On Dawkins’s selfish gene. Here (2014):
Daniel Dennett (30 minute mark, approx): Rupert, you twice used the word dishonest in your characterization, of first, Dawkins on selfish genes, and then me on computers and brains. I have to say, I think it’s you’re the one that’s being dishonest. Those were both caricatures. You know that Richard Dawkins went way out of his way again and again to show you how to cash out the metaphor of selfishness and show what it means predictively and explanatorily in evolutionary biology and that explanatory matrix has been confirmed and extended in hundreds of experiments. You can’t understand transposons, you can’t understand a great deal of what goes on with genomic printing, if you don’t have that picture which he brilliantly called the picture of selfishness at the gene level. That’s one caricature of yours. And you imposed dualism on him and you imposed dualism on me. And again, it’s a wilful caricature. The whole point of my work on minds as software running on brains as computers has been, just as Colin says, to move away from the simple view of a computer like your laptop; no, the brain isn’t like your laptop much at all. But it is still, as he says, it’s still a computer, nd even to the point where we can profitably and predictably think about the downloading of new tricks, new cognitive talents to the brain, much the way we download new apps to our iPhones and our computers. No, your caricatures are very funny, but that’s all they are, and that’s not the way to deal with serious views.
Rupert Sheldrake: All right, I do hope I can reply to that. First of all, I do think that the selfish gene is an exceedingly misleading metaphor. I think that attributing selfishness to genes—he admits it’s a metaphor, of course, in the small print in The selfish Gene, he says it’s just a metaphor— Dawkins’s metaphors, Instead of enlightening research on —I mean, he’s done very little research on transposons, or actually rather little research at all for many years.
I don’t think that they’re particularly helpful; I think that modern research on genes which shows they’re far more complex and networks of interaction, there’s epigenetic modifications … It all looks hopelessly old-fashioned now. I think they’re metaphors which are past their sell-by date. I don’t they’ve been a very important part of research in actual molecular biology of genes. I think they’ve had a huge popular effect. His book, The Selfish Gene has sold vast numbers of copies to people who are not engaged in scientific research. It’s had a big social effect. I’d dispute that it’s a key player in the actual workings of biology.
And insofar as computer metaphors that rely on software and apps, I think they are intrinsically dualistic. don’t think it’s a caricature to say that they are dualistic; they are. Programs, software, hardware is a kind of dualism. And I think that these app metaphors and computer metaphors do raise a whole question, they have an implicit dualism, even an explicit dualism, which is not pure mechanism. I don’t think they are deliberately dishonest in many cases. I am sorry to say it again, I think it is a confusion of thinking that underlies them.
And you’ll probably totally disagree and say I am caricaturing your view, but I don’t think I am.
Sheldrake trashed here, of course.
See also: Rupert Sheldrake likes Dembski’s Being as Communion
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