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Survival of the fittest

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  • Survival of the fittest

    I was just reading a short article at the Live Science website titled This week on Live Science forums: AMA on friendliness and evolution which is in effect a review and promotion for the book Survival of the Friendliest by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods. Both authors appear to be qualified

    Woods is a research scientist as well as an award-winning author, journalist and member of the Hominoid Psychology Research Group. Hare is a professor in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University


    but I have a serious bone to pick with their premise

    ...questioning a fundamental assumption in the study of human evolution: What if the survival and progression of the human species is less reliant on fitness … and more on friendliness?


    They appear to have fallen into the mistaken belief that by "fittest" biologists mean the strongest, fastest, toughest, most aggressive etc. when in fact what they mean is anything that provides an organism a genetic advantage that allows them to have a better chance at mating and leaving progeny.

    This can be something that makes an organism faster or stronger but it can also be something like a change in the color of their skin, scales or fur blends in better with the terrain and are harder to detect (camouflage) meaning that they can hide better. For instance, group of mammals that gains a gene that causes their fur to have some white in it would have an advantage in concealing themselves in a cold, snowy environment whether they were the hunter or the hunted[1]. The same with a mutation that might give them thicker fur. As time went on the descendants that had more white in their fur (or thicker fur) than others of their species would have the advantage and out reproduce the others.

    And instead of meaning which organism is more aggressive which could very well mean that the organism gets in more situations that can get it killed and not living long enough to reproduce or to take care of their offspring after they reproduce resulting in their deaths, whereas being meeker might mean that the organism avoids conflict where possible and thus lives long enough to reproduce and leave more descendants than aggressive members of its species.

    Even with predators it could be that because they are smaller they don't need to kill as much or as often allowing them better odds at surviving and leaving more offspring. Likewise, a predator that has a mutation that allows it to safely digest rotting meat means it can scavenge which is usually safer than having to fight and kill your prey.

    So if there is something that causes an organism to be more co-operative, to be "friendlier" with other members of its species[2], and this leads to it having a better chance at surviving and leaving more offspring, then this is an example of "fitness" in the way biologists employ it.

    End of rant.






    1. Such a mutation would confer a disadvantage in hotter climates. Environment has a lot to do with whether a mutation is beneficial or detrimental (the vast majority of mutations are neutral -- but that is another story)

    2. This could range from co-operating with other members of your species to become more efficient hunters to sharing extra food with those who have none lessening the chance of starvation

    I'm always still in trouble again

    "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
    "Of course, human life begins at fertilization thatís not the argument." --Tassman

  • #2
    Yeah, looks like they really dropped the ball on this one. I followed the link you gave and ended up on a discussion of the article where you can ask questions of the pair. One of the last entries is pointing out the same things you did above, that the concept of "fitness" was either misunderstood or misrepresented. After that the thread was locked.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by HMS_Beagle View Post
      Yeah, looks like they really dropped the ball on this one. I followed the link you gave and ended up on a discussion of the article where you can ask questions of the pair. One of the last entries is pointing out the same things you did above, that the concept of "fitness" was either misunderstood or misrepresented. After that the thread was locked.
      It appears that the discussion was only open for a week (hence the "This Week on Live Science Forums") which likely ended last Friday given the date of the article.

      I'm always still in trouble again

      "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
      "Of course, human life begins at fertilization thatís not the argument." --Tassman

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by HMS_Beagle View Post
        Yeah, looks like they really dropped the ball on this one. I followed the link you gave and ended up on a discussion of the article where you can ask questions of the pair. One of the last entries is pointing out the same things you did above, that the concept of "fitness" was either misunderstood or misrepresented. After that the thread was locked.
        Posts came in until Friday, but they stopped responding to questions on Tuesday. The post that included the distinction between fitness and strength was on Thursday, and wasn't directed toward the authors, either.

        https://forums.livescience.com/threa...42/#post-15818

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Juvenal View Post

          Posts came in until Friday, but they stopped responding to questions on Tuesday. The post that included the distinction between fitness and strength was on Thursday, and wasn't directed toward the authors, either.

          https://forums.livescience.com/threa...42/#post-15818
          I would have liked to have seen them respond and also would have posted most of what I wrote here if it had still been open.

          I'm always still in trouble again

          "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
          "Of course, human life begins at fertilization thatís not the argument." --Tassman

          Comment


          • #6
            I should note that Darwin did not coin the term "Survival of the Fittest" but rather it came from the Social Darwinist and philosopher Herbert Spencer in his Principles of Biology. It became popular and Darwin included it in his fifth edition of On the Origin of Species written ten years after the first edition at the encouragement of Alfred Wallace (the oft forgotten co-founder of the Theory of Evolution) as an alternative term or synonym for "Natural selection" because the latter felt that it personified nature as "selecting."

            That he meant it as a synonym can be seen how he used it in that edition:

            This preservation of favourable variations, and the destruction of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest.


            As the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould put it, by fittest Darwin meant "better adapted for the immediate, local environment", not the strongest, fastest, smartest etc.

            That this was indeed how he meant it and not how it is often used or misused is also evidenced by how he argued against such ideas. For instance, in his Descent of Man while discussing the concept of sympathy he wrote

            ...for those communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.


            Later in the same work Darwin wrote...

            As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races


            ...effectively linking the success of human evolution to the evolution of sympathy. And even further in he writes about "the almost ever-present instinct of sympathy"

            As the prominent psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of California, Paul Ekman explained, what Darwin called sympathy would "today would be termed empathy, altruism, or compassion."

            So, it is against the misunderstanding of what is meant by "survival of the fittest" that Hare and Woods disagree with (along with virtually every biologist in the world) and not what was meant when Darwin agreed to adopt the term.
            Last edited by rogue06; 11-28-2020, 03:53 PM.

            I'm always still in trouble again

            "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
            "Of course, human life begins at fertilization thatís not the argument." --Tassman

            Comment

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