The “COOPERATION” Category is devoted to show that the evolution of Life on Earth has a direction. This direction is toward increasing the scale of cooperation among living processes. Also, the direction of evolution is toward increasing the adaptability of individuals and communities to better face the challenges of Life. The Butterfly-Community Open-Project is aiming to be the humanity step further in its evolution.
This article is compiled using texts from John Stewart’s book, Evolution’s Arrow
Everything we use in our everyday life is produced by the coordinated actions of many other people. Everything is the product of an immense network of cooperation. Not only is our physical life completely dependent on cooperation, so too is our mental life. Many people have contributed to the development of the ideas in our culture about how the world works, the place of humanity in it, what is right and wrong, how we should live our lives, how we should relate to others. Human society is a dynamic network of cooperative activity that inseparably interlinks our lives and our actions.
But it is not just that we are all totally dependent on the cooperation of those around us. We are also totally dependent on cooperation within us. We are composed of cooperative living processes. If the living processes that make up our bodies did not cooperate, we would die. Their cooperation is us. Each of us is an organization of about a million billion cells.
Cooperation is widespread because it has been able to defeat non-cooperation in evolutionary terms. The key to the success of cooperation is that combinations of individuals whose activities are coordinated can do things better than individuals, and can do things that individuals cannot:
1. One of the main ways in which cooperation enables things to be done better is through specialization and division of labor. In a cooperative organization, an individual does not have to do everything needed for survival. Instead, it can specialize in a particular task, performing the task not only for itself but also for others in the group. This lets the others specialize in other tasks for the group. The result is an inter-dependent organization in which key tasks are performed by individuals who are specially adapted and equipped to do them. A cooperative division of labor can enable living processes to function more efficiently. It can improve their ability to get food, to move, to fight, to solve problems, to understand how the world works, to use this knowledge for better adaptation, to evolve.
Whatever evolutionary challenges face a group of individuals, they can deal with them better using a cooperative division of labor. Wherever evolution has been able to harness the benefits of cooperation, we find specialization and inter-dependency that results from a division of labor.
2. But it is not only through a division of labor that cooperation provides advantages. Cooperation is also able to exploit the fact that combinations often have new features that their components do not: emergent properties.
Hydrogen and Oxygen produce water; nickel and chromium combined with steel produce stainless steel; bricks combined together in various ways can make a house, a bridge or some other useful structure. Individual bricks cannot. Combinations of cells in our bodies form tubes to carry blood or teeth that enable us to chew food and many other useful structures that individual cells cannot.
3. Cooperative combinations can also have significant evolutionary advantages because of their larger scale. Larger-scale organisms can have adaptations that are more complex. A larger-scale can provide power over smaller groups. Larger scale groups are better at defending and taking territory. Many animals combine in groups to chase off predators that would easily overpower a single individual. Predators such as lions and wolves that combine to hunt as groups are able to round up and kill larger and faster prey than they could as individuals. The ability to form larger-scale cooperative groups enables organisms to manage their environment over larger scales. Large human organizations can operate mines, build dams and establish communications networks of a scale unimaginable to small bands of earlier humans.
4. Cooperation can prevent the harmful effects of destructive competition. Non-cooperating individuals pursue their own interests even where this damages the interests of others. A population of such individuals will damage each other’s interests and all will loose.
The advantages of cooperation mean that a whole world of new adaptive opportunities is opened whenever living processes team up to form a cooperative organization. We can be sure that new evolutionary opportunities will be opened up as human organization expands to the scale of the Planet and beyond. We can be sure that by expanding the scale of our cooperative organization we will open up greater adaptive capabilities – this is what the fourth Frontier is all about.
The advantages of cooperation are general. They apply to cooperation between any living processes. They do not depend on the existence of any special local circumstances or conditions. Any organism can benefit from the evolution of suitable cooperative relationships between them. Whatever the evolutionary challenges faced by organisms, they can meet them more effectively through cooperation. The advantages of cooperation always drive progressive evolution: these advantages continue to apply no matter how large cooperative organization becomes. The advantages don’t cease once a cooperative organization reaches a particular scale. Further increases in cooperation will deliver further evolutionary advantages.
Currently, the potential benefits of cooperation are expanding the human organization to the planetary scale and beyond. No matter what the scale of cooperative organization, greater benefits will be achieved by further increases in scale. The humanity that cooperates harmoniously with planetary processes will have much greater adaptive capabilities and opportunities than humanity that is at war with its Planet and that is in war with itself. The potential benefits of cooperation can be expected to continue to drive increases in the scale of cooperative organization until the entire Planet is organized into a single cooperative organization of living processes.