Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Denis Noble Takes Apart Dawkins' Selfish Gene Theory

Here is the second of the two lectures given by Denis Noble which I've listened to several times.  It is more concise and, in some ways, easier to understand than the lecture given several years earlier.

I believe it was given in China in 2014, based on what I believe is the article (which I have only had a chance to skim, so far) he mentions in discussion of Richard Dawkins' not understanding the metaphorical nature of his gene selfishness ideology as a metaphor and Noble's, I think, quite erudite elucidation of the metaphorical nature of it by turning it on its head, at about 7:28.

A lot of the lecture is a critique of Dawkins' theory of gene selfishness which pretty much leaves out the entirely relevant fact that DNA does just about nothing and, certainly, nothing physiological or even biologically meaningful without a huge number of other operations within the cell which it depends on completely to do anything.  That, alone is worth listening to it for.

Some of the highlights in supporting material are his presentation of DNA knockout experiments, one of his own (c.15:45) an extremely revealing one in which an enormous range of various markers were knocked out in yeast (c.18:15) and, perhaps most interesting was the production of a cross-species clone between a gold-fish and carp, putting the DNA from a carp into a denucleated gold-fish egg cell and the successfully produced adult having the DNA from a carp definitely not being a carp or a gold-fish but obviously having characteristics more like the gold-fish whose DNA it doesn't have but whose cellular physiology it does have.

I especially liked the point where he quoted the Nobel prize winning biologist, Sydney Brenner as saying:  "I know one approach that will fail, which is to start with genes, make proteins from them and to try to build things bottom-up."  Which overturns quite a lot of the common received wisdom common to millions of people who were educated over the past eighty years.   Another quote I liked was from another focus of Jerry Coyne's flame warring, James Shapiro,  "It is difficult (if not impossible) to find the genome change operator that is truly random in its action within the DNA of the cell where it works."  Clearly the simplistic view of "genes" of "DNA" of biological inheritance of biological determinism that we were all sold through our educations under the neo-Darwinian synthesis is outmoded and the assumptions that sprang from that, as mentioned before, covering a huge range of everything from the academically inert to the politically and legally potent are naive when they aren't malicious.


Someone whined about my post this morning,  I would point out that a prediction was made about the political effects of the ultra-neo-Darwinism of Sociobiology, which soon morphed into evolutionary psychology by the eminent scientists, graduate students and others in the Sociobiology Study Group in 1975.

Each time these ideas have resurfaced the claim has been made that they were based on new scientific information. Yet each time, even though strong scientific arguments have been presented to show the absurdity of these theories, they have not died. The reason for the survival of these recurrent determinist theories is that they consistently tend to provide a genetic justification of the status quo and of existing privileges for certain groups according to class, race or sex. Historically, powerful countries or ruling groups within them have drawn support for the maintenance or extension of their power from these products of the scientific community.

Their statement, Against "Sociobiology", is both accurate in hindsight and foresight, especially in foresight.  They could have predicted both Thatcherism and Reaganism and the destruction of the movement for equality and economic and social advancement as that form of biological determinism took hold in the general culture.  Though I think they, as scientists and Darwinists  clearly desired to exempt science by blaming Herbert Spenser for a phrase he did invent but it was an idea that the most eminent scientists were even more central in creating.  Darwin, at the urging of his co-inventor of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace, explicitly said that natural selection mean the same thing as survival of the fittest in the fifth and sixth edition of Origin of Species.  But even before that, it was Darwin who inserted Malthusianism into evolutionary biology and who adopted his cousin, the even more eminent scientific polymath, Francis Galton's extension of natural selection into eugenics.  It was almost inevitable that natural selection would have led to it, as Leonard Darwin pointed out in 1939,  Wilhlem Schallmeyer, in his independent invention of eugenics in Germany relied solely on The Origin of Species, not on Francis Galton.  Though he certainly was influenced by Ernst Haeckel's immediately depraved interpretation of natural selection which Darwin endorsed without reservation.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the problem of metaphor:

    "3) Does Wilson's analysis of studies in nonhuman behavior provide him with a basis for understanding human behavior? An appeal to the "continuity of nature" based on evolutionary theory will not suffice. While evolutionary analysis provides a model for interpreting animal behavior, it does not establish any logical connection between behavior patterns in animal and human societies. But Wilson requires such a connection in order to use the vast amounts of animal evidence he has collected. One subtle way in which Wilson attempts to link animals and humans is to use metaphors from human societies to describe characteristics of animal societies.

    For instance, in insect populations, Wilson applies the traditional metaphors of "slavery" and "caste," "specialists" and "generalists" in order to establish a descriptive framework. Thus, he promotes the analogy between human and animal societies and leads one to believe that behavior patterns in the two have the same basis. Also, institutions such as slavery are made to seem natural in human societies because of their "universal" existence in the biological kingdom. But metaphor and presumed analogy cannot be allowed to mask the absence of evidence."

    Metaphor, moreover, is simply not objective. It's a shell game. It hides reasoning through comparison, through analogy, through linguistic sleight-of-hand ("this is like that!, ergo, this IS that!"). Except it isn't. A computer is not a human brain, nor a human brain a computer. Even an insect brain is not a computer; a computer requires software to function. Where does the software for the insect come from? The genes?

    It is to laugh.