Altruism/ egoism

31


Discussion by: Sarah M

Last night I attended an event at the Lyceum in Edinburgh, during which Richard Dawkins and Aubrey Manning discussed Dawkins' memoir, An Appetite for Wonder. As part of a more general discussion about determinism in animal behaviour Dawkins made a binary distinction between altruistic and egoistic behaviours, stating that these were in direct opposition to one another. Whilst I am aware that this conclusion has been premised upon biological reasonings rather than philosophical ones, it falls rather short of lending itself to a more nuanced discussion about the part that personal agenda might play in the human process of decision making.  Does altruistic behaviour not stem from a selfish (egoistic) desire to be viewed in a positive light or to be rewarded at a later date?   If we work from the premise that a subject (a human being whose existence is at once constitutive of and constituted by her personal experiences) will necessarily consider herself first, then we must accpet that a seemingly altruistic decision will have been derived from egoism.  Thus, we can begin to appreciate that the two concepts cannot be easily dichotomised. 

What are people's thoughts on the subject?

31 COMMENTS

  1. Dawkins made a binary distinction between altruistic and egoistic behaviours, stating that these were in direct opposition to one another.

    Can you quote what he said exactly? Because that statement is rather imprecise. I’ll take a stab at one interpretation he may have meant but this is just a guess.

    It is reasonable to distinguish between two types of behavior when you are discussing human ethics. There is behavior that seems altruistic but that at least from the standpoint of the person’s selfish genes really is consistent with enhancing reproductive success. In that sense you could say it is altruistic but selfish. Examples of such behavior would be sacrificing some food to give to your children (kin selection) or sharing food when you have an abundance of it with people that are likely to share back when they can (reciprocal altruism). Those acts seem unselfish but from that standpoint of your genes they really are selfish.

    Then you have truly unselfish acts that make no sense via either reciprocal altruism or kin selection. There was a video on this site that was quite interesting a few months ago by a guy describing research on people who risked their lives to save non-kin during the holocaust. He gave an excellent presentation that described how you couldn’t reasonably describe their behavior using kin selection or reciprocal altruism. That is an example of truly unselfish behavior.

    I really have no idea if that is what Dawkins meant though, probably it was something completely different but I doubt he would say there is no relation between altruistic and egotistical behavior because so much of what we really know about altruism from an evolutionary biology perspective can be described in terms of selfish genes via kin selection and reciprocal altruism.

  2. If you read the Selfish Gene he goes into this with mathematical precision. I think you will find he is identifying behaviours that are only of benefit to the gene holder and behaviours that may as you suggest benefit others. My understanding is that your analysis is pretty much what Dawkins would think. See here nice guys finish first, plenty of nuance for all.

  3. Altruistic behaviour must cost the actor something and that is covered by what RD has said (I think) Furthermore, when you expand the field of ‘kin’ to bigger groups or expand the reward to otherworldly sources a lot of behaviour can be explained by the egoist model. Just for fun imagine, an atheist of fertile age sacrificing herself for the sake of a non-fertile individual when nobody is to know of the sacrifice. Mathematically it’s a no brainer, she shouldn’t. And yet… edit : Throw in that she’s a solipsist too!

  4. Hi Sarah,

    As part of a more general discussion about determinism in animal behaviour Dawkins made a binary distinction between altruistic and egoistic behaviours, stating that these were in direct opposition to one another.

    That’s a rather brief description, so this response may miss the target.

    In biology altruism is recognised as a trait that evolves in parallel with kin selection. One of the most significant aspects of Richard Dawkins work as a scientist was popularising the theories that linked kin selection to genetics. Kin selection works because our kin – our relatives – have many of the same genes that we do.

    Even if (choosing an extreme example) I am infertile, I can ensure the survival and reproduction of what makes me – my genes – by assisting relatives who are fecund. Once altruism is established in a population, other benefits of simply using the same behaviour in a wider set of circumstances – even helping complete strangers – becomes possible.

    In humans altruism is linked to our social networking trait. Tribalism and group dynamics offer other advantages. Whether they evolved separately or not altruism, memory, identity and accounting clearly work together to create a I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine kind of society.

    In the over-arching philosophical sense, the altruism in this picture is in some ways still self-serving (i.e. egoistic). But from a biological and practical perspective there is a clear distinction between actions that deliver benefits here and now to me, and actions that benefit my family – perhaps, or in the future. In biological terms this is ‘costly’ behaviour because the action is a cost of time, effort, resources and so on – with no clear return.

