The Evolution of Cooperation



I want to start this post with this collaboration photo from an Italian teacher colleague and a message from Dalai Lama

“Love and kindness are always right. If you believe or do not believe in rebirth it doesn’t matter, you will always need love in this life. If we have love, there is hope to have authentic families, authentic brotherhood, authentic peace.” ( Dalai Lama )

Love is for me the greatest kind of collaboration. This post is the result of my research about collaboration. I hope you enjoy it.


  1. Definition of cooperation
  2. Forces that shaped life on earth.
  3. The primary architect of evolution
  4. The most helpful animal
  5. Good examples of cooperation in Society 
  6. Evolutions
  7. The evolution of competition
  8. Mechanisms governing the emergence of   cooperation
  9. Cooperation in images
  10. Examples of Cooperation in nature
  11. ‘Chickens have a lot to teach us about collaboration
  12. Improving collaboration
  13. School_classroom_dilemma
  14. Conclusions



Definition of cooperation

Cooperation is defined by ) with these examples:

  1. an act or instance of working or 
    acting together for a common purpose or benefit;
  2. a  joint action.
  3. more or less active assistance from a person, organization, etc.
  4.  cooperation of various civic leaders.
  5. as defined in  economics:
    the combination of persons for purposes of production, purchase or distribution for their joint benefit:
  6. producers’ cooperation 
  7. consumers’ cooperation.
  8. as defined on sociology: 
    activity shared for mutual benefit.
  9. as defined in ecology: 
    mutually beneficial interaction among organisms living in a limited area. 


forces that shaped life on earth.

“Competition is not the only force that shaped life on earth.”

I found an article in Scientific American from July 1012 called “The Evolution of Cooperation. This article is the reason why I write this post. One could say that the evolution of cooperation went on together with the biological evolution of competence within specific arts. The evolution of cooperation in the article is mainly focused on the evolution of cooperation among Homo sapiens.  The article does not document in detail known cooperation between different arts like e.g. in between the Merlin falcon ( Falco columbarius )and one of their prey shows ( Monticola saxatilis ) a kind of cooperation I will talk more about below.


The primary architect of evolution

As the article I wrote about above says:

“Far from being a nagging exception to the rule of evolution, cooperation has been one of its primary architects”

( See the beginning of the article in )




The most cooperative animal

Competition, struggle, war, and evilness are what I mainly think about when we talk or read about human beings and our Society.

It was surprising for me that the article tells that the most helpful art is Homo sapiens. Why? This article explains this

Only humans have a full-blown language that allows us to share information about everyone and everything.”

Listen to this Ted talk with Yuval Noah Harari about the value of cooperation in the development of homo sapiens:

The same is true of the economic field. The most important actors today in the global economy are companies and corporations. Many of you today, perhaps, work for a corporation, like Google or Toyota or McDonald’s. What exactly are these things? They are what lawyers call legal fiction. They are stories invented and maintained by the powerful wizards we call lawyers. (Laughter) And what do corporations do all day? Mostly, they try to make money. Yet, what is money? Again, money is not an objective reality; it has no objective value. Take this green piece of paper, the dollar bill. Look at it — it has no value. You cannot eat it, you cannot drink it, you cannot wear it. But then came along these master storytellers — the big bankers, the finance ministers, the prime ministers — and they tell us a very convincing story: “Look, you see this green piece of paper? It is actually worth 10 bananas.” And if I believe it, and you believe it, and everybody believes it, it actually works. I can take this worthless piece of paper, go to the supermarket, give it to a complete stranger whom I’ve never met before, and get, in exchange, real bananas which I can actually eat. This is amazing. You could never do it with chimpanzees. Chimpanzees trade, of course: “Yes, you give me a coconut, I’ll give you a banana.” That can work. But, you give me a worthless piece of paper and you except me to give you a banana? No way! What do you think I am, a human? (Laughter) 


Good examples of cooperation in Society

 The article starts telling about a 20-year-old young maintenance worker who almost offered his life. He entered the radiation poisoned nuclear plant of Fukushima in march 2011 stopping it from melting, avoiding a total disaster. He knew he could never marry and have a family after this heroic act.

Fukushima I by Digital Globe.jpg

Image source (wiki )

This reminds me of all those Christian martyrs who offered their life for the sake of the Christian Community. Without these martyrs, we would today maybe still venerate Roman gods.

There are many other examples of brave humans who offered their life to fight evilness, like eg during the second world war. Without the second war heroes we would maybe still have Nazism and dictatorship in Europe.

producer cooperation

There are also examples of good producer cooperation in successful companies. Google is known as a company where the owners and leadership take care of the employees. The extraordinary success and creativity of this company are the result of great cooperation and a good climate between the employees. 

