Re: Sociobiological Concepts

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Sun Nov 02 1997 - 12:37:24 GMT

> From: alexandra beck <>
> O.k. I haven't read all the book but so far I have gathered that we
> are all machines created by our genes. Genes are selfish, they have
> to be in order to survive and exist in the next survival machine
> (us). Consequently genes outlive their survival machines.

Because immortality is probably not a good survival strategy: Better to
try to replicate repeatedly than just to stick around and wait till
something (inevitably) wipes you out. The reason genes are replicators
rather than survivors is because it was replication that kicked off the
whole game of life, not just "being there."

> Genes also want the best for their survival machine in that genes need
> to continue onto the next generation and therefore, need to reproduce.

As long as you remember that "wants" here is only a metaphor for a
blind, mindless causal process, rather like the erosion of the banks of
a river. (The river did not "want" to erode the rock; it just happened.)

> Aggression may not be the most optimistic way of doing this as it has
> high costs.

I think you mean "not the optimal way" here (genes are neither optimists
nor pessimists!). In any case, at this early stage "aggression" has
nothing to with it; we have to wait till organisms evolve that can be
aggressive with one another. At this point we are just talking about how
blind, mindless replicators manage to replicate successfully.

> Ess, includes a variety of complex behaviour which are
> non aggressive. Ess is a strategy that can't lose (Read the others
> email ).

No, you should avoid sending kid-sib to read elsewhere if you
can tell it in a few words:

An Evolutionarily Stable Strategy (ESS) is one that cannot be defeated
by a rival strategy once the first ESS has dispersed in the population
(i.e., once virtually all the organisms use it.)

I'm not sure why you keep mentioning aggression: Some ESSs involve
aggression, but most of the ones discussed by Dawkins do not.

(Could it be the metaphor of "invading" a strategy that made you think
of aggression? What this refers to is a population of organisms that are
programmed genetically to use some strategy (e.g., "reciprocate" in game
theory), but a gene coding for another strategy turns out to be able to
do better than this strategy, so it spreads in the gene pool and the
genes for the first strategy die out or become less numerous. There is
no "aggression" involved here.)

> As females produce fewer gametes they take more care over them than
> males do. Males seem more interested in increasing the number of their
> genes in the next generation.

Both sexes are "interested" (unconsciously, as dictated by their
selfish genes) in getting as many as possible of their offspring to
survive to reproduce. It's just that the female is designed to maximise
"caring" by minimising "bearing," whereas the male is designed to (try
to) maximise bearing by minimising caring.

(In reality, males and females of species that require caring by both
mother and father to survive -- e.g., many species of birds -- must
both use the caring strategy for their joint brood, but it pays the
male to inseminate other females so their mate is tricked into helping
to rear genes that are not his own. A female may try to secretly mate
with a male other than her partner if he is attractive to her ( =
shows signs of fitness), but this is less common, and if discovered by
the male, may cause him to destroy the eggs in his own nest and to
drive off his mate to seek another, which, for pair-bonding birds
probably means losing any opportunity to reproduce at all. Hence minimal
"adultery" is expected in both sexes of such birds, but less minimal in
the male than the female.)

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