    Perhaps in Stone Age societies the opportunities for potential returns were frequent, but the fact remains that the theory of evolution is instructive here. Because those who took the risk of investing in others were repaid they and there genetically close relatives benefitted enough for altruism to spread across the whole population.

    In the biological arena the individual is not aware that they are acting for the benefit of unseen agents -genes. In the philosophical arena it is obvious that the individual’s altruistic acts may ultimately benefit the individual, because we are in the privileged position of being a third party observer.

    It is important to recognise that when we discuss biological processes and thoughts there are layers of abstraction. Altruism and egoism, in the individual, are thought processes. Thought processes occur in the brain where they are subject to our inherited traits. In addition thought processes are subject to consideration, our reactions are modified by the immediate environment (we can change our thinking to fit the situation).

    Thus; above our inherited intuitions sits a psychology that converges with philosophy – and the same brain is able to contemplate the consequences of actions at a layer that is abstract. This is due to our separately evolved abilities to communicate and to extrapolate, but I digress.

    I can only surmise what the Prof. meant by determinism in this context. The most likely explanation seems to be that he meant that we tend to think of altruism as a choice, something we are free to apply or ignore. But biology tells this is not true. Because altruism is hard-wired into us at the cellular level, altruism comes naturally to us – it is a determined response.

    Our brains can over-ride our instincts, but it takes a high-value set of counter-intuitive circumstances (powerful psychology) to enable us to ignore our altruistic sense. Our sense of altruism stretches to an instinct for fairness, so we have even evolved a post-event response to review our decisions, and to feel embarrassed by poor altruism vs. self decisions. We all tend to give ourselves a negative entry in our social balance sheets for poor decisions, further supporting our altruistic sense.

    Hopefully that’s not too far off the mark.

    Peace.

  5. My understanding is that ego and altruism are completely different things.

    Altruism is a natural, biological process that has evolved in us and other animals as a further survival advantage for the good of the species and arises as a result of perception. Egoism is the aspect of the mind (the brain’s accumulation of information) that has evolved the survival ability to think – to conceptualise.

    The ego is the aspect of the mind that maintains the sense of ‘self’. It is a further expression of the mind that emerges from its contents. The ego assumes the role of ‘I’ or ‘me’ consequently exaggerating the feeling of being a separate entity. A decision that arises from the contents (mind) is totally ‘self’ interested and calculated (no matter how it puts it) whereas an altruistic action happens through the brain/body organism outside of the mind/thinking process and is spontaneous.

    It is of course possible that the altruistic urge can be channelled through the mind’s mass of information and ‘hijacked’ by the thinking process thereby changing or overriding the natural impulse into a mental and perhaps selfish one.

    • In reply to #6 by Turan:

      My understanding is that ego and altruism are completely different things.

      Altruism is a natural, biological process that has evolved in us and other animals as a further survival advantage for the good of the species and arises as a result of perception. Egoism is the aspect of the mind (the brain…

      I believe you are right and repeat what I wrote elsewhere:

      *I once saw a magpie attack and catch a sparrow. While the magpie did its best to kill the sparrow, a great tit arrived at the scene and started to disturb the magpie persistently and quite aggressively. The magpie eventually flew away, but the great tit stayed and jumped around the dead sparrow for a while, touched it and then left. Three different species involved in this drama.

      Great tits seem to be rather clever, they can announce to you when the food on the bird table is finished, but I don’t think the little bird I observed did any risk-benefit analysis before attacking the magpie.*

  6. Does altruistic behaviour not stem from a selfish (egoistic) desire to be viewed in a positive light or to be rewarded at a later date?

    from a gene’s-eye-view, doesn’t the desire to be viewed in a positive light or to be rewarded at a later date stem from the (altruistic) desire to conform to the social standards required to ensure the continuation of the environment that will make copies of it?

    I wasn’t there so didn’t hear exactly what Richard said but it’s my guess that it was used as a way of making people think one way rather than a statement of fact.

    altruism and egotism are not terms that have any scientifc value other than to translate a natural process into a language most people have been brought up to understand

    • In reply to #8 by SaganTheCat:

      from a gene’s-eye-view, doesn’t the desire to be viewed in a positive light or to be rewarded at a later date stem from the (altruistic) desire to conform to the social standards required to ensure the continuation of the environment that will make copies of it?

