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Dawkins and Determinism

After many years I’ve finally ‘gotten around to’ reading Richard Dawkins famous book “The Extended Phenotype”. I’m only in the early chapters as yet, reading about his explanatory struggles. He has battled for years with those of little comprehension. They simply cannot seem to “get it” that genetic change can create conditions which modify or encourage a behavior but does not determine it.

I sat back and pondered his predicament awhile. I ran through a number of thought experiments. Rejected a few… and settled on this one. Perhaps poor Dr Dawkins will find it of minor assistance the next time he discovers himself cornered by slow learners.

Imagine an alternate world in which early Smurfs are predated upon by a rather strange alien beast. The creature is sort of protoplasmic and wimpy but hides in trees and cliffs just out of reach and sight of the average purple hunter gatherer. It likes to drop on them and kills rather quickly if it succeeds. If it misses it still has a second chance because it can move very fast and agilely for short distances, perhaps a few tens of meters.

The best strategy for our little band is to spot the beast as it peaks over the edge of its perch and bounce a good size rock off the tree trunk or cliff behind it to squash it before it drops. The second best strategy is to run and dodge like hell until it slows… and then kill it.

If we fast forward a few milleinia, we find that selective pressure has made our little tribe taller so they can see the critter first; great shots with a large rock; and incredibly fast and nimble runners with a lot more endurance than the predator. More than that, they get a great surge of endorphins and pleasure at running and jumping and throwing.

Mr Dawkins detractors would have you believe our purple Jordans have no choice but to become basketball stars. Purple Globetrotters all! To which Mr Dawkins would reply: “That is not the case”. Our 3 meter smurfs might find the game pleasurable, but their genes would not require them to play it.

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