Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A revolution in evolution - cooperation

Milinski reviews Martin Novak's new book "SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed," written with journalist Roger Highfield. (This post is another instance of my passing on some information on a book that I would like very much to read, but never will find time for...).
...evolutionary theorist Martin Nowak sees cooperation as the master architect of evolution. He believes that next to mutation and selection, cooperation is the driving force at every level, from the primordial soup to cells, organisms, societies and even galaxies.

Game theory is central to Nowak's work and the book highlights five ways to work together for mutual benefit: direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, spatial games, group or multilevel selection and kin selection. Direct reciprocity is the tit-for-tat exchange of resources...Nowak believes that indirect reciprocity, where I help you and someone else helps me, is the most important mechanism driving human sociality. It enforces the power of reputation, gained by helping or refusing help, which is spread through gossip, thus selecting in evolutionary terms for sophisticated language...Cooperators can prevail through exchanges that are played out across and between networks and clusters of individuals...Multilevel or group selection follows among communities that are small, numerous and isolated
Novak shows where the experts disagree, and questions the theoretical basis of kin selection, or inclusive fitness theory. He offers:
...a new model for the evolution of sociality, in which relatedness...is a consequence rather than the cause of social behaviour. By assuming only one mutation — one that causes offspring to stay in the nest rather than leave — he claims to explain why progeny happen to be around to help their related mother.
A massive amount of data supporting the idea of kin selection has accumulated, however, and Novak actually says “kin selection is a valid mechanism if properly formulated.”

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