- Paperback: 318 pages
- Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New edition edition (1 Dec. 1989)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0192860887
- ISBN-13: 978-0192860880
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.1 x 23.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 418,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene (Oxford paperbacks) Paperback – 1 Dec 1989
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About the Author
About the Author Richard Dawkins is a Fellow of New College and Lecturer in Animal Behavior at Oxford University. He is the author of The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker.
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After drilling into the 'selfish gene' in greater detail that the eponymous work, the next three chapters do a fantastic job of advocating the view that the effects of genes (their phenotype) are not limited to body parts (blue eyes, brown hair, etc.) but extend out to aspects of animal behavior, animal artifacts and even, in the case of a beaver making a dam that makes a lake, the surrounding environment. We can talk about genes 'for' a beaver lake. He uses well-chosen examples to illustrate how thinking outside the individual organism is conceptually no different than tracing the (actually very complex) chain of events that lead from a single gene to something like blue vs. brown eyes.
The argument of the book was very skillfully crafted. Every one of the ten chapters rehashing and developing the Selfish Gene ended up providing intellectual scaffolding for making the jump outside the body in the later chapters, even if it wasn't obvious that the information would be necessary while reading it. There was almost a sense of a well-constructed trap snapping shut in the final chapters. Dawkins also has a delightful habit of starting a 'thought experiment' that seems utterly bizarre just to get a point across, and right when you think he's pushed the experiment too far, he trots out a real example from nature that is even more wonderful and strange than his thought experiment was. Brilliant work!
Having in a sense finished what he started in the Selfish Gene, developing a gene's-eye view of the world, Dawkins ends The Extended Phenotype with a chapter that contemplates the place and importance of the individual organism.
Dawkins sharpens his knives for 10 chapters, skillfully filleting the arguments of his detractors - those who argue for organism-level selection, group-selection, and species-selection. In my book, he does quite a nice job of it, too.
Then he spends 78 cool pages in play, and this is worth the wait. In these final chapters he breaks down the popular preoccupation with "organism-selection" yet another way. The phenotype, he suggests, is often expressed in other living creatures by manipulating their growth or behavior, and in the built environment. A spider web, by this view, is a genetically determined predacious organ; the flood behind a beaver dam is also naturally selected. This thesis has complications, of course, and is not without limits. You can count on Dawkins to explore those, too.
My advice to non-biologists who pick this up: take the trouble to finish it. Not only will your mind be bent a little, you'll be joining a fairly exclusive club. And if the going gets rough, jump to the excellent Afterward by Dan Dennett. It'll give your enthusiasm a goose.
Professor Dawkins persists in using the misleadingly emotive terminology from his previous best seller, The Selfish Gene. However, in TEP it is very much tempered and qualified. The picture he wishes to make vivid is from a vantage entirely remote from human concerns - it is at the level of molecules, and the complex systems which require copies of molecules to be made . From this perspective, to `survive' means to produce a copy, and to be `selfish' is likewise to be inclined towards such replication; the `struggle' to survive, by this account, is simply a tallying of the number of reproductions both across time, and through the generations. It is made clear that the `fighting' takes place between lineages, and hence over a much extended time frame, that is, `in evolutionary time'.
As the participants in this most undramatic of dramas are utterly bereft of any human attributes, the terms are spoken `innocently', that is without any suggestion that any extrapolations can be made from what goes on at the level of goo to the level of human interaction. TSG also claimed to speak innocently, but it protested its innocence in the face of a gale of rhetoric to the contrary - in TEP, the wind has, thankfully, settled.
TEP spends time undermining certain tenets previously central to Darwinian thinking. The notion that the individual organism works for its own reproductive ends is challenged in chapter four, `Arms races and manipulation'. Prioritizing the germ-line over the individual organism is a recurrent theme, perhaps made most stark in chapter six, `Organisms, Groups, and Memes: Replicators or Vehicles?'; here the central issues turn on Darwinian theory requiring a means by which variety is generated in the factors to be `selected', and a means by which these factors are replicated in succeeding generations - dealing with organisms and groups in turn, Dawkins explains troubles with their candidature. In regard groups, while he is not utterly inimicable to selection occurring at this level, he gives good reason to be skeptical that it could account for the development of complex organs and specializations. Oddly, with his own theory of memes he gives a paragraph of objections and these seem far more convincing than the theory itself.
The penultimate chapters expand on the concept of the title. By extending the phenotype, Professor Dawkins is again undermining the notion that the individual organism is the `level of resolution' which we should examine. The level at which forces of selection operate may better be conceived of as organisms plus their direct environmental effects; or, in virtue on focusing on the genetic germ-line, in might be better to focus on an extended lineage of related individuals. Where the limit is drawn is discussed, albeit vaguely, in terms of where there is discernable feedback to the reproductive success of the germ-line in question.
Finally, the author `rediscovers the organism'. The last chapter is, however, more of an invitation to question why life is organized at the level of individual organisms than a celebration of that fact. To ask such a question, once again the germ-line, or the level of the genetic replicator, is made basic.
In sum, TEP asks us to view the panoply of life from the perspective of replicating DNA, and it suggests that such a view helps to order and explain the events of myriad complexity and diversity which otherwise appear wonderful but beyond explanation. The story it tells is full of detail and complextiy itself, and it occurs at a scale of magnitude and a time frame and, ultimately, from a perspective which makes no comment on our actual lives. Remove the vestigial emotive words carried over from TSG, and the TEP stands clearly as an exposition of a technical scientific theory, and a good one at that.
This book did not turn me in an atheist or else, but it opened my eyes in such a way that I can see people's behaviors and even diseases by another point of view. And this new knowledge is helping me to treat my patients and even my kids in a better way.
Some years ago it was published at Science magazine a paper called "A gene for an extended phenotype" (Science 9 September 2011) which supports Dawkins statements. It is worth read it as well.
The Extended Phenotype, on the other hand, is pretty well free of anti-religious side commentary. It reads much more like a scientist making a case to his peers, and less like a science writer trying to explain things to a nonscientific audience. That means freedom from much of any religious commentary (I don't remember any, so if there was some, it was minor), but it also means the writing style is a little less conversational. It still feels recognizably Dawkins to me, but the emphasis is more on making his point and less on getting people to listen.
I'd say it's a less /fun/ read than, for example, Blind Watchmaker or Selfish Gene, but at the same time it's a more /interesting/ read.
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