Measured Against Reality

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Cooperative Genes

I was reading The Universe in a Single Atom by the Dalai Lama, (which I will “review” when I finish), specifically his section on evolution, when a thought occurred to me. I thought it was a good one so I ran over to the counter to ask for a piece of paper and jotted it down on the back of a SouthWest ticket holder. It reads:

Which came first, the cooperation of the sociality? Does genetic predisposition for cooperation (altruism, compassion, etc) precede social inclinations, or does a social organization select for cooperative genes? Or do they reinforce each other? I’ve only heard that social animals will necessarily evolve to cooperate, but is it possible for cooperative animals to evolve to be social? I would say yes, and that (in mammals) that is probably how it happened.

I’m not sure if this is a new thought, I only know that I’ve never seen it before (or don’t remember seeing it before). I’m not even sure how viable it is. Although I do believe I have seen computer simulations run where cooperative genes can reach fixation in a population (fixation means that all animals in the gene pool that that allele in common). From there it would be fairly simple for social behaviors to emerge, given that cooperation in groups works very well.

However, evolving sociality is still possible, but I have a harder time seeing it happen (granted I am not a biologist, and my understand of evolution, especially the more complicated topics like behavioral evolution, is limited). It seems like a population of animals that are all fiercely competitive with each other would have difficulty forming groups without toning down the competitiveness.

Anyway, those are just some thoughts for a Sunday morning. Hope you have a good one.


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