The False Allure of Group Selection

232


“I am often asked whether I agree with the new group selectionists, and the questioners are always surprised when I say I do not. After all, group selection sounds like a reasonable extension of evolutionary theory and a plausible explanation of the social nature of humans. Also, the group selectionists tend to declare victory, and write as if their theory has already superseded a narrow, reductionist dogma that selection acts only at the level of genes. In this essay, I’ll explain why I think that this reasonableness is an illusion. The more carefully you think about group selection, the less sense it makes, and the more poorly it fits the facts of human psychology and history.”

STEVEN PINKER is a Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology; Harvard University. Author, The Better Angels Of Our Nature: How Violence Has Declined, The Language Instinct, and How the Mind Works.

Human beings live in groups, are affected by the fortunes of their groups, and sometimes make sacrifices that benefit their groups. Does this mean that the human brain has been shaped by natural selection to promote the welfare of the group in competition with other groups, even when it damages the welfare of the person and his or her kin? If so, does the theory of natural selection have to be revamped to designate “groups” as units of selection, analogous to the role played in the theory by genes?

Several scientists whom I greatly respect have said so in prominent places. And they have gone on to use the theory of group selection to make eye-opening claims about the human condition.[i] They have claimed that human morailty, particularly our willingness to engage in acts of altruism, can be explained as an adaptation to group-against-group competition. As E. O. Wilson explains, “In a group, selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals. But, groups of altruistic individuals beat groups of selfish individuals.” They have proposed that group selection can explain the mystery of religion, because a shared belief in supernatural beings can foster group cohesion. They suggest that evolution has equipped humans to solve tragedies of the commons (also known as collective action dilemmas and public goods games), in which actions that benefit the individual may harm the community; familiar examples include overfishing, highway congestion, tax evasion, and carbon emissions. And they have drawn normative moral and political conclusions from these scientific beliefs, such as that we should recognize the wisdom behind conservative values, like religiosity, patriotism, and puritanism, and that we should valorize a communitarian loyalty and sacrifice for the good of the group over an every-man-for-himself individualism.

I am often asked whether I agree with the new group selectionists, and the questioners are always surprised when I say I do not. After all, group selection sounds like a reasonable extension of evolutionary theory and a plausible explanation of the social nature of humans. Also, the group selectionists tend to declare victory, and write as if their theory has already superseded a narrow, reductionist dogma that selection acts only at the level of genes. In this essay, I’ll explain why I think that this reasonableness is an illusion. The more carefully you think about group selection, the less sense it makes, and the more poorly it fits the facts of human psychology and history. Why does this matter? I’ll try to show that it has everything to do with our best scientific understanding of the evolution of life and the evolution of human nature. And though I won’t take up the various moral and political colorings of the debate here (I have discussed them elsewhere), it ultimately matters for understanding how best to deal with the collective action problems facing our species.

Written By: Steven Pinker
continue to source article at edge.org

232 COMMENTS

  1. This is well worth reading, even if one isn’t particularly interested in group selection.  Pinker has some powerful words on the subject of war that shouldn’t be missed by any liberal thinker:

    Nor has competition among modern states been an impetus for altruistic cooperation. Until the Military Revolution of the 16th century, European states tended to fill their armies with marauding thugs, pardoned criminals, and paid mercenaries, while Islamic states often had military slave castes. The historically recent phenomenon of standing national armies was made possible by the ability of increasingly bureaucratized governments to impose conscription, indoctrination, and brutal discipline on their powerless young men. Even in historical instances in which men enthusiastically volunteered for military service (as they did in World War I), they were usually victims of positive illusions which led them to expect a quick victory and a low risk of dying in combat. Once the illusion of quick victory was shattered, the soldiers were ordered into battle by callous commanders and goaded on by “file closers” (soldiers ordered to shoot any comrade who failed to advance) and by the threat of execution for desertion, carried out by the thousands. In no way did they act like soldier ants, willingly marching off to doom for the benefit of the group.

    To be sure, the annals of war contain tales of true heroism—the proverbial soldier falling on the live grenade to save his brothers in arms. But note the metaphor. Studies of the mindset of soldierly duty shows that the psychology is one of fictive kinship and reciprocal obligation within a small coalition of individual men, far more than loyalty to the superordinate group they are nominally fighting for. The writer William Manchester, reminiscing about his service as a Marine in World War II, wrote of his platoonmates, “Those men on the line were my family, my home. … They had never let me down, and I couldn’t do it to them. . . . Men, I now knew, do not fight for flag or country, for the Marine Corps or glory of any other abstraction. They fight for one another.”

  2. I almost always have multiple problems digesting articles such as this one. Let me illustrate:

    “Consider, too, that in real societies the punishment of free riders need not be costly to the punisher. An individual or small group can cheaply injure a social parasite or sabotage his possessions, and they can be rewarded for their troubles in gratitude, esteem, or resources. After all, police, judges, and jailers don’t work for nothing.”

    I know for sure that if you are a genuinely altruistic motivator, living amongst a community group who make their money and orgasmic experientials by selecting “crime targets” is going to brand you a “selfish altruist” of “free riding” excess baggage to the ambitions of said group. In this context the good becomes the bad! How can this be so casually overlooked?

    Due the aforesaid, Pinker’s language, to me, is fully loaded from the parapets of capitalist principles and so misses completely the irrelevance of its own moral high ground as he casually fires shots from said location. When we talk in terms of natural selection ones position is just another fish in the sea. There is no justice! The concept has no relevance except insofar as it adds tools to ones ambitions, group or individual. Even the ambitions are essentially arbitrary; good or bad becomes irrelevant – survival and benefit is the only successful “populist deception”.

    e.g. consider any Royal family anywhere. How are they NOT “free riders” in the sense they have had forged out, prior to their births, some whole life inoculation against group excess baggage disaffecting completely their reality? Pinker misses big time again for me here! Human psychology to boot! Sheesh! HUMANS ARE DIFFERENT.  Our brains can replicate pseudo natural selection in crude and exploitative ways spanning several generations – that can and do render most peoples lives, absent any knowledge of this insidious poison, an exploitation of their “whole-life” existence. Humans with power have utilised natural selection as a tool for advantage and ambition upon the unborn, for which the unborn will be held accountable. Pass the buck onto next life slaves, no?

    Also, Pinker’s point about altruism and self sacrifice needs more dynamite than he presents. Privilege is the artificially selected pseudo position one gets born into, due previous generations of humans consciousness positioning each individual for advantage or not, on a whole sliding scale. The permutation is encoded before ones birth and the likelihoods of success biased heavily in advance. These are prime movers in everyones reality as much as anything the individual will ever get the free will to have the power to change.

    Add to this Pinkers points:

    ” But if it is meant to explain the psychology of individuals, particularly an inclination for unconditional self-sacrifice to benefit a group of nonrelatives, it is dubious both in theory (since it is hard to see how it could evolve given the built-in advantage of protecting the self and one’s kin) and in practice (since there is no evidence that humans have such a trait).”

    which I kind of agree with but again struggle to see why he hadn’t included, as critical, the motivations each individual has on board as prime “consciousness movers” are as chaotic a permutation as the preceding entropy that preceded their birth. For example: there is no moral record apart from that which history preserves; there is no spokesperson for all the forgotten innocents whose sufferings went unaddressed; there is no arbiter of any “wholly altruistic motivated consciousness” who drowned in a witch hunt trial that suggested they were otherwise; the corruptible survivors who lived the “good life” have history all to themselves too often. 

    Pinker, where are your points on these scores comrade?  

    Also, I’d love “selection for conciseness” to become more dominant amongst the increasingly elitist writing community. The majority of us 7 billion are counted out already. Life is too short for so many of our unpaid hours to be drowned in debt ridden texts, freeloading our short time here on 3rd Rock. To know any of the above is becoming even more expendable even as we speak.

  3. I know for sure that if you are a genuinely altruistic motivator, living amongst a community group who make their money and orgasmic experientials by selecting “crime targets” is going to brand you a “selfish altruist” of “free riding” excess baggage to the ambitions of said group. In this context the good becomes the bad! How can this be so casually overlooked?

    In the section you extracted your quote from, Pinker was arguing that humans don’t altruistically self-sacrifice for the good of any group without at least the expectation of reciprocity, and/or unless they have concern for their reputations.  I’m not sure how your statement here addresses this point.

    Also, you simply assert here the existence of “a genuinely altruistic motivator” without providing support for your assertion.  In terms of being purely altruistic toward fellow members of a group, Pinker was making the case that individuals like these very likely don’t exist — and therefore aren’t evidence for group selection.

    (To be honest, I’m not sure how any of your post addressed the topic of group selection. Perhaps it’s a language barrier, because even after several readings your post is still mostly incoherent to me — in terms of it being a reply to Pinker’s arguments regarding the falseness of group selection as an important aspect of evolution theory, that is.) 

     

  4. As an old OO programmer, I like to distinquish type and instance. 

    Thinking of gene types alone (not collections), there is only differential success. The more instances of a gene type (on germ lines) the better it is doing. Some genes are common to most organisms and are be extremely successful. But this is not the evolution we wish to explain. it is only origination, extinction and propagation of gene types.

    Visible evolution – which is what we wish to explain – is the changing mix of gene types in a collection (a species). Evolution is not the success of the species. Evolution can happily take place in a species which is going extinct. (If not for long).

    Only gene instances on the germ line can be propagated into the next generation. Other instances of the same gene type excercise their phenotypic effect without themsleves propagating.

    Whether or not these instances of a gene type are part of same physical organism as the instance in the germ line does not matter, provided they favour the germ lines in which they have an instance. They could be gene instances in ones fingertips, ones eyes, or gene instances in a sterile worker bee.

    It is the gene type – an abstract permutation of base pairs – which, instantiated,  has a differential effect and which therefore succeeds not. The effect it has depends on its interaction with the other gene types instantiated in the organism, and on the other mixes of gene types in it’s species. 

    The effect of the gene type is not (often) asserted by the germ line instance but usually by non-propagating instances. It need not be asserted by gene instances in the same individual as the germ line instance.

    A gene type can have effect at any level or organisation – cellular, individual or group –  providing the effect favours it’s own germ line instances above others within the species.

  5. I’m not arguing against Pinker’s assertions per se, just some of what I see as, for me, inept arguments. Maybe it’s a language barrier disabling me from accessing what others see as coherence???

    HOWEVER, I do say humans do “lifetime altruism” where forces “will this” upon their existence. Pit pony paranoia for example. Keep pulling that coal, then when your joints go, feed the dogs your flesh. Institutional altruism. Very altruistic realities foisted by exploitative empirical dynamics. 

    In the same way there are extraordinary examples of selfish success stories; born to privilege, having no need of sacrifice and even what sacrifice appears to be displayed is media hype to advertise altruism as a populist agenda.

    I could make an excellent case to prove the greatest free loaders in existence are those who max out stock market profits ( the filthy rich wealthy) – resting, inevitably upon the shoulders of the oppressed and slaves of mass populations. Such is the empirical dynamism of their reality!

    “a genuinely altruistic motivator” is one who is truly deluded into recommending everyone always works together for each others benefit and actually believes this to be their lifes purpose. Often they end up with some form of “Pit pony paranoia” being owned by “wealthy traders”.

    Something about this is artificial natural selection but I cannot be arsed to supply the verbage, nor read that much around it – such is my contempt for academia per se – but that’s another story – of erm artificial selection!

  6. @OP – Also, the group selectionists tend to declare victory, and write as if
    their theory has already superseded a narrow, reductionist dogma that
    selection acts only at the level of genes.

    This is a false dichotomy and seriously confused thinking!  Selection of genes or groups of genes are not mutually exclusive alternatives. Genes can be selected in individuals or in groups of individuals as in genocides.

    @OP:disqus  – If so, does the theory of natural selection have to be revamped to
    designate “groups” as units of selection, analogous to the role played
    in the theory by genes?

    Of course not!  Richard explains this in the “Selfish Gene”, in detail, with calculations based on group selection and kin selection showing details of levels of altruism and selfishness affecting the survival prospects of their respective populations. ( Pages 7 – 10, 72, 102, 110, 263, 207, 321, + others)

      @OP They have claimed that human morailty, particularly our willingness to
    engage in acts of altruism, can be explained as an adaptation to
    group-against-group competition. As E. O. Wilson explains, “In a group,
    selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals. But, groups of
    altruistic individuals beat groups of selfish individuals.”

    Richard makes reference to the work of E. O. Wilson with evidence on numerous pages of  “The Selfish Gene”.

  7. Steven Pinker writes:

    The mutations are not random. Conquerors, leaders, elites, visionaries, social entrepreneurs, and other innovators use their highly nonrandom brains to figure out tactics and institutions and norms and beliefs that are intelligently designed in response to a felt need (for example, to get their group to predominate over their rivals).”
    I admittedly now very little about meme theory, but this argument seems to me to also be an argument against the idea of memes. Can anyone shed a bit of light on this for me?

  8. I have been looking forward to this essay, but I fear it is too subtle for me to grasp.  Perhaps a few more readings.  Obviously my social behaviours are part of what determines my fitness. Surely which groups I belong to influences my longevity.  It seems from my lay position that whether you think about the behaviour of a group or the behaviours of a typical individual in a group because of group membership does not make all that much difference.

    So often in math or physics it turns out two competing theories are actually isomorphic.  I wonder if this will turn out to be so too, so long as you make careful definitions.

  9. What exactly are you arguing against? If it’s Pinker, these aren’t even his views. He even goes out of his way to point out multilevel selection later in the article. If it’s the group selectionists, it’s not a false dilemma because of the multilevel selection idea espoused by Wilson et al. Where’s the false dilemma? Only genes or genes plus something else? Multilevel selection theory and group selection are being treated at the same time by Pinker, but for the former to be true, the latter has to be vindicated.

  10. You did read the article, didn’t you? If you’re arguing for group selection, your “group of genes” objection is already covered by selfish gene theory. For groups in general, Pinker points out the problems. Groups in general are only as successful as the individuals within them. Pay particular attention to the third section of the article, where the evidence put forwards for group selection is deconstructed.

  11. Well, it’s true that, to make his general point about group selection, there’s no need to recourse to memetics. Certainly, it doesn’t matter whether the “tactics and institutions and norms and beliefs that are intelligently designed in response to a felt need” were the products of memetic selection or not, so long as they are there. Some ideas of memes – for instance, that they can compete within brains as well as between brains – sidestep the problem simply because the thinking process of these people becomes a memetic contest given selection pressures (such as the felt needs provided by genetic evolution), so it’s not a comprehensive refutation. I shouldn’t worry too much for the present argument, though. It’s enough to know the tactics etc. exist.

  12. This makes it easy to conclude that properties of human groups, or
    properties of the human mind, have been shaped by a process that is akin
    to natural selection acting on genes.

    Properties known as “memes”.

    Despite this allure, I have
    argued
    that the concept of Group Selection has no useful role to play in
    psychology or social science.

    So what?  – It clearly does have a useful role in the groups and kin-groups described by its proponents.  There are clearly vague straw-arguments arguments presented here where it can be misapplied.

    It refers to too many things, most of
    which are not alternatives to the theory of gene-level selection but
    loose allusions to the importance of groups in human evolution.

    Groups are diverse, but nonetheless relevant to the evolution of humans and other species.  Clearly, “one size does not fit all”! But S. Pinker is the one who has thrown in this muddled diversity of cases, without presenting evidence.

    The chief failing of this essay, is that it constantly refers to “groups”, without defining the size or structure of the groups quoted, or the specifics of group or kin selection it suggests are involved.

    Now, no one “owns” the concept of natural selection, nor can anyone
    police the use of the term.

    Peer-reviews and scientific bodies, clearly do police the use of scientific theories, up-dates, and terms. 

    Any case against established evidenced science describing aspects of natural selection, would have to be made in specific terms of scientific evidence, not just rhetoric like this essay!

    But its explanatory power, it seems to me,
    is so distinctive and important that it should not be diluted by
    metaphorical, poetic, fuzzy, or allusive extensions

    This is of course pure emotive,
    metaphorical, poetic, fuzzy, allusive, asserted opinion, challenging evidenced, detailed, descriptions, and mathematical formulii, describing genetic relationships.

    that only serve to
    obscure how profound the genuine version of the mechanism really is.

    Ah!  The undescribed “profound” “genuine” (or was that TROOOoooo) version of the mechanism of natural selection. -  Science challenged by the vacuous rhetoric of trooooo versions!!

  13. Pinker says:

     Except in the theoretically possible but empirically unlikely circumstance in which groups bud off new groups faster than their members have babies, any genetic tendency to risk life and limb that results in a net decrease in individual inclusive fitness will be relentlessly selected against.

    I’ve heard this view before and I’m sure it’s mathematically incorrect. Does anybody know where this result comes from? Thanks.

  14.  This makes it easy to conclude that properties of human groups, or properties of the human mind, have been shaped by a process that is akinto natural selection acting on genes.

    > Properties known as “memes”.
    What’s this got to do with group selection?
    Alan4Discussion, for the most part you simply lifted quotations out of the summary and made complaints that were addressed in the main body of the essay itself. The “useful role in groups and kin-groups described by its proponents” is deconstructed in the third section in which the examples provided as evidence for the assertions are examined. It has no useful role to play, if you read the article, because the things it purports to explain are more comprehensively covered by gene-centred selection. It is at best superfluous. It is at worst unevidenced.
    Your “groups are relevant” is one of the confusions of group selection mentioned in the fifth paragraph of the opening. You clearly didn’t read the essay, because Pinker points out different ways people have used group selection which has confused the debate, one of which is to confuse “groups are relevant to evolution” with “groups are a unit of selection” or “groups are benefitted at the expense of individuals” model.
    Your point about it not defining the size or structure is dealt with in the opening before the first section (they’re numbered, if you look), such as tribes, religions, cultures, and nations, in the paragraph immediately before the first section, which goes into detail. In any case, the general argument about any kind of group is tackled in the essay.
    > Peer-reviews and scientific bodies, clearly do police the use of scientific theories, up-dates, and terms. 
    Granted, but in context he doesn’t seem to be denying that.
    > Any case against established evidenced science describing aspects of natural selection, would have to be made in specific terms of scientific evidence, not just rhetoric like this essay!
    The third section was about the evidence put forwards for group selection, and why it is inadequate. The general arguments in this essay haven’t been rhetorical. They state that X is Y or Z cannot be A because of B, C, and D. His discussion on war, for instance, could be verified by anybody willing to look into it. They’re historical facts. What’s so rhetorical about that, for example?

     But its explanatory power, it seems to me, is so distinctive and important that it should not be diluted by metaphorical, poetic, fuzzy, or allusive extensions

    > This is of course pure emotive, metaphorical, poetic, fuzzy, allusive, asserted opinion, challenging evidenced, detailed, descriptions, and mathematical formulii, describing genetic relationships.
    A call for clarification (i.e. for an idea not to be diluted by poor metaphor) is emotive, poetic, fuzzy etc.? Natural selection’s explanatory power (and that of gene selection) is its comprehensiveness and sound logical basis, followed by the rock solid case and body of evidence that supports it. It’s also often a misunderstood idea used loosely at times. You should know that by now.

     that only serve to obscure how profound the genuine version of the mechanism really is.
    > Ah!  The undescribed “profound” “genuine” (or was that TROOOoooo) version of the mechanism of natural selection. -  Science challenged by the vacuous rhetoric of trooooo versions!!
    It’s at this point I think you either didn’t pay attention to the essay or your account got hijacked by a troll, because your posts are usually better than this. Group selectionists have misunderstood the criteria for a natural-selection model that their theory would require. Pinker seeks to correct the misapprehension. He’s obviously going to have to distinguish the two and point out the flaws of the analogy group selectionists are using. The rest of the paragraphs you didn’t blockquote from answer the points you raise, which suggests to me you didn’t read the majority of it. Rather unlike you, I have to say.

  15. He’s basically saying that the generation time of a gene (i.e. its replication generation) should align with the generation of the group, much as it does the individual. I’m not sure why he said it should be faster – it strikes me that he should have said that the generations of groups should align with those of a gene – but maybe that’s to bypass the “individual benefit clause”, since if group selection is to have any explanatory power, it needs an example of a case where the individual and his genes don’t repeatedly benefit.

    The general argument in any case is the familiar one of an individual selfish mutant profiting at the expense of its altruistic sucker contemporaries.

  16. I’m not sure I understand Pinker’ meaning in the following passage:

    Nepotistic altruism in humans consists of feelings of warmth, solidarity, and tolerance toward those who are likely to be one’s kin. It evolved because any genes that encouraged such feelings toward genetic relatives would be benefiting copies of themselves inside those relatives. (This does not, contrary to a common understanding, mean that people love their relatives because of an unconscious desire to perpetuate their genes.)

    He seems to imply that “love” for one’s relatives is somehow materially different from “feelings of warmth, solidarity, and tolerance toward [them].” He does not expound, and such a difference is not obvious, at least to me. Any thoughts? 

  17. I’m curios if anyone can comment on how political E.O. Wilson is. I know he suffered a lot of attacks from the left (unfair IMO) for advancing the ideas of sociobiology a long time ago. But if I’m reading between the lines correctly in Pinker’s essay it sounds as if there is a subtle nod toward militarism and even fascism in the group selection proponents. Or am I reading too much into it?

  18. …[very long comment by Premiseless]…Also, I’d love “selection for conciseness” to become more dominant amongst the increasingly elitist writing community. The majority of us 7 billion are counted out already. Life is too short for so many of our unpaid hours to be drowned in debt ridden texts, freeloading our short time here on 3rd Rock. To know any of the above is becoming even more expendable even as we speak.

    Delicious irony.

    Premiseless. I have tried to understand your points here, but after repeated readings, I simply don’t. They seem to have little to do with Pinker’s essay. I wonder if you have understood the argument you are critiquing, but I could simply be misunderstanding you.

  19.  “He seems to imply that “love” for one’s relatives is somehow materially
    different from “feelings of warmth, solidarity, and tolerance
    toward [them].” He does not expound, and such a difference is
    not obvious, at least to me. Any thoughts? “

    That’s not the way I read it. I read it to mean that the love we feel for relatives is the same as warmth, solidarity, etc. I think when he says “This does not, contrary to a common understanding, mean that people love their relatives” he is using “love” in that sentence simply as a shorthand for “warmth, solidarity,…”

    What I think he is saying is just because the average human has a genetic tendency to love their kin does not mean that it is some unconscious desire to perpetuate their genes.

  20. It always amazes me how so many people don’t get how evolution by Natural Selection actually works; leading them to some very strange conclusions.  Group selection does not seem, on the face of it, a very bad hypothesis but once it is put to some critical evaluation, its flaws are insurmountable. 

  21. If memory serves. Richard uses the metaphor of a Necker cube to make a similar point in the his introduction to The Extended Phenotype. Only there he is explaining how the gene centered view of evolution and the individual organism centered view are (mostly) just two ways of describing the same thing. Pinker too explicity treats selection for genes and selection for individuals as basically synonymous in this essay.

    However the type of group selection Pinker is arguing against here is expressly distinct from selection for individuals (or their genes.) In fact Wilson et al. seem to base their assertions largely on the premise that some traits are selected specifically because they benefit the group at the expense of any individual expressing that trait. In such a case these two types of selection could not be viewed as isomorphic.

