Evolution Will Kill Off Selfish People

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Evolution Will Kill Off Selfish People

Last year, scientists published a study claiming that evolution favors the selfish, but a new study says the trait will disappear.

Remember that jerk who yanked the last doughnut and you spent the rest of the day in your cubicle plotting glorious, glorious revenge? Well, pat yourself on the back and consider it a job well done. As it turns out, evolution's got your back and its revenge will be deadly.

Evolutionary biologists at Michigan State University used high-powered computers to run game theory simulations in order to test the theory that evolution favors the selfish. One such game is known as the prisoner's dilemma, which is often used to study cooperation. In the game, two people have been arrested after committing crimes, probably involving diamonds and bricks of gold. Each person is offered a deal that would have even Bonnie and Clyde reconsidering their friendship: Rat the other person out and you'll go free, but your friend will spend six months in jail. If you both tattle, you will each spend three months in jail awkwardly trying to avoid one another. If mum's the word, you will both stay in jail for just one month. If the prisoners can talk to one another, they'll usually opt for the one-month plan. If not, they'll usually rat out the other person.

However, the selfish strategy, known as zero-determinant strategy, only works for a little while. After the zero-determinant players have eliminated their cooperative, unselfish partners, the theory breaks down. "The only way ZD strategists could survive would be if they could recognize their opponents," co-author Arend Hintze, molecular and microbiology research associate, said. "And even if ZD strategists kept winning so that only ZD strategists were left, in the long run they would have to evolve away from being ZD and become more cooperative. So they wouldn't be ZD strategists anymore."

So, long story short. Selfish people win in the short term. But in the long term, you'll have the last laugh. After a few millenia have passed, that is.

Source:
Daily Mail, Discovery

Permalink

I thought the title said shellfish people...

anywho, evolution better work overtime because there's a lot of selfish dicks i want phased out of the human species already, starting with terrible customers and asshole CEOs.

I read that article, and while I'm not a sociologist or a geneticist, I have difficulty believing their claims.

Evolution stops working once a community starts to care for the weak and infirm. Selfish people in modern society are unlikely to be denied food and shelter so they will survive until breeding age. And given the shit relationships I've seen a lot of my friends in, selfish people will still be able to pass on their genetic code.

So, yeah, maybe there will be changes in society that will marginalize the selfish, but I find it highly unlikely that there will be a base, genetic change (ie evolution) in humanity unless some natural or man-made catastrophe puts the species on the brink of extinction.

I do wonder how many grants the researchers received during the course of their investigations.

MinionJoe:
I read that article, and while I'm not a sociologist or a geneticist, I have difficulty believing their claims.

Evolution stops working once a community starts to care for the weak and infirm. Selfish people in modern society are unlikely to be denied food and shelter so they will survive until breeding age. And given the shit relationships I've seen a lot of my friends in, selfish people will still be able to pass on their genetic code.

So, yeah, maybe there will be changes in society that will marginalize the selfish, but I find it highly unlikely that there will be a base, genetic change (ie evolution) in humanity unless some natural or man-made catastrophe puts the species on the brink of extinction.

I do wonder how many grants the researchers received during the course of their investigations.

thats the point. modern society is unsustainable and it doesnt take much for chaos to occur, whether war or disaster. the selfish work well in todays society because its built by them, intially in a disaster they do well claiming supplies, etc but eventually when groups band together they are marginalised

Trouble is that you first have to prove that selfishness is genetic and not a social construct, to show this theory to be valid.

Lauren Admire:
Evolution Will Kill Off Selfish People

No it won't, some selfish maniac will eventually get hold of some way to destroy the planet before his death and will do an "If I have to die, I'm taking everyone else with me!" moment wiping all the non selfish people out too.

...That's my funeral plan anyway.

iniudan:
Trouble is that you first have to prove that selfishness is genetic and not a social construct, to show this theory to be valid.

Selfishness is just part of basic genetic animal survival instinct, so it does exist in us on a genetic level. Not to say other instincts can't override it like parental instinct,- or community/social instincts, and not to say you can willingly ignore it because you can. But it is part of standard animal in-built-genetic behaviour.

Unless you are creationist that doesn't believe we evolved like the rest of the animals on the planet. Then you can claim we don't have it.

