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Cheaters have been around since the Age of Amoeba

UPDATE: This is generating some good discussion, which is what I wanted to help me explain why this is relevant. It’s a study about amoeba, but reveals something I think about biological “laws” of all cooperative societies and genetics. It’s very relevant to the nature-nurture debate, and to national politics and policies.
UPDATE #2: The cheating referred to in this post is defined as “social cheating” meaning to take some advantage over and above contributions to the social group. The amoeba are a simple “model system” that may help us learn more about the factors that influence the balance of “cheaters” versus “cooperators” in any social species.

See the critics and my replies at #7 and #16. Give it your best shot. :- )  Jo

You might think that corruption in science has only been around for 20 or 30 years. But I say this problem has been around since the Age of Amoeba.

The day after cells evolved to cooperate, some of them learnt to cheat. The battle of the cooperators versus the cheaters hasn’t stopped since and humans are the most socially evolved cooperators on the planet, (which just means we have more socially evolved cheats, too). This is not a problem that is ever going to go away. But before you get depressed remember the cooperators outnumbers the cheaters. It’s not all bad.

In many niches cooperative groups outcompete the separate individuals and end up dominating, but then cheating becomes a really sweet deal, and the number of crooks rise until the whole system falls apart — or the cooperators wise up and figure out a way to police the cheats. In the end, Cheaters do have an advantage, but only if most players don’t cheat.

The new study below is on amoebic cheats and there have been many incarnations before it. The new edge here, possibly,  is that the cheaters-v-cooperators battle in amoeba has reached a permanent genetic stalemate of sorts. Neither group can get the complete upper hand and instead there are a suite of some 140 social genes that affect the balance of cheaters and cooperators (140 genes, and that’s just in an amoeba). Furthermore, the social genes in Texan amoeba were surprisingly similar to the social genes in Virginian amoeba. Some kind of evolutionary selection was keeping the same variants in different populations.

What does it mean? That  corruption and cheating is not something we solve permanently but something we minimize. That we need to teach children about eternal vigilance, and about the boom and bust cycle of rising corruption and crash.

So many are surely naive,
To accept what they’re told to believe,
To place such reliance,
On some ‘experts’ in science,
Whom they trust not to cheat and deceive.

 —- Rauiri

 Press Release

Do cheaters have an evolutionary advantage?

Anyone who has crawled along in the left lane while other drivers raced up the right lane, which was clearly marked “lane ends, merge left,” has experienced social cheating, a maddening and fascinating behavior common to many species.

Although it won’t help with road rage, scientists are beginning to understand cheating in simpler “model systems,” such as the social amoeba, Dictyostelium discoideum.

At one stage in their life cycle thousands of the normally solitary Dicty converge to form a multicellular slug and then a fruiting body, consisting of a stalk holding aloft a ball of spores. It is during this cooperative act that the opportunity for cheating arises.

Some amoebae ultimately become cells in the stalk of the fruiting body and die, while others rise to the top, and form spores that pass their genes to the next generation. When unrelated amoebae gather to form a fruiting body, some strains may overcontribute to the spores and undercontribute to the stalk. These are the cheaters.

Scientists knew that cheaters could be found in wild populations of Dicty, but whether this was a successful strategy in the game of natural selection was anyone’s guess.

Now the ease and low cost of genome sequencing has finally made it possible to answer the question. “By looking at the genetic variation in or near Dicty’s ‘social genes,’ scientists are able to tell whether variants of these genes that made cooperators into cheaters had swept through populations, fought to maintain a toehold, or been given a pass because they didn’t affect survival,” said Elizabeth Ostrowski, PhD, assistant professor of biology and biochemistry at the University of Houston.

“The genome signatures we found suggest neither the cheating nor the cooperating variants of the social genes was able to take over the populations and that the variants had battled to a standstill,” said David C. Queller, PhD, the Spencer T. Olin Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

“A stalemate is maintained only in a complex environment where it’s unclear which strategy will win,” said Joan Strassmann, PhD, the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences. “If the rules never change, the gene that is best on average will eventually drive out the other variant.”

The findings suggest the benefits of cheating change with its frequency, or prevalence, in a population. Cheaters may succeed, for example, only when they are rare, and fail when they become so numerous they push out cooperators or put pressure on cooperators to find ways to defeat cheating.

Many social behaviors are like this, Queller said; the success of one individual’s strategy depends on how many others are also employing it.

The study, described in the June 4 issue of Current Biology, is the work of a collaboration of scientists from Washington University, the University of Houston and the Baylor College of Medicine. Ostrowski is the first author on the paper and Queller and Strassman are senior authors.

An arms race or trench warfare?

“For this project, we sequenced 20 Dicty strains we had isolated from the soil in the eastern U.S. We then looked for variation in 140 genes implicated in social behavior, comparing them to the rest of the genome to see if the social genes were evolving differently,” Strassmann said.

“We originally got enough funding to sequence two genomes,” she said. “But by the time we had cleaned the clones up, the price of sequencing had dropped so much we were able to sequence many more.”

The 140 genes, Queller said, were ones that had been located during an earlier genome-wide screen for genes, that when they are disabled, turn a cooperating amoeba into a cheater.

The scientists framed their study by defining several hypothetical scenarios for the evolutionary dynamics of cheating behaviors in Dicty (see illustration), each of which makes different, testable predictions about DNA diversity in and near the social genes.

“We thought we were going to see the signature of an arms race in the DNA,” Queller said, “because the cheater/cooperator conflict seems analogous with other kinds of conflict, such as host/pathogen conflict, that produce escalating battles between adaptations.”

An arms race, technically a series of “selective sweeps,” would have shown up as a lack of variation in the DNA in or near the social genes, because a highly advantageous gene “sweeps” through a population. “What we found was kind of the opposite,” Queller said. “Instead of diminished variation, there was more variation in the social genes than average, which is consistent with a prolonged stalemate at these locations.”

The scientists found more evidence for a stalemate when they compared strains from two different populations, one in Texas and the other in Virginia, Queller said.

In an arms race, the Dicty at these geographically separated locations would probably have undergone different selective sweeps, which in turn would make the two populations less similar. In fact, however, the populations differed less at the social gene locations than at other genes, suggesting that some selective force was working to maintain the same variants of the social genes in both the Texas and Virginia populations.

Both the increased genetic diversity near the social genes and the failure of separated populations to drift apart at those genetic locations support the stalemate scenario.

“We failed to observe the genetic signatures of a simple arms race: a reduction in genetic diversity and long-term divergence of populations,”Ostrowski said. “Rather, the genetic signatures suggests there is trench warfare among variants of the social genes, and neither the cheaters or the cooperators are able to gain the upper hand.”

But why is that? Ostrowski said. “What limits the spread of cheaters? Are they suppressed by better cheaters or by a resistant population? And conversely what limits cooperators? Why don’t the cooperators completely shut down the cheaters?”

It’s hard to imagine questions of more universal interest.

Interesting questions to discuss there at the end. My two cents worth:

“What limits the spread of cheaters?” “Are they suppressed by better cheaters or by a resistant population?”

Ask a different question. Figure the prospects for a group of narcissistic-fruiting-body-amoeba that can’t get a stalk together. I’m guessing they would be outcompeted by the blob next door which had the self-sacrificing stalk making community — those stalks must be good for something. Time to drag out the old “group selection” debate?

