Are Eusocial?


Strictly speaking you are since you live in a society that practices, more or less, altruistic behavior. But how that behavior has evolved has been the subject of lively debate over the past century, and in his new book, famed entomologist E.O. Wilson has changed his mind about the prevailing view, which relies on relatedness, or kinship, for an explanation.

Kin exhibit self-sacrificing behavior so that genetic material from other surviving group members will make it to the next generation.

Wilson, on the other hand, now argues that natural selection is operative at the group level, which leads him to different conclusion. Boston Globe:

Kin selection is a scientific crutch, a 'very seductive' idea that 'doesn't tell us anything decisive about how altruism originated,' Wilson says. He adds: 'We need a whole new way of explaining things.'

He has one. Wilson posits that altruism evolved due more to ecological circumstances than the influence of genes.

In his new book 'The Superorganism,' out today, Wilson and his co-author, Bert Holldobler, argue that natural selection operates on the group, not just the gene.

On that view, because highly developed communications methods also contribute to a sort of collective intelligence, kinship becomes a consequence, not a cause, of the group's evolutionary development. This contrasts with the view of many like "The Selfish Gene" author Richard Dawkins, who argue that natural selection is only operative at the "unit," or genetic, level.

Wired reviews the book here. If you're interested, University of Louisville professor Lee Dugatkin also discussed the rise of altruism last September in Louisville.