  22. No need to read the article.

    I’ve understood gene selection ever since Richard’s first book came out and I was doing biology at school. It constantly amazes me that anyone educated is fooled by group selection (where’s the genetic material, what or where is doing the reproducting?). 

    Could have written Pinker’s article myself except that it probably wouldn’t have come out much more intelligible than my last comment :-)Where is that damned edit button?

  23. In the same way there are extraordinary examples of selfish success stories; born to privilege, having no need of sacrifice and even what sacrifice appears to be displayed is media hype to advertise altruism as a populist agenda.

    I could make an excellent case to prove the greatest free loaders in existence are those who max out stock market profits ( the filthy rich wealthy) – resting, inevitably upon the shoulders of the oppressed and slaves of mass populations. Such is the empirical dynamism of their reality!

    I share your concerns regarding wealth and privilege.  Unfortunately for me, I demonstrated genuine altruism by essentially sacrificing myself — more accurately my neurons – in repeated scans of your first comment in this thread – in a futile attempt to discern valid and/or interesting arguments regarding group selection.

    Perhaps you could employ the forward-slash-RANT tag at the beginning of any future posts of this variety.  In support of Pinker’s arguments, consider this request my expectation of reciprocity.

    ;)

  24. I
    feel myriads of thoughts (memes) inside my head fighting over a finite (blame the genes!) memory battle ground. Memes die, endure,
    reproduce, split, join. Further I do also observe how the fittest of
    the memes are promoting my doings – and indeed my talking. Yes, I
    have definitively fallen for the allure of a digestible gene/meme
    analogy.

    But
    what are my options for making a life full of mysteries more
    understandable. To stop using metaphors when thinking or arguing on
    something I do not fully understand?

    Social
    science as now is more like the quantum mechanics in the first
    decade of the 20th century.
    Try to Imagine a birth of quantum science without the Newtonian
    predecessor as a play ground. With all its false allures.

  25.   What exactly are you arguing against? If it’s Pinker, these aren’t even
    his views. He even goes out of his way to point out multilevel selection
    later in the article.

    Pinker rambles all over the place with numerous vague assertions.  He cites some sources and does some name dropping, but much of the writing begs the questions and is ill-defined and pretty incoherent.

    See my later post. 
    Sorry we don’t have comment numbers or times to quote identifying comments.

    If it’s the group selectionists,

    It’s not.

  26. Pinker said:

    Despite this allure, I have argued that the concept of Group Selection has no useful role to play in psychology or social science.

    Alan4discussion said:

    So what?  – It clearly does have a useful role in the groups and kin-groups described by its proponents.

    Alan… what do you mean by “It” ?  Please be specific, if you have the time. 

  27. What really struck me about Pinker’s essay was that he has paid no attention whatever to the the idea that there might be system of replicators, other then genes, operating within human “cultural history”.  For my part, I have given thought to this mostly in the context of early selection events that created Anatomically Modern Humans.  I have long worried about the implication of group selection operating during human evolution, as this seems to be implied by the thesis developed by Richard Wrangham, and others before him. I am referring to his paper “the Evolution of Coalitionary Killing” which came out in the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology in 1999.  

    Any model of human evolution that features human intergroup aggression as a major feature driving selection for things like “group loyalty” does seem to need to distinguish between the benefits to the individual (and his genes) and to the “group”.  

    Indeed, definition of the “group” is the major problem in all such formulations.  

    Unless the species as a whole is defined as the “group” it seems to me all other groupings (local communities?) are too small and fluid (in personnel) to fit any coherent definitions that might have evolutionary significance.  In more recent history, of the last 200,000 years, it would seem that, just possibly, cultural/ethnic/language entities might fit the definition, but again these are somewhat fluid (in personnel).  

    On the other hand, if the “group” is no longer tied to a biological process at all, but is being selected by a kind of parallel process involving systems of ideas and customs, which may be called “memes” by some people, then we are in a whole different universe of discourse.  

  28.  “It” refers to group and kin selection.  The term “function” would have been better than Pinker’s “no useful role”, – which was simply an unsupported assertion. (Hence – “So what”!)

    Quite clearly group selection as explained in the “Selfish Gene”, does have a role and a function in the natural selection, involving social structure and psychology in competing ancestral small human, or present day chimp, territorial groups.

  29. What really struck me about Pinker’s essay was that he has paid no attention whatever to the the idea that there might be system of replicators, other then genes, operating within human “cultural history”.

    From Pinker’s essay:

    On top of these differences, most of the groupwide traits that group selectionists try to explain are cultural rather than genetic. The trait does not arise from some gene whose effects propagate upward to affect the group as a whole, such as a genetic tendency of individuals to disperse which leads the group to have a widespread geographic distribution, or an ability of individuals to withstand stressful environments which leads the species to survive mass extinction events. Instead, they are traits that are propagated culturally, such as religious beliefs, social norms, and forms of political organization. Modern group selectionists are often explicit that it is cultural traits they are talking about, or even that they are agnostic about whether the traits they are referring to are genetic or cultural.

    Does this section not satisfy your concern (?).

    Pinker was careful to make no mention whatsoever of memes – probably because even Richard has stated his idea is largely speculative.

    Or are you referring to yet another kind of replicator?  I’d be interested in hearing more.

  30. I frequently wonder why I waste my time here too   AAM. I do my best, but alas atheism is no  equality gladiator. Sad issue that! 

    I’d like to consider groups that did select for this attribute however. Tough call ime.

  31. The Selfish Gene I read was a lengthy refutation of “group selection”. The whole point of the book seemed to me to be that “groups selection” has no role, serves no function and that altruism can be explained much better without it.

  32. Why are the simple, salient, incontrovertible facts of evolution so difficult for people to grasp?

    Perhaps, in the UK at least, the teaching of them to primary school children will break the log jam!

  33. Further to my last: perhaps it’s because the facts are so simple and easy to understand, that they seem too good to be true.

    Darwin’s idea was indeed, in my estimation, the greatest ever, for the very reason that it was so simple and, ultimately, since he didn’t fully understand it himself at the time, easy to comprehend; come on, even I’ve grasped it!  

  34.  

    Natural selection’s explanatory power (and that of gene selection) is
    its comprehensiveness and sound logical basis, followed by the rock
    solid case and body of evidence that supports it. It’s also often a
    misunderstood idea used loosely at times. You should know that by now.

    Natural selection is rock solid.  Pinker’s connections to it and explanations are not!

    Group selectionists have misunderstood the criteria for a
    natural-selection model that their theory would require. Pinker seeks to
    correct the misapprehension.

    Pinker has lumped together a whole lot of people and ideas under an ill-defined label of “Group selectionists”.  His ramblings are far too general and lacking in connections between his claims and his conclusions.  You can’t refute an idea simply by saying some vaguely identified people have presented it badly.

    The rest of the paragraphs you didn’t blockquote from answer the points
    you raise, which suggests to me you didn’t read the majority of it

    There’s yards of it, so I only deconstructed a section.  Much of it only vaguely connects to other parts, PURPORTING TO ANSWER the points I raised.  Human and animal populations are hugely variable and often complex. 

    It has no useful role to play, if you read the article, because the
    things it purports to explain are more comprehensively covered by
    gene-centred selection. It is at best superfluous.

    You can’t just lump things together like this and claim it’s all flawed, or superfluous, or that an identified trend excludes all other possibilities.  In many ways, his verbose writing is more like theist obfuscation than scientific reasoning.

  35. How does this disqus system work? How do you get block quotes, for example?

    <blockquoxte> How does this disqus system work? How do you get block quotes, for example?</blockquoxte>

    Put tags in front and after the blockquoted section as above – with the spare “x”s deleted. I have inserted them to stop it functioning so you can see them.

  36. All About Meme 1

    Nor has competition among modern states been an impetus for altruistic cooperation. Until the Military Revolution of the 16th century, European states tended to fill their armies with marauding thugs, pardoned criminals, and paid mercenaries, while Islamic states often had military slave castes. The historically recent phenomenon of standing national armies was made possible by the ability of increasingly bureaucratized governments to impose conscription, indoctrination, and brutal discipline on their powerless young men. Even in historical instances in which men enthusiastically volunteered for military service (as they did in World War I), they were usually victims of positive illusions which led them to expect a quick victory and a low risk of dying in combat. Once the illusion of quick victory was shattered, the soldiers were ordered into battle by callous commanders and goaded on by “file closers” (soldiers ordered to shoot any comrade who failed to advance) and by the threat of execution for desertion, carried out by the thousands. In no way did they act like soldier ants, willingly marching off to doom for the benefit of the group

    This also makes me question whether past societies were truly patriarchal. A patriarchal society would surely have sent its young women off to almost certain death, rather than its young men.

  37. Helga, consider:

    Humans knowingly exterminate species due their mental position dominating a capitalist agenda – erasing ancient forests and polluting vast areas of our planet. Other humans go celibate and live in isolation due their mental positioning being coerced into lifelong delusions constructed by previous generations brain activity. Is this not proof enough of “conscious interference”?

    Memes are interwoven and increasingly critical to genetic diversity. Also this takes place within our species to differing extents – often power related and more usually inherited privilege. Memes are fundamental movers in much of what takes place by coercion or reaction. Authority desires this, from whatever memes it preselected to govern the entropy – thereby catalysing the sorts of revolutions that seek self authority. Free will is at a premium for the majority, though I propose it exists in larger measure for the elite minorities. In this sense memes control much of whatever pool ones genes likeliest have access to. Most certainly it is not a gene only selection process at work. So why the void? Why the pretense? 

  38. I was impressed with Mr. Pinker’s ability to explain to me – an amatuer – his argument in a comprehensive and coherent way.  I intend to reread in a few days so I might digest the ideas a little deeper. 

  39.  “This also makes me question whether past societies were
    truly patriarchal. A patriarchal society would surely have sent its
    young women off to almost certain death, rather than its young men.”Well for one thing a society seldom if ever says “hey lets kill off some of the best and brightest of our population in a pointless war” They tend to think that the war will be short, glorious, with a swift victory for their side. But in any case I have a different view of a patriachal society. Such a society doesn’t simply say that they value the life of men over women. Rather that women have a very specific role, to make and raise babies and to make their men happy. Going off to war is not consistent with that view.

  40.  This is a re-post. I left out a break in my previous post which made it hard to read:

     “This also makes me question whether past societies were
    truly patriarchal. A patriarchal society would surely have sent its
    young
    women off to almost certain death, rather than its young men.”

    Well for
    one thing a society seldom if ever says “hey lets kill off some of the
    best and brightest of our population in a pointless war” They tend to
    think that the war will be short, glorious, with a swift victory for
    their side.

    But in any case I have a different view of a patriachal
    society. Such a society doesn’t simply say that they value the life of
    men over women. Rather that women have a very specific role, to make and
    raise babies and to make their men happy. Going off to war is not
    consistent with that view.

  41. Then would it not be more accurate to say that society was both patriarchal and matriarchal depending on the situation, or rather that BOTH men and women were pigeon-holed into narrow roles?

    Men being sent off to war to protect the property and the interests of the rich and powerful minority does not sound like a society that exists to make men happy.  Again, those who like to describe societies as set up to benefit men at the expense of women need to explain why men consistently ranked as more disposable than women.   If women were “property”, then men were expected to die for property, i.e. they were considered less worthwhile than property. 

  42. Second attempt! My first reply was wiped! 

    I have oft thought about your point RDog. 

    The religious are not the only childhood imprinters/enslavers. Subliminal expectation is rife in gender roles. Males expected to stand on the front line as honour and respect memes might be surprised to learn noone is watching their backs when caught in the line of fire. I recall dozens of examples of this from as far back as my memory stretches. Interesting how this gene for a dick supplies such a meme for serfdom, the lower down the chain of free will you get your cranium crushed into birth. 

    I’m sure females have their own baskets of “subliminal serf memes” they’d like to pass up. Interesting that the stand off usually preserves the delusions methinks. Gender identity is a harsh swap to undertake. The status quo, no matter how perverted and intellectually corrupt, gets a complete free pass as a set of memes granted freedom of the city. Now that is perverse beyond comprehension – an oppressive toolbox disguised as a myth or a role model for kudos gets away with whatever it incorporates and the thickos who don’t see this use scapegoats to direct “scorn” as if they are confronting the real elephants in every room of every generation of humans that ever lived.

    Humans are full blown theists in their own delusions and celebrate not knowing this for a cheap dose of tit for tat.

    Maybe all women should consider Anglicanism and all men Mecca? This is the level most minds one encounters are synonymous with and utterly unaware of.

    I wonder if scorn per se is some left over meme from the anus of hellfire desires catalogued throughout mythology? Atheism has no real immunity and has no idea how covered in bullshit it can still be in spite of its proclamations to have forfeited the god of the gaps!

     

  43. I enjoyed this article very much and am glad to have it to use in future discussions, which will almost certainly contain the same misunderstandings that have plagued this subject to date. I tend to stay out of those, for the most part, but when I do go in, I feel I should start with the question, “Exactly what are you talking about …?”

  44. “those who like to describe societies as set up to benefit men at the
    expense of women need to explain why men consistently ranked as more
    disposable than women.”

    If your point is that feminism and equal rights for women benefits men as well as women then I agree.  On a personal note, one of the things I had to unlearn as a young man was all the macho BS that had been drummed into me as a kid. I always was receptive to women’s rights but what really turned me into a feminist was making love to a radical feminist woman. All the normal boy girl rules where one person just lies there were gone. She kissed like… sorry I’m digressing need to refocus, my point was that that my very real experience of how much better relations with an equal (things besides sex as well of course) could be really drove home the basic logic of feminism to me.

    If on the other hand your point is that somehow the fact that men fought and died in wars makes up for women not being able to own property, not being able to get an education, not being able to vote,… and that therefor women really haven’t been oppressed for most of recorded history I don’t agree at all.  As I said earlier the whole point of a patriarchy is not just that women have less value then men but that women have a proscribed roles and boundaries that they can’t cross.

  45. Alan4discussion:
     

    “It” refers to group and kin selection…

     

    Group selection and kin selection are two VERY different things, and lumping them as a single “it” is unclear at best. Kin selection is special case of ordinary natural selection wherein an individual may evolve traits that confer a benefit to organisms other than itself (even to it’s individual detriment) provided that those traits confer a likely benefit to the individual’s genetic kin. The unit of selection in Kin selection is still the gene, NOT any group of individuals.

    Quite clearly group selection as explained in the “Selfish Gene”, does have a role and a function in the natural selection…

     
     
    I’m sorry, but this is simply incorrect. You might feel that group selection has such a role and function, but this is far from “quite clear” despite your unsupported assertion. The Selfish Gene itself explicitly and emphatically rejects a role for Group selection in natural selection (as does Richard’s other published work.) I find it odd therefor for you to site Richard’s definition in your defense of “it.” Richard offers kin selection specifically in argument against group selection – for example, to counter the claim that group selection is necessary to explain evolved altruism.

    …involving social structure and psychology in competing ancestral small human, or present day chimp, territorial groups.

    You may to be referring to some specific theory or experimental work here to with which I am unfamiliar. Care to explain why selection at the level of groups is necessary to explain “social structure and psychology” in these groups, or why group level selection is insufficient?

  46. Then would it not be more accurate to say that society was both patriarchal and matriarchal depending on the situation…?

    No. The mere fact that there are men outside the elite class in a society that are oppressed, devalued or disenfranchised is not sufficient to label that society “matriarchal”. The point is that no matter how small a clubhouse was occupied by the ruling elite, it generally had a “no women allowed” sign out front.

    Men being sent off to war to protect the property and the interests of the rich and powerful minority does not sound like a society that exists to make men happy.

    Well not to make all men happy, surely. But that is not usually what is meant when the term “patriarchy” is used in general conversation. Most historic “patriarchies” were also oligarchies or monarchies (or some other “archy” that further limited access to power beyond denying rights to women.)

    Again, those who like to describe societies as set up to benefit men at the expense of women need to explain why men consistently ranked as more disposable than women.

    Because to a man in power, another man is a competitor. A woman should be protected (and kept subservient) as she could potentially bear his seed, but a rival male should be used to protect assets, to acquire more, or should simply be eliminated.

  47. Matriarchal and patriarchal are not the only choices.  In many societies, kinship reckoning might be patrilineal, but post marital residence can be matri-local, pati-local or neo-local.   In others, kinship reckoning might be Matrilineal, but post marital residence might be equally different. In most matrilineal societies, post marital residence may begin by being matrilocal, but as the man ages, he may be called upon to take over political roles from his uncle (mother’s brother) and the couple and their children may then take up residence with the husband’s maternal lineage. 

    And consider this: in most hunter-gatherers kinship reckoning is bilateral, there are no lineages, let alone clans, and there are not even fixed villages with a stable population.  Women are not “property” but economic partners of men, often responsible for over 75% of all food production, water-fetching, much of the house construction, and the provisioning of material comforts like firewood.  

    There is no real social stratification, although there might be informal ranking of individuals and households based on their diligence, generosity, and interpersonal skills.  Indeed, within a functional forager economy, permanent villages, and the reduced individual mobility and group fluidity that such political entities as lineages and clans imply, are arrangements awkward if not impossible to sustain except in rather exceptional conditions such as where huge amounts of food can be gathered and stored for long enough to permit such reduced mobility.

    This may seem a trivial point, until you recall that foraging is the original human economy.  The one that defined social action and survival – and many of the selection pressures acting upon human beings until fairly recently.  Recent kinds of kinship and political groupings may, for all we know, atypical of the species, and contrary to the conditions that would have existed in the EEA.  So models based on “coalitional” male groups fighting each other and stealing females from each other, resulting in “group selection” for the fiercest groups, tends to seem a bit farfetched.  

  48. Here are two analogies that might shed light on this dispute. 

    (1) You can think about ocean waves in terms of amplitude, velocity, frequency. Waves usually appear to travel. Yet we have discovered that in a sense, waves are an illusion. Nothing moves transversely.  Individual water molecules move in elliptical paths.  You can explain the macro behaviour in terms of the molecular movements.  Both are still valid views, each appropriate for looking at a particular scale.

    (2) Back in the 1970s I wrote OPTOW, a computer program to design high voltage transmission lines. It was basically checks on a candidate design to make sure it could withstand wind, ice, gravity, displacement, clearances…  It involved a lot of trigonometry.   To my astonishment, the results has a “style” that experienced designers could instantly recognise. I did not program in any style into the program.  It emerged all by itself as an aggregate property of all my trig and dynamic programming algorithms. Engineers could look at the result in terms of the style, even though in some sense, the style was an illusion.

    I detect a faint whiff of burned straw man.  The debate is a bit lawyerly, as if trying to prove the other wrong rather than expound truth. I could be completely wrong. I am not an expert in the field.  This is just the impression I glean from the dismissive language.  Also I have great difficultly believing E.O. Wilson would fail to understand a basic point especially after it was pointed out to him. On the other hand, I consider Pinker a genius, so he should know what he is talking about. It is like watching parents fight.

  49. The absurdity of group selection is that it suggests that something other than gene level selection is asserting a top-down influence over and above that of gene level selecion. That doesn’t make any sense at all, because the thing being selected is the genetic variation itself….and thus ALL factors working on it are at gene level. ‘Group selection’ is merely usurping and renaming the gene level selection that is going on anyway, and is not going on ‘instead’ of it. It’s a meaningless semantic contrivance.

  50. roedygreen:

    I may be overly dense, but I’m afraid I need more explicit detail in order to understand exactly how your two analogies apply to the current topic.

    1) In your first example I assume you mean the two different descriptions of waves to be analogous with gene-level selection and group-level selection? Your implication then, if I understand, it would be that group selection and gene-level selection might be merely two ways of describing the same effect? You suggested something similar in an earlier post. (Not sure if you saw my response.)

    Like you, I’m no expert in the field, but from reading the work of experts I am assured that there IS a clear distinction between these two types of selection, and that the difference is more than a simple change in perspective. I think Pinker’s explanation of the distinction is quite clear in this article, and Richard has explained it in several places.

    It’s possible, I suppose, that both sides have it wrong and the two types of selection really aren’t distinct, but If so, the experts on both sides of this argument are simply wrong as all parties seem to insist that a distinction exists.

    2) Unfortunately I really can’t guess the application you intend for your second analogy. I’d welcome any clarification.

    As to your suspicion that Pinker has erected a straw man with E.O. Wilson’s face, I cannot directly disprove it – having yet to read Wilson’s actual publications on the topic. I can say however that Pinker’s characterization of Wilson’s arguments (including their credulity-straining misunderstanding of basic concepts) is consistent with several other high profile refutations of Wilson’s position. Here is one by professor Dawkins. And here is another.

  51. As incredibly presumptuous as it is for a lay person to disagree with Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker about any aspect of evolution, I’m convinced that they are mistaken.  I haven’t read Wilson’s book yet, so he may have a different take on group selection, but it seems rather simple to me, as long as you accept, as I believe, that genes have a large hand in controlling personality and behavioral tendencies and emotions – that behavior isn’t entirely a matter of culture.  There are presumably many different genes that affect such characteristics as empathy and group identification.  And tendencies to cooperate and exhibit altruism largely, I believe, spring from empathy and group identification.  So go back to the time when homonids were in the process of becoming human.  Presumably it was difficult to survive, so changes in our defining characteristics were rapid.  Assume that the hominid from which we sprang was living mostly in small groups of 10-50 or so.  By random chance and because of families living together, some groups would naturally be more selfish and others more empathetic and cooperative, on average.  The more cooperative groups logically would have a better chance of survival – better protection agains predators and weather, better food supply, better at war.  When a more selfish group died off, all its genes would be lost.  Those more cooperative, altruistic, empathic groups would have a better chance of surviving and sending their genes forward.  Thus the Bell curve of the frequency within the general population of already existing genes would be shifted.  That’s what I believe group selection is.  It’s logical.  It’s not complicated.  It doesn’t denigrate the basic Darwinian principle of random mutation and propogation of those genes that increase likelihood of survival and reproduction.  In fact, gene level selection created all those genes whose frequency is being affected by group selection.
     
    A cooperative individual in a selfish group would be more likely to die; a selfish individual in a cooperative group would be more likely to survive.  That’s why the scenario above is group selection, not individual selection.  The overall genetic effect of group selection is that the AVERAGE frequency of those genes promoting cooperation would increase in the subspecies, and the characteristic behavioral characteristics of the species would be affected.

  52. ccw95005:

    Those more cooperative, altruistic, empathic groups would have a better chance of surviving and sending their genes forward.

    Pinker:

    Sometimes the term [group selection] is needlessly used to refer to an individual trait that happens to be shared by the members of a group; as the evolutionary biologist George Williams noted,”a fleet herd of deer” is really just a herd of fleet deer. And sometimes the term is used as a way of redescribing the conventional gene-level theory of natural selection in different words: subsets of genetically related or reciprocally cooperating individuals are dubbed “groups,” and changes in the frequencies of their genes over time is dubbed “group selection.”

    The way I read it, your post describes a herd of fleet deer.

  53. Some great understated historical prime movers here Red Dog. “Boundaries that they can’t cross” have been group selectors for millennia and are often rock all to do with altruism per se, though you could well hear powerful people rewarding individuals as if they exhibited altruism in respect of some “god code”. Altruism in this context needs redefining as “group code”. It often makes no sense to anyone except insofar as it is a mindless filter to subservience to an historical meme, or gene – as in group identifier. “Do you believe in Woden?” or , “Is your skin colour like ours?” for example. Often they have no real value at all and are a blind faith bestowed by those holding power; an artificial selection that affords them a lions share of free will for re duration of their existence – whilst the rest are servile – de facto – to an inherited delusion.

