Why the altruism?

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Discussion by: fshamas5

I am seriously concerned about one question that doesn't seem to fit into the theory of evolution. If we ascertain evolutionary process as "survival of the fittest" what room does it leave for explanation of altruism. It must be maintained that altruism or as I call it care for another species, that feeling in the heart when you see a beggar on the road or when you see dog being teased is generally seen in many people, is present in most humans whether they heed to it or not. How can one explain this on the basis of a process that seems to favour the competing ones. Selection of such genes is very hard to explain. Was such a gene that triggers such and such processes in our material mind, already present prior to or did it evolve during the development of society. If so then the individual who innovated this concept must have found serious support, for it to be carried on to the majority of human species. Then it must be that during the time of such an individual, there were characteristic structures in human already around supporting altrusim. Is this a meme as opposed to a gene? That maybe corraborated by the fact that certain tribal groups act as savages, pointing to Aztec culture of sacrifices, but a point remains that humans even in wildest of conditions do have altruistic tendencies. Wherefrom do they come? Is this suggestive of a metaphysical drive in nature towards order in which humans have not only gained reason, but certain values of things which must be preserved? 

77 COMMENTS

  1. Hi I believe you are making a error in assuming that evolution works too specifically, that is that evolution must work by meeting the demands of a particular situation and no other situations may be changed as a result. Take moths for example to get a simple program into a tiny brain for navigation moths keep bright lights, moon-sun fixed (say to their left) to fix direction. This falls down when a close bright object comes into play say a candle. Keeping it on the left of you requires turning in circles that eventually result in immolation. Now you could say “What possible benefit could arise from moths self immolating”. Well its a error in not seeing the whole picture. Evolution usually doesn’t work with perfect systems it works by being good enough to produce off-spring. And for the vast majority of moths in nature they never come across a direct close source of light so selecting against this does not happen.

    So back to Altruism like the moth I suspect we have the ability (for good evolutionary reasons) to read emotion in others, we are social animals and need to be able to do this within the group, we are also related to all other animals and for animals more closely related to us (which shared a common ancestor) it is likely in most cases we share somewhat similar emotional lives(I’m not trying to anthropomorphise here just acknowledging common descent) . So I’m speculating here, but I suspect that as the other animals we feel most empathy for are those most likely to give triggers that we recognise because we evolved our social systems together to a point and then diverged. An example would be we generally feel more empathy and care for dogs than crocodiles and more for crocodiles than insects. In the latter 2 examples there is little in the way of signals to tell you the crocodile or fly feels anything similar to you so it is harder to care about them. I would predict that you will therefore see more acts of apparent altruism projected to dogs than crocodiles.

    Secondly altruism as a emotional need to do things for others benefit seemingly at the cost of ourselves is a good system for our direct chances of survival unless you do it or fake it we as animals poorly evolved to survive as individuals will be excluded from the group and fail to breed or even survive long enough to breed. That this emotional need is not fine tuned sufficiently to exclude all other creatures or people does not need explaining, it is exactly what you would expect from the process of natural selection. It also is adaptive in its imprecision would we have ever been able to domesticate other animals without it? Might having the ability to domesticate dogs for example have been possible without empathy? Would altruism ever happen without empathy? Has anyone ever survived preferentially to others as a direct result? If so then evolution is at least in action (although running the risk of slipping into group selection here) in these cases?

    • In reply to #4 by masubi:

      It is not “survival of the fittest.” it is “survival of the best fitted.” Big difference.

      Live a good life,

      Masubi

      Yes, the best fitted. Excellent description. This is good reason why mediocrity is flourishing when people in power have the Dunning-Kruger effect going on. It applies to more than just Evolution.

    • In reply to #5 by brainbrain75:

      Professor Dawkins explains this in “The selfish gene”. I advise you to get the book. It’s a terrific read. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TheSelfishGene

      Altruism and generosity are very clearly explained. – particularly in chapters 1 and 10.

      http://www.richarddawkins.net/books/2013/8/6/the-selfish-gene#

      Dawkins explains how the selfish gene can also be a subtle gene. The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit, and yet, Dawkins argues, acts of apparent altruism do exist in nature. Bees, for example, will commit suicide when they sting to protect the hive, and birds will risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk.

  2. Altruism is limited to those near relatives who share your genes, family, and to persons of influence, who it is wise to suck up to, like the priest who will send you to hell for eternity if you disobey him. Our desire to protect our genes, through our family is why religion has been able to suck us dry of cash tithes to buy a future for our families. “If you don’t give money to the church, you are all going to hell.”

  3. Pity we can’t do a bit of genetic engineering to turn up the altruism wick in humanity, particularly the short term greedy capitalists carbon producers

    Yeah. Let us try a brave new world instead.

    • In reply to #10 by groo:

      Pity we can’t do a bit of genetic engineering to turn up the altruism wick in humanity, particularly the short term greedy capitalists carbon producers

      Yeah. Let us try a brave new world instead.

      So true.

      I have this forlorn hope that somehow, humanity through an act in intellectual will, will start thinking 10 years ahead, 100 years, maybe even 1000 years ahead when they make a decision. But sadly, it is a forlorn hope, because as this discussion has clearly show, I’m not going to help those thieving foreigners because they don’t carry my genes. I won’t curb my activity in America, driving those massive tank sized SUV’s because only the tall people of Tuvalu will keep their heads above the water.

      Because we are overall, a short term thinking species, we will continue to think of the future only in seconds, days and weeks. Where will I get today’s hunting and gathering from, because that’s all I have to worry about.

      Hence my desperate plea for an altruism transplant for all of us. Which has just given me a thought. Evolution has been supremely successful in getting us to today, but the hard wired evolutionary imperatives that we all carry, will be the downfall of humanity. A sad irony there.

      • In reply to #13 by David R Allen:

        Hence my desperate plea for an altruism transplant for all of us. Which has just given me a thought. Evolution has been supremely successful in getting us to today, but the hard wired evolutionary imperatives that we all carry, will be the downfall of humanity. A sad irony there.

        Desperate pleas and hopes that humanity is going to magically transform make about as much sense as prayers in their likelihood to make any real change. Real change requires people who care to do more than talk about it on web sites, they need to get involved in political organizing and help make things change.

        • In reply to #16 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #13 by David R Allen:

          Hence my desperate plea for an altruism transplant for all of us. Which has just given me a thought. Evolution has been supremely successful in getting us to today, but the hard wired evolutionary imperatives that we all carry, will be the downfall of humanity. A s…

          I donate what I can afford. I support political activist groups that rely on evidence based reasoning. I stand at the barricades. But I feel hopelessly outnumbered.

