The following is a blog post. For this weeks' evolution column, click here.
I'm hoping to get next week's column finished in time to go to this talk at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. The speaker, Scott Gilbert, is a developmental biologist at Swarthmore. He helped advise the Vatican on stem cells and evolution, and he advised me when I used to write my infamous column about sex for the Inquirer.
I know he has some interesting thoughts on symbiosis – mutually beneficial relationships between species.
Symbiosis rules, and we are all lichens. What would "individual selection" entail if there were no real "individuals" to select? Do we have to formulate a new type of selection, and how does the whole prevent its parts from cheating?
From that CHF blurb, it sounds like Gilbert will touch on group selection – the idea that some evolution can be driven by natural selection acting on whole groups rather than individuals. Most biologists say selection at this level was not important. Richard Dawkins is among them – he told me that dispelling group selection mythology was one of his motivations for writing The Selfish Gene. On the other side, E.O. Wilson has started to write about it in a more favorable light.