    Such prime movers for selection go beyond the individual and effect, irrationally, the generations, particularly the lower classes, that suffer the enslaving whole life experience of such mindless altruism. Take however, the position of the preservers of it: those handed the power to maintain it, and you have a whole artificial selection for advantage and heightened free will at your disposal. In this sense, the meme that is being case hardened is that of power per se and not genes at all, which happen to become the bi-products this symbiotic “irrational” relationship they then enjoy the fruits of. For the rank and file, gender is largely a misnomer to power. How good you can be a slave to the power meme takes precedence.

    Its like memes are artificial RNA or something, enabling and disabling, chaotically, all manner of interaction. Weird stuff for sure, but real nonetheless.

  54. This is a great example of power in action r’green. The title “genius” engenders subservience whether or not the title holder makes attempts to ensure their thoughts are accessible to the masses, whereas for the rank and file ,not doing so gets them rejected out of hand. It’s a useful tool to describe a great thinker but it has subliminal attachments which often outperform its position. Great meme you played there my friend. Another subliminal prime mover! Understated forces at play that spread like fire. Personally I usually ignore them from either side of the meme – they remind me so much of Shithovah the Messiah monger! “Let those who have ideas make them known to us ALL.” remains my motto. What I tend to find however is that cost, reward & benefit become more the motto of most than the points being made. My respect, due this, is similarly withheld. Make no mistake, there are few amongst us who share and share alike.

  55. What i would like to know is when did the concept of a selfish gene get somehow linked to the idea that it made the animal carrying genes selfish?  If is NOT in fact linked.  In some species, it is very good for the survival of copies of the gene for the “parent” to be selfish and just walk away.  Most of the time, it is not. Even crocodiles mother their young. 

    Altruism is often exactly the best behaviour an animal can demonstrate to benefit the survival of its own genes.  This is not just true of humans.  Moreover, it is not true, at least in most human societies, that selfishness and freeloader behaviour in ANY way benefit the genes.  Selfishness in a parent is totally counterproductive in the effort to get human infants to adulthood.  

    Extreme example: a man who “spreads his sperm” and  then does nothing to help with childrearing produces questionable results indeed, since fatherless children or children reared by step-fathers are far more at risk of all kinds of injury and abuse and mental and emotional problems.  Reproductive selfishness of that kind is simply not a viable option in humans.  We are not alley cats or Red Deer.  

    This is the whole point of kin selection. It is why the theory finds support in the evidence.  It is why Triver’s book made so much sense.  

    On another issue: despite some of the things said in this discussion so far, human females did not evolve as dependents of men.  They were economically the main supplier of calories and men could not have become hunters without this steady contribution.  Women had a value beyond “bearing seed” for men for most of our evolutionary history.  Women throughout recent history have been captured and made into reproductive vehicles but it has always been an extremely hazardous way to increase the number of your children.  Maybe some folks have somehow romanticized this, but let us be realistic. A woman who is a war captive or a slave is perfectly capable of biding her time until the opportunity arises to slit her captor’s throat. 

    Final point: For those of you interested in understanding human biological evolution, here is my advice: Forget the last 10,000 years: they have been really, really, abnormal for most  populations within our species.  They have demonstrated the extremes to which our minds and bodies can be taxed and pushed into adapting, but conditions for most humans have not been optimal for a long time, and are, alas, becoming less so.  The levels of violence, deceit, hoarding, inter-group warfare, internal rebellion, frequent starvation, rates of infection, misery, and mental illness are indicative of a species on the very edge of its ability to cope. The very fact that we all recognize how nice it is to not be poor, to have opportunities for interesting work, and that we find great joy in expanding our knowledge about the origins of the universe, of life, and of the way the life support system on the planet works, is not irrelevant.  We all know perfectly well that MOST of humanity is living through incredible stress and insecurity.  What we need to acknowledge is that there is a terrible price paid, for that little scum of prosperity, happiness, and wonder, that only a few of us get, out of being part of a “civilization”.  Most of humanity pays that price but never gets much glimpse of the property, the happiness, or the wonder.  

    It never used to be this way.  Maybe we did not know so much, but everyone knew as much as there was to know.  That was fair.  It was just.  It feels to me that it would be right if this were true today — it should still be that way.  Every adult human should know as much as there is to know.  

    What went wrong?  We developed groups that competed, instead of cooperating and sharing their resources, as most forager economies had done in the past.  Some of them began as kin-groups, (and such are sill around) but these were soon superseded in scale and scope by the activities of  kingdoms, empires, “interest” groups, social classes, and corporate “persons”.  All along these various entities had to cope with warlike competitors that wiped out other groups, or got into a protection racket and sucked the surplus off them. so most of the ones that survived achieved some capacity for war.  These were not just groups who shared similar memes.  They were integrated systems of ideology, institutions, and economy.  They got bigger and bigger, and more complex, and did manage to persist over time, adapting to changing circumstances by innovation (and borrowing) of ideas, knowledge, organizational skills, and technology.  So far, all of biggest ones have eventually collapsed. We have more of these larger groups on the planet now than at any other time in history. 

    Culture. Our evolutionary environment was, above all, cultural. It produced a a finely balanced  cognitive system, ideally suited to run on a set of learned behaviours, symbolic communication, and paradigmatically structured perceptions.   And that is our greatest strength and our only really serious flaw as an organism.  Can culture take on a life of its own, as a non-biological evolutionary replicator?  If it can, it might yet prove our undoing. 

    I am relieved that Steve Pinker and Richard Dawkins are so convinced that “group selection” is not a viable idea in understanding evolution.  But I still think human groups, in the form of whole cultural systems, are an enigma we need to decode.  If some people would prefer to think of human cultural systems not “adapting and evolving,” but merely “changing”, that is fine. It makes no difference to me. I just wish more of you would actually take on the challenge of looking at culture as something that really needs to be understood.  If it not a meta-replicator  that works by programming human brains en mass, what is it?  If we can only understand maybe we can get cultural systems “under control”, so various groups, within our species, can be prevented from destroying the planet by competing for resources and “power”.  

    After that, getting religions defused and everyone thinking rationally ought to be a walk in the park. 

  56. Presumptuous indeed. I’ll go out on a similar limb (as a true layman myself) and humbly submit that you may not understand Richard or Steven’s positions in this instance well enough to assert that they are “mistaken” in their rejection of Wilson. 

    Your “take” on group selection – at least as you present it here - looks to me like plain old gene-level selection in the context of group living. The gene remains the unit being selected for, because it is the unit which replicates. Since a gene’s only path into the next generation is to be copied into the genome of a new organism, the individual can usually be seen as a kind of “proxy replicator” upon which selection may be said to act more or less directly. However, for a “group” (of whatever size) to be propely considered the object of selection your small band of hominids would need to calve off new groups which shared its traits with a high degree of (but short of perfect) fidelity. Only then would the difference between groups become “visible” to natural selection such that pressure could favor some variants over others and increase the frequency of those types of groups in the “group pool”.

    When a more selfish group died off, all its genes would be lost.  Those more cooperative, altruistic, empathic groups would have a better chance of surviving and sending their genes forward.

    Here’s an example. Properly speaking, I’d assert that there is no such thing as a “selfish group” there are only groups made up of (or perhaps under the direction of) selfish individuals. (Even more properly one might say “groups of individuals with genes for selfishness” – provided that the specific type of selfishness under discussion is predominantly determined by genetics rather than culture.)

    Granted, there are different frequencies of a given trait among a given population. As a sort of shorthand, I suppose you could express such a frequency as a “group characteristic.” but the danger of linguistic shortcuts, is that you can forget you took them and start applying a term like “selfish group” in situations where the distinction is actually meaningful. A “selfish group” might “die out” in a certain sense, but unless there is a reproductive stage in the life cycle of a “group”, evolution is blind to that “death.” Remember that all individuals die, it is only the timing of death relative to reproductive success that effects genetic frequency. The increase in size or wealth or influence of a “group” - even at the expense of competing groups - is not the same as true evolutionary success.

  57. Helga Vierich:

    You make some great points about the oversimplification of sex roles. I largly agree with your points, but would still argue that for as long as there has been anything like political power in human groups, such power has overwhelmingly been held by males.

    but conditions for most humans have not been optimal for a long time, and are, alas, becoming less so.  The levels of violence, deceit, hoarding, inter-group warfare, internal rebellion, frequent starvation, rates of infection, misery, and mental illness are indicative of a species on the very edge of its ability to cope

    It’s interesting (and coincidental?) that – on a thread discussing Steven Pinker – you should cite levels of violence in support of the idea that human conditions are bad and getting worse. The thesis of Dr. Pinker’s most recent (voluminous and data heavy) book, the Better Angels of Our Nature is that human violence in the modern era is arguably the at the lowest level in all of human history and that the general trend of all forms of human violence is distinctly downward. He outlines much of his data in this lecture. You may find it interesting, and perhaps surprising.

    I think Pinker might disagree with your characterisation of almost every one of these indicators as getting worse. And he specfically cites the civilizing influence of culture as a major reason for the general curbing of human tendencies to do harm to one another. almost the polar opposite of the general claim you make here.

    It’s an hour and a half lecture, but well worth the time. I’d be fascinated to hear your thoughts on the matter, but r

  58. >I may be overly dense, but I’m afraid I need more explicit detail in order to understand exactly how your two analogies apply to the current topic.

    I am doing too much hand waving.  Perhaps another analogy will get me in deeper.

    You can think of music in terms of chords or individual notes. The note people would shout at the chord people saying they are not understanding that music is actually made of individual notes.  The chord people shout at the note people saying you are missing the big picture and a shorthand for thinking about music, and of course I understand notes. It just I don’t want to look at that level of detail all the time.  The note people find the chord people repulsive because what actual sound a chord makes is so ill-defined.

  59. Alan4discussion, as BanJolvie pointed out, you really have got the wrong end of the stick. Pinker goes into some detail in the third section to distinguish kin selection (which he bizarrely calls nepotistic altruism, but otherwise he has it down to pat) and reciprocal altruism from group selection. He’s even gone to the trouble of carefully defining group selection and separated how the term is used (and misused) before starting the main essay. That’s hardly obfuscation, now is it?

    Wilson et al., and I’m starting to suspect your good self too, have made a grievous error by thinking kin selection and group selection have much in common. A population being variable and complex does not invalidate Pinker’s critique of one of the mechanisms proposed to explain it.

    Reread the part of the essay where Pinker distinguishes the mistaken uses of “group selection” from the two correct forms, and then read his later passage on nepotistic and reciprocal altruism. I think you’ll find Pinker is not only in accord with our understanding of natural selection, but that he is also not as vague or obfuscating as you presume.

  60. Helga, don’t make the mistake of thinking a refutation of group selection is a sign that nobody cares about culture. It’s easily one of the most fascinating things about humans. Pinker wrote several books tackling different aspects of culture, one of which, How the Mind Works, is an excellent read. However, I think the main problem is that culture is a wastepaper basket for whatever pet theories people want to propose, and it’s about time it was subject to much more rigorous study. The refutation of group selection is just one step in that direction.

  61. I’ll break rank here and suggest it isn’t males per se but power per se that disaffects both males and females further down the spectra of societies everywhere. Layers of males and females exist higher up no matter what the infrastructure. Maybe some are more male biased in the corridors of power but nevertheless many more males, as well as females, suffer at their disposal!

    As to Pinker and his “student harvest” about violence on the decline, I again take a critical mass view: there is more human concentration now than at any time in history; there is more slavery now than at any time in history; there is more unhappiness now than at any time in history. Everything else is teetering on irrelevances, which he may well have a lions share of ideas about. Que sera. It does not take a fool to realise that percentage math is biased in favour of the largest shareholder. This, for me, is where the Pinker pulpit is erected. As soon as we start saying things like 10% is an equal share of anything – you immediately lose my attention!

  62. “…
    a selfish individual in a cooperative group would be more likely to survive.”
    And, since individuals reproduce whereas groups do not, this would mean more selfish individuals, until ultimately the group went extinct.  That’s why group selection doesn’t work.

  63.  I am not defending the earlier shortcomings of “group selection”, but human populations are now far larger and more complex than our intuitive behaviours evolved to cope with.  I am not suggesting that behaviours are not gene derived, but relatively minor genetic changes or even environmental triggers, can greatly affect individual temperaments and social/hierarchical positions in groups.

    Group selection and kin selection are two VERY different things, and
    lumping them as a single “it” is unclear at best. Kin selection is
    special case of ordinary natural selection wherein an individual may
    evolve traits that confer a benefit to organisms other than itself
    (even to it’s individual detriment) provided that those traits confer a
    likely benefit to the individual’s genetic kin. The unit of selection in
    Kin selection is still the gene, NOT any group of individuals.

    There are misfiring aspects of kin-selection in modern humans, as people often do not know who their “kin” are, and no longer live in closely related groups.  In this sense there is an overlap into “group selection”.  Groups of “individuals” are also groups of genes.  There are also memes involved.

    The Selfish Gene itself explicitly and emphatically rejects a
    role for Group selection in natural selection (as does Richard’s other
    published work.) I find it odd therefore for you to site Richard’s
    definition in your defense of “it.”

    This is true, but Richard also states, “Chosen examples are never serious evidence for any worthwhile generalization”. (Selfish Gene P6), which is the criticism I made of Steven Pinker’s general conclusions from given examples.

    “It is all very well for me to argue by reduco ad absurdum, and point to the difficulties of group -selection theory, but the apparrent existence of individual altruism still has to be explained”. (Richard Dawkins – Selfish gene P10&11)

    @OP -  I have argued that the concept of Group Selection has no useful role to
    play in psychology or social science. It refers to too many things,
    most of which are not alternatives to the theory of gene-level selection
    but loose allusions to the importance of groups in human evolution. And
    when the concept is made more precise, it is torn by a dilemma. If it
    is meant to explain the cultural traits of successful groups, it adds
    nothing to conventional history and makes no precise use of the actual
    mechanism of natural selection. But if it is meant to explain the
    psychology of individuals, particularly an inclination for unconditional
    self-sacrifice to benefit a group of nonrelatives, it is dubious both
    in theory (since it is hard to see how it could evolve given the
    built-in advantage of protecting the self and one’s kin) and in practice
    (since there is no evidence that humans have such a trait).

    This paragraph essentially says “The matter is complex and undecided, THEREFORE this viewpoint can be dismissed in its entirety.

    I challenged this as merely an expression of a dogmatic personal opinion on a matter which is still inconclusive.  We do not know if any of these aspects are relevant, but there is some evidence.

    There are various credible explanations of aspects altruism, but no comprehensive answers at present.  Pinker simply cannot arbitrarily rule out features of works in progress.

  64. “”…a selfish individual in a cooperative group would be more likely to survive and a cooperative individual in a selfish group would suffer.”
    And, since individuals reproduce whereas groups do not, this would mean more selfish individuals, until ultimately the group went extinct.  That’s why group selection doesn’t work.””But humans have consciousness which enables parameters beyond their own lifetime to be influential in the present moment. Things like 72 virgins et all ensnare peoples energies to farmyard mechanisms which get them gene replicating slaves to a higher power human. This is group selection for higher powered individuals, no? It also supplies endless gene replicators to higher powers , often at their whim and free choosing. Hedonism is synonymous with power on a whole spectrum of human experientials. Genes with the most powerful memes do best no? Most of these have group selection mechanisms.

  65. I met Steven Pinker during a book launch a few years ago around the time that Richard was asked to retire. He would have been the best candidate for the Prof of the Public Understanding of Science, and I asked him if he would apply, he graciously said that he didn’t think he would be considered.

    The present holder of the post manages the public understanding of Maths and that’s about it, it’s too narrow. I can think of a few polymaths that could have done it. Dan Dennett or Jonathan Miller  (too old) Paul Nurse or Steven Pinker are the others.

    Having read The Better Angels of our Nature, I highly recommend this scholarly piece of work. Showing where and how the world has moved towards peace, deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. How do we make it happen?

  66. I have seen the lecture and am familiar with Pinker’s book. I have, actually, corresponded with him about it, because I was alarmed that he used Lawrence Keeley’s table on violence among “hunter-gatherers”.  The data was not all from foragers; in fact, most of the sample data from that table Keeley assembled, and which Pinker uses in his lecture, is actually from horticulturalists and other relatively sedentary groups, including archaeological data from sedentary Mesolithic groups. He also does not distinguish between murder and internal vs external warfare, and Pinker follows his lead. My correspondence with Pinker was cordial but I am not sure it was very productive. I shouldn’t wonder if other anthropologists have tried to point out these problems.  
    I have read Keeley’s book, and that alarmed me even more. I find it misleading that he attempts to project a level of warfare much further into the past than is justified by the archaeological record, and without taking into account the data on mobile foragers. I am not saying that human beings, as foragers, are or were always “the harmless people”, but using these data to suggest that warfare and violence were rampant during the time when humans lived as foragers in a world of foragers is absurd.  It also downplays all the evidence (and there is a mountain of it) that the development of sedentary villages, and then, agriculture, set in motion a series of changes in cultural ecology that were anything but “progress” in terms of human health, life expectancy, and individual liberty.  I find Pinker’s thesis a delightful read, but it is ultimately a reassuring tale in line with most major philosophy since Plato, which strived mightily to convince us that government was good for us, the bigger the better, and that enlightenment led rather than followed the course of civilization.  I do not buy it, at least, not altogether. The statistics assembled in Steve Pinker’s book, on reduced hazards during the successive waves of urbanized agricultural and then agroindustrial state societies are very impressive, but given that social controls over internal violence is within the usual mandate of most states, not too surprising.  States are also notorious for taking upon themselves the punishment of those who disturb their commerce and order. But I find it a bit premature to find explanations for excessive violence *in human nature* rather than in the very processes that led to state formation in the first place.  Pinker has a great mind, and is a very careful scholar.  His work is always worth reading and very stimulating. I do not, however, agree with all of his conclusions so far.  I have not, in case you are wondering about this by now, made up my own mind.  I am still considering the evidence.  And, as we all know from our experiences with religious ideologies, a mind once made up is a hard nut to crack.  I’d rather not be a nut. I’d rather stick with doing science. There is new information to consider all the time.  Every current hypothesis could be overturned, although as time goes on and the stuff gets piled higher and deeper, hope dwindles and I can see why people clutch at conservative philosophies. The evidence includes far more than the ethnographic and archaeological record, of course, since we do take more recent history and current trends into account.  So far, it seems to me there scant reason for optimism about the ultimate outcome of our little experiment with industrial economies, and very little to crow about with with regard to the longer-running experiment with farming systems. 

  67. I am not defending the earlier shortcomings of “group selection”, but

    The “newer” shortcomings are no less indefensible. Read the article. Read The Selfish Gene you quoted from. In both cases, you’ll find you can go a long way without group selection.

     human populations are now far larger and more complex than our intuitive behaviours evolved to cope with.

    Group selection does not provide a workable explanation for this, though. Pinker, like Dawkins, points out logical consequences of the two mechanisms that do work comprehensively, like kin selection leading to possible manipulation in the form of fictive kin (which Pinker describes) and reciprocal altruism leading to concern about one’s reputation (again, which Pinker describes).

     I am not suggesting that behaviours are not gene derived, but relatively minor genetic changes or even environmental triggers, can greatly affect individual temperaments and social/hierarchical positions in groups.

    We know that. This has nothing to do with group selection, though. Pinker explained this in the essay by distinguishing this.

    There are misfiring aspects of kin-selection in modern humans, as people often do not know who their “kin” are, and no longer live in closely related groups.  In this sense there is an overlap into “group selection”.  Groups of “individuals” are also groups of genes.  There are also memes involved.

    Yes, fictive kin are possible, but they are not positively selected for – they are consequences of kin selection. These can be exploited by other individuals or be a small or negligible price to pay, but as both Dawkins and Pinker explain, they cannot be selected for.

    Memetics is irrelevant. It’s not only a completely alternative process, but if it existed, it would follow the rules of replicator dynamics as well, such as “kin” selection and reciprocal altruism.

    You’re acting like a fatal flaw in the premise of group selection is just a temporary setback. It literally cannot work while it coexists with gene-centric theory and as long as individuals are the immediate vehicles that reproduce and, to an extent, ally most strongly with genetic interests. You also seem not have read the rest of the article, where the arguments are, or  else are cherry picking and avoiding them, because these points were addressed in the article.

    Heck, the Richard Dawkins quotes about individual altruism and the question of individual altruism come from the beginning of a book where he goes on to describe exactly how individual altruism comes about without reference to group selection at all. The examples Pinker describes are the examples that have been handed to him on a platter by group selection promoters like E.O.Wilson, who derived his conviction from observation of hymenopteran eusocial species and made conclusions on humans. Dawkins explains the same in The Selfish Gene. The Extended Phenotype even explains the processes in more detail, including how phenotypes can be manipulated by other organisms (note Pinker’s description of how naive soldiers can be manipulated, and the example of fictive kin).

    In short, the evidence suggests you either haven’t read the main essay or haven’t understood it. I consider this odd for you, given how scrupulous and well-informed you usually are.

  68. Well that its annoying. I broke that reply up into nice small paragraphs and now it is all reassembled into one horrible mess.  I am sorry, and assure everyone that this was not how it appeared in the preview. 

  69. I should have added: Fictive kin do not provide overlap with group selection. Fictive kin would be a side effect of kin selection, and its incidence would be selected against for genetic reasons.
    @OP -  I have argued that the concept of Group Selection has no useful role to
    play in psychology or social science. It refers to too many things, most of which are not alternatives to the theory of gene-level selectionbut loose allusions to the importance of groups in human evolution. Andwhen the concept is made more precise, it is torn by a dilemma. If it is meant to explain the cultural traits of successful groups, it adds nothing to conventional history and makes no precise use of the actual mechanism of natural selection. But if it is meant to explain the psychology of individuals, particularly an inclination for unconditionalself-sacrifice to benefit a group of nonrelatives, it is dubious both in theory (since it is hard to see how it could evolve given the built-in advantage of protecting the self and one’s kin) and in practice(since there is no evidence that humans have such a trait).

    This paragraph essentially says “The matter is complex and undecided, THEREFORE this viewpoint can be dismissed in its entirety.

     
    Read it again, Alan. The concept is caught in a fork, or dilemma: it either refers to cultural change, in which case it is irrelevant to genetic evolution (which it needs unless you’re going to argue that it is an independent process, which it seems you wouldn’t), or it refers to phenotypes, which in principle and in practice it cannot do because gene-centred theory already does the job on its own. The GS view is not dismissed because of a complex and undecided matter, it is dismissed because it is, as the main body of the essay explains, flawed by its own problems in principle and practice.
    The principle has been superseded by gene-centric explanations. Culture does not need it. No evidence has vindicated the idea. Pinker and Dawkins have both said the same things. Kin selection and reciprocal altruism, and their side effects when put into practice, are comprehensive, and the dismissal of GS on these grounds is done not for arbitrary reasons, but because, for reasons outlined in the essay if you read it, the process either is unparsimonious and impotent, or has no evidence in its favour.

  70. Thanks for pointing this out.  I also found “How the Mind Works” a very good read. But my impression was that he did not actually tackle culture therein.  It seems to me that most of it dealt with human neurological and cognitive adaptation TO culture and language, which is another subject, really. 