      If you read How the Mind Works or The Better Angels by Pinker he describes that wanting to be perceived as altruistic definitely has survival benefits. There is a lot of anthropological research that show examples of people giving away food and stuff because it enhanced their prestige and as a result led to better reproductive success for them and their kin. E.g., the guy giving things away is perceived as the “big man” and his children will be the most prized by others. There are even fairly amusing examples of certain tribes where people get into “altruism wars” where one person does something nice for another and that person replies with something nicer and the first person does something even nicer, etc. It sounds like a joke but there are real examples of this.

      All that makes sense in terms of things like reciprocal altruism and kin selection. However, there are some things that humans do that IMO can not be explained by such models. Here is such an example, that I mentioned in a previous comment:

      Portrayals of Holocaust Rescue and the Puzzle of Human Altruism

      In these cases, the presenter makes a very strong argument that holocaust rescuers knew that they were risking their lives for non-kin and that such behavior can not be explained by kin selection or reciprocal altruism. That is what I meant in my earlier comment that there is a meaningful distinction here between “truly unselfish” behavior (behavior that can’t be explained by appealing to selfish genes) and apparent unselfish behavior that can be explained that way. I could be wrong but I think I remember Dawkins making this kind of distinction in some book or talk but I can’t remember for sure and I may be confusing it with something Pinker or Atran said.

  7. Does altruistic behaviour not stem from a selfish (egoistic) desire to be viewed in a positive light or to be rewarded at a later date?

    I recall seeing a video in which a female leopard (?) took care of a young monkey. Why didn’t she eat it? (Eventually the little one died.) Mother cats have been known to adopt baby bunnies… A female dog raised a faun. Why turn down a tasty treat and make an attempt to nurture instead? Are we much different in this respect. Is it empathy? A biological drive?

    • In reply to #9 by QuestioningKat:

      Does altruistic behaviour not stem from a selfish (egoistic) desire to be viewed in a positive light or to be rewarded at a later date?

      I recall seeing a video in which a female leopard (?) took care of a young monkey. Why didn’t she eat it? (Eventually the little one died.) Mother cats have been k…

      more examples:

      whales

      and

      feral cats

      [edit] off topic but when looking for these examples i searched for “altruistic behaviour in whales” and google asked if i meant “altruistic behaviour in wales”. interesting

      • In reply to #10 by SaganTheCat:

        In reply to #9 by QuestioningKat:

        Does altruistic behaviour not stem from a selfish (egoistic) desire to be viewed in a positive light or to be rewarded at a later date?

        I recall seeing a video in which a female leopard (?) took care of a young monkey. Why didn’t she eat it? (Eventually the little…

        Dawkins talks about examples like this in The Selfish Gene. They most probably can be understood as simple errors in detecting who the animals children are. The point he makes is that the reproductive cost of not recognizing your child is so high that in certain animals the modules to recognize “is this my child?” will be tuned so as to be much more likely to think some other animal is than to think its not. Of course certain parasite birds like the Cuckoo use this to their advantage by laying their eggs in the nests of other birds. Even though the Cuckoos are much larger than the actual children the mothers usually treat them as their own. I forget where but I saw a picture somewhere recently of a mother bird trying to feed a Cuckoo that was actually much bigger than the mother and it was very difficult for the mom to get the right angle to deliver food to her pseudo-child but she kept at it.

  8. New research suggests empathy is hard wired into us. When we see someone in pain or distress similar neurons fire in our brains. Unfortunately I’ve lost where I read that originally but it does suggest that the ability to empathise is hard wired and therefore must have an evolutionary advantage. And I’m sure the ability to empathise has got to underpin genuine altruism.

    At another level, whilst selfish or egoistic behaviours benefit an individual, altruistic ones benefit the group as a whole regardless of kin selection within that group. It could well be that groups containing large numbers of egoistic individuals operating and a kin level led to individually sucessful members in a group that ultimately failed bringing them down with it. Whilst groups with larger numbers of altruistic individuals were more successful hence tho individuals may not always have flourished the traits usefulness to the group ensured its survival overall. It is difficult, even today, to survive without altruistic behaviour at certain points. Often with no obvious reward in the near future or offers to the person giving from the person receiving.

