The two fundamental principles of evolution are mutation and naturalselection. But evolution is constructive because of cooperation. New levels of organization evolve when the competing units on the lower level begin to cooperate. Cooperation allows specialization and thereby promotes biological diversity. Cooperation is the secret behind the open-endedness of the evolutionary process. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of evolution is its ability to generate cooperation in a competitive world. Thus, we might add “natural cooperation” as a third fundamental principle of evolution beside mutation and natural selection.<
Martin Nowak, reviewed five rules for the evolution of cooperation (PDF). In doing so, he argues strongly that cooperation is one of the fundamental mecahnisms underlying evolution.
David Rand takes this idea further. In the video below, he quickly covers three of the five rules outline by Nowak (direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity and network reciprocity). He then takes this further, showing data from his own research that shows that people are more likely to be cooparative if they make quick, intuitive decision and more selfish if they take longer to reflect on their decision.
The idea of natural cooperation is an interesting contrast (or perhaps complement) to the idea of the "selfish gene"
(found via Yochai Benkler's The Unselfish Gene in the July 2011 issue of HBR)