    I totally agree that the term “culture” has become almost useless in general discourse, since very few people, even in anthropology, have agreed on a definition, let alone on whether culture “evolves” or merely changes.  I am not sure if refuting group selection is actually going to be much help. What if group selection does apply to cultural systems?   What if cultures, as entities, are replicators too?  Perhaps they evolve, not like sexually reproducing organisms, but rather like bacteria, and for the same reason – it’s faster. The capacity to learn culture and language is vitally significant in the development of human intelligence.  Yet the vehicle for transmission of language and culture is not just the human brain, but the phenomenon of a SHARED and learned pattern.  Can the permutations of this pattern by explained, in while or in part, by the nature of our genetic variation?  I think not. 

  71. True, culture need not be totally allied to genetics, though without natural selection on genes, the very equipment of the brain could never have come about, and certainly cultures have more than an incidental echo of the rules of gene-centric logic underneath them.

    In the case of culture, (and I know you’ve probably seen me post this before), if a replication system is in effect, it is far more likely to be memetics than group selection. It would be easier to suppose that bits of cultures evolve rather than entire cultures, because large cultures just blend and change too much. They cannot easily be separated by generations, either, not in the same way that brain-to-brain exchanges of information can be. They’re made out of bits that change with less frequency, but the accumulated changes make culture as a whole very volatile. Traditions of stone-carving, for instance, can outlast their original culture and yet have nothing else to do with them once they do so, in principle if not always completely in practice (for simple reasons of geography).

    Read that part of this OP where Pinker describes how groups should work if they really were replicator systems. I think you’ll agree that cultures are nothing like this. There are no copies of British culture spreading exponentially around the world, yielding a mutation after a dozen generations or so. The very difficulty of marking a border between cultures (no better shown than by subcultures and pidgin cultures) should make the idea difficult to hold.

    By all means propose a replication system subject to its own natural selection laws for culture, but realize that, so long as gene-centric evolution works, group selection is simply too preposterous a candidate to be considered. If you don’t like memetics, you could consider that cultures are a kind of miniature Internet held by multiple human minds, a database of traditions that can be lost or multiplied and generated by new ideas and content appearing and crossing across to link to other ideas. We do not impoverish our imaginations by giving group selection a “no chance” verdict.

  72. “And, since individuals reproduce whereas groups do not, this would mean more selfish individuals, until ultimately the group went extinct. That’s why group selection doesn’t work.”
     
    No.  A selfish individual in a more cooperative group might probably be fractionally more likely to survive than the average member of the group – or maybe not, if he is shunned.  The important point is that all or almost all the more cooperative group would be more likely to survive – including outliers – than any person in the less cooperative group.  So over time the frequency of those genes promoting cooperation in the species would increase.  Obvious, people.

  73. Premiseless:

    I don’t see a logical reason here to reject the “percentage of the population” approach. You might be able to show that there are more people living in slavery now than at any time in history (I say might, I’d want actual data), but I can’t see why such a (hypothetical) fact should legitimately cause us simply ignore the exponentially greater increase in people living free of slavery.

    If the percentage of a population being enslaved is on the decline, then I say slavery is on the decline. Any growth in the raw number of slaves should be attributed to population growth rather than expansion of slavery per se. I don’t see any way – given your definition – for a rapidly growing human population to actually “decrease” levels of slavery, short of complete elimination. Granted, any slavery is a very bad thing, and the ideal solution would be complete eradication. Your framing however would have us make the perfect the enemy of the good. All progress becomes negative in your view, so long as the population grows. By that logic, the rapid extinction of 95% of the population - by nuclear explosion say – would result in a marked decrease in slavery, even if 10 percent of the surviving population immediately enslaved the rest.

    The absolutist perspective you espouse could prevent us from recognizing, studying and building upon gains we have made.

  74. You may be too hard on our colleague (ccw95005). There is some justification for at least ASKING if there might have been differential survival of some archaic human groups, during an evolutionary bottleneck, which resulted in the emergence of a population of Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) in south-eastern Africa.  

    Okay, let me back up a bit. Kin-selection models, even when they extend to
    fictive kin, do actually hold up under testing.  The extension of altruism
    beyond known kin is characteristic of all human cultures.  

     

    Models based on the extension of altruism
    beyond immediate kin, however, do not require any sort of group, or any kind
    of male (or female) coalitions of any permanent kind.  In fact the
    extension of kinship and proxy-kinship networks of sharing and mutual aid, in
    all directions, from each individual, (no matter where this individual might be
    living within a cluster of several hundred camps that constitute a local
    linguistic community,) fits in very nicely with what we do know about how most hunter-gatherer economies optimize resource use and long term
    sustainability. 

     

    This is why I am rather doubtful that
    “group selection”, as presented by E.O. Wilson, would actually work
    within such a forager system.  Group selection might not work *between*
    most of these kinds of linguistic groups either, since in most cases, networks
    of sharing and mutual aid, as well kinship based on intermarriage, among such
    neighboring forager groups, are common.  

     

    Unless Dr. Wilson has in mind a larger
    “group” than most of you seem to be talking about here – perhaps made
    up of several linguistic groupings of foragers over a kind of “culture
    area” that would also represent a relatively isolated gene pool of some
    duration, I can not see how it would work.  

     

    There is however, one clear exception. 

     

    In Africa, there is now evidence of an extended
    period of isolation (up to 100,000 years) between the populations of Archaic humans in northwest
    Africa and those in the southern savanna and coastal environments. Archaic
    humans survived in the Northwest long after anatomically modern humans (AMH)
    emerged in southern Africa.  Why?  What selection occurred in
    southern Africa that nudged the species to that point? 

     

    We do have some evidence of draconian
    selection events in our evolutionary history: like the relative de-tropicalization of much of Africa due to the Mediterranean drying up 5-4.5 million years ago, or the the crisis that followed the Toba eruption.   Insofar as there is a genetic component to behaviour, we can probably safely assume that individual alleles that enhanced hormonal and neurotransmitter response
    to altruism, fairness, and just punishment of freeloaders might have varied considerably in archaic human populations.  The benefits, to any
    groups with a higher frequency of these alleles, might have conferred less advantage in a relatively rich environment, but in the wasteland left by a massive volcanic eruption, for instance, or a meteor strike, this might well have changed dramatically. Perhaps groups that were more able to expand the sheer geographic spread of networks of sharing and reciprocal access to resources had a significant advantage then.  These enlarged networks might have been
    critical to survival for many generations of lean years following the Toba
    eruption, for instance. One might further speculate that populations which did not have
    a high proportion of such alleles (if it were a fairly recent mutation, for example,
    it might not have spread very far) would have been at a disadvantage during
    such a time.  Their “groups” (local gene pools) might have been
    extinguished or nearly extinguished, with survivors absorbed, perhaps, into
    populations where the allele was more common, and the extension of altruism
    beyond immediate kin was better established.  I know it is a very tentative suggestion.  But SOMETHING happened that caused AMH to evolve.  In the broadest sense, the whole concept of some local gene pools surviving and others being extinguished is the road to speciation.  That speciation COULD sometimes involve differential survival of groups within a “parent species” is not too far a stretch, even if it gives many evolutionary biologists a headache.  It gives me a headache too. And, despite my earlier misgivings about group selection, as the concept is used so far in this discussion, I cannot help but wonder if there has been a colossal misunderstanding here.  What if group selection actually involves seeing the group as an INSTRUMENT of selection, rather than it’s target?  We have natural selection, whereby predators, parasites, climate, altitude, fluctuation in food supplies, and various other aspects of the environment prune the genome, targeting, ultimately, the various individual genetic variations that cower at each locus in our DNA.  The pruning is as direct as death in fetal life, or as indirect as having fewer great-great grandchildren than the next guy, but it is effective, obviously.  Well, what if, in addition to “natural selection”, we have “group selection”, meaning, that the very dynamics of group living alter the conditions for selection?  The target of this form of “group selection” would still be the individual gene. I am not sure this could be distinguished from kin selection, of course, except that it would possibly be, under some conditions, actively counter to the immediate interests of close kin to offer succour to distant kin. Or to those who are clearly not kin at all.  The long term interests of all three, on the other hand, might be better served, if all benefitted by being enmeshed in a successful “culture” that stood the test of time.  How could it possibly benefit close kin to have altruism extended to strangers?  At this juncture, do any of you recall the issue of maintaining heterogenity at the Major Histocompatibility Complex?  Immune systems function better that way.  In the kind of small human groups that existed prior to 12,000 BP, this might have been a real problem unless a mechanism existed to regularly import genetic material from outside the local group. Warfare is probably the most costly and risky way of doing this, and is unlikely to have developed to solve this problem.   Reciprocal altruism is a far less expensive and risky alternative, especially as it offers the opportunity to actually sniff your potential mates before making any decisions. 

    How do I supply links with this new system of commentary? 

     

     

  75. Alan4discussion:

    There are misfiring aspects of kin-selection in modern humans, as people often do not know who their “kin” are, and no longer live in closely related groups.  In this sense there is an overlap into “group selection”.

    No. there is overlap into “natural selection in the context of groups” not “group selction.” Pinker is careful to define his terms and to distinguish exactly what he means by the “group selection” he is rejecting.

    …the apparrent existence of individual altruism still has to be explained”. (Richard Dawkins – Selfish gene P10&11)  /blockquote>

    Another strange citation. In this passage richard sets out the problem. He then goes on in a book length treatise to explain why group selection is not a good explanation. He also goes to great lengths to show how kin selection is distinct from group selection, contrary to your assertion that ther is “overlap.” You may disagree with Richard, but his writings are not your ally in this argument. It is at the very least odd for you to quote mine him in this fashion.

    This paragraph essentially says “The matter is complex and undecided, THEREFORE this viewpoint can be dismissed in its entirety.

    I think you should reread the paragraph and give it more thought. Your summation of it is unfair. Pinker does say that the matter is complex, but attributes the complexity to confusion over terms and core concepts, not to the matter being undecided. He goes on he then carefull (in the paragraph you cite and elsewhere) to parse out the different specific uses and the term “group selection” and to give his reason for dismissing them (he maintains they are either redundant or simply wrong, and he does so in a fairly precise manner, despite your charges that he is lumping the entire field together.)

    In this essay Pinker is specifically rejecting the group selection theories advanced by Wilson et al., and he takes some pains to define his targets. It almost seems to me that you are the one making a more blanket defense of “group selection” on the shaky grounds that every possible use of the term has not been conclusively disproved and therefore dismissal of some specific usage is somehow “dogmatic”. ?????

  76. “How do I supply links with this new system of commentary? “

    If you just paste the URL Disgus will make it a link automatically.  Easier than the old system but not as clean since we have to see URL’s rather than some text we want to turn into a link. 

  77. It occurred to me, when I was responding below, that group selection is not unlike dualism. It seeks to add an extra component that is already fully explained by existing laws of science…..in this case the gene-level basis of natural selection. Exactly the same arguments relating to supervenience that negate the ‘soul’ as an extra top-down component required to explain the mind, also negate the top-down ‘group’ component of group selection.  Just as the mind is actually no more than the workings of the brain, so the ‘group’ is actually no more than the workings of individual level genetic selection. Group selection thus cannot supervene upon those basic level processes that are occuring anyway…..any more than 100 billion neurons can be supervened upon by some sort of ‘soul’.

     It’s an analogy that I think best highlights the illusory nature of group selection. There isn’t some mysterious group selection that is going on ‘instead of’ bog standard gene level selection, any more than there’s a mysterious ‘mind’ going on in a brain instead of bog standard physics and biology.

     

  78. Albert A Bartlett puts it better than me, on You Tube. Percentage, year on year, is catastrophic. Something tells me a reverse approach, claiming % analysis proves % improvements, ought to be taken with extreme caution. When one also considers the numbers of humans suffering this very day, I’m sure they would be hard pressed to say  Mr Pinker is my friend, and there are a lot of them.”One shot at life” takes no concessions based on economic jugglers. I’d back their claims that highlighted how more sufferings, this very day, have occurred than at what was once the human population of the planet. Real equality values everyone equally you see. All Pinker is saying from where I’m listening is that we now have more excuses than ever for all the inequalities we foist upon each other and the rest of life on Earth, largely due the very corrupt language of percentage math. I don’t buy it for a second!

  79. “Group selection” does sound like a type of dualism. It’s definitely another oxymoron like “free will”. People use the term with authority and insist that it has meaning, but seem unable to explain why. Reminds me a bit of “God”.

  80. “All Pinker is saying from where I’m listening is that we now have more excuses than ever for all the inequalities we foist upon each other and the rest of life on Earth, largely due the very corrupt language of percentage math. I don’t buy it for a second!”

    That is a pretty harsh claim to make. Can you back that up with anything specific? I’m reading his book about violence right now and I haven’t seen anything that I would consider an “excuse for more inequalities”. Have you actually read his book?

  81. I don’t think Group Selection is like dualism. Dualism posits an extra and unnecessary additional substance (mind) to explain what the brain does. Group Selection is more like the standard kind of hierarchies we see in science all the time.  For some phenomena it makes sense to talk about molecules, for some particles, and for some chemicals, cells, etc. 

    So when we look at how species evolve do the models based on group selection work better, or the models based on individual selection or some combination?There is no prima facia reason that group selection can’t be true. It just happens that the data and best models we have so far show that its not. 

  82. There is no prima facia reason that group selection can’t be true.

    There sort of is. “Group Selection” is a fine example of circular reasoning in that it first assumes what it sets out to prove. This is just not how science is done.

  83. Albert A Bartlett puts it better than me, on You Tube.

    I would hope he did. 

    Percentage, year on year, is catastrophic. Something tells me a reverse approach, claiming % analysis proves % improvements, ought to be taken with extreme caution.

    Um, what?  No, really.  I have no idea what % analysis is or what it might have to do with the OP. 

    *Fingers crossed that I blockquoted correctly, hitting post NOW!*    

  84. I think it was Will Hutton who made the observation that inequalities are exponentially rising, per se, the world over. I consider a correlation between this and what some might consider memes for violence, whether direct or pyramid scheme driven aka untraceable irresponsibility. The gaps are greater than they ever were and I find this worrisome. The trend is not good. I see Pinkers points at best to be suggesting borrowed time is at its height. Pinkers claims are another way of saying “The wealthy never had it so good.” (as if they needed it any better anyhow?) and therefore their slaves must be having it slightly better than previously, whilst the Earth it is hoped, can tolerate their overwhelming exploitations without ever reaching critical mass that backfires on the whole blooming lot of them. I just don’t buy into the “Good News”. I see claims that violence is reducing as very flowery language indeed – class driven and subjectively classified on a whole range of levels.

    It’s lucky you are currently in the thick of his ideas and maybe you’d be so kind as to share your view and state exactly what Pinker is saying that is so important and why we should all take note. I have to say, I can’t imagine what that might be even! 

  85. I imagine the Jersey group selection process is a complete coincidence?

    “Jersey-based K2 scheme, which is said to be sheltering £168m a year from the Treasury.” 

    Kinda, “There’ll be no equality on my watch.”

    I see why I’m unpopular on this point, naturally!

  86. After reading this essay, mulling it over, then reading it a second time, I’ve decided that it is briliant.  It really clarified for me things about which I was confused. 

    With out elementary (or discrete) replicators, ‘group selection’ (or any other phenomena) wont resemble the mathematical model which underlies Natural Selection. 

    Can someone confirm if I’m on the right track here? 

  87. No, in the scenario I presented it’s obviously group selection, not gene-level selection, because everyone in the group, more or less, dies or survives because of the average degree of cooperation among the members.  Think about it.  The selfish individual is selected for survival and reproduction not because of his selfishness, but because his group is overall more cooperative.  That’s group selection in a nutshell.
     
    A less cooperative individual is more likely to survive as a member of an overall more cooperative group, even though his selfishness drags down cooperation to some extent.  What happens is that over time the genes promoting cooperation become more prevalent in the general species population.  Some variation of this is almost surely how wild dogs developed cooperative hunting strategies.

  88. No, in the scenario I presented it’s obviously group selection, not gene-level selection, because everyone in the group, more or less, dies or survives because of the average degree of cooperation among the members.  Think about it.

    No, it’s not group selection.  It’s obviously not.  Think about it.  All you have is a herd of fleet deer.  Your groups don’t replicate like genes.  Pinker and Dawkins have covered all your trite objections.

    Please read the article — it’s clear you haven’t read it.  Repeating yourself over and over gets very tiresome, and doesn’t help your case one iota.

    Read Pinker’s article and point out where he is mistaken.

  89. Except your example is wrong:

    “A cooperative individual in a selfish group would be more likely to die; a selfish individual in a cooperative group would be more likely to survive.  That’s why the scenario above is group selection,”

    The point you are missing is that the selfish individual would be more likely to survive in the cooperative group than the cooperative individual. You can see this in game theory. You can prove it mathematically or you can replicate it by having students play a representative game in the class (see the iTunesU Game Theory class presented by Ben Polak at Yale — this is an outstanding class I recommend it). The cooperative genes die out and are replaced by the selfish ones.

  90. Some mathematical models of “group selection” are really just individual selection in the context of groups. [2] The modeler arbitrarily stipulates that the dividend in fitness that accrues to the individual from the fate of the group does not count as “individual fitness.” But the tradeoff between “benefiting the self thanks to benefiting the group” and “benefiting the self at the expense of the rest of the group” is just one of many tradeoffs that go into gene-level selection. Others include reproductive versus somatic effort, mating versus parenting, and present versus future offspring. There’s no need to complicate the theory of natural selection with a new “level of selection” in every case.

    [2]

    Read the article.

  91. I think what we have as “success replicators” are very selfish memes being cooperated with by all sorts of individuals as either very selfish motivations, or temporary disabled altruism in the hope that resources and power get successfully ” selfishly secured ” so they might then be used in some altruistic way. The problem here of course is that most things, good and bad, rely on power and resources – which evidence hardly ever is capable of deciphering motive per se and the two polar memes are recognised as synonymous all too easily or worse still swapped by false accusation: the good is accused of being bad, due motive and the bad lay claims to be intending to be good. The two positions become very exchangeable due the evidence and almost inseparable due competition. In evolutionary terms motive is irrelevant, but in human terms we can hardly escape this significance. 

  92. “I don’t see a logical reason here to reject the “percentage of the population” approach. You might be able to show that there are more people living in slavery now than at any time in history (I say might, I’d want actual data), but I can’t see why such a (hypothetical) fact should legitimately cause us simply ignore the exponentially greater increase in people living free of slavery.”This illustrates my point exactly. If you position your mind behind the meme that, say, 1% slavery is excellent progress, compared to the 2 % slavery of a century ago (fictitious numbers to illustrate my point) then since the real population more than doubled during that period the actual number of humans having a very raw deal indeed actually increased in real terms. I don’t see any good in this other than an excuse that more people are free than before – hiding the real value injustice that there are still way too many NOT. This kind of meme evaluation too easily excuses the inexcusable for me. I don’t actually think we have a language, or math, that permits us to successfully converge upon consensus respecting things of this nature. Memes themselves become points for real and subjective disagreement. We get into the territory of; desire and despair, tolerance and intolerance, one persons medicine being another’s poison etc.Therefore I am reluctant to offer a conclusion about this. The single person who suffered greatly is in the same life experiential as every one of the millions who laid there lives at the altar of genocides. Humans however take much more note of the en mass sufferings as if in some way that of the lone individual were less of an experiential. To them it is one and the same thing. I’m not sure how we ever breach this meme for disparity betwixt the two. The outsider is always bound to consider the group major and the individual minor and to compare the two as weighted by the math of the group, when they are likelier the same in more ways than not, at each individuals level and as far as any one individual might empathise with each. It’s the old, “Which is best, looking through the telescope or the microscope?”

  93. Again, no, no, no!  Let me give an enormously simplified example.  Let’s say that there are 60 individuals divided into two groups of 30 each.  Say that that’s all that’s left of the subspecies from which homo sapiens will spring.  Let’s disregard the fact that all the people in a family will tend to all go to in the same group, and simply postulate that by chance or preference or whatever most poorly cooperative people end up in one group and most very cooperative people end up in the other.  (In reality, of course, there would be many groups with different levels of cooperation.)
     
    In group one, two people are poorly cooperative, the rest cooperative.  Say that one altruistic individual is killed in protecting the rest from a predator, and the rest – 29 of them – survive.  So even though the selfish individuals survived better than the altrustic guy, 27 of the cooperative survivors send their genes forward, and two selfish survivors sends theirs onward. 
     
    Say that there’s another group of 30 people, two of which are cooperative, the rest selfish.  They don’t cooperate in providing and sharing food, and they all die.  None of them sends his genes on.
     
    Before the above scenarios, the number of individuals with cooperative genes was exactly equal to the number of individuals who were poorly cooperative.  After the scenarios, the individuals whose genetics promoted cooperation would outnumber the selfish individuals 27 to two.  Think maybe the next generation (the progeny of the 29 individuals remaining) would be more cooperative, overall, than the previous (consisting of the 60 specified above)?
     
    RedDog, we are all cooperative and altruistic and empathic to varying degrees.  If it were as simple as selfish individuals always surviving better, that wouldn’t be the case.  There has to be an explanation for how we got this way – why we cooperate.  Group selection explains it to my satisfaction, and gene-level reciprocity doesn’t pass the smell test for me.
     
     
     
     

  94. Premiseless:

    I really try to understand you. Honestly I do, but frankly this rant is a bit of a muddle. Sorry to be so blunt, but either you thinking or you explanatin of it here is profoundly unclear – at least to me.

    In your example the hypothetical population (more than) doubles, and the percentage of that population in slavery is reduced by half. You correctly note that – given these hypothetical figures – the absolute number of people suffering enslavement has marginally increased. (The increase comes from the “more than” bit

    Of course the suffering of every single one of those individuals is tragic. This is simply obvious. Your implication that Pinker’s thesis somehow denies this fact is kind of silly. Absolutely nothing I’ve seen or read in Dr. Pinker’s analysis discounts or “excuses the inexcusable” pain of even one single individual. (Honestly, you write as though no one but you feels empathy. It borders on insulting.) In fact his deep compassion for victims of all forms of violence is one clear motivation behind his study of the historical decline in violence. By identifying the causes of this decline it may be hoped that even greater progress may be achieved. 

    Frankly, I say that YOU are the one who is being dismissive of the suffering of individuals. If your hypothetical population has doubled from say 3 billion to 6 billion people, then a drop in slavery rates of 1% equals 60 MILLION people who would have been enslaved at the had the rate remained the same. 60 MILLION individuals who were spared an awful fate because of a dropping percentage. In such a circumstance I’d say, “That’s a remarkable step in the right direction. Let’s study that! It may help us tackle the other 1%.” Yet you say you  “don’t see any good in this” !?!? You wave away such remarkable statistics as an “excuse”?! Your pardon, but that rings of callousness to me.

    Despite your emotive assertions, we can approach these questions logically and bring evidence and method to bear in our analysis. We do in fact have the language, and the math if we are willing to do the hard work of using it.

    “We have made progress in these specific ways” is NOT the same as “we have arrived” or “this progress will continue into the future so our work is done.” The perfect is not the enemy of the good. If we avoid the kind of rigid absolutism you are espousing here, we are perfectly capable of recognizing both how much progress we have made AND how much we have left to make. In fact refusing to acknowledge areas of progress can only hinder our efforts to further improve.

