evolution of cooperation
May 8, 2006 12:43 AM   Subscribe

evolution of cooperation apparently the evolution of cooperative behavior has been something of a rough spot for evolution researchers. Some guys (Mikhail Burtsev & Peter Turchin) developed a computer simulation that helps to explain how the essential selfishness of survival is not mutually exclusive to altruism and cooperation as well as how these behaviors can arise naturally. (further reading from google: ###)
posted by Tryptophan-5ht (25 comments total)
derail: isn't this the cutest thing you've ever seen??
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 12:47 AM on May 8, 2006

That fox isn't cooperating with anyone!

He's just like a little puppy dog, isn't he?!

I want one. We ought to domesticate those suckers.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:06 AM on May 8, 2006

Rough spot? I don't think so. It's clear that two organisms which act in cooperation, even accidentally, may prosper over their competitors due to that cooperation. That is enough in itself to sustain an evolutionary advantage.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:22 AM on May 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately their paper is reading like too much gobbledygook this early in the morning (plus too much math or whatever that stiff is =) ), but an interesting take/expansion on this idea is found in a paper:

Schleidt, W. M. and Shalter, M. D. Co-evolution of humans and canids: An alternative view of dog domestication: Homo Homini Lupus? Evolution and Cognition, 9(1):57--72, 2003.
This shift in our attitude toward wolves opens a new vista as to the origin of dogs. Instead of perpetuating our traditional attitude that our ”domesticated animals” are intentional creations of human ingenuity, we propose that initial contacts between wolves and humans were truly mutual, and that various subsequent changes in both wolves and humans must be considered as a process of co-evolution. The impact of wolves’ ethics on our own may well equal or even exceed that of our effect on wolves’ changes in their becoming dogs in terms of their general appearance or specific behavioral traits.
The paper traces how the grey wolf was until very recently the most succefful predator in the history of mammals and posits the reason for this being that wolf packs (which are now understood to be primarily family groups) engage in a number of behaviors which we consider "human" -- including caring for the old and infirm, and even what might today be called social security:
Typically predators, when going for the kill, avoid the risk of disabling injury that would prevent them from hunting. The attacks on prey by lions, tigers, sharks, and the like conjure up images of bravery and fury. In reality, however, they are low-risk performances by smooth butchers. Only when they turn on each other, as, for example, in conspecific fighting over a limited resource (e.g. a female), do they incur high risk of getting seriously injured.

When canids hunt as a pack, they can, because of their focused attention and close cooperation, act much more as an integrated system than any group of chimps or lions, where the individual that makes the kill and can maintain possession of the carcass, or take it over by force, will get “the lion’s share”. In wolves each pack member can accept greater risks when attacking, because, when injured, the needy will be fed by the other pack members This cooperation and risk sharing not only among close relatives, but among individuals bonded as mated pairs or by lasting friendships among individuals of the same gender, is the central feature of canid pack living.
What might upset some of the humanists in the group is that the paper has less kind things to say about our hominid near neighbors the chimpanzees and the authors speculate that many of the traits we think of as human might actually have come from the most massive example of "monkey see, mokey do" in history.

And it might go a ways to explain why so often humans are so bad at being human--because the problem is, we're just not cut out to live in the wolf pack. Cheekiness aside, it's a pretty entertaining paper. Highly recommended.
posted by illovich at 6:26 AM on May 8, 2006

Side note to the fox derail: Yes they are cute, but you totally do not want one. A friend of mine adopted a "domesticated" silver-tail fox and it was perhaps the most horrible pet in the world.

They're nearly impossible to train, tend to be pretty skittish and panic easily, and they have an amusing habit of taking a crap in other species food, which I guess must be some sort of territorial behavior, but boy does it piss off the cat.
posted by illovich at 6:29 AM on May 8, 2006

Metafilter: which I guess must be some sort of territorial behavior
posted by GuyZero at 6:45 AM on May 8, 2006

Metafilter: boy does it piss off the cat.