“And conversely what limits cooperators?” “Why don’t the cooperators completely shut down the cheaters?”

It seems to me that anytime the cooperators got rid of the cheaters, it would only be a matter of time before a different kind of cheater arose. The rewards for being the one naughty amoeba out of 100 are just too appealing.

But maybe there is a deeper cosmic ying yang effect going on — perhaps the cooperators need a few cheaters. (It’s wild speculation) — assume that a society of “perfect cooperators” could exist, perhaps they get stuck in a rut, and lose that evolutionary adaptability? Perhaps the constant niggling of the cheats, and the turmoil created, helps the group be more nimble evolutionarily, or maybe it helps the group take advantage of the rich times better, even though it may crash more in the bad times?.

Reference:

Elizabeth A. Ostrowski , et al (2015) Genomic Signatures of Cooperation and Conflict in the Social Amoeba. Current Biology, 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.04.059

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Cheaters have been around since the Age of Amoeba, 8.5 out of 10 based on 31 ratings

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89 comments to Cheaters have been around since the Age of Amoeba

  • #
    Robert O

    In human society there are a lot of parallels with Darwinian evolution and the survival of the fittest, that is the ability to pass on ones genes as the fruiting body amoeba do. Think of the those welfare dependent large families caught in the poverty cycle; occasionally some individuals breakout of the cycle and contribute to society, but most don’t and the cycle continues.

    61

  • #
    graphicconception

    Not sure about Dictys but in real life you need at least one more category.

    Yes, there are co-operators but not all the non-co-operators are cheats. So the diversity may still be there but the cheating pre-requisite is not necessary.

    (Yes, I see myself as a non-cheating, non co-operator :) )

    90

    • #
      Yonniestone

      “A non-cheating, non co-operator.” sounds like a Greens member.

      We’ve recently seen the rise of aggressive cheaters in the world, the MSM call them terrorist cells…..

      I think one Amoeba Bin laden is enough to create an imbalance of Paramecium’s.

      UPDATE: All 30 comments that were at #3 have moved to Unthreaded where they belong. Thanks – Jo

      51

  • #
    Graeme No.3

    Does this mean that we are allowed to tell Trolls that they have the brains of an amoeba?

    No, too rude. Call them Karls instead.

    82

  • #

    When you think about it, the cheaters in a dishonest society should quickly rise to the top, their genes become dominant and therefore widespread, and the co-operative genes die out as they become a selection liability. This never happens and if it did, the complex societal structures we live in would not have become the norm across the world.

    Why is this?

    I think the answer is the simple co-operative strategies built into our DNA are a bit more complex than amoeba. They run along the lines of –

    1) Sorta trust people you don’t know and if they don’t abuse your trust – you co-operate with them all the way.

    2) If you ever once get cheated by them – never trust them again and spread the word.

    Cheating will always deliver a few tactical wins, but when word gets around, nobody will trust you enough to ever co-operate with you. That’s the limiting feedback from a bad strategy.

    Would you ever vote for Gillard again?

    https://thepointman.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/why-climategate-destroyed-the-science-of-global-warming/

    Pointman

    171

    • #
      Radical Rodent

      Would you ever vote for Gillard again?

      I suspect that there are people who are dumb enough to do so – much as sufficient voted for the Rotherham MPs, despite their strong links with the child-sex grooming. There are many who will vote for a slug if it wore the right-coloured rosette.

      140

    • #
      Peter C

      Agree Pointman..

      In the end, Cheaters do have an advantage, but only if most players don’t cheat.

      I only partly agree with Jo here. Cheaters can only win if there are very few of them. They get away with it because co-operation is an advantage to society. Hence most of us co- operate and we assume initially that others will act likewise.

      Cheaters are harshly dealt with if they are exposed ( as they should be). Hence a Cheater may not have an advantage in the long run.

      A co- operative society is best equipped to deal with stress.
      A society with a majority of cheaters would be a at a big disadvantage compared to a co- operative society.

      I am currently in a country where the civil service is dysfunctional and corrupt. They have a huge national debt and hardly anyone pays their fare share of tax. They have severe economic problems
      There are too many cheaters.

      No it is not Australia!,

      60

      • #
        Binny

        Greece – The first word that popped in to my head while reading the article.

        41

      • #
        Rereke Whakaaro

        You need cooperation (non-cheating) when society is under stress, as you point out, and anybody caught cheating is usually dealt with severely.

        In times of peace and plenty, you only need sufficient non-cheaters to keep society ticking over, and the cheaters are therefore free to push the boundaries. Boundaries need to be pushed in such times, in order to get progress, and stave off stagnation.

        When a large number of people cheat you get anarchy, which puts society under stress, and the cycle repeats. It’s called progress, I think.

        00

    • #
      Glen Michel

      The gene for gullibility rules.

      50

    • #
      Rod Stuart

      Would you ever vote for Gillard again?

      Even after the soon to be viewed “The Killing Season”, there are Emily’s Listers and other fruitcakes that will swallow Gillard’s noxious victim personna.

      60

      • #

        That is because they are cheaters as well eg Anne Summers, Craig Emerson, Bill Shorten (did he not say something like “I do not know exactly what she said but i agree with it”

        40

    • #
      Rick Bradford

      Another aspect of this is that it’s much easier to destroy than create.

      Dozens of people can toil for weeks building one of those domino structures; a stray cat can bring the whole thing crashing down in an instant.

      An elaborate urban bicycle-sharing scheme can be ruined by just a couple of people a day not returning the bicycles to the stations.

      It takes very few litterers to make an area look unattractive, and worse, it encourages other people to lower their standards and litter as well.

      20

    • #
      Gee Aye

      You write, “when you think about it”, then follow this by proving that you have neither thought about it or even read anything that others have thought and studied. Do you think that writing rhetoric like,” when you think about it”, empowers your writing with the same amount of wisdom that would have come from actually thinking about it?

      12

      • #

        Aw gee, your criticism of poor me is so cruel and incisive. When you think about it, or thick about it in your case, it’s not a bad cheating strategy – you haven’t anything of insight to contribute to the discussion, so best to fall back on a rather obvious ad hom.

        Pointman

        11

  • #
    Ruairi

    So many are surely naive,
    To accept what they’re told to believe,
    To place such reliance,
    On some ‘experts’ in science,
    Whom they trust not to cheat and deceive.

    201

  • #
    Manfred

    Rather, the genetic signatures suggests there is trench warfare among variants of the social genes, and neither the cheaters or the cooperators are able to gain the upper hand.”

    The over arching environmental state in this petri dish appears stable. There may well be an intraspecies-competition but in the absence of an external environmental change this appears to become equivocal.

    I fail to see any parallels between the unidimensional life of an anthropomorphised amoeba and the complex world we live in, replete with attempts by the Green Blob to create a primitivised new global eco-order based entirely on cheating, and one where humanity is rated within the eco-marxist Gaia-esque view to be at the same level as an amoeba.

    Humanity relies for its success on so many qualities. For example, intelligence, responsiveness and dynamic instability. The extraordinary ability to maintain states of cognitive dissonance is both our greatest asset and our curse. Unidimensional behaviour akin to the amoeba is usually doomed to failure, something the Green Blob has yet to twig, precisely because it is maladaptive.

    In the meantime, would someone please wake me up when amoeba appear to be closing on their Stone-Age.

