Survival of the what?
December 3, 2006
Pretty much everybody knows the phrase ‘ the survival of the fittest’, but it’s pretty shocking how few people actually understand what it means.
It’s that word – fitness. People don’t get it. It’s not intuitive.
Evolutionary fitness is NOT about physical fitness. It’s NOT about being the biggest and the meanest. It’s NOT about being the smarted or the wealthiest. It’s NOT about being an A-type personality who always wins.
It’s about how many of your genes you pass on to the next generation.
There are lots of ways to do this. You can have lots of children by one mate. You can have lots of children by lots of mates.
Or, and this is actually quite important, you can help your relatives to have lots of children.
There’s a phrase ‘inclusive fitness’ which relates to a value called ‘Hamilton’s R value’. R stands for relatedness.
When you have children they each get half of their genes from you. They are therefore 0.5 the same as you. They are given an R-value of 0.5. If your children grow up and have children of their own, your grandchildren will each get 0.5 of the genes of your children. That’s 0.5 of 0.5 of your genes. So your grandchildren have 0.25 of your genes, so an R value of 0.25.
If you have 2 children your inclusive fitness if 2 * 0.5 = 1.
If each of your children then have 2 children then you get and inclusive fitness of 2*0.5 + 4*0.25 = 2.
On the other hand, if you only have one child, but that child has 10 children, your inclusive fitness is 0.5 + 10*0.25 = 3.
Inclusive fitness doesn’t just work ‘downwards’ to your own offspring, but it also works ‘sideways’ to you siblings.
Your brothers and sisters are given an R value of 0.5 (you do the maths, you each got a selection of 0.5 of each parents genes, but it’s a random 0.5, so you’re likely to share 0.5 of your siblings genes).
If your brother/sister has children, passing on 0.5 of their genes, then each niece/nephew will have 0.5*0.5 = 0.25 of your genes.
So your brother has 3 children, your inclusive fitness is: 0.5 + (3*0.25) = 1.25.
And now a philosophical point
Everyone on the planet is, in some way, related. Therefore if you spend your time helping anyone raise children (for example, by donating to charity to vaccinate children in the 3rd world) your inclusive fitness goes up a little.
The main point
‘Survial of the fittest’ is not an excuse to act like a selfish b*stard. Quite the opposite. If you help people out in life, you get rewarded by increased evolutionary fitness. Think about it.
If you’re interested in writing software, check out my other blog: Coding at The Coal Face
Written while listening to: