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Thread: Interesting opinion piece on evolution

  1. #1
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    Interesting opinion piece on evolution

    This piece appeared recently in The Toronto Star (I know, I know, hardly a reputable scientific publication) but I thought it was interesting nonetheless.

    http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/Con...=1012319928928

    Is anyone familiar with the author or any of the books he lists at the end?

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    Er... that isn't how evolution works. There is no collaboration in nature (beyond individual cases of parasitism and symbiosis). The author is misinterpreting. What he sees as collaboration is simply an organism reacting to the environment, changing the environment, and forcing other organisms to adapt to the changes it causes. There is no collaboration, simply organisms reacting and adapting in their own self-interest.

    This just happens to create a stable ecosystem. Not through communication, but by each individual part ensuring that it can exist along with every other part.

    And then he goes into bizarre things about cells in the body communicating to replace dead cells. That just ain't so. Again, cells act individually according to their genetic instructions. There is no collaboration.

    So, the article is scientifically incorrect. He just wanted to bend Darwinism to support his political views from the stance of natural law. He wants to convince us that everyone would be better off cooperating, because that's how nature works.

    Unfortunately, that isn't how nature works.

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    There is no point to claim that ecosystems and society follow same rules, or that they should.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Supreme Canuck
    This just happens to create a stable ecosystem.
    I would quibble with the above phrase in only the slightest, because I know and agree with the point you are making - just the semantics bug me (i know, being pedantic gets on others' nerves as well.) While the stable ecosystem is not designed in any way, it's not also simply happenstance. Because of the nature of the system, a stable outcome is the inevitable result, given enough time. The important distinction to remember is that reality has no preference for one stable system over another.

    In other words, while the earth had an oxygen-poor environment, reality was not pining for hte day when oxygen would be 20% of the atmosphere. Such anthromorphism is easy to fall into.

    Anyway, I'm done. Aside from that quibble, excellent post, TSC. I totally agree - the guy was peddling his happy little view of the world.

    John

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    Edit: nevermind, something went awry. I saw Lynn Margulis' name at the bottom and mistakenly thought she'd written the article, which left me baffled.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hewhocaves
    I would quibble with the above phrase in only the slightest, because I know and agree with the point you are making - just the semantics bug me (i know, being pedantic gets on others' nerves as well.) While the stable ecosystem is not designed in any way, it's not also simply happenstance. Because of the nature of the system, a stable outcome is the inevitable result, given enough time. The important distinction to remember is that reality has no preference for one stable system over another.
    That's a much better way to put it. I was having trouble explaining exactly what I meant. I agree completely.

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    And some things in the article are just flat wrong -- like "level of oxygen in the atmosphere has remained at 21 per cent for the last 300 million years." It varied by quite a bit over that time period, reaching as much as 30%.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Supreme Canuck
    And then he goes into bizarre things about cells in the body communicating to replace dead cells. That just ain't so. Again, cells act individually according to their genetic instructions. There is no collaboration.
    Well ... cells in a multicellular organism undoubtedly communicate and collaborate, albeit under the instruction of their genetic code. Take out half someone's liver, for instance, and the remaining cells will go into a reproductive burst to replace the lost tissue, which will then stop when the liver mass has returned to normal.
    "Collaborate" just means "work together" for some common end, and the evolutionary pressures on even simple multicellular organisms have led to the creation of an intricate network of cellular communications which maintain collaboration for the overall good of the organism.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Sure, but this guy was saying that cells collaborate in the same way that you and I would if we were, say, writing a report together. That just doesn't happen.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Supreme Canuck
    Sure, but this guy was saying that cells collaborate in the same way that you and I would if we were, say, writing a report together.
    I guess we're just reading it differently, then. To me, he didn't seem to be making such an elaborate claim. Just what he summarizes as:
    Life, then, is a never-ending process of collaboration around dependency, purpose and self-interest as everything adjusts to everything else.
    To me, that's quite a neat depiction of the endless dumb interchange of information that takes place in any multicellular organism.
    But as for his evolutionary view of collaborating organisms, he does seem to have taken Margulis' view of Gaia and ascribed some purposeful behaviour to it. For sure, that "collaboration" is just the biological equivalent of the "invisible hand" Adam Smith described in economics: everyone competes, but things level out into a stable, mutually beneficial strategy.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Huh... I really didn't get anything out of reading this article. I thought it would either tick me off, or make me ponder social models. Instead, it's so disinteresting, it's not even worth correcting the errors and ridiculous oversimplifications. I feel as if the author was trying to wrap her head around some epiphany, gave up, and put this yawner out to justify the work expended.

    The take home message from Ms. Smith: life is more complicated than we believed of it in the 19th century. Cells can chemically communicate with each other. They're really good at it inside people.

    I'm glad this has been cleared up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hewhocaves
    Anyway, I'm done. Aside from that quibble, excellent post, TSC. I totally agree - the guy was peddling his happy little view of the world.

    John
    I can understand why he did it. Some of the hard hearted Social Darwinists leave folks with a sour taste in their mouths. The human body is a good example of a good organism that has to work insynch to work well. We need competition too.

    At the AEI meeting on C-Span Krauss had a presentation with the quote "Science isn't fair." True enough, but I don't think I would have used those words--or the Behe = astrology concept, because some child's farmer parents might have seen that and said "Wait a minute--its Sagan that talks about star-stuff, not Behe"

    ...and pulls the kid out of public school and home schools them to where they never even HEAR the word Science. I think the priest and the other man debating against the "Discovery Institute" guy did a bit better job, and how that last guy wasn't really even an Intel Designer but an actuall young-earther.

    Public shools have a lot of problems, and you have to at least acknowledge parents concerns--like you would do at a crisis line. So how you frame an arguement without sacrificing science while trying not to alienate taypayers you need for education is a balancing act.

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    I don't know what the author's underlying views are but I can guess he's one of the "morals only come from god" crowd. He describes evolution as being a sort of cold every creature for him/herself free for all.

    Evolution has no moral implications. It isn't good or bad. It just is. It isn't amoral that we slaughter a cow and eat it (vegan arguments aside). It isn't amoral that we built a road and killed the weeds growing in the way. That just seems silly to make some claim that anything one organism does at the expense of another organism is somehow selfish amoral whatever. It is just the way the world functions.

    I don't see his opinion, comparing the human impact on climate change to evolution, caused by humans without concern for the whole as long as they, the individuals, profit, as being the least bit valid. Evolution gave us human behaviors of all kinds. Some are selfish, some are selfless, but we all evolved.


    Definitely a topic worth bringing up here, BTW, CRHTO.

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    Quote Originally Posted by beskeptical
    I don't know what the author's underlying views are but I can guess he's one of the "morals only come from god" crowd. He describes evolution as being a sort of cold every creature for him/herself free for all.
    I'm not seeing that from the article. It was clear that the author was talking about the Gaia hypothesis. (Anyway, take a look at the references at the bottem of the article.) From wikipedia:

    Gaia theory today is a spectrum of hypotheses, ranging from the undeniable (Weak Gaia) to the radical (Strong Gaia).

    At one end is the undeniable statement that the organisms on the Earth have radically altered its composition. A stronger position is that the Earth's biosphere effectively acts as if it is a self-organizing system, which works in such a way as to keep its systems in some kind of meta-equilibrium that is broadly conducive to life.
    Let's just say that the evidence for a strong Gaia is a bit on the weak side ...

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." Abraham Lincoln

    I say there is an invisible elf in my backyard. How do you prove that I am wrong?

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    Quote Originally Posted by beskeptical
    It isn't amoral that we slaughter a cow and eat it (vegan arguments aside). It isn't amoral that we built a road and killed the weeds growing in the way. That just seems silly to make some claim that anything one organism does at the expense of another organism is somehow selfish amoral whatever. It is just the way the world functions.
    I'd say that evolution is certainly amoral (operating outside the sphere of morality): we shouldn't make moral judgements on it, or draw moral conclusions from it.
    However, as human we do make moral judgements about our own thoughts and actions: so we can quite sensibly argue whether it is immoral or moral for us to kill and/or eat a fellow creature. Saying "it's just evolution in action" is something of a moral escape hatch: one could use the same argument to wave off moral objections to rape or genocide.

