Levels of cooperation

[ 25/January/22 ]

Hi Duane,

There has to be a degree of guess work in some of this, because there are no fossils or records, and I’d say we are at levels 8 and above.

Level 1 was RNAs getting together to build proteins.
Level 2 was proteins creating metabolism.
Level 3 was getting it all together with lipids into cells.
Level 4 was nucleating cells, and getting mitochondria and chloroplasts.
Level 5 was cells getting together and differentiating into organs.
Level 6 was sociality in animals.
Level 7 was us using language to pass on information.
Level 8 was getting cooperation beyond Dunbar’s number.
Level 9 is starting to get abstract and too complex for a simple sentence. I think I may have detected level 15 in operation.

Sure, a lot of evolution has to happen before it could get to us.

And certainly competition has kept many organisms at some particular level; and new levels can only emerge through cooperation.

Within each level there can certainly be competition, and to a degree between levels in some context.

And clearly, there can be contexts where there is no competition.

Evolution is not necessarily about competition, and it often is.

What it is necessarily about is the differential survival of variants. That often does involve some degrees of competition, and not always.

The emergence of every level of cooperation had to happen in an environment that was, at least for some reasonably long period of time, essentially devoid of competition. Environments where factors other than competition kept the populations well within the carrying capacity, or where some external threat required cooperation to a degree that overwhelmed any advantage gained from competition.

Every new level of cooperation allows for the emergence of new levels of structure, Maintaining each level of structure associated with those new levels of cooperation requires having sets of systems for maintaining cooperation, and removing “cheats”.

At higher levels those systems necessarily become something of an evolving ecosystem in themselves.

And we do seem to be part of the most complex system that evolution has yet produced, by at least an order of magnitude. And even “simple” cells are seriously complex.

So yeah – evolution is complex, and seems to have been going on for something approaching 4 billion years on this planet. And we can now write symbols like these, that can convey multiple levels of meaning between individuals (though don’t necessarily do so).

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) with reasonable security, tools, resources and degrees of freedom, and reasonable examples of the natural environment; and that is going to demand responsibility from all of us - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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