This book is the outgrowth of the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium “Cooperation and Conflict,” which was sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences on January 7–8, 2011, at the Academy’s Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, California. It is the fifth in a series of colloquia under the general title “In the Light of Evolution.” The first four books in this series were titled Adaptation and Complex Design (Avise and Ayala, 2007), Biodiversity and Extinction (Avise et al., 2008), Two Centuries of Darwin (Avise and Ayala, 2009a), and The Human Condition (Avise and Ayala, 2009b). The current volume explores recent developments in the study of cooperation and conflict, ranging from the level of the gene to societies and symbioses.
Any student of history knows that we humans can be a vicious lot, but paradoxically we are also among nature’s great cooperators. Which of us, as an individual, can manufacture a cell phone or an airplane? Even our great conflicts—wars—are extremely cooperative endeavors on each side. Some of this cooperation is best understood culturally, but we are also products of evolution, with bodies, brains, and behaviors molded by natural selection. How cooperation evolves has been one of the big questions in evolutionary biology, and how it pays or does not pay is a great intellectual puzzle.
If nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution (Dobzhansky, 1973), then for the first century after Darwin, cooperation and altruism did not make much sense. We could see that individual organisms sometimes helped others, even at a cost to their own fitness. It