It's amazing how people of science can seem to misconstrue what evolution is and does. I'm a bit surprised they fell into this trap. Organisms evolve to match their environmental needs. This is of course taking the assumption that environment will not change to suit the selfish folks. They seem to talking in a definitive manner when there is so little that is definitive within the field. The other issue I have is that selfish people can only exist as a subset in a society where most people are cooperative (like human society is). One thing Evolution doesn't do is adhere to extremes. Life is way to complex for that.

Also, duh. Human beings are a social animal. We have the most complex social structure on the planet. We have a highly evolved division of labor which lends itself to not being selfish but being absolutely cooperative. I honestly wouldn't rely on a game theory simulation for this. There is so much evidence outside of a complex simulation that running simulations borders on useless.

But, what the heck. Lets pretend like they said something that hasn't been all but completely proven before they ran a simulation. "Yay, the suspicions of social and biological evolutionist for the last 50 or so years has been proven by game theory!"

PS. You'll have to excuse the tone of this. It kind makes me mad when I read current articles about information that has been theorized and basically proven for decades. I just feel that a game theory simulation doesn't contribute to the overall scientific basis of this.

iniudan:
Trouble is that you first have to prove that selfishness is genetic and not a social construct, to show this theory to be valid.

No, you don't. Evolution happens in multiple dimensions simultaneously. Social evolution effects how genetic phenotypes are expressed, and genetic evolution sculpts social changes at times. In biology it's called reciprocal causation. It's a common myth that genetics are everything. It's also a common myth that evolution is expressed in strictly genetic terms.

MinionJoe:

Evolution stops working once a community starts to care for the weak and infirm.

That is another common myth. Evolution never stops working. The path of evolution changes, but change is constant and occurring forever.

One of the article's sources of info is the Daily Mail... *sigh*

image

Selfishness is a social construct, i.e. it is not genetic. Therefore, evolution cannot affect it. What this study shows is that if the selfish people get rid of all the selfless people (an unlikely scenario in itself), in order for the species' society to survive and not throw the world into anarchic chaos, then some of the selfish would have to become selfless. That is not an evolution theory, but a social progress theory - and a bad one at that.

Couple things about this story:

Evolution is a study of what traits are passed down from one generation to the next...as such, isn't this study making the assumption that selfishness is an inherited trait and not the result of someone's personality and how they were raised/grew up?

Assuming that selfishness IS an inherited trait that's passed down from generation to generation, saying that the selfish people win in the short term but lose in the long term...doesn't that therefor mean that the process of evolution will ensure that EVERYONE becomes selfish?

And even if ZD strategists kept winning so that only ZD strategists were left, in the long run they would have to evolve away from being ZD and become more cooperative. So they wouldn't be ZD strategists anymore.

I'm just really having trouble following the logic here. If everyone's selfish, then that doesn't mean that people will suddenly have to start becoming more cooperative...it just means that everyone's selfish and the person who can get the most resources via being selfish wins out in the end. If selfishness is an inherited trait, that means that a selfish person won't look around them and say "Well everyone's selfish, so I should start trying to cooperate with these selfish people", it means they'll look around and say "Well everyone's selfish, so I need to be even MORE selfish if I hope to get ahead in life."

Sorry, I just find this study to be very flawed. From the premise that selfishness is an inherited trait that is subject to the process of evolution to the to the premise that even if it is, at some point the process of evolution will evolve selfishness out. The phrase "Survival of the Fittest" - often equated as a short way of describing evolution - implies selfish behavior being rewarded by evolution to begin with since selfishness ensures that you'll have more resources with which to survive, even if everyone around you thinks you're a total dick.

Edit: In reading some of the other comments, I'm glad to see that the general interpretation is "This is totally bunk." :P

The thing is, while they will eventually have to evolve away from selfish behaviour, they "kill off" all the non-selfish ones right now...

The most important thing about this article is that the driver of that double-parked Stang needs to be hunted down, tarred and feathered, and run out of town.

MinionJoe:
I read that article, and while I'm not a sociologist or a geneticist, I have difficulty believing their claims.

Evolution stops working once a community starts to care for the weak and infirm. Selfish people in modern society are unlikely to be denied food and shelter so they will survive until breeding age. And given the shit relationships I've seen a lot of my friends in, selfish people will still be able to pass on their genetic code.

