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Every Selfish Gene Must Also Cooperate
Is ruthless selfishness natural and rational? The idea that this is just how “selfish genes” and evolution work is unnaturally selective. Without certain kinds of cooperation, no gene can survive (that's using the term cooperative in a similar metaphoric way that genes can be described as "selfish").
Is "ruthless selfishness" natural and rational? The idea that this is just how “selfish genes” and evolution work is unnaturally selective. Here’s why:
1. “Selfish” genes that don’t also "cooperate" don’t survive. Evolution’s logic ensures it. (That's using the term "cooperate" with the same metaphoric license as labeling genes "selfish").
2. In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins popularized, spectacularly, the idea that selfishness is natural. In stellar prose Dawkins presented his ideas so successfully that they became influential beyond the book’s readership. But The Selfish Gene had an oddly selective focus and contained “rogue sentences.” E.g., “a society based simply on the gene’s law of universal ruthless selfishness would be a very very nasty society.” In getting individuals to “cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature ... because we are born selfish.”
3. Dawkins focusses on selfishness and altruism, defining X as altruistic if it increases “another such entity’s welfare [Y’s] at the expense of its own. Selfish behavior has exactly the opposite effect.” His scheme is binary and zero-sum: X gains by Y’s loss. It accurately describes genes competing against their alleles (their variants) for the single slot of dominance in future populations. But Dawkins’s selfishness and altruistic aren’t the only logically possible outcomes, e.g., X and Y both lose, or X and Y both gain. While many biologists confuse cooperation with altruism, using Dawkins definitions, win-win cooperation is neither selfish nor altruistic. Regardless, evolution doesn’t ignore cooperation’s advantages.
4. For Dawkins the devil isn’t in the details, but in straying too far from them. He over-extrapolates from incomplete categories, and commits a “fallacy of composition.” Those involve extending properties of parts inappropriately to wholes. An absurd example is: Each atom in a teacup is invisible, therefore the teacup is invisible. Similarly, projecting a “selfish” zero-sum property of genes onto everything built by genes, to conclude everything that has “evolved ... should be selfish” is mistaken (if, using Dawkins’s definition, selfish gain is at the expense of others).
6. Dawkins does describe needed cooperation: Every “selfish” gene needs a vehicle (body) and its many other genes (at least 181) for the “intricate cooperative venture” of propagation. Genes that cooperate well with vehicle mates prosper. Those that harm their vehicles don’t. So Dawkins’s “little help” from nature is actually a selection for certain kinds of cooperation.
7. Sadly the cooperative aspects of evolution aren’t so well known. And those “rogue sentences” have lent the shield of science to the bad idea that a “universal ruthlessness” governs biology. Cooperation abounds. All genes need it.
8. Game theory led Dawkins to modify his initial position; he subsequently wrote about how in evolution “cooperation and mutual assistance can flourish.” Studying “the Prisoner’s Dilemma” proved that cooperating generously can be an evolutionarily stable strategy, with higher productivity than selfishness.
10. In the 30th-anniversary edition, Dawkins noted that “‘born selfish’ is misleading,” and asked readers to, “mentally delete that rogue sentence and others like it.” Sadly, the unsimple details of nature’s mix of competition and cooperation haven’t spread as successfully as the initial rogue proclamations.
11. The cooperative aspect of genes in vehicles provides a cautious general maxim. Nature selects against all that damages the vehicle(s) it depends on. Just as no gene can survive without its vehicle, neither can parts of any interdependent aggregate (e.g., individuals of an interdependent social species need others in their survival vehicles). This “vehicular viability” logic maps evolutionary and logical limits to selfishness. We’re likely the first species to know this, or to have any non-genetically determined choice about the matter.
12. Team survival logic is built into human social emotions and ethical instincts, which likely evolved to limit team-(vehicle-)damaging selfishness. Self-maximization that ignores “vehicular viability” often yields poor social coordination results, e.g., hunting in teams, managing “the commons,” or Prisoner’s Dilemma (in which “rationalists” lose to golden-rule adherents, and Jewish ethics beat Christian). That’s one way “rational” economic self-interest has become a poor proxy for our real and biological interests.
The pop science of selfishness needs an upgrade. Cooperation, selfishness, and altruism are all natural and rational. Each is sometimes fittest for the circumstances. Dawkins says he could have called his book The Cooperative Gene. Evolution would be better understood if he had.
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker Cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions.
