September 18, 2013

A better title than "The Selfish Gene?"

From Janet Maslin's review of Richard Dawkins' new autobiography:
With the benefit of hindsight, and with a dearth of other compelling material, he wonders if “The Immortal Gene,” a title suggested to him by a London publisher, might have been better than the one he used. “I can’t now remember why I didn’t follow his advice,” he writes. “I think I should have done.”

I always felt that "The Dynastic Gene" would have best communicated the book's fundamental concept, since your genes spread by helping promulgate copies of themselves in one's relatives.

23 comments:

anony-mouse said...

Dynastic Gene?

Not a good idea. Too many Americans (and Brits?) would have images of 2 tall thin glamorously-dressed women with shoulder pads having a catfight.

Thursday said...

Yeah, have agree with the above. The Dynastic Gene is not a good title, and doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

Besides the central conceit of the book is personifying genes and using that to help people understand how an amoral agent would go about increasing copies of itself if that were its goal. It was also had a nicely polemical edge aimed at people who thought humans were naturally selfless.

Eric Falkenstein said...

His 'selfish gene' label is especially deficient given 'altruism' is sometimes 'selfish' in a long-run sense, viz, short-term selfishness is often counterproductive in social interactions.

Thursday said...

The actual problem with Dawkins' book is his use of personification in a science book. That always risks misunderstanding. Look at all the mystical, onward and upward evolutionary philosophy inspired by some of Darwin's more figurative passages.

Anonymous said...

His 'selfish gene' label is especially deficient given 'altruism' is sometimes 'selfish' in a long-run sense, viz, short-term selfishness is often counterproductive in social interactions.

That's why he called it "selfish". That's one of his main points in the book: that altruism is selfish from the gene point of view.

McGillicuddy said...

As you say, The Dynastic Gene would have been a much more accurate title, but I imagine that it wouldn’t have sold as well. The title he chose, is the book store equivalent of click-bait.

Mark Caplan said...

The problem with "The Immortal Gene" is that genes aren't immortal, as every dodo will attest.

Anonymous said...

The problem with "The Immortal Gene" is that genes aren't immortal, as every dodo will attest.

He's trying to convey the idea that organisms are merely vehicles for the genes which persist.

Anonymous said...

Single-minded gene.

Anonymous said...

The book is mostly a polemic against Group Selection, esp as an evolutionary source of altruism and sociality. Not in the scientific community but in popular opinion.

"Genes are Immortal" is not what he wants you to believe.
"Genes are Dynastic" is what he wants you not to believe.
"Genes are Selfish" is what he definitely meant.

It's been some time, but his closing(?) chapter about memes argued now that another form/stage of evolution is happening, namely the cultural evolution, one should be aware that individuals are but a vehicle in an idea's (a meme's) struggle for persistence. Carrying a meme does not make an individual happier or even evolutionarily fit. Ubiquity and longevity of the ideas of religion and god being such a harmful but persistent idea. He might have said it explicitly or I might have extrapolated his words; it's been so many years since I've read it.

Anonymous said...

Or, an even better title would be the "Bush Gene".

You see, paradoxically, the political Bush family is dead keen on maintianing a true genetic dynasty for its own, but not so keen on it for others.
A true double-pronged genetic strategy that even the ichneumon wasp would be ashamed of.

Anonymous said...

No, by and large the genes that make up a dodo, (pigeon genes more or less), still exist in abundance in feral piegeons, and also by and large they've been here since the year dot. The dodo was merely an ill-fated excursion for those genes that thrived in other 'branch offices', (if I'm excused that vulgarism). Perhaps in a different set of circumstances the dodo might have won and the rock dove died out, but those are still the same columbine genes that date back way further than any of those two particular pigeon families.

SMERSH said...

"The Eternal Gene"

Anonymous said...

Designer Genes will be the future.

And I don't mean this kind:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYtWlmaKsww

Mansanto will be bigger than Monsanto.

Anonymous said...

Life didn't start with the gene, so what is the force behind the genes that came later?
Self-driven chemical force?

Anonymous said...

Self-reincarnating gene, with bodies being mere vessels for the genes to pass from one form to another to another.

The swimming gene that swims from one body to another.

Anonymous said...

History of life seems to have gone from power of quantity to power of quality.

Lower lifeforms produce lots of offsprings but many die. Think of fish and insects.

Higher offsprings produce far fewer offsprings but more of them grow to maturity.

The problem with humans is they mastered both quality and quantity. They don't breed like insects and fish, but they've gotten so good at raising their young ones to mature age that they've taken over the world.

In this way, humans are a form of life out of balance.

Anonymous said...

The Imperialistic Gene

Anonymous said...

The Imperialistic Gene

or perhaps The Imperious Gene, to be cute

Anonymous said...

The title has to do with the debates on what constitutes a unit of selection. As such (even if it is ultimately wrong), it works perfectly.

Anonymous said...

The autistic gene.

The obsessive gene.

The Sorcerer's apprentice gene.

panjoomby said...

gene genie (apologies to david jones bowie)
the gene goes on forever (apologies to allman bros.)
the vehicle making gene (apologies to henry ford)
perpetual gene making machine...
the little gene that could...
the self-perpetuating gene...
the ipsative reiterating gene...
gene with a mind of its own that makes robots with minds of their own...
meh - they can't all be gems.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the enthrallment over Dawkins. If he just presented his description of the process of evolution he'd be fine, but he insists on offering his philosophical extrapolations regarding the meaning of life, and they are not at all based on reason. Life should be lived for the Wonder of it all - really?
Dawkins is the kind of guy who approaches a guy emptying a port-o-potty, taps him on the shoulder and says God doesn't exist. As if the guy needs much convincing.
John Gray, an atheist, is at his best when he dismantles the optimism of militant atheists. From my web browsing, they seem never to reply. Maybe I'm biased because I favor his position (and I've read more of his work), but Gray is a better writer. Gray, because of his humble origins, might just understand that for people who don't see life as a picnic, "Wonder" isn't a prime motivator. I'm surprised that his writing is never (with the exception of a link from a recent commenter) mentioned here.