Cos (cos) wrote,

Evolution of Cooperation

Reading "E. O. Wilson's Theory of Everything" in The Atlantic, I ran across this:
    Indeed, while we sat in camp chairs talking about conservation and ants and countless other subjects, a dispute was raging among evolutionary biologists half a world away, one of the most hotly contested in that field in years-and Wilson was at its center.
    The current controversy results from another bid by Wilson to overturn conventional scientific wisdom. For more than four decades, evolutionary biology has been dominated by a school of thought known as "kin selection," which postulates that some species arrive at cooperative behavior and a complex division of labor as a matter of reproductive strategy among close relatives.
    The furor erupted with the publication, in the scientific journal Nature in August 2010, of an article written by Wilson and two co-authors, Martin A. Nowak and Corina E. Tarnita, both of Harvard. Titled "The Evolution of Eusociality," it amounted to a frontal challenge to a key concept of kin-selection theory, called "inclusive fitness."

Which reminded me of a talk I went to with satyrgrl in 2008, at Harvard, about "the evolution of cooperation", in which a Harvard scientists who described himself as an evolutionary mathematician (or something like that) described his mathematical models of cooperation and what kinds of cooperation they lead to, ending with the most powerful sort based on a model of group cooperation.

I'm pretty sure that was Martin Nowak, which means that we saw a presentation of the very same ideas that ended up in this paper. Indeed, his math did explain the evolution of group cooperation without depending on arguments based on kin relationships. He just showed that group cooperation could outcompete others and provided an advantage to each individual in that group, regardless of the advantage it might also give to other members of the group, given certain models.

Since biology, evolution, and etc., are not at all my fields, it feels kinda surreal to read about a major scientific controversy in the Atlantic and partway through realize "hey, I saw that guy talk about this stuff before they published the paper, and didn't even realize it was going to be controversial".

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