14 July 2005
frankly don't understand the pervasiveness and tremendous variety of
cooperation in nature. Currently popular
interpretations of Darwinism are based on the "selfish gene" idea
popularized by Dawkins. According to this, everything that looks like
cooperation can really be explained by a gene's propensity to promulgate
more copies of itself, disregarding or even battling for turf with other
unrelated individuals, but helping in a limited way the close relatives who
have a calculated chance of containing this same cooperative gene.
But the theory can't begin to
encompass all the varied forms of cooperation, altruism and self-sacrifice
reported in observations of the natural world. Fish live in
cooperative breeding groups, where most are content not to mate. Ants
and bees working together and sharing in a hive are not all close relatives,
as was once thought. Even one-celled micro-organisms regularly
form cooperative groups: when starvation threatens, some cells sacrifice
their lives for the sake of a few that survive.
In the realm of
human behavior, classic economic theory stubbornly insists that we are all as selfish
as we can be, while in the real world people continue to volunteer, to
teach, to work hard for causes we believe in, and to accept lower wages so
that we can do work we feel good about.
Daily article on cooperation in fish.
cooperation evolves is one of the 125 unresolved questions featured in
Science magazine last week.
of article on yeast cells that sacrifice their lives for each other.
Unto Others, by Sober and Wilson