Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War

Somebody (possibly Henson himself) posted Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War over at Kuro5hin in 2006. I had no idea Kuro5hin still existed, and Henson’s paper could use some consideration of group selection, but anyway it’s a worthwhile and controversial read.

It seems to me that if Henson’s basic thesis is right, our current global political situation is not just eerily similar to that of the mid-1930s, it’s actually the same phenomenon – so we better get it under control.

More evidence for group selection

Kinship selection was always an inadequate explanation for animal behavior observed in the natural world. Relying solely on kin selection to explain the evolution of our consensus reality implicitly depends on making sweeping, ridiculous claims that a lot of really obvious phenomena (like fostering and adoption and homosexuality and cross-species altruism and so forth) are just aberrant behaviors, which do not really need to be accommodated or even comprehensively considered by evolutionary biologists.

The experimental colonies proved more successful if their docile-to-aggressive ratios matched that of the naturally occurring control colonies in the same areas, the researchers report online this week in Nature. The results provide an example of group selection, where individual traits evolve according to the needs of a group.

Paywalled article at Nature here, popular treatment at Science here.

E. O. Wilson on group selection

It’s two years old, but Smithsonian has a nice interview with E.O.Wilson in which he speaks briefly about the group selection heresy. (Out-takes from that interview here).

The way I define it, group selection operates on the fitness, or lack thereof, of the social interactions in the group. In other words, it’s not simply group versus group in that sense but what actions individuals take that affect the group. And that would of course be communication, division of labor and the ability to read others’ intentions, which leads to cooperation.

When it’s an advantage to communicate or cooperate, those genes that promote it are going to be favored in that group if the group is competing with other groups. It gives them superiority over other groups and the selection proceeds at the group level, even as it continues to proceed at the individual level.

I usually give a simplified version of group selection – “the largest group of mutual altruists always wins” – but people generally don’t understand my point. Wilson, unsurprisingly, has a cleaner explanation.

Within groups, selfish individuals win and between groups, altruistic groups beat groups of selfish individuals.