Thursday, September 02, 2004

Why evolution makes us do things that aren't for our own benefit

Because evolution is not about us. Life is not about us. The reason we exist... isn't for our own benefit.

Evolution is about our genes. We exist as machines to help spread our genes around the world. It seems crazy, it seems like it's the wrong way round. But that's the way it is.

Compare yourself to a compact disc of your favourite music.

What's ‘the point’ - the music or the cd? Does the music have an existence because of the cd, or does the cd exist because of the music?

Clearly, it's all about the music. The music can be copied to another cd, or when the technology advances, the music can be copied to whatever improved carrier-mechanism is developed in the future and the cd thrown away, just like vinyl and tapes have been.

Cd's exist because they're a good way of spreading music around the world. They aren't the purpose, they aren’t the point… they're the mechanism. Equally, human beings aren't the point, we're just the device by which the genes get to be spread round the world.

Our genes are the music. We’re the cd's.

Which is why we humans aren’t designed to behave in such a way that we as individuals will survive....

…we’re designed to behave in a way that will help our genes survive.

If something happens that’s bad for the survival chances of our genes - we feel bad.

If something happens that’s good for the survival chances of our genes - we feel good.

Which could be the most important thing that science has ever taught us.

Of course, that’s not to say it’s irrelevant whether we live or die. But we're not alive for the sake of living. We're alive to create the next generation. 'Being alive' is just a mechanism to increase the chances of our genes surviving.

That's just the way evolution works. It's what evolution is. Automatically. You can't have the process of evolution if you don't have genetic information that gets passed on from one individual to the next.
If our ancestors had behaved in such a way that they maximised their own individual survival chances over the survival chances of their genes they might have survived longer… but they wouldn’t have passed those genes on: the genes for ‘look after yourself first and don’t have children’ don’t get passed on. It was only the individuals that took the risk of having sex and looking after children that could become our ancestors. Evolution (or natural selection) can only select behaviour that favours the genes.

But..... i like kids - I want to have kids.
Having kids is precisely what i would choose to do anyway, regardless of whether i have free will or not. And i love having sex as well. You can't seriously be trying to tell me that it wouldn't be my free will choice to have sex.

What if you could get all the pleasure you get from having children or sex....without actually having to do it? Sounds absurd, of course.... but if we've agreed that the only thing we care about is how we feel, we have to consider the serious possibility that if we had the opportunity to experience all the feelings without the risk... we'd be very advised to take that opportunity.

We only like having sex and having children because evolution 'wants' us to like it.

We're not choosing to want it.

Next: If we genuinely had free will - what would we do all day?


Anonymous said...

What motivates a serial killer? His enjoyment has nothing to do with passing on his genes. You could perhaps call him insane, say that his mind has experienced either through genetic mutation or bad conditioning an alteration unfavorable to survival (his and others). Of course mutations often create qualities that are unfavorable, they just tend not to get passed on. What about homosexuals then? Their sexual desires certainly don't help pass on their genes. Would you classify them as insane? Homosexuality once was widely classified as a mental illness but is no longer. And if this is an unfavorable mutation, how is it that now an estimated 10% of people (I admit I don't remember where I read this) are homosexuals? Wouldn't a variation this unfavorable to passing on genes be much more rare? It is never passed on (until recently with sperm donors etc.) so we must assume that if it is genetic, it is a deviation that continually occurs with high frequency. Of course it has not been proven to be genetic, but this is an interesting question, either because of the genetic mystery or trying to understand why people become homosexuals based on conditioning. I know this can be a controversial topic, but people on this site seem level-headed enough not to be offended.

dan from said...

Such is Dawkins's selfish gene concept, but it is only one perspective. One can also use the traditional perspective of organisms reproducing instead of genes replicating. The reality is that we coevolve.