          When you look at TV Ratings, you can get a fair idea of what the odds are for humanity. People watch The Biggest Loser (The Fat People show. Do u have that there) Un-reality TV shows. Oprah. Morning TV as a cover for selling non stick frying pans. Danoz Direct Marketing. Talent quests. Fox News. Cooking show porn. “Oooohhhh MMMYYyyyy Goooddddd. That is soooooo tasty.”

          Compare that to the ratings for PBS news, or for a good BBC Horizon doco, Or some rational science examining some issue like altruism in human populations. When these shows out rate Insert Your Country Here’s Got Talent, then I think we’ve got a chance.

  4. Co-operation etc have clear evolutionary advantages… nature raw of tooth and claw is only a part of the story. Fshamas5 might find the following books informative regarding this issue: Dawkins “The Selfish Gene”, “The Origins of Virtue” Matt Ridley, “The Altruism Equation”, Lee Alan Dugatkin, “The Science of Good and Evil” Michael Shermer. Think… what if you had to procure your own food, make your own cloths, build your own shelter and all the while fight off members of the same species. Imagine humanity without the ability to co-operate or empathise, reciprocate, our society and all the benefits we gain from being able to co-operate would evaporate. Consider also the family unit, imagine reproduction by rape alone with the young forced to fend for themselves. There are also many examples in nature.

    Far from not fitting the theory of evolution, the emergence of altruism/reciprocity etc seems (although hinde sight is 20/20) obvious.

  5. A band of humans who help each other will whip a band of humans who subscribe to “every man for himself”. Altruism is part of being the fittest.

    Studies have shown that most people will treat others neutrally until some trust is built up. After this trust exists you are willing to help because you have some evidence that you will receive help when required in the future. In simple games like iterated prisoners dilemma the “tit for tat” strategy works very well: trust the first time and subsequent times, but never trust again if cheated.

    Of course, altruism regarding close family is quite a bit different, mainly because you are helping your own closely related genes.

  6. Why do we expect consistency and perfection from humans? We have this idealized view that somehow there is this magic standard that we all need to live up to. Gurus and motivational speakers capitalize on this expectation. Few if any of us ever get even close to this invisible, impossible standard. Some of us also assume that we must all think linear, singular, consistent thoughts. My computer can run porn and link to charity PayPal buttons at the same time and we don’t question any dual or multiprocessing capabilities. We seem to have a way of compartmentalizing life and justifying our actions when it is necessary for us to victimize or dominate others. I recall watching a video of a leopard that nursed a young baboon after eating its mother. This is more than just a human issue. We are social creatures and some cooperation is necessary, but we also need to protect ourselves and eat.

    • In reply to #14 by QuestioningKat:

      I recall watching a video of a leopard that nursed a young baboon after eating its mother. This is more than just a human issue.

      Google “Animal Odd Couples”. if you’ve not seen it it’s a BBC series with Liz Bonnin exclusively about cross-species relationships that seem to go against nature. It’s utterly awesome

  7. . Selection of such genes is very hard to explain. Was such a gene that triggers such and such processes in our material mind, already present prior to or did it evolve during the development of society

    Actually, science can tell us an awful lot about altruism and human behavior. Not everything for sure there are a lot of unanswered questions but we do know a lot already. There are essentially three ways altruism happens via evolution that we know of: kin selection, reciprocal altruism, and deception.

    Kin selection can be defined very simply and precisely by the formula rB > C. When the degree of relatedness (percentage of genes shared) between two organisms times the Benefit of an altruistic act is greater than the Cost then the altruistic act makes evolutionary sense whether you are a single celled organism or a human. Reciprocal altruism is more complex but can be defined via game theoretic analysis such as the prisoner’s dilemma. You can quantify various kinds of relations, called strategies in game theory, and prove that altruism makes sense, is evolutionarily stable, for various kinds of interactions such as fish cleaning parasites off of each other or humans sharing food. And deception is where one organism fakes out another into thinking it’s performing kin selection or reciprocal altruism but it’s really getting cheated. An example is the Cuckoo bird that lays it’s eggs in other bird’s nests.

    IMO, the really interesting question is are there other altruistic acts besides these that really make sense and if so how do we justify them? On that question I don’t think there is a consensus at all. This talk goes into that question in excellent detail It’s from this site and uses Holocaust Rescue as an example of behavior that doesn’t seem to fit any of those three categories but that humans still praise as highly moral. That last bit is important because if the thought is that holocaust rescuers are just suckers we would expect humans to not praise them but we do so perhaps there is something else going on, some additional sense of morality that transcends the three evolutionary analyses.

    • In reply to #19 by Simon Tuffen:

      How would society treat people who weren’t altruistic compared to people who were altruistic? Which type would be more likely to survive and reproduce?

      It’s an overly simplistic question. You can’t just ask the general question about altruistic acts with no context and expect a meaningful answer. When you frame it in terms of kin selection and reciprocal altruism then the answers are actually very clear on how altruism can benefit reproductive success and it applies to all organisms, although quite likely humans have enhanced capabilities for detecting cheaters and otherwise enforcing and defining norms than other species, it’s probably one of the evolutionary drivers that led to our complex brains.

      When you look at reciprocal altruism for example, there are all sorts of examples in primitive people where altruistic acts are performed by tribal leaders to establish or increase their status in the tribe.

  8. Thanks for all your responses. I am aware that cooperation in a way will always trump individualism. That’s what we have learned from logic, that’s what reality tells us. But the point here is different. Let’s look at the situation again: I am walking the street and I see a dog being tied down to rope and paraded. This doesn’t cause much upheaval in my neurons. But when I see the same dog being beaten and crying, it arouses pity. If I think about the same situation again, I know what I am doing here. When such feelings emerge, humans necessarily do one thing: we put ourselves in dog’s slippers. In his cries we identify our own cries, So this boils down from an objective experience to a subjective one. It isn’t related just to the feeling of pity. In the first case, dog being made a slave is much better, but those cries that beating, it makes an immediate impact. Why? Because it is related to pain. The basic question isn’t the pain, but being aware of the pain. Objective view of your subjective experience. How is this possible? What triggers it? I see pain in the outside world, I link to my own pain. So this stems from rather functioning of my brain than some feelings. But why do I put myself in dog’s slippers? Why do I care about it? Again because of our thinking. We are self-conscious minds, that means we always have the ability to transcend our own experience, i.e. think of them objectively. We rise above experience itself, and note down that inside everything is a soul, mind this term it is yet unresolved but it speaks of itself, everyone has the subjective experience of inner I, and we of all organisms have the ability to know it, I is free of all memory and ability, I is a blank paper, your and mine I is the same. We all came as little babies here, again I am getting to the root of “I”. What did we know? Nothing. We were basically the same. I think of the present moment: “Who is the subjective I?” Firstly he is free of abilities, because there is no concept of it solving any problem, no concept of body, it exists without even time, without space. It is just the I, no other thing exists beside I in this realm. This is an experience where subjective and objective both combine. You note I am getting too abstract here, or spiritual, a feeling that I maybe something immaterial, but that is the way it is. The inner subjective experience is capable of all this. I am not suggesting its actual nature. Just its properties. Once we notice this, and we all do to some or full extent, we come to know that only the outer experience, or the things that get shown to this I are different. Now note that we may go in two directions here. I may go down extreme existentialism and come to believe that “I am supreme” In other words only I exist, others are just my projection. But as we come to know logically this is a wrong position to take, reality is projected unto me by God or Nature and I can only evaluate it. So in this I notice other beings which are like me and subject to reality. I come to identify my own existential condition with them. “We are aware of our condition” and aware that others might be feeling the same. I call this a supposed revolt against the possible God or Nature who made us. “You were unjust to the beggar” I will help him. “You made people handicapped” I will correct it. “Why did you put me in such a condition” Note that this you – may apply to transcendent God or Nature. From this realization of the condition of our being, we derive all our morality. There has to be some evolution involved, but it has to be in defining our logic and our ability to transcend our experiences. However it has worked to define us, I am sure “survival” was not the only principle. The presence of a sense of “purpose” in us in suggestive that there is really a purpose. “We will generate the purpose” – That was the purpose.

