Cooperation in evolutionary context

‘Cui bono’ for selfishness

In the pyramid of complexity of organisation of life, cooperation is when parts at some level in that pyramid help each other out for the apparent benefit of some other level. Whenever that occurs, people argue about who benefits. How do we have the moral wetware to support interpersonal institutions with non-myopic benefits?

The evolution of cooperation in organisms of varying degrees of complexity. Group selection, kin selection, eusociality, miscellaneous other mechanisms, multi-level selection. Does it happen, how much, etc.

What is selected?

Brian McGill’s parable of the hens, based on Muir and Craig (1998), a.k.a. putting the “coop” in “cooperation”.

High productivity egg-laying is associated with aggression — indeed the highest egg layers are basically the ones that beat up the other hens in the coop with them and capture the most resources. […]

Then in the 1980s people got the idea to use group selection. Instead of picking individuals that were most productive, they selected entire hen houses that were most productive to produce the next generation

Kevin Simler, The Leaning Tower of Morality:

The only way to get group selection to work out, mathematically, is under very specific conditions. (1) Groups have to be fairly isolated from each other, enough that sociopaths can’t jump freely from group to group. And (2) they need enough time in isolation to allow group-level advantages to produce demographic gains. However, (3) the groups also need to come together periodically to remix their members. This all hinges on Simpson’s paradox, and you can read more about it here: Fletcher and Zwick (2007) and Powers, Heys, and Watson (2012)

How noisy is it useful for evolutionary selfishness mechanisms to be?

Decision theory in evolution

TBD; how much does evolution need to know, about who it is helping?

How noisy must evolutionary selfishness mechanisms to be?

How much can evolution know about who it is helping


On what time horizon must one benefit from a type of cooperation? Maybe cite Axelrod.


  • Derek Thompson, The Most Efficient Way to Save a Life

    As Sam Kean explained in The Atlantic article “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Giving,” the mainstream theory of altruism’s roots is known as “kin selection”. Since the engine of evolution is procreation, any gene pool should be rewarded for the instinct to help relatives (including distant relatives) survive and pass along their genes—even when that assistance requires great sacrifice. Altruism, in this interpretation, is natural rather than super-human.

  • Kin selection


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