    By all means, agitate against injustice and inequality, advocate forcfully for the relief of victims and of the opressed. Rail against those power structures which defend the wealthy and powerful at the expense of humanity at large. I may even join you. But why attack friends along with your enemies? Clear analysis of progress is every bit as important as recognizing failures. Pinker’s work, for example, is more likely to be a tool toward achieving ends you would support than a means of “hiding” injustice.

  95. I did read the article, and my concept of group selection is actually like the second example – ‘subsets of genetically related or reciprocally cooperating individuals are dubbed “groups”, and changes in the frequencies of their genes over time is dubbed “group selection”‘ and not like the first (herd of deer).
     
    What we’re trying to figure out is why we homo sapiens are cooperative and sometimes altruistic, and what I think of as group selection explains it easily, in my opinion.  Pinker may believe that it is no more than “conventional gene-level natural selection”, but I don’t believe that it is, because the survival of individuals depends to at least some extent on how cooperative the group is, and not entirely on their individual selfishness or altruism or other characteristics.  If the group prospers, everybody has a good chance of survival and reproduction - and the reverse is also true.
     
     

  96. This example is still not describing group selection. It is the differential survival of individuals (genomes) in the environmental context of a group of other individuals.

    The behavior of group-mates and of the outgroup constitute an environmental factor (just like climate or availability of resources) which provides pressure in favor of individuals with genes that are good at cooperating in group settings. The fact that the fates of group-mates are largely interdetermined is not enough to mean that the group is actually a discrete unit which is being subjected to selection pressure. Unless the group reproduces as a group then selection has no way to act differentially upon further variations in its successful offspring. When a group dies out, it is not the characteristics of the group as a whole which are lost, but the distinct traits of each individual member. Some of those lost traits may have been shared somewhat uniformly among the group, but that is different than a “group trait.”

    At most you might say that some individual traits are favored for survival in environments where there are lots of copies of itself, i.e. homogenous groups are a more a favorable environment for some traits than others. To call such a case “group selection” is to confuse the unit experiencing selection pressure with the unit exerting it.

  97. My motive is too easily misread. I get a sense I again that I’ve already needlessly and sincerely over invested my thinking here for example. Often it seems. I have no attack motive. I have no real respect or denial of how Pinker thinks per se. I care not a jot whether in fact anyone understands or not, anything I say at all. I am ambivalent to all information as far as I can be. I have a fleeting interest in what might be claimed universal truisms and memes which attempt to register some kind of kudos value there. I might rustle a few leaves to see what lies beneath, that I’m somehow not getting or seeing, when someone claims my minds real estate, I attempt to rigorously refute it – I find I too long neglected not to do so. 

  98. Actually, it’s worse than that. Gene-level selection is posited as one alternative, group selection as another “level” of selection, in what Wilson et al. call Multilevel Selection Theory. The problem is, any attempt to define GS with reference to genes (like trying to explain human group dynamics) in the first place collapses the discussion to gene-level selection, usually with kin selection and reciprocal altruism doing or being at the root of all the explanatory work. So here GS is redundant and pointless, and Multilevel Selection Theory is blatantly incorrect. Even individual selection can be collapsed in this way, as individual and genetic interests usually overlap favourably, but where they deviate, genes invariably win (as when organisms risk their lives for reproductive purposes).

    If, on the other hand, groups are granted their own status as units of selection independent of genes, this requires granting on them properties, like accurate replication, inheritance, occasional mutation, “alleles”, and clear generational boundaries, ideally without giving genes any legroom to claim credit for doing all the work. The problem is that this is like saying gene pools or species “replicate” when all they really do is branch off, and groups are even worse in that they can rejoin and blend again like clouds. This is a long way away from genuine replication like that done by genes, which are atom-by-atom identical for several clearly distinct generations, and to weaken the definition of replication to make it “fit” for GS is to betray the obvious deficit in the argument.

    There is no replication process for groups, just basic branching and blending of heterogenous parts (it should be obvious that people are not clones of each other, further weakening the argument), but then heap upon heap of problems build up anyway; whatever inheritance occurs is the inheritance of the individuals and of the genes within the population, so again the analogy collapses into gene selection; mutation rates within groups are ridiculously high, as a group structure can change dramatically within a generation, never mind when they are said to “reproduce” (i.e. branch off, or rather drift apart like clouds); there are no distinct alleles, since there are no loci for them to compete over (though there are ecological niches, but the arms races and strategy contests that result are entirely different because again they collapse into genetic contests within different species for a slot in the environment in which the genes find themselves); and the boundaries between groups are either about as rigid as those of non-homogeneous populations or usually related, again, to genetic selection.

    The very premises of either version of GS, therefore, are doomed from the start by contradiction with real world facts. It literally cannot work as an independent mechanism so long as it makes allowances to genetic selection, or else propose that genes can create a gigantic replicator on a grander scale, which they blatantly haven’t done. To imagine the absurdity of the argument, imagine a gigantic gene in place of groups and have a shot each time you spot how unlike they are. You’ll be drunk before you’ve finished the list.

  99. I did read the article, and my concept of group selection is actually like the second example - ‘subsets of genetically related or reciprocally cooperating individuals are dubbed “groups”, and changes in the frequencies of their genes over time is dubbed “group selection”‘ 

    If you read the article, you obviously weren’t paying attention. This is one of the wrong or confusing ways of using the term, as the original context shows:

     
     The first big problem with group selection is that the term itself sows so much confusion.
      People invoke it to refer to many distinct phenomena, so casual users may literally not know what they are talking about. I have seen “group selection” used as a loose synonym for the evolution of organisms that live in groups, and for any competition among groups, such as human warfare. Sometimes the term is needlessly used to refer to an individual trait that happens to be shared by the members of a group; as the evolutionary biologist George Williams noted,”a fleet herd of deer” is really just a herd of fleet deer. And sometimes the term is used as a way of redescribing the conventional gene-level theory of natural selection in different words: 
     subsets of genetically related or reciprocally cooperating individuals are dubbed “groups,” and changes in the frequencies of their genes over time is dubbed “group selection.”
     [1] To use the term in these senses is positively confusing, and writers would be better off referring to whichever phenomenon they have in mind.

    Your abuse and misuse of the term is precisely what Pinker is trying to put a stop to. It also has nothing to do with what the group selectionists like E.O.Wilson and D.S.Wilson are proposing, as in Multilevel Selection Theory. Pinker even describes this right after the paragraph in question:

    In this essay I’ll concentrate on the sense of “group selection” as a version of natural selection which acts on groups in the same way that it acts on individual organisms, namely, to maximize their inclusive fitness (alternatively, which acts on groups in the same way it acts on genes, namely to increase the number of copies that appear in the next generation; I will treat these formulations as equivalent). Modern advocates of group selection don’t deny that selection acts on individual organisms; they only wish to add that it acts on higher-level aggregates, particularly groups of organisms, as well. For this reason, the theory is often called “multilevel selection” rather than “group selection.” This all sounds admirably ecumenical and nonreductionist, but my arguments will also apply to multilevel selection. I don’t think it makes sense to conceive of groups of organisms (in particular, human societies) as sitting at the top of a fractal hierarchy with genes at the bottom, with natural selection applying to each level in parallel ways. 

    And then the rest of the article follows. So let’s have no more contextomy, please. It’s painful enough seeing people fall into the same silly traps that the article has gone to the trouble of pointing out for them.

  100. I’m deadly serious when I say this: to me reason and free thought per se has that many different mutations that claim to represent it, which are intertwined with the human hormones that each complete person is a combination of, that I often feel I am in a room full of theists from varying religious denominations, whenever I delve below the surface of any incisive discourse. I find I don’t have the language of synchronicity to convey what I represent, as  a person, without it becoming seriously skewed on receipt, by the minds that attempt to translate it. Add to this the increasing complexity of the so called high order academics and yet more dissonance is secured.

    I often had this sense of total despair when fully submersed in the memes, emotions, delusions and hormones of theism. It seems group selection has, without exception, proven to be a false allure to my lifetime per se, no matter what group I happen upon. I find this most interesting! Que sera.

  101. In the section you quoted, Pinker used the word “dubbed” for a good reason.  Your argument essentially amounts to: “I dub thee Group Selection.”  It’s laughable that you chose to employ the very example that Pinker was debunking.

    Read it again!

     

  102.  
    Zeuglodon

    In short, the evidence suggests you either haven’t read the main essay
    or haven’t understood it. I consider this odd for you, given how
    scrupulous and well-informed you usually are.

     

    I must admit I did skim this long document initially, and picked up the point where I quoted Richard earlier, that a heap of illustrative examples does not provide evidence for wider general conclusions.

    The examples Pinker describes are the examples that have been handed to
    him on a platter by group selection promoters like E.O.Wilson, who
    derived his conviction from observation of hymenopteran eusocial species
    and made conclusions on humans.

    With width and diversity of human populations and cultures, I am careful about ruling out possibilities illustrated elsewhere in nature.

    As I said earlier, I am not defending the theory of “Group Selection”, but am saying that Pinker should not simply dismiss all the ideas and analogies involved, as he has not covered enough examples to generalise to this extent.  He says that these should ruled out of social sciences and psychology.  I would take the view that any behaviour or selection process involving memes is very much involved with psychology.  Human groups have memes, which can spread quicker than genes and are very much involved in social structures..

    I admit I typed some of this in a rush, and may have missed some of Pinker’s definitions.  I may also have confused Maynard Smith’s “evolutionary stable strategy” (ESS ), with Wilson’s “Group Selection”.

    (note Pinker’s description of how naive soldiers can be manipulated, and the example of fictive kin).

     

    Are these really so much different to soldier ants?

    This is one of the issues in human selection by memes.  This is not irrelevant to natural selection, as it has positive or negative effects on competing groups and their members.  The creating of memetic fake kin in human groups to trigger kin-altruistic responses, is a powerful selection tool in human groups.  (religious – priest – “father”, monk “brother”, nun “mother / sister”, miltary “band of brothers”,  “buddy”, Politics – “Old-boy”, “comrade”, football supporters – shirts etc).

    Yes, fictive kin are possible, but they are not positively selected for -
    they are consequences of kin selection. These can be exploited by other
    individuals or be a small or negligible price to pay, but as both
    Dawkins and Pinker explain, they cannot be selected for.

    They can certainly be exploited, sacrificed and selected against, which is just as much an evolutionary process usually involving ESS.

    Sorry about any confusion.

  103. PremiselessL

    I find I don’t have the language of synchronicity to convey what I represent…

    No, you do not. It’s fine that you bemoan this, but if you wish to participate in discussions, it would behoove you to work on your communication skills. You seem to avoid clarity like the plague.

  104.  

       How do I supply links with this new system of commentary?  

    Just paste them in with your comment, and they will automatically turn into links, – but they will be truncated, so type in what they in your text are to label them.

  105. I disagree. The essence of group selection is not hierarchical, but that selection actually *occurs* at the group level. The argument is that the group as a whole is supervening upon individual genetic variations. This is more than just hierarchical semantics.

    The thread of supervenience runs through almost all attempts to create ‘top down’ explanations, including God himself. And it is not simply a level or hierarchy dependent thing. The essence of any call to supervenience is that the level described actually imposes itself as a substantive reality upon lower levels…..and crucially, makes those lower levels do things they would not otherwise do !

    This ‘overiding’ is central to it all, because if nothing is being overidden then there’s no basis for any ‘group’ influence and any purely semantic hierachy exists ( as is common in science ) solely because of the complexity involved. Thus, we use ‘biology’ solely because its pretty damned complex to describe cells in terms of sub-atomic interactions. However, given that we can describe natural selection at the level of genes….where is the similar semantic or hierarchical need for a ‘group’ description ? It is quite clear that there is no basis for group selection other than an attempt to introduce a top-down supervenience at that level. That’s the context withing which I argued it smacks of the sort of thinking one finds behind dualism.

  106. You think I’m involved in a Brittish tax shelter and for this reason I’m supporting a denial that group selection doesn’t follow the genetic Natural Selection model so that I can promote inequality to my own personal gain? 

    I live in New Jersey in the US.  My screen name is also the name of an urban legend, which can be found here.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J….  I have no knowledge of Brittish tax law. 

    I think you’ve jumped to a ridicules conclusion. 

  107.   I have no knowledge of Brittish tax law.

      I think there is some confusion between Jersey USA and the UK independently governed island of Jersey between England and France.  There was a similar confusion over the name “Boston” on another discussion.

  108. For the sake of the Edison in me, I’ll refuse the menu of emerging tit for tat and supply a glimmer of light as a trail on the horizon,  before leaving the room I once suspected might provide me some consciousness identity. I think, within species, humans display a special case consideration, oft out-performing genetic selection as something akin to artificially grafted genetics via their cultural overthrowing of other populations. Think about this – consciousness has the potential to become the host; to others will; others holistic ambitions; others agendas. In this sense genes might be less at the forefront where humans are concerned, as the prime mover to become the dominant theme within our species: that can follow later. Memes supplant genes much more easily to achieve positions of control and absolute power. It makes sense to me. Group selection at you – it’s all some humans have ever known!

    And if anyone feels ridiculed by this, the satire is lost – especially if you trace the balance of suggestion betwixt anything I say and anything said against me. This site has been a very lonely enterprise indeed, except insofar as it has more in common than not, with some elements of clear thinking. Nevertheless, I at least detect the poison even here. Thank you: my comrade in reason: the still smoking gun; to which I got Hitched!

    I oft have been derailed, when on my couch I lay for decades, by the poison of religious dogmatism until absolute self doubt fueled each waking moment, only to find, that once escaped from this Alcatraz of the minds logic, as when I painfully clawed my way into atheism per se, this in no way guaranteed and sometimes beautifully concealed other’s synonymity with all of the emotions religion painfully magnified beyond all reason and which I thought I’d left behind. In other words, one can oft be amazed to learn just how many preserve their Alcatraz within, not for the self, but for browbeating others with, as religion does so collectively well. Maybe it’s a case of something along the lines of, “The hormones are still running the show and let the mind remember this full well!”? Maybe this is the point at which I parted company with Hitchens per se – due his love of vengeance against his enemies – as an ironic last glimmer of the theistic remains he well concealed as emotional fossils, undetected still by his brain per se, as to why they glowed so brightly? “Hell hath no fury like a neuron scorned.” might well have been the final embers of theisms poisons; original sin, in spite of his rainbows to reason?

    Illuminati Mr Edison? 

  109. Here we go again.
     
    Pinker: “Natural selection could legitimately apply to groups if they met certain conditions: the groups made copies of themselves by budding or fissioning, the descendant groups faithfully reproduced traits of the parent group (which cannot be reduced to the traits of their individual members), except for mutations that were blind to their costs and benefits to the group; and groups competed with one another for representation in a meta-population of groups.”
     
    Steven didn’t mention what i believe to be the actual mechanism through which group selection works – the shifting of frequency in the general population of those genes which affect cooperation or other characteristics.  Obviously in a sense all evolution is at the gene level, as I’ve said all along.  But it’s group selection that drives those changes in gene frequency in certain circumstances.  I’d be happy to hear Steven’s opinion of that mechanism.
     
    Pinker: “I don’t think it makes sense to conceive of groups of organisms (in particular, human societies) as sitting at the top of a fractal hierarchy with genes at the bottom, with natural selection applying to each level in parallel ways.”

    It sounds as if Steven is accusing group selectionists of diminishing the importance of gene level selection.  That certainly is not my intent.  Group selection is important, for the most part, in very limited circumstances - cooperative activity such as hunting strategies of various species, morality, altruism, etc.  In other words, it’s important only in areas of interactions between individuals.  Gene-level selection is still king in everything else.
     
     I also agree with Steven’s quote that Darwin’s concept of natural selection was the greatest idea that anyone’s ever come up with.  But don’t forget that Darwin also believed that group selection was how humankind developed a moral sense.

    Zeuglodon: “.. group selectionists like E.O.Wilson and D.S.Wilson ..”  Interestingly, my last name is also Wilson, no relation as far as I know.  Kind of funny.

  110. Hi Alan,

    Premiseless seemed to accuse me of being involved in a tax shelter scheme.  His comment from earlier:

     

    I imagine the Jersey group selection process is a complete coincidence?”Jersey-based K2 scheme, which is said to be sheltering £168m a year from the Treasury.” 

    I was just trying to show that he was ‘premiseless’ (HA!) in his conclusion as I’m not even from the Isle of Jersey.  But it’s pointless and off topic.  I’d be much more interested in a response to my earlier post:

    With out elementary (or discrete) replicators, ‘group selection’ (or any other phenomena) wont resemble the mathematical model which underlies Natural Selection.  Can someone confirm if I’m on the right track here?

    I’ve been following this thread with some interest and I have to say that Zeuglodon and BanJolvie have been winning the argument, in my sometimes humble opinion.  It’s not that groups don’t interact in certain ways, just in ways different from Natural Selection.  Even Pinker ended with:

    None of this prevents us from seeking to understand the evolution of social and moral intuitions, nor the dynamics of populations and networks which turn individual psychology into large-scale societal and historical phenomena. 

  111. And I should add that I don’t think much group selection is going on today among homo sapiens.  It was during hunter-gatherer times when the size of groups was such that group selection would make sense as a generator of morality, cooperation, altruism, empathy, group identification, and so on.

  112. ” Let me give an enormously simplified example…”

    Your argument is why I disagree with Peter Grant and Premiseless, that Group Selection is inherently wrong. I.e., wrong because of a flaw in the logic (circular reasoning).  Your example could potentially be true, I think, to be honest I’m not sure I followed all the details. But the thing is in practice it doesn’t turn out to work that way. If you do the math or simulate things on a computer or in a class using game theory or look at actual data you find that a general strategy of altruism (to everyone of the same species not just kin) is wiped out by a more selfish strategy. 

    You can create contrived examples about isolated populations and perhaps those examples make perfect sense. The thing is in the real world they don’t happen.

    One last point I think one of the reasons for confusion is some people seem to be conflating group/individual/kin selection with human morality as a whole. Saying as I did that altruism doesn’t work from the standpoint of natural selection does not mean that altruism is not a good thing. That is the wonderful thing about humans, we can rise above the natural law of tooth and claw. 

  113. “Group selection” doesn’t actually explain anything, it’s bit like saying “God” did it.

    Your argument is why I disagree with Peter Grant and Premiseless, that Group Selection is inherently wrong.

    I seldom understand enough of what Premiseless writes to know whether to agree or disagree. Where did he say that?

  114. “I disagree. The essence of group selection is not hierarchical, but that selection actually *occurs* at the group level.”

    I don’t see how that is different from other types of hierarchies. What we are talking about in either case is from the standpoint of creating and using a model does it make more sense to talk about the group or the individual? A molecule is a collection of atoms. For some theories the only way we can sensibly discuss what is going on is by talking about how molecules interact. That doesn’t mean that the molecules are some mysterious metaphysical object. A molecule is still ultimately a collection of atoms. Its just that for some theories it would be totally impractical to discuss things in terms of atoms rather than molecules. That *could* be the case for group selection. Its just that its not. 

  115. “I disagree. The essence of group selection is not hierarchical, but that selection actually *occurs* at the group level. “

    Actually, this quote from Pinker by CCW illustrates what I’m saying:

    “Pinker: “I don’t think it makes sense to conceive of groups of organisms (in particular, human societies) as sitting at the top of a fractal hierarchy with genes at the bottom, with natural selection applying to each level in parallel ways.”

    What he is saying IMO is that in terms of natural selection it doesn’t make sense to thing that the hierarchy genes>humans>groups is analogous to particles>atoms>molecules. And I agree. But the point is that there is nothing inherently illogical about postulating that this might be the case. Its just that when we examine the math and the data it turns out not to be so. 

  116. But it’s group selection that drives those changes in gene frequency in certain circumstances.  I’d be happy to hear Steven’s opinion of that mechanism.

    Are you reading Pinker’s article through Urim and Thummim?  Allow me to give you his opinion — from the article you’ve supposedly read:

    The reproductive success of humans undoubtedly depends in part on the fate of their groups. If a group is annihilated, all the people in it, together with their genes, are annihilated. If a group acquires territory or food or mates, the windfall will benefit some or all of its members. But recall the fleet herd of deer and the herd of fleet deer. If a person has innate traits that encourage him to contribute to the group’s welfare and as a result contribute to his own welfare, group selection is unnecessary; individual selection in the context of group living is adequate. Individual human traits evolved in an environment that includes other humans, just as they evolved in environments that include day-night cycles, predators, pathogens, and fruiting trees.

    It’s not group selection, it’s “the fate of their groups”.

    Read it again.

  117. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v… I suspect has no relation to you either? As I stated in my initial comment = coincidence! Apologies for the accusation meme virus. It was certainly unintended.
    Which brings me nicely to my point about group selection control mechanisms: they use single meme products to self replicate and ultimately control natural selections gene pool. I’m sticking to this theory as especially exploited by humans interference with natural selection in transforming it into artificial natural selection due memebiosis.

    Apologies also to my lacks of blockquote etc. which I briefly toyed with but just got bored with the tedium of it. It seems like ten steps backwards from the previous system.

  118. Urim and Thummin?  Holy cow!  How did Mormonism come into this conversation?

    Obviously, if someone contributes to the welfare of a group in a way that also benefits him, gene-level selection could be a good explanation of that personality trait.  But unless an individual already has empathy and altruism in place, it would be in his best interest, with regard to survival, to bogard his food, for example, rather than sharing.  It would be in his best interest, with regard to survival, to hide and let someone else confront a predator.  There might be some instances in which his own survival interest and that of the group coincide, but generally they would be at odds.

    It’s the development of empathy, altruism, group identification, and a sense of fairness that I’m postulating are enhanced by group selection.  Gene-level selection couldn’t do that, in my opinion. 

  119. It’s the development of empathy, altruism, group identification, and a sense of fairness that I’m postulating are enhanced by group selection.  Gene-level selection couldn’t do that, in my opinion.

    Okay, Johnny-One-Note.  You continue to repeat yourself, and your arguments thus remain shallow and unconvincing.  You also refuse to address Pinker’s article, and quite frankly, you’re boring me to tears.  Thanks for playing.

  120. You know, a cultural system can vigorously sanction selfish behaviour, right?  It can, in fact, make individuals who are selfish so shimmed and repugnant that they are not able to pass on their genes.  I have seen this in action, among foragers. 

    So, is the cultural system “rising above” our bad human “nature”?  I frankly doubt it. I think our bad human nature is a myth.  Selfish behaviour and cheating is not necessary to pass on “selfish genes”.  the kind of behaviour that gets a man or a woman to maximize their reproductive fitness has very little to do with being “selfish”.  Nurturing children does not go well when you have selfish parents.  

    Our human “nature” is an adaptation to the exigencies of getting our own and our closest known offspring and kinsmen’s children from birth to adulthood in a world filled with predators and diseases. 

    Sometimes, at least among foragers, this involved honouring gifting networks that went way beyond kin, and treating non-kin as if they were kin.  Why? Because it gave you a place to go when there was a famine in your territory, where your non-kin friends would give you refuge. And you or your children would do the same for them. Reciprocal access to resources.  

    That is NOT selfish behaviour.  

    Extending networks of gifting and generalized reciprocity to people you befriended in the next language grouping, even if they normally lived 300 miles away and you only saw them every few years.  

    NOT selfish behaviour.  Strategic. Smart. Long-term planning. 

    We evolved a prefrontal cortex for a reason. 

    This process is not yet adequately simulated by computer programs or game theory. 

