Repository | Book | Chapter


(2009) Plural action, Dordrecht, Springer.

Evolution by imitation

Hans Bernhard Schmid

pp. 197-214

When Sigmund Freud counted Darwinism among the most severe blows which human self-love has suffered at the hand of science, he was only referring to Darwin's insight into man's "descent from the animal kingdom" and his "ineradicable animal nature". Had Freud had any apprehension of what else Darwinism had in store for us, he might not have called his own central insight (i.e. the discovery of the role of the subconscious) an even "more wounding blow" (Freud 1957: 84–85). Our animal (and, for that matter, vegetal) kinsfolk, as well as the dominant role of our subconscious, seem rather easy to put up with as compared to the genetic neo-Darwinian image of ourselves. The ultimate blow to our self-love is this. Whereas Darwin himself kindly left us with the belief that the "struggle for existence' was all about our existence (i.e. the existence of the kind of beings that we are, and the kind of life that we live — as individuals, as groups and as a species), this picture has radically changed with one influential interpretation of the integration of genetics into Darwinism. According to this view of Neo-Darwinism, it is not we — the individuals, groups or the species — there in the spotlight on the stage of the evolutionary drama called "the survival of the fittest' anymore. It's the genes. The evolutionary story which has been put forth by Richard Dawkins in his famous Selfish Gene (1976) is told from the "gene's-eye perspective', which differs from the perspective of the kind of beings that we are. Evolution, it is claimed, is all about the replication of genes. Whereas the genes are the actors on the stage, we are nothing but more or less contingent accessories. In Richard Dawkins's words, the living bodies and conscious minds that we are have no more importance in the evolutionary story than as the "survival machines' that some sets of more or less cooperative genes have built themselves in order to provide for their own survival, or replication. "They are the replicators and we are their survival machines. When we have served our purpose we are cast aside. But the genes are denizens of geological time: genes are forever" (Dawkins 1976: 37). In other words, we are "robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes" (Dawkins 1976: ix).

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-2437-4_11

Full citation:

Schmid, H.B. (2009)., Evolution by imitation, in H. B. Schmid, Plural action, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 197-214.

This document is unfortunately not available for download at the moment.