Survival of the fittest? More like "friendliest," scientists argue in new book

Charles Darwin

Survival of the "friendliest"? Charles Darwin's famous phrase may have been misinterpreted, a new book suggests. Duke University scientists Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods argue in Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity that factors like friendliness, partnership and communication are key to evolutionary success, not being big, strong, and/or mean.

Here's an excerpt adapted from the book (via Popular Science):

Arguably, no folk theory of human nature has done more harm—or is more mistaken—than the "survival of the fittest." The idea that the strong and ruthless will survive while the weak perish became cemented in the collective consciousness around the publication of the fifth edition of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species in 1869, in which he wrote that, as a proxy for the term natural selection, "Survival of the Fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient."

But somewhere along the way, "fitness" became synonymous with physical fitness. In the wild, the logic goes, the bigger you are, and the more willing you are to fight, the less others will mess with you and the more successful you will become. You can monopolize the best food, find the most attractive mates, and have the most babies.

Over the past century and a half, this mistaken version of "fitness" has been the basis for social movements, corporate restructuring, and extreme views of the free market. It has been used to argue for the abolition of government, to judge groups of people as inferior, and to justify the cruelty that results. But to Darwin and modern biologists, "survival of the fittest" refers to something very specific—the ability to survive and leave behind viable offspring. It is not meant to go beyond that….

Friendliness is a different strategy, and it is a powerful one.

(The Hour)

photo by Julia Margaret Cameron

Thanks, CK!