Dr Beetle: I consider that the new definition for selfishness only strengthens my case that the concept of the existence of selfish genes is a belief, not science. Dawkins wrote his book some 30 years ago, and a great many genes have been mapped and identified in that time. But still, no one can actually point at a selfish gene, I think, because they do not exist. I do not believe in god, religion, or selfish genes. Perhaps because a selfish gene cannot actually be found, the definition has had to be broadened and watered-down, to become any behavior that raises the survival prospects of the genes. This means virtually anything and everything, so that the definition is now unhelpful and meaningless. This move suggests the real motivation behind branding nature as selfish, as not science, but to reflect an anthroprudic (more beetle) attitude to life that I do not feel or agree with. Eating, even waking up in the morning, is now selfish because it improves your chance or the gene's chance of survival. To me, selfishness is trying to raise your stakes at the expense of others, which might at times seem to occur in nature, but the examples seen are human misinterpretations that can be understood in a completely different light. If no gene can be pin pointed as selfish, then selfishness must arise at a higher level of organization in the body, from a group of genes acting in concert, which is similar to arguing that selfishness can only occur in a mind (which I agree with). But the aim of my web pages is to show the importance of wildness to survival. Being wild means you must be attuned (although it sounds corny, animals really are 'one with nature). You cannot be attuned to the core and selfish at the same time. Cheers.

Commentator 1: Generally speaking, eating, even waking up in the morning is selfish, because it improves the genes chances of survival. But these acts do not comprise virtually everything, rather a theoretical half where the other component is altruism (acts that decrease the chances of survival of the genes).

Dawkins never suggested that genes are selfish in the sense most people define it. Words are our servants, not our masters and according to the ideas in the book the situation is the complete opposite of your view: no altruistic gene has been yet found, all are selfish. The latter isn't a useless statement, but of great importance. Dawkin's definition of a gene is nonintuitive and doesn't necessarily correspond to a cistron, so I suggest reading the book again.

Dr Beetle: I do not believe in altruistic genes either, so failure to find one is not excuse for also failing to find the other. On the definition of selfishness, there are many words available from which to choose to get nearer to the definition really meant behind selfish genes. Giving new meaning to selfishness is confusing to the public (and beetles!), and will regularly run into misinterpretation. Biologists seem to do this a lot, for example, 'fit' does not mean athletic but most suited. 'Struggle for survival' does not actually mean that animals are struggling - animals live comfortably as shown by the rarity of their stress related illnesses compared to humans. And 'exploiting relationships' does not mean 'taking others to the cleaners', but finding a way to work together in a mutually beneficial way.

If selfish does not mean selfish, but something broader, then I imagine that the new meaning is that genes are positive or seek to function, which is fine and what I agree they do. So why not just call them positive or functioning genes, rather than selfish genes, as this also gives a more uplifting slant on life and nature and is closer to what a wild animal feels. If you say no, the genes also try to select themselves above the others, then you are moving back into my earlier definition of selfishness, which I do not believe exists in nature for the reasons given earlier. I agree that genes replicate and record information that will go into future generations, but simply doing that is not selfish but functioning. It might seem that saying genes are selfish will explain why worker bees give up their ability to reproduce for the good of the queen. But it is better to say that the environment selects the most suitable replicating genes for the next generation. The genes do not select themselves in a selfish way. The environment selects, so the genes have to 'appeal' to the environment by being attuned or open to its changing developments. The environment cannot be selfish because it contains to many parts. So where is the origin of selfishness in life? My answer is that it arises out of the restrictions and errors that humans have allowed fill their minds. Those minds now see ugliness, selfishness and problems as 'natural', but these can just as easily disappear like a puff of illusion if only humans could start thinking naturally instead. The world, and the hearts of people, is a better place than this book suggests.


Commentator 2: Dear Dr Beetle, with regards to your comments on the selfish gene matter:

Your comments confuse me in one particular aspect. You assume that "animals" are governed by their environment and that they are in tune with nature. But they had to have become that way some how. It is generally excepted that evolution is the way any form of life adapts to it's surroundings. In saying this I mean that only the strongest and fittest creatures managed to make it through the couple of million years before our planet decided to take a rest from evolving itself. (Not that it really has, it is merely easier for carbon based life to hack it on the planet these days, and that's only the species that managed to make it through the "early days"). In which case, surely the driving factor behind these life forms was survival, and that meant being selfish. They had to kill the weaker of their own kind, they had to protect their offspring and they had to find ways to survive on a planet that just kept changing the rules for survival.