    42

    • #

      Manfred, if amoeba have 140 social genes, it suggests that humans probably have as many or more. Since there are so many genes involved, there would be a complete spectrum of phenotype (behaviour) — a bell curve type spread — of behaviour on the cheater–cooperator spectrum.

      What does that mean for humans? Here’s a provocative model of a genetic influence underlying the spectrum of human behaviour. In these amoeba, some of them will be full time cheaters, and some will be full time altruists, but the vast array in the middle will flip from one to the other depending on environmental conditions. Under some circumstances the number of cheaters will rise until it starts to punish the survival of the whole group, or elict a punishing response from the cooperators. Perhaps in the toughest of times, only a dominant cooperator society with a minimum of cheaters can be tolerated.

      In the endless nature-nurture debate of human behaviour, a bell curve spectrum of altruist-freeloader genetics changes many policies. What conditions encourage altruism? Under what circumstances does the balance shift keeping more of the “tempted-to-cheat” people from cheating.

      In humans there is a further feedback loop — the “flippers” will be watching other cheaters, and when corruption appears more successful, there may come a tipping point when nearly everyone ends up cheating. How many true martyrs are there among us who would not cheat if they thought “everyone” else was cheating? It could be that this point is central to the success of whole human civilizations. The West rose to dominance when it found a successful way to clamp down on corruption. But with the luxury of wealth, there is more pressure from the cheaters, and more complacency from the comfortable cooperators. That’s where we are now. Corruption is rising in the West and in some of our most important and hallowed institutions, yet many continue to trust these institutions blindly believing that what was good will stay that way. The deny the constant pressure and attraction of cheating.

      There is a naive socialist idea that talking, negotiating and diplomacy will solve all problems, that all criminals can be rehabilitated if only we are nice enough to them and give them enough therapy. That wars can be avoided if we are helpful and cooperate.

      They miss the vital importance of punishment. That’s why I want to talk about this. (Thanks for helping me define it). I’m arguing that in any social group at all, there will be a spectrum of social genes, and a constant need for vigilance and punishment.

      102

      • #
        sophocles

        There is a naive socialist idea that talking, negotiating and diplomacy will solve all problems, that all criminals can be rehabilitated if only we are nice enough to them and give them enough therapy. That wars can be avoided if we are helpful and cooperate.

        It’a an idea where, all things being equal, will mostly work much of the time. It doesn’t completely work all the time to a greater or lesser degree, because of the `cheaters’ trying to sleight the social systems to their own advantage and to a hot place with the rest of the community. If they are readily recognised and blocked, the idea will work much better than if they were not recognised at all. (Non recognition prevents blocking.)

        In human societies, `cheating’ is a psycho-pathology. We know the cheaters as psychopaths. It’s their intransigence and their constant attempts to finesse the advantage for themselves which creates the differences and divergences from the expected `ideals.’

        The really nastily bad ones we call sociopaths. I’ve had personal experience of two of these in my lifetime and, now, as soon as I think I recognise the subtle signs of the pathology, I make myself unavailable to and distance myself from the individual who evinces it. They can certainly make `Interesting Times.’

        If two people meet for the first time and within a day, week or month or less, suddenly can’t stand each other, take a very careful and close look at both of them. They are very perceptive of, and react badly to, potential `competition.’ Bringing two of them together is almost like throwing a chunk of sodium metal into water.

        10

  • #
    pattoh

    Gee this could make a pretty good analogue for tha current political state of the world & particularly the Australia’s ALP for anybody following TURC or Michael Smith’s coverage of it.

    60

    • #
      Robert O

      There is another analogy from biology that covers Justice Heydon’s Royal Commission; that successful parasites live a good life as long as they don’t kill their hosts which happens from time to time.

      40

  • #
    Leigh

    I quite often “steal” other people’s words, from here and other sites.
    And use them as my own.
    I know that sounds terrible but let me explain.
    When visiting the sites of the “darkside” and trying to correct their “cheating” statements and posts.
    They will not let you post a link to correct their “cheating” link or post.
    Unless it is from one of their own publications.
    Or that is the litmus test I found for skeptics such as myself.
    Those “rules of engagement ” more often than not are not applied to the alarmists.
    So to get a corrective point up, I have to resort to plagiarism and write about the link I want to put up as if the knowledge is my own.
    So am I a cheater or god forbid a [snipper]?

    40

    • #
      Yonniestone

      Perhaps you’re learning as opposed to cheating?

      The ability of learning something could be the razors edge of how this information is utilized with action, for the benefit of others or yourself depending on your reasoning and general outlook on life.

      20

  • #
    Athelstan.

    I guess a cynic might…ponder on, apropos of sneaky beaky’s.

    He/She may suggest that, is it in the long term financial interests of ‘big pharma’ to cure, find the key to unlock say, the common cold – influenza, cancer and lots else besides.
    Cars could probably be manufactured to such a standard that they’d last [one careful owner] for a century – but no one wants that – do they?

    Seeding lies and ones that are solely hypothesized supposition – “think of the grants man”, who would need to ‘debag it’ – for crying out loud “global warming” – what’s not to like – existential threat but no proof it exists except in the minds of the chosen ones and Arch Priesthood.

    Fusion – the Eldorado of perpetual clean energy – secrets locked up…………….somewhere in a vault in Saudi Arabia or, ExxonMobile head office – jus’ fer safe keeping sonny – you understand…?

    20

  • #
    Gary in Erko

    Something about this cheater/cooperator conflict reminds me of Georg Simmel’s “Conflict & the Web of Group-Affiliations”.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Simmel

    20

  • #
    Rod Stuart

    perhaps the cooperators need a few cheaters. (It’s wild speculation)

    Jo you’ve been reading John Stuart Mill again.

    10

  • #

    We’re just a colony of amoebal clones and our rustic cousins aren’t as dumb as we like to think.

    My favourite quote:

    “… no more than a bag of amoebae encased in a thin slime sheath, yet they manage to have various behaviours that are equal to those of animals who possess muscles and nerves with ganglia – that is, simple brains.” Professor John Tyler Bonner

    00

  • #
    Leo Morgan

    Nearly everything that is reported here was predicted on theoretical grounds by Richard Dawkins back in 1976, in a terrific chapter early on in ‘The Selfish Gene’.
    The section is ‘Evolutionarily Stable Strategies’, which he credits to Maynard Smith, and is kind enough to proclaim ‘The greatest advance in evolutionary theory since Darwin’.
    I recommend it to everyone.

    30

    • #
      el gordo

      I agree, its a good read.

      10

    • #
      Yonniestone

      The mention Richard Dawkins will draw many an emotional reaction which becomes counter productive to understanding the what are some very valid ideas that contribute greatly to an increased knowledge of a complex question.

      Bill gates said “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” which I find to be great lateral thinking but also said “Climate change is a terrible problem, and it absolutely needs to be solved. It deserves to be a huge priority.”

      ‘Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.’ Bruce Lee.

      50

      • #
        Peter C

        Bruce Lee the Kung Fu Philosopher?

        20

        • #
          Yonniestone

          Yes many will scoff until they research the man, he was a pioneer of many physical and mental health ideas that were practiced decades later, he has 3000 books in a personal library that ranged from philosophical, medical and historical.