So, yeah, maybe there will be changes in society that will marginalize the selfish, but I find it highly unlikely that there will be a base, genetic change (ie evolution) in humanity unless some natural or man-made catastrophe puts the species on the brink of extinction.

I do wonder how many grants the researchers received during the course of their investigations.

Also, any time a study claims it proved something using a computer simulation, you know the results are suspect. Computer simulations run based on parameters you program into them and, as a result, they only test within a limited set of parameters that don't resemble the real world. Furthermore, the kinds of scenarios they ran are even more limited and context specific.

Also, I'm pretty sure selfishness is one of those personality traits that's more nurture than nature, as well as being heavily influenced by environmental factors. No amount of evolution is going to completely rid the world of the trait.

Way too simplistic.

The clever selfish people find a way to make their selfishness a perceived social positive, by going into politics or corporate management. That way they get all the positives of being selfish destructive a-holes while still being viewed positively by the people they're parasitizing (they may do badly in general polls, but hardly anybody votes out 'their' politician).

If anything, this simulation just implies the selfish need to evolve to be more cunning parasites.

Being selfish in my opinion is not something that is passed down. It is something that is taught.
Either through whomever the kid looks up to, or through their own struggles. It could be a sensible as "Every man for themselves" where being kind often wounded you dead in the water.

On that note the truly selfish people play the game well. The kind of selfish the research displayed is the most common and most failed look at selfishness. One sided self gain, everybody out of the way.

The truly greedy people are also manipulators.
You "help" people so they will help you back. In time you will give them rewards here and there to thank them for letting you one up them so they never catch your rouse, but the lions share always goes to them.
The ones that get caught eventually just stopped playing the game right.

That's a pretty big leap from game theory to natural selection. Jerks and assholes breed every day, and they raise more jerks and assholes.

Plus the elimination of natural selection through preservation of the weak and stupid has already been mentioned. Just watch Idiocracy to see what's in our future.

Moth_Monk:
One of the article's sources of info is the Daily Mail... *sigh*

image

You sir win post of the day.

OT: If true, how do we speed up evolution?

flarty:

Moth_Monk:
One of the article's sources of info is the Daily Mail... *sigh*

image

You sir win post of the day.

OT: If true, how do we speed up evolution?

No wonder the quality of these "news" articles has been dropping like turds.

Isn't the iterated prisoner's dilemma kind of old news? Society hasn't killed off its defectors in ten thousand years, despite some fairly thorough attempts to. It's not going to do it now.

Some people think that even if ideally no one would steal or break the rules, in our society some people who break the rules can be a good thing, because sometimes the rules are themselves wrong. Selfishness is bad, but not everyone who performs action X is necessarily doing it out of completely selfish motives.

This is an interesting theory, but what about the bankers?

MinionJoe:
I read that article, and while I'm not a sociologist or a geneticist, I have difficulty believing their claims.

Evolution stops working once a community starts to care for the weak and infirm. Selfish people in modern society are unlikely to be denied food and shelter so they will survive until breeding age. And given the shit relationships I've seen a lot of my friends in, selfish people will still be able to pass on their genetic code.

So, yeah, maybe there will be changes in society that will marginalize the selfish, but I find it highly unlikely that there will be a base, genetic change (ie evolution) in humanity unless some natural or man-made catastrophe puts the species on the brink of extinction.

I do wonder how many grants the researchers received during the course of their investigations.

'Evolution stops working once a community starts to care for the weak and infirm'. Um, no, no it doesn't. What many people, including the you and author of this article, try to do is assume some kind of philosophical correlation with evolution and social darwinism. Evolution is literally just genetic alterations to adapt to change over successive generations, it does not 'stop working', it's just genetic change over time (actually it's a little more then that but genetic change is the 'evolution' most people refer to). If you want to talk about evolution in the context of game theory it's possible, but to say it's 'not working' has literally no meaning.

wombat_of_war:

thats the point. modern society is unsustainable and it doesnt take much for chaos to occur, whether war or disaster. the selfish work well in todays society because its built by them, intially in a disaster they do well claiming supplies, etc but eventually when groups band together they are marginalised

