Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Richard Dawkins "The selfish gene"

If someone asks me to describe this book in one sentence, I will answer: "This book is about how life works".  By "how life works" I mean, that you can find approaches to solving the problems there as well as the roots of your problems, and also how other species solve these problems and how these problems emerged. Yes, technically this book is about evolution, but between the lines, you can catch so many things, that it will take some time to understand what've you just read.

First thing, that you should employ when you read "The Selfish Gene" is the scientific way of thinking. That means that there is nothing you can trust. Any theory, any explanation needs proof. And you will get it in "The Selfish Gene". A lot. If you don't trust Richard Dawkins there is a huge bibliography where you can find the answers that you are looking for. Another step of the scientific way of thinking is that you need to dig deeper. You don't want to explain things in general. You want to find an atom. The inseparable brick. You want to find an explanation that doesn't need explanation, as scientists of all times wanted to find an inseparable piece of matter. We want to explain why are we so as we are and why evolution exists and what is the natural selection.

Replicators are the small molecules that can produce themselves. No one knows how they emerged (there is a theory in a book, but I will not put it here) but these small things started to create themselves. Since there were a lot of different molecules, and some of them dissolved others, replicators started to grow shields from protein around themselves. Time passed and they grew the whole human bodies around themselves (and animal bodies of course), and humans, when they found replicators in their body named it DNA.

It is really hard to explain what is DNA, but you can imagine it as beads where beads have different colors. Imagine that these beads form a code, like binary code, but a bit more complicated, which tells how should creature around it look and behave. For some reason, some creatures decided to shuffle beads, generating the new code, before creating the child. Shuffling is not very complicated and leaves some pieces as they were before shuffling. That means that some piece of code will be the same between child and parent. That is my own interpretation of gene. Gene is a piece of code that persist for some generations. Genes are the bricks that our body and mind built of. Genes are the atoms.

I said about binary code, previously. What the code is usually for? For programming! That means that genes program us as like we were computers. We have a program inside and we behave exactly like we were programmed. More than that, we write new pieces of code by producing our sex cells, where we shuffle our own program. Sounds insane, right? But that is how it works.

We are the robots, programmed by our genes as well as animals, insects and other lifeforms. This is the basic thing that book tells us.  The other thing is selfishness. And that is the mechanism of surviving in natural selection. The only goal of replicator to produce itself in as many copies as it can. That means that every lifeforms main goal is to produce as many copies of its genes as it can. I will not write here all varieties and methods of achieving this goal, just because even Dawkins's book is too big with less than one percent of these things. The only thing that should be remembered is that genes don't have any mind or something. They don't feel any altruism (even if they use it to survive). The only thing that they care about is producing themselves.

Another super interesting theory from "The selfish gene" is a meme. Dawkins invented this term as an analog of the gene but for culture. A meme is a persistent cultural brick, that survives in our mind and has the only one goal - to produce itself. Imagine the long symphony. It is obviously too long to remember, but there is a moment, perhaps several seconds which you remember, because it is very cool. Then you are going and starting to whistle this melody and give it to your friends to listen. That's it. The symphony is DNA, but the meme is only that small piece that persists in your mind and tries to produce itself in minds of other people using your communicative skills. That is what we see on the internet now, and even marketing use it calling virus marketing. Dawkins says that our culture is driven by memes and our language consists of memes as well, same like our body and behavior are driven by genes.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. It is very easy to read and contains the huge amount of interesting facts about animal behavior and wild nature. Our world is an amazing and mystery place, and I guess it is more interesting to explore than any fairy tale or fantasy book. If you still think what to read in your free time "The selfish gene" is the best choice. 10/10.