    (And please, please, please note my careful use of the impersonal pronoun "one": I have absolutely no intention of suggesting that you might do such a thing.)

    Grant Hutchison

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    well, genocide is ONE way of attempting to control evolution..
    not that it's very nice or anything..

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison
    To me, that's quite a neat depiction of the endless dumb interchange of information that takes place in any multicellular organism.
    I agree with Grant. I think the article has a valid point to make. I understand the objections raised to the strong-Gaia stuff, but the article really didn't raise that too much, the point being made was simply that evolution looks very different when the environment is also a player. It is kind of the difference between a linear and a nonlinear physical theory. In a linear theory, you analyze each part, and then just fit the pieces together at the end at your leisure. That is like evolution involving competition for fixed resources in an unchanging environment. But in a nonlinear theory, you get many surprising results coming from the whole being more than the sum of what individual parts are doing. That's really what I hear this article as saying, that competition takes on very subtle and nonlinear attributes when the results of the competition itself alter the rules of the game. There are much higher rewards for cooperation when the cost of "not getting along" is the end of the game (just ask anyone with small kids!).

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    I disagree, Ken G, I don't think the article was particularly insightful. It is based on misconceptions about Evolution and it equates Social Darwinism with Evolution.

    I say this because Darwin's theories of natural selection have been incorporated, root and branch, into the world view of Western societies. His ideas of competition among and within species affect how business is done and how Parliament works. And they play a role in validating me-first attitudes that snub the environment and contribute to climate change.
    This is out-and-out Social Darwinism, which has been refuted and rejected as a proper means for making decisions on human behavior. Whether or not nature is cooperative or competitive has no bearing on how human social activities are or should be carried out.

    Darwin wasn't wrong about natural selection; in the light of modern science, his theories were simply incomplete. But that's no reason to continue claiming today that the primary mechanism of natural selection is direct competition between individuals for resources in other words, that aggressive competition is the real key to evolution.
    Except that modern evolutionists don't discount that the environment is a quasi-static state that is current flux, being effected by all the interactions on the individual level. Every death or birth is a change to the gene pool. Every adaptation to one species affects their interactions with their environment - predators, prey, mates, forage, competing species. Modern evolutionists don't treat nature as a static backdrop, but look at ecology as a whole. And yet none of that invalidates the role natural selection plays in adapting and changing species. Competition for resources - be that food, shelter, mates, or being preyed upon, is the mechanism of natural selection - it is the selection.

    Imagine the difference if the prevailing world view mirrored the collaboration in nature, if people accepted that the way to get ahead is to pursue self-interest within the context of collaboration and co-operation.
    This is the purpose of the article, to push the author's utopian dream of a world of cooperation rather than competition, of selfless sharing instead of selfish greed, of group identity instead of "me-me-me". But what does this have to do with Evolution? The author is implying that our culture is based upon taking Evolution and applying it to our social behaviour. The author is blaming Evolution for the Western world's social ills, especially Global Warming. It's ridiculous.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Irishman
    I disagree, Ken G, I don't think the article was particularly insightful. It is based on misconceptions about Evolution and it equates Social Darwinism with Evolution.
    The article has two purposes, written in parallel. The first purpose is to create a more sophisticated understanding of the role of cooperation vs. competition in evolution. This part you have rather missed, even if it is arguably oversold. Still, at some level I would say it is incontrovertible that cooperation plays a role in natural selection, if one had to score it against competition I have no idea how it would fare, but the point is nevertheless well taken at some level.

    The second purpose is to encourage humans to be more cooperative, with each other and their environment. You have argued that there is no logical connection to the way evolution has transpired and how humans should act, but the article never said that there should be. It merely said that some who made that connection used it as a way to support the dog-eat-dog competitive environment of the Western world (more and more each day from what I've seen: Enron, Big Oil, anti-democratic tactics, etc.). All you are saying is that you agree that this was a baseless connection, but for different reasons. It is true that the article then attempts to make a connection between more cooperative-based evolution and more cooperation in human society, but the way it is written, no scientific connection is claimed. It is used as a literary device, pure and simple.

