A hugely misunderstood metaphor put forth by Richard Dawkins in the mid 1970s. the basic idea is that whatever replicates is the what natural selection is acting on. Thus, alleles which survive through many generations will act as if they are selfish, using the organism as a survival machine. This is a more subtle and powerful idea than most of its critics comprehend.

A theory created by W.D.Hamilton and populised by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene which postulates that the basic unit of selection in nature is not the species, or organism, but the individual genes in an organism, and that any action in nature, however altruistic it may be, is in fact done to spread the genes that caused it.

This is usually stated in contrast to whole organism and species selection, both of which leave unexplained phenomena. The selfish gene theory can explain such problems as altruism and social insects, something the other theories find very hard to do.

One interesting mathematical idea drawn by W. D. Hamilton and Richard Dawkins based on the Selfish Gene model is the idea that people are altruistic in proportion to how closely they are related to someone. So I am 100% altruistic to myself (duh), and in comparison I am 100% altruistic to an identical twin, 50% altruistics to a parent or sibling or offspring, 25% altruistics to an uncle or aunt or nephew or nice, 12.5% altruistic to a cousin, etc. I think it was the biologist J. B. S. Haldane who said, "Would I die for my brother? No, but i would for two brothers. Or eight cousins."

Of course this completely ignores other factors like attachments made through lifetime (friendship, marriage), cultural norms and social pressures, morality, etc. I still think it's interesting and a useful model, especially in studying social insects. No naturalist, the above included, believes this model alone can explain human behavior.

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