When grandma used to say, be good to others, when religions ask us to forgive, or when elders advice the young to work with rather than against one another, it all sounds old-fashioned and contrary to the competitive spirit. But in recent years psychology and empirical science have been suggesting that compassion, caring and cooperation are not just old-time wisdom but have sound scientific and evolutionary basis. Of the books written with this refrain, this one is one of the most original in insights and penetrating in reflections. It highlights not just the need for altruism and cooperation, but shows how it is built into the framework of the physical world even at the molecular and cellular level. Perhaps the most telling instance of the consequence of non-cooperation is cancer which results when cells stop cooperating. Written by an eminent mathematical biologist with a fine science writer as co-author, the book is replete with historical asides and brief notes on a number of related topics such as superorganisms and network games. We read about how language became a “remarkable spur for cooperation.” Or, perhaps it was cooperation that became a spur for language. The book also reveals some of the fascinating mathematical structure behind some of these cooperating systems.
August 11, 2011