    Quote Originally Posted by Irishman
    Competition for resources - be that food, shelter, mates, or being preyed upon, is the mechanism of natural selection - it is the selection.
    It is precisely this claim that the article is attempting to refute, and therein lies its rhetorical value. It is not true that competition is selection; survival is selection. You have made the unconcious assumption that competition is survival, but the article is pointing out that often in the natural world, cooperation is survival!

    Quote Originally Posted by Irishman
    This is the purpose of the article, to push the author's utopian dream of a world of cooperation rather than competition, of selfless sharing instead of selfish greed, of group identity instead of "me-me-me".
    I suppose that any time someone makes a suggestion they hope might better humanity, someone can ridicule them by calling it "utopian". But the word utopia carries a connotation of being impossibly naive and unachievable. What part of cooperation sounds impossible and unachievable to you? If we have really become that jaded in the West, I would say it is confirmation of the article's view.

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    The author has misunderstood both evolution and the process of natural selection. His examples of Parliment and "collaboration" are not Social Darwinism, which is defined as: evolution by natural selection can be applied to human institutions, justifying one or more populations' use of social inequality, appearing as racism, religious fundamentalism, or the simple "march of progress". (example: We Indonesians have more population, guns and money than East Timor does- we are therefore better and can begin the baby massacre forthwith.)

    In reality, an ecosystem doesn't "collaborate" in this way. It only adjusts. If a given bamboo forest in China supplies 40 pandas with food, and then burns down, then pandas are forced to adjust. There's a simple axiom in biology that describes this: move, adapt, or die. It's cruel, and selfish, yet that's the way it's observed to work. The pandas can move to another forest, learn to eat another plant, or die of starvation. In another example, snowshoe hares don't TELL lynxes that their population levels are down- some lynx families simply won't eat enough to survive, or produce large litters.

    The author fails to understand Darwin's theory and even dismisses it:
    Darwin wasn't wrong about natural selection; in the light of modern science, his theories were simply incomplete. But that's no reason to continue claiming today that the primary mechanism of natural selection is direct competition between individuals for resources in other words, that aggressive competition is the real key to evolution.

    Imagine the difference if the prevailing world view mirrored the collaboration in nature, if people accepted that the way to get ahead is to pursue self-interest within the context of collaboration and co-operation.
    But he is in error. Species, and in most respects- individuals, ARE in fierce competition for resources, and do selfishly pursue self-interest as means for survival. If all species were as collaborative and altruistic in the fashion he states, no species ever would have gone extinct. But one equilibrium is traded for another; it never means either one was or is, "perfect".

    As for this statement:
    But today, there's no excuse for ignoring the constant communication, or sensing, among bacteria, among cells in the human body, and among organs and organisms as they adjust to accommodate ever-changing circumstances.
    This is a poorly worded, but accurate definition of homeostasis.

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    All I'm seeing is additional confirmation of the point of view of the article, that most people are so keyed into the concept of evolution as competition that are simply blind to the evidence that this is an overly narrow (and nonbeneficial) view. For example:
    Quote Originally Posted by Huevos Grandes
    In another example, snowshoe hares don't TELL lynxes that their population levels are down- some lynx families simply won't eat enough to survive, or produce large litters.
    Exactly-- if the food supply is down, the lynxes won't produce large litters. This is exactly the kind of sensing and cooperation that the article is talking about, but here is used as an example of brutal competition! The problem is that people are reading into the article a flavor of conscious communication and conscious cooperation, when in fact it is only cooperation in effect. A lynx doesn't think "I better have a smaller litter because I'll be adding to lynx starvation if I don't" the way humans might think about population control, they are just programmed to have smaller litters when food is scarce because it increases their survival chances. Nevertheless, the effect is cooperative-- smaller litters means less lynxes vying for food. The article never said that the cooperation was conscious, goodness, he's talking about bacteria a lot of the time! People are looking for what is wrong rather than what may be learned from this article's point of view.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hewhocaves
    I would quibble with the above phrase in only the slightest, because I know and agree with the point you are making - just the semantics bug me (i know, being pedantic gets on others' nerves as well.) While the stable ecosystem is not designed in any way, it's not also simply happenstance. Because of the nature of the system, a stable outcome is the inevitable result, given enough time. The important distinction to remember is that reality has no preference for one stable system over another.
    I'd like to point out that reality has no preference for stable ecosystems, either! In fact, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a truly stable ecosystem. The world is constantly changing, and everything in it is constantly adapting to those changes. There's no real equilibrium. Sure, the more stable configurations tend to last longer, but even those change pretty quickly.

