"The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins

Review by Borodutch

Whenever I think about genes and selection, I remember that natural selection isn't about the active motivation of organisms — but about a lot of death. There were a lot of mutations, and millions of unfit organisms died, leading us to examine only the evidence of the ones that lived. This is precisely the survivorship bias in action. Another thing about evolution is its punctuated timeline caused by, again, loss of evidence for continuous process.

So, evolution isn't a conscious process driven by one's behavior but a selection mechanism controlled by pure luck. Whenever we say, "This gene leads to that behavior that improves the chances of the following," we mean that only this gene survived. Organisms — carriers — of all other gene variants stopped reproducing due to death or infertility.

Dawkins explores the themes of gene "selfishness" that eventually leads to the organism's altruism and how there is a difference between what organism needs to survive and what gene needs to survive. However, something put on the sidelines caught my interest. The fact that genes also control external parts of an organism's environment. For instance, how beavers build dams or how some water insects make shells from various materials. Phenotypes extending beyond one's organism are a fascinating idea worth exploring and discussing.

Richard also touched on one of my favorite topics: how memes proliferate. And yes, Dawkins used the exact word "meme" here! Information, like genes, has traits that either prolong its life or lead it to the void of obliteration.

Anyway, no matter what I can write here, "The Selfish Gene" is one of the most peculiar books. Try not to fall into the existential dread of depression after realizing that you're here to pass your genes (or just one gene — in some hypotheses) forward.