Collaboration and competition

Close-up picture Californian Redwood trees showing some fallen trunks and branches amonst living treesCompetition has become a characteristic of many activities in life, whether it is teams vying to win a trophy, universities attempting to be top of a league table, retailers trying to persuade you to buy from them, or politicians seeking power. Natural selection is often cited to demonstrate that competition is ubiquitous in nature and therefore something to be embraced and celebrated as a route to success. However, Suzanne Simard has highlighted that competition is only part of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. It was popularised following the publication of his book ‘The Origin of Species’ in 1859; however, Darwin also wrote about the ways in which plants co-operate and collaborate and Simard believes that collaboration is ‘as important, if not more important’ than competition in the development of ecosystems. Trees may have a better chance of adapting to climate change because they are adapting faster than us.  A number of mass movements of plants are in progress – the fastest appears to be the northwards migration of white spruce trees in the eastern US which have moved 100 km every decade for the last thirty years. Perhaps it is time to apply some more comprehensive biomimetics to the organisation of society at all levels and consider how greater levels of collaboration rather than competition would help us tackle the challenges facing civilisation.

Sources:

Henry Mance, Lunch with the FT: Suzanne Simard ‘I say to the trees, “I hope I’m helping”‘, FT Weekend, 26 March / 27 March 2022.

James Bridle, The speed of a dandelion, FT Weekend, 2 April / 3 April 2022.

2 thoughts on “Collaboration and competition

  1. Tony Patey

    FT Lunch always an interesting read …. you must have come across Peter Kropotkin’s “Mutual Aid” in relation to evolution, and, maybe (?) Wynne-Edwards’ “Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behaviour” – idea of natural selection operating at level of the group; controversial but worth thinking around.

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  2. drehack

    While ‘The Origin of Species’ suggests to give an insight into the route from the past to the present, it does so only in retrospect by claiming everything that exists must have evolved into the best fit (to the present circumstances, climate or political system). But what if the natural selection just promotes the best fit from existing solutions – such as the white spruce tree?

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