Altruism is a real mystery for those who believe in a world ruled by “survival of the fittest.” If perpetuation of one’s genes is a biological imperative, why would any creature sacrifice its resources or even its life in order to help others? And yet the natural world offers many examples of just this kind of behavior.

As summarized by biologists Marcy Uyenoyama and Marcus Feldman in the book Keywords in Evolutionary Biology, “The evolution by natural selection of any trait requires that it increase the contribution of its carriers to future generations.” Therefore, if an individual helps others contribute to the next generation at the expense of itself, it cannot participate in evolution because it fails to meet natural selection’s requirement.

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