Re: Sociobiological Concepts

From: Nik Bollons (
Date: Thu Oct 09 1997 - 17:04:55 BST

I found the seminar on the 'Selfish Gene' really interesting,
but seeing as I have not read it, I think I may have
misunderstood some of the points we covered.

1) In the primordial soup there were a number of these simple
celled ^—unit things^“ making exact copies of themselves. Where
then, do we get lots of different types of these unit things
from? As if they were all making ^—exact copies^“ of themselves
then there would be no difference between them all? Does it
come from mutations that occur in the copying process - i.e.
those units that need other units to reproduce? Or does it
come from the primordial soup environment (radiation?).

2) Say that we do have 20 different types of simple units
living in this primordial environment - including two types
of unit that have, by mutation, developed a heat resistance
outer-wall, and Gianni^“s ^—eternal being thing^“ (which is ^—top
dog^“). Now, if the environment changes - raises temperature -
nearly all of the units will be killed (including the eternal
being); except for the two which have developed this heat
resistance outer-wall. Are the points that, 1) these heat
resistant units did not consciously build these walls, they
just happened to suit the environment when it changed? And 2)
the environment is never constant, and continually changes.
Thus it taking a huge and diverse population - with perhaps
one being enjoying hegemony, the ^—eternal being^“ - and
nearly kills them all off apart from a few suitable units? If
this is correct, a similar analogy would be that of the
extinction of the Dinosaurs and the rising of the mammal in
evolutionary history.

3) Therefore, if the above is true, then one should look at
evolutionary stable strategies (ESS) in the context of time
and environment, rather than their actual existence. What is
evolutionary stable in one environment, may not be stable in
the next. The ^—eternal being^“ and the dinosaurs had an
evolutionary stable strategy/ strategies (I mean, they were
around for millions of years - which is pretty stable) but in
the end their strategy was not fitting (successful) to the
new environment. Humans can be quite happy because their
strategies have been successful up to the present day, but
that does not mean they may be successful in the next million
years or so. Or, have I got this totally wrong? And an
evolutionary stable strategy is only one that has been
successful up until this point in time? In which case the
dinosaurs would not be able to class themselves as having an
evolutionary stable strategy because their strategy is not
stable, it^“s non-existent.

4) I think the main point I pulled out of the talk - which I
think is a most simple but fascinating point, if I got it
right - was that of a removal of the notion of species. There
is, according to Dawkins, no such thing as a species, or a
species having success in evolutionary terms. But it is the
collection of genes within that species that are the
successful things. That is, a gene in a species that codes
for a specific trait is the successful thing, rather than the
species who act out the trait. Coupled with this, is the fact
that all the different species on this planet do share
similar traits - for example, human mothers and ape mothers
raising their offspring. Therefore, we should not see one
species as separate from another, but the two as having
similar traits which come from their respective genes.

5) Is the crux of the whole thing that, genes code for a
specific physical or behaviour characteristic. Behavioral
characteristics become evolutionary stable strategies - such
as looking after your young - through natural selection and
the past environment. But success should not be bestowed on
the species, or the ESS, it should go onto the genes
themselves because they are the cause of both of these. In
this way we can see evolutionary stable strategies and
genetic traits in one species (humans) also appear in another
(apes, mice, whales).

I^“m sure it is a lot more complicated than this, and my
deduction is wrong, but I^“ll give it a go anyway.

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