The Genius of Darwin - Part 2 - The Fifth Ape

After exploring in the previous episode the ways in which Charles Darwin brought to our awareness the idea that all living organisms on Earth are related to one another through our common ancestors, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins now sets out to understand the evolution of cooperation and altruism through his own theory of the selfish gene.

Genes, according to Dawkins, are the units of selection that perpetuate their own frequency in the population by making survival machine vehicles (like you and me) that cooperate with other survival machines in a process which ultimately benefit the genes. In other words, selfish genes give rise to the evolution of altruistic organisms.

Of course, if it's our genes that make us nice, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to want to rebel against them. I'm not even sure it makes sense to think it's possible. Why would we want to? Probably because that's what our genes are making us want, in which case they would still be in control...

To learn more about the evolution of cooperation and altruism, check out Dawkins' Nice Guys Finish First, or anything in the Dawkins tag.

Learn also how German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer explained the way in which nature constantly fools us all into acting against our own interests.

Also, and apropos of the current financial crisis, you might want to check out the Enron documentary The Smartest Guys in the Room.

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