The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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

The Origin of Sex

The classical explanation for the existence (and widespread existence) of sex in nature was given by the German physiologist August Weismann in 1889 (“The Significance Of Sexual Reproduction In The Theory Of Natural Selection”): sex  increases variation which is then used by natural selection to improve the fitness of the species. Basically, sex accounts for faster rates of adaptation.

However, there is a component of altruism in this purely statistical game.

The US zoologist Alison Jolly contends that altruism is a fundamental aspect of evolution. The very existence of sex as a means of reproduction is proof that cooperation is a crucial evolutionary force. Sex is a trade-off: a genome sacrifices a part of its genes to team up with another genome and increase its chances of survival in the environment.

The British biologist Matt Ridley thinks that evolution is accelerated even by apparent enemies like parasites.  Organisms adopted sexual reproduction in order to cope with invasions of parasites: parasites have a harder time adapting to the diversity generated by sexual reproduction, whereas they would have devastating effects if all individuals of a species were identical (if the children were as vulnerable to the same diseases as the parents). Co-evolving parasites help improve evolution because they force individuals to cooperate. The lesson to be drawn is that (the need to fight) competition often leads to cooperation. On a large scale, life is a symbiotic process that is triggered by competitors.  And, of course, plants reproduce with the help of insects. Well over 300,000 species of plants may have been created by co-evolution with their pollinators. Cooperation is pervasive, both within a species and across species.

The emphasis in evolutionary theories has traditionally been on competition, not cooperation, although it is through cooperation, not competition, that considerable jumps in behavior can be attained.

In a sense, humans have mastered altruism the same way they mastered tools that allowed them to extend their cognitive abilities. Humans are able to deal with large groups of non-relatives. De facto, those individuals are “used” as a tool to augment the mind: instead of having to solve problems alone, the mind can use an entire group.

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