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← The Descent of Edward Wilson (with Polish translation)

Zeuglodon's Avatar Jump to comment 10 by Zeuglodon

Comment 9 by kriton

You cannot say the same of individual organisms (they die after passing on their genes and never make copies of themselves)

Never? So what about all those organisms that reproduce by division, such as bacteria? In numbers, we sexually reproducing organisms are just a tiny minority.

Yes to the second (sexually-reproducing organisms are a tiny minority), but the argument works whether organisms sexually reproduce or not, because it's gene-centred, not organism-centred.

No to the first (bacteria make copies of themselves). Bacteria are actually a poor example because the cell bodies and protein molecules are all shaped by the genes riding inside them, and bacteria can exchange genes for differing phenotypes. I admit "never" wasn't the best word choice, but genes are atomically identical to their copies. No two individuals can be so (give or take sheer luck) because of complex environmental factors destroying the exact atomic similarities. Genes are digital, bodies are analogue.

But let's grant that organisms could make clones of themselves. Would this hurt Dawkins' argument? No, because to make your point you have to acknowledge that the genes are the salient connection. Clones (physically identical individuals) would be relevant because of the kin selection rule, not in spite of it. Of course, if r=1, then altruism would favour looking out for a clone as well as yourself in theory. They'd still be altruistic solely for genetic reasons. In practice, an individual can't be 100% certain that the thing living alongside it is genetically identical and has to base its "behaviour" on second-hand information, which are ripe fields for deception by other organisms driven by different genes.

Thu, 24 May 2012 18:47:25 UTC | #943331