New studies show generosity and cooperation are both natural and intelligent

A new study shows a mathematical proof that generosity leads to evolutionary success.

Generosity leads to evolutionary success

Biologists offer a mathematically based explanation for why cooperation and generosity have evolved in nature [Credit: Web]

“Ever since Darwin,” Plotkin said, “biologists have been puzzled about why there is so much apparent cooperation, and even flat-out generosity and altruism, in nature.”

“When people act generously they feel it is almost instinctual, and indeed a large literature in evolutionary psychology shows that people derive happiness from being generous,” Plotkin said. “It’s not just in humans. Of course social insects behave this way, but even bacteria and viruses share gene products and behave in ways that can’t be described as anything but generous.”

“We find that in evolution, a population that encourages cooperation does well,” Stewart said. “To maintain cooperation over the long term, it is best to be generous.”

The old notion of “survival of the fittest” – which was not an idea put forth by Darwin by the way, but was the work of Herbert Spencer, who distorted Darwin’s ideas to create the ideology of social Darwnism – has now been shown to be wrong.

The great Russian biologist Peter Kropotkin amassed a mountain of evidence to show that cooperation and mutual aid are every bit as normal, natural and common in nature as competition and aggression, in his monumental work, Mutual Aid – the most important work in biology since Darwin. Since then, the evidence has only grown more conclusive that cooperation, empathy, generosity, reciprocity and mutual aid are natural, and common in nature and in human nature. (See also, Rifkin, The Empathic Civilization; Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom; and Joanna Macy, World As Lover, World As Self.)

 
In short, to love thy neighbour is not just virtuous and kind, it is the most intelligent thing to do. And what’s more, it is not at all utopian or wishful thinking to believe that a better world is possible.
 
The fact that a handful of egomaniacs and sociopaths have taken control of the world and are sowing extreme injustice, war, poverty, misery and ecological destruction, does not mean that this is the inevitable course for human beings or human society. We can and must change this. And the scientific evidence is showing that change – real change – is entirely in our power to create.
 
In fact, to overcome the worst aspects of human nature and create a society that is more just and more caring, would be to return more to our own true nature. Certainly greed, egotism, hatred and violence are no more natural than love, compassion, empathy and cooperation; and the science is showing that the latter are much more natural, and more pervasive in nature, as well as more evolutionarily intelligent and successful in the long run.
 
So yes, we can do better, and we can hope for better. And, as Arundhati Roy said, “A better world is not only possible – she is already being born.”
 
J. Todd Ring,
October 9, 2013

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