No, that's not the point at all. Once again, you're assuming a philosophical viewpoint to evolution, i.e. 'I think modern society is unsustainable, therefore evolution correlates this way and agree with me'. Not what evolution is. The only thing these scientists are suggesting is that 'zero sum' deductive reasoning may be a poor evolutionary adaptation. This is not suggesting that some or all selfish behaviour is inherently regressive, just that zero sum perspective may be in specific situations. You're also constructing a narrative based purely on human moralism. The things you present are moral problems, not evolutionary ones. Not to mention the fact that they're divided based on politics rather then actual self-interest. If a 'group who banded together and was marginalized' went and looted a store, then that would also be zero sum selfish action in specific conditions. If 'creating chaos through war or disaster' was an adaptive social change that would benefit the species in certain environments then it would have evolutionary potential. You both need to look up game theory and the actual definition of selfishness in terms of genetics.

TL:DR version: Evolution doesn't care about your morality or anyone else's. And don't try to use it to back up your philosophical/political viewpoints because it's an entirely amoral process.

Actually this is wrong. Altruism isn't an evolutionary stable strategy thus it can't be absolute. Let's say we have a population of altruists then we get one selfish renegade. He will reap enormous short term advantage over the altruistic individuals. In the example above with the prisoner's dilemma he would never go to prison while the altruist would always serve 6 months when grouped together.

The selfish individuals themselves won't be evolutionary stable either. The evolutionary stable strategy will usually favour a polymorphism in the case of selfish/non selfish. This has been proven both by observation and simulation on several occasions.

Altruism will be the best strategy on average, but it allows selfish individuals to gain too much advantage and will break down with time. The idea is beautiful, but it suggests that evolution favours long term over short term. Evolution doesn't work that way. Evolution doesn't "think ahead".

Now ignoring the fact that they tried to use evolution as a part of this it's entirely possible that human society might move towards a state like this because we are able to think ahead unlike evolution. We can actually plan ahead and increase our long term success at the cost of short term. The cynic in me doesn't consider this plausible though.

Yopaz:
Actually this is wrong. Altruism isn't an evolutionary stable strategy thus it can't be absolute. Let's say we have a population of altruists then we get one selfish renegade. He will reap enormous short term advantage over the altruistic individuals. In the example above with the prisoner's dilemma he would never go to prison while the altruist would always serve 6 months when grouped together.

The selfish individuals themselves won't be evolutionary stable either. The evolutionary stable strategy will usually favour a polymorphism in the case of selfish/non selfish. This has been proven both by observation and simulation on several occasions.

Altruism will be the best strategy on average, but it allows selfish individuals to gain too much advantage and will break down with time. The idea is beautiful, but it suggests that evolution favours long term over short term. Evolution doesn't work that way. Evolution doesn't "think ahead".

Now ignoring the fact that they tried to use evolution as a part of this it's entirely possible that human society might move towards a state like this because we are able to think ahead unlike evolution. We can actually plan ahead and increase our long term success at the cost of short term. The cynic in me doesn't consider this plausible though.

This dude's got the right idea. Situational conditions determine situational responses. Evolution is not some magical path that is all-knowing.

The study and its justification doesn't do much for me, but that picture...

Oh man, that picture. There is only one appropriate response:

image
(Police reported three dozen cheerful bystanders, yet no one claims to have seen who did it)

So...This was an experiment to confirm which Richard Dawkins discovered and confirmed? Am I missing something here? The selfish gene theory pretty much covers this topic from top to bottom.

Formica Archonis:
Isn't the iterated prisoner's dilemma kind of old news? Society hasn't killed off its defectors in ten thousand years, despite some fairly thorough attempts to. It's not going to do it now.

Some people think that even if ideally no one would steal or break the rules, in our society some people who break the rules can be a good thing, because sometimes the rules are themselves wrong. Selfishness is bad, but not everyone who performs action X is necessarily doing it out of completely selfish motives.

Just came to post the same thing. Since when is this news? I remember Douglas Hofstadter writing about the Robert Axelrod tournaments back in the mid-80's. It's been known for decades that Tit-For-Tat is the most robust strategy (give-or-take some complex variations which pretty much amount to the same thing) and that constant defection is hopeless.

And as you say, in a society consisting mostly of nice, forgiving strategies like Tit-For-Tat, there will always be space for a few non-nice strategies to forge a parasitic living, as long as they don't damage their hosts too much.

mad825:
So...This was an experiment to confirm which Richard Dawkins discovered and confirmed? Am I missing something here? The selfish gene theory pretty much covers this topic from top to bottom.

