natural” in that it is an efficiency maximiser similar to natural selection. But evolution is not always an efficiency maximiser. In many respects traits and behaviours have evolved that on the whole are inefficient but maximise DNA propagation.
  • Natural selection is a foremost a reproduction maximiser, and then only secondly an efficiency maximizer.
  • Good gene effects have a tendency to take effect early in life while negative effecting genes have a tendency to show late in life. If bad genes surfaced before reproduction then they would prevent their propagation, while good genes post reproduction are useles.

Quotes

  • “Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent.”
  • “This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous—indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.”
  • “When the obsession with purpose becomes pathological it is called paranoia—reading malevolent purpose into what is actually random bad luck.”
  • “I expressed all these reasonings in terms of “decisions” of individual animals but, to repeat, this is just shorthand. What is really going on is that genes “for” maximizing grandchildren become more numerous in the gene pool. The world becomes full of genes that have successfully come down the ages. How should a gene be successful in coming down the ages other than by influencing the decisions of individuals so as to maximize their numbers of descendants? Fisher’s sex-ratio theory tells us how this maximizing should be done, and it is very different from maximizing the economic welfare of the species or population. There is a utility function here, but it is far from the utility function that would spring to our human economic minds.”
  • “Why are forest trees so tall? Simply to overtop rival trees. A “sensible” utility function would see to it that they were all short. They would get exactly the same amount of sunlight, with far less expenditure on thick trunks and massive supporting buttresses. But if they were all short, natural selection couldn’t help favoring a variant individual that grew a little taller. The ante having been upped, others would have to follow suit. Nothing can stop the whole game escalating until all trees are ludicrously and wastefully tall. It is ludicrous and wasteful only from the point of view of a rational economic planner thinking in terms of maximizing efficiency.”
  • “At a cocktail party, you shout yourself hoarse. The reason is that everybody else is shouting at top volume. If only the guests could come to an agreement to whisper, they’d hear one another exactly as well with less voice strain and less expenditure of energy. But agreements like that don’t work unless they are policed. Somebody always spoils it by selfishly talking a bit louder, and, one by one, everybody has to follow suit. A stable equilibrium is reached only when everybody is shouting as loudly as physically possible, and this is much louder than required from a “rational” point of view. Time and again, cooperative restraint is thwarted by its own internal instability. God’s Utility Function seldom turns out to be the greatest good for the greatest number. God’s Utility Function betrays its origins in an uncoordinated scramble for selfish gain.”
  • “A Rolls Royce is a respectable car to manufacture and so is a Model T, but for a different price. The trick is to make sure that either the whole car is built to Rolls Royce specifications or the whole car is built to Model T specifications. If you make a hybrid car, with some components of Model T quality and some components of Rolls Royce quality, you are getting the worst of both worlds, for the car will be thrown away when the weakest of its components wears out, and the money spent on high-quality components that never get time to wear out is simply wasted.”
  • “Genes don’t care about suffering, because they don’t care about anything.”

sebastiankade

Sebastian Kade, Founder of Sumry and Author of Living Happiness, is a software designer and full-stack engineer. He writes thought-provoking articles every now and then on sebastiankade.com

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