    • In reply to #21 by fshamas5:

      Now note that we may go in two directions here. I may go down extreme existentialism and come to believe that “I am supreme” In other words only I exist, others are just my projection. But as we come to know logically this is a wrong position to take, reality is projected unto me by God or Nature and I can only evaluate it. So in this I notice other beings which are like me and subject to reality. I come to identify my own existential condition with them. “We are aware of our condition” and aware that others might be feeling the same. I call this a supposed revolt against the possible God or Nature who made us.

      Hi fshamas5

      I worry that you are projecting too much into fully conscious mind. Experiments with 6 month old babies seeing stuffed toys being cruel to each other prefer the kind stuffed toy. I think we can conclude we have built in (genetic) altruism . If so then there is no reason to explain why we feel towards others the answer is self evident. Evolution favours those social animals that can watch out for others feelings and look out for others. That genetic pre-wiring in our brains can slip beyond direct family members and extend to reading the internal states of minds of others ‘there’s a lion over there is it seeking to hunt me or can I safely pass?’ to that dog is suffering I would not like to feel that so I seek to help the dog. I suspect you might be over thinking it. But happy to argue with you -please rip my ideas apart (it’s the only way I learn).

  9. Yes some part of altruism as you seem to indicate is pre-written in us. But some we can figure out. Even spirituality in us seems written. I was giving a rationalistic view of altruism there, not the complete one. There are many factors revolving in our brain. But I think if there is any genetic mechanism involved it operates either directly at the conscious, or at subconscious level. Our morality is largely developed through reasoning as well, but an evolutionary mechanism too is backing it up.

    • In reply to #23 by fshamas5:

      Yes some part of altruism as you seem to indicate is pre-written in us. But some we can figure out. Even spirituality in us seems written.

      Spiritual feelings do seem to be evolved in the brain and do seem to expand as do other brain functions, when exercised as neuroscientists are showing experimentally.

      Scientists have speculated that the human brain features a “God spot,” one distinct area of the brain responsible for spirituality. Now, researchers have completed research that indicates spirituality is a complex phenomenon, and multiple areas of the brain are responsible for the many aspects of spiritual experiences.

      In some individuals spiritual aspects dominate over rational thinking as the brain adapts to frequent usage of some areas.

      Brain Scan Of Nuns Finds No Single ‘God Spot’ In The Brain,

    • In reply to #23 by fshamas5:

      But I think if there is any genetic mechanism involved it operates either directly at the conscious, or at subconscious level. Our morality is largely developed through reasoning as well, but an evolutionary mechanism too is backing it up.

      Hi fshamaa5
      okay this is interesting to think about. Firstly if we take a pure evolutionary perspective we have essentially several brains stacked upon each other existing in an uneasy balance reptile, basic mammalian, certibal cortex. likewise we have evidence of primate studies showing monkeys have a sense of fairness. For example studies where monkeys will preform a task for any food reward (say a bit of cucumber) but will literally go ape s*&t if the monkey in the next cage gets a grape for the same task they just got a cucumber for.

      So we know a sense of morality is likely genetic and driven directly by evolution. We also know morality for social animals makes sense, is rational. The question then remains (to me) can you separate reason from evolution? I would suggest not (and am happy to hear arguments to the contrary) I don’t see how you can separate rationality from our brains and therefore evolution. Our brains have evolved to be capable of abstract thought likely (I think) through a combination of the need to interact in social groups and the ability to imagine scenarios in the future based upon possible actions in the present. Does a bird or squirrel that buries nuts in the summer imagine finding them in the winter? I could imagine any number of scenarios in which having these two abilities would be to the advantage of thinking social creatures and feed off each other into extended abilities to measure reality both against previous experience and the present and to project into the future. I can also see how spirituality and religiosity could arise unbidden (without evolutionary advantage) from these factors. I think our failures to reason possibly tell us much about how rational we really are. Frankly I think it is something we need to work very hard at and most of us fail every day to transcend our other instincts and spend much of our time jumping from one delusion to another. I may just be speaking about myself here but I seldom feel terribly confident that I am terribly rational at all, just that I would like to be and am sometimes capable of it.

      Now can we destroy rationality in a person? Certainly we can drill holes in peoples brains and remove their ability to reason in very specific ways. This suggests that the brain itself is wiring in at least certain ways in certain places (yes I am aware of brain plasticity but I’m unsure of the extent of it). So how much is learned (self wiring) and how much is potential given to us from our genes? I would be inclined to think there will be very specific limits to how much rationality you could say teach to a chimp. Could a chimp recognise say the no true Scotsman fallacy? Could it be trained to? I would suggest that our capacity to learn this exists due to the size and nature of our brain which is driven by evolution. That is of course reliant on me defining rationality as our ability to successfully define the true nature of the universe using models in our brains. I would therefore conclude that altruism may be largely innate but be trained further or need fine tuning by culture and our ability to be rational may develop in time, but rely on building enough experience to self define enough about the nature of the world and be teachable. However as both rely on a brain capable of performing these tasks they both fall under the direct selection pressure. I can consider where all this came from only because my brain evolved to be big enough to do so, a crocodile could never (with current brain size) understand Plato.

  10. Psychological egoism is the view that humans are always motivated by self-interest, even in what seem to be acts of altruism. There is the story of the soldier who jumped on top of a grenade to save the men next to him knowing he himself would die. Is this ‘real’ altruism or did he realise in that split second that he would not be able to live with the long term guilt of NOT doing it (So it was of psychological benefit for him to die and therefore not ‘real’ unreciprocated altruism).

