Blur Circle

Steve Yost's weblog
March 08, 2004
Selfish Dreams

I'll put this one in the old "deep thoughts" category, but don't take me too seriously -- I'm not. Lots of major gaps here, but I thought I'd post it prematurely to fill a major gap in my blog.

Over vacation I re-read some of my favorite short stories by Julio Cortazar, many of which deal with fantastic coincidence or dreams, or both. And so a story idea occurred to me: what if our dreams were the ultimate evolutionary goal? What if we, as the highest-order sentient beings we know of, exist for the purpose of having dreams? I'm thinking of this (vaguely) from more of a Carl Jung angle than a Matrix-like one.

We can explore this whimsically and see what stories come of it; we can even suspend judgement and explore it analytically and see if it holds any merit. If it can be found to have merit using the same arguments as those used by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene or selfish memes, does it serve as a reducto ad absurdum debunking of the latter?

We could examine the arguments around the selfish gene. We'll keep in mind the notion that selfish genes are not actually intelligently purposeful, but the result of a continuum of fortuitous evolutionary process including selection and recombination (a very intimate sort of cooperation). Any entity coherent and long-lasting enough for us to trace its lineage for eons exists solely due to these accidents of adaptation.

Now, the selfish gene argument presupposes genes as the fundamentally most important entity in the specification and unfolding of life. Perhaps the selfish dream argument could refute that, elaborating the necessary connectedness and interdependence of a highly complex evolving system.

In fact we could pick any identifiable sub-entity of ourselves as the selfish component that wags the evolutionary dog. But dreams, by their most transient and apparently purposeless nature, make a good center for exploring whether the "selfish gene" mode of reasoning is fallacious. And if the result isn't absurd, then we're onto something really fun.

March 08, 2004 09:39 PM