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Super Cooperators Hardcover – 17 Mar 2011
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"Martin has a passion for taking informal ideas that people like me find theoretically important and framing them as mathematical models. He allows our intuitions about what leads to what to be put to the test." (STEVEN PINKER The New York Times)
"A fantastic journey into the science of cooperation, with important implications for both individuals and society alike." (Richard Wiseman, bestselling author of 59 SECONDS)
"Supercooperators looks beyond The Selfish Gene and invites us to think afresh about evolution. Contrary to the simplistic idea that selfishness is the only strategy for survival, the brilliant Martin Nowak proves that cooperation is also vitally important. This rich and rewarding book teems with new ideas and insights, which co-author Roger Highfield makes wonderfully lucid and entertaining." (Graham Farmelo, winner of the Costa Biography Award)
"Groundbreaking . . . SuperCooperators is part autobiography, part textbook, and reads like a best-selling novel." (Manfred Milinski Nature)
"Unlike many general audience science books, this one delivers on its promise of providing an interesting and entertaining tour through the complexities of natural selection and the hard science behind the human behaviour." (Irish Times)
"An absorbing, accessible book about the power of mathematics... Nowak is one of the most exciting modelers working in the field of mathematical biology today." (New York Times Book Review)
"The nexus of evolutionary biology, game theory and neuroscience provides the most exciting avenue, and this book is an excellent example of the genre...all politicians can draw inspiration and ideas from the intellectual resources of this exciting approach." (David Willetts Financial Times)
"Stimulating...the combination [of Nowak and Highfield] works magnificently well. ... The book is highly readable, and it's an enthralling piece of work." (David Erdal Scotsman)
A ground-breaking but accessible popular science book about cooperationSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
This would have led to a worthy (but difficult) book without Roger Highfield as co-author. Highfield, editor of New Scientist, is surely the finest exponent of the art of taking highly complex scientific subjects and rendering them both understandable and easy to read for the layman (compare his "Frontiers of Complexity" with Roger Penrose's "The Emperor's New Mind" and you will see). The result of this "Super Cooperation" is a highly readable, lucid work which adds considerably to the genreral understanding of this important aspect of evolutionary biology.
This is a fascinating read, although some of the human examples are less compelling than those from other species - there is no mention in the description of all the cooperation that goes to deliver a cup of coffee in a coffee bar that each cooperator is being paid for his efforts, which provides a considerable incentive, yet there is no reason why a vampire bat should regurgitate part of its bloody feed to allow an unsuccessful bat to gain some nutrition outside of the altrustic motives that Nowak describes. Much of the argument has an echo of Kantian logic and it would have been good to see this reflected in the discussion of human behaviour, but these are small gripes in an fascingating and important work.
One final reflection - as the book was being published, Nowak found himself embroiled in an argument over the importance of Inclusive fitness, a concept regarded by many as key to a modern understanding of evolutionary biology, but which Nowak considers irrelevant. Perhaps this goes to show that, for all the altruism which Nowak claims drives natural selection, competition always lies close by!
It's this essential challenge which the historical darwinian notion of 'survival of the fittest' is ill-equipped to solve. No one struggling to assist with political change can afford not to be aware of the book's central contentions. No one struggling with a difficult boss at work or exasperating relationship, will succeed unless they are using (even inadvertently) a strategy borrowed from some part of Novak's research.
There are very few novel concepts in biology that reach across to the social sciences, without falling into the trap of easy determinism. This account of game theory and strategy succeeds. Even if you don't agree with the conclusions, there are few better rigorous introductions to the notion of strategising across species, as well as human affairs.
It is about showing how cooperation is a part of our lives, it is about showing why we should cooperate and why we shouldn't fear other people taking advantage of that (a fear which I think people generally have).
The book starts from the simple idea of the "Prisoner's Dilemma". Using computer simulations Nowack find which evolutionary strategies are the winning ones. Unsurprisingly, it's those that cooperate and even more, those that forgive!
The book further explains how cooperation within populations evolves and recedes and gives clues on how we should structure our own society to help cooperation flourish. It talks about which is better: to punish someone or to reward them?
It is true that the fundamental conclusions are not very surprising, but what I find interesting is that those conclusions can be based on experiments and mathematics. They coincide with general religious teachings, but because they are also backed up by mathematical models, I think, gives them much more power.
I would definitely recommend this book to anybody who has ever wondered if (or "WHY?") they should do a leap of faith or to anybody who asks what is our purpose in this world, because, instead of quoting scripture, Nowack presents data backed by experiment. He also presents different views and argues for or against them. Overall, most of the books conclusions follow in a logical manner.
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This is truly outstanding research and I'm glad I read it.Read more
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