Saturday, 3 May 2014

The alleged eusociality of humans

Kevin Foster and Francis Ratnieks once asked if humans were eusocial - apparently on the grounds that sterile grandparents frequently care for human young. More recently Edward Wilson and John Wilkins have also claimed that humans are "eusocial".

It seems like an extreme stretch to refer to humans as "eusocial". Many other workers - including myself - have used the term "ultrasocial" to refer to humans instead. Future human societies may conceivably feature large numbers of sterile human clones. Then, the term "eusicial" would become much more appropriate. However we just aren't anywhere near that today. As Matt Ridley likes to quip: not even people in England delegate their reproductive activities to the queen!

Modern human societies do have eusocial components, though. Memetic eusociality is quite common. For example, most dollar bills do not reproduce directly - and instead prefer to delegate reproduction to banks. It is the same with many books - individual books are typically sterile workers - whose purpose is to divert resources towards a reproductive "queen". This type of eusociality does, in fact, play a significant role in promoting human sociality. However, it would be a tremendous muddle to call humans "eusocial" - on the grounds that some human memes are eusocial. Such muddling together of organic and cultural evolution would create a big conceptual mess. Typically memes don't interbreed with humans - since they aren't part of the same species. Memes have their own lineages which are not to be muddled up with those of humans. Eusocial meme lineages do not make eusocial humans!

No comments:

Post a Comment