    As an example, I went to California last summer, and visited a forest with some of the biggest trees I've ever seen. (Actually, it's the forest where they filmed the Ewok planet scenes for Return of the Jedi.) I remember thinking, "this place must be tens of thousands of years old." Imagine my surprise, then, when I did some reading on it later and discovered that that type of tree had only been there for a few hundred years. Even the most ancient-looking places in the world haven't been around all that long.

    Heck, entire ecosystems the world over change every spring and autumn, when birds start migrating. So in many places, there's no real stability even over the course of a year!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G
    Exactly-- if the food supply is down, the lynxes won't produce large litters. This is exactly the kind of sensing and cooperation that the article is talking about, but here is used as an example of brutal competition! The problem is that people are reading into the article a flavor of conscious communication and conscious cooperation, when in fact it is only cooperation in effect. A lynx doesn't think "I better have a smaller litter because I'll be adding to lynx starvation if I don't" the way humans might think about population control, they are just programmed to have smaller litters when food is scarce because it increases their survival chances. Nevertheless, the effect is cooperative-- smaller litters means less lynxes vying for food.
    This is NOT cooperation. Cooperation implies deliberate forethought. The lynxes have no CHOICE except to have smaller litters, because food is scarce and one or more cubs will die. The lynxes have the same number of cubs, but fewer survive, because resources are scarce. But if you are trying some sort of analogy that an entire ecosystem is some kind of organism, always in sync, always providing feedback to every part of it, then you fall into the same mistake the author did. Life is competition, and over time, some species will win, refocus, and prosper, while others fail to adapt, and die. There is nothing there that is telling of any altruistic cooperative effort.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G
    The article never said that the cooperation was conscious, goodness, he's talking about bacteria a lot of the time! People are looking for what is wrong rather than what may be learned from this article's point of view.
    He's talking about balance, yes. The balance isn't concious, but it also isn't cooperative, nor static. I get that the author is praising Nature for being so complex and "harmonious". But he says Darwin's theories are lacking, and as evidence states that competition isn't the driver. He proposes that some kind of striving for equilibrium is at work, instead. If one only looks at the end product as harmony, then the mechanism is still not understood.

    Quote Originally Posted by snarkophilus
    I'd like to point out that reality has no preference for stable ecosystems, either! In fact, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a truly stable ecosystem. The world is constantly changing, and everything in it is constantly adapting to those changes. There's no real equilibrium. Sure, the more stable configurations tend to last longer, but even those change pretty quickly.
    Bingo. +1, sir !

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    Quote Originally Posted by snarkophilus
    I'd like to point out that reality has no preference for stable ecosystems, either!
    Yes, they do. It's one of the criterion we ecologists use to evaluate ecosystem age. Note that this is different than environmental age. "Old ecosystems" can be readily delineated by the natural selection shift from environmental-driven adaptation towards that of biological-driven adaptation. This can be evaluated by analyzing the local food web, and measured via diversity analysis.


    In fact, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a truly stable ecosystem.
    "Old" ecosystems fit this bill. What we used to call "climax communities". Actually we still call them this. The two popular biomes are tropical coral reefs, and tropical rain forsts. The less popular one would be the deep sea benthos. I study that one!

    Ecosystems do not function in absolutes. So you are correct in stating that "truly stable" ecosystems do not exist. That would be silly. Back in the '60's there was some misconception of confusing "climax communities" in such contexts, but this has been knocked over the head for a long while. A climax community is very stable, but not the end-all.

