After being introduced to the fascinating subject of evolutionary theory by Less Wrong and starting reading The Selfish Gene I have been slowly coming to terms with the mind-blowing revelation that I am simply a machine built to ensure the preservation of my genes, and that they are the only part of me that will outlive me. This is a change of huge magnitude, requiring I abandon the usual cached thoughts and perceptions of humanity as somehow special, detached from and above the world and baser matter that built us.
Such a revelation should make me question all my assumptions, permeate my thinking, yet I find myself still thinking much the same ways I did before. I have not fully integrated this information and its implications into my world-view. I have noticed myself changing my mind less often than I think, and hope.
My question to you is therefore, how would you expect a person who had learnt of their status as a "mere" gene machine then reflected and fully integrated the knowledge to think? What new thoughts and habits would they form compared to their old life as an immortal special creature, allegedly made in god's image? What would you expect to change?
I offer the following suggestions of the kinds of change this hypothetical person, let us call them "the subject", would make:
- The subject would have to reformulate their attitude to other non-human life-forms or potential lifeforms. With no divine spark seperating us from other animals or artificial minds, they would experience the freedom to decide what they place in their "tribe" (I'm reminded of Human the piggy in Speaker for the Dead realising he can include other cultures and even alien species in his definition of his "tribe"). Would they show more empathy towards non-sapient animals too? How else would this manifest?
- The subject would become more aware of their own mortality and that of others. This would hopefully result in taking additional care of themselves and others on the basis that each has only one chance to be happy and our indifferent creators will not do so. Regrettably this could go the other way and result in undervaluing life given its brevity and seeing no need for morality.
- The subject would feel additional kinship towards fellow humans, bearing in mind that their fundamental structure is almost exactly the same. They would hopefully have greater difficulty labelling others as inhuman or evil and be better capable of empathy. This coupled with their own mortality might incline them to pursue longer-term projects for the benefit of humanity as a whole.
- Less laudably the subject might make their new awareness a source of pride instead of humility, and take pleasure in looking down up those who still hold such "backward" beliefs, seeing them as weak for embracing reassuring falsehoods and having inflated senses of their uniqueness and special-ness.
These are all very general, and I would be very interested to hear your ideas of specific behaviours such a conversion would engender if properly reflected upon and integrated. Thank you for your time.