The red queen and her king: Cooperation at all levels of life

Kenneth M. Weiss, Anne V. Buchanan, Brian W. Lambert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The Red Queen in "Through the Looking Glass" is often used as a metaphor for the relentless, unremitting competitive struggle by which Darwin described life. That imagery fits comfortably in our culture, with its emphasis on competition and inequity, but less so for nature herself. Life is manifestly much more about cooperation, at all levels and through a variety of ubiquitous mechanisms, than it is about competition. Most organisms of most species are nowhere near the proverbial Malthusian edge of survival, such that selection will detect the tiniest difference in their performance and enhance its genetic basis. Cooperation through interaction of multiple entities is inherent in many fundamental aspects of life, and its importance is not widely enough appreciated. Here we discuss a set of principles by which this works. We illustrate the points with a computer simulation of a topic of interest to anthropology, the development of the head. In a sense, our culture has its metaphors reversed. The red royal family is a more accurate symbol for the true nature of life, human or otherwise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-18
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue numberSUPPL. 53
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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