The Scientist’s Eros

‘Supercooperators, Altruism, and Human Behaviour.
Or Why We Need Each Other To Succeed’
Martin Novak, Canongate Publishers

This jaunty and upbeat book was written by a former Professor of Mathematical Biology at Oxford University, now based at Harvard University in Boston, USA. It has been reviewed in the magazine ‘Oxford Today’ [www.oxfordtoday.ox.ac.uk/].

“He challenges Darwin’s notion that evolution is based solely on principles of mutation and selection, and points out that cooperation and collaboration, ‘the snuggle for existence’, have had a much more far-reaching influence on the development of life on earth than individual self-interest.

In a wide-ranging.. introduction to his theories, he declares that ‘cooperation is the architect of creativity throughout evolution’, and demonstrates how it is essential to everyday life at every level– from cells cooperating in order not to mutate into cancer tumours to buyers trusting sellers on eBay. Many animals and insects are superb co-operators and.. he reminds us that ants have lived in harmony with nature for 100 million years while humans are endangering it after only 200,000 years. However, what makes humans different and gives them the potential to be supercooperators is language.

Other chapters deal with how reward, not punishment, encourages creativity, ..and how being ‘hopeful, generous and forgiving’ as prescribed by most religions can actually be proven mathematically to be a winning formula for life on earth.”

The ‘social’ practices [virtues, beliefs] of solidarity, sharing, cooperation, collaboration– such is the spiritual ethos by which indigenous peoples originally lived. This is Eros. Kinship with humans, kinship with nature, even a feel for inanimate matter like a sculptor has in order to free the possibilities already latent in the stone, the wood, the clay– this is the driving force that ‘saves’ life, repeatedly, and allows it to expand, to prosper, to reach fruition.