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I have explained how the idea of selection at the level of the gene led me to the idea that the phenotype of relational genes consisting of nothing but mutual motivations could coordinate the behavior two or more individuals. Through replication and evolution by natural selection, these motivations accreted into a singular force of will, thereby attaining the attributes of life as a spiritual being. What are the implications of such a form of life actually assuming the mantle of authority to such an extent that the primary locus of evolution shifted from the individual to the relationships between individuals?
The major milestones of evolution can be looked upon as a progression of simpler life forms combining to assemble into ever more complexly compounded forms: from DNA, to the complex (eukaryotic) cell, to groups of cells forming individual organisms, and finally to groups of individuals forming hominin group-organisms. However, once the driving force of evolution starts to reside in the generic spiritual realm of relationships between individuals, the edges of the organism over which the cohering influence of this authoritative being presides begin to blur.
The monogamous family drawn together by kin selection would become the nodal centers of this new being, radiating out through extended families by intergroup marriage. However, the hominin force of authority is independent of these kinship ties. The size of functioning early hominin groups was limited by the need for constant visual and auditory contact necessary for coordination by their new form of communication (language). However, this new human, essentially relational creature would have been characterized by extraordinary gregariousness between all of its constituents because the spiritual authority that rules them is not limited to the functional group. The spiritual being that animates this new Tribe presides over a fractal creature. What on earth is that?
A good place to start with any notion is to strip it down to numbers to see if it passes muster in the temple of abstraction. George Price was an American genius who was trained as a chemist. He worked for IBM before he moved to Great Britain after illness and divorce to start a new life. After reading William Hamilton’s paper on kin selection, with no training in population genetics or statistics, Price derived the celebrated Price Equation, which mathematically proved it was possible that evolution could proceed simultaneously at the level of genes, individuals, groups and, most notably for us, at the level of groups of groups and beyond to entire lineages and biological families like our own Hominin Tribe. William Hamilton immediately recognized that his notion of selection at the level of genes in kin selection was but one example of a far more general principle in evolution.(1)
The Price equation opened the theoretical door to conceive of selection occurring not only at the level of groups but at the level of subgroups within groups, and of groups of groups, all the way up the Linnaean taxonomic ladder. Remaining in the Platonic realm of logical possibility, what would be the effect if a force of group selection suddenly arose that was so powerful that it shifted the power balance of the opposing vectors between all these levels, which had previously been dominated by the level of the individual, decisively in favor of groups? Because this group force would apply to all levels of groups, might not all the different levels self-organize into nested Russian dolls? Would not each layer become the “organs” of a new kind of organism? At each and every level, the singular intention would be projected to the group below to not tolerate behavior that was not solely for-the-good-of-the-subgroup, group, or group of groups, whichever the case might be.
Could not something like this have happened when cells organized into organisms and in the eventual evolution of brains to coordinate their activity? Brains evolved to organize the behavior of their organisms by the selection of ever more complex successful behaviors progressively nesting them down into hierarchies of automatic behavioral algorithms. Now the human organism would similarly organize the behavior of many brains into the coordination of “action hierarchies” in the teamwork of survival.
In 2005, Zhou, et al. published a paper about modern humans (with Dunbar as one of the co-authors) entitled “Discrete hierarchical organization of social group sizes.” In it, they point out that relationships (family, levels of friends, Christmas card lists, etc.) actually occur in nested groups with a “scaling factor” of about 3. The clearest example is the military organization of “…squads ca. 10–15 soldiers, platoons (of three sections, ca. 35), companies (3–4 platoons, ca. 120–150), battalions (usually 3–4 companies plus support units, ca. 550–800), regiments (or brigades) (usually three battalions, plus support, ca. 2500), divisions (usually three regiments) and corps (2–3 divisions). In the paper, this nested organization was hypothesized to support Dunbar’s original calculation that the Homo sapiens brain is designed to keep track of 150 individuals, i.e.: a company. 150 might be the maximum size that can be sufficiently coordinated by spoken language alone (without horses, written messages, etc.)
Then in 2007, M. J. Hamilton, et al. published a paper entitled, “The complex structure of hunter–gatherer social networks,” in which they analyzed similar de facto groupings of 1189 social groups in 339 foraging societies from diverse cultures and locations. They similarly found a common ratio in the size of nested groups (a property called “fractal”(2), but this time it was not 3 but 4. Hamilton hypothesizes that nested group size ratio of 4 relates to the size of a nuclear family of 4 in a stable population which is exactly replacing itself (two parents and two children). He then makes the supposition that the nuclear family really behaves as a single individual so that it is natural that families would associate into groups that are multiples of 4. However, at this point, he reverts to the current paradigm of kin selection and the “you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours” of trade as the two main cohesive forces in the system:
Cohesive forces in hunter-gatherer groups include kin selection due to genetic relatedness, sharing of non-genetic information and exchange of material resources. There are clear cohesive forces within families and wider kin relations, but there are also cohesive forces that extend to larger groups at higher levels of the societal hierarchy. These include exchange of marriage partners so as to avoid inbreeding, communication of information about social and environmental conditions, and exchange of material resources through trade and commerce.
The main significance of these two articles is to redefine the idea of the operational group in evolution by group selection. The Narrative’s proposition is that with the mixing of migration in pre-modern human Homo hominins, groups and de facto subgroups within groups progressively become tucked into ever larger nested groups within groups, over time loosely aggregating all the way up into a single species. (3) The lowest group and subgroup levels amounted to the “cells” of a gigantic organism: the force of authority imposed justice over the primeval impulses of the Darwinian struggle, and when justice failed, that small nested segment of the organism fragmented, sloughed off, and was left behind. The force of justice, which was constantly being tested and renewed, relentlessly pressed down upon the ever latent atavistic, divisive impulses from below.
So, the Narrative portrays the life of pre-human hominins as continuously engaged in a struggle for justice, in order to maintain the morality that preserved the closeness of their coordination, their sole adaptive advantage. It has been the good guys against the bad guys, and if the bad guys won, they perished. However the inherency of evil persisted and will continue to persist just as the latency of cancer will continue to lurk within our body’s every living cell.
1) Perhaps because George Price had mathematically proven that genuine kindness could naturally evolve (group selection), he converted to Christianity and gave away all of his worldly goods. Later he committed suicide, probably in a state of psychosis. (The Price of Altruism, by Orin Harman (2011)
2) I have implied that the concept of fractal pertains only to nested structures, but it actually refers to the “scale invariance” of structures that need not be nested, for example the branching of a tree can be fractal.
3) Fossils from Dmanisi in Western Asia (Lordkipanidze et al.–2013) suggest that early Homo species might even be variations of a single species. Recent studies by Vernot & Akey (2014) and Prüfer et al.(2014) have demonstrated, in the course of migrating out of Africa some 60,000 years ago, that modern humans interbred with Neanderthals. Present Europeans and East Asians have inherited ~1 to 3% of their genomes from Neanderthals. However both studies agree that this hybridization brought costs in the ability of their offspring to reproduce indicating that Neanderthals were on the cusp of becoming a reproductively isolated species.
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