          He essentially used himself as a test subject for a myriad of physical training and nutritional ideas, once asked what was the hardest form of training he endured he replied Ballet, definitely not a closed mind. :)

          20

    • #

      Another great book relevant to this discussion is “The Adapted Mind”, Barkow, Tooby and Cosmides.

      00

  • #
    RB

    The biggest parasite we need to be aware of is the one that gets what it wants by hissing in peoples ears. I would have been too scared to comment on global warming except that I would have been slimed regardless of whether I wrote comments supporting it or denigrating it, by the same people.

    I recently volunteered for the SES. A senior member was under the impression that I was so unreliable that I would take a day of to celebrate my cats birthday. There is no point trying to shame someone from spreading such bull. There is no stopping them when they get the bug. We need to encourage people who would believe something like that to remove themselves from the gene pool or stick to sanitising phones. In the end, its these people who will do the actual destroying of society.

    30

    • #
      mobihci

      true. the thing is though, they reveal themselves almost immediately and they dont know that they have done it. in my experience, people that denigrate others behind their backs to YOU, and you are not close, will talk about YOU the same way to others at some point in time.

      that form of social manipulation is just another cheat. a way to gain stature cheaply and easily. of course it only gains stature with those that practice it themselves or are too stupid to see it for what it is, with others it reduces standing.

      00

  • #
    Just-A-Guy

    The news article states:

    Some amoebae ultimately become cells in the stalk of the fruiting body and die, while others rise to the top, and form spores that pass their genes to the next generation. When unrelated amoebae gather to form a fruiting body, some strains may overcontribute to the spores and undercontribute to the stalk. These are the cheaters.

    From the abtract(summary):

    Cooperative systems are susceptible to invasion by selfish individuals that profit from receiving the social benefits but fail to contribute. These so-called “cheaters” can have a fitness advantage in the laboratory, but it is unclear whether cheating provides an important selective advantage in nature.

    LOL!

    manfred hit it right on the mark:

    manfred wrote:

    I fail to see any parallels between the unidimensional life of an anthropomorphised amoeba and the complex world we live in . . .

    In order to cheat, the amoebae would have to know what the rules are and then conciously decide to break those rules. Do amoeba possess conciousness? Do they have a concience?

    It’s clear that what’s at play here is that whatever signal (most likely chemical) the amoeba in a clan exchange between each other dictates which will form the stalk and which will form the spores. Given two or more clans with differing genetic makeup, these same signals will also dictate which will form the stalk and which will form the spores. The clan with the stronger signal for ‘sporing’ will dominate the others.

    There’s no cheating going on here. Just simple breeding and genetics.

    Occams razor has a habit of tossing out the ludicrous, leaving behind the pertinent.

    This whole post would have been better off tagged “Satire and Parody”.

    Abe

    15

    • #

      Abe, this post is about nature versus nurture. I’m making the very uncontroversial point that even in the simplest social societies of life on Earth there is a constant genetic advantage for a certain percentage to cheat. No one has so far provided any examples of higher life forms where genetics ended up producing a 100% cooperative society. That would disprove my point.

      We humans have free will, but we all know that some people find it harder to resist temptation to cheat, while others will willingly die for the team.

      Far from being satire, isn’t this one of the most important but ignored factors of our national policies — that we, as a society that depends on cooperative behaviour — ought to know exactly what conditions help to raise the number of cooperators and reduce the cheating? (See my reply to Manfred above #7.1).

      For the last 40 years there has been a theme that punishment doesn’t work, forgiveness and therapy will turn criminals and corruption around. I’m simply pointing out that there is a billion years of evolution running through our genes that shows how naive this is. Some people are in denial of the basic factors working on any cooperative society.

      102

      • #
        Peter Hartley

        One does not have to be so literally biological in applying this model to human societies. Societies have norms of behaviour, institutions etc (memes as well as genes if you like). Some of these institutions may be adaptive in the sense that they make the society stronger and more competitive with other socieities that have different norms and institutions. However, the successful society may be vulnerable to “cheaters” that deviate from the norms to their own short-run advantage, even though such deviations may weaken the institutions and ultimately endanger the success of the society.

        20

      • #
        Just-A-Guy

        Jo,

        You wrote:

        Abe, this post is about nature versus nurture.

        You may state this and even truly believe it. The fact is that nature vs nurture is a purely human discussion. Until proven otherwise, all life forms on the planet express their behaviours via nature only. Instict. Chemical reactions.

        Just because you can train a dog or a monkey to do certain things, does not prove that they have the ability to rationaly weigh options and come to a decision based on that deliberation. They don’t have free will.

        You wrote:

        making the very uncontroversial point that even in the simplest social societies of life on Earth there is a constant genetic advantage for a certain percentage to cheat.

        This is false. Patently so. If it’s genetic, then it’s not cheating. If it’s cheating it’s not genetic.

        Genetic charecteristics follow very specific rules. Chemical, hormonal, even statistical (when referring to random mutations), rules but never concious decisions. Cheating is by definition a characteristic that can only be attributed to creatures with free will. Cheating is a choice. That you don’t see this is startling.

        You wrote:

        Far from being satire, isn’t this one of the most important but ignored factors of our national policies — that we, as a society that depends on cooperative behaviour — ought to know exactly what conditions help to raise the number of cooperators and reduce the cheating?

        First of all, as long as people have free will, there will be non-cooperators. That’s the whole point of free-will, the capacity to make a wrong decision, for whatever internal rationalization the one making the mistake may lean on.

        The discussion related to how human beings make their decisions can be had, in it’s entirety, without resorting to false analogies with amoeba and other creatures where free-will doesn’t play any part whatsoever.

        You wrote:

        For the last 40 years there has been a theme that punishment doesn’t work, forgiveness and therapy will turn criminals and corruption around. I’m simply pointing out that there is a billion years of evolution running through our genes that shows how naive this is.

        HUH? Slippery slope to the execution of criminals because of their genetic defects.
        ———————————————————————————————-
        The most egregious mistake with this whole line of reasoning is this:

        I can easily imagine Dan Kahan and/or Lewandowski citing this very paper in some fiture study and saying something to the effect that: “As we’ve seen, even the lowly amoeba subscribes to the concept of political ideation.” And, “this study shows how amoeba will behave contrary to the greater good in order to advance the good of the few.”

        That you and others don’t see all of the obvious parallels between this piece of post-modern pseudo-science and Kahans post-modern pseudo-science is beyond comprehension. Did you leave your skepticism at the door next to the brief case that contains the rules of scientific enquiry when you wrote this article?

        Abe

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          I view what you are saying as a quite dated reductionist view that ignores much of the complexity of Life and tries to set us apart from the rest of, say, mammalian life. The more we’ve learned about ourselves and Life over the last century, the closer we can be seen to other animals. Our big advantage is sophistication of language but other animals have language.

          Until proven otherwise, all life forms on the planet express their behaviours via nature only.
          The simple proof is that many other animals can learn from experience and do so in situations that they have had no chance to evolve instinctive responses for.

          …the ability to rationally weigh options and come to a decision based on that deliberation.
          Rationality implies verbal reasoning. Intuition underlies that and any animal that can learn to adapt has intuition.

          They don’t have free will.
          The problem with talking about free will is that it is imposible to define. I think the concept is fairy meaningless – an illusion.

          If it’s genetic, then it’s not cheating.
          Your definition. Not everyone’s.

