The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Group Selectionism

William Hamilton's theory of kin selection explained only why animals assist close relatives (by placing the emphasis on the genes that are shared by relatives). But not why we would help friends or even total strangers.

At the beginning of the 20th century the Russian philosopher Petr Kropotkin first campaigned the notion that animals must be social and moral. His view was not one of individual struggle for survival, but one of the struggle for survival by masses of individuals, a struggle not against each other but a collective struggle against the common enemy, i.e. the adversities of their environment. Cooperation is more important than competition.

Meanwhile, the Japanese primatologist Imanishi Kinji was arguing that cooperation is more important than competition in nature. Individuals form societies and cannot exist outside societies because it is through societies that they can solve the needs required to their survival.

The British zoologists Vero-Copner Wynne-Edwards argued in favor of group selection because he found evidence that it is groups (rather than single individuals) that adapt to the environment.

The US biologist David Sloan Wilson ("A theory of group selection", 1975) resumed that explanation of altruism and made a case for the evolution of altruistic behavior. His studies gave credibility to the theory of "group" selection. A group is not necessarily a group of kin, but can be any community of genetically unrelated individuals and even of different species (as in the case of symbiosis). A group is just analogous to an organism. After all, an organism can be viewed as a collection of genes that work together towards maximizing their common chances of survival. The same principle applies to a group, where individual genes are replaced by organisms, by collections of genes. Groups often behave like organisms. Such is the case with beehives, ant colonies, flocks of birds, schools of fish, herds and even human clans.

Selection may operate at many different levels, but certainly for some species, especially humans, living in a group, and helping each other, has provided a tremendous evolutionary advantage. While the idea of a "group" of altruistic individuals, who accept to live in hives, herds, clans at the expense of their own fitness, may sound antithetical to Darwin's principle of competition, it does make sense, precisely from the point of view of "fitness". Being part of a group may increase the chances of being "fitter" and therefore survive.

Robert Trivers' theory of “reciprocal altruism” ("The evolution of reciprocal altruism", 1971) explained altruism as founded on the idea of exchange: i help you and you will help me. He proved that individuals can benefit in the long term by trusting each other. In other words, altruism is actually selfish. Building on Trivers' theory, the Dutch zoologist Frans de Waal argued that communities yield benefits to the individual, and that is the biological reason the individual will try to promote the community. Human morality is based on the idea of exchange.  A society always relies, to some extent, on altruism: a member must be willing to sacrifice part of her individuality in order to be part of a society, which, in turn, increases her chances of survival.


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