Larry Page and Sergey brin cooperated and today Larry and Sergey are billionaires.

( Source: )

I see an example of such cooperation here on Lipari where a team of engineers and architects have created gorgeous hotels and still are working hard with other projects. 

We had good cooperation in my school  (lövgärdeskolan) several years ago. Teachers and headmaster cooperated to help all young kids coming from the war in Bosnia to get a better future.  In the nineties, our school had a very good reputation and we had a visit to our school from teachers all over Sweden. Cooperation was the spirit of my schools (in Swedish “Lövgärdessandan”). But the political leadership had other plans and the school loosed thereafter its good reputation.

The Kidlink project is another good example of cooperation where volunteers all over the world cooperate to run global school projects. I had the honor to participate in this project since 1997. 



The evolution of cooperation is not the only one There have been several kinds of evolutions.

From the evolution of particles (nucleosynthesis) to the chemical and organic evolution (recently called abiogenesis) to the biological evolution and finally the cultural evolution. As shown in this Swedish image from



The evolution of competition

The article just mentions competition but we all know how the competition has evolved with new methods and tools in the latest century especially in media and the Internet with eg terror and with tools like nuclear weapons and radioactive poisons.


The mechanism governing
the emergence of cooperation

The article presents five mechanisms governing the emergence of cooperation. These are:

  1. direct reciprocity (.g., if a bat misses a chance to feed directly on prey,  it will beg from peers)
  2. spatial selection (e.g. neighbors tend to help one another)
  3. cooperation among genetically related individuals. (sacrifices for their relatives) (

    Kin selection

  4. indirect reciprocity (help another based on another’s reputation)
  5. group selection (selfless acts for the greater goods)

“Without any mechanism (direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, group selection etc)  for the evolution of cooperation, natural selection favors defectors. In mixed population defectors, D, has a higher payoff (=fitness) than cooperators,”


cooperation in images

the garden of eden with the fall of man by brueghel the elder and rubens

This painting is made by two artists: “Although Brueghel was responsible for the composition, Rubens started the painting…” (Read more about the paininting in )


How many times haven’t we struggled with each other to discover later was better cooperate? When will e.g. Russia discover that? Cooperation means sacrifice but in the long term, it is a winning solution. You waste less energy and time.



I have let my teenage students do this. Good cooperation = faster solution. Typical no cooperating behavior. One sits down and does nothing. Motivation: “I can not help out” or “I don’t want to work with him/her”. 


I love to see when small kids communicate with each other and cooperate )  This image from renegade is great.



Examples of Cooperation in nature

Common raven (Corvus corax, see image below) is an egg predator on Merlin falcon and Rock trush. The falcon and the trush cooperate to protect themselves from the raven. Trushes have big nest communities and allow a Merlin falcon to have its nest in the middle of the trush community even if the Falcon now and then ear Trush.  This cooperation is observable in northern Sweden. The trush warns the falcon if a raven is nearby. The falcon with its fast attacks from behind the raven is an expert in having the raven to choose other hunting areas.

Corvus corax

Falco columbarius

Monticola saxatilis


Why complex animal societies …
like those of elephants, starlings, ants, etc?

Read more about Kin selection,  Hamilton’s rule and more in

“How were paper birch and Douglas fir communicating? Well, it turns out they were conversing not only in the language of carbon but also nitrogen and phosphorus and water and defense signals and allele chemicals and hormones — information. ” ( Source: )

Roots of huge tree | Peter Owen / EyeEm/Getty Images


Competition or cooperation

I like very much this resumé of renegadeinc: “All of the great evolutionary leaps forward, in biology, culture, and society, have come when antagonistic, competing groups have come to realize that they’d be better off cooperating with their erstwhile enemies in pursuit of common aims. Only in respect of the economy have we yet to learn this lesson…”

 ( Source: )


Collaboration  – Chickens have a lot to teach us about collaboration

A Tedx Santa Cruz video with Jim Tamm, a former law professor and senior administrative law judge for the state of California. He mediated nearly 2,000 employment disputes and handed down legal decisions that impacted national labor policy. He’s worked for 40 years in the field of alliance building and conflict resolution and is an expert in building collaborative workplace environments. He’s the author of “Radical Collaboration,” published in 2005. Source: (

Collaborated with Bill Muir Professor of Genetics

Breed collaborative instincts into the chicken to see the impact on egg production

There are two types of chickens

  1. Red zone chickens

These are star egg producers not by themselves but by suppressing the egg production of the other chickens by pecking on them. They often tend to be aggressive.

2. Green zone chickens

are not star egg producers but are nice to each other.

Breeding up green zone chicken and separating the green zone chicken from the red zone chicken

The green zone chicken became healthy and productive. 50% of the red zone chicken died because they killed each other.


