SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed

SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed

by Martin Nowak, Roger Highfield
     
 

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“Exactly the message we need to counter the mythology of the ‘rugged individual’” (Bill Moyers, Progressive Reader).

Martin Nowak, one of the world’s experts on evolution and game theory, working here with bestselling science writer Roger Highfield, turns an important aspect of evolutionary theory on its head to explain

Overview

“Exactly the message we need to counter the mythology of the ‘rugged individual’” (Bill Moyers, Progressive Reader).

Martin Nowak, one of the world’s experts on evolution and game theory, working here with bestselling science writer Roger Highfield, turns an important aspect of evolutionary theory on its head to explain why cooperation, not competition, has always been the key to the evolution of complexity. In his first book written for a wide audience, this hugely influential scientist explains his cutting-edge research into the mysteries of cooperation, from the rise of multicellular life to Good Samaritans, and from cancer treatment to the success of large companies. With wit and clarity, and an eye to its huge implications, Nowak and Highfield make the case that cooperation, not competition, is the defining human trait. SuperCooperators will expand our understanding of evolution and provoke debate for years to come.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[Nowak’s] willingness to argue for group selection, a theory suggesting that evolution operates beyond the genetic level, reawakens old controversies – but he does so using innovative mathematical models, able to incorporate dynamism and uncertainty… Like other great controversialists, Mr. Nowak moves from decision matrices to emotive moral language…all politicians can draw inspiration and ideas from the intellectual resources of this exciting approach.”
Financial Times
Oren Harman
SuperCooperators…is an absorbing, accessible book about the power of mathematics. Unlike Darwin with his brine bottles and pigeon coops, Nowak aims to tackle the mysteries of nature with paper, pencil and computer. By looking at phenomena as diverse as H.I.V. infection and English irregular verbs, he has formally defined five distinct mechanisms that have helped give rise to cooperative behavior, from the first molecules that joined to self-replicate, to the first cells that formed multicellular organisms, all the way to human societies, which exhibit a degree of cooperation unmatched in all creation.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews

With New Scientist editor Highfield (The Science of Harry Potter, 2003, etc.), Nowak (Biology and Mathematics/Harvard Univ.; Evolutionary Dynamics, 2006, etc.) presents a panoramic view of the role of cooperation in the evolution.

Given the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection, what are we to make of cooperation and altruism? Natural selection, in a well-mixed population, favors the selfish, the cheater, the deceiver. As the author writes in this sweeping survey, cooperation has been with us since the dawn of man—indeed, perhaps before the dawn, in the prelife, when two complementary molecular sequences possibly catalyzed reactions. Nowak is a mathematical biologist, and his enthusiasm for numbers is extremely useful in his discussions of evolutionary theory. However, thankfully for the mathematically disinclined, there is little hard math here. What natural selection needs, writes the author, are mechanisms to encourage cooperation, to give it a competitive edge. The author delineates five such mechanisms: direct reciprocity (tit for tat), indirect reciprocity (influence of reputation), spatial selection, group selection (often manifested in tribal wars) and kin selection (often manifested in nepotism). All the mechanisms find their rationale when tried against cost-benefit analysis, wherein the combined cost must be less than the shared benefit. Nowak also brings many other theoretical models to bear—game theory, spatial games, phylogenetics, the haplodiploidy hypothesis and others—and he investigates them in a slightly formal voice that is unencumbered by equations, graphs or charts.

A fleshed-out, persuasive chronicle of the bright side—collective enterprise—of the evolutionary road.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781451626636
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
03/27/2012
Edition description:
Simon & Schuster
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
1,147,125
Product dimensions:
5.56(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Martin A. Nowak is a professor of biology and mathematics at Harvard University and director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. He established the first center in Theoretical Biology at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.
Roger Highfield is the editor of New Scientist magazine. He has written or coauthored six popular science books, two of which have been bestsellers.

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