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The Philosophy of Social Evolution$
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Jonathan Birch

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198733058

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198733058.001.0001

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The Multicellular Organism as a Social Phenomenon

The Multicellular Organism as a Social Phenomenon

(p.165) 7 The Multicellular Organism as a Social Phenomenon
The Philosophy of Social Evolution

Jonathan Birch

Oxford University Press

As Hamilton observed, the stability of cooperation within clonal groups of cells is no mystery, since the cells’ inclusive fitness interests are aligned. However, the process of social group transformation, by means of which a social group of cells is transformed into a multicellular individual with a division of labour among multiple cell types, remains mysterious. In both multicellular organisms and eusocial insects, group size and the number of specialized types are closely linked. As Bourke has argued, positive feedback is likely to be crucial in explaining the relationship between size and complexity, and a social perspective on the organism helps us understand this feedback loop. This chapter proposes an expanded feedback loop in which the relationship between group size and specialization is mediated by the degree of redundancy (which may be either passive or active) in task structures.

Keywords:   major transitions, multicellularity, individuality, specialization, complexity, redundancy, group size, social evolution

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