  121. Yes, you are correct. Group selection is not necessarily self-contradictory, so it cannot be inherently wrong. But when it comes into contact with other explanations – like natural selection of genes, which has
     been verified – it either contradicts its claim for independence of them or contradicts Ockham’s razor, making itself unfalisifiable in the process by being indistinguishable from kin selection (for example), so it is false. It requires postulating properties onto groups that they simply don’t have.

  122. You’ve just identified the sources of those concerns, though; self-interest of genes can generate both self-interest and altruism in the bodies they build – by which such behaviours can be explained. It may well be that more details need to be covered in the case of culture, but group selection is definitely not the explanatory mechanism. Culture selection (though I’ve outlined why I think this doesn’t work), or meme selection, or no selection process at all but simply the laws of psychology, are far superior explanations because they don’t have to resort to the contradictions, confusions, and redundancy that group selection succumbed to long ago.

    Helga, by all means let’s have a chat about culture selection, but let’s not get it confused with group selection again.

  123. Empathy and altruism are explained by selfish gene theory and natural selection of genes, which prompt altruistic behaviours and then, in a given environment, come to predominate by fixation. It occurs, in the case of kin, whenever a reproductive effort favours less bearing and more rearing of offspring. In the case of reciprocity, it occurs when there is an asymmetry of skills and desires which a partnership could fix, as in the case of honey badgers and honey birds, or when social herding behaviour opens up a new environment for social interaction within a species. Selfish gene theory does not presuppose they exist, but explains how either can arise in the first place. You’re referencing ESS theory by stipulating “selfish” and “altruistic” individuals, and as a result you’re really just repeating the same mistakes again.

  124. Group selection is not necessarily self-contradictory, so it cannot be inherently wrong.

    A group is nothing more than a vague essentialist conception, so yes, “group selection” can be inherently wrong.

  125. In a discussion on a group selection article, this is getting into a digression, but since it was in the OP, I’ll address your points.

    [I] am saying that Pinker should not simply dismiss all the ideas and analogies involved, as he has not covered enough examples to generalise to this extent.  He says that these should ruled out of social sciences and psychology.  I would take the view that any behaviour or selection process involving memes is very much involved with psychology.  Human groups have memes, which can spread quicker than genes and are very much involved in social structures..

    Yes, and I know Pinker’s skepticism of memetics, but he has a point: memetics is not a guaranteed theory. It relies on how the information exchange would work, whether it was a genuine replication or something like branching. In any case, he has a point when he says that psychology works well enough without need of it, at least at present. This does not stop Pinker from pointing out that there is a world of difference between soldier ants spontaneously rushing to sacrifice themselves and human soldiers being coerced and manipulated into doing the same by other individuals exploiting existing psychologies. The very fact that it takes more effort to manipulate someone into suicide attacks, as compared with the spontaneous instincts of ant soldiers, should be vivid enough to illustrate the weakness in the group selectionist’s own argument, when he claims that these things can be explained by the theory better than alternatives like gene selection.Whether memes exist or not, what has that got to do with Pinker’s case against group selection? If this was an article criticizing memetics, I could understand, but the theory’s not even mentioned.

     I admit I typed some of this in a rush, and may have missed some of Pinker’s definitions.  I may also have confused Maynard Smith’s “evolutionary stable strategy” (ESS ), with Wilson’s “Group Selection”. 

    Yes, I think you did. The distinction between suckers and cheats that Dawkins draws in The Selfish Gene is a good explanation, as is his expansion of the theme of manipulation in The Extended Phenotype.

    Are these really so much different to soldier ants?

    Given that the difference is the difference between kin selection’s basic logic and extended phenotype manipulation of the same basic logic’s practical limitations (hence the fictive kin loophole) by another organism, I’d say the difference is one between the benefits of the gene in the ant body and the benefits of the gene in the body of a man brainwashing cadets before sending them to die. In other words, a huge difference.

    This is one of the issues in human selection by memes.  This is not irrelevant to natural selection, as it has positive or negative effects on competing groups and their members.  The creating of memetic fake kin in human groups to trigger kin-altruistic responses, is a powerful selection tool in human groups.  (religious – priest – “father”, monk “brother”, nun “mother / sister”, miltary “band of brothers”,  “buddy”, Politics – “Old-boy”, “comrade”, football supporters – shirts etc).

    But this is not GROUP selection. This is at best culture selection, an entirely different process rather fatuously called group selection by those who either do not understand the distinction between a group of organisms and the culture they share, or do understand the distinction but are trying to be nice to group selection the underdog that failed. In any case, you’re not saying anything different to what Pinker is saying in the article, as I explained above in this comment.

  126. I was thinking about the weakest position for a gene carriers memes. It seems Pinker suggests and I agree, the altruist all alone is in a weakest case scenario. Being part of a group seems a stronger position for both altruistic or selfish memes to position their genes. The best case scenario though seems to be for a selfish individual to locate and deceptively exploit an altruistic group. Interesting then that altruism per se is defined by these parameters. All the evidence humans have to go at is therefore defined by the dominance of selfishness bias. Science ends up being skewed by what succeeds rather than what is regularly failing. The pure altruist, unpoisoned by selfishness, is likelier to remain alone and also be scarce. More probably, such a person might even be forced to adapt and have to consider selfish tools for survival, though likelier be less skillful in their use – these memes are not well placed with them and likelier to cause them to be made someones scapegoat whilst at the same time devaluing their altruism reputation. The convergence seems to be toward selfishly based altruism due the ruthless forces of selection for survival, in spite of the likelihood that pure altruism is probably regularly attempting to rally itself as more common than it is ever likely to become.

  127. It is theoretically possible to get a group of organisms, who are homogeneous, that have an identical relationship structure and which can generate “copies” of themselves by asexually reproducing simultaneously. Nothing essentialist about the word “group”, as though some magic ingredient were added, need be assumed.

    The likelihood of this happening in practice, though, is another matter entirely.

  128. I should add that nothing about fictive kin requires memes, for the following reasons:

    1. Reciprocal altruism can cover for it, making it mutually beneficial. This is probably why a “brother” or “father” who is not actually related can still be a good thing for both parties and promote their genes’ survival as a result.

    2. Selection may be against it, but simply hasn’t caught up yet, so it might be a temporary phenomenon as a result of the early stages of kin selection.

    3. Similar to 2, except natural selection may simply be unable to erase it as it is negligible. This is where exploitation by outsiders come in.

    All this is made possible by the simple fact that organisms have to work out by proxy who their relatives are (by clues such as proximity at birth, smell, etc.). This is why cuckoos can manipulate warblers with impunity. The Extended Phenotype is an excellent reference for this, and goes into more detail than I do.

  129.  The gene based models for simple communities of organisms, showing the dynamic balance of “selfish” and “altruistic” individuals within populations, are sound – at this level, and show the underlying mechanism.

    Some of the IDEAS from “group Selection” (such as ESS) have been developed further, and are valid.  In my earlier posts, I  confused Maynard Smith’s “evolutionary stable strategy” (ESS ), with E. O. Wilson’s “Group Selection”, as the OP blockquote below in its brevity, describes both in similar terms.

    @OP:disqus  -They have claimed that human morailty, particularly our willingness to
    engage in acts of altruism, can be explained as an adaptation to
    group-against-group competition. As E. O. Wilson explains, “In a group,
    selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals. But, groups of
    altruistic individuals beat groups of selfish individuals.”

    Likewise, as Zeuglodon points out here:-

    The problem is, any attempt to define GS with reference to genes (like
    trying to explain human group dynamics) in the first place collapses the
    discussion to gene-level selection, usually with kin selection and
    reciprocal altruism doing or being at the root of all the explanatory
    work. So here GS is redundant and pointless,

    I was talking about IDEAS not the theory as a whole, so aspects of it being overtaken by new work and being made “redundant” or superfluous, is not refutation.  Likewise aspects of Group Selection, being explained by kin-selection or fictive-kin selection, up-date explanations.

    In some respects the argument is a bit like an analogy to computer systems, where some argue that the everything depends on the hardware (which it does) THEREFORE other effects from the software must be excluded.  I challenge this view.

    The main point where I challenge Steven Pinker, is the monumental leap from natural gene based selection in simple models, to suggesting that this can rule some of out these ideas from multi-layered, multi-level studies of modern complex human social structures and group psychology, which in many instances are based on memes, -  which by their very nature, are psychology. 

    Memes most certainly have effects on human populations and can spread quickly and operate dramatically in human populations.  I have not had time to go over all Pinker’s details or Richard’s books, so I may have missed some exclusions in the rejection of ideas from “Group Selection”. 

    I do not think our present understanding of populations in the context of ecology and modern societies, allows to anyone dogmatically claim exclusivity for particular effects.  Evolution does not produce functional 100% reliability and is noted for misfiring systems and “poor design”.  Fictive-kin section, kin selection and
    reciprocal altruism, clearly explain many features, but there are vast inconclusive areas of human population dynamics, where the honest scientific answer is “We do not know”!

    Species such as insects, where a human observer can see trends in many generations within a human life-time, are much easier to study.

  130. Alan, a weak analogy between kin selection and group selection is making your argument worse, not better. Pinker has clearly defined what group selection is, and then gone on to show that this definition doesn’t work. It’s no good saying “Ah, but bits of it DO work, so you can’t dismiss those.” ESS wasn’t, as far as I can tell, derived from group selection, and even if it was (it shouldn’t make a difference where an idea comes from), I don’t know what you see in Pinker’s OP that suggests he disputes this fact.

    We are fully aware that “bits of group selection” make “sense”. Consult Pinker’s list of group selection misconceptions for plenty of examples of things that make “sense”.

    And they are weak analogies (which are misguiding E.O.Wilson’s argument too) because kin selection is about genes looking out for copies of themselves, not about selection on copies of families. Don’t be confused by the fact that both terms have the word “selection” in them. There isn’t even a need to claim everything humans do for groups is an adaptation, like suicide attacker behaviour (at least, not for the suicide attacker).

    Again with the memetics. It is a cultural theory, and culture is no more a saving grace for group selection than kin selection, either, for reasons I’ve pointed out in my previous comment. Biology would still undergird its neurological basis heavily.

  131. My sincere thanks, Zeuglodon, for your seemingly tireless efforts in this thread, and in many others.  You are a truly impressive intellectual, and I’ve learned much from your insightful (and flawlessly written) posts.
     
    (P.S. Your typing speed just boggles the mind.  Care to provide an estimate in words per minute?) 

  132. Trying to fit empathy and altruism into gene-level selection seems to me to be an attempt to make a round peg fit into a square hole – give them credit for imagination - when there’s a much simpler and more logical explanation – group selection.  And it’s silly to accuse me of repeating the same mistakes.  I apologize for being consistent.

  133. Nope.  Round peg into round hole.  See Hamilton’s Rule.  I’m no biologist but even I remember this from Biology 101 which I took in Spring, 1990. 

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H

    where:
    r = the genetic relatedness of the recipient to the actor, often defined as the probability that a gene picked randomly from each at the same locus is identical by descent.B = the additional reproductive benefit gained by the recipient of the altruistic act,C = the reproductive cost to the individual of performing the act.

  134. Hamilton’s rule says that gene-level selection would increase the representation of the gene in future generations if r*B>C.  If C is death – as in an altruistic act of self-sacrifice – C would be so high that r*B would almost never exceed it.  And yet humans sometime do sacrifice themselves.  Plus, humans are altruistic toward non-relatives, so in any non-family altruism, r would be low, and C – the cost – would have to be incredibly low to meet the criteria for most acts of altruism toward non-relatives, which means that a humungous number of generations would be required for it to make a difference.  And while Hamilton’s rule is fine as a general observation, it requires somebody to make estimates of B and C using inexact measures that are always going to be a matter of opinion.  So except in rare circumstances, I don’t see that it would have the exactness that real science requires.  Something as complex as overall altruism or cooperation couldn’t make use of Hamilton’s rule, although I can visualize specific experiments that might come close.  Awfully iffy, and subject to predudices of the investigator, conscious or unconscious.
     
    Human beings are capable of making their own decisions.  That means that they don’t operate on instinct as much as other species.  So altrusim and cooperation depend, I believe, on complex thinking and internal arguments and especially on empathy toward the person who may benefit – which is an emotional response to the situation.  It seems to me that empathy, which can get very complicated in terms of who you do and don’t include in your empathy, can explain altruism and cooperation and group identification and morality and so on.   But it has to be very finely adjusted.  And I’m pretty sure it involves a large number of genes.  And it has to deal with an infinite number of circumstances.  It seems to me that it would be incredibly difficult for gene-level selection to do something that complicated, while group selection, as I think it works, could easily do so, in my opinion.

  135. The elephant in the room here is that selfish or criminal desire and skillful deception is likelier successful than purely altruistic desire. Memetically all genes are subject to this code – since humans have this as a prime mover in life per se. Therefore “to corrupt thinking” is successful in securing resource and power ( thoughtless subservience in relationships, industry, religion, certain group and national anthems, etc.) and desires which enjoy others demise likelier effect situations displaying suffering as an enjoyable or at best thoughtless exercise that then benefits the aggressor in some way. 

    Pinkers point about the best fit equations for success strongly infer mind crime as a powerful tool for advantage. No wonder we see it in most positions of respect and high order – either inherited or acquired! Deception is an almost essential credential due the carnivorous forces that would otherwise digest the ruthless and sadistic.This is where I think Pinker fails in his claims that violence is reduced, insofar as he cannot possibly survey and gather evidence that reflects memetic violence and brain state per se. For as long as he is looking purely at physical evidence, he cannot know whether one brain feels oppressed and enslaved versus liberated and enjoying the life it is in. He cannot possibly accrue data that reflects the concentrations of altruistic pleasures versus sadistic ones that predominantly preoccupies humanity at any given moment. This relationship; between direct, genetic genocide and its covert colleague; subjugation through the slavery of chronic memocide, is hardly one that can be reflected accurately. We cannot read minds. We cannot know how many lives were worth the living, from the perspective of the liver of it, versus those that get taken away. It is this meme territory, not genetics per se, that has become the most sadistic exploitation of humanities carnivorous, natural selection with a twist, dealings with itself. This en mass self abuse is too loathsome to respect at all. That meme I reserve for less successful selections. If you ever wonder whether memes are at the forefront in exploiting genes as a de facto control mechanism per se, just remember the recent Murdoch technology monitoring  people by networks of deviance throughout every corridor of respect and power that can now massively cash in and get sadistic kicks out of memetic exchanges within close family and loyalty groupings and how concealing/hiding their own memetic real estate enables them to secure some higher order elitist meme territory. It’s as if there is some covert stock market that reputations get made and broken through that then gives immunity to the traders. Like money and bankers in a way; they are the ones most immune to the losses since it is they who are holding the deck of cards and dealing. The selfish do indeed succeed and it is they who are likeliest to not be deservers of anything they secure in terms of what humans consider and think altruistic deservedness. Some irony there hey, and how? False allure indeed!

  136. Come on, Peter Grant. If every member of an aphid colony of X individual clones reproduced asexually at exactly the same time, and the second generation colonized another grass stem and repeated the process, and after Y generations it produced a homogenous generation, every member of which differed in exactly the same way from its parent, that would constitute a logically consistent basis for selection. Nothing inherent about it.

    What you should be scoffing at is the sheer unlikelihood of it ever happening.

  137. “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?”

    And this miraculous “group selection” that solves the problem is what, exactly, apart from possibly yet another misunderstanding of what the term actually means?

  138.  Without variation there cannot be any selection. Clones do not vary and can therefore all be considered part of the same organism, if variation does occur they cease to be clones and only then can selection start happening.

  139. C is more usually the risk of death. If death were a certainty, nothing but the saving of a genetic clone could compensate for it. Also, fictive kin can occur without anything more than kin selection plus either reciprocal altruism, a time lag, or selection’s inability to fully close the loophole, which I numbered and mentioned in a previous post to Alan4discussion.

    B and C are not arbitrary weightings, but relate to the inclusive fitness as measured by the frequency of the allele coding for such a thing in a population. In practice, however, biologists in the field often use indirect or secondary measures, such as the prevalence of a strategy in a population of strategies. Dawkins et al. did some work on digger wasps on this, and he describes it in more detail in The Extended Phenotype.

    Your lack of understanding about “being capable of making their own decisions” and “instinct” could only be made by someone who bought into populist biology ideas about instinct, and I advise you not to venture down this road without looking them up. However complex the thinking of the organism, and whether they have empathy or not, does not mean they miraculous escape the logic of kin selection and reciprocal altruism that most likely set up pressures favouring the evolution of such abilities in the first place.

    Nor does it give this group selection (which you, for some reason, neglect to define) any basis in fact. Knocking down kin and reciprocal altruism, which in any case you haven’t done, does not make group selection suddenly true – you have to provide evidence for why it is true – and in any case the fact that differences between humans are largely cultural (and based on psychological laws), which in turn are based on neurology and the genetic evolution that put them there, rather puts the question mark on the need of a theory that collapses at the first sign of a gene. I think Ockham would have something to say about it.

    Pretty much most of your argument boils down to “humans are specially altruistic, far more than kin and reciprocal altruism can justify” – which isn’t really an argument if you read the OP’s deconstruction of this – and it is aided and abetted by a conspicuous lack of understanding in anything to do with biology. I should think alarm bells would ring if you notice that group selection is, and has long been, a fringe theory in biology circles. I’m not claiming an argument from authority here, but I should think you’d be more intellectually careful about arguing for an idea the experts are nearly all against, especially when your comments about instinct and decision-making suggest you’re not particularly well-informed in any case.I believe Pinker addressed both concepts – of self-sacrifice and fictive kin – in the points about fictive kin and human and soldier ants, in this OP article. The article which you claim to have read, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary.

  140. Read it again, Peter Grant. The mutation of one generation IS the variation. Look, it’s like this:

    X group reproduces to make a second X group. Each group can reproduce multiple times, and so create a population of exactly identical groups, each of which lives on a grass stem. An X group at some point might reproduce a Y group, which then reproduces to make a second Y group. Each Y group, again, can reproduce multiple times, and so create a population of exactly identical Y groups.

    These might compete with X groups over stems, and whichever one has the qualities to supplant the other will drive the other extinct. Say, in this case, every member of a Y group overpowers every corresponding member of an X group. Then Y groups will overrun X groups, and fixate. Eventually, Y groups may produce a mutant group Z, and the whole thing starts all over again.

    Nothing about this is internally contradictory. It is like what Red Dog said about a “fractal” – the replicator of the gene and the replicator of the group would be a real Multilevel Selection. It does rely on the groups having exactly the same number of members, on the second generation group moving away from its parent immediately, and on two or more groups being unable to coexist on grass stems (which correspond to genetic loci), but these aren’t inherent contradictions in the idea itself.

    We have plenty of real reasons for thinking group selection is bunk. We don’t need to falsely invent any more.

  141. “”When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?”And this miraculous “group selection” that solves the problem is what, exactly, apart from possibly yet another misunderstanding of what the term actually means?”This is a staggering testament to self delusion when analysed, for all of us I suspect? Altruism is corruptible for example. Betraying feeding the starving now, in order to spend billions saving the as yet unborn via research and medicine, is very justifiable indeed to those seeking reciprocal life experience. More interest can be had there by those educated to to so. Others can deal with the simpler, common or garden injustices. This too is why I suspect we got so easily exploited by whatever got absorbed by us as our “personal morality”. Shades of grey can be seen to become polar opposites, in the same way species gradations of mutations make them almost indistinguishable, the one from the other. Something about our very thinking is oft the very orders of natural selection we are trying to convey to each other. It’s almost as though education per se is motivating itself to think we all ought each to be educated clones of each other else we are inferior.   This in itself is enough to worry the free thinker. Enlightenment, after all is surely about a common, reachable position which is somehow superior to all that emotive chaos we see inflicting injustice hither and thither? However, it would seem, that injustices, due selection are here also, in the most rational of places?

  142.  Let’s come back to my original criticism of S. Pinker’s statement:-

    Despite this allure, I have argued that the concept of Group Selection has no useful role to play in psychology or social science.

    In this he ASSUMES that some evolutionary benefit to individuals or groups is a prerequisite to the application of these ideas in the STUDY of psychology and social structures. – As follows

      
     OP – In this essay I’ll concentrate on the sense of “group selection” as a
    version of natural selection which acts on groups in the same way that
    it acts on individual organisms, namely, to maximize their inclusive
    fitness
    (alternatively, which acts on groups in the same way it acts on
    genes, namely to increase the number of copies that appear in the next
    generation; I will treat these formulations as equivalent).

    Memes can propagate without any benefit to genetic fitness and are certainly worthy of study.

      
     OP link – What about early states? States and empires are the epitome of
    large-scale coordinated behavior and are often touted as examples of
    naturally selected groups. Yet the first complex states depended not on
    spontaneous cooperation but on brutal coercion.

    I would suggest that in the self destructive sacrifices of individuals the effects are what matters, not the mechanism.  Therefore in comparing human soldiers with soldier ants or bees, there is a direct comparison, regardless of if they are driven by pheromones or deception and coercion.

      – I’d say the difference is one between the benefits of the gene in the
    ant body and the benefits of the gene in the body of a man brainwashing
    cadets before sending them to die. In other words, a huge difference.

    I don’t see much practical difference between ants dying for their queen, and (unrelated) humans dying for for the benefit of a chief, king or emperor.  Nether will reproduce.

    Again with the memetics. It is a cultural theory, and culture is no more
    a saving grace
    for group selection than kin selection, either, for
    reasons I’ve pointed out in my previous comment. Biology would still
    undergird its neurological basis heavily.

     
    This seems to be a mere assertion. I am not disputing that “Biology would still
    undergird its neurological basis heavily”, but that does not exclude memetics from having pyscological or socialogical effects on populations, – or for that matter on short term destructive or beneficial effects on groups of genes or individuals.

    @ OP link -What about groups? Natural selection could legitimately apply to groups
    if they met certain conditions: the groups made copies of themselves by
    budding or fissioning, the descendant groups faithfully reproduced
    traits of the parent group

    This looks very like religious, commercial and political meme-groups – with some diversity from earlier variability and “mutations” over time.

    So once again:- memes can be selected and self perpetuating, and may or may not have any biological benefit to any organism or group of organisms, but definitely have effects worthy of study, on psychology and group structures, -  in addition to other selection processes.

    @OP:disqus  link – Modern
    advocates of group selection don’t deny that selection acts on
    individual organisms; they only wish to add that it acts on higher-level
    aggregates, particularly groups of organisms, as well. For this reason,
    the theory is often called “multilevel selection” rather than “group
    selection.” This all sounds admirably ecumenical and nonreductionist,
    but my arguments will also apply to multilevel selection.

    This is where his explanations ramble off into vague ambiguity with a bit of needless woo suggestion.  (See my earlier “hardware/software” comment)

    @OP:twitter  – I don’t think it makes sense to conceive of groups of organisms (in particular, human
    societies) as sitting at the top of a fractal hierarchy with genes at
    the bottom, with natural selection applying to each level in parallel
    ways.

    I have not seen any argument that memes cannot operate at a different level from the basic biology, and while all behaviours must ultimately be based on biology, that is a far cry and monumental leap, from suggesting there is a reliable mechanism or mechanisms connecting them.  Many aspects of evolved systems are very hit & miss.