    I think its an area of research that is still in its infancy but I’m glad we have random acts of kindness. They are what make us human.

    • In reply to #13 by PG:

      New research suggests empathy is hard wired into us. When we see someone in pain or distress similar neurons fire in our brains. Unfortunately I’ve lost where I read that originally but it does suggest that the ability to empathise is hard wired and therefore must have an evolutionary advantage. And…

      I agree with Pinker on this, the stuff about “mirror neurons” and empathy is not credible. It is like the overly simplistic notion that creativity is on one side of the brain and analytic thinking on the other. The real answers are more complex:

      A wee problem for the mirror-neuron theory is that the animals in which the neurons were discovered, rhesus macaques, are a nasty little species with no discernible trace of empathy (or imitation, to say nothing of language).21 Another problem, as we shall see, is that mirror neurons are mostly found in regions of the brain that, according to neuroimaging studies, have little to do with empathy in the sense of sympathetic concern.22 Many cognitive neuroscientists suspect that mirror neurons may have a role in mentally representing the concept of an action, though even that is disputed. Most reject the extravagant claims that they can explain uniquely human abilities, and today virtually no one equates their activity with the emotion of sympathy.23 Pinker, Steven (2011-10-04). The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (p. 577). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

  9. When we are talking about altruism, by definition we mean sacrificing our own selfish interest for the interests of other organisms. An ant might be programmed to instinctive surrender its life for the benefit of the colony, for example. Perhaps humans too have some mechanical, altruistic instinct, to sacrifice for the good of the family or community for its own sake (e.x.: kin selection). But I think altruism can arise from different motivations; it need not be instinctive, perhaps it can also be a purely intellectual phenomenon for species with as relatively advanced thinking capability as humans.

    While certain heritable traits might predispose one toward particular behaviors, I don’t see meaningful evidence that the human brain, the organ that enables our intellect, is compartmentalized such that disposition toward complex behaviors and even worldviews can be inherited. Perhaps the human brain is capable of making conscious decision to withhold all inhibitions and have the human do something that is utterly contrary to the propagation of our genomes. Simply as an accident of evolution, that the same brain power that was selected for to allow us to function in social groups and better compete for resources also enables modern humans to act contrary to what they were selected for.

    My point is, I don’t see a reason to think altruism in its purest and most genuine form had to have been selected for in order for modern humans to be capable of it.

    • In reply to #15 by Dravidian:

      When we are talking about altruism, by definition we mean sacrificing our own selfish interest for the interests of other organisms.

      You can define a word to mean whatever you want as long as you are clear and consistent with your definition. So if you want to define altruism that way fine but just keep in mind that there is a more rigorous definition that a biologist would use and what you gave above ain’t it. The biological definition of altruism is when one organism sacrifices it’s reproductive success for the benefit of another. That kind of behavior absolutely can be understood via an analysis of the organism’s selfish genes. At least most such behavior can, I agree there are examples of human behavior that can’t and those kinds of examples are extremely interesting. Kin selection for example (performing an altruistic act for your kin) is understood so well that there are mathematical models for it that have been verified by empirical data. The basic formula is rB > C. When the coefficient of relationship r (the percentage of genes the altruistic organism shares with the organism receiving the benefit) times the Benefit to the receiver is greater than the Cost to the giver, it makes sense to be altruistic.

      As I said, there are cases such as Holocaust Rescue that can’t be explained this way and in those cases appeals to culture, memes, who knows what may be useful. But you can’t begin to understand how those examples might be explained until first you understand that a lot of behavior we think of as altruistic really can be explained just by understanding our selfish genes.

  10. The ltruism is materialist way. From Democrites to Dawkin or Hubert Reeves, with Boris Cyrulnik, the way of altruism is one chance to developped the best of youre humanity. It s difficult, because beeing alive is the only reality for individual personn, and times is necessary for understand how works this world. You must have expience, verification. The first ratiionnalism is to cotructed youre life with other.

  11. I wish people would stop using “selfish” genes. I’m not sure even RD favours the expression today. Genes are genes. If you think there are genes identified contributing to selfish behaviour please be specific and give estimated heredity of the trait or designation, i.e. name of the gene(s) identified.

    • In reply to #19 by Agge:

      I wish people would stop using “selfish” genes. I’m not sure even RD favours the expression today. Genes are genes. If you think there are genes identified contributing to selfish behaviour please be specific and give estimated heredity of the trait or designation, i.e. name of the gene(s) identified.

