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Grasshopper (Acrididae), Barbilla National Park, Costa Rica. Photo by Piotr Naskrecki/Minden Pictures/Corbis

Grasshopper (Acrididae), Barbilla National Park, Costa Rica. Photo by Piotr Naskrecki/Minden Pictures/Corbis

Die, selfish gene, die >>
For decades, the selfish gene metaphor let us view evolution with new clarity. Is it now blinding us?

Perhaps better then to speak not of genes but the genome — all your genes together. And not the genome as a unitary actor, but the genome in conversation with itself, with other genomes, and with the outside environment. If grasshoppers becoming locusts, sweet bees becoming killers, and genetic assimilation are to be believed it’s those conversations that define the organism and drive the evolution of new traits and species. It’s not a selfish gene or a solitary genome. It’s a social genome.

Locust and Chameleon | Photo by Nik Taylor/Getty

Locust and Chameleon | Photo by Nik Taylor/Getty

Dead or Alive? >>
Is it time to kill off the idea of the ‘Selfish Gene’? We asked four experts to respond to our most controversial essay

I can vividly remember reading The Selfish Gene in my local library as a teenager: it was both a page-turner and something of a conversion experience. Richard Dawkins’s explanation of the unsparing reality of evolution blew like a cold, refreshing wind through everything I thought I knew about human nature, and is one of the great pieces of scientific writing from the last century. I was hardly surprised then, that David Dobbs’s essay ‘Die Selfish Gene’ provoked a fierce and prolonged debate when we published it in Aeon last December. But now it’s time to take stock: is the ‘selfish gene’ idea still a useful way to explain evolution? We invited four experts, and the writer himself, to respond to this question. And we invite you to join the conversation by taking our quick survey at the bottom of the page. What do you think: is it time to get rid of the ‘selfish gene’ or is it here to stay?

Brigid Hains, Editor

Does evolutionary theory need a rethink? >>

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