  143. Why do you continue to raise the spectre of memetics? It is completely orthagonal to this discussion. Pinker (in this article) is not arguing against memes, nor any other form of “cultural” evolution (as opposed to biolgical evolution.) Meme theory in all its variations could be absolutely proven beyond a shadow of a doubt and it would do zero work toward resuing GS from Pinker’s arguments.

    Group selection, as Pinker clearly defines it here before presenting his reasons for dismissal, is a form of “biological” evolution. Full stop. Pinker does not get into his opinions regarding memetics here, because they are completely irrelevant. Dragging memes into this discussion does not further any defense of GS. It merely muddies the waters and bertrays confusion about exactly what GS is. (Hint, it doesn’t involve memes.)

  144. Zeuglodon, obviously you ARE arguing from authority, not from logic, as is pretty much everyone else here.  And I’ll admit that it does give me pause that the experts’ majority view is dead against the concept of group selection.  But I’m honestly convinced that I’m right in this, and it would be great to see a little intellectual curiosity here – a willingness – even a delight – in considering whether a contrary idea might actually be true.  That’s how science should work.  Shoot down a wrong idea with logic, but don’t simply say, everybody disagrees, you couldn’t be right.  That’s lazy.

    In general, in the world of individual competition for survival, empathy is a terrible strategy.  If food is scarce, sharing it is the worst thing you can do.  So an evolutionist has to jump through hoops to argue that gene or individual level selection could have resulted in complex personal interactions such as cooperation, altruism, morality, etc. 

    On the other hand, group selection – which I see as a change in frequency within the general population of those genes that promote the behaviors I just mentioned, as a result of certain groups surviving better than others because of those behaviors – explains them easily.  It doesn’t supplant traditional evolution at all, it’s just a special case that explains why we – and other animals – cooperate and are better for it.  It’s a simple idea.  Please consider it.

  145.  

    @Pinker:disqus
     - Despite this allure, I have argued that the concept of Group Selection has no useful role to play in psychology or social science.

    Why do you continue to raise the spectre of memetics?

    It is because the Group Selection often called “multilevel selection” aspects of memetics are a key the part of psychology and social science which he claims can be dismissed. 

    Numerous memetic social and psychological aspects are raised in the OP and having been included, can’t then be “defined” out of the argument, or dismissed because they have been partially explained by other factors.

    Pinker does not get into his opinions regarding memetics here, because they are completely irrelevant. …. .. ..  (Hint, it doesn’t involve memes.)

    Really?  It looks more like ducking the issue! They look very like a separate different level of selection to me!  I hope no one is going to suggest that memes don’t have a selective effect on the biological survival of genes, on the psychology of humans, or on population structures.

  146. ccw95005, I’m not sure if you noticed this but Zeuglodon has been crushing this thread with reasoned analysis since the start. 

    Human beings are capable of making their own decisions. That means that they don’t operate on instinct as much as other species.

    Oh?  Is that a fact?  Because I read Sam Harris’ Freewill and I’m pretty sure he would dispute this. 

    Wouldn’t the behavior that lead to group tedencies have been hard wired into us early on in our evolution?  Before we had language?  Before we were Home Sapiens?  Back when we did ‘operate on instinct as much as other species’?  Those behaviors are still with us today. 

    As I understand the argument, any behavior we see today (like suicide bombings) that can’t be explained by Natural Selection are simply a manipulation or misfiring of the ingrained behaviors that have been selected for many generations ago. 

  147. Kin selection and group selection are formally equivalent theories – and this has been understood for quite a while now.  E.g. see my article titled: “Group selection and kin selection are formally equivalent”.

  148. The truth is that Pinker and Wilson are both wrong.  There’s a scientific consensus among the relevant experts about group selection – and neither of them are part of this consensus, or are even properly aware of it.

  149. Welcome to the discussion Tim.

    Kin selection and group selection are formally equivalent theories – and
    this has been understood for quite a while now.  E.g. see my article
    titled: “Group selection and kin selection are formally equivalent”.

    Do you have a link to this article you can post here?

  150. I should think it’s obvious how a group of aphid clones differs from an aphid, or even from aphid clones physically merged into one. In any case, I’m showing how the “fractal” idea would work. It’s the only way to get a group to have the properties needed for the status of unit of selection.

    Multilevel Selection Theory, if it posits that groups are independent of gene-level selection, IS self-contradictory because the only way to bring it about is to have genes in the first place, which collapses it into One Level Selection. The fact that the other levels align with it and seem to be Multilevel is one of the things that confuses people enough to think that it is independent.

    If, on the other hand, it concedes group selection is dependent on genes, but argues that group selection is more like individual selection, then it could, in theory, be possible in a “fractal” sense. But such a set of circumstances is so unlikely to come about that it’s not surprising we have a lack of evidence for it, and can discard the theory until such a time as convincing evidence emerges.

    I am finding it incredibly weird that, of all the huge flaws you could pick off of group selection, you zero in on “group is a meaningless concept”. Since when did the straightforward phrase “a group of organisms” suddenly have an existential crisis?

  151. Alan, I’ve just looked up Multilevel Selection Theory on Wikipedia. Memetics is not even mentioned. I think, like those who have confused group selection, you’ve looked at the word before “selection” and come to the wrong conclusion. Multilevel selection is specifically about accommodating group selection with gene selection. It is not a general invitation for any old replicator mechanism that affects organisms. Please don’t add any more confusion to the debate.

    As BanJolvie has pointed out, this article isn’t even about memetics. You really are going off on a tangent. Memetics has about as much in common with group selection as kin selection does. Very little.

  152. Because “group” can mean almost anything. I am a group of cells which all share the same DNA. All mammals form a group, as do all vertebrates. Why not just group all life on earth together and call it Gaia while we’re at it? Groups are the way we cut up reality into manageable chunks, they don’t exist anywhere but in our minds.

  153. I should have predicted that even the tiniest reference to the conclusion of a majority of experts would be followed by cries of argument from authority. Look up the criteria for such a fallacy and I think you’ll find I’m not committing a heinous crime against logic:

    http://www.fallacyfiles.org/au… 

    Also, accusations of closed-mindedness cut no ice with me. If your argument is poor, it doesn’t matter how open-minded you are, or at least how open-minded you think you are.

    If you paid attention to the logic of gene-selection, it is only genes competing for loci against alleles that need to be ruthlessly selfish. They can often benefit by alliance with genes on other sections of the chromosome, as phenotypes of one gene can often alter the phenotypes of other genes for better or for worse. Individuals can often benefit by helping each other. If food is scarce, a partner who can locate it better than you, or protect you from predators, or clean your skin of parasites for you, or provide you accommodation, or… (the list is pretty long) is an asset.

    Your comments about individuals being selfish and never paying from scarcity are pretty convincing evidence that you don’t understand the basics of selfish gene theory. I’d recommend The Selfish Gene. Your misconception is a pretty old one.

    The selection of genes that promote altruism is, as always, already neatly explained by the logic of reciprocal altruism and kin selection, both of which stem naturally from the logic of gene-centric evolution. In fact, you seem to think group selection is selection favouring social traits, which is basically the evolution of social individuals. That was on the list of group selection errors Pinker mentioned, if I recall correctly:

    The first big problem with group selection is that the term itself sows so much confusion. People invoke it to refer to many distinct phenomena, so casual users may literally not know what they are talking about. I have seen “group selection” used as a loose synonym for the evolution of organisms that live in groups, and for any competition among groups, such as human warfare. Sometimes the term is needlessly used to refer to an individual trait that happens to be shared by the members of a group; as the evolutionary biologist George Williams noted,”a fleet herd of deer” is really just a herd of fleet deer. And sometimes the term is used as a way of redescribing the conventional gene-level theory of natural selection in different words: subsets of genetically related or reciprocally cooperating individuals are dubbed “groups,” and changes in the frequencies of their genes over time is dubbed “group selection.” [1] To use the term in these senses is positively confusing, and writers would be better off referring to whichever phenomenon they have in mind. 

     

    I cannot recommend The Selfish Gene enough. You really need to update yourself on modern biology, because your comments consistently show that you have no idea what either gene selection or group selection are.

  154. So, by analogy, individual can mean almost anything?

    Group selection is specifically about groups of entire organisms, for instance a group of aphids. One organism, two organisms, three organisms, etc. It obviously helps that organisms can stay together geographically. Herding behaviour is real enough, and so it’s justifiable to refer to a collection of organisms as a group. This is how the group selection idea was launched in the first place.

    I look at a family group of crows and notice that they stick together whenever they move. They’re rarely far from each other. It seems perfectly fine to call such a thing a group.

    Honestly, I’ve seen some on this thread, but this is the weirdest objection I’ve yet seen to group selection, and though I’m not going to defend group selection when the theory is so erroneous, I still think you’re overreaching with this one. I freely admit groups can blend and swap members, but this only means groups are eventually unstable, not that they don’t exist at all.

  155. Alan, I’ve just looked up Multilevel Selection Theory on Wikipedia. Memetics is not even mentioned.

    “Social norms” and “culture”, involved in selection, look like memetics to me!

    Multilevel selection theory<break>MLS theory does not lean towards individual or group selection but can
    be used to evaluate the balance between group selection and individual
    selection on a case-by-case scenario. ,,,,,, For humans, a highly pro-social, cognitive thinking species, social
    norms can be seen as a means of reducing the individual level variation
    and competition and shift selection in humans to the group level.
    Wilson
    ties the MLS theory regarding humans to another upcoming theory known
    as gene-culture evolution by acknowledging that culture seems to
    characterize a group-level mechanism for human groups to adapt to
    environmental changes.
      Methods of testing MLS include social psychological experimentation and multilevel modeling equations. – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_se…

    Gene-culture coevolution, or cumulative cultural evolution, allows
    humans to culturally evolve highly distinct adaptations to the local
    pressures and environments much quicker than with genetic evolution
    alone. Robert Boyd and Peter J. Richerson,
    two strong proponents of cultural evolution, postulate that the act of
    social learning, or learning in a group as done in group selection,
    allows human populations to accrue information over many generations. This leads to the cultural evolution of highly adaptive behaviors and technology alongside genetic evolution.

    David Sloan Wilson, the developer of Multilevel Selection Theory (MLS)
    compares the many layers of competition and evolution to the “Russian
    Matryoska Dolls” within one another. The lowest level is the genes, next come the cells, and then the
    organism level and finally the groups. The different levels function
    cohesively to maximize fitness, or reproductive success. After
    establishing these levels, MLS goes further by saying that selection for
    the group level, which is competition between groups, must outweigh the
    individual level, which is individuals competing within a group, for a
    group-beneficiating trait to spread.</break>

  156. Obviously we’re getting nowhere.  Once again, you haven’t even tried to disprove what I’ve proposed, you’ve simply accused me of not understanding the conventional theory. 
     
    Your seem to think that since my idea of group selection is on Steven Pinker’s list of group selection errors, that proves something .  But since this conversation started because I disagreed with Steven, that’s a pretty laughable argument – and once again, clearly an argument on the basis of authority – which you may not like, but tough.  
     
    You say that I don’t understand selfish gene theory, because I characterized certain people as “selfish”.  I’m fully aware that Richard used the word in a non-conventional, almost playful way.  But it’s a perfectly good word in getting across the idea that some people are more motivated by self-interest than others.  Richard’s use of the word as he did does not mean that its conventional use is prohibited in polite conversation.
     
    Beating a dead horse.  I’m done, unless you want to try and disprove what I’ve proposed, in which case I’m at your service. 

  157.  From The Selfish Gene:

    The muddle in human ethics over the level at which altruism is desirable—family, nation, race, species, or all living things—is mirrored by a parallel muddle in biology over the level at which altruism is to be expected according to the theory of evolution. Even the group-selectionist would not be surprised to find members of rival groups being nasty to each other: in this way, like trade unionists or soldiers, they are favouring their own group in the struggle for limited resources. But then it is worth asking how the group-selectionist decides which level is the important one. If selection goes on between groups within a species, and between species, why should it not also go on between larger groupings? Species are grouped together into genera, genera into orders, and orders into classes. Lions and antelopes are both members of the class Mammalia,as are we. Should we then not expect lions to refrain from killing antelopes, ‘for the good of the mammals’? Surely they should hunt birds or reptiles instead, in order to prevent the extinction of the class. But then, what of the need to perpetuate the whole phylum of vertebrates?

  158. Alan4discussion, if Multilevel Selection allows for cultural co-evolution as an influence on biological evolution, then I concede the point that memetics could, theoretically, be involved. But the article on Multilevel Selection Theory is specifically about biological evolution effecting cultural traits, with group selection as that process. This looks more like the idea that group selection is tied in with culture, not as an opening for memetics. For that, you want Dual Inheritance Theory:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D… 

    Dual inheritance theory (DIT), also known as gene-culture coevolution, was developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s to explain how human behavior is a product of two different and interacting evolutionary processes: genetic evolution and cultural evolution. In DIT, culture is defined as behavior acquired through social learning. Cultural evolution is considered a Darwinian selection process that acts on cultural variation. Dual Inheritance Theorists often describe this by analogy to genetic evolution, which is a Darwinian selection process acting on genetic information.[1] Because genetic evolution is relatively well understood, most of DIT examines cultural evolution and the interactions between cultural evolution and genetic evolution.

    Gene-culture evolution and gene-culture co-evolution are two different things. The first is about biological processes, specifically group selection, effecting culture as a product or side effect (again, Pinker looked at this in the OP and pointed out group selection’s impotence in this aspect). The second postulates that culture has its own selection distinguishable from the genetic one.

    Let me put it this way: altruism and social cohesion would be explained under Multilevel Selection as group selection favouring them over selfish individual selection, manifesting as cultural ties and a strong group identity. Dual Inheritance Theory could say that altruism and social cohesion are part biological (as in altruism evolved by kin selection or reciprocal altruism) and part cultural (memes that are associated with nice actions or get their hosts to act nice attract more people and thus spread better than rival memes that don’t). The distinction is subtle, I grant you, but I’d advise you don’t confuse yourself over it. 

  159. When you misuse a term (consciously knowing that it’s the incorrect use, which surprises me) and conflate it with a known process that is confirmed correct (i.e. the evolution of prosocial behaviours), I’m fully justified in pointing out that your misuse of the term is both incorrect and causing needless confusion. I’ve also explained repeatedly that group selection (see below), as it actually is, is either redundant or unproven as a theory. Having explained as much, I don’t see why you should consciously persist in using the term incorrectly and complain when I point this out, as though I have made no attempt to clarify the issue and highlight the errors at all. I find this more than a little dishonest on your part.

    I’ve accused you of not understanding the conventional theory because your comments clearly show a lack of understanding on the matter. Your airy confidence that I’m beating about the bush only further underscores just how badly confused over the matter you are as a result.

    So let me explain more fully:

    I don’t deny that genes for altruism and cooperation can increase in frequency as a result of being selected for, but this contradicts your claim that gene level selection cannot result in such behaviours in the first place. What you call group selection is simply the evolution of social behaviours through genetic evolution. No biologist denies that social behaviours like altruism evolved as a result of genetic processes, but to call such a thing group selection is to confuse it with the correct meaning of the term: that group selection proposes that genes can code for behaviours that favour the group while positively and consistently working against the individuals they produce, and that such genes can be favoured BECAUSE of this. If you give it a moment’s thought, it should be obvious that without kin selection, this would lead to genetic suicide.

    There are certainly cases where kin may help each other and risk death to promote the inclusive fitness of all copies of the gene they share (and which codes for the impulse to care), and there are certainly cases where cooperative partners in reciprocal relationships can take risks for each others’ benefit, which feeds back into their own personal benefit later. It is even the case that other individuals can manipulate the altruistic impulses of others for their own benefit (and their genes’). But there aren’t enough cases where individuals would sacrifice themselves for non-relatives with the certainty of death, just to benefit other organisms, and there certainly aren’t any examples where such a thing could be positively selected for by the gene for self-sacrifice (though it could be selected for by the other party if they reap the benefits and can manipulate the sacrificer). Even human soldiers and warriors aren’t like that, as Pinker points out.If you still dispute, let’s take a look at what you said:

    In general, in the world of individual competition for survival, empathy is a terrible strategy.  If food is scarce, sharing it is the worst thing you can do.  So an evolutionist has to jump through hoops to argue that gene or individual level selection could have resulted in complex personal interactions such as cooperation, altruism, morality, etc. On the other hand, group selection – which I see as a change in frequency within the general population of those genes that promote the behaviors I just mentioned, as a result of certain groups surviving better than others because of those behaviors – explains them easily.

    This also reveals, if you look closely, that you’ve confused gene selfishness with individual selfishness, because you use the two quite close to each other at one point as though they could be lumped together. This is most likely the source of your error, as selfish genes do not automatically entail selfish individuals. Selfless individuals, at least in given contexts, can benefit selfish genes. The Selfish Gene is one long exploration and justification of the idea.So your proposition is, to paraphrase, that group selection is a change in frequency within the general population of those genes that promote the behaviours of cooperation, altruism, and morality. The reason this is wrong is not just because positing group selection is either redundant (as kin selection and other gene-centric theories do the explanatory work just as well, if not better) or disproven by lack of supporting evidence, but because your use of the term is a common misunderstanding of what group selection actually is. I would advise you not to use it, therefore, unless you explicitly agree with the definition that group selection is the positive selection of group-favouring traits that can both ignore the individual bearer’s benefit and repeatedly, consistently, and reliably sacrifice the individual bearer, especially when it is not for the benefit of kin containing copies of the gene coding for such behaviour. And it should be crashingly apparent that, if this is going to be a genetic selection at all, such behaviours would be genetic suicide without kin selection, and if you introduce kin then kin selection makes positing group selection redundant.A lot of morality among humans amounts to reciprocal altruism and fictive kin and reputation maintenance and so on, as reciprocity (like that in the Golden Rule) is quite common in ethical theories. But as Pinker points out, suicide attacks are not common in our history – indeed, seem to be a recent phenomenon that only works after a lot of manipulation by other individuals – and his comments on warrior and soldier behaviour will help you on this matter if you read them. Fatal self-sacrifice astonishes us precisely because it is so rare. What we loosely call altruism is often simply individuals helping others. We also know of the strong nepotistic bias (our powerful obligations to family, for instance) and the value of friends in need. This is before we even consider Dual Inheritance Theory, as I explained to Alan4discussion.

  160. Darn, that last bit looks like an ugly wall of text. Let’s try again:

    This also reveals, if you look closely, that you’ve confused gene selfishness with individual selfishness, because you use the two quite close to each other at one point as though they could be lumped together. This is most likely the source of your error, as selfish genes do not automatically entail selfish individuals. Selfless individuals, at least in given contexts, can benefit selfish genes. The Selfish Gene is one long exploration and justification of the idea.

    So your proposition is, to paraphrase, that group selection is a change in frequency within the general population of those genes that promote the behaviours of cooperation, altruism, and morality. The reason this is wrong is not just because positing group selection is either redundant (as kin selection and other gene-centric theories do the explanatory work just as well, if not better) or disproven by lack of supporting evidence, but because your use of the term is a common misunderstanding of what group selection actually is. I would advise you not to use it, therefore, unless you explicitly agree with the definition that group selection is the positive selection of group-favouring traits that can both ignore the individual bearer’s benefit and repeatedly, consistently, and reliably sacrifice the individual bearer, especially when it is not for the benefit of kin containing copies of the gene coding for such behaviour. And it should be crashingly apparent that, if this is going to be a genetic selection at all, such behaviours would be genetic suicide without kin selection, and if you introduce kin then kin selection makes positing group selection redundant.

    A lot of morality among humans amounts to reciprocal altruism and fictive kin and reputation maintenance and so on, as reciprocity (like that in the Golden Rule) is quite common in ethical theories. But as Pinker points out, suicide attacks are not common in our history – indeed, seem to be a recent phenomenon that only works after a lot of manipulation by other individuals – and his comments on warrior and soldier behaviour will help you on this matter if you read them. Fatal self-sacrifice astonishes us precisely because it is so rare. What we loosely call altruism is often simply individuals helping others. We also know of the strong nepotistic bias (our powerful obligations to family, for instance) and the value of friends in need. This is before we even consider Dual Inheritance Theory, as I explained to Alan4discussion. 

  161. If selection goes on between groups within a species, and between species, why should it not also go on between larger groupings?

    You don’t think I’d miss that, did you? ;-)

    Richard’s comment is about the problem of infinite regression, a form of reduction ad absurdum that shows that, if you allow group selection between species (thereby breaking the gene pool boundary), then why not go all the way, since distinctive groupings beyond the species (genera, families, orders, phyla, kingdoms etc.) are also technically “groups”? This is because above-species groupings are faintly arbitrary in any case, or at least nowhere near as specific as the species distinction.

    As much as I dislike to admit it, this was a criticism of the “naive group selection” model that got carried away with the idea of “for the good of the species”, when it was assumed that species gained their adaptive traits by competing with other species. It should be obvious that modern group selections like Wilson, Wilson et al. are smart enough to avoid this problem by restricting its focus to within-species conflicts.

    This is not an arbitrary move, either. Group selection, relying on genetic selection, depends on it being an intraspecific contest, especially if a group is going to be proposed as a replicator. And, I notice, Peter Grant, you haven’t yet actually met my example (with the aphid clones) with a criticism either.

    So let me do so for you, as I’ve just spotted what it is. The mechanism relies on kin and reciprocal altruism to work. The aphids that make up group X, say, could all be clones of each other, making them genetically identical. Or they could be two different species or subspecies in a particular arrangement (so every copy of the group has Aphid A, Aphid A, Aphid A, Aphid B, Aphid B, say), and their symbiotic relationship (say, one for tracking food, one for extracting it from the stems) would be a reciprocal altruism. Each member makes a copy of itself, and the second generation moves on to the next stem.

    While this doesn’t disprove the notion that the group has replicator properties (at least in this highly contrived thought experiment) (hence “fractal”), it does make it redundant in the case where a group is supposed to be a vehicle. The fact that groups don’t have these properties (even superorganism colonies are never perfect clones of each other) is enough to cast doubt on the theory.

  162. Allowing for a moment that a memetics blog could conceivably overturn decades of professional biological investigation (because, apparently, not allowing such is automatically an argument from authority, despite the fact that I’ve even posted a link to a site that explains quite patiently why it has to fulfil specific criteria to be an argument from authority), I’ve read that blog. It mentions that group selection has been “redefined” since its critical rejection a few decades ago (like we haven’t seen that trick done before in theistic discussions), but neglects to mention what this new and pristine definition is.

    It does, however, contain a link to this article:

    http://www.thisviewoflife.com/… 

    Which comes its closest to defining group selection in this paragraph under the subtitle “The Origin of Group Selection and Kin Selection Theory”:

    The seeds of both group selection theory and kin selection theory are present in the work of Charles Darwin, and both were invoked to address a single problem—how traits that are “for the good of the group” can evolve when they are selectively disadvantageous within groups. Examples include the sterile castes of bees and the human moral virtues. As one answer, Darwin proposed that groups of individuals who behave for the good of their group would outcompete other groups, even if their solid-citizen behaviors were selectively disadvantageous within groups. This was the seed of group selection theory. Darwin invoked it repeatedly in the corpus of his work, as Elliott Sober (5) has documented in detail. Dawkins is wrong when he asserts that Darwin invoked group selection in only “one anomalous passage”; he needs to read and refute Sober’s article or acknowledge his own error on this relatively minor point.