Obviously the life that can adapt the quickest to the changes is the one that is going to be strongest later on (Hominid's being a prime example).
You also agree that Gene's are passed on from parent's, and that there is so called "Junk" DNA. Well if this DNA is a hangover from our evolutionary past, then it is fair to say that at some point it must have been in an ancestor from the distant past, and that ancestor had to be selfish to be successful (as it was, otherwise it wouldn't have survived, and therefore its genes would have died with it, and the life that holds those genes now wouldn't even be here!). What this all boils down to is, I think the point you overlook the most. The selfish gene has been passed down through many, many millions of years of evolution. At some point in time, ALL the life that now lives on the planet had to be "selfish" or it would have died. And as we all have DNA in us from that past then we, whether we like it or not, are inherently selfish.

Your arguments in these cases seem all very bias towards the Nature debate. That life is controlled by its environment. And do not concern the Nurture debate at all. That life's behaviour is pre-mapped within the DNA sequence. Both sides of the argument are needed if we are to find out the true meaning of why? From the Nurture side of things, it is very easy to say that we are all selfish because "if we contain the selfish DNA within us then it has to be represented in our behaviour".

One last thing, you say that life, other than humans, is "in tune with nature". My questions are: What is Nature? A force? A way of life? Was not man once "in tune" with nature himself? And if so how did me manage to become un-tuned? (Selfish behaviour? We needed to branch out to be as successful as it possibly can?). How did we manage to not need nature anymore. (We have the technology to survive in space for as long as we need! Maybe we have out evolved the Earth!).

Thank you for taking time to read my opinions. Please keep up the excellent work on the website, I have only just found it and think that there is an awful lot of interesting, intelligent and informative work within. I feel that places are needed where we can express opinion freely without getting into a mass argument, as to whom is right or wrong. I can see the need for differences of opinion and understand that this is the humans new way of evolving. By speculating and discussing ideas only then can we truly understand what it is we are. I also enjoy having my opinions argued against and disproved, because from this I can learn more myself. Once again keep up the good work.

Dr Beetle:  Thanks for your comments and questions. The main reason I write this site is to get some feedback such as yours. Below is a fairly lengthy reply.

I agree that evolution is the process by which life adapted and produced the various species. But I do not agree that this means that only the strongest and fittest creatures could make it. A better understanding of nature will be gained by thinking of evolution as survival of the wildest, not survival of the fittest or strongest. I think the last two terms are examples of inhibited human thinking where they try to impose the confused way they feel onto a pristine nature that refuses to be captured by the current human mind. My evidence is that all of nature not under human control is wild (therefore, only the wildest have survived); whereas, not all animals are strong. Many animals do not attain the rather sterile (puritanical) minded cut of 'strong'. Many are born 'weak' but rely on other strategies such as camouflage, or can carry an injury through life, yet they have a role in nature. It is actually quite easy to outmanoeuvre a strong buffoon or bully, and a broader sensing or wilder animal is more likely to see those methods or webs of possibilities. The word fittest has two meanings that should be kept separate but which the mind cannot help but associate. Fit in biological terms is meant to be 'contributes offspring to the next generation', but it can also mean physically fit. But you don't see herds of antelope putting on their Nike shoes and going for a jog each morning. Wildness is the better descriptive term, as it includes the many other strategies that life can pursue and still survive, and it also tells more about the real motivation behind life.

I also do not think that the driving factor behind life is survival (or leaving offspring that survive). A wild animal caught and placed in a cage will often pace or starve itself or rub its nose against the wire until it bleeds. I saw one lizard in a cage with its nose gone and one-eighth of its jaw bone missing, from the rubbing. It wanted to return to the wild. These animals could have survived as they were well housed, fed, and in a cage with potential mates, but obviously survival is not enough. That also explains suicide in humans, where simply surviving is not always enough. The need to leave offspring is also a fallacy. Only those that do so will contribute to the next generation, but that does not make it a need. Some of my evidence is that many people choose not to have children, thwarting the imagined instinct for reproduction. In nature also, survival and reproduction is a natural result for animals that live wildly and are attuned, so they do not have to strive or be driven to survive or reproduce. Instead, if they strive to be wild, then the rest will follow suit because they are free and capable. It is often difficult to realise that some adaptations that seem to have a pre-planned motivation behind them to increase reproduction, are in fact the culmination of successful random events rather than a reflection of some imagined motivation. Nature has had to make sex enjoyable because animals do not feel any special need or interest in producing offspring. Therefore, they need the pay off of enjoyable sex to even bother. I also doubt that they realise that sex leads to babies.

Humans are used to a fast paced, need to act, life style. This same thinking clouds their view of nature - 'life that can adapt the quickest is the one that is going to be strongest.' The norm in nature is that life changes very slowly. Crocodiles have not had to evolve into anything very different for probably 100 million years. It usually takes around one million years for a new species to be produced, and that is a change, from say, the greater to the lesser hairy nosed wombat. So the great pressing need to evolve and keep up is essentially absent in nature (there are occasional exceptions from catastrophic earth or volcanic events). In hindsight when the results are on the table, it might look like there was an evolutionary race, but when you think this, also start trying to imagine billion year time-frames. Life is mostly leisurely in nature. Hard for humans to accept I know, and they will think all they can for examples to reject this! But animals have it better than humans, even with all the human contraptions and beliefs. Afterall, being wild does mean that you can do what you want when you want (if humans followed this code now, it would be a disaster, but if animals follow this code, it causes harmony in Nature  how do they do it?).