Thanks for the links, I'll have to devote some time to them later.
posted by OmieWise at 7:12 AM on May 8, 2006

That is real interesting, thanks Tryptophan-5ht & illovich.
posted by MetaMonkey at 9:29 AM on May 8, 2006

This is really interesting. I only checked out the first two links so far, but I want to read more on this later. I am interested in the idea of to what extent this may be predictive in evolution and also how, if this is accurate, it gives some biological support to some political philosophers who have argued that selfishness and altruism are false distinctions and we have to work together for our own sake.

Thank you Tryptophan-5ht for the interesting post. I look forward to reading more about this.
posted by dios at 9:38 AM on May 8, 2006

Foxes may make lousy pets, but they're fun neighbors, especially if they have puppies who play tag behind your house. Just be careful about leaving any clothes outside, or they'll get used for fox tug of war matches.
posted by homunculus at 9:50 AM on May 8, 2006

What aeschenkarnos said, or else I'm missing something.
posted by bardic at 9:52 AM on May 8, 2006

*sigh of joy* Thank you Tryptophan-5ht for this stimulating FPP! The evolution of cooperation interests me passionately.
It interests me as a Buddhist and more in trying to understand human relationships. The other week I watched Howard Zinn's CD, You Can't Be Neutral On a Moving Train".

At the end of it there is a 'bonus feature' which discusses "Human Nature and Aggression". Zinn says in his studies about the history of war, that it is not the deeply ingrained preconception that it is 'human nature' which prompts people to want to spontaneously kill others or to go to war. He said wars don't happen out of a rush of population wanting war but leaders who convince, coerce with powerful inducements or threats of punishment, seduce, inflame a population, who work hard on persuading others with propaganda to go to war. Zinn determined from reading various scientists, including Konrad Lorenz, who wrote "On Aggression", that although there may be a human propensity to experience aggression, there are environmental factors and circumstances, particularly being swayed by political leaders, that come into play when it comes to war or violence.

I'm interested in the dynamics of 'loving support networks' and 'abuse support networks'. I'm also interested in the dynamics around pathological narcissists and why people with narcissistic personality disorder have come to power thoughout history. Could there be some biological reason why pathological narcissists are tolerated in groups of people over the millennia?

In my studies to understand emotionally healthy and unhealthy relationships I've become interested in the evolution of cooperation. I wish I had the brains and mathematical ability to comprehend game theory and computer modeling of this cooperation and end up squinting in effort at the monitor screen. So I end up going back to what I can try and understand better, bits and pieces of the complex puzzle, when it comes to human cooperation, such as the exciting links you posted and resouces like the following: language; Charisma, Crowd Psychology and Altered States of consciousness; Contracting with Your Abuser; The Chalice and The Blade; globalisation; The Politics of Heroin; Deep Play; and reciprocal altruism.

By the way, the sweet fox, luxuriating in play on the trampoline was delightful. Thank you for that as well. :)
posted by nickyskye at 9:56 AM on May 8, 2006

Worker bees never reproduce. I think it's pretty obvious that their cooperation helps the survival of the species.
posted by Happy Monkey at 9:56 AM on May 8, 2006

I agree with aeschenkarnos -- I don't think any biologists today really think that cooperation is a "rough spot". The basic mechanisms are pretty well understood. (In the same way, perhaps, that evolution was understood before computer models (like Dawkins's) were created to show that it could work.)
posted by ajshankar at 9:59 AM on May 8, 2006

Excellent article. As a programmer, I understand the application of Neural Nets. To see such complex behaviour form from a single-layer net is truly impressive, and speaks volumes about the capacity of programs to adapt themselves and model events as observed naturalistically.

The hypothesis testing through empirical observation of properly constructed models provides much support for natural selection. It was properly coordinated to provide a look at whether behavior patterns are capable of being derived naturalistically from a much simpler set of controls and actions combined with a given scenario for the "world."

