Thoughts after reading the book “Natural Selections”

 
The language is a bit more difficult for me to read than I had expected.  The author seems to like to use technical words as much as possible. Is this what the most articulate popularizer needs to do ?  … but in any case, I’ve learnt that evolutionary psychology = sociobiology.
 
I don’t need any persuasion to believe that altruism originates from selfishness because it’s been what I’ve thought.  In my opinion, the basic award/incentive to help the others is that one feels good about it.  But it’s mind-opening to be told that our genes want us to be altruistic to (for example) our close relatives because it’s very likely that they’re carrying the same genes.  Therefore, genetic selfishness is promoted via altruism towards other individuals who therefore help enhance the well-being of these genes into the future. 
 
I’m also glad to come across the statement that, just because it’s natural, it doesn’t mean that it’s good.  So, genetically, our genes would have us do anything (evil or not) to outgun the other genes.  ( Confucius’ "人之初,性本善" is hardly supported by genetics. ) Just when I started to wonder where this line of logics would leads us to, the author then told us that we (homo sapiens) have the ability to disobey our genes so that we may do things not obviously advantageous to our genes.  This is like returning to reality; otherwise, there would be a lot of explaining to do. 
 
Apparently, I seem to be one of the best rebellions who act against the genetic encoding by not taking part in reproduction.
 
The author has mentioned existentialism and so my smart-aleck idea that there is no intrinsic meaning to this world is largely existentialistic !  And "the society … call for real altruism, not because it is good for the altruist but because it benefits those who receive.  If it were clearly good for the altruist, then society wouldn’t have to call for it!"  How true this is.  I also like Nietzsche’s practicality : "virtues… are mostly injurious to their possessors… If you possess a virtue, you are its victim! But that is precisely why your neighbor praises your virtue.  Praise of the selfless, … is in any event not a product of the spirit of selflessness! One’s ‘neighbor’ praises selflessness because he derives advantage from it."  Again, I don’t need to be convinced about all these statements.  I think we’re all mired in selfishness but we just try not to see it that way. 
 
Unlike physics,  evolutionary psychology or sciobiology is after all not as a precise science as particle physics.  ( Here of course I’m biased as I’ve been trained as a particle physics. )  It’s not really an equation that we can test to confirm or falsify.  It’s also not logics such as A>B & B>C => A>C that we can deduct from one place to another.  It’s not like field theories that the forces are transmitted by bosons so that we know quite well how some particles affect other particles.  Here, how genes actually work on the living organisms to promote themselves is not really spelled out like an equation.  It’s more of some indirect statistical observations and different people then just draw conclusions from various observations, not necessarily with the best mathematical precision.
 
 

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About kinyip

An experimental particle physicist ...
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