Our 'selfish' genes contain the seeds of our destruction – yet there might be a fix

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The human race is usually in so much trouble that will This kind of needs to colonise another planet within 100 years or face extinction. So says the physicist Stephen Hawking in an upcoming BBC documentary, Stephen Hawking: Expedition fresh Earth. According to Hawking, “with climate change, overdue asteroid strikes, epidemics along with population growth, our own planet is usually increasingly precarious”.


If This kind of makes you nervous, This kind of should. Colonising another planet will be much easier said than done, along with lots of people could likely be left behind to face whichever disaster comes first. So is usually there an alternative?

You first have to appreciate that will This kind of is usually mainly a population issue. According to the official count, the number of humans recently passed the 7.5 billion mark. While estimates of the carrying capacity of Earth vary widely, most people could accept we are causing serious damage. along with with the population set to hit nearly ten billion by 2050, that will may be as much as ten times more than the planet’s resources can sustain.

If we could yet reverse This kind of growth, we might be able to avoid Hawking’s solution (at least if we are prepared to ride our luck over the asteroid strike). Standing in our way are two flaws hardwired into human DNA: our genes along with our inability to make rational choices. If we can overcome them, I could argue that will our days on This kind of planet may not be numbered after all.

Fatal flaws?

Our genes problem famously stems by Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. This kind of contains the idea that will all organisms are merely conduits for genes that will hop by generation to generation through different bodies. They do This kind of purely in their own interests, not necessarily the interests of the organisms themselves.

Our genes have been able to do This kind of because our ancestors were unable or unwilling to resist the urge to procreate. We have stemmed This kind of to some extent by teaching kids about contraception (notably by appealing to “selfish” arguments about their future happiness, not saving the planet). Nonetheless the population continues to grow.

Also relevant is usually another idea within the Selfish Gene known as kin selection. This kind of suggests that will not only is usually our ultimate drive to spread the genes contained within our bodies, we are also compelled to protect along with nurture the genes in our relatives – along with by extension the people in our motherland.

Originally discussed by Darwin, This kind of idea implies we are all essentially racist – consciously or subconsciously favouring those who share our genes. This kind of is usually one of the more controversial areas within the Selfish Gene, since This kind of is usually difficult if not impossible to separate nature along with nurture. All the same, the fact that will we have more genes in common with people closer to home means there is usually at least an evolutionary argument for favouring them.

If the idea is usually right, This kind of is usually an extra explanation for our inability to think in terms of what is usually best for humanity as a whole. If you were to reduce your population on behalf of humanity, for example, This kind of might mean fewer young people – threatening economic problems. One solution is usually immigration by countries who have many young people. yet are we prepared to supplement our own gene pool with young foreigners?

Something else in our nature may also be driving us towards unprotected copulation. Just as we are prisoners to the desire of our selfish genes, we also find This kind of difficult to think unemotionally. In his bestselling book by 2011, Thinking, Fast along with Slow, the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahnemann convincingly explained why we struggle to make not bad choices to seemingly simple problems, particularly those that has a strong emotional element. that will includes resisting the urge to breed.

If he is usually correct, This kind of means that will even appealing to people’s own rational self-interest about population control could not be enough. As for arguing This kind of could benefit the greater not bad of humanity, we may as well forget This kind of. As Kahnemann himself said in an interview, you can’t learn your way out of This kind of trap. “This kind of’s not a case of ‘Read This kind of book along with then you’ll think differently’. I’ve written This kind of book, along with I don’t think differently.”

What This kind of means

is usually there any desire of addressing these aspects of the human condition? Certainly there is usually no general acceptance that will human breeding is usually a bad thing, along with not just when additional nationalities do This kind of. Even people who understand that will there are way too many humans continue to produce their own little addition. along with in our societies, we overwhelmingly celebrate births as great thing.

Overriding our drive to procreate is usually therefore a monumental task. We know that will education can work up to a point. along with in some countries birth rates are already falling, to ensure’s a start.

Potentially we can learn by China’s controversial one child policy. This kind of did reduce the number of humans born in that will country. If we could overcome the intolerable suffering that will This kind of caused by aggressively implementing a policy of true equality of opportunity for men along with women at the same time, This kind of may yet be workable.

To help win hearts along with minds for such a change, we may be able to draw on a technique called “nudge” – as described within the 2008 book of the same name by American academics Richard Thaler along with Cass Sunstein. Nudging essentially persuades people to adopt behaviours that will are better for either them or society as a whole. This kind of has been shown to work on many people without them being conscious of This kind of.

yet first, This kind of needs to become more widely recognised that will we are at war with our own biological constraints. within the decades to come, This kind of is usually just possible that will we will be able to create a fresh civilisation somewhere else within the solar system or even beyond. yet staring back at those settlers within the mirror will still be the same fundamentally flawed humans. Instead of running away, wouldn’t This kind of be better to stand along with fight?


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The Conversation

Our 'selfish' genes contain the seeds of our destruction – yet there might be a fix

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