          …conscious decisions.
          Consciousness is a contentious issue. The distinction between that and awareness is subtle or non-existent. The best efforts lead back to verbal reasoning.

          That’s the whole point of free-will, the capacity to make a wrong decision
          Pure instinct can lead to wrong decisions – moth, candle.

          Slippery slope to the execution of criminals because of their genetic defects.
          That’s a hell of a stretch.

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            Just-A-Guy

            dai davies,

            You wrote:

            Slippery slope to the execution of criminals because of their genetic defects.That’s a hell of a stretch.

            Well, there was this imp with half a moustache who executed twenty million people based on their ‘genetic inferiority’. But since . . .

            I think the concept [of free-will] is fair[l]y meaningless – an illusion.

            . . . there was nothing inherently wrong with that because he didn’t possess free-will.

            And of course the Fabians use similar responses to yours in order to justify ‘culling’ the human population down to a ‘sustainable’ level in order to ‘save the planet’.

            Nice going. Good luck with that.

            Abe

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              Godwin’s Law strikes again. It’s ridiculous to compare biology with Nazism, but the university left have been doing it for decades, using the ‘slippery slope’ argument to hold back scientific research into human nature.

              Hitler’s eugenics policies differ from sociobiology in two major ways:

              1. Hitler claimed to detect maladaptive traits in populations which did not in fact have those traits

              2. It is impossible to derive the prescriptive from the descriptive – for example, if I say that people with Huntington’s disease have maladaptive genes, it does not follow that I want to murder them

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                Just-A-Guy

                Rod McLaughlin,

                You wrote:

                It’s ridiculous to compare biology with Nazism . . .

                I agree. But I never made that comparison. What I said was . . .

                I wrote:

                Well, there was this imp with half a moustache who executed twenty million people based on their ‘genetic inferiority’.

                All I did here was point out that others have made the argument that ‘genetic inferiority’ is a valid basis or extermination. These others managed to convince at least half of the German population to go along with this rediculous claim. So it’s not ‘a hell of a stretch’ for me to say that this line of thinking is a slippery slope to the execution of criminals based on their genetic defects. It’s already been done.

                The rest of your comment is based on this misrepresentation of my position and so . . .

                Abe

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              Just-A-Guy – well, “other people” may draw all sorts of unjustified conclusions from scientific arguments. This includes the British Empire and the Soviet Union as well as Nazi Germany. So what? If it’s a slippery slope because someone might take a (possibly) scientific viewpoint, such as that (maybe) psychopathy is genetic, and draw a conclusion which in no way follows, I suggest learning how to use an ice-axe.

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                Just-A-Guy

                Rod McLaughlin,

                You wrote:

                So what?

                So, twenty million people dead. Considering it’s already happened once . . .

                You wrote:

                If it’s a slippery slope because someone might take a (possibly) scientific viewpoint, such as that (maybe) psychopathy is genetic, and draw a conclusion which in no way follows, I suggest learning how to use an ice-axe.

                . . . your brushing it off with such nonchalance betrays your ignorance.

                At the risk of being moderated and even banned, I should point out that your attitude towards human life is sick. Seek help. Soon.

                Abe

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          Glenn999

          Abe
          You stated ” Until proven otherwise, all life forms on the planet express their behaviours via nature only. Instict. Chemical reactions.”

          Maybe I don’t fully understand your argument, but animals (dogs, cats, monkeys, etc.) learn, adapt and choose their options to the best they can, and then act on them. You’ve probably seen the video online of the gorilla secretly stash his rocks near the bridge so as to catch the unwary zoo visitors offguard. This required planning and acting on a plan.

          I’m only commenting on this one part of what you wrote.

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          Abe,

          I can see your point about the potential confusion of the word “cheating” — I took it directly from the article I was discussing, and use their definition, which is essentially that of a free-rider in a social group that takes more than it gives. This kind of anthropomorphism is common in studies of microbial populations:

          …”social cheating, a maddening and fascinating behavior common to many species.”

          I possibly assumed too much in the short post. I did hons research in genetics and micro — and have a long driving fascination with disease, genes and evolution. To me amoeba are obviously complex chemicals following genetic instructions but it is not something that occurred to me to say.

          I want us as a society to discuss ways to reduce corruption. I want us to talk about strategies to help the “flippers” (most of us as I said in #7.1) choose to be cooperators and not cheaters. That conversation starts with discussions of how in every social gregarious species there are free-riders, that they are not going away, and that it is an evolutionary strategy. I plan to move on to game theory (as mothcatcher picked up below).

          In the nature-nurture debate, it is uncontroversial that we are influenced by our genes, and bizarrely, lately, that we are also influenced by bacterial genes. Bacterial cells outnumber our cells 10:1 in our own bodies, and study after study is now turning up connections with gut flora and anxiety, depression, mental health.

          A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of a probiotic in emotional symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome [Gut Pathog.]

          Intestinal microbiota, probiotics and mental health: from Metchnikoff to modern advances: Part II – contemporary contextual research [Gut Pathog 2013]

          Psychoactive bacteria Lactobacillus Rhamnosus [Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol.]

          I read this kind of stuff.

          As a society we must assume humans operate under free will (except when mentally ill as our justice system decides). That is not what I was debating.

          As for Lewandowsky, let him do his best. It doesn’t matter what I say he will misinterpret it. He once took a satirical thing I wrote, missed the joke, missed that they were openly tagged “satire”, and quoted a line out of context for his theory about a conspiracy I’m supposed to believe. Such research skills, such psychological insight! ;-) His and Cook’s unprofessional emotional reaction towards his study subjects is just more fodder for us.

          And he’ll have to bag a stack of professors too who are discussing microbial society and comparing it to human communities.
          What can global social movements learn from microbes – Part 1.

          I think we have a lot to learn from the organization of microbial societies. In this case the amoeba are a model of a society with cooperator-cheater genes that has run for a billion years. Like any computer model, “all models are wrong, but some are useful”.

          I hope that makes more sense. I oppose capital punishment, whatever that’s worth, not that that was the topic. Sometimes, in other situations year ago I have done radio segments about psychopathy — some of whom are diagnosable as children. I have pointed out that it blurs the free choice line, and that it was fair to argue that some of them end up jailed for what is a disability. But when there is no treatment (and should we treat it if we could) sometimes jail is not about punishment, but more about protecting others. These are deep questions but not what I was aiming to discuss here.

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          “If it’s genetic, then it’s not cheating. If it’s cheating it’s not genetic.”

          That’s a little pedantic. Amoebas never consciously choose to cheat, whereas humans supposedly do. “Cheating” in game theory just means effectively deceiving another organism to one’s advantage, whether consciously or otherwise. For the role of unconscious cheating in humans, caused by the adaptive nature of self deception, see Robert Trivers’ “The Folly of Fools”. The best deceivers are those who believe they are honest.

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            Just-A-Guy

            Rod McLaughlin,

            You wrote:

            Amoebas never consciously choose to cheat, whereas humans supposedly do. “Cheating” in game theory just means effectively deceiving another organism to one’s advantage, whether consciously or otherwise.

            So you agree that there are two distinct meanings to the word ‘cheating’. Using the same word in a discussion sometimes implying one meaning and other times implying the other is considered equivocation, a logical fallacy. Pointing out that flaw in the argument isn’t pedantic at all. It is what it is. An error in rational thought.

