The Selfish Gene
Dawkins (Richard)
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Preface (Full Text, Truncated)

  1. This book should be read almost as though it were science fiction. It is designed to appeal to the imagination. But it is not science fiction: it is science. Cliché or not, 'stranger than fiction' expresses exactly how I feel about the truth. We are survival machines — robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment. Though I have known it for years, I never seem to get fully used to it. One of my hopes is that I may have some success in astonishing others.
  2. Three imaginary readers looked over my shoulder while I was writing, and I now dedicate the book to them. First the general reader, the layman. For him I have avoided technical jargon almost totally, and where I have had to use specialized words I have defined them. I now wonder why we don't censor most of our jargon from learned journals too. I have assumed that the layman has no special knowledge, but I have not assumed that he is stupid. Anyone can popularize science if he oversimplifies. I have worked hard to try to popularize some subtle and complicated ideas in non-mathematical language, without losing their essence. I do not know how far I have succeeded in this, nor how far I have succeeded in another of my ambitions: to try to make the book as entertaining and gripping as its subject matter deserves. I have long felt that biology ought to seem as exciting as a mystery story, for a mystery story is exactly what biology is. I do not dare to hope that I have conveyed more than a tiny fraction of the excitement which the subject has to offer.
  3. My second imaginary reader was the expert. He has been a harsh critic, sharply drawing in his breath at some of my analogies and figures of speech. His favourite phrases are 'with the exception of'; 'but on the other hand'; and 'ugh'. I listened to him attentively, and even completely rewrote one chapter entirely for his benefit, but in the end I have had to tell the story my way. The expert will still not be totally happy with the way I put things. Yet my greatest hope is that even he will find something new here; a new way of looking at familiar ideas perhaps; even stimulation of new ideas of his own. If this is too high an aspiration, may I at least hope that the book will entertain him on a train?
  4. The third reader I had in mind was the student, making the transition from layman to expert. If he still has not made up his mind what field he wants to be an expert in, I hope to encourage him to give my own field of zoology a second glance. There is a better reason for studying zoology than its possible 'usefulness', and the general likeableness of animals. This reason is that we animals are the most complicated and perfectly-designed pieces of machinery in the known universe. Put it like that, and it is hard to see why anybody studies anything else! For the student who has already committed himself to zoology, I hope my book may have some educational value. He is having to work through the original papers and technical books on which my treatment is based. If he finds the original sources hard to digest, perhaps my non-mathematical interpretation may help, as an introduction and adjunct.
  5. There are obvious dangers in trying to appeal to three different kinds of reader. I can only say that I have been very conscious of these dangers, but that they seemed to be outweighed by the advantages of the attempt.
  6. I am an ethologist, and this is a book about animal behaviour. My debt to the ethological tradition in which I was trained will be obvious. In particular, Niko Tinbergen does not realize the extent of his influence on me during the twelve years I worked under him at Oxford. The phrase 'survival machine', though not actually his own, might well be. But ethology has recently been invigorated by an invasion of fresh ideas from sources not conventionally regarded as ethological. This book is largely based on these new ideas. Their originators are acknowledged in the appropriate places in the text; the dominant figures are G. C. Williams, J. Maynard Smith, W. D. Hamilton, and R. L. Trivers.

  1. Why are people? – 1
  2. The replicators – 13
  3. Immortal coils – 22
  4. The gene machine – 49
  5. Aggression: stability and the selfish machine – 71
  6. Genesmanship – 95
  7. Family planning – 117
  8. Battle of the generations – 132
  9. Battle of the sexes – 151
  10. You scratch my back, I'll ride on yours – 179
  11. Memes: the new replicators – 203
  12. Bibliography – 217
    Index and key to bibliography – 221

  • Oxford University Press, 1978
  • Note: I read this book before creating my database, so no time is recorded against this book from when I first read it.

"Dawkins (Richard) - Selfish Genes and Selfish Memes"

Source: Hofstadter & Dennett - The Mind's I - Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul

  • "Dawkins (Richard) - The Selfish Gene" is an excellent account of evolutionary theory, and a controversial account to what we are1, namely – according to Dawkins – survival machines for our genes.
  • These extracts probably save the busy reader from having to read the whole book.
  • One interesting point: Dawkins points out that we ourselves soon cease to be, but claims that our genes are for practical purposes immortal. They survive for millions of years.
  • But what is it that survives for so long? Individual genes – the tokens – die along with their “machines”. What persists is the type. Are genes therefore universals2?


"Dawkins (Richard) - The Selfish Gene"

Source: Dawkins - The Selfish Gene

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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