In the earlier post Evolution 101, we saw how evolution works in the wild. It discussed about how a particular biological trait is selected in a population. Darwin called this “Natural Selection“. Eventually it turned out that Natural Selection is an umbrella term for three different types of selection:
- “Me” Selection
- Sexual Selection
- Group Selection
The interplay of these three selection forces makes us who we are. Like the inter-play of three primary colors make all the hues that we can see in the nature. In other words, it is as of we live a life in a color wheel.
“Me Selection” is a term that I coined. I use it to represent selection of traits that help an individual animal to live longer. Traits like tortoise’s shell or cheetah’s speed or some of the examples of Me Selection. Traits that help the animal to find a better mate, make more babies or take care of the herd’s interest don’t come under “Me Selection”.
Some biological traits help animals to secure better quantity or quality (or both) mates. These traits pervade a population through Sexual Selection. Often, sexually selected features contribute very little to an animal’s survival (Me Selection) or the survival of community in which it lives (Group Selection).
A good example of Sexual Selection is peacock’s tail feather. Luxurious tail feather in a peacock advertises to the peahen that the male is physically/genetically fit. Tail feathers don’t increase the survival of the peacock. If anything, it only makes it difficult for the peacock to catch its prey or run/fly away from the predators. Tail feathers are also metabolically expensive to maintain.
The only advantage with a nice, long and iridescent tail feather is that a lesser peacock can’t fake it. Tail feather, in other words, is a honest signal. If the peahen selects a peacock for its tail feather, the peahen can be reasonably sure that it mated with a genetically superior male. Tail feather in a peacock is called a sexual ornament.
Sexual ornaments are there everywhere. The best sexual ornament is the one that serves as a honest signal (i.e. something that a lesser animal can’t fake).
The strangest of the sexual ornaments, you would never guess, is the human brain!
Another thing: Evolution of sexual ornaments tends to ‘run away’. Long tail feathers become longer and longer over relatively small number of generations.
Study of Sexual Selection, unfortunately, is full of political land mines, taboos and unacceptable conclusions. Hence, this is not as well studied as it must be. Even the researchers who study Sexual Selection publish their findings with great caution. As a result, some of the vital insights that come from understanding Sexual Selection (and how it shapes up who we are) are not available to the general public. What a loss!
Group Selection is the least understood of the selection forces. Even its very existence is not yet widely accepted. But Group Selection gives such an elegant explanation to so many strange human behavior that we will never understand who we really are without understanding what kind of effects the Group Selection forces have on us.
Group Selection is a funny thing. It works on making the genetic material from a particular group succeed over the genetic material of other groups. It doesn’t care about genetic material of an individual animal like the Me and Sexual Selections do. On the surface, Group Selection looks like a Group vs Group war. While that is true, Group Selection has a greater impact than that.
Group Selection pits the interest of a Group against the interest of the individuals who belongs in that group! Group Selection makes an individual to subjugate its own self-interest to the interest of the group. When the interest of an individual clashes with the interest of the group, the group often doesn’t hesitate to get ride of the individual!
When we think about group selection, we must remember one thing:
A part of 'the group that live in' lives inside each one of us.
At one level, each one of us is the group. We act in a way that subjugates the interest of other people to the common good of the group. We willingly sacrifice some of our own self interest in the alter of the common good. How much of self interest we sacrifice, or how much of similar sacrifice we demand from others, changes based on the situation we are in. Our sense of group identity and altruism are highly elastic.
War, where we the survival of the entire group is threatened, make us more altruistic than we usually are. In the middle of the battle field, men often put the lives of their comrades above their own. Contrary to this, when an individual is in a situation wherein its own self interest is not easily jeopardized by the dangers that the society faces, the individual tends to become less altruistic than it usually is.
Feeling the Selection Forces
In an individual, selection forces express themselves as emotions/feelings.
- “Me Selection” may express itself as hunger, fear, cold, warmth, satiety, anger, etc.
- Sexual Selection may express itself as pride, libido, competitiveness, creativity, etc.
- But the way we feel the Group Selection is interesting. The sense of oneness you feel when you stand in front of God, well, that is the Group Selection forces you are feeling. When you feel the forces of Group Selection, you have a strong urge to merge and lose the sense of your self into the identify of the group.
Emotions of Group Selection are just as seductive, if not more, as the emotions of Me Selection or Sexual Selection. Though, we don’t readily recognize it. The interplay of the three selection forces determines who we are and how our societies are made.
Some of our traits are fostered by two or three different selection forces. For example, having a broad shoulder and good shoulder muscles in a human male helps him to be a good hunter (Me Selection) and also helps him to find more/better mates (Sexual Selection). Being a good hunter, while it caters to Me Selection forces, sharing the spoils with the group also caters to the Group Selection forces.
When a particular trait is exclusive to a single selection force, expression of that trait might be opposed by other forces. For example, human equivalent of peacock’s tail feather (sexual selection) is often considered as vanity and looked down upon by the society (group selection). Whereas, for a woman who is looking to select a mate, display of honest signal by a man is all that matters.
Our natural desires and urges are endless and shifting inter-play of the three selection forces that played a part in molding us. At any given point in time, your natural feelings are just a pixel on the beautiful color wheel. At times, you play on the periphery. And at times, you play right at the center. But usually, you are somewhere in between.
Life becomes simple and uncomplicated when you understand the color wheel of selection forces and then design your life around that understanding
- What is your preferred color
- Where do they come from
- What is their significance
- What is good about them
- What is bad about them
- Why has your color choice changed over time
- What else are you giving up when you chose your color
- Why is someone else angry about your color choice
Life in a color wheel might be the simplest answer to so many of your life’s dilemmas. In the future posts, let’s take a closer look at the inter-play of these hues.
I promise you, it will be nothing less than liberating.