Rather than thinking 'life is controlled by its environment' I think life is best when it is 'with' the environment. The genes also 'realise' this, which is why animals and humans have several key adaptations that make them want to attune with nature (the interaction desire) and bond with and assume its natural lessons (the learning of instincts). Remember that humans share 50% of their genes with a fly. That means 50% of human genes are needed to tell you your front from your backside, symmetry of body plan, how to digest sucrose, how to grow, how to use oxygen, Krebs cycle etc etc. If it takes 50% of your genes just to do the above, how many more must it take to produce the 100 or so emotions that have been described in humans, the similar number of supposed inherited instincts, their hands, brain, bipedalism, etc. There just are not enough genes to do all the extra things humans can do, if they all have to be coded by genes. So I think much of what humans do in society today is the result of learning and their own brain washing. For example, we are now told that humans have an inherited fear of spiders. But if ever there was a creature that should have an inherited fear of spiders, it would be the fly. Millions of them die to spiders each year. Yet if you put a spider in an empty fish tank with flies, the flies do not race to the furthest corner, like a bunch of fearful humans jumping up on chairs. The other great driver in nature is parsimony, or doing more with less. That leads to greater efficiency and naturalness. Why would an animal invest physical structure and energy into inherited codes of behaviour, when it could just as easily absorb those codes through their close relationship with nature?

What is nature? I see nature as a way of life, a system of life, or a level of organisation. It is the result of wild processes. Attunement is like the glue that brings all the pieces together and holds them together, a bit like placing things as skilfully as in the computer game 'Tetris'. Nature can fit lots of pieces and biodiversity into the same space.

Was not man once 'in tune'. Yes, but at some point humans began to move out of synch with nature. The beginning of that loss was probably imperceptible at first, so probably began in the ancestors of humans. Enough to cause some doubt or emptiness, but not enough to allow the mind to adapt faster than the changes bought about by physical evolution. Now however the differences and loss is great. Some evidence of attunement is seen in hunter gather cultures, where they feel 'a part of the land'. Feeling 'one with nature' also usually results when people spend long periods of time alone in national parks or go on wilderness camps etc. This is just a taste of the level of attunement that really happens to a wild creature.

To understand why humans lost attunement, think in terms of niches. Animals cannot attune to all of nature. Instead, they attune to a particular slot within the web of nature, their own specific niche. Humans lost attunement because they gained an adaptation (ability to think lots) that moved them out of one niche towards another. They have not reached that final wild niche yet, so they are now in a transitory or limbo stage, where deceptively, natural forces and links seem lost or ineffectual. How can this happen? Simply due to their new adaptation being a threshold adaptation. One example of a threshold adaptation is flight in birds. Flight ensured a fairly sudden flush of new species, 'speciation', because a vast new niche opened up before some ancestral bird-dinosaur. Humans are now on a different threshold, but because they can think fast, they will fill that vast new niche not by speciation, but by incremental improvements in understanding. The various cultures are a sign of 'speciation of thought', but eventually all the cultures will grow and unite to meet a common backbone of understanding, because understanding is a process of knowing or seeing more using less.

How did we manage to not need nature anymore? The evidence suggests that humans cannot live without nature, and attempting to do so leads to their problems and feelings of emptiness today. If you cannot imagine what is happening to humans there will be problems, because you are in the transitional stage now of going from one natural niche to another yet-to-be-realised niche. Humans might think they can isolate themselves ever further from nature, but the spice of life is in the detail of nature. And when the awe of their new toy (thinking abilities) is done, humans will again focus on those things that are important, because thinking will eventually lead to that realisation. Some already realise. Humans are just another animal species, with another adaptation. The thrill of new opportunities awaits them, but humans didn't get there or do it on their own. Nature helped them and got them started, and will be repaid its dues when the petulant child matures.

'The Selfish Gene', Comments by Dr Beetle

Parable of The Selfish Drip, by Dr Beetle

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'The Selfish Gene',
Questions about my comments

I get a few questions about my comments and disagreements with Richard Dawkins' book that put me to the test. So on this page I will try to answer the more challenging ones. To protect the innocent, I refer to each questioning person as commentator 1 or commentator 2, and transcribe the exchange of emails.
Commentator 1: Your logic would be correct if you hadn't made a wrong assumption in the first place  Dawkins defines selfish behaviour to be present if the effect of an act is to raise the survival prospects of the genes (see page 4 of the new edition), so even if the seagull does just scavenge the behaviour is still selfish.