    The world is constantly changing, and everything in it is constantly adapting to those changes. There's no real equilibrium. Sure, the more stable configurations tend to last longer, but even those change pretty quickly.
    On geological time scales, perhaps. Biologically-mediated ecosystems generally see little discernible change over time that can be observed at the environmental scale. Therefore for its inhabitants, their "world" isn't changing much at all.

    This is not to be confused with natural selection processes, however. Those are still well in force. The most spectacular lifeforms known come from "stable" ecosystems, but it takes those things a very long time to pop up. The environmental stability favors such "progressive" evolution. Ecologies dominated by physical processes typically do not get such favoring.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Huevos Grandes
    This is NOT cooperation. Cooperation implies deliberate forethought.
    Not in the way the article uses the word. This is very like the distinction between strong and weak Gaia. If you choose to hear something oversold in the word "cooperation", you will miss the essential point of the article. I propose that you will get more from the article if you read it again replacing "cooperate" with "act in a mutually beneficial way".

    Quote Originally Posted by Huevos Grandes
    The lynxes have the same number of cubs, but fewer survive, because resources are scarce.
    I thought you were claiming their litters are smaller. I don't know myself, I'm not a biologist, but I have heard things to that effect.

    Quote Originally Posted by Huevos Grandes
    Life is competition, and over time, some species will win, refocus, and prosper, while others fail to adapt, and die. There is nothing there that is telling of any altruistic cooperative effort.
    This is not a refutation of the article, it is merely a statement of contradiction. Indeed, it is the very attitude the article raises evidence to counter, if altruistic cooperation is judged on effect rather than conscious intent.

    Quote Originally Posted by Huevos Grandes
    He proposes that some kind of striving for equilibrium is at work, instead. If one only looks at the end product as harmony, then the mechanism is still not understood.
    I think the article is not trying to give a complete or balanced description of evolution, but is rather focusing on one overlooked aspect and making that particular case only. It is certainly guilty of overstating its perspective, but the need for focusing on that overlooked aspect is clear from many of the posts on this thread, in my view. Those posts are ironically making the article's point in the effort to negate it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G
    Not in the way the article uses the word. This is very like the distinction between strong and weak Gaia. If you choose to hear something oversold in the word "cooperation", you will miss the essential point of the article. I propose that you will get more from the article if you read it again replacing "cooperate" with "act in a mutually beneficial way".
    But that doesn't happen either ! The various bacteria, plants and animals don't conciously OR unconciously "act in a mutually beneficial way". 1. The various constituent organisms in a given ecosystem don't care if they upset the balance and over-consume, nor do they reap any benefit if another species in the ecosystem prospers or dies. 2. Success can't be measured by the outcome- some species may die as a result of others' success, and therefore the act of ALL clearly can be seen not to be beneficial to ALL. In the end, this is just brutal competition, simple and cruel. The Supreme Canuck introduced the only possible exceptions that prosper per the article author's assertion: symbionts and parasites.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G
    I thought you were claiming their litters are smaller. I don't know myself, I'm not a biologist, but I have heard things to that effect.
    No. Typical Lynx litters are 1-5 kittens (Canadian & Siberian), but 3-5 is common. Mothers typically are nutritionally healthy enough following their first viable mating year to produce the latter number. But lynx dens aren't safe from predators, and like all cats, lynx kittens are very susceptible to disease and early mortality. In a bust year of the hare-lynx cycle, one or two kittens may be all that survive.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G
    This is not a refutation of the article, it is merely a statement of contradiction. Indeed, it is the very attitude the article raises evidence to counter, if altruistic cooperation is judged on effect rather than conscious intent.
    Huh ? The author's argument is flawed because nature isn't altruistic cooperation OR conscious intent.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G
    I think the article is not trying to give a complete or balanced description of evolution, but is rather focusing on one overlooked aspect and making that particular case only. It is certainly guilty of overstating its perspective, but the need for focusing on that overlooked aspect is clear from many of the posts on this thread, in my view. Those posts are ironically making the article's point in the effort to negate it.
    How ? His basic premise is wrong. Where he's correct that life is a balancing act, with all parts communicating to each other, he's dead wrong that it's in the spirit of cooperation towards an mutually beneficial end goal. Life has only one common goal: survive, gather resources, procreate. The individual strategies might differ (sedentary photosynthesis, carnivorism, parasitism, defense, etc.), but no species cares about upsetting the balance (perhaps man is the only one here, but there are few examples), and all species would prefer a new balance, in which they are the victor. Zero Sum Gain.

