Discussion of group selection

Posted on February 21, 2010

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Due to my interest in the work of David Sloan Wilson, I have found myself on the edge of the group selection controversy. Without necessarily wanting to take a stance on the issue of whether such a phenomenon exists, I have found the issue of interest in itself. As luck would have it, some of the people with the most interesting things to say on the issue have participated in a debate organised by the London Evolutionary Research Network. The debate was video-taped and is now available on the net. If I were to have a position, it would probably be closest to that of Herbert Gintis, who argues for group selection. However, I thought that Samir Okasha’s talk was the most valuable in that it helped to clarify a couple of the main issues, i.e. the distinction between different kinds of group selection as well as the distinction between the level at which the causes are seen to operate and  the level as which the phenomenon can be analysed mathematically. In the end, it was Stuart West who said the thing which made me happiest – Don’t worry about this issue and keep doing your work. I’ll take his advice, using DS Wilson’s work on pro-sociality for my own research on superstition and religion, and only keeping an open eye for developments in the group selection debate.

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