Wilson/Sober on Group Selection: BBS Call for Commentators

Stevan Harnad (harnad@PRINCETON.EDU)
Sat, 15 Jan 1994 19:03:27 EST

Below is the abstract of a forthcoming target article by:

David Sloan Wilson & Elliott Sober

This article has been accepted for publication in Behavioral and Brain
Sciences (BBS), an international, interdisciplinary journal providing
Open Peer Commentary on important and controversial current research in
the biobehavioral and cognitive sciences.

Commentators must be current BBS Associates or nominated by a current
BBS Associate. To be considered as a commentator for this article, to
suggest other appropriate commentators, or for information about how to
become a BBS Associate, please send email to:

harnad@clarity.princeton.edu or harnad@pucc.bitnet or write to:
BBS, 20 Nassau Street, #240, Princeton NJ 08542 [tel: 609-921-7771]

To help us put together a balanced list of commentators, please give
some indication of the aspects of the topic on which you would bring
your areas of expertise to bear if you were selected as a commentator.
An electronic draft of the full text is available for inspection by
anonymous ftp according to the instructions that follow after the abstract.


David Sloan Wilson
Department of Biological Sciences
State University of New York at Binghamton
Binghamton New York 13902-6000

Elliott Sober
Department of Philosophy
University of Wisconsin
5185 Helen C. White Hall
600 North Park Street
Madison Wisconsin 53706

KEYWORDS: culture; evolution; group selection; kin selection;
inclusive fitness; natural selection; reciprocity; social
organization; units of selection.

ABSTRACT: In both biology and the human sciences, social groups are
sometimes treated as adaptive units whose organization cannot be
reduced to individual interactions. This group-level view is
opposed by a more individualistic view that treats social
organization as a byproduct of self-interest. According to
biologists, group-level adaptations can evolve only by a process of
natural selection at the group level. During the 1960's and 70's
most biologists rejected group selection as an important
evolutionary force but a positive literature began to grow during
the 70's and is rapidly expanding today. We review this recent
literature and its implications for human evolutionary biology. We
show that the rejection of group selection was based on a misplaced
emphasis on genes as "replicators" which is in fact irrelevant to
the question of whether groups can be like individuals in their
functional organization. The fundamental question is whether social
groups and other higher-level entities can be "vehicles" of
selection. When this elementary fact is recognized, group selection
emerges as an important force in nature and ostensible
alternatives, such as kin selection and reciprocity, reappear as
special cases of group selection. The result is a unified theory of
natural selection that operates on a nested hierarchy of units.

The vehicle-based theory makes it clear that group selection is an
important force to consider in human evolution. Humans can
facultatively span the full range from self-interested individuals
to "organs" of group-level "organisms." Human behavior not only
reflects the balance between levels of selection but it can also
alter the balance through the construction of social structures
that have the effect of reducing fitness differences within groups,
concentrating natural selection (and functional organization) at
the group level. These social structures and the cognitive
abilities that produce them allow group selection to be important
even among large groups of unrelated individuals.

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