Survival of the fittest? More like "friendliest," scientists argue in new book

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Glad to see new books in the genre. People have been trying to correct this mistake for over a century


So, the headline perpetuates the misunderstanding of the word ‘fitness,’ as Darwin and biologists use and understand it, which is what is complained of in the book. Interesting.


It is sad that so many people don’t seem to understand this, especially because all the mistaken interpretations actually make no sense if you think it through. I remember discussing this with my grandfather 30 years ago, and he just didn’t want to understand that. It appears that people in general are still none the wiser.


While it’s nice to be nice, it really does come down to viable copies of DNA (cf The Selfish Gene). So the first artificial step is to narrow the focus to just those organisms which are essential to making copies of your DNA: your own species. You have no evolutionary “friendly” for those you can’t mate with unless being friendly with them somehow attracts those you can mate with (“aww my doggy got its leash tangled with your doggy” or “come here food source, stay in my nice fenced in area”). Then one has to make a big focus narrowing to the last, oh, millennia or so of hominid existence, as for the vast amount of time our DNA has been been evolving there’s been no society in which friendliness could even be expressed to more than one or two random encounters. ah well, it’s nice to be nice even if it’s quite narrow focused.


I keep coming back to the metaphor of the dandelion vs the redwood. If your timeframe is limited to a single season, the dandelion might seem like the winner. It grows everyplace there’s torn up ground, it’s amazingly adaptable-throw one in water and it will adapt to be a water plant. Redwood seedlings can barely get started before a dandelion will shade them out.

But dandelions don’t know how to regulate their intake of nutrients. Weed and feed takes advantage of this by accelerating growth until the plant collapses. While a grass plant only take in as much nutrient as it can use.

Instead of “apex predators” proving their fitness, I see a bunch of out of control parasites, bloated from cheap oil and cheap labor, with no clue how to grow slowly, above the underbrush, establishing a new canopy like a redwood.

Climax communities don’t go it alone, they thrive because they co-evolve.


We have been group-social much longer than we’ve been distinctly human. All of the great apes, including us, chimps, gorillas, and especially bonobos have depended on groups for survival (very especially bonobos!) The canids are less pack animals than we are, and yet they have very group-oriented survival strategies.

You can compare the brain regions dedicated to social functions (hardwired recognition of facial expressions, big chunks for speech and language recognition, etc.) to get a hint. Given the huge burden placed on mothers by our ridiculously large infant head sizes, we are also much more dependent on groups support for pregnancy and infant care (other primates are too, but we carry it much, much farther.)

A human alone in the wild will not survive in the evolutionary sense. By the time a child gets anywhere near sexual maturity there’s a huge investment that the entire tribe has to make.


There are no humans outside of society- culture is kind of our thing. Our offspring can’t raise themselves- our partnership with dogs wasn’t about anything but surviving for both of us. And we wouldn’t exist without our partnerships wit mitochondria and gut bacteria.

The oversimplified and ridiculously grim view you presented can’t even explain why gay people exist.


Survival of the “fittest” is a tautology, since “fitness” is defined by survival. I think the bigger crime is continually attributing it to Darwin.


Gary Larsen has it right



Dandelions have a much greater range than redwoods - they’re a more successful species. Big doesn’t mean better or more successful. There’s many niches for organisms to fill.


A Vietnamese friend in college was one of the nicest people I’ve known. Great sense of humor, good natured, etc. He got himself and his family to the US by walking from Vietnam, through Cambodia, to a refugee camp in Thailand. I am sure he made it simply because he was the kind of person you would instinctively take a liking to and want to help out. If you are the kind of person a stranger would share a meal with, a neighbor would let you hide in their attic for a year, or someone would smuggle across the border in the trunk of their car, you’ll manage to survive. Guns and gold just get you robbed and executed.


Perhaps they are posting from Russia, where there are no gay people?


Are you implying that Putin takes a wide stance on the issue?


Or they can help you look out for predators, pick parasites out of your fur, are better at grabbing nutrients out of the soil or dozens of other ways different species can and do help each other.


Hell - they can just be good company and help you not to feel lonely. That we even feel lonely tells you something about the value of non-reproductive relationships to humans.


I have no doubt that, like his American Republican allies, he pitches a big tent


I’m guessing they’re more pup tents.


Or, you know, make up the biosphere that makes your very existence possible.


And now for our Moment of Pedantry. Dandilions are clonal, essentially parthenogenic organisms with essentially no genetic variation. This strategy has cropped up repeatedly through history, and is a recipe for incredibly rapid expansion and then equally rapid collapse. No variation, no way to adapt. Great short term results, miserable long term outlook.

Biological Thinking: Parthenogenesis and the Dandelion.

Oh, well, no one box for me. :frowning:

On topic, though, “fitness” is so poorly understood generally. In biology, it refers to best suited to the environment, not necessarily “best able to kick your ass.” Also, the theory of punctuated equilibrium makes “fitness” a dicey proposition at best. Dinosaurs were the “fittest” creatures on earth 1 second prior to the Chixulub meteor strike. One second after, not so much.