The Selfish Gene

No book has fundamentally changed the way I see biological life more than The Self Gene by Richard Dawkins. Since I am an avid consumer of non-fiction books, I usually lean towards more recently published books, but this book first published in 1976 is book I recommend to all people interested in evolution and genetics.

In a nutshell he says that life exists because of genes ability to replicate themselves. When the book came out, he was branded as an  atheist, but his arguments are solid.  Some reported becoming despondent and suicidal. But his scientific logic cannot be refuted.

In the book the author expounds on the term “selfish gene”  to espouse a gene-centred view of evolution as opposed to the views that focus on organisms and groups.  It follows that the more two individuals are genetically related, the more sense it makes for them to behave selflessly towards each other, to ensure the continuity of common genes. This part of the book seems to crush those with lofty ideas on humanitarian aid.

Example of a popular meme
Example of a popular meme

Another thing that I discovered reading the book is that the author invented, yes invented, the word “meme”. This was a surprise to me since I always thought that the word meme was haphazardly coined by a millenial clicking on 9gag pictures of Jackie Chan. Apparently, it was not a millenial but an  Oxford-educated, ground-breaking academic who thought of the word, and put a lot of sophisticated thought into coining it from an Ancient Greek root word as well. He shortened word the mimeme meaning imitated thing to sound similar to the word “gene”. He argues memes, like genes are to biological life, are units for carrying of cultural transmissions.

I later found out that the book is often cited for introducing the word “meme” but it actually is only occupies a small part of the book (if I remember it right a chapter or part of a chapter), almost as an afterthought. Otherwise, the book stays on topic examining a gene-centered view of evolution.

Though I’ve come across articles on it before, he also very lucidly explains the origin of sex in organisms. And he also explains why organism developed at all. He even explains how life started in the first place. What book that explains the origin of life and sex cannot be interesting, aye?

There recently has been a 30-year anniversary edition of the 1976 published book, pictured above, which features a new cover. Though it was published so long ago, after reading it, I understand why the book has persisted, and why it can still revolutionize the views of someone who picks up book more than four decades later.

Too bad they came out with a new cover for the new edition though. I kinda’ liked the cover art of the 1978 edition as pictured below.

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