    Warning, please don’t read any further if you dislike the truth about this particular group of primate;

    Over many years I have tried to find an example of true unreciprocated altruism in our species and to this day have not found one. Which leaves a feeling of despair in my mind and has turned me into a misanthrope. Can anyone save me with an real life example of unreciprocated altruism ? ie. The person carrying out the altruistic act must be doing it for no psychological benefit (hedonistic / other emotional pleasures etc), relational (blood related / friend etc), monetary or power (influence in the group) reason. Please note. The person also needs to be deemed as clinically sane. This search for true altruism destroyed this guys mind http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_R._Price , even making him turn to religion (a form of group insanity in my mind).

    • In reply to #27 by Less Offensive Apefeces:
      >

      There is the story of the soldier who jumped on top of a grenade to save the men next to him knowing he himself would die. Is this ‘real’ altruism or did he realise in that split second that he would not be able to live with the long term guilt of NOT doing it (So it was of psychological benefit for him to die and therefore not ‘real’ unreciprocated altruism).

      It is part of military group training (and religious cults) to build up feelings of brotherhood and kinship, to tap into the evolved altruism based on “kin selection” within related groups and families!

      This is known as – Fictive kinship – a mistaken belief in “brotherhood”!

    • In reply to #27 by Less Offensive Apefeces:

      Psychological egoism is the view that humans are always motivated by self-interest, even in what seem to be acts of altruism. There is the story of the soldier who jumped on top of a grenade to save the men next to him knowing he himself would die. Is this ‘real’ altruism or did he realise in that s…

      This depends much on what you mean by real altruism.Do you mean that shouldn’t be any other motivation for altruism expect altruism itself? Then that is rarely possible. Our action don’t stem from one but multiple facts, some are unknown even to us

    • In reply to #27 by Less Offensive Apefeces:

      Psychological egoism is the view that humans are always motivated by self-interest, even in what seem to be acts of altruism.

      I’m not sure which psychologist(s) you are talking about but that seems like a fairly basic misunderstanding of the problem, that’s all. If you define self interest broadly enough than it becomes a tautology to say people always do what is in their self interest. If you don’t define self interest so broadly that it’s tautologically true, e.g. if you include acts that may lead to the death of the organism to benefit others or if you include acts that lower the reproductive success of the organism then there are examples of people doing things that go against their self interest all the time. As I and others have said there are even evolutionary justifications for why it can make sense to go against “self interest” defined in that way.

      Over many years I have tried to find an example of true unreciprocated altruism in our species and to this day have not found one.

      I think I can restore your faith in humanity: Portrayals of Holocaust Rescue and the Puzzle of Human Altruism If Holocaust Rescue isn’t an example of “true unreciprocated altruism” then your requirement for what counts as “true” altruism is so ill defined than by definition it can’t be satisfied.

      • In reply to #30 by Red Dog:

        I’m not too sure there is such a thing as “true unreciprocated altruism.” I think altruism is always a self-serving act; even in situations that can lead to injury or death. The majority of us have some empathy for others – and not just our own species. Situations where we can observe or predict suffering, pain or death, causes those with empathy a problem. Problems cause stress – so it’s in their self-serving interests to reduce or solve the problem causing the stress.

        If an animal, family member, or complete stranger is in a dangerous situation, or screaming in pain, those with empathy have a couple of options:

        1) Distance themselves from the source of the problem.
        2) Attempt to solve the problem at the source.

        Your altruism is always about resolving the problems you are suffering; resolving the suffering of others is secondary or the end result. Altruism can be addictive. Dangerous situations can also be addictive and exhilarating.

        I think where people risk their lives to save others, like saving Jews during WW2, they are doing so not just because of the problems caused by their empathy, but, because outwitting the source of danger – or risking your life – can be the only way to prevent your death. It can be a buzz too.

        IMO, true unreciprocated altruism doesn’t exist.

        • In reply to #51 by Bruiser40:

          In reply to #30 by Red Dog:

          I’m not too sure there is such a thing as “true unreciprocated altruism.” I think altruism is always a self-serving act; even in situations that can lead to injury or death. The majority of us have some empathy for others – and not just our own species. Situations where…

          I think I understand what you are saying but I think all you are doing is restating the problem not actually saying anything terribly interesting to help understand it.

          If I’m understanding you, you are essentially saying that human actions are mostly guided by our intentions so by definition there is no such thing as altruism because we always do what we want to do so by definition if we help someone we must want to so we aren’t being altruistic. That’s the kind of analysis of every day language, the kind of common sense reasoning that I was referring to in a previous comment when I said:

          Arguing about how we normally use language will end up going in endless circles. Sticking to the terminology used by people like Dawkins and Trivers enables people to have meaningful discussions.

          You haven’t really explained why some people choose to do things that for example decrease their potential for reproductive success. From the standpoint of a biologist that is a puzzle, when an organism does something that decreases it’s reproductive success there is usually something interesting going on. Saying “they do it because they want to” doesn’t explain much. Saying “they do it because their behavior is partly driven by kin selection (or reciprocal altruism) and here is the formula that describes that” now THAT is interesting. For example that kind of explanation can lead to predictions about when someone will be altruistic and when they won’t. A post facto explanation that just says “they did it because they wanted to” doesn’t do that.

          • In reply to #52 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #51 by Bruiser40:

            In reply to #30 by Red Dog:

            What I’m saying is that where altruism is concerned, it is always a self-serving act – even in situations where the outcome may reduce the potential to reproduce. I’m not saying “we do what we want to.” I’m saying that because of our empathy, we do what we have to to relieve stress. And that’s a big difference.

            Problems stimulate our brain – they can also be addictive. They also cause stress. Solving the problem releases that stress(making us feel good or like we’ve achieved something). Altruistic acts are an effort to relieve the stress caused because of our empathy. They are never truly selfless acts.

            Why would anyone put themselves in a situation that can decrease their potential for reproductive success?
            I can only think the rewards they gain out-way or override their ability assess the safety of a situation. I mean, why would anyone play a dangerous sport? They obviously get a kick or sense of control from it. And maybe that’s what it boils down to: an inflated sense of ego and an addiction to outwitting danger.

          • In reply to #54 by Bruiser40:
            >

            What I’m saying is that where altruism is concerned, it is always a self-serving act – even in situations where the outcome may reduce the potential to reproduce.

            If you want to have a real discussion you need to define your terms in a meaningful way. The way you are defining “self interest” is meaningless. What you are doing is similar to the kind of analysis Freud did. His, and your, analysis will work no matter what, they have no real predictive power and so are useless. Can you think of a hypothetical example when someone using your definition would not act in their self interest? From the way you described it I don’t think so and hence it’s a useless definition.

