[ExI] Group Selection Advances

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Tue May 5 05:48:26 UTC 2009

hkhenson wrote:

> At 09:13 PM 4/30/2009, Lee quoted from:
>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_selection
>> "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."
> The last sentence is not true, because creatures *DO NOT* act in their 
> own self interest.  They act in the self interest of their genes.

Good spot. It's very easy to become confused (or
at least to confuse others) when trying to explain
a phenomenon taking place at the individual level
(e.g. altruistic behavior of an individual).

But do you really wish to endorse the statement
"individuals act only in the interest of their
genes"? The context is important, of course.
Focus in this particular post prevents me,
unfortunately, trying to penetrate the real
differences between Dawkins and Sober & Wilson,
for example.

 > Most of the time that *looks* like self interest. Then
 > along comes a situation where it is clear that the
 > interest of the creature and its genes have diverged
 > ---and the genes dictate the response.

Quite right.

Spike wrote (in the first reply to my original post)

 > Your first comment was "...I naturally believed
 > in group selection..."  Why? "...Darwin did too..."
 > Why?  I know Dawkins makes a strong case, but why
 > do we naturally believe in group selection before
 > we read Dawkins and Gould?

Because the general Darwinian principle is so easy
to understand, and applies to so many things. For
example, when one reads that Indo-European speakers
displaced other languages groups, a kind of Darwinian
selection immediately comes to mind. And this is quite
independent of whether conquest occurred, or the non-
Indo-European speakers were simply assimilated and
changed their habits, or whatever. One very valid
description obviously is that the groups of Indo-
European speakers survived or replaced other groups.

People can pick at your example, "farmers displacing
hunter gatherers", but the descriptions "farming
groups outcompeted hunter groups" remains valid.

What is really going on is the difference between
descriptions at different levels. To say that there
are chemical principles, such as "Le Chatelier's"
or thermodynamic principles, such as "The Second Law"
in no way means that something extra has to be added
to fundamental physical laws.

One just has to be careful not to read into a higher
order principle more than is intended.


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