Separating green zone chickens from red zone chicken gave an egg production rise of  260% in 1 year

Red Zone environment produce more3 red zone behavior

Read more about this experiment in


Improving collaboration

By managing  your defensiveness


  • Defensiveness does not protect us from other people.
  • It defends us from fears we don’t want to feel.
  • Defensiveness helps us hide our fears from ourselves and we do so e.g. by  blaming others for being wrong.

Effects of defensiveness

  • your thinking becomes rigid
  • your IQ drops about 20 points  (these effects are maybe  caused by stress hormones flooding your blood circulation and brain?)

The defensiveness reaction has to do with our Amygdala in our Limbic system I write about on my page about neuroscience. Managing our defensiveness is about “reprogramming our Amygdala”. as the neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor calls it.

Create your own early warning system

try understanding your own signals of defensiveness.

  • withdrawal into silence
  • Playing poor me
  • All or nothing thinking
  • Wanting to be right
  • Blaming or shaming others
  • A sudden drop in IQ/confusion
  • High charge of energy in the body
  • catastrophing everything
  • Wanting the last word
  • obsessive thinking
  • Flooding with information to prove a point.
  • complete denial of your own defensiveness

(source; )

Action step to move forward and to practice

  • Acknowledge you own defensiveness
  • Getting an early warning system
  • Slow down by taking a few deep breath or take a walk somewhere else (to the bathroom maybe?)
  • check negative self-talk
  • Create an Action step
  • Start over

We don’t want to appear incompetent so we blame the other to be incompetent. 


School classroom dilemma

Inspired by Jim Tam in the video above, I use below the term “”red kid” in a similar way, to normally indicate a kid that easily becomes aggressive and destructive in the classroom by interrupting the calm, by e.g. annoying other classmates.  Some “red kids” may however be fast learners but react aggressively, with defense reactions becoming very offensive if their will is not met positively. 

I had a discussion with a neighbor working in a public school in the village. They have the same problem we had and still are having in my sold school.

In Sweden and Italy, it is prohibited to isolate or segregate kids in different groups according to their behavior. All talks about the benefits of heterogeneous classrooms. This may work well if you in a class of 30 kids have one or maybe two red kids.  Although two red dominant kids can cause a lot of damage, a school can maybe handle this supporting the green kids to not be infected.
My last experience with a eighth grade was a total catastrophe as there were

  • 4 red kids, 
  • 2-5  slow learner green kids that required simplified teaching at the elementary level.
  • a few kids with attention deficit who needed tranquility to be able to listen
  • 3 red skilled kids who required to be taught their way.
  • I alone could not manage to make all these kids happy.

 I personally believe that there is no meaning to oblige unmotivated red kids to study if they aren’t receptive to teaching.  It is better to take them apart temporarily to have a dialog with them building a constructive relationship.

Being a teacher I am not a psychologist nor a therapist. We have had cases in which parents did not allow the school to let a psychologist or therapist talk with a red kid, helping me as a teacher with the right advice.

My schools expect the teacher to solve everything modificating the teaching methods or the way the teacher relates to the students. But this is if course unsuccessful in many cases.

I don’t know a teacher who has been able to have lessons that make both red, green, slow, and fast learner kids happy. During all my years as a teacher, I have never found a teaching method that accomplishes this. The only “solution” I saw and tested was been to find time for separate dialogs with “red” kids, one at a time. But I did not get time for the many red kids I had.

The result of our heterogeneous classroom experiments ni my school has been that many green kids have left our school to continue in private schools where they do not have so many red kids. The last years, red kids have become more and more dominant in my school and several green kids have become red. I heard that red kids rule  over the school now.

This is what the old Bible deuteronomy 21:18-21 says we shall do with a rebellious son:

 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:

19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;

20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

Jesus has learned us a different method.

A teacher in my Swedish school was recently killed.

Similar things happens in Italian schools. A teacher in my village was attacked by a very young pupil.  A teacher in Italy was yesterday (?) attacked with a knife by a student. The president receives the teacher.

How are Swedish and Italian teachers dealing with “red” (aggressive) students?



Using Jim Tamms vocabulary one could say we have green zone humans (who are nice to each other) and red zone humans (aggressive ones) .

Learning from the egg production experiment, to improve our whole planets net production (getting less starving, suffering and  conflicts), we could maybe

  • start thinking vegan (as I wrote about some time ago in ).
  • We must among others also  isolate the red zone humans  from conditioning and “infecting” green zone humans
  • the green zone humans, must learn to become more cooperative e.g. with the methods presented by Jim Tamm.

In practice

  • Put aggressive people in prison or under treatment?
  • Do not vote on aggressive people or let them get a leading position like Trump and similar people 


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