Group Evolution
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Author:  LanDroid [ Sat May 08, 2004 9:30 am ]
Post subject:  Group Evolution

When I was discussion leader of Global Brain by Bloom, I got my butt kicked several different ways during a discussion of group evolution. So it was with amusement I read the following.

New research by philospher Elliott Sober and biologist David Sloane Wilson, presented in their 1998 book Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior, indicates there may have been an additional selection component in human evolution that gave rise to cooperation and altruism, and that is a modified version of group selection. This is a volatile subject among evolutionary theorists because for the past thirty years, group selection has been next to creationism as the doctrine strict Darwinians most love to hate. selection was vilified as the pap of bleeding-heart liberals who couldn't deal with the reality of "nature red in tooth and claw".

... Sober and Wilson show how "individual selection favors traits that maximize relative fitness within single groups," and that "group selection favors traits that maximize the relative fitness of groups." Of course, "altruism is maladaptive with respect to individual selection but adaptive with respect to group selection." Therefore, they conclude, "altruism is can evolve if the process of group selection is sufficiently strong."

Chapter 7, page 165 in hardback

OK, let the butt-kicking resume...

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Sat May 08, 2004 10:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Group Evolution


So what was your opinion on group selection again?

/gets boot in kicking position


"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them"

Author:  Katala Au [ Tue May 11, 2004 7:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Group Evolution

Hey Lan,

Unfortunately I wasn't involved in the initial discussion and can't currently view it, but it sounds like you're taking the stand "akin to creationism" (for "neo-darwinists") :p . I'm really swamped right now, but want to get involved in this thread before it dies a lonely death.

I will point out for starters, that I only have a pretty basic understanding of the population genetics involved here (and even that understanding needs a lot of refreshing!). What I'm generally interested in, is to hear an argument that makes sense for not only why group selection could theoretically exist, but to actually see some clear examples in nature that could not more parsimoniously be explained by kin selection or reciprocal altruism.

I had to do a large paper critiquing Unto Others about 3 years ago, and although my understanding was more minimal than it is now (which is why I chose to tackle it in the first place), I did not find Sober and Wilson's arguments very convincing at all. Of course, this could be due to my lack of understanding, which is why I'm hoping for some explanation that gives me an "aha" moment.

So I'm going to quote some arguments that I paraphrased in my paper (which hopefully sufficiently represents what they were really trying to say

Author:  Jeremy NYC [ Fri May 14, 2004 9:01 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Group Evolution

Thanks to both of you, Lan Droid and Katala Au, for bringing up and elucidating this topic. I think Shermer's treatment is very different from Blooms. Bloom based an entire philosophy on group selection: he considers it a powerful, perhaps overridinig force, which has been demonstrated time and again to be quite impossible.

Shermer acknowledges the problems with making it an overall theory, while suggesting that it has SOME influence SOME of the time. THis is a different kettle of fish entirely. Even Dr Dawkins concedes that groups being selected on the basis of fitness of said groups may have some influence on overall evolution; these are not "all or none" propositions.

If one is to have a deep understanding of how we have evolved, however, it is necessary to understand that the primary unit of selection is the gene, as expressed in an individual body. The logic is simple and inescapable, and the evidence overwhelmingly supports this view. Shermer is contributing to a conversation, Bloom is blowing smoke.

Author:  Mr. Pessimistic [ Mon Jul 19, 2004 3:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Group Evolution

the primary unit of selection is the gene, as expressed in an individual body

I have been reading Ernst Mayr recently and from what I gather, he states the the gene is not the object of selection. It is, as you allude to, the 'Norm of Reaction', that is, the genotype produces a phenotype in an environment. The gene is otherwise a 'hard' ingredient and is not selected. The presence of the same gene in two (or more) different phenotypes may not produce the same results, thus the selection is on the individual in a population, which then passes it's genes on. The group can be selected as well.

This does not account for mutuation of course, just selection.

I will have to go over the specific chapters again, but this is, I think, the jist.

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

Author:  Interbane [ Thu Oct 14, 2004 9:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Group Evolution

This topic is interesting, I've never heard of Group Evolution. May I present my thoughts?

A trait of humans - evolved individually to help the group as a whole.

I'm not sure whether to say that this trait is Gossiping or Teaching. I'll call it gossip, since that may have been the same as teaching when we were cavemen.

The reason I touch on this trait is that I sometimes find a powerful urge to tell someone a secret that I promised I wouldn't tell. At first, I thought my motivation was that I wanted to impress the person(parsimoniously, this would be trump I think.) The more I explored peoples reactions, though, the more I realized that they were indifferent to my telling and more interested in the information itself.

Not until I read this post did I think that the trait of gossiping would have excellent survival benefits for groups of people. Let me explain some examples.

A lone hunter comes back from a hunt for food with a deer. An individual survival trait may dictate that he keep this a secret for himself so he has more food. Another individual survival trait may be to tell people where the food is in order to impress them and get a potential mate.

Up until 10 minutes ago I would have said the second trait is the simplest and purest possibility. But think of how much more survivable the entire group would be if the hunter already had a mate, yet still told the others because of an urge to tell them. In the end, he is proud of this, which is the same as telling everyone to impress a mate. Yet more people would survive because of this trait than just him.


Someone telling his comrades how to make bows and arrows. Group survivability just went up tremendously. Someone explaining that salt kept meat cured. Group survivability also goes up.

Could the urge to gossip/teach be developed from group evolution?

Edited by: Interbane at: 10/14/04 10:41 pm

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Thu Oct 14, 2004 10:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Group Evolution


I see you on the site, but you're not in the chat room. We're in there with author Howard Bloom. Come on in!


"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandella

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