The Evolutionary Advantage of Cooperation

The present study asks how cooperation and consequently structure can emerge in many different evolutionary contexts.  Cooperation, here, is a persistent behavioral pattern of individual entities pooling and sharing resources. Examples are individual cells forming multicellular systems whose various parts pool and share nutrients; pack animals pooling and sharing prey; families firms, or modern nation states pooling and sharing financial resources. In these examples, each atomistic decision, at a point in time, of the better-off entity to cooperate poses a puzzle: the better-off entity will book an immediate net loss — why should it cooperate? For each example, specific explanations have been put forward. Here we point out a very general mechanism — a sufficient null model — whereby cooperation can evolve. The mechanism is based the following insight: natural growth processes tend to be multiplicative. In multiplicative growth, ergodicity is broken in such a way that fluctuations have a net-negative effect on the time-average growth rate, although they have no effect on the growth rate of the ensemble average. Pooling and sharing resources reduce fluctuations, which leaves ensemble averages unchanged but — contrary to common perception — increases the time-average growth rate for each cooperator.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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