Natural Selection on Groups
(Professor Carl Bajema speaks often at the Science Cafe events in Grand
Rapids. One of his favorite propositions is that group selection has no
Many biologists and other analysts have written on group selection. Some
biologists resist the concept. I propose to use the tools of careful
categorical analysis and nonlinear mathematics that transfer well to
V. C. Wynne-Edwards and Howard K. Bloom have written on different
aspects of group selection. Whereas Richard Dawkins and Professor Carl
Bajema speak against the notion.
Mathematical biologists have employed a simplified mathematical argument
to “disprove” group selection, but I, and some others according to
Wikipedia, object to the applicability of that mathematics. It seems to
me that the mathematics in question discounts the selection of
specialized behavior and capabilities for individuals - this selection
being based in part on the benefits of “economic trade” for mutual
“profit”. Trading, whether opportunistic or deriving from
specialization, can often be nonlinear in effect - not a zero sum game.
But inept mathematics can average over or not account for the effect.
So the specialization of individuals to the point of distinct bell
curves would be suggestive evidence for group selection. This sort of
evidence is abundant, it seems to me, going beyond the accidental
discreteness of genetic inheritance. Consider first of all the
“youthfulness” of offspring and the “elderlyness” of parents that has
existed since the age of bacteria. Think of the two specialized sexes
that are prevalent throughout the plant and animal kingdoms of life on
earth. Then there are symbioses, inter-species signaling and ecosystems
to be considered with careful categorical analysis.
I like to think that some of the variant temperaments exhibited by human
beings are selected to the point of distinct bell curves due to the
economic benefit of specialization. Consider the nature of these human
categories: male and female psychologies; The restless and footloose;
the gifted - excitable and independent; the flaky, impulsive and moody;
the anxious and ritualists; bullies and tribalists; and scavengers and
Howard K. Bloom wrote about a kind of command economy that is mandated
by instinct and selected for by the efficiency of specialization.
Wynne-Edwards wrote of selection due to the economic profit that comes
from efficiencies of scale and sharing of a minimum investment by a
group. Defense of territory and a shared mead hall are examples. (A
minimum investment is definitely nonlinear in effect.) There is the
mutual and nonlinear profit available from social insurance. Hunting
bands that share the food brought back to camp survive longer. There is
selection for individuals that are compatible with groups, and for those
who can specialize. There are economies of scale in language and lore.
Professor Bajema protests that kin selection is a covering concept that
cancels the notion of group selection, and that “helping behavior”
yields the only benefit for kin gathering into groups. But kin selection
is not an exclusion of group selection, nor is it orthogonally
independent. So, kin selection and group selection must overlap. And
isn’t there sufficient evidence of group selection that is not covered
by the rubric of kin selection?
Michael J. Burns