            If we define “self interest” as things like reproductive potential, food, status, then we can have a meaningful discussion. If we define “self interest” as “those emotions that precede any conscious action” then it’s just a tautology that people who aren’t coerced always do what is in their self interest.

            I’m not saying “we do what we want to.” I’m saying that because of our empathy, we do what we have to to relieve stress. And that’s a big difference.

            No it’s not. You just introduced another vague undefined intermediate term called “stress”. So now whenever a human does any act X it’s because they had to relieve stress to do X. And if they decide not to do X that’s because there wasn’t enough stress to do X.

            Consider kin selection. That is a meaningful definition of altruism and of why organisms will behave altruisticly. It says that from an evolutionary standpoint it makes sense for any organism to sacrifice reproductive potential if rB > C. That is something we can measure. We can look at organisms and see do they behave that way and also if they don’t we can ask questions such as “how can an organism actually know how related it is to another?” and that can set us to investigating a new question. BTW, that is a reasonable hypothesis (one very small part) for why bigger brains have good survival potential, more brain power means you are better at making judgements such as how related another organism is to you and also how altruistic has an organism been to you in the past.

            Why would anyone put themselves in a situation that can decrease their potential for reproductive success? I can only think the rewards they gain out-way or override their ability assess the safety of a situation.

            That’s what we call the argument from personal incredulity, a term coined by Dawkins. Just because you “can only think” of an explanation one way is not an argument that the explanation is that way. In fact if we can learn anything from the history of science its that the common sense viewpoint, the viewpoint that most people “can only think” usually turns out to be wrong when scientists start developing useful theories.

          • In reply to #57 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #54 by Bruiser40:

            It seems to me that Bruiser40 with “stress” is using Antonio Damasio’s concept of homeostasis as a model for behaviours, itches that need to scratched to make them go away and fall back into a lower energy state.

            The virtue of this model as opposed to a more behaviourist view is that it comports with personal experience whilst still maintaining a credible mechanism.

            Once you throw in a big brain with self serving modules loosely coupled and with rather specific inhibition mechanisms ported down from executive regions into the anterior cingulate cortex, it is entirely likely that acts can be at once self serving (scratching that neural itch) and yet not, credibly or actually in some intellectual sense, be self serving.

            My purchase of cream cakes in this manner is at once self serving and not so.

            You are entirely right to call for consistency of use of the term. But beyond the brain as black box behaviour generator mode, there are other self consistent modes of analysis.

          • In reply to #58 by phil rimmer:

            In reply to #57 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #54 by Bruiser40:

            It seems to me that Bruiser40 with “stress” is using Antonio Damasio’s concept of homeostasis as a model for behaviours, itches that need to scratched to make them go away and fall back into a lower energy state.

            The virtue of this model a…

            I agree absolutely that looking at the brain as just a black box and just looking at behaviors is a dead end. I don’t know Damasio’s concept but nothing I’ve heard Bruiser say sounds to me like a meaningful definition. There are btw, plenty of things, reams and reams of papers IMO in the literature of psychology and related fields that have definitions like this. As I said Freudianism is the text book example of meaningless post facto definitions.

            Why does X do Y?

            Because Y was in X’s self interest.

            How do we know Y was in X’s self interest?

            Because X did it.

            What if X didn’t do Y in the same situation?

            Then Y wasn’t in X’s self interest.

            You can explain everything and hence you really haven’t explained anything.

          • In reply to #58 by phil rimmer:

            In reply to #57 by Red Dog:
            You are entirely right to call for consistency of use of the term. But beyond the brain as black box behaviour generator mode, there are other self consistent modes of analysis.

            One more point about the “black box”. I think it was (rightful) frustration with previous attempts in psychology such as Freud that caused people like Skinner to just throw out the whole idea of internal states all together. That was an over reaction. But Skinner and other critics were right that a lot of what passed for analysis in the psychological literature then and even now was really nothing but pseudoscience, coming up with fancy jargon that sounds like it offers an explanation but really doesn’t. So I agree internal states are a legitimate, probably a very necessary concept for any decent theory of psychology, I just think that believing you can solve the question of altruism by saying “people do what is in their self interest” is an example of the type of analysis that Skinner (or also Chomsky and it’s rare when they agree) would dismiss as vacuous.

          • In reply to #60 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #58 by phil rimmer:

            At that time, I think Skinner was right to throw everything out and start from scratch. But now we know quite a bit about what’s in the box as you say.

            Given a box model, a partial definition of altruism as self serving is, as you rightly state, vacuous.

            But given a box with bits in it, one bit of which is served by an altruistic action it instigated, rather than all, then we have something to build on.

          • In reply to #61 by phil rimmer:

            At that time, I think Skinner was right to throw everything out and start from scratch. But now we know quite a bit about what’s in the box as you say.

            I think he was right to throw out everything that barely qualified as science and I think most of the work he and his followers did was useful and was a great example of actual science in psychology rather than pseudoscience. But I think he was clearly wrong to throw out internal states as a legitimate psychological construct. It’s so obviously wrong in retrospect it amazes me that I used to actually believe it as did most people in the US who studied psychology when I did.

            Even the most basic review of fields such as linguistics or vision clearly shows that people were doing science in those fields before Skinner’s time and that their work involved internal states. Or consider researching something like the bee dance that communicates info to the hive. I’ve never actually read any of it, it sounds really interesting though, but I’m sure that it involves description of various internal models for information that the bee knows and communicates. If we can’t describe bee behavior without internal states how did we ever think we could completely describe human behavior that way.

          • In reply to #65 by TimBensalem:

            “Looking for Skinner and finding Freud” — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17874899

            Many thanks for this. Interesting.

            In those days “making shit up” was all they really had. Freud’s invented narratives had a few real roots abut at least formed a coherent whole and allowed some kind of traction. It was a step or two on from a folk psychology. More importantly it was widely accepted and Skinner frustrated with this statistically unfounded, unmeasured, drill down approach wanted real roots built up from certainties. He wanted to be properly scientific and presume nothing. I think thats exactly what the experiments gave us. It didn’t stop him musing on his results and how they might tie in with the contemporary psychological zeitgeist and using its vocabulary and terminology.

          • In reply to #66 by phil rimmer:

            Did you actually read the article? (Do you understand “confirmation bias”?)

            “Freud demonstrated that many features of behavior hitherto unexplained — and often dismissed as hopelessly complex or obscure — could be shown to be the product of circumstances in the history of the individual. Many of the causal relationships he so convincingly demonstrated had been wholly unsuspected — unsuspected, in particular, by the very individuals whose behavior they controlled. Freud greatly reduced the sphere of accident and caprice in our considerations of human conduct.” (Skinner, B.F., 1954, Critique of psychoanalytic concepts and theories. The Scientific Monthly, 79, p. 300).

