Biological Evolution

NY Times on Martin Nowak: Cooperation is third fundamental element of evolution

By Howard Rheingold, 12 years 25 weeks ago.

This New York Times profile of Martin Nowak is not new, but it seems like a good place to start the reawakening of this blog. We've taken some time to move to a Drupal platform and are now recruiting bloggers. If you are interested in cooperation theory and want to blog, contact me via howard at rheingold dot com and I'll sign you up for our Google Group and/or grant blogging privileges here.

In recent papers, Dr. Nowak has argued that cooperation is one of the three basic principles of evolution. The other two are mutation and selection. On their own, mutation and selection can transform a species, giving rise to new traits like limbs and eyes. But cooperation is essential for life to evolve to a new level of organization. Single-celled protozoa had to cooperate to give rise to the first multicellular animals. Humans had to cooperate for complex societies to emerge.

“We see this principle everywhere in evolution where interesting things are happening,” Dr. Nowak said.

While cooperation may be central to evolution, however, it poses questions that are not easy to answer. How can competing individuals start to cooperate for the greater good? And how do they continue to cooperate in the face of exploitation? To answer these questions, Dr. Nowak plays games.