Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Is violence part of natural selection?

I can see that a whole lot of folks might have issues with this, from creationists to "the earth is a being" people and "biocentrists." From the NY Times:

...Most days the male chimps [in Ngogo Ngogo, in Uganda’s Kibale National Park]  behave a lot like frat boys, making a lot of noise or beating each other up. But once every 10 to 14 days, they do something more adult and cooperative: they wage war....

When the enemy is encountered, the patrol’s reaction depends on its assessment of the opposing force. If they seem to be outnumbered, members of the patrol will break file and bolt back to home territory. But if a single chimp has wandered into their path, they will attack. Enemy males will be held down, then bitten and battered to death. Females are usually let go, but their babies will be eaten. 

These killings have a purpose, but one that did not emerge until after Ngogo chimps’ patrols had been tracked and cataloged for 10 years. The Ngogo group has about 150 chimps and is particularly large, about three times the usual size. And its size makes it unusually aggressive. Its males directed most of their patrols against a chimp group that lived in a region to the northeast of their territory...

 The objective of the 10-year campaign was clearly to capture territory, the researchers concluded. The Ngogo males could control more fruit trees, their females would have more to eat and so would reproduce faster, and the group would grow larger, stronger and more likely to survive. The chimps’ waging of war is thus “adaptive,” Dr. Mitani and his colleagues concluded, meaning that natural selection has wired the behavior into the chimps’ neural circuitry because it promotes their survival.

 This quite likely is true; natural selection is dumb,  and only maximizes simple objectives, i.e., propagation of genetic sequences.  In this way it is also amoral.  I  know there are all kinds of folks who want all kinds of woo superimposed on the algorithmic structure in which we came to be. I would include in this certain evolutionary biologists  who would want to deny the the stochastic - yes, random - reset buttons that occasionally it species, e.g. meteors crashing into  the earth and what -not, because it messes up their narrative with creationists.  (I never seem to get a response from them when I bring up this issue on their blogs...oh well.)

We do need to go against our evolutionary machinery  in order to survive, evidently.  That is our lot.

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