No, it absolutely doesn't in any way.

The selfish gene theory is a theory about genes. It's not a theory about behaviour of organisms - in fact, the whole point of it is that it mostly ignores organisms altogether. Genes 'for' altruism can still themselves be selfish.

If this were true then they would have already died out, or never evolved the trait to begin with.

Lauren Admire:

So, long story short. Selfish people win in the short term. But in the long term, you'll have the last laugh. After a few millenia have passed, that is.

A few millennia have ALREADY passed. Humanity is more than 100 years old, you know.

Flatfrog:

mad825:
So...This was an experiment to confirm which Richard Dawkins discovered and confirmed? Am I missing something here? The selfish gene theory pretty much covers this topic from top to bottom.

No, it absolutely doesn't in any way.

The selfish gene theory is a theory about genes. It's not a theory about behaviour of organisms - in fact, the whole point of it is that it mostly ignores organisms altogether. Genes 'for' altruism can still themselves be selfish.

Whatever, this argument is old and was masturbation material during the cold war era.

mad825:

Flatfrog:

mad825:
So...This was an experiment to confirm which Richard Dawkins discovered and confirmed? Am I missing something here? The selfish gene theory pretty much covers this topic from top to bottom.

No, it absolutely doesn't in any way.

The selfish gene theory is a theory about genes. It's not a theory about behaviour of organisms - in fact, the whole point of it is that it mostly ignores organisms altogether. Genes 'for' altruism can still themselves be selfish.

Whatever, this argument is old and was masturbation material during the cold war era.

Not sure what you mean by that, but in any case, you brought it up.

What I'm reading is "evolution will kill off selfish people after selfless people." I still don't see the reason selfless people have nothing to worry about, the selfish will just change into selfless people after learning it's the most profitable thing to do.

I maintain that a man should be selfish but the people should be selfless.

I interpreted the article as selfish people will only change their ways once they have screwed over the non selfish people so hard that they ain't none left and some of the selfish people have to convert out of sheer neccesity.
So not much of a "revenge" unless you consider the conquerors wearing the clothing of those they defeated to be some kinda moral victory.

So, long story short. Selfish people win in the short term. But in the long term, you'll have the last laugh.

I look at the economy, how selfish short-term profit was prioritized over long-term sustainability, at how those that knew best and were best enabled to exploit the system took hundreds of billions in free, no-strings bailout money from the government they say spoils the poor with a trickle of food stamps, and I wonder where the last laugh is in all that mess.

I think other factors are being ignored as well, such as apathy, social acceptability, meritocracy (in all it's presently warped and grossly manipulated glory), and the countless socio-political factors that determine on a daily basis literally who lives well and who gets to be used up until they drop dead, or worse, grow old and further "burden" the system. Then there's the whole introvert/extrovert argument.

I'd like to be optimistic and say that we will outgrow greed and evolve more to a people as were represented by Captain Picard to the unfrozen 90s assholes about how people didn't need money anymore, but really, I think we're headed more toward a Soylent Green kind of future.

Edit:

Frankster:
I interpreted the article as selfish people will only change their ways once they have screwed over the non selfish people so hard that they ain't none left and some of the selfish people have to convert out of sheer neccesity.
So not much of a "revenge" unless you consider the conquerors wearing the clothing of those they defeated to be some kinda moral victory.

This reminds me of stories about griefers on MMOs and online games. Essentially, in some communities things would get really ugly, people would exploit something, or harass others until only the griefers remained and the community eventually died out entirely. An example would be Mario Kart DS, wherein an exploit was used by some people to allow them a tremendous advantage granted you could or would be able to use this exploit (called snaking). Eventually other players just stopped playing until only mostly the "snakers" remained, and since there weren't enough of them to keep things really going the community died out. The "meek" (those willing to/only capable of playing fairly) inherited nothing, they were just run off.

It's impossible, using the MMO environment as a model, to see how the selfish are capable of being anything other than selfish even until it destroys them, and how anyone that is not can do anything more than imply continue to be victimized ( I use the term loosely) or just giving up.

How does game theory and models of weirdly specific sets of circumstances show that selfish are people are less likely to survive and procreate?

It doesn't.

This is complete bunk.

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