            If game theory wants to lump the two meanings together, that’s fine. But that still doesn’t mean that I have to agree to the equivocation.

            As far as self-deception, the label is self explanatory. Deceiving one-self is also a flaw. Otherwise we wouldn’t call it deception. Just because a person doesn’t recognize that they have deceived themselves doesn’t take away from the fact that they have. They may be the best deceivers, but they deceive nonetheless.

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              Wow, Just-a-Guy, you are pedantic. Evolutionary biologists use the word “designed” to describe features of an organism which they can explain as the product of random mutation and selection. They hope that their readers are unpedantic enough to realise that they don’t mean “designed” literally. It’s the same with “cheaters”.

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                Just-A-Guy

                If evolutionary biologists want to say that something was designed when it wasn’t, that’s fine. That still doesn’t mean I have to agree with the equivocation.

                And you missed the point completely.

                The point is that the use of a recognized logical fallacy has been introduced into the world of science and rational thought and accepted by the vast majority of otherwise intelligent but gullible adults.

                If you agree to this state of affairs, so be it. That’s your choice.

                You call me pedantic for calling a spade a spade?

                How childish.

                Abe

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                JaG. I find myself agreeing with you. Amoeba don’t cheat. It is sloppy short-hand when used by media. Scientists do use the word and don’t mean anthropomorhic cheating at all but when they use it they define it clearly so that they can use it as non-sloppy short-hand. Jo hasn’t done this and neither did the popular press.

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                Rod… what published scientific work on Evolution uses “designed”?

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                So, Gee Aye, Abe, I’ve added an update #2. Does this improve it? Any suggestions?

                UPDATE #2: The cheating referred to in this post is defined as “social cheating” meaning to take some advantage over and above contributions to the social group. The amoeba are a simple “model system” that may help us learn more about the factors that influence the balance of “cheaters” versus “cooperators” in any social species.

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                Sorry Jo… my response was a bit extreme. You OP was actually OK. It was Rod’s attitude that got me going. Anyway, I agree that it can be used as a model system but not for a lot of things e.g terrestrial behavioural ecology. There might well be some similar mechanisms associated with cells responding to chemical cues and so on but it is hard to extrapolate a single cell in a chemical soup to a bunch of muscles responding to a nerve impulse responding to a change in hormone concentration responding to an external stimuli (chemical possibly but also non-chem like visual or auditory).

                There are whole journals and books on this and this area is a mature science with lots of hard, data rich reproducible data. I wish some of the commenters above had paused to find this out.

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              Rod Stuart

              Abe (and Dariuz)
              You might well be interested in some thoughts from Alexander Dugin regarding the melding of National Socialism and Communism. And Abe…..it’s more really scary shit.

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                Just-A-Guy

                Rod Stuart,

                Thank you for the link. I’d heard him speak in a video on youtube and don’t remember him mentioning this point:

                Alexander Dugin wrote:

                With its focus on the individual, Dugin argues that liberalism has led to globalization, and globalization means that man is “freed from his ‘membership’ in a community and from any collective identity….” This happened because a mass of human beings, “comprised entirely of individuals, is naturally drawn toward universality and seeks to become global and unified.” Even now this impetus toward globalization coincides with the glorification of total freedom “and the independence of the individual from any kind of limits, including reason, morality, identity … discipline, and so on.”

                This immediately reminded me of the individuals the world over who install solar panels and get discounts from the government taxpayers other members of society.

                On the one hand they believe they’re doing ‘their part’ to ‘save the planet’ while on the other this is done at the expense of their ‘neighbors’ who now have to pay increased prices for their electrical power consumption.

                Individualist – globalist. Narcissistic – parasitic.

                Who’d-a-thought . . .

                Abe

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                Just-A-Guy

                Rod Stuart,

                Come to think of it, the numb-skulls who wrote this amoeba paper are clearly thinking along the same lines.

                All the amoeba contribute to the collective(stalk) but some are so selfish that they prefer to be at the head(spores).

                This would be so Lol if it wasn’t so sick.

                Abe

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      Just-A-Guy

      Just-An-Observation,

      I find it ( insert here any and all adjectives you wish ) that no one addressed the main point of my original comment.

      I wrote:

      It’s clear that what’s at play here is that whatever signal (most likely chemical) the amoeba in a clan exchange between each other dictates which will form the stalk and which will form the spores. Given two or more clans with differing genetic makeup, these same signals will also dictate which will form the stalk and which will form the spores. The clan with the stronger signal for ‘sporing’ will dominate the others.

      There’s no cheating going on here. Just simple breeding and genetics.

      Occams razor has a habit of tossing out the ludicrous, leaving behind the pertinent.

      I’ve presented a perfectly rational explanation of the same phenomenon without resorting to contrived connections betwen human social behaviour and simple chemical reactions. Yet it was passed over as if it didn’t exist.

      Does Occams Razor only apply when it’s convenient?
      Why is the simple explanation not sufficient?
      Who decides these issues and on what basis?
      Where are all those skeptics I’ve been hearing about?

      Abe

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      • #

        The amoeba are a model for intra-species competition in groups within social organisms and to the extent that there are some genetic influences to human behaviour (as twin studies shows there is) the amoeba study suggests that there will be a long standing balance between strains/groups that give more and take less, and those which take more and give less. Neither will dominate completely.

        Even though one group is more reproductively competitive (ie fruiting body dominant) they don’t come to take over and outcompete the more cooperative amoeba strains.

        The standard model of individual selection does not have a lot to contribute to this outcome. Hence I hinted at the controversial potential factor of “group selection”.

        In amoeba, it is just breeding and genetics and long periods of selection. That is what I was talking about. It doesn’t change the main points about what this means (or doesn’t mean) to humans.

        It is not contrived to suggest that Human social behaviour is influenced by simple chemicals, which are in turn influenced by genes. There are research industries looking at dopamine, serotonin, estrogen, testosterone, oxytocin, GABA, acetylcholine, glutamate, norephinephrine, cortisol, etc.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuropharmacology
        http://www.eoht.info/page/Neurochemistry
        http://www.dana.org/News/Details.aspx?id=43536

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    pat

    i say cheaters manipulated these UNFCCC-initiated views, which will now be communicated to the June session of the
    UNFCCC now under way in Bonn. examples:

    WWViews Results – Whole World
    1. Importance of tackling climate change
    1. How concerned are you about the impacts of climate change?
    c) Not concerned: 0.8%

    2. Tools to tackle climate change
    2. Which of the following approaches do you prefer for making large-scale cuts in greenhouse gas emissions?
    d) Subsidisation for low-carbon energy, such as wind, solar power, marine energies, geothermal energy: 57.74%

    4. Fairness and distribution of efforts
    2. After 2020, should high-income countries pay more than already agreed on for mitigation and adaptation in low-income countries ($100 billion in 2020)?
    a) Yes: 78.68%

    6. Evaluation questions
    1. Were the briefing materials and videos balanced and informative?
    c) No 2.45%
    2. Were different and opposing views presented and discussed at your table?
    c) No: 7.25%
    http://climateandenergy.wwviews.org/results/

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      Just-A-Guy

      pat,

      You wrote:

      i say cheaters manipulated these UNFCCC-initiated views, which will now be communicated to the June session of the UNFCCC now under way in Bonn.

