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Progress is the purpose

March 17, 2013

I have just read Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene, which was first published in 1976. The book has sold over 1m copies and has been translated into over 25 languages. I recommend it as a “must read”.

Dawkins extends Darwin’s theory of evolution by proposing that genes seek to be replicated and that successful genes are those that increase the likelihood of future replication. Gene combinations occur that serve the same purpose and it is this replication of changing combinations over billions of years that has resulted in the evolution of the amazing array of species that exist today.

From this gene-centered viewpoint, it makes sense that we behave most selflessly towards those that have the highest proportion of our genes (i.e. family members). However, it also makes sense that we collaborate with others to increase the probability of the survival and replication of our genes.

Accepting Dawkin’s theory, it seems logical that human progress serves this purpose of gene survival and replication. From building mud huts and sharpening flint to advancements in modern medicine and technology, the result has been to increase the probability of gene survival. Over the past 100 years, life expectancy has increased by 25 years, i.e. 0.25 years for each year that we live. For major threats to our survival, such as resource sufficiency and climate change, we must focus on technological progress to provide the solution.

The greatest threat to the survival of the gene is resistance to progress resulting in the failure to address major threats. Not only resistance but a lack of focus. It is most likely that innovation will accelerate exponentially as a result of the increasing number of connected minds, but progress should never be taken for granted. Progress is the purpose and it is in all our interests to contribute.

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