Selfish Gene

Selfish Gene

In 2016, Google X (Google's secretive moonshot lab) made a video to visualize a thought experiment that spotlights the concept of a Selfish Ledger.

Drawing upon evolutionary theory, it proposes an alternative approach against user-centered design where instead of treating users as owners, one would treat them as a custodian of said "selfish ledger" that carries its own will to continuously grow itself.

While the thought experiment itself certainly does not sit well with the general public, I can't help but find the concept of a self-serving existence that survives off their human custodian to be fascinating.

Why Families Exist

Back when I was in high school, me and my friends used to self-deprecatingly joke on how people shouldn't worry too much about dying alone (read: without a family) as virtually all animals don't have the concept of family and they survive just fine; this led us to wonder on why humans form families when other animals don't.

Is it a social construct or a natural phenomenon?

What motivates this behavior in the first place?

In the 1960s, Bill Hamilton, one of the most significant evolutionary biologist of his time, proposes the idea of the selfish gene (later continued by Richard Dawkins and popularized in his book aptly named "The Selfish Gene")

"... the ultimate criterion which determines whether [a gene] G will spread is not whether the behavior is to the benefit of the behaver, but whether it is to the benefit of the gene G" - W. D. Hamilton

Anchored on this idea, what if we model family units as the transient carrier or mere custodians of this selfish gene?

What if the formation of families is not merely self-serving to the individuals that compose it but rather to serve a formless existence that is accumulated through your lineage?

What if the motivation behind "continuing your family" is to carry on the survival of this "selfish gene"?

If so, in the context of a family, what would this "selfish gene" be?

The Family's Selfish Gene

As we grow up and form new families with our partner, one would always look back to one's family to create an image on how you would want your future family to be.

The image of your future ideal family will have a combination of constructive and destructive element drawn upon your idea of family that you've built throughout your life.



Constructive: I like X about my family; I want my children to have more of the same.

Destructive: I hate X about my family; I don't want my children to go through the same.


This process is repeated again and again throughout your lineage to reach the point to where it is now.

Your family's concept of the ideal family is your family's selfish gene.

The Ever-evolving Image of Ideal Family

At the center of Larmarck's theory laid what he called "the adaptive force". He believed that the experiences of an organism during its life modified this internal code, and upon reproduction, this modified version was passed down to its young.

Scott's Note: In 1809, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck published what is often considered the first comprehensive theory of evolution. 50 years before Darwin's The Origin of Species.

What you see as the ideal family is more likely than not to be non-stationary.

As you execute on your perception of the ideal family, you will learn why X works and why Y does not; therefore modifying the image of ideal family that gets passed down.

Your view on the ideal family is not something that you own. Instead, you are a mere transient carrier, a custodian, or caretaker of it. You continue to enrich it by exploring new ideas during your lifetime, but it doesn't die when you do. Instead, it gets carried on by your descendants to continue to enrich itself.

So, what now?

While thinking that you are working to serve a formless overlord might feel gloomy, I choose to see this from a different (much more exciting) lens.

Let this be your encouragement to truly reflect on what you cherish about your family, what you think could be improved, and what you want your children to experience.

Let this be your call to action to not only fantasize about those ideas but also to take action on it: create actionable steps to reach your goal, talk to your children about it, etc.

What you will do will ripple out through your descendants, the descendant of your descendants, and so on and so forth.

As always, remember that one of the greatest joys of being human is to realize that you are a part of something much much bigger than yourself.