            “In his last major theoretical article, Skinner pointed to the importance of selection by consequences, not only in evolution, but also in the shaping of behavior and the progression of cultures. He contended that most psychologists had failed to grasp this principle but that ‘the three personae of psychoanalytic theory are in many respects close to our three levels of selection’ (Skinner, B.F., 1981, Selection by consequences. Science, 213, p. 504)”.

          • In reply to #67 by TimBensalem:

            Perhaps you need me to modify this-

            I think Skinner was right to throw everything out and start from scratch.

            It would perhaps have been better to simply assert a that a bottom up approach was his desire. Skinners efforts to bring science into psychology is in noted contrast to Freud’s mostly intuited narratives. Otherwise I have no problem with this and am not surprised that Skinner embraced these conventional contemporary views.

            (Do you understand “confirmation bias”?)

            I’ve always believed in it. If you do too, I guess it must really exist.

    • In reply to #27 by Less Offensive Apefeces:

      Can anyone save me with an real life example of unreciprocated altruism ?

      reading your definition it sounds like you want en example of one human helping another human without reward (reciprocation), duress (no choice) or wanting to (psychological reward) but still making a conscious effort to do so (not an eccident) while being of sound mind (not doing mad stuff).

      your definition of altruism has rendered it meaningless. if an example were to arise I fail to see how it could improve your view of human nature

  11. If we ascertain evolutionary process as “survival of the fittest” what room does it leave for explanation of altruism.

    none whatsoever so don’t ascertain evolutionary process as “survival of the fittest”. this quote was coined by Herbet Spencer as a pithy way of encapturing the conclusions of On The Origin Of Species.

    We no longer rely on 19th century explainations of biology and certainly never use a single easy to remember meme to describe a process of nature. You have of course come to the wrong forum for this question, I’d expect anyone contributing to Richard Dawkins’ discussions to at the very least have taken time to read the book that made him a houshold name (The Selfish Gene) but apologies if you were unaware and please do read it.

    having said that. humans are successful and altruistic. if altruism were not an evolutionary advantage there would have to be another reason for the success but it doesn’t take a genius to see that a bit of help here and there improves the lot of the species. My biggest problem with the understanding of “survival of the fittest” is the blinkered view of what “fittest” can mean. if you survive because you belong to a species where others will help you, that is fitness. “survival of the fittest” is a tautology, it means literally “survival of the survivors”. It’s fine for children and 19th century adults to get a grasp of a completely new concept but in an enlightened age it’s not much help.

    For future reference, nothing in science will ever make sense to you if you look for a single phrase to understand it

  12. As many have pointed to; advantage/benefit is gained by the individual aiding the survival of its peer group/tribe. Altruistic behaviour is perceived often incorrectly as more than an evolution of simple cooperation. Forget the human exclusivity as well, it can be observed in many species. Examples of animals leading members of their group to food is common, particularly amongst carrion feeders. “The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism” by Robert Trivers should fill in some blanks for you, OP.

    Intelligence of our species can lead to more intricate “altruism”, and the ability to perceive it and “choose” to conduct it differently. Logically, pure altruism takes place when it is clear the masses will benefit by a certain action. Likewise as some have pointed out there is, perhaps a flawed, self-interest driven variant. Both are displayed by the following passage from a certain film from 1986.

    Amanda: Spock, does the good of the many out weigh the good of the one?

    Spock: I would accept that as an axiom.

    Amanda: Then you stand here alive because of a mistake made by your flawed, feeling, human friends. They have sacrificed their futures because they believed that the good of the one – you – was more important to them.

    Spock: Humans make illogical decisions.

    Amanda: They do, indeed.

    • In reply to #33 by Timothy McNamara:

      “The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism” by Robert Trivers should fill in some blanks for you, OP.

      The Trivers paper is great but it’s not the place I would recommend the OP start. It’s not really written for a general audience and also it focuses on reciprocal altruism. I think a much better place to start is the paper The Natural Selection of Altruism by Mark Ridley and Richard Dawkins. It’s in the book Altruism and Helping Behavior edited by Rushton and Sorrentino although it’s probably available online somewhere. That paper is an excellent overview of the three evolutionary explanations that I mentioned in a previous comment as well as a good discussion of other issues such as why people embraced group selection and why it’s wrong.

  13. While I’m at it I think The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness is a great book for people who aren’t familiar with the concepts and want a general overview. It focuses a bit more on some of the personal stories as well which I actually was kind of bored with but most people like that stuff I think. Price is one of the scientists who really did ground breaking work on altruism and biology and his life was very unusual and interesting although sad as well.

  14. Thanks for the book, it will be a good read.

    Like I was saying, our self-consciousness lets us transcend all the mechanisms upon which we are based in a major way. We have the ability to reflect upon ourselves. Understanding of ourselves is what has enabled us establish morality and will be helpful in the long run. Knowing our limits we can overcome them.

  15. You could ask the same question about worker bees, soldier ants and other such creatures which have no purpose other than to sacrifice themselves for the good of the group. Don’t think ants and bees are strongly influenced by memes or culture so this altruism must come from the genes.

    • In reply to #37 by Catfish:

      You could ask the same question about worker bees, soldier ants and other such creatures which have no purpose other than to sacrifice themselves for the good of the group. Don’t think ants and bees are strongly influenced by memes or culture so this altruism must come from the genes.

      The examples of social insects such as ants, termites, and bees are very well explained primarily by kin selection. Behavior that seems altruistic such as sacrificing one’s life for the hive or having sterile classes are perfectly logical from the standpoint of selfish genes and kin selection because such animals share much more of their genes than humans or other mammals.

      • In reply to #38 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #37 by Catfish:

        You could ask the same question about worker bees, soldier ants and other such creatures which have no purpose other than to sacrifice themselves for the good of the group. Don’t think ants and bees are strongly influenced by memes or culture so this altruism must come…

        Are you saying Human altruism is in some way different to the altruism in other creatures?
        Don’t see it myself. Occasionally I see somebody helping a dog being teased (or such like) and I always notice how the protragnist has a quick look around for the value of the audience before becoming altruistic. It is still a good thing that people do it (sometimes) but I think they are making investment decisions (ie. investing a small amount of time and energy to gain a increase in status and popularity)

        • In reply to #40 by Catfish:

          Are you saying Human altruism is in some way different to the altruism in other creatures?

          Yes. We know that humans have far more complex potential to process information than any other animal. We also have evidence (and it’s a common hypothesis that drives research for people like Pinker) that a significant part of that processing power was used by our primitive ancestors to reason about altruism. To remember histories when someone did or didn’t do an altruistic act. To be able to deceive others about intentions. To recognize and appropriately respond to cheaters, etc.