      Seriously? It was the name of his first book. I just assume anyone who is worth having a discussion with would know that when I use the term selfish gene I mean it the way Dawkins used it in the book of the same name and that it obviously is not meant to imply selfish in the sense of immoral, self centered, etc.

      • In reply to #20 by Red Dog:

        Well, I just happen to have read many other books.

        In reply to #19 by Agge:

        I wish people would stop using “selfish” genes. I’m not sure even RD favours the expression today. Genes are genes. If you think there are genes identified contributing to selfish behaviour please be specific and give estimated heredity of the trait or designation, i.e. nam…

    • In reply to #19 by Agge:

      I wish people would stop using “selfish” genes. I’m not sure even RD favours the expression today. Genes are genes. If you think there are genes identified contributing to selfish behaviour please be specific and give estimated heredity of the trait or designation, i.e. name of the gene(s) identified.

      The Selfish Gene – by Richard Dawkins – http://www.richarddawkins.net/books/5471# is not about selfish behaviour in individuals, but the selfish self promotion of survival in all the genes themselves across the generations.

      There is a lot of misleading nonsense circulated about the content of the book, which is usually put about by people who have only read the title, or who have only read nonsensical accounts of it in books written by theist anti-evolution science illiterates.

  12. Red Dog commented:

    Dawkins talks about examples like this in The Selfish Gene. They most probably can be understood as simple errors in detecting who the animals children are.

    I’m not 100% sure about this. Why would an animal after eating the mother then nurture its infant? How could a dog continue having a relationship with a full grown deer that it raised as a fawn? Didn’t Coco the gorilla want a kitten? People commit “evil” or violent acts (murder/killing) and then justify their behavior with excuses usually blaming it on the victim. Then the next minute they are as nice as can be. Perhaps we are all wired to compartmentalize our behavior in a way that separates it from other aspects of our life. The drive to nurture is just a little stronger in some individuals/animals. ??

    • In reply to #22 by QuestioningKat:

      I’m not 100% sure about this. Why would an animal after eating the mother then nurture its infant? How could a dog continue having a relationship with a full grown deer that it raised as a fawn? Didn’t Coco the gorilla want a kitten?

      I’m not claiming that every incidence of altruism in the animal kingdom can be easily explained by kin selection or reciprocal altruism. It’s still a very open area of research. What I am claiming though is that those things can explain a lot and most probably with a bit more information and/or a more sophisticated theory we could explain those examples.

      People commit “evil” or violent acts (murder/killing) and then justify their behavior with excuses usually blaming it on the victim. Then the next minute they are as nice as can be. Perhaps we are all wired to compartmentalize our behavior in a way that separates it from other aspects of our life.

      I agree with that and nothing you said there seems to me to be inconsistent with saying that biological explanations can explain a lot about why we behave the way we do including many (but not all) examples of what humans call being moral or altruistic. In fact self deception and rationalization definitely are part of the biological model. If you read The Folly of Fools by Trivers (the guy who defined reciprocal altruism) it is all about deception and self deception in humans and other animals and how — even though its counter intuitive at first — it can actually make sense from the standpoint of selfish genes for someone to not only deceive others but even themselves.

      The drive to nurture is just a little stronger in some individuals/animals. ??

      Saying that doesn’t really explain much. Why do they do good things? Because they have a strong drive to nurture? What is a drive to nurture? It’s a drive to do good things. Unless you explain more about what this “drive” is you haven’t said much and I think the explanation for why some animals have more of a drive to nurture can be found in biology, although again maybe not the complete explanation. As I said I don’t think holocaust rescue can be explained that way. To me that is the interesting thing, understanding what we can know already and where the boundaries are, where the current biological explanations aren’t good enough and we may need a concept like memes for example. (I actually think it will be something other than memes but I’m using that as a good example that people will know of something that is scientific but not based completely on biological explanations)

  13. In reply to #24 by Alan4discussion:

    I know the book is not about selfish behaviour of individuals, I read it when it was new and I admired it, even went to listen to RD when he was given a price for it many years ago. The tiltle is catchy and has raised interest and the book itself has and continues to spread understanding and acceptance of evolution. THAT IS A MAJOR ACHIEVMENT. Now we are done with that. ( If you strive for a PhD you need other books as well – I have been too brief and dogmatic elsewhere).

