by Jovel Queirolo, ’14
Stanford’s Project Compassion recently brought evolutionary biologist (and revolutionary) David Sloan Wilson to campus to discuss the evolutionary significance of altruism and compassion. He defined the term compassion, in biology, as awareness of suffering and the wish to relieve it. He defined altruism as concern for another’s welfare even at the expense of oneself. He explained that altruistic and compassionate creatures often sacrifice themselves for others, which is seemingly “not fit.” In evolutionary jargon, fitness means one’s ability to reproduce and pass on one’s genes.
The answer to this evolutionary puzzle, Wilson says, is that altruistic and compassionate groups are favored by natural selection even if an altruistic or compassionate individual is not. He presents a case featuring water striders – the research conducted by his former student, Omar Tonsi Eldakar. Continue reading