Archive for the ‘Martin Nowak’ Category

Super Cooperators, Martin Nowak, Roger Highfield

18 giugno 2011




Super Cooperators. Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed è il saggio del matematico Martin Nowak e del giornalista Roger Highfield pubblicato da Free Press nel mese di marzo 2011.


Gli autori ricorrono alla matematica superiore per dimostrare che “cooperazione e competizione sono perennemente e strettamente interconnesse”. Intenti a perseguire il nostro interesse personale spesso siamo portati a restituire una gentilezza ricevuta, così da poter contare sugli altri in caso di bisogno. Siamo stimolati a crearci la reputazione di persone gentili con l’intento di invogliare gli altri a collaborare con noi. Siamo incentivati al lavoro di squadra, anche se nel breve periodo può risultare controproducente rispetto ai nostri interessi personali, perché i gruppi coesi sono destinati al successo. L’autore attribuisce alla cooperazione un ruolo centrale nell’evoluzione equiparandola alla mutazione e alla selezione. (Repubblica, 17/06/2011, pag. 43)





We’re all used to the Darwinian perspective of nature being about raw competition, fighting tooth and nail for survival – but the reality is much more complex. Specifically, cooperation is a major feature of life, and the two authors, sets out to explain just what is going on. What is particularly interesting here if you are used to biology being all about field studies of the interaction of lesser spotted mole rats (or whatever), is that Nowak takes a modelling approach, making heavy use of game theory and other mathematical techniques to simulate the nature of cooperation. This really is interesting, though some of the topics covered (like indirect reciprocity and group selection) can leave the reader a little bogged down. The trouble is, the authors are rather fond of flowery, hand-waving language and make some very broad assertions up front (like cooperation has to be put alongside mutation and selection in evolution) without initially justifying them. I am not saying that they are necessarily wrong in the importance they give to cooperation, but the result comes across as more than a little pompous. To be fair, though, this settles down rather once we’re into the main part of the book. The book also falls into something of a trap that emerges when an active scientist co-authors with a journalist. Journalists like human interest, and the result seems to be that the scientist is encouraged to put a lot of themselves into the book. This is all very well when writing about the history of science, when details of Newton’s life, say, help us put his work into context. But when it’s a living author doing this about themselves, the result is to come across – unintentionally I believe – as self-important. Some readers will like this approach, so I can’t say it’s definitely wrong, but I’m afraid it puts my back up. Overall, then, the result is an interesting concept, with some delightful ideas behind it, that would have made an excellent feature article in New Scientist, but stretched over a book it feels to rather drag. If you are particularly interested in the field, then this is a book you must read, but I’m not sure if it has enough going for it to be a must read for those with a broader interest in science.  (





Le immagini sono in rapporto antifrastico rispetto al contenuto del libro. Vogliono rappresentare simbolicamente la rottura dei “copioni” e del repertorio di atteggiamenti convenzionalmente riconosciuti dalla società.




Il libro

Martin Nowak, Roger Highfield, Super Cooperators. Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed, Free Press, New York, 2011



Gli autori






La libreria