Why teach? The evolutionary origins and ecological consequences of costly information transfer

Livio Riboli-Sasco, Sam Brown and François Taddei

in Sociobiology of Communication

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199216840
Published online September 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780191712043 | DOI:
 Why teach? The evolutionary origins and ecological consequences of costly information transfer

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If teaching is omnipresent in our knowledge societies, we know little about its evolutionary origins and we can hardly predict the outcome of today ever faster speed of information transfer made possible by the emergence of information and communication technologies used in wiki, e-mail, or web 2.0. To explore these issues, this chapter reformulates the ‘why teach’ question by asking: Why should an individual invest resources in transmission of information to another individual? A qualitative difference between teaching and other forms of altruism associated with material exchanges is that information copy number increases during teaching, allowing information to spread autocatalytically. Models are introduced where such autocatalytic transfer of information can modify the behaviours of individuals and thus impact their production of public good altering the shared environment. The chapter then discusses the evolutionary causes and ecological consequences of such dynamical processes that can be observed in organisms as diverse as bacteria and humans.

Keywords: teaching; public goods; cultural evolution; social learning; wiki; e-mail; web 2.0; bacterial plasmid transfers; niche construction; education

Chapter.  6034 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Zoology and Animal Sciences

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