© 2018

The Essential Tension

Competition, Cooperation and Multilevel Selection in Evolution

  • Written in an engaging style, suitable for an interdisciplinary audience

  • Discusses the emergence of a collective unit from a group of individual competitive components

  • Proposes a new and controversial mechanism for evolutionary processes

  • Offers an overview of the recent developments in the study of collective behaviour


Part of the The Frontiers Collection book series (FRONTCOLL)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xiv
  2. The History of an Idea

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-1
    2. Sonya Bahar
      Pages 3-12
    3. Sonya Bahar
      Pages 13-27
    4. Sonya Bahar
      Pages 51-64
    5. Sonya Bahar
      Pages 65-83
    6. Sonya Bahar
      Pages 99-124
  3. At the Frontier

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 125-125
    2. Sonya Bahar
      Pages 127-152
    3. Sonya Bahar
      Pages 153-173
    4. Sonya Bahar
      Pages 175-205
    5. Sonya Bahar
      Pages 207-233
    6. Sonya Bahar
      Pages 235-268
  4. Beyond the Barricade

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 269-269
    2. Sonya Bahar
      Pages 309-332
    3. Sonya Bahar
      Pages 333-359
    4. Sonya Bahar
      Pages 361-371

About this book


'The Essential Tension' explores how agents that naturally compete come to act together as a group. The author argues that the controversial concept of multilevel selection is essential to biological evolution, a proposition set to stimulate new debate.

The idea of one collective unit emerging from the cooperative interactions of its constituent (and mutually competitive) parts has its roots in the ancient world. More recently, it has illuminated studies of animal behavior, and played a controversial role in evolutionary biology.

In Part I, the author explores the historical development of the idea of a collectivity in biological systems, from early speculations on the sociology of human crowd behavior, through the mid-twentieth century debates over the role of group selection in evolution, to the notion of the selfish gene.

Part II investigates the balance between competition and cooperation in a range of contemporary biological problems, from flocking and swarming to experimental evolution and the evolution of multicellularity.

Part III addresses experimental studies of cooperation and competition, as well as controversial ideas such as the evolution of evolvability and Stephen Jay Gould’s suggestion that “spandrels” at one level of selection serve as possible sources of variability for the next higher level. Finally, building on the foundation established in the preceding chapters, the author arrives at a provocative new proposition: as a result of the essential tension between competition and cooperation, multiple levels may be essential in order for evolutionary processes to occur at all.


Agent-based Model of Development Collectivity in Physics Competition-cooperation Balance Evolution as a Multilevel Process Evolution of Individuality Evolutionary Spandrels or Exaptations Group Selection History of Evolution Non-linear Dynamics Chaos and Fractals Phase Transition in Biological Phenomena The Structure of Evolutionary Theory Understanding Complex Collective Phenomena

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physics & Astronomy and Center for NeurodynamicsUniversity of Missouri at St LouisSt LouisUSA

About the authors

Sonya Bahar is Professor of Biophysics and Director of the Center for Neurodynamics at the University of Missouri at St Louis. She is an expert in evolutionary dynamics and neural synchronization. She is a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Bibliographic information