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Collective Intelligence and Human Culture

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Examples of selfless behavior abound in nature.  Cells within an organization sacrifice themselves to prevent spread of infections, worker bees in hives sacrifice their right to reproduce, many female mammals will suckle one another’s offspring.  Human cooperation and collaboration cover vast areas of activity and behavior, often placing their own reproductive success on the line for the benefit of another individual.

Since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, biologists have struggled to reconcile evolution’s “selfishness” with the clear evidence of cooperation in nature.  The dominant view of evolution followed Tennyson’s description of nature as “red in tooth and claw.” Charles Darwin proposed evolution by natural selection in which individuals with desirable traits reproduce more than their peers and contribute more to the next generation.  He called this competition the “struggle for life most severe.” Evolution was commonly called “survival of the fittest.” It appeared logical that one should not help a rival and should even cheat to win.  Winning the game would be all that counts.

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