Scientific Understanding of Consciousness
Consciousness as an Emergent Property of Thalamocortical Activity

Retrospect: The Selfish Gene


Nature, 20 January 2016, p.462

In Retrospect: The Selfish Gene

Matt Ridley


Richard Dawkins wrote in his notes (reproduced in An Appetite for Wonder): “Genes are in a sense immortal. They pass through the generations, reshuffling themselves each time they pass from parent to offspring ... Natural selection will favour those genes which build themselves a body which is most likely to succeed in handing down safely to the next generation a large number of replicas of those genes ... our basic expectation on the basis of the orthodox, neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is that Genes will be 'selfish'.”

Dawkins's radically insisted that the digital information in a gene is effectively immortal and must be the primary unit of selection. No other unit shows such persistence — not chromosomes, not individuals, not groups and not species.

Dawkins's ideas helped to explain what was going on inside genomes, as well as between individuals, even though the book was written long before DNA sequencing became routine. The complexity of the structure of the gene itself has since grown enormously, with the discovery of introns, control sequences, RNA genes, alternative splicing and more. But the essential idea of a gene as a unit of heritable information remains, and Dawkins's synthesis stands to this day.

Dawkins had showed some draft chapters of his book to a reviewer, who strongly urged that the title be changed to 'The Immortal Gene'. Today, Dawkins regrets not taking the advice. It might have short-circuited endless arguments.


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