    I did not like the expression “selfish” gene when the book was new, and I don’t like it now. It too easily leads to misconceptions.

    Biological evolution is in the now, totally opportunistic and without goal. It acts on the phenotype, i.e, the result of all genes together interacting with the environment. A successful phentype will mature and breed. Early on ordered protein synthesis occured with RNA/DNA as template. It is an impressive “machine” with very many proteins involved regulating or performing start and stop of DNA/RNA synthesis, and repair when it goes wrong. It is an essential process, without it – no life as we know it. Natural selection has worked on that for a very long time and I don’t think there are many degrees of freedom left for evolutionary refinement. Is it selfish or altruistic? Neither, it just is, and in a sense automatic.

    We were supposed to discuss the possibly dichotomous background to altruism contra egoism, behaviour in intact organisms like ourselves. The concept of “selfish” genes is introduced although it is defined as “the selfish self promotion of survival in all the genes themselves across the generations”. I now have to apologise like many others before me, english is my second language, only rudiments left of a third and a fourth, and I’m not a wonder of verbal talant so forgive me if I don’t find this clear at all. Are you talking about high quality DNA-synthesis or all the traits that favour survival of the individual/species? May I ask, can you remove selfish from the above definition without losing meaning, remove the anima in the machine so to say? And think about these highly, highly speculative, totally unproven suggestions/hypotheses – altruism, as complicated as it is, is indirectly dependent genes necessary for oxygen transportation, and egoism a slightly perverted aquired version of compassion for self only dependent on the refined development of mirror neurons at the age of 3 in humans. I bet I will swear in the “church” again. And I apologise in advance to all that need my apologise; for me being harsh, dogmatic, without compassion or plain stupid. Honestly I do.

    In reply to #19 by Agge:

    I wish people would stop using “selfish” genes. I’m not sure even RD favours the expression today. Genes are genes. If you think there are genes identified contributing to selfish behaviour please be specific and give estimated heredity of the trait or designation, i.e. nam…

    • In reply to #25 by Agge:

      In reply to #24 by Alan4discussion:

      I know the book is not about selfish behaviour of individuals, I read it when it was new and I admired it, even went to listen to RD when he was given a price for it many years ago. The tiltle is catchy and has raised interest and the book itself has and continue…

      Arguing about which words to use seems to me to be a waste of time. The reason I use terms like “selfish gene” when I talk about things like altruism is that I know that people like Alan will immediately know what I mean and know the context. It’s a way to avoid one of the biggest problems of these kinds of discussions — where people talk past each other because they are using terms imprecisely. I would encourage you to read The Blank Slate by Pinker. He has a great general discussion about language and how many people (especially in communities where things like postmodernism are taken seriously) place far too much significance on the individual words and phrases. Those things are constantly evolving and new conventions will come and go. Trying to influence or argue about those conventions is focusing on style over substance.

      altruism, as complicated as it is, is indirectly dependent genes necessary for oxygen transportation, and egoism a slightly perverted aquired version of compassion for self only dependent on the refined development of mirror neurons at the age of 3 in humans

      I’m not sure what that meant but if you are implying that mirror neurons have something to do with empathy and altruism there is no real evidence for that. It’s one of those pop-psych ideas that has a lot of popularity because it’s easy for people to grasp “oh there are empathy neurons” but it’s an overly simplistic model that few serious researchers buy into. Here is something from Pinker that sums up what I think as well:

      A wee problem for the mirror-neuron theory is that the animals in which the neurons were discovered, rhesus macaques, are a nasty little species with no discernible trace of empathy (or imitation, to say nothing of language).21 Another problem, as we shall see, is that mirror neurons are mostly found in regions of the brain that, according to neuroimaging studies, have little to do with empathy in the sense of sympathetic concern.22 Many cognitive neuroscientists suspect that mirror neurons may have a role in mentally representing the concept of an action, though even that is disputed. Most reject the extravagant claims that they can explain uniquely human abilities, and today virtually no one equates their activity with the emotion of sympathy.23 Pinker, Steven (2011-10-04). The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (p. 577). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

      • In reply to #26 by Red Dog:
        It is not entirely honest to refer to what I said omitting the very important introduction:

        And think about these highly, highly speculative, totally unproven suggestions/hypotheses – altruism, as………

        You can skip that last part. It was an unnecessary attempt, poorly expressed, to illustrate that genes behind different behaviours may have become almost obligate and if so mutations in them would likely be recessive and detrimental and therefore selected against, i.e. in this HYPOTHETICAL example making selection against altruism very unlikely, like e.g certain mating behaviours can be in an organism 2) how environment can be a prerequisite for realising the potential given by a number of genes HYPOTHESISING that mirror neurons are important for compassion and sensitive to environmental input.
        My view is that terminology should as far as possible be useful in communication and “selfish” genes is a bit confusing and therefore time consuming.