          BTW, this is not meant to imply that humans are better or more important or anything, it’s just a scientific observation, the same as saying there is something unique in the animal kingdom about how bees use dance to communicate information.

          Don’t see it myself. Occasionally I see somebody helping a dog being teased (or such like) and I always notice how the protragnist has a quick look around for the value of the audience before becoming altruistic. It is still a good thing that people do it (sometimes) but I think they are making investment decisions (ie. investing a small amount of time and energy to gain a increase in status and popularity)

          I’m talking about science so anecdotal evidence isn’t all that relevant. It’s kind of like someone trying to explain Newton’s laws of motion and the listener objecting “but I’ve seen that heavier things fall faster”. Actually, that may be too harsh, what you described actually sounds reasonable to me and consistent with the theories we have for altruism so far, my point is that meaningful discussion should be about the science not someone’s individual intuitions or random observations.

          • In reply to #42 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #40 by Catfish:
            Yes. We know that humans have far more complex potential to process information than any other animal. We also have evidence (and it’s a common hypothesis that drives research for people like Pinker) that a significant part of that processing power was used by our primitive ancestors to reason about altruism

            Can see that human processing power has led to development of complex laws but still not convinced that larger brains have had much impact on the nature of altruism. I think altruism is a law of nature (ie. behaviour of social animals) and you can think about it all you like but still going to end up in basically the same place. The only place you see any altruism that seems to go beyond the logic of biology is in Hollywood movies and other works of fiction.

    • In reply to #39 by Nunbeliever:

      I don’t think the theory of evolution can explain altruism…

      So the groundbreaking work of people like Price, Hamilton, and Trivers,… what you think that is just not really explaining it or it’s not really altruism?

      but, on the other hand I also think altruism is a hypothetical concept that does not correctly portray human behavior.

      When you do science the first thing you do is move away from imprecise common sense definitions to precise meaningful ones. So when I say altruism I mean an organism sacrificing reproductive success potential for the sake of another organism’s reproductive success. BTW, Dawkins and Ridley cover these issues very well in the paper I referenced earlier.

      We know organisms, including humans do that and at the same time that definition can apply to a lot of what commonly is called moral behavior. I agree, it’s not a perfect fit and it’s probably impossible and not important to get a perfect fit because human language is imprecise and inconsistent (what one person might consider altruism might not be identical to another). Arguing about how we normally use language will end up going in endless circles. Sticking to the terminology used by people like Dawkins and Trivers enables people to have meaningful discussions.

      • In reply to #41 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #39 by Nunbeliever:

        I don’t think the theory of evolution can explain altruism…

        So the groundbreaking work of people like Price, Hamilton, and Trivers,… what you think that is just not really explaining it or it’s not really altruism?

        but, on the other hand I also think altruism i…

        Yes, I understand your argument. Although your definition of altruism might make sense from an evolutionary perspective I don’t think it’s one that humans in general can relate to. Altruism, after all, is an old philosophical idea that biology and other scientific disciplines has borrowed to describe certain phenomenons that occur in nature. I was talking about the philosophical idea of altruism, which I think is a very naive idea that does not accurately describe human behavior. But, I understand what you are getting at and agree with you that in order for this issue to even make sense we have to clearly define what we mean by altruism (which is what you did).

    • In reply to #44 by Roddy:

      It is boring at the top of the food chain. Evolution is why we are at the top of the food chain. Boredom is why we experiment on animals. Boredom is why we rescue animals from labs.

      One of my favorite teachers in high school had an expression that has still stuck with me: “boring people are easily bored”

      • God you are so boring not that I believe in God in fact He’s not getting a capital letter any more he is just god from now on and he is not a he anymore it is just a concept, an It with a capital ‘I’ and I’m going to start using full-stops. Now. I’m bored.

        In reply to #45 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #44 by Roddy:

        It is boring at the top of the food chain. Evolution is why we are at the top of the food chain. Boredom is why we experiment on animals. Boredom is why we rescue animals from labs.

        One of my favorite teachers in high school had an expression that has still stuck with me:…

      • In reply to #45 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #44 by Roddy:

        One of my favorite teachers in high school had an expression that has still stuck with me:…

        My mother always said, however bluntly, “If you’re bored, you’re stupid.”

        • In reply to #55 by Timothy McNamara:

          My mother always said, however bluntly, “If you’re bored, you’re stupid.”

          If you are bored then you are human and are likely to do something cruel or compassionate or aesthetic or stupid like support a football team with the spare time that being at the top of the food chain has given you.

  16. altruism or as I call it care for another species, that feeling in the heart

    Careful defining of terms will take you a long way toward answering your questions. If you wish to understand how a competitive process like natural selection can generate altruism, a good first step is to get very specific about what altruism actually is.

    For example, I would quibble with the definition you give in the above quote. The feeling you describe might more properly be referred to as empathy (the ability to vicariously experience emotions arising from circumstances other than one’s own.) In general scientific usage, the term altruism describes actions, not feelings. Empathy and altruism are undoubtedly related, at least in humans (and probably in many of our relatives.) Any biological explanations for the two phenomena will probably share many commonalities, but they are distinct and need not necessarily go hand in hand.

  17. Your question is a bit muddled. First, the beggar on the street is NOT a different species. Second, the question of altruism within a family or species has been well explained and, although it was difficult for 1870′s biologists to explain (and thus a weakness in the hypothesis at the time), it has been soundly and logically explained.

    Second, you seem to be guilty of something that many many folks fall prey to: you are projecting human-ness onto the animal world. Do you assert that a lion on the Serengeti feels remorse for the gazelle it is eating? Yes, humans are compassionate and that itself is a paradoxical type thing, but very very few other things on he planet are.

    Have you ever seen video of a killer whale (very smart mammal) literally torturing a seal before eating it? They bat them through the air 100 yards and breech the water to land on them.

    Humans are not isolated in their altruistic displays. Many animals behave this way in specific situations. Again, there are great suggestions for reading up on this all through this thread, but to generalize this out to a question encompassing all animals is not proper. Nature shows you the answers, the question is, can you process what you see???? It is fun and worthy of your mind and attention. Good luck looking into this and I hope you are sincere in your search for an answer, the folks here are quite knowledgable and have offered you hours and hours of cool stuff to read.
    Enjoy!

    • In reply to #48 by crookedshoes:

      Have you ever seen video of a killer whale (very smart mammal) literally torturing a seal before eating it? They bat them through the air 100 yards and breech the water to land on them.

      Also, domestic cats play with captured mice before they eat them.

      But isn’t this so that the prey goes to the toilet before it is eaten? The one cat that I have watched always played with the prey until it was audibly screaming then left the stomach, which contains undigested food, but ate everything else.

      So, I don’t think these are examples of animal cruelty. I think human beings are the only animals capable of cruelty because we are the only animals capable of boredom. Because it is boring at the top of the food chain. But boredom also gives us the capability of compassion, which isn’t altruism.

