This one’s for you if you’re willing to accept that each page takes at least 10 minutes, and you’re interested in a different approach to how you think about natural selection.

Love him or loathe him, Richard Dawkins has some pretty interesting ideas that are sure to challenge how you think of DNA, natural selection and evolution. I was relieved to read in the epilogue that this is a book aimed at “professional biologists” because there were times when I had to read the sentence/paragraph/page about thirty times! Like most people, I first heard of “survival of the fittest” in a school biology lesson. Since then, years of study have certainly complicated matters, but I had always regarded fitness to mean the organism who has the most young. There is a whole chapter devoted to different definitions of “fitness” used by population geneticists and ecologists, their strengths and weaknesses, and the consequences of using different definitions. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Luckily I found Dawkins’ fabulous put downs broke up the academic text a little. He describes some of his critics’ work as “pernicious rubbish on an almost astrological scale.” p13.

“Thought experiments are not supposed to be realistic. They are supposed to clarify our thinking about reality.” p4

“I am a great believer in saying familiar, well known things backwards and inside out, hoping that from some new vantage point the old facts will take on a deeper significance.” p7

” What is a brain…but a computer and what is education but a form of programming?” p17

” Natural selection blindly meliorizes its way down successive lines of immediately available least resistance. The animal that results…is the product of a historical sequence of changes, each one of which represented…the better of the alternatives that happened to be available at the time.” p46

“If the individual manipulator has more to lose by failing to manipulate than the individual victim has to lose by failing to resist manipulation, we should expect to see successful manipulation in nature.” p67

On the difference between selection at an individual (vehicle) or genetic level: “Replicator selection is the process by which some replicators survive at the expense of other replicators. Vehicle selection is the process by which some vehicles are more successful than other vehicles in ensuring the survival of their replicators.” p82

“meiosis and sexual fusion see to it that not even our genomes are replicators, so we ourselves are not replicators.” p95

“The doctrine of the extended phenotype is that the phenotypic effect of a gene…is best seen as an effect upon the world at large, and only incidentally upon the individual organism” p117

B is not a gene for blackness “unless some of the variation in the population is due to lack of B If all individuals…have B and the only reason individuals are not black is that they have B’ rather than B, we shall say that B’, but not B, is a gene for blackness.” p196

“the common belief that parasitic castration is an adaptation implies that the modified host phenotype is part of the extended phenotype of parasite genes.” p214

“an animal’s behaviour tends to maximize the survival of genes ‘for’ that behaviour, whether or not those genes happen to be in the body of the particular animal performing it.” p233

“Somatic cell divisions are used to make mortal tissues, organs and instruments whose ‘purpose’ is the promoting of germ-line cell divisions” p256

“The fact that each cycle restarts in every generation from a single cell permits mutations to achieve radical evolutionary changes by going ‘back to the drawing board’ of embryological engineering.” p264

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