      I agree whole-heartedly. The O/P, however, would have us believe that it’s ‘in their genes’ so basically it’s not their fault. They had to cheat. That’s the way it is now in biology, didn’t you know?

      Sarcasm vs. sarcasm! :o :) ;)

      Abe

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    Richard

    Whether cheaters have an advantage or disandvantage in society I think most people are cheaters by nature. By that, I am not suggesting that people go about about their lives cheating regularly, but if given the opportunity to cheat with the knowledge there would be little to no repercussion and if the act of cheating would not do significant harm to the person being cheated, I think most people would end up cheating to further their own ends. I only say this because I happen to regularly interact with gamers. These people aren’t any different from you and me, but when they play online competitive games, interestingly, their characters change. They become more adversarial, and are more willing to cheat. The repercussion-free, identitiy-secret envrionment of online gaming dissolves societal restrictions and they are left uncloaked to behave how they want. And this behaviour typically consists of getting the upperhand on anyone, even if it means cheating in the most reprehensible way. You only have to play 20 minutes of MW3 and you’ll see people hacking the game and putting the odds overwhelmingly in their favour. I think this is what most people would do outside of games, if they had the consequence-free identitiy-secret security-net that online gaming provides.

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    Richard

    Identity-secret sounds silly, I should have said anonymity.

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    I think we can draw parallels between the ideologue’s hive-mind and an amoebal colony that are not totally fanciful. The quote in my last post is indicative of a new awareness that is growing about the behaviour of microorganisms. Back in the mid 1980s Renato Nobili argued the existence of a form of holographic memory in the glial tissue of the brain – an amoebal colony. The work of Stuart Kauffman and others points to the ubiquity of intelligence in Life – defined simply as the ability to use memories of the past to help deal with the present.

    During the early foetal development of the brain neurons are guided by chemical trails laid out by glial cells into orderly networks with pre-determined connection strengths that set a framework for pre-determined behaviour – instinct. Patterns detected by neural networks in sensory input lay the foundations for learned behaviour – intuition and habit.

    We commonly confuse the two words – for example: ‘I instinctively hit the brakes’. We clearly haven’t had time to evolve instincts concerning cars. The confusion highlights our lack of understanding. If we are going to deal with the difference rationally we need to agree on definitions.

    Ideologues like to see humans as starting out as a clean slate because genetically conditioned behaviour undermines their wish to create their ideal state through conditioning alone. They believe they can succeed if they can suppress the expression of differing views so our minds aren’t tainted and confused by alternatives. Agenda 21 and the UN’s Global Governance are attempts to achieve this. They must eventually fail but if we let them win initially they’ll cause great suffering in the process as the experiments of last century repeatedly showed.

    Extremists in the Agenda 21 fold openly talk of us forming societies like social insects where individual differences are eliminated – except for the leading elite, of course. They individually think they are going to be part of the elite but history tells us that the first thing that happens after a revolution is that the top leader(s) eliminate the immediate competition among their supporters.

    The concept of the Green Blob, as the Green-Industrial complex has been named, is not totally metaphorical.

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    Life is both competitive and experimental – hence error prone. The errors tend to increase diversity and competition – excessive precision leads to stagnation, inability to respond to new conditions, then failure.

    A lot of confusion seems to have been introduced to western thinking by the phrase ‘the survival of the fittest‘. It’s ambiguous because ‘fittest’ can be singular or plural and the singular leads to a totalitarian view while the plural, with multiple survivors leads to pluralist views.

    The progressives or modernists in the nineteenth century tried to use Darwin as a wrecking ball against established values. Others saw traditions as the behaviour and values that have evolved over human history. Ideologies – the results of a few individuals trying to invent societies – are at best experiments and against millennia of social evolution are unlikely to succeed in any major way.

    Social evolution has given us the concept of the cheat and approaches to dealing with them. Other animals have instincts that lead to cheating and also to minimise it. A young rooster can recognise the the boss – the fittest – is out of view and try mating with one of the hens. The old one tries to minimise this – sometimes pretending he’s found food and so bringing the group together when they are too scattered for him to keep an eye on everyone.

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    Thanks, Jo, but actually there’s nothing new here.
    It’s all an absolutely logical consequence of evolutionary history, which in fact describes everything we are and do. The beauty and the simplicity of it is breathtaking. And if you don’t do evolution, come at it from game theory and you’ll come to much the same conclusions.

    OT, but just a word in favour of those ‘right lane merges’ hogs! If I understand the gripe, we in UK have the same phenomenon, but actually it is quite wrong to criticise the people who push in at the choke point. The worst folk are those guys who push in to the slow file as soon as they see the merge sign, or halfway along. They hold up the right lane and, because they don’t all do it at the same spot, the left lane gets relegated 5 or 6 times. That’s why the right lane goes 5 or 6 times faster and people get umpty. The right position is to merge easily all at one point – at the front, fifty-fifty. Everybody gets home quicker. In fact, after many years of dithering, I think that is now the official advice. At least, it’s the only logical advice.

    Mothcatcher — regarding your first paragraph. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Thank you. – Jo

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    cedarhill

    Fascinating theory. Perhaps this would explain this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Awakening

    where “the co-op” rose to beat back “the cheaters” using a common social institution.

    If all this is true (co-op cheater) have we struck the “stalemate” or will there be another equivalent of the Great Awakening but, perhaps, this time as a secular edition?

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    Roy Hogue

    Give it your best shot.

    Now that I’ve a minute to reply to that — my best shot would be to stay out of the discussion. Why? Because it’s an issue like so many others where there’s no way to win the debate. I can’t see any proof coming forth any time soon that would support any position.

    With that said my first problem is how to define cheating. We humans tend to make rules for others to follow when we’d at least hope we can escape those same rules ourselves if not actually planning to escape them (the U.S. Congress comes to mind). Witness all the political scandals involving elected officials right here in this country.

    Does cheating convey some evolutionary advantage? I think it depends on the definition of cheating, the rules by which cheating is judged and how long you can get away with the cheating. And we don’t seem able to define all the variables, rules and in particular, what we mean by evolutionary advantage.

    And I wish I could say I actually know what I’m talking about. But all I have to go on is observations made over my lifetime. And that’s not science. ;-)

    From my perspective, life is a competitive game from start to finish and the “best” competitors definitely have the advantage. Whether that advantage extends to evolutionary advantage I can’t say. How “best” is defined seems to depend on the culture. And that’s as far as I’m willing to go.

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    Richard Ilfeld

    We have an ongoing laboratory for the study of this problem. It is sports.
    Competition, within “rules”. There are common aphorisms encapsulating the two populations. “Play the game the right way” “Respect the Game”. vs
    “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying” “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”. The constant seeking of an “edge” features both those who innovate within the rules and those who cross the lines. Because careers are short, we see several generations of sport within a single human generation, which helps the study. Do cheaters win? Sometimes. Are they loved and respected? sometimes. Are they ostracized and banned from the game? Sometimes. Do we observe and discuss? Always. For the miniscule number of hockey fans in the world, btw, my mind is on sport as I witnessed a great contest last night. Go Bolts, in spite of the other side cheating…:<)

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      crosspatch

      I will give an example. Several years ago the National Football League in the US allowed the “offense” to provide their own balls for when they had possession of the ball. One team (New England Patriots) very slightly deflated these balls. While the attention is being focused on the quaterback who threw the balls, the advantage is elsewhere. Looking at statistics, as soon as this rule was allowed, the number of times that players running with the ball lost control of it (“fumbled” the ball) dropped significantly. A softer ball is easier to keep a grip on than a harder ball. Moreover, looking at the statistics for players who played for other teams before and after playing with the New England Patriots showed that players had a significant decline in their average number of fumbles per season once they began play for the Patriots. Players leaving the Patriots for other teams saw their fumble rate increase. Players that played for other teams both before and after playing with the Patriots saw their fumble rates decline while with the Pats and then return to previous levels. This would tend to argue that the reason for the reduction in fumbles by the New England Patriots had nothing to do with training or technique. A player learning a technique for preventing a fumble would retain that knowledge when moving to another team.

