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We hear much talk today about "consciousness explained" or the "selfish gene." These have become fashionable pop culture scientific explanations of the implications of human evolution from Daniel Dennett to Richard Dawkins. But their claims are not only hyper-reductionist, but seem like an anthropogenic sleight of hand.

If one takes Alfred N. Whitehead and Conrad Waddington's work in The Nature of Life, for example then the "epigenetic landscape" has to be considered before I can address these more refined aspects of existence. I need to provide an account or philosophy of organism in order to deal with a gene, consciousness, or whatever otherwise my claims will be wholly abstract. Why should we take seriously thinkers who offer only snapshots or puzzle pieces of Nature that they pass off or present as the completed or ultimate story to the mystery?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Alexander S King, Dave, Philip Klöcking, Chris Sunami, virmaior Mar 26 '16 at 8:50

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    Can't speak for Dawkins (He's somewhat of a moron). But I don't recall Dennett ever claiming he was a scientist, in much of what I've read by him, he goes out of his way to clarify that he is engaging in philosophical speculation, not hard science. He's also not the reductionist you claim he is: He's very clear that physics cannot account for freewill, and that we have to resort to biological teleology to understand freewill and intentionality. – Alexander S King Mar 18 '16 at 22:48
  • Dawkins and Dennett just make very non-mainstream views popular. No science fiction. – wolf-revo-cats Mar 18 '16 at 22:51
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    @viuser I see no clear distinction between science and science fiction in our times. Laboratories also include the imaginations of writers or game designers, or the metropolis of Hollywood. The claim of NO science fiction is religious and fantastical to me. – AnthropoTechnics Mar 19 '16 at 0:07
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    I'm not following you: On one hand you seem to be decrying excessive reductionism (at least that's how I read your question), and on the other you think that the schism between biology and physics is needless? – Alexander S King Mar 19 '16 at 1:21
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    Maybe you should give a definition of 'science fiction'. – wolf-revo-cats Mar 19 '16 at 1:31
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First note that the phrase "selfish gene" is just a metaphor for the gene-centered view of evolution. The "selfish gene" view is not a pop culture scientific explanation (and definitely not Sci-Fi) at all. It is a view that attempts to explain the facts of evolutionary biology (it has other proponents in the field beside Dawkins, and it actually makes a lot of sense) and definitely can be subject to empirical observation and falsification. Therefore it is not the "ultimate story" and it isn't presented as such.

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    No, an organism is not just a "vehicle for genes" and neither is the body a "brain" or "gene." These are reductionist accounts. If anything, it is the organism and other environmental conditions, factors, etc. that involve larger relations, of which these are merely subsets. Isn't this a category mistake--en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category_mistake – AnthropoTechnics Mar 18 '16 at 22:26
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    I have to disagree with this answer. The gene-centered view of evolution is a legitimate theory, but the "selfish-gene" metaphor is a pop-culture oriented presentation of that theory that arguably distorts its meaning and implications. And while it may not be the "ultimate story" it's hard to argue with the fact that Dawkins does in fact present it as such. – Chris Sunami Mar 25 '16 at 13:30
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I concur with Eliran H, so I'll answer mostly the second part of the question.

First, I don't understand the pairing of Dawkins' "selfish gene" and Dennett's "consciousness explained". I am not aware of any collaboration between the two on either of these works. I know they did not coauthor the books, but I'm talking about collaboration for the concepts dealt with by them. I have read The Selfish Gene, but not Consciousness Explained. Because of this, if I am missing some connection between the two, please add an elaboration in the question for the benefit of all who have missed the connection, including myself.

If one takes Alfred N. Whitehead and Conrad Waddington's work in The Nature of Life, for example then the "epigenetic landscape" has to be considered before I can address these more refined aspects of existence.

Epigenetics did not mean back then what it means now. Briefly, Waddington's "epigenetics" is roughly equivalent to the current word "phenotype". Far from ignoring it, Dawkins has written extensively on the topic. What is now called "epigenetic inheritance" is a very new field of study. I could expect a sequel to The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype (by someone else) after the field of epigenetic inheritance and evolution is better established.

I need to provide an account or philosophy of organism in order to deal with a gene, consciousness, or whatever otherwise my claims will be wholly abstract.

To the extent that a philosophy of organism is required for a biology book, Dawkins already does that, with his (or Niko Tinbergen's) concept of "survival machines".

Why should we take seriously thinkers who offer only snapshots or puzzle pieces of Nature that they pass off or present as the completed or ultimate story to the mystery?

  1. Science is a work in progress. I can't imagine any researcher in any broad scientific field passing off their works as the "ultimate story to the mystery", much less so in biology.
  2. There is no "we". Each person has to make the choice for themselves. Whether you like it or not, plenty of current science is based on the gene-centered theory of evolution.
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    I've deleted all of the comments... some where they seem to have crossed the line into something pretty mean. – virmaior Mar 26 '16 at 8:52

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