Group Selection

Nick Rose (
Mon, 15 Feb 1999 11:51:02 -0500 (EST)

From: Nick Rose <>
To: JOM-EMIT Discussion List <>
Subject: Group Selection
Date: Mon, 15 Feb 1999 11:51:02 -0500 (EST)

I was reading Wilson and Sober's group selection argument
and it set me wondering...

Wilson and Sober argue (and this is an impoverished
summary) that group selection occurs in biological
evolution when there is little or no differences in fitness
between individuals within a group - at which point the
group can act as the vehicle for the purposes of
identifying the level of selection occurring.

This seems a very reasonable kind of group selection to me
- and not at all like the bad old kind of group selection.
However, Wilson and Sober go on to give an example of the
Hutterites - whom they claim live in a sufficiently
'bee-hive' like way for selection to occur at the level of
the group rather than the individual. The group acts like
an 'organism'. They claim this explains why you see
more altruism than you would perhaps expect. They also
suggest how the various social rules serve to minimise
within group variation in fitness.

This would, to me at least, appear to undermine some of the
'religions as memeplexes' arguments. Perhaps these
cultural rules are not biologically independant,
virus-like, bits of culture - but biologically dependant
bits of culture which serve to minimise within group
differences in fitness. Does 'new' group selection theory
undermine our 'gold mine' of memetic examples? (that both
Aaron and Richard appear to rely upon a lot).

I don't necessarily buy the Hutterites example (well, if
honest, I don't) - but it's an interesting (I hope)
sceptical point. Perhaps, as Dawkins suggests we are
better off burying the vehicle altogether...

Ref: Wilson & Sober (1994) Reintroducing group selection
to the human behavioral sciences. Behavioral and Brain
Sciences. Dec; Vol 17(4): 585-654

As a seperate aside - would the illusion of Self count as a
memetic 'organism'? Hmm.... ;)


Nick Rose
"University of the West of England"

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