Life Driven Purpose, pgs 62-63

“Thomas Jefferson was a deist, living just like an atheist with no religious practices, but believing there had to be some kind of starter god or impersonal force that got everything going. The deists were the pre-Darwinian freethinkers, lacking a model for the origin of life. But Jefferson got it right about instincts, anticipating the theory of evolution by many decades. Charles Darwin famously wrote: “It has, I think, now been shown that man and the higher animals, especially the Primates, have some few instincts in common. All have the same senses, intuitions, and sensations, – similar passions, affections, and emotions, even the more complex ones, such as jealousy, suspicion, emulation, gratitude, and magnanimity; they practise deceit and are revengeful; they are sometimes susceptible to ridicule, and even have a sense of humour; they feel wonder and curiosity; they possess the same faculties of imitation, attention, deliberation, choice, memory, imagination, the association of ideas, and reason, though in very different degrees. The individuals of the same species graduate in intellect from absolute imbecility to high excellence. They are also liable to insanity, though far less often than the case of man.” Scientists today continue to prove that Darwin and Jefferson were right. We are discovering that the same “moral instincts” are found in other animals, though to different degrees, as Darwin noticed. All species have evolved instincts that enhance the survival of their genes – they wouldn’t be here otherwise – and this often involves behavior that is cooperative, altruistic, and sacrificial. Frans de Waal, in his book The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, gives many examples of nonhuman animals acting compassionately. Altruism is an evolved behavior that does not rely solely on having a “higher” brain that can construct formal moral philosophies. Chimpanzees will sacrifice for each other. They will lag behind to help a wounded companion, licking their wounds, putting their own lives in danger to protect a weaker individual. They work together cooperatively. they hug and express emotions of love, gratitude, sorrow, and empathy. Chimpanzees are primates like us, but altruism also occurs within species less closely related to humans.”

–Dan Barker, Life Driven Purpose, pgs 62-63


Discuss!

33 COMMENTS

  1. “Thomas Jefferson was a deist, living just like an atheist with no religious practices, but believing there had to be some kind of starter god or impersonal force that got everything going. The deists were the pre-Darwinian freethinkers, lacking a model for the origin of life.

    Now, more than ever, this American holds the founding fathers and their ideas and goals to be paragons of the freethinker community. They were not perfect human beings and this is reflected in the Constitution that they produced (slavery, women’s votes etc.) and the history of their lives, but their vision for America as a secular democratic nation and everything that they were opposed to in the old country is astounding to me as I see it now. It would have been so much easier for them to go with the political flow of the times but they put themselves in harms way to take a radical approach, start a war and fight the good fight.

    What would Jefferson think of the current political situation here? He wasn’t keen on extending voting rights to citizens who couldn’t be trusted to think rationally. Unfortunately he included women and others in that group. But the election of Trump may be the very thing that he feared – low information voters acting on emotion to elect the President of the US.

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that Jefferson was “living just like an atheist” in the paragraph above. Jefferson hated religious dogma and especially hated formal organized religion. He hated the priests who insinuated themselves into government to the detriment of the common folk but he did believe in a deity who created the world and he approved of the gospels except for the miracles and magic in them. His Jefferson Bible leads me to think that he found some of the material to be worth saving. He donated to churches in his neighborhood. All of this doesn’t convince me that he lived just like an atheist.

    I shouldn’t bring up these picky things when on the whole I think he was the historical character who did the most to establish the wall of separation between church and state in this country. The ideas that at that time must have seemed frighteningly radical to most have now proven to set the country on a course that is stable and humane and firmly in line with what is ethically right and good and valuable. I only wish he had stayed alive long enough to read Darwin’s work, Mendel and others to know that we don’t need God or any other religious nonsense to fill in the missing blanks on the subject of how the earth and universe were created and how life came to exist. Just imagine what a great thinker like Jefferson and his contemporaries would have done with that knowledge. Even so, they all moved us ahead in many important ways with what they knew at the time and I’m grateful for that.

    I’ve been reflecting on the founding fathers and their vision for this country in the past few weeks and my feelings are melancholy due to the election results that we must contend with here. Jefferson lived from 1743 to 1826 and during his lifetime he and his contemporaries moved us forward in a radical revolution that made life better for people in his domain. Now I want to know if the incoming administration intends to build on this progress or turn this behemoth around and kowtow to the forces of the reactionary control freaks and their parasitic predatory friends. They’re off and running already.

  2. Dan Barker: We are discovering that the same “moral instincts” are found in other animals, though to different degrees, as Darwin noticed. All species have evolved instincts that enhance the survival of their genes – they wouldn’t be here otherwise – and this often involves behavior that is cooperative, altruistic, and sacrificial. Frans de Waal, in his book The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, gives many examples of nonhuman animals acting compassionately.

    My vote for the animal champion of compassion goes to the golden retriever. Dogs have far greater social intelligence than chimpanzees and they won’t rip your face or scrotum off with mood swings that come with aging. That’s why we keep dogs in our houses, trust them with our children, and mourn the loss of their companionship, loyalty and affection when they die, missing them more than obnoxious uncle Harry who got drunk while hiking and stumbled off a 300-foot drop.

