Language and Co-operation: Kin Selcetion and ‘Group’ Selection

A recent study has the potential to flare the ‘Is Group selection real?’ debates all over again.

As per the press release, it seems that when mutating robots were subjected to environmental pressures and evolution took place, then they evolved a communication system in all cases except the case where the selection was on individual level and the robots were not related.

In the case where robots were related to each other, a communication system evolved. This is interesting finding as the robots apparently have no way to detecting similarity or kinship; so the evolution of communication could only be on the basis of the fact that similarities in kinship led to their having a high probability of using the same sort of symbols to represent the words and a similar type of grammar. This could turn the kin selection on its face as most of the kin selection examples can now be farmed in terms of similarity or kinship endowing the people with similar shared propensities and thus for co-operation to emerge.

The fact that robots that underwent ‘group’ selection also evolved a communication system is a very fascinating finding that gives back the field of group selection some of its legitimacy and glamor. It has long been theorized that co-operation or altruism occurred in humans because of group selection; but there have been hardcore opponents to this theory who either explain group selection in terms of kinship; or provide alternate explanation involving retribution and punishment for social cheaters. The details of the paper are available here, and the the group selection did not involve punishment of cheaters or social loafers.

Also interesting is to note that in the population of robots that were subjected to individual selection , a primitive form of communication involving deception occurred.

This study has already led to an article relating this to evolution of language in humans. I believe human language evolved in an EEA that involved both Group/ kin selection as well as individual selection; that is why we sometimes use language for miscommunication. I am sure this study will fuel a lot of debate – especially in the Altruism and co-operation evolution blogosphere.

Update : The Panda’s thumb has a good article about similar emergence of co-operation in a different experimnet. Read it to get more in-depth analysis of co-operation ecolution.

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