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Collective Intelligence and Human Culture

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Any observation of the many species of animals reveals a social nature.  Indeed, it is unusual to see many animals apart from their group unless they are lost, injured, or ill.  We have many English words to describe the grouping of animals; a covey of quail, a pod of whales, a herd of sheep, a pride of lions, a pack of wolves, an exaltation of larks.  It is a fundamental part of animal nature to be connected, to live in relationship.  Researchers are continuously finding more evidence of social networks in what would have been considered unlikely species.  Sharks have a reputation for being ruthless solitary predators, but a new study published in Animal Behavior  documents how one population of blacktip reef sharks is actually organized into four communities and two sub-communities.  The research shows for the first time that adults of a reef-associated shark species form stable, long-term social bonds. Another study of timber rattlesnakes, long thought to be solitary creatures, has suggested that they may live a more complex social life.  For instance, rattlesnakes in captivity preferentially associate with relatives and use the sense of their kin to guide them on where to forage and dwell.   It seems likely that we shall find more instances of kinship among other species as research continues.

Over the past three decades researchers have developed a growing body of theory and evidence that cooperation has been a powerful force in evolution.  Martin A.  Nowak in an article entitled, “Why We Help” in Scientific American writes, “my work indicates that instead of opposing competition, cooperation has operated alongside it from the get-go to shape the evolution of life on earth, from the first cells to Homo sapiens.  Life is therefore not just a struggle for survival–it is also, one might say, a snuggle for survival.  And in no case has the evolutionary influence of cooperation been more profoundly felt than in humans.”

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