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    The issue relates to the game-theory concept of Nash equilibrium. This is the equlibrium that nature tends to find when any deviation in strategy by a single player will worsen that player's result. Note this embeds a sense of cooperation, because other strategies by other players could reap even greater rewards for the first player if they deviate, but one must assume that none of the other players will so deviate, by the symmetry of the relationship. This relationship "symmetry" is probably the central concept of cooperation, that all players have an equal "stake" in the game and all their successes are interrelated. Note there is no requirement for conscious intent, and indeed each player is attempting to maximize their own benefit (I never disputed that idea), but maximizing one's own benefit when it is interrelated with others requires being responsive to what the others are doing. That is a loose but effective definition of cooperation. Perhaps the term "altruistic" is going too far-- that has the connotation of self-sacrifice. Altruism is an evolutionary ability that is connected to the benefit to a genome of having some of its individuals be willing to "jump on the grenade". Not a very "competitive" strategy, though! Examples would be honeybees that die when they sting. Apparently not all on this thread are aware that altruism appears as an inevitable part of "survival of the fittest". Cutthroat competition is only one aspect of the evolutionary process, this is the fundamental message of the article, and obviously from this thread it is a necessary and timely message.

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G
    Two words: Nash equilibrium.
    One word: Nonsense.

    The Nash Equilibrium has naught to do with a biological system in cooperative terms. Instead, individuals and species within an ecosystem *might change their strategy to FIT an equilibrium, not to plan it out. "The Prisoner's Dilemma" and "The Yossarian's Dilemma" examples bolster my point: one individual/species will generally always try to screw the other(s). Because plants and animals in a given ecosystem don't meet beforehand and determine who will be screwed (conditions almost invariably determine this, not species), the species involved do not care about the outcome, so long as their survival/success is assured.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G
    Note there is no requirement for conscious intent, and indeed each player is attempting to maximize their own benefit (I never disputed that idea), but maximizing one's own benefit when it is interrelated with others requires being responsive to what the others are doing. That is a loose but effective definition of cooperation.
    How is it "effective" ? Interrelated, hardly means the same thing. It's like saying that Me shooting You & your dog is the same as the two of us "cooperating together for our mutual long lives". The author presupposed a harmonious, if not conscious equilibrium. By omitting mention of random chance and extinction, it sounds like he's just nakedly praising the forethought of nature to be so adaptive. Big deal. Hooray Toronto Sun, but it's still junk science at best.

  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Huevos Grandes
    The Nash Equilibrium has naught to do with a biological system in cooperative terms. Instead, individuals and species within an ecosystem *might change their strategy to FIT an equilibrium, not to plan it out.
    Who said anything about "planning it out"? Read how I edited my previous post (I decided the "two words" approach was curt, and obviously it precipitated an even more curt response.) I submit that your understanding of evolution could benefit greatly by expanding your definition of the concept of cooperation to include processes that involve no "planning".

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Huevos Grandes
    ... the species involved do not care about the outcome, so long as their survival/success is assured.
    And yet they end up working in mutually beneficial ways. A bee is a plant's way of spreading pollen; a plant is a bee's way of getting nectar. Insects and plants have co-evolved for hundreds of millions of years, each trying to exploit the other to the hilt, and the result is a network of mutual benefit.

    I think the author of the original article was merely making the March of the Penguins mistake: suggesting that we should take a moral lesson from the blind workings of nature. It was a mistake when the social darwinists did it, and it's still a mistake when it's done in the name of "cooperation."

    Grant Hutchison

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