        In reply to #25 by Agge:

        In reply to #24 by Alan4discussion:

        I know the book is not about selfish behaviour of individuals, I read it when it was new and I admired it, even went to listen to RD when he was given a price for it many years ago. The tiltle is catchy and has raised interest and the bo…

  14. Alan4Discussion
    There is a lot of misleading nonsense circulated about the content of the book, which is usually put about by people who have only read the title, or who have only read nonsensical accounts of it in books written by theist anti-evolution science illiterates.

    The Selfish gene is a brilliant book BUT the title has to be just about the crappest thing Dawkins could have come up with. Selfishness is a choice genes do not possess and the title put me off reading if for years, assuming it would be some old right wing, capitalism defending polemic rather than a popular science book.

    I wish he’d just change the title to something more appropriate.

  15. RedDog comment 14

    agree with Pinker on this, the stuff about “mirror neurons” and empathy is not credible. It is like the overly simplistic notion that creativity is on one side of the brain and analytic thinking on the other. The real answers are more complex:

    Agreed it is more complex, but I’m not sure its not credible. Empathy exists whatever you think of mirror neurons. Not many of us can see someone in distress and not be upset by it. And it is a long time since we shared an ancestor with macaques they’re not close relatives but I’d like to think the mirror neurons are ancient.

    And empathy drives altruism and I’d say a lot of moral behaviour. Why not nick an old ladies pension or rape the nearest person you fancy? Cos you cannot, empathy and fellow feeling stop you!. Lack of empathy is a trait associated with psychopathy.

    And a group that contains more empathic and therefore altruistic individuals is going to do better as a group than one composed of selfish sociopaths.

  16. Friends good day, am here to share a testimony on how a spell caster (DR. ORAEDE) helped me in getting rid of my HIV disease, I was tested HIV POSITIVE April 12, 2009, since then I was taking my medications I was feeling okay, but I was out of finance in paying for the medications, my health was bad, my skin changed, I was feeling too much pain in me, I was waiting for death myself, though I was rejected by my family, a friend of mine ran to me and told me that there is a spell caster who can help me in curing my HIV disease, I took it as a joke, he told me that he saw many testimonies on how the great spell caster (DR. ORAEDE) helped many people in getting rid of their Deadly Disease (HIV), also he told me that he even copied his email which is dr.oraedespellhome@hotmail.com, he gave it to me, I emailed him and explained my problems to him, he told what to do, I did all he asked and told me to go for medical check up after two days, I went to the hospital, I was tested HIV NEGATIVE, hmm, am free, I even got a better job and my family is now with me, DR. ORAEDE you are the best, I owe you my life, if you have a deadly disease you can email him on dr.oraedespellhome@hotmail.com or call his number on +2348161879468. Thank you DR. ORAEDE.

  17. I joined this site because I’d begun to read this book. I read the jacket and was somewhat surprised that he had such a long record of his (to me very exciting and interesting) family history. The jacket suggested he’d had an unusual experience with Elvis Presley and I wanted to read more about that event. Not a lot of information in the book, it seemed of little importance.

    The title was appealing although almost immediately it occurred me that ‘wonder’ is a human quality, not a quality that exists apart from humanity, in my opinion anyway; whether ‘man’ is an animal, or is something else,(time binders); or never was an animal but now ‘acts like’ an animal. In my opinion that’s because as William Blake wrote, the eternals who guard those who sleep, ‘helplessly become what they observe’.

    “I” was inspired by the title at first glance, but behind first glance, inspiration was from personal experience, mine in particular. But “I” felt the real source of ‘my’ inspiration was an idea, very old, curiosity and ‘wondering about things’ is very old. Nature can’t, in my opinion be curious about its self.

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