      • Roddy,
        I am not sure why the cruelty. I had read that the killer whales do this to the seals to try to break their bones up and make them easier to devour and digest. I am not sure there is a leading hypothesis, nor am I sure that different animals are doing these things for the same reasons.

        In reply to #50 by Roddy:

        In reply to #48 by crookedshoes:

        Have you ever seen video of a killer whale (very smart mammal) literally torturing a seal before eating it? They bat them through the air 100 yards and breech the water to land on them.

        Also, domestic cats play with captured mice before they eat them.

        But isn’t th…

  18. The Price Equation shows the conditions and likelihood under which ostensible altruism will increase or sustain. Maternal, paternal and social instincts occur in many non-human species and the benefits are usually easy to see. And if these genetically influenced behaviors don’t interfere with or increase survival and reproductive opportunities then those genes are likely to continue and proliferate.

    So if some cooperation or altruism are beneficial to a breeding population, and feelings/perceptions motivate cooperation/altruism, and those feelings/perceptions are genetic in origin, then those genes will tend to flourish.

    But we are also cultural creatures. We hold ideas that are not limited to genetic influence or personal experience. Ideas and beliefs, which may be partially or completely incorrect, influence our perception. So if we believe something is good, for instance circumcision, then we will perceive the suffering of the child as justified. We’re so crazy.

  19. The Price Equation shows the conditions and likelihood under which ostensible altruism will increase or sustain. Maternal, paternal and social instincts occur in many non-human species and the benefits are usually easy to see. And if these genetically influenced behaviors don’t interfere with or increase survival and reproductive opportunities then those genes are likely to continue and proliferate.

    So if some cooperation or altruism are beneficial to a breeding population, and feelings/perceptions motivate cooperation/altruism, and those feelings/perceptions are genetic in origin, then those genes will tend to flourish.

    But we are also cultural creatures. We hold ideas that are not limited to genetic influence or personal experience. Ideas and beliefs, which may be partially or completely incorrect, influence our perception. So if we believe something is good, for instance circumcision, then we will perceive the suffering of the child as justified. We’re so crazy.

  20. Well, to address the OP, ants exhibit altruistic behavior, do they not? Is there any doubt that ants are an evolutionary result? How is it that altruism among humans should be a problem and altruism among ants not?

  21. The answer requires a better understanding of how modern humans came to be as they are today. I’m not sure we know that fully yet, if we ever will, but there are some interesting theories that indicate why altruism might be a survival trait. Remember that it is the species that survives. Cooperation with other humans is likely to have been a major aid to our survival. Perhaps it is the reason we out-survived the Neanderthals, who probably equalled our IQ and exceeded our strength. Cooperation means helping others, and in order to do that in a sophisticated way, we need a sophisticated understanding of what cooperation is necessary. That leads to great empathy. Empathy, understanding how others feel almost certainly spills over into other creatures, not just fellow humans. So, we grasp suffering quickly. We don’t like it. It’s not good for our species, and not good for others. We have an instinct to protect our fellow humans’ even at risk to ourselves, its good for the species. Evolutionary instincts are not precise, so that might extend to animals that matter to us. It might even spill over into those that don’t. Does this give you an idea of the avenues to explore when considering altruism in evolution?

  22. Not to nitpick (as I nitpick), but altruism is by definition selflessness. Caring for other species may better be defined as empathy, which does not necessarily require selflessness. Altruism is a result of empathy, of course. My view is that living in a safe and cooperative society increases the chances of our offspring surviving to reproduce. The overarching view that “this society must succeed for the benefit of my progeny” can and does result in self-sacrifice. We may not actually care for the individuals suffering, but the totality of our society and its effect on our offspring is of paramount importance. It is, in my opinion, a rather selfish notion that works to reduce selfishness.

    • In reply to #71 by XFR Stone:

      Not to nitpick (as I nitpick), but altruism is by definition selflessness. Caring for other species may better be defined as empathy, which does not necessarily require selflessness. Altruism is a result of empathy, of course. My view is that living in a safe and cooperative society increases the ch…

      Altruism has a good scientific definition from biology. It’s when an organism sacrifices it’s reproductive potential in order to improve the reproductive potential of some other organism. That is always my meaning when I use the term here. Whether that altruism is truly “self-less” is of course another question. In some cases the altruism is obviously selfish, if you view the organism from perspective of it’s genes. Sacrificing reproductive potential for your kin makes evolutionary sense and there is even a simple mathematical formula to determine if it makes sense.

    • In reply to #71 by XFR Stone:

      Not to nitpick (as I nitpick), but altruism is by definition selflessness.

      That is true. And that particular definition is wrong in the way that definition of fire as phlogiston is wrong, in terms of the origin of the phenomenon. It is as Red Dog described. The notion of altruism is derived from intuition. Because of the flexibility of human social construction, we can make that perception into something and also call that altruism. But it is not the same thing, and it is not axiomatically or definitively altruism.

  23. Even though I get somehow confused about the theoretical examples here.
    When I see examples of altruism in animals.
    It evokes me such a strong feeling of love, and makes me thankfull for being alive to see such things.
    Emotions are such a crazy but beautiful thing.
    I’ve have psychologicals disorders which effects my mind, but I dream and want to overcome those difficulties.
    But my emotions never fail me when telling me of what is true. Even if my mind can’t tell.

    Love to all of you and to myself of course. <3333 ^______^

  24. “Money is a formal token of delayed reciprocal altruism.” – Richard Dawkins

    Altruism only survives if it is reciprocal. In other words, if you do something that helps someone, you should expect the person you help to be the type of person who will pay it forward and help others. Rewarding altruistic behavior with selective altruism improves the survival chances of altruists and creates an environment where altruistic behavior flourishes and survives.

  25. In reply to #69 by Markovich:

    Well, to address the OP, ants exhibit altruistic behavior, do they not? Is there any doubt that ants are an evolutionary result? How is it that altruism among humans should be a problem and altruism among ants not?

    Because we have a very good scientific explanation for why ants are altruistic but we don’t have as good an explanation for humans. Ants share more DNA than most other animals so you can understand why it makes sense (from the standpoint of selfish genes) for some ants to be sterile and to lay down their lives for their kin (the colony). The same kin selection formula that works so well to explain ant altruism doesn’t work for human altruism because the relatedness coefficient (what percentage of DNA they share) is much lower for humans.

    Also, it isn’t really a surprise that we can understand altruism in ants so well but not humans because most of human behavior is a scientific puzzle at this point. Human behavior is far more difficult to study. For one thing there are a lot of experiments you can do on ants that you can’t do on humans. For another, humans are for more complex behaviorally than any other animals and much more so than ants.

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