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to life recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
- As the material that makes all living things what/who we are, DNA is the key to understanding and changing the world. British geneticist Bryan Sykes and Francis Collins (director of the Human Genome Project) explain how, through gene editing, scientists can better treat illnesses, eradicate diseases, and revolutionize personalized medicine.
- But existing and developing gene editing technologies are not without controversies. A major point of debate deals with the idea that gene editing is overstepping natural and ethical boundaries. Just because they can, does that mean that scientists should be edit DNA?
- Harvard professor Glenn Cohen introduces another subcategory of gene experiments: mixing human and animal DNA. "The question is which are okay, which are not okay, why can we generate some principles," Cohen says of human-animal chimeras and arguments concerning improving human life versus morality.
New studies stretch the boundaries of physics, achieving quantum entanglement in larger systems.
- New experiments with vibrating drums push the boundaries of quantum mechanics.
- Two teams of physicists create quantum entanglement in larger systems.
- Critics question whether the study gets around the famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
Recently published research pushes the boundaries of key concepts in quantum mechanics. Studies from two different teams used tiny drums to show that quantum entanglement, an effect generally linked to subatomic particles, can also be applied to much larger macroscopic systems. One of the teams also claims to have found a way to evade the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
One question that the scientists were hoping to answer pertained to whether larger systems can exhibit quantum entanglement in the same way as microscopic ones. Quantum mechanics proposes that two objects can become "entangled," whereby the properties of one object, such as position or velocity, can become connected to those of the other.
An experiment performed at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, led by physicist Shlomi Kotler and his colleagues, showed that a pair of vibrating aluminum membranes, each about 10 micrometers long, can be made to vibrate in sync, in such a way that they can be described to be quantum entangled. Kotler's team amplified the signal from their devices to "see" the entanglement much more clearly. Measuring their position and velocities returned the same numbers, indicating that they were indeed entangled.
Tiny aluminium membranes used by Kotler's team.Credit: Florent Lecoq and Shlomi Kotler/NIST
Evading the Heisenberg uncertainty principle?
Another experiment with quantum drums — each one-fifth the width of a human hair — by a team led by Prof. Mika Sillanpää at Aalto University in Finland, attempted to find what happens in the area between quantum and non-quantum behavior. Like the other researchers, they also achieved quantum entanglement for larger objects, but they also made a fascinating inquiry into getting around the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
The team's theoretical model was developed by Dr. Matt Woolley of the University of New South Wales. Photons in the microwave frequency were employed to create a synchronized vibrating pattern as well as to gauge the positions of the drums. The scientists managed to make the drums vibrate in opposite phases to each other, achieving "collective quantum motion."
The study's lead author, Dr. Laure Mercier de Lepinay, said: "In this situation, the quantum uncertainty of the drums' motion is canceled if the two drums are treated as one quantum-mechanical entity."
This effect allowed the team to measure both the positions and the momentum of the virtual drumheads at the same time. "One of the drums responds to all the forces of the other drum in the opposing way, kind of with a negative mass," Sillanpää explained.
Theoretically, this should not be possible under the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, one of the most well-known tenets of quantum mechanics. Proposed in the 1920s by Werner Heisenberg, the principle generally says that when dealing with the quantum world, where particles also act like waves, there's an inherent uncertainty in measuring both the position and the momentum of a particle at the same time. The more precisely you measure one variable, the more uncertainty in the measurement of the other. In other words, it is not possible to simultaneously pinpoint the exact values of the particle's position and momentum.
Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle Explained. Credit: Veritasium / Youtube.com
Big Think contributor astrophysicist Adam Frank, known for the 13.8 podcast, called this "a really fascinating paper as it shows that it's possible to make larger entangled systems which behave like a single quantum object. But because we're looking at a single quantum object, the measurement doesn't really seem to me to be 'getting around' the uncertainty principle, as we know that in entangled systems an observation of one part constrains the behavior of other parts."
Ethan Siegel, also an astrophysicist, commented, "The main achievement of this latest work is that they have created a macroscopic system where two components are successfully quantum mechanically entangled across large length scales and with large masses. But there is no fundamental evasion of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle here; each individual component is exactly as uncertain as the rules of quantum physics predicts. While it's important to explore the relationship between quantum entanglement and the different components of the systems, including what happens when you treat both components together as a single system, nothing that's been demonstrated in this research negates Heisenberg's most important contribution to physics."The papers, published in the journal Science, could help create new generations of ultra-sensitive measuring devices and quantum computers.