A biologist by training, Raihani looks at where and how collaborative behavior emerges throughout the animal kingdom, and what problems it solves. She reveals that the species that exhibit cooperative behavior-teaching, helping, grooming, and self-sacrifice-most similar to our own tend not to be other apes; they are birds, insects, and fish, occupying far more distant branches of the evolutionary tree. By understanding the problems they face, and how they cooperate to solve them, we can glimpse how human cooperation first evolved. And we can also understand what it is about the way we cooperate that has made humans so distinctive-and so successful.
[Raihani] starts at the simplest level. Humans do not take centre stage until halfway through, after a long look at the roots of co-operation between 'selfish' genes, in cells, then multicellular organisms, and groups of organisms ... The explanations of what is going on in each situation are nicely done, and she points the overall narrative skilfully towards what we are really interested in – why humans may co-operate and how to do it better ... In this fashion, for all its care in argument, the book’s turns into what most considerations of our nature rooted in evolutionary psychology become: a new treatise on original sin. Science, alas, offers a more elaborate description of that condition, but does not point the way to redemption. Raihani closes with some positive remarks about the response to COVID-19, and with hopes for collectively rising to the challenge of climate change through enhanced global co-operation. However, she wisely declines to offer advice on how we do this. That remains largely a matter of faith.
The book starts promisingly enough, with Raihani gathering weird and wonderful examples of the “social instinct” among humans and our fellow creatures ... The only problem is Raihani’s fairly rigid application of Darwinian logic. She doesn’t get bogged down in the long-running debate about how much of human nature can be explained by evolution. Still, the book tends towards the approach that the philosopher-neuroscientist Raymond Tallis witheringly calls 'Darwinitis'; interpreting all human behaviour in terms of how it helps us to survive or reproduce. The 'ultimate explanation' of our habits, Raihani believes, is a Darwinian one.