Posts Tagged ‘Group Selection’

About Darwin’s Superorganism

Saturday, May 8th, 2010
Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

Many people believe that the theory of Evolution is based on the concept of competition. They believe that every gene, every cell, and every organism is designed to promote its own evolutionary success at the expense of others.

The big problem with this concept is that it does not explain the enormous amount of cooperation that is visible in Nature.

Atoms cooperate in Molecules. Molecules cooperate in Genes. Genes cooperate in Chromosomes. Chromosomes cooperate in eukaryoticcells. Cells cooperate in Multicellular Organisms. Multi Cellular Organisms cooperate in Humans. Humans cooperate in Families and Tribes and Families and Tribes cooperate in Organizations and Nations.

The question of how natural selectioncan lead to cooperative behavior or reciprocal altruism has fascinated evolutionarybiologists for several decades.

When Charles Darwin was writing his famous book the Descent of Man (1871) he was already highly puzzled by the social structures of the ants. Their cooperative behavior was “one special difficulty, which at first appeared to me insuperable, and actually fatal to my theory”.

To solve his problem Darwin proposed that in the case of ant societies natural selection applies not to the individual, but to the family or group. The ants were part of a “Super-Organism”, that consists of genetically similar individuals.

Although many individuals showed altruistic behavior in the group the “genetic code” was replicated because the individuals in the group were all “look alikes”. The Ants were “the Same” (Similar) and therefore every Ant that survived promoted the Genes of the Community.

To explain his theory Darwin wrote ‘sympathy is directed solely towards members of the same community, and therefore towards known, and more or less loved members, but not all the individuals of the same species’.

Darwin’s Theory of Group Selection was  later transformed into the theories of Genetic Kin Selection, Group Selection and the Genetic Similarity Theory. There is dramatic evidence that plants, animals and humans detect and act on genetic similarity.

For humans, both Spouses and best Friends are most similar on attributes with higher heritability.  People join clubs and societies that contain similar people and adopt ideologies that work in their genetic selfinterest. Genetic similarity also explains voting behaviour.

The Human Detection Center of Genetic Similarity is situated  in  the amygdala a part of the Limbic Brain System that is involved in Fear and Arousal.  The Amygdala activates the Sympathetic Nervous System responsible for the fight/flight-response of the Body. It prepares the body to get into action.

The recognition of another person depends on a long series of fast electrophysiological and slow biochemical reactions to the stimuli particular to that person or situation. These stimuli include seeing the other person’s face, hearing his voice, feeling his touch, and smelling his personal odors.

The reaction patterns of Humans to a fearfull situation are different. Some people, the Hawks, re-act very fast. They Fight and Compete. Some people, the Doves, re-act very slow. They Freeze, Flight or  Cooperate.

To find the appropriate reaction-pattern every one of our senses works hard to identify “the other” or “the others“. The detection of “dangerous others” has to happen very fast. This is the task of the electrophysiological pathways.

A fast detection is unreliable therefore a second “slow” cognitive pathway is started. In the cortex the frightening stimulus is analyzed in detail, using stored information from many parts of the brain, and a message is sent back down to the amygdala.

To detect stimuli that are really dangerous the amygdala uses a memory. This memory contains learned and inherited, imprinted, situations. The imprinted situations are highly related to the detection of genetic similarity.

If an animal or a human is frequently attacked the memory contains many Painfull Situations and the amygdala reacts more specific to a situation. The older a person gets the more difficult it becomes to erase this memory.

If people or animals are unable to make a distinction between their Own Whole and the Whole of the Others it will result in a Blurring of the Identity. The Whole of the Observer Merges or Overlaps with the Whole of the Observed. If this happens people act in a “friendly“, Emphatic,  mode and experience others as more “the same” than others do.

A Cooperative Strategy is highly related to the possibility of the Cognitive Part of the Human Detection-System to Move into the Other and Imagine what will Happen. The Hawks lack the ability to Imagine.

The most interesting concept that came out of Darwins Group Selection Theory is the Idea of the Super-Organism.

This Super Organism shows itself in many ways. Examples are the Family, the Tribe, Society and the Earth.

There is a similarity between the roles played by different organizations in Society and the functions of organs, systems and circuits in the body.