    Well now, nothing “new” there, at least. Give me an example of genetic suicide that results in selection for the gene that codes for genetic suicide while simultaneously not having copies of that gene in the bodies of those who are saved by the act of genetic suicide (thus bypassing kin selection), and I’ll be impressed if you can do so without falling into the contradiction.

  163.  

    Let me put it this way: altruism and social cohesion would be explained
    under Multilevel Selection as group selection favouring them over
    selfish individual selection, manifesting as cultural ties and a strong
    group identity. Dual Inheritance Theory could say that altruism and
    social cohesion are part biological (as in altruism evolved by kin
    selection or reciprocal altruism) and part cultural (memes that are
    associated with nice actions or get their hosts to act nice attract more
    people and thus spread better than rival memes that don’t). The
    distinction is subtle, I grant you, but I’d advise you don’t confuse
    yourself over it.

    I think that is the point in specific cases of human meme-selection.  Human brains are programmable and the programmable tendency is not necessarily linked to specific memes.

    I would advise you not to use it, therefore, unless you explicitly agree
    with the definition that group selection is the positive selection of
    group-favouring traits that can both ignore the individual bearer’s
    benefit and repeatedly, consistently, and reliably sacrifice the
    individual bearer, especially when it is not for the benefit of kin
    containing copies of the gene coding for such behaviour. And it should
    be crashingly apparent that, if this is going to be a genetic selection
    at all, such behaviours would be genetic suicide without kin selection,

    That was a point I made earlier.  Memes can reproduce, providing they reproduce quicker or more widely than the genetic suicide of the affected individuals.  (eg geninely celebate priests) and levels of meme affected individuals remain low in populations. – As with other population issues, there can be memetic, booms, crashes and extinctions.

    and if you introduce kin then kin selection makes positing group
    selection redundant.

    Kin-selection and fictive kin-selection look like sub-sets of group selection covering SOME aspects.  Some of the arguments look semantic.  There are issues of “how far the concept of fictive kin will stretch”.

    One of the confusing issues, is the one I pointed out in earlier comments is the vagueness of S. Pinkers criticisms.  Group Selection has been extensively revised and up-dated to address earlier valid criticisms, with a diversity of views and ideas.

    The programmable nature of human conscious decision making clearly is part of memetics,  where altruistic intentions should not be confused with altruistic effects.

    Once again, here is the comment I challenged 


     Pinker -Despite this allure, I have argued that the concept of Group Selection has no useful role to play in psychology or social science.

    Any valid aspects of group-selection or memetic selection, would affect psychological issues affecting survival and reproduction in populations.

  164. But then it is worth asking how the group-selectionist decides which level is the important one.

    The answer to this question, is clearly, that the importance of effects at different levels are proportionate to the separate measured effects in individual studies.  Groups are locality related.

    Lions and antelopes are both members of the class Mammalia,as are we.
    Should we then not expect lions to refrain from killing antelopes, ‘for
    the good of the mammals’?

    I don’t think lions would be aware of the classification “mammals” but there can certainly be (misfiring?) maternal fictive kin-selection:-
    A Lioness Adopts a baby antelope……
    http://www.ask.com/web?l=dis&a

  165. Kin selection is not a subset of group selection. It looks like a subset of group selection because both theories predict that a gene for altruistic impulses can be selected for if it sacrifices its carrier for the benefit of other individuals.

    This is where the similarity ends. Kin selection works BECAUSE it is gene-centric. Group selection FAILS because it either tries to be gene-centric or tries to act independently of genes, which it is incapable of doing. Look at the last paragraph in my comment to timtyler. That’s the problem it has to overcome. (Apologies for the capslock, but it’s easier to achieve than laboriously putting everything in bold or italics).

    There isn’t fictive-kin selection any more than there’s “warbler letting cuckoo lay an egg in its nest” selection. I’ve given three examples of how fictive kin can exist:

    1. By coinciding with reciprocal altruism, as adopted kids can benefit fictive siblings, in which case reciprocal altruism does all the work.

    2. As a temporary side effect that will be ironed out with future evolutionary refinements. Remember that organisms cannot just know who their relatives are and have to take clues from their surroundings, such as by imprinting.

    3. As a side effect that can’t be ironed out. It will forever be the case that an organism cannot be born that automatically knows who its parents are. Such gaps enable another organism, of the same species or not, an opportunity to manipulate them for its own ends, like a general manipulating soldiers into fighting for their comrades or brothers in arms.

    As for that quotation you offered, Pinker is pretty much 100% correct. Why would a theory that is either redundant or evidence-deficient be considered useful? It even engenders positively useless confusion.

    You are confusing group selection with memetics. Kind of ironic, considering in most of my discussions, I get the opposite problem – denial of memetics in favour of group selection. Let me repeat: group selection should not be confused with some sort of independent cultural evolution. Group selectionists are doing what gene selectionists are doing every time they try to explain human soldier and ant soldier behaviour back to their theories – explaining them as biological products, not evolving systems in their own right. I thought I clarified the distinction with that example about social cohesion and altruism.

    Alan4discussion, what you are positing is Dual Inheritance Theory with Memetics (gene-culture coevolution), NOT Multilevel Selection Theory (gene-culture evolution). The CO signifies the independence of the processes, as is present between memes and genes. It does not mean that memes and genes are cut off from each other, but it does mean that each can be explained as the natural selection of a replicator in its own right. 

  166. A Lioness Adopts a baby antelope……

    For a grand total of once.

    It falls neatly into categories 2 or 3 I outlined previously. Unless, of course, you think this trait of antelope adoption is going to be selected for without recourse to reciprocal altruism.

  167. Well, Zeuglodon, that is somewhat better.  At least you stated my definition of group selection.  Incidentally, the Wikipedia section on group selection says, “In evolutionary biology, group selection refers to the idea that alleles can become fixed or spread in a population because of the benefits they bestow on groups, regardless of the alleles’ effect on the fitness of individuals within that group.”  That’s essentially what I said.  That’s exactly what I mean by group selection.  So please don’t keep telling me that I’m using the term incorrectly.  In fact, word to the wise, if you’re interested in proving a point, as opposed to massaging your ego, I’d suggest staying on point rather than continually telling your opponent that he’s confused about this and that.  It’s obnoxious and arrogant, and in this case wrong.

    For example, you said: “No biologist denies that social behaviours like altruism evolved as a result of genetic processes, but to call such a thing group selection is to confuse it with the correct meaning of the term: that group selection proposes that genes can code for behaviours that favour the group while positively and consistently working against the individuals they produce, and that such genes can be favoured BECAUSE of this.”

    THAT’S your definition of group selection?  That it favors genes that favor the group while positively and consistently working against the individuals they produce?  Man, you’re confused.

    Oops.

  168. Pot calling the kettle black, much? At one point you picked out a definition from a list that was blatantly about what group selection was NOT. At another point you lumped genes and individuals together, said they couldn’t evolve complex social attributes like altruism and cooperation, and then claim that group selection solves the problem, yet later agree with a definition of group selection that says genes are essential to the process in the first place – indeed, that only makes sense as a gene-centric explanation – and failing to appreciate that the individual selection argument would undermine group selection models in the first place. You also seem to think that pointing out a majority conclusion from experts who have tested the theory is a bad move, despite the fact that I’ve practically gone out of my way to add to this statement by explaining the case against group selection more fully. You’re trying to defend a theory that can only be proved by the one method that’s bound to invalidate it. And you think I’m confused?

    If you paid attention to the logic of group selection, the only way it could be proved is if an example could be found where genes were working against the individuals they produced, and consistently selecting for this (because when it’s consistent, selection can act on it). As Jerry Coyne and Steven Pinker have explained, this sort of behaviour simply cannot be selected for except with kin selection, which in any case works well enough on its own. Validating group selection entails finding an example of genetic suicide that results in selection for the gene that codes for genetic suicide while simultaneously not having copies of that gene in the bodies of those who are saved by the act of genetic suicide (thus bypassing kin selection). The contradiction, that a gene can drive itself extinct and be selected for at the same time, makes group selection untenable as a theory. Even turning group selection into the idea that groups replicate at all is doomed by the fact that groups are nothing like replicators in real life.

    Biologists with far more expertise than I have tried and tested the theory and found it wanting, useless, and unnecessary given kin selection. You’d be better off sticking to reciprocal altruism and kin selection. At the very least, they don’t entail this needless and constant confusion over a theory that’s long since been disproved.

  169. On the “group selection with a group as a unit of selection” model, it only requires that the group have replicator properties, nothing else. What’s naive? A boundary between one group and the next has been clearly indicated and maintained. It most likely does not happen in real life, but that doesn’t mean it’s invalid on principle.

  170. Your group only has replicator properties if all its members are clones with the same genes. Therefore it is pretty obvious that it is the genes which are replicating and not this arbitrary “group” you have placed them in.

  171. Well of course genes are essential in the process of group selection.  Come on, now.  I’ve said that from the first comment I made on the subject.  Again, it’s an increase in frequency of those genes or alleles that promote empathy, cooperation, altruism, and a sense of right and wrong, as a result of better survival of those groups who by chance are more empathetic and thereby cooperative.  That’s keeping in mind that within each group there will be those who are more and those who are less empathic than the average, and all will benefit if enough of them are cooperative and atruistic enough to help with food, shelter, and protection. 

    That in a nutshell is group selection: A group’s characteristics promote survival of all its members, even if those characteristics are neutral or even detrimental to individual competition.  So a selfish (motivated by self-interest) individual in a cooperative group might get more food or more women than some of his less selfish groupmates, but the important effect of group selection is that overall the percentage of genes within the general population promoting cooperation would go up when that group survives and less cooperative groups die off.

    So in the next generation there would be a higher percentage of genes promoting cooperation.  There would probably be a lot of movement of people between groups; new groups would form, again some more cooperative than others, and the process would repeat.

    Keep in mind that this occurred during hunter-gatherer days at or near the beginning of our species – probably 100,000 years or so ago in Africa.  Not happening today.  Somewhat similar processes probably also explain how various species developed their characteristic cooperative behavior.

  172. Charles Darwin, in The Descent of Man:

    “When two tribes of primeval man, living in the same country, came into competition, if (other circumstances being equal) the one tribe included a great number of courageous, sympathetic and faithful members, who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other, this tribe would succeed better and conquer the other. 
    ……….
    It is extremely doubtful whether the offspring of the more sympathetic and benevolent parents, or of those who were the most faithful to their comrades, would be reared in greater numbers than the children of selfish and treacherous parents belonging to the same tribe. He who was ready to sacrifice his life, as many a savage has been, rather than betray his comrades, would often leave no offspring to inherit his noble nature. The bravest men, who were always willing to come to the front in war, and who freely risked their lives for others, would on an average perish in larger numbers than other men. Therefore, it hardly seems probable, that the number of men gifted with such virtues, or that the standard of their excellence, could be increased through natural selection, that is, by the survival of the fittest; for we are not here speaking of one tribe being victorious over another.”

    Darwin was speaking of tribes.  My example was hunter-gatherer groups.  But the principle is exactly the same.  You may believe that were Darwin alive today, with the knowledge we now have of DNA and the mechanisms of inheritence, he would think differently.  I believe he was right then, and would hold the same views today.

  173. I know that, but it doesn’t contradict the fact that the group has replicator properties. It isn’t relevant to this version of group selection that it be dependent on genes, so long as it has the properties on the checklist. Hence “fractal”.

  174. Again, it’s an increase in frequency of those genes or alleles that promote empathy, cooperation, altruism, and a sense of right and wrong, as a result of better survival of those groups who by chance are more empathetic and thereby cooperative.

    But if genes are going to arise that promote empathy etc., such traits will emerge as proxy phenotypes building on one of the two ways of getting genes to promote altruistic vehicles. A species already has to be social before anything like group selection could occur, and further refinements to social abilities can only come about following the logic that made it worth selecting for in the first place. Altruism is not all about self-sacrifice. In biology, it’s specifically about reducing one individual’s own fitness, temporarily or not, to increase the fitness of another. In kin selection, the other tends to have the same gene, so inclusive fitness is maintained or raised anyway. In reciprocal altruism, a temporary reduction now usually results in a gain later, and both sides benefit. Note that the organism need not be aware of this anymore than a snail need be aware of the logarithmic spiral of its shell.

    Such traits will not emerge as a result of better survival of groups, not least of all because groups have more in common with population dynamics than with vehicles or replicators. Even the most tight-knit group tends to allow the trafficking of members, usually for reproductive purposes (members can move from group to group to seek out partners, which makes evolutionary sense as it reduces in-breeding and therefore risks of genital defects). Such traits will emerge because of survival of social individuals whose genes benefit from having the group in some way, and there are at least two ways how. There are models from the selfish gene theory which allow such things when the individual is either looking out for kin or for symbiotic partners, following the logic of reciprocal altruism and kin selection. Individual generation times are faster inside groups than group generation times are outside individuals, so individuals have an evolutionary advantage. It isn’t enough that groups compete (which they don’t always do, if you notice) or die off. A group’s characteristics usually boil down to its individuals’ characteristics, and as Pinker points out (and Jerry Coyne did in another article), humans have a lot in their behaviour and psychology that suggests kin selection and reciprocal altruism is at the root of their social behaviours, firstly because humans can be often nepotistic and secondly because humans are often on the prowl for cheaters among their number (which no individual wants), on the lookout for other people’s contributions, and tend to hold grudges against those who freeslide.

    It’s rather premature to say what happened during hunter-gatherer days about 100,000 years ago in Africa, but judging from such communities today it should be far more likely that they have the traits of having evolved through individual selection. They usually have strong kinship ties, for example, and are just as vulnerable to internal subversion as any other group. But when groups fragment, as they did in the Americas, the survivors can still persist and pass on their genes without the need for group selection.

  175. The other problem is, if group selection was occurring 100,000 years ago or somesuch, then we’d expect there to be more variation between human races on the matter of altruistic tendencies and social behaviours. In fact, genetics has shown that the human species is surprisingly genetically uniform, with most differences traced back to superficial features like skin colour and disease resistances. In any case, even on the savanna of Africa, groups or tribes don’t always compete. They usually establish territories, which is quite usual behaviour for an omnivorous species because territories set up hunting grounds. Tribes are often far from each other geographically, and warfare between tribes often results in seizing spoils, including women, who then reproduce with the victorious tribe’s males. And of course, tribes can form alliances as well as rivalries. More usually, they simply pick off at each other or tolerate each other so long as they respect territorial boundaries, otherwise we’d have to suppose that the Aboriginals and Native Americans and Africans are still exterminating each other all over the continents they live on. Why, even as recently as 40,000 years ago, it’s possible from genetic evidence that humans could even interbreed with Neanderthals, a different subspecies altogether! Group selection already doesn’t work, but such things make one even more skeptical because they repeatedly break up the model that predicts clean group generations and constant extermination of tribes.

  176. I say, that’s rather a double standard. So it’s not OK for me to refer to a consensus of professionals who have tried and tested the theory and almost all rejected it in favour of better alternative theories which have the mathematics checked (and it works out) and which entail no need to violate Ockham’s razor, but it’s OK for you to quote a passage from one man’s book when he not only spent most of his writing promoting the ground for the theories that would end up favouring the alternative explanations to group selection, but existed before certain relevant knowledge came to light? ccw95005, that’s blatantly biased and unfair on your part.

    Again, Pinker has a look at tribe behaviour in this essay, and it’s nowhere near as rosy as Darwin suggests. Raids, for instance, are more often stealthy with minimal risk.

    Besides, the very seeds of the undoing of group selection are, ironically, in that same passage which you quoted:

    It is extremely doubtful whether the offspring of the more sympathetic and benevolent parents, or of those who were the most faithful to their comrades, would be reared in greater numbers than the children of selfish and treacherous parents belonging to the same tribe. He who was ready to sacrifice his life, as many a savage has been, rather than betray his comrades, would often leave no offspring to inherit his noble nature. The bravest men, who were always willing to come to the front in war, and who freely risked their lives for others, would on an average perish in larger numbers than other men. Therefore, it hardly seems probable, that the number of men gifted with such virtues, or that the standard of their excellence, could be increased through natural selection, that is, by the survival of the fittest; for we are not here speaking of one tribe being victorious over another.

    Even Darwin doesn’t seem sure of the theory of group selection. He also promoted the idea of blended inheritance, but that doesn’t make the vast literature supporting Mendelism incorrect.

    Given that Darwin paid special attention to evidence (he famously delayed publication of On the Origin of Species so that he could strengthen his case), if he were alive today I can safely say with high confidence that he’d go along with the majority of biologists.

  177. I just got around to reading this article today, and I must say that I found it to be spectacular.  I especially enjoyed this gem of a sentence employed by Pinker:

    It seems hard to believe that a small effect in one condition of a
    somewhat contrived psychology experiment would be sufficient reason to
    revise the modern theory of evolution, and indeed there is no reason to believe it.

    Also, I would like to take this time to extend my gratitude to many posters in this thread as well as in the thread discussing Richard’s article entitled, “The descent of Edward Wilson.”  Specifically, posts by Zeuglodon and Jos Gibbons (of which I read dozens) were immensely enlightening on the subject of group selection and natural selection in general.  So thank you.

  178. In your paper on the “Extended phenotype-but not too extended” you adopt the Williams definition of a gene and insist on a tight discipline. George Williams (1966):
     
    “If there is an ultimate indivisible fragment it is, by definition, ‘the gene’that is treated in the abstract definitions of population genetics.”

    What if there is no “indivisible fragment” nor any other “unit” that can describe the exacting boundaries of a gene? Does that harm the theory? We may be able to model quantitative measures of unitary genetic fecundity, but without physical biomolecular boundaries the abstraction of the gene is a theory that seems to explain too much. The tight discipline falls apart.

    The gene replicator model confuses me, because genes have seamless boundaries. The genome produces massive ribbons of RNA from both strands and is filled with overlapping transcripts. The RNA is undoubtedly an important part of the information package and if you accept this, then we can say that the information content of a gene is transcriptionally stored in the DNA + the RNA at minimum. The scale of the gene may even extend up to the cilia patterns of a paramecium, and “a prion is perhaps a paragenetic replicator”.

    “Genes, let it be noted, are carried mostly, though not exclusively, in the chro- mosomes, and a definition of evolution must accordingly be framed to include the chromosomal and the cytoplasmic heredity.” (Dobzhansky, 1965) 

    The interaction among the genetic components defers the incidence of selection, in the same way that Mark Baldwin noted the importance of phenotypic plasticity, splitting genes into either followers or leaders in the orchestra of life. When the pairing of the inducer or the silencer attaches to its host DNA, the functional action is realized, failure leading to death. The incidence of selection is avoided when the physiology of the whole or the pairing of the functional parts are integrated and an adaptively coherent system is realized. Genes caught in the pleiotropic nexus hitch-hike and sort out in the process where cause-effect relations took place at a distance.
    In an interesting twist on Darwin’s pangenesis theory involving gemmules, we have discovered “the mutant Kit gene manufactures abnormal RNA molecules, which accumulate in sperm and pass into the egg. These bits of RNA somehow silence the normal Kit gene in the next generation and subsequent ones, producing the spotted-tail effect.” (Pearson, 2006, Nature, V441, p. 400). What a peculiar vindication of Darwin’s migratory gemmules, still a rare phenomena to be sure, but…

    Genes have become an intertwined part the abductive gene replicator science that you have developed, but it has yet to find a home that is a universal or spatio-temporally unrestricted theory that is completely satisfying to all. It is like the unitary nature of the species debate, but nobody came to genes as individuals discussion – the species problem was too much of a preoccupation. Like species, the gene is a hypothesis that has been reified into genomic evolution. Genes are hypotheses that are inferred for the purposes of providing explanatory accounts for observed properties instantiated by the relational properties (see Fitzhugh, K. (2006). The abduction of phylogenetic hypotheses. Zootaxa, 1145, 1–110).

    What is the deductive form of your theory? If the edict of a “tight discipline” is to be followed, how can we follow on the scale of the gene? Is it an entire chromosome, or is it structurally encoded within the chromatin and if so, what confers its fidelity of polygenic pairing into existence? What effect does the spliceosome, introns, exons, and post-transcriptional processing have on the informational codex and what holds the story together? The age-old question in evolutionary theory is how genetic varieties can be maintained, with additivity being part of the solution. Of course, Watson-Crick base-pairing biochemically stores a replicating codex of similarity (homology) by virtue of the covalent bonding in the paired nucleotide compliments, but is it not the interlocking of the system that brings the relational properties of segments of DNA into a functional whole? You have expressed as much in the extended phenotype, but miss the importance of extended phenotypic adaptations in the environment breaking that unitary barrier yet again. Through niche construction, organisms become codirectors of their own evolution – creating a legacy that acts on many traits across multiple generations with a high degree of fidelity, with significant implications for Wrights shifting balance. The additive pleiotrophic effect in genotype plus phenotype measured variance of x and y parents is not the proper index of heritability (in the broad nor narrow sense). The environment is not static but immediately changed by mutation and contextual dynamics, so the functional interactions between genotype, phenotype, and environment and the causal importance of historical admixtures is missed by the analysis of variance (Lewontin, 1974, Am J Hum Genet, 26:400-411).

    Your putative replicators – “when natural selection chooses one rather than its alternative” – reads like a tautology to me. At one scale we have the pairing of chromosomes, so does a heterozygote count as one, or through independent segregation are loci chosen apart from the allele? How can natural selection choose one replicator out of a seemlessly integrated coherent system? What agents of cause-effect police the genes to be structurally scaled such that their existence primarily resides sub-chromosomally? A structural gene can be absurdly reduced to a single nucleotide bond, whereas the bounds of a physiological gene (the hypothesis) retains heritable structure through resilience (gene-duplication functional paralogs), cannalization, shifting peak optima, Nash equilibria, and burden. These phenomena are not restricted to the genome, but extend through ecological theory and developmental biology in as much as they are theories in the genome.

  179. I find it odd that Pinker finds group selection distasteful, yet he favours niche construction. His own paper on cultural niche construction (
    http://www.pnas.org/content/10… ) is a large branch of multi-level selection theory (
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/s…. So like G. Williams he accepts that culture can replicate information above the gene, but somehow it seems like an impossible task to separate niche construction from cognitive niche construction? Does he only favour niche construction in the human cognitive sense?

  180. Everyone knows the concept of the “gene” is in trouble. What is a gene? This should be retitled – “The false allure of the gene”. Dawkins defines a gene by the information content that is stored in the sequence leading from DNA to phenotype. However, the modern understanding of RNA acrobatics and the concept of a unitary fragment of information does not hold up to the “tight discipline”. So before Dawkins and Pinker try to take the high ground on these matters, they need to tidy up their own theory first. It was not until recently that someone tried to put the selfish gene into formal theory (
    http://www.zoo.ox.ac.uk/group/… something that was never properly done by Dawkins and others; except perhaps Conrad Waddington. Everyone throws out the term gene as though it is something real and tangible to support the theory, but after eight years practical experience working as a bench top geneticist doing gene expression studies, micro-arrays, and DNA sequencing on a routine basis — replicating genetic fragments is as abstract as using aether as a proxy for the Higgs Boson.

  181. Herbert Gintis offers a defense of E O Wilson’s rejection of inclusive fitness theory in The Social Conquest of Earth (though disagreeing with Wilson on some points) below. Gintis explains his analysis with a generalization of Hamilton’s Rule that draws attention to its often-unstated assumptions:
    http://www.jstor.org/stable/fu

Leave a Reply