[ExI] Group Selection Advances

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Fri May 1 04:13:46 UTC 2009

Early on, I naturally believed in group selection, and
Darwin did too; it seemed rather obvious and logical.

Then along came Dawkins who spread the views of the
critics of Wynne-Edwards (a great group selection
advocate), and finally in "The Selfish Gene", "The
Extended Phenotype", or "The Blind Watchmater" Dawkins
penetrated my thick skull.

Think about it. Suppose that a gene (e.g. one for
genuine altruism) is of no genetic benefit whatsoever
to the individual who possesses it, and is even a
detriment, i.e., however much it helps his mates
(because of actions he'd take), it lowers his own

How could such a mutation possibly spread?

Well, every so often I'd ponder this and write notes
to myself entitled "Group Selection Can Exist!", but
waver back and forth. Then in 1995 or so, "The Origins
of Virtue" was published by Ridley, which made it
perfectly clear that genuine altruism almost surely
exists, and that there are clear ways that it could
have evolved.

But these ways did *not* include group selection.
So does group selection exist, or not?

Then in 1998 Sober and Wilson published "Unto Others",
where they outlined at least one concrete and evidently
irrefutable mechanism whereby true group selection
can and will obtain. See the whole story, new to me,
with its latest developments, here:


Of course, humans hardly need such genes for group
selection, since memes serve so much more powerfully.
But it is a relief to know that when one senses that
one has committed what seems to be a genuinely
altruistic act, it's not necessarily true that one
is fooling himself.

"The problem with group selection is that for a whole group to get a single trait, it must spread through the whole group first by 
regular evolution. But, as J. L. Mackie suggested, when there are many different groups, each with a different Evolutionarily Stable 
Strategy (ESS), there is selection between the different ESSs, since some are worse than others[20]. For example, a group where 
altruism arose would outcompete a group where every creature acted in its own interest."

This brings up the fascinating question, explored
here a bit a few months ago, of sociopathy and how
it fits into all this. But I should save that for
another time and another thread.


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