Industrial plants extract energy and building blocks from raw materials, just like the digestive system. Roads, railways and waterways transport these products from one part of the system to another one, just like the arteries and veins. Garbage dumps and sewage systems collect waste products, just like the colon and the bladder. The army and police protect the society against invaders and rogue elements, just like the immune system.

If we take the concept of the Super Organism a little bit further we could imagine the Super-Super-Super-Organism that contains all the other Organisms.  In some way every Organism is Genetically Similar (“the Same“) to this Organism.

If this is true and the Theory of Group Selection is Right every Organism is an enfolding of the “Architecture of the Whole“, the Tree of Life,  and a Majority of the Organisms (the Doves) will have an Altruistic Tendency to this Super-Organism.

The Doves Love, want to Unite With,  the Whole and the Hawks dislike the Whole because they want to be a Whole themselves.

Some Scientists call the Super Organism, Gaia,  Mother Earth, but there is no reason why we should not include the Bigger Structures in the Universe until we have reached the Boundary.

On every Level the Same Pattern appears.

On every level the Whole is splitted into Individual Parts. The parts  live a Life of their own (Agency). When we Move UP the Parts are United (Communion)  into a Bigger Structure.

When we look DOWN we interpret the proces of Splitting as a Competition. When we look UP we see a different pattern we Name “Cooperation“.

If we look at the history of the splitting process it looks like the wholes were splitted without any reason. It just happened. If we believe this Evolution is based on pure chance. Life is just a coincedence.

When we analyze the process of Evolution a Pattern emerges. This pattern is Cyclic, Leveled and Self-Referential. The process is almost invisible because with every Name we Utter we carve out a portion of the world and create a Boundary.

Every Time we Divide the World with Words the World becomes more complicated. Every New Concept that is not created without a View on the Pattern of the Whole generates a higher level of Confusion and increases the Complexity of Something that is really very Simple.

We create distinctions between Animals and Humans, Humans and Plants because the Hawkish Genes Want Us to Believe We Are Something Special.

Because of their Special Status the Hawks treat their fellow organisms in a very brutal way. They Exploit (Desire) them because of their Need to Control their Environment. They want to Control their Environment  because they are Afraid to lose Control. They are Afraid that their Identity (Their Ego, Their Agency, Their Whole) will disappear when they Commune with the Whole.

The Effect of the Behavior of the Hawks is the Destruction of the Environment that they Fear so Much. They are destroying their own Mother Earth who is certainly one of the Super Organisms that gave birth to the many wholes that are just there to Enjoy her Care.

The big problem we have is Naming. What we don’t see or don’t want to see is that every Split is a Split in two Opposite Complementary Parts (Yin/not-Yin= Yang, Male/not-Male = Female, Cooperate/not-Cooperate = Compete) that Share  the Void, the Empty Set, the State the Universe was in before it was created.

On every level the Nothing, the State of Infinite Potential and Love,  is still there but it is hidden because we started to use Words, to describe what meant to be an Experience.

This brings us to the final conclusion.

The big problem that is treatening Mother Earth is Hawkish Behavior. In the long term this kind of behavior is not helping the Human Gene at all. It not only destroys  the Human Gene. It destroys  the complete group of genetic “Look-a-Likes” of the Human Gene.

Darwin was Right.

Altruistic Behavior, Cooperation,  is the Only Way for the (Human) Genes to Survive.

Let us Help the Hawks to Erase their Fearfull Memories.


About Genetic Similarity Theory and the Cyclic Universe

About Ethics and Genetic Similarity Theory

Edward O. Wilson: A video about the Super Organism

About the role of the Amygdala

A discussion about Morality and the Superorganism

A Mathematical Model that Explains the Evolution of Cooperation

Why Non-Cooperative Humans (Hawks) always Win and Cooperative Humans (Doves) always Lose

An Article in American Scientist about the Superorganism

How Multicellar Organisms cooperate in Humans

How the Void is able to cure Addiction

The Social Effects of Genetic Similarity

Genetic Similarity in Mate Choice and Friendship in Twins

Wittgenstein about Families and Language

An Article in Wired About the Super Organism

About the Super Organism and Systems Theory

About the problem of Naming and Dividing

About the Void