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Groundbreaking, Rich. Brilliant.
on June 11, 2011
Maybe it's a quirk in my personality, but I'm always looking for some great truth, some unifying theory. After all, if the beautiful world around us was not created by a deity (which, as an explanation, explains nothing), but by something as 'seemingly random' as evolution, then surely there must be some great code, some great pattern (essentially a natural order, a natural 'Ten Commandments, if you will) running through everything. We've always heard that 'code' is 'fit', but again, 'fit' in terms of genes doesn't explain much either. I needed a little more, so I cracked open this book thinking it would open my eyes to some genetic truth. I soon found lots of amazing things, but was met with the crude ugly truth about genetics: they are anything but a guide for morality. The 'beautiful pattern' I was seeking was nowhere to be found. We are met with a contradiction, as men and women: the very thing that gives us enjoyment, indulgence' satisfaction of a few evolutionary 'carrots'' is the opposite of what we consider 'good' and 'moral'. Originally I believed our Morality actually stems from resisting our impulses, our genetics, to separate us from lower animals. Dawkins believes that what we consider 'sophisticated society' actually comes from whatever can be sustained in equilibrium; in other words, the reason we can eat meat, but are repulsed by Cannibalism, is mostly due to the fact that, if we were Cannibals, the species would shrink and eventually go extinct. The equilibrium is for us to eat other animals.
It's also frowned upon, in modern society, to kill people. From a Genetic perspective, there's no advantage to killing people, even your rivals.. it wastes energy, and may make other rivals even stronger in rank. Reverse rationalization. Pretty much everyone one of today's social taboos comes from Genetic no-nos.
How do Genes affect our bodies, and ultimately societies? These human bodies of ours, to hear Dawkins describe it, are like sports teams that our genes 'join' in order to win a championship. You see, genes don't actually have a goal, but they are known for duplication. That's what they do. And sometimes, they do it better by 'getting along with others'. Likewise, Dawkins goes on to suggest that diseases, that ultimately need their host to survive to spread more, may 'dial back' the sickness for a while, so the 'host' (the sick patient) can live a little longer, so they can infect others. This is why effects of AIDS or Cancer don't show up until later in life. This is not a willful brilliant chess move on the part of your last 'runny nose', its just that that 'runny nose' that took a while to show up propagated more than the one that put its host in the hospital instantly.
The funny thing is, human personality, something we identify, describe and name (eg. Human Psychology and Personality Development) is backwards, its Monday Morning Quarterbacking. To hear Dawkins Describe Human Personalities, is like the IBM's Deep Blue Supercomputer walking you through its chess moves in the dismantling of the Kasparov. There is order there, we just didn't know it. An aggressive man and a passive woman, those are just two different strategies. The inclination to see the good in people is really just another strategy. It turns out that we too, represent multiple genetic options. He with the better strategy wins' he'll get the money, he'll get multiple sexual partners, spread his genes, and be very strong and confident. And the personalities/strategies, like viruses, that are more effective, spread.
Speaking of personality and morality, what about lying? Do animals ever tell lies? It turns out that when baby chicks chirp louder, they get more food. The mum assumes the hungriest chicks will chirp the loudest. That's right, we didn't (sorry Ricky) invent lying. Animals have been doing it for ages. And when an Animal discovers that its colors protect it (because it looks like a vicious competitor), it's lying too. And exploits the lie.
Besides spreading genetic code, we like to spread ideas. Perhaps you've heard this term floating around the Internet: Memes. Memes are good, bad, stupid ideas, that either catch on, or they vanish, evaporate. And Memes have a pretty cool feature, that, like Genes, they can replicate (very quickly, like this 'Boy Slams Bully' Video which caught fire a couple months ago) by replicating in other people's minds. I can even speak an idea, and 50,000 people can hear it, or write something on the web (or in the sand, on a beach) and people can come back later and read it. The Meme, thought, duplicates, and that's why it's powerful.
Interestingly, that makes two things that can replicate, Genes and Memes. Memes are the takeoff of evolution, dovetailing into technology, that got us driving 100 miles an hour, and flying up in the sky, not with strong legs, or broad wings, but, technology. Bad ideas are trashed and good ideas are copied and improved upon (patent system be damned).
When we die, Dawkins says, we leave these two things behind, Genes and Memes. Is this all we can achieve in this mortal coil? To raise a family, pass on our code, and leave some imprint on the world, make some mark, be a world famous athlete, scientist, discoverer, pop star or military hero? Shall we be judged not by memories of our loved ones, but by our 'meme'-richness (or Cosmic Google ranking)? In the search for eternal life, it would seem so. All that matters is great ideas. In terms of unifying theories, it's a little weak but there is some justice to it.
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