The Gene Machine
is the vessel used by the gene to secure its replication, ie us. Muscles are the genes' gadgets for moving. The most complex known gene machine is the human brain with ten thousand million neurons. Dawkins says
I'm not sure this wording is quite right, as it reads a bit like asking someone for directions and being told to contract your muscles. In any event, genes are purposive and intentional, causing specific effects.
Dawkins notes that genetic determinism is more complicated for conscious humans. observing that
Comparing decisions to the way a steam regulator modulates the pressure of a boiler, he downplays human freedom, suggesting our genes control our behaviour like a computer programmer setting the parameters for a user.
To illustrate this genetic pre-programming, he mentions an intriguing science fiction book co-written by astronomer Fred Hoyle, who coined the term 'the big bang'. In this story, A for Andromeda
, Andromedans send out radio instructions on how to build a computer. The broadcast is read on earth, and
The point is that “all its instructions had to be written in advance because of the inviolable 200 year barrier” caused by the distance from Andromeda to Sol, and that genes similarly need to program in advance - set and forget.
Life is a lottery. Gamblers bet based on stake, odds and prize. Dawkins explains here that this mathematical calculation is performed by genes, over thousands of generations, statistically averaged out so the best genetic gamblers win. In humans, simulating the bet of life evolved into imagination.
The most interesting comment in the chapter picks up this theme of human imaginative freedom:
This statement is problematic, as it suggests human consciousness and imagination have made evolution obsolete.
Question: Do you think Dawkins should have included a weasel-word here, the “seeming” emancipation from our genetic masters, given that in the long run human life is determined by the natural framework of evolution?
To help explain how bodies are survival machines for genes, Dawkins uses the example of foul brood in bees. Hygienic strains kill infected young, while susceptible strains get foul brood. Experiments found one gene for tossing infected babies on the rubbish heap, and another for uncapping wax cells of diseased grubs. The first gene only works in the presence of the second. For susceptible bees, human intervention to uncap infected baby bees leads to remorseless murder of the defective as the tossing gene moves into action. Without this human intervention these cute babies would infect and kill the hive. Dawkins' point here is that the two genes for tossing and uncapping operate separately but in cooperation, and that separate genes do determine specific behaviours.
Successful behaviour machines exploit their niche to expand their genetic presence. Communication is a principle method, including lies and deception. Dawkins presents “the ruthless judge of the court of survival” as the framework to assess apparent altruism in this moral jungle, where