The implications to the developent of both selfish and altruistic traits, as well as the clearer establishment of fundamental similarities between them are remarkable and promising. As I read over the article a second time, I realise that the only thing I would want to see added is a variable "food" amount per "cell" in question rather than the same for every cell per instance of the program, as an attempt to model geographic constraints on the system.

I find it slightly saddening that the comments in-link ended up becoming a series of refutations of ID non-arguments rather than discussing the implications of the project and further directions it could take (as I suggested in my own 'addition'). While I do not mind a person having their own beliefs over the unexplainable, the same individual stubbornly defending disproven ideas (can we say "irreducibly complex"?) and attacking any research that may shed actual light on the world is maddening.
posted by mystyk at 10:55 AM on May 8, 2006

See also: Robert Wright's Nonzero.
posted by mosessmith at 11:09 AM on May 8, 2006

mystyk, I wanted to read your in-link comments but couldn't find them. By any chance do you know if there are decent visuals of the patterns of cooperative groups? In looking for visuals to understand the mathematics, I came across a charmingly simple one, which is wonderful for the mathematically challenged, like myself, and a few others like this, this, this and this. Are there better visuals you, or anyone else here might know about?

A place to play the game the prisoner's dilemma.

Interesting related books: Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the 21st Century (2000) and The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into The Forces of History, both by Howard Bloom.

An intriguing thought from a chapter in the Lucifer Principle: "An even broader investigation by James J. Lynch of actuarial and statistical data on victims of cardiovascular disease indicated that an astonishing percentage of the million or so Americans killed by heart problems each year have an underlying difficulty that seems to trigger their sickness: "lack of warmth and meaningful relationships with others." On the other hand, research in Europe suggested that kissing on a regular basis provides additional oxygen and stimulates the output of antibodies.

Closeness to others can heal. Separation can kill."
posted by nickyskye at 12:16 PM on May 8, 2006

it gives some biological support to some political philosophers who have argued that selfishness and altruism are false distinctions and we have to work together for our own sake.

As opposed to all the biologically true political philosophy, you mean?
posted by delmoi at 12:59 PM on May 8, 2006

Worker bees never reproduce. I think it's pretty obvious that their cooperation helps the survival of the species.

Actually they do occasionally, although their eggs are hunted down and killed (but not perfectly)
posted by delmoi at 1:01 PM on May 8, 2006

Excellent article. As a programmer, I understand the application of Neural Nets. To see such complex behaviour form from a single-layer net is truly impressive, and speaks volumes about the capacity of programs to adapt themselves and model events as observed naturalistically.

A single layer net can simulate any non-disjoint function, I believe.
posted by delmoi at 1:02 PM on May 8, 2006

Ack! you brought up a glaring area of accidental phrasing. I thought I was catching those better.

What I meant was the additional change I would make, that I had listed at the end of the paragraph immediately prior, not a comment I had made in those forums.

Now I'm thinking I should go add it over there too. Sorry for the confusion.
posted by mystyk at 1:49 PM on May 8, 2006

illovich - that gave me goose bumps! what a fascinating theory!
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 2:07 PM on May 8, 2006

Worker bees never reproduce. I think it's pretty obvious that their cooperation helps the survival of the species.

Due to the odd nature of bee genetics, workers actually share more than half of their genes with their siblings but if they reproduced sexually, they'd only spread half of their genes. Since genetic evolution optimizes for the gene, not the individual, their genetic material is better served by a lifetime of chaste labor.

That is to say, if we reproduced like bees do, we'd probably socialize (if you will) like they do, rather than how we do now.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:25 PM on May 8, 2006

More on bee politics.
posted by homunculus at 3:43 PM on May 8, 2006

illovich, I agree with Trytophan-5ht, that is a fascinating theory.

Other random thoughts, Strategic empathy... and Eugene Linden's The Octopus and the Orangutan .
posted by nickyskye at 5:27 PM on May 8, 2006

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