Physical Anthropology

What is Evolution



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The Selfish Gene: Review

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins was first published in 1976. Even after 31 years of its first publication, it remains an international best seller. Dawkins, an expert in his field (Evolutionary Biology) explains complex biological ideas in a very interesting and lucid way so that even a layman can understand him.

In essence, this book explains the theory of evolution by natural selection from genes' action point of view. He explains, through numerous examples that the ultimate goal of any gene is to survive in future generations. To do so, the genes adapt to the environment and if necessary resort to "exploitation" and "deceit"; and hence the name "Selfish Gene". The genes that are thus successful in adapting favourably towards the changing environment are selected by the nature and they pass on to the future generations. Others just get annihilated.

Genes of course do not have any mind or conscience and they do not behave selfishly at their will. Genes are just chromosomal DNA sequences which can not choose to behave in either selfish or in altruistic way. So when we say that a gene is deceitful, it means that its external manifestation (phenotype) looks different from its actual "motive" (i.e., the way of functioning). The animals possessing such gene get advantage in survival (either in terms of fining food or mate or in terms of deceiving the enemies) over others who possess the non-deceitful version of this gene. Thus these animals have more chance of surviving and producing healthy offspring some of whom carry the same deceitful gene. In this way the deceitful gene gets carried from generation to generation and its selfish motive of survival is satisfied. This is just how the nature works...in a ruthless, exploitative and deceitful way, where every gene "wants" to triumph over the others for their own survival. Throughout his book, with the help of many examples, Dawkins has shown the apparent altruistic behaviour of some animals (like worker bee sacrificing their life to save the hive) is also in fact selfish from their genes' perspective.

In this book, Dawkins repeatedly said this so called selfish behaviour of genes have nothing to do with selfish or altruistic behaviour of human being in the society. He never said that selfishness or ruthlessness is there in our genes. Human behaviour or psychology is a completely different subject and has nothing to do with genetic adaptation or natural selection. This is a book on evolutionary biology and genetics, not on morality and ethics. Yet, time and again, some people have accused him of advocating the selfishness. But these accusations are completely baseless.

This is a marvellous book written in a very lucid and free flowing way and it has all the gripping quality of a good suspense thriller! People's whole outlook towards the nature and the animal world might change after reading this interesting book. This book has been translated into many languages and acclaimed very good critical reviews. This is a fantastic piece of scientific literature which is scientifically authentic and enjoyable to read at the same time.




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