The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition
IN the dozen years since The Selfish Gene was published its central message has become textbook orthodoxy. This is paradoxical, but not in the obvious way. It is not one of those books that was reviled as revolutionary when published, then steadily won converts until it ended up so orthodox that we now wonder what the fuss was about. Quite the contrary. From the outset the reviews were gratifyingly favourable and it was not seen, initially, as a controversial book. Its reputation for contentiousness took years to grow until, by now, it is widely regarded as a work of radical extremism. But over the very same years as the book’s reputation for extremism has escalated, its actual content has seemed less and less extreme, more and more the common currency.
The selfish gene theory is Darwin’s theory, expressed in a way that Darwin did not choose but whose aptness, I should like to think, he would instantly have recognized and delighted in. It is in fact a logical outgrowth of orthodox neo-Darwinism, but expressed as a novel image. Rather than focus on the individual organism, it takes a gene’s-eye view of nature. It is a different way of seeing, not a different theory. In the opening pages of The Extended Phenotype I explained this using the metaphor of the Necker cube.
This is a two-dimensional pattern of ink on paper, but it is perceived as a transparent, three-dimensional cube. Stare at it for a few seconds and it will change to face in a different direction. Carry on staring and it will flip back to the original cube. Both cubes are equally compatible with the two-dimensional data on the retina, so the brain happily alternates between them. Neither is more correct than the other. My point was that there are two ways of looking at natural selection, the gene’s angle and that of the individual. If properly understood they are equivalent; two views of the same truth. You can flip from one to the other and it will still be the same nee-Darwinism.
Introduction to 30th anniversary edition vii
Preface to second edition xv
Foreword to first edition xix
Preface to first edition xxi
1. Why are people? 1
2. The replicators 12
3. Immortal coils 21
4. The gene machine 46
5. Aggression: stability and the selfish machine 66
6. Genesmanship 88
7. Family planning 109
8. Battle of the generations 123
9. Battle of the sexes 140
10. You scratch my back, I’ll ride on yours 166
11. Memes: the new replicators 189
12. Nice guysfinishfirst2
13. The long reach of the gene 234
Updated bibliography 333
Index and key to bibliography 345
Extracts from reviews 353
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