      Losing possession of the ball (a “turnover” of possession to the other team) can be costly event, particularly if this happens near a team’s own goal. A team that can significantly reduce the number of fumbles during the course of a season has an advantage.

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    crosspatch

    I would say that there are likely environmental circumstances where cheaters benefit and circumstances where cooperators benefit and having a mix of them in the population assures that some members of the species benefit under a wide variety of environmental conditions. In this case, the self-budders would be good at establishing a new population in an area where the organisms are so sparse that changes of finding others to “stalk” with are low. At some point there are enough and the stalk-formers begin to have an advantage of some sort — maybe the self-sacrifice manages the population to within the food supply, or something. But there are always a few self-budders around and I believe those would be handy to have when there is a sudden population crash for whatever reason and a new population needs to be established in an otherwise sparsely populated area. So keeping some of those around (tolerating them under normal circumstances) might be advantageous overall.

    Same is probably true with other animals in different ways. “Cheating” or not abiding by the more common social order might convey some advantage in a non-intuitive way (such as maintaining genetic diversity or effecting the spread of advantageous genes co-lateral with the cheating gene).

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    ExArdingJas

    Jo,

    As I read your thesis I couldn’t help quailing against the anthropomorphising of amoeba. I am attracted in principle to the thesis, however what seems to me a better concept is that of risk taker.

    I thought immediately of a mob of sheep (which I have often worked with in my past – both actually and metaphorically :-) ). There is always a few sheep who “decide” (or act by chance) to break away from the mob. Most immediately stop when confronted by a threat and rejoin the mob, the odd few continue to break away and then some of the mob will follow. These often become the new leaders.

    I suspect you yourself would have to be placed in the camp of risk takers – and we can think of many examples throughout history of others. I have just become somewhat more of a risk taker – as someone who in my mid 60s has started flying lessons again – I recognise the mental effort required to stick to an unpopular (with some of my peers) decision.

    The moral aspect of this does seem to play a part. If the risk taker is seen to push the boundaries of “acceptable” behaviour they will start to lose followers. So too the amoeba that has no ability to help grow communal stalks. My 2 year old grandson is continually pushing the boundaries – does one discourage this behaviour or encourage it? As you suggested in comments above how much of this is nature and how much nurture?

    Cheers
    James

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    Michael Hammer

    I am very surprised that I have not seen any mention of Richard Dawkins in this debate. He described exactly this thesis quite a long time ago and even subjected it to mathematical analysis (to derive the stable ratio of cheaters to non cheaters) as a very convincing answer to some of the apparent paradoxes of evolution – such as the development of altruistic behaviour. Have a look at “the blind watchmaker”.

    An interesting theory but not new.

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    ExArdingJas

    PS The risk taking behaviour might seem to be a chaotic event (in mathematical sense). Most of us have the desire but do we reach the threshold and act?

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    Gamecock

    Animals behaving like animals. Amoebas are not capable of immoral behavior (cheating), nor moral behavior.

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    Jennifer Parfenovics

    by Rodney McQueen and David Catchpoole

    Photos by Ron Oldfield

    Despite intense scientific scrutiny, these ‘what-are-they?’ organisms continue to baffle.
    Even after many decades of research, the experts still debate how best to classify them.1,2 For many years the organisms pictured here were labelled ‘fungus’, because part of their life cycle is like that of many fungi. Mostly, though, they move and feed like one-celled ‘animals’. Yet they make their own cellulose, like a plant. And incredibly, as we shall see, there are times when they look and move like multi-celled animals. Part of their life cycle is also very similar to certain bacteria. Just what are they?

    These are the so-called ‘slime moulds’, which are tiny (about 0.02 mm long, or 1/1000th inch), and despite their repulsive-sounding name, can look very beautiful. They are found all over the world, living in rich damp soil, leaf litter, or animal manure. They come in two broad types: plasmodial and cellular.3 We will mainly consider the cellular slime moulds, one of which, Dictyostelium discoideum, has been (and continues to be) the subject of intensive scientific scrutiny.4

    Slime moulds vividly demonstrate the ingenious diversity of God’s Creation. It would be hard to imagine creatures more bizarre in their behaviour, if indeed it can be said that they ‘behave’.

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    To me the concept of parasitism is clearer in meaning than cheating. Either way the amoeba model can provide some insights. If an amoebal strain specialises in taking over another strain’s fruiting body completely then it will kill off its host and die out itself. But Life is rarely simple. When is an amoebal strain really parasitic? Can contemporary biology rule out the possibility that the host strain is acting to help propagate strains that specialise in the search for food? Science has had a tendency to reduce and simplify complexity into convenient compartments ignoring the interconnections and unfathomable complexity.

    The Authoritarian Left provides a more visible example of parasitism. It preys on weak societies and attempts to break down those that are not already weak. A carbon tax will weaken any society that allows it. Energy is the foundation of all societies – human or microbial. Attacking energy supply is not skimming excess cream, it’s killing the cow. It is more predator than parasite. The leaders know this. They think they can replace the cow with an artificial one. History and common sense tell us they can’t.

    Amoeba balance individual living, feeding, and reproduction with cooperative forms. As I remember it, they cooperate to produce spores when resources become scarce. We seem to have a similar instinct to band together to form one people, one mind when things get difficult. The Authoritarian Left take advantage of this and create fear and confusion.

    Living organisms have evolved defences and immune systems to detect and fend off predators and parasites. Our society has rules as law and also customary rules of fair play sometimes expressed as morality. We try to balance the wellbeing of the whole against the personal aspirations of the individual.

    I was born at a time when we had recently been fighting a war and the intense need for cooperation was still strongly felt but waning. Over my life I have seen the pendulum swing to the opposite extreme. We need to find a new balance appropriate to our changing prosperity, technology, education levels, trade relations and global security.

    My first reaction when I wonder what we can do is to look at what we have learned over our social evolution. A major influence in my early life was team sports and team activities generally – specifically, activities that give us experience in cooperation and its power, not ones designed to create an easily manipulated hive-mind.

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    Mike M

    I suppose “cheating” would include thievery, some Adelie penguins have “discovered” that they can steal nesting stones from a neighbor. Doing that is easier than traveling further away to get them and being closer to their own nest makes it more difficult for some other penguin to steal from them.

    Obviously they cannot all steal from each other or the work would never get done, some percentage of them have to do honest work. So how many thieves can the system withstand before it begins to seriously impact the nesting schedule and affect nesting outcome?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1f–GZSptnk

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      Rereke Whakaaro

      Thanks Mike,

      I had forgotten about that behaviour in penguins. It has given me my daily chuckle.

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