Re: "The Selfish Gene"

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Fri Nov 07 1997 - 22:35:59 GMT

> On Mon, 20 Oct 1997, Alexandra Bilak wrote:

> I'm not sure I've quite understood the idea of selfishness as related
> to genes. Is it simply that genes compete against one another in order
> to promote survival and thus competence of their survival machine?

It's even simpler than that: It's "Nothing succeeds like success." The
successful "strategies" (coded for by successful genes) are only those
that help the gene replicate. It will only help other genes or other
survival machines if helping them helps itself to replicate. That's what
the "selfishness" of the gene refers to.

> From what I gathered, the idea of selfish genes is closely related to that
> of ESSs, in that an evolutionary stable strategy is embodied within any
> selfish-gene trait. By the idea of stability, it is implied that if the
> strategy works, this means that it has not been invaded by other
> competing genes using other strategies. An ESS, then, is the product of
> influences of selfish genes combined to the outside world on the
> survival and reproductive abilities of their survival machines.

That's more or less right. ESSs are traits that genes encode, that
are spread in the population, and that cannot be bettered by other
strategies. ESS's like everything else that succeeds, succeed in the
sense that they help genes replicate; as such they (like all genetic
traits, including altruism) are really "selfish."

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Feb 13 2001 - 16:23:08 GMT