    We all aspire to become “better persons” for the purpose of self-improvement, enhanced altruism, and building that elusive kinder society. There are obvious reasons for the behavior both utilitarian and emotional.

    Nevertheless, Dan Barker suffers from a kind of tunnel vision by failing to assess the core activity of the human animal, and non-human animals necessary for survival. Eating. Moral instincts cannot displace the role all animals must play in the food chain. Those picturesque animals -beef cattle and sheep- we see grazing in green pastures, those chickens we see clucking contentedly in barnyards are nothing more than globs of protein headed for the table to be eaten and transformed into protein on our own bones. Paraphrasing Woody Allen, nature is all about larger fish eating smaller fish. Life is one big restaurant. Paraphrasing Joseph Conrad, humans can wax sentimental about altruistic ideals as long as there is a policemen hidden around one corner and a butcher around the other.

  3. Melvin

    My vote for the animal champion of compassion goes to the golden retriever. Dogs have far greater social intelligence than chimpanzees…

    Thousands of years of dog-human coevolution went into the making of man’s best friend. Chimp-human, not so much.

  4. Richard Dawkins said that no other animal has foresight, that is, concern for the future of the planet. And unfortunately most humans don’t even have this. They (non-human animals) only care about the future of their own offspring. In this sense humans are “absolutely unique”. He was on a panel, and one of the speakers, Jane Goodall, then said something about chimpanzees having “true altruism”. Dawkins clarified what he meant and said that while other animals are capable of “non kin directed altruism”, only humans are “capable of taking action in the interest of the long-term future”. Goodall appeared to concede the point.

    Jefferson was a very, very strong believer in education.

    “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

    His views on education were also very complex and there has been much debate about these views amongst scholars.

    But this can be said unequivocally: “He believed that education is a crucial element for a republic to thrive, just as an informed population was necessary in order to ensure self-government and to produce competent leaders.”—Son H. Mai

    Competent leaders.—Like Mr. Trump; and the distinguished Pence.

  5. I really love this paragraph (usually I read and comment the given paragraphs of this book with criticism). This one is REALLY a nice one!
    We as species are highly social and cooperative, so that we can be classified as eusocial (I´ ve read in some interview of Edward O. Wilson in a magazine: didn´t actually read the book in the link, perhaps later), and it seems there are a few mammal species that can be classified as eusocial, however more interesting yet, we seem not to be as “totalitarian” as ants (Well I am all “pro-Rosseau”).

    Edward O. Wilson’s New Take on Human Nature

    Interestingly enough I am glad that we can change constitutions (being respectful of it´s “spirit” or principles), and to make the Law is a human task, not a divine´s, which means human reason evolved, the fundamentalist sharia for instance will never evolve according to scial evolution of societies but will forever be stick to the prophet.

  6. Forgot to mention: Frans de Waal has a site it seems about altruistic behaviour I´ve heard in some lecture a scientist researcher herself -of emotions in animals- mentioned: well I hope the experiments Frans de Waal mentions in his site are worth enough once animals have been harmed by them (or were unethical it seems according to her?).

  7. @dan #4

    [only] humans are “capable of taking action in the interest of the long-term future”.

    That remains to be seen. I don’t see a lot of evidence of that. But maybe (if we survive long enough) we can evolve into the kind of beings capable as claimed above.

  8. [only] humans are “capable of taking action in the interest of the
    long-term future”.

    Well, time is a mathematic concept, history to be registred needs written language, not all peoples have written language and mathematic concepts are not inherited (a mathematician has been in an amazonian tribe to aknowledge if they had any ideas of some mathematical concepts, and these were too limited), so, natives refer to past time as myths I guess.
    Well, who knows what are native´s concept of long-term future? I guess Trump for instance doesn´t have such concept, nor did atomic bomb developer? (I guess Openheimer did have some kind of biblical apocalypse figure as analogy of the “long-term” proportion of his work, what´s curious that someone recurs to myth because doesn´t know much about mathematic concepts and someone that knows mathematic concepts recurs to the bible).

  9. Nevertheless, Dan Barker suffers from a kind of tunnel vision by
    failing to assess the core activity of the human animal, and non-human
    animals necessary for survival. Eating. Moral instincts cannot
    displace the role all animals must play in the food chain. Those
    picturesque animals -beef cattle and sheep- we see grazing in green
    pastures, those chickens we see clucking contentedly in barnyards are
    nothing more than globs of protein headed for the table to be eaten
    and transformed into protein on our own bones. Paraphrasing Woody
    Allen, nature is all about larger fish eating smaller fish. Life is
    one big restaurant. Paraphrasing Joseph Conrad, humans can wax
    sentimental about altruistic ideals as long as there is a policemen
    hidden around one corner and a butcher around the other.

    It seems the Panda and us are displaced in the “food chain”?
    Perhaps I wouldn´t feel safe if I were stuck in an elevator with Joseph Conrad for a long time.

  10. “Empathy may lead to cooperative and altruistic behaviour, although not always, but it certainly seems to set the motivation to do so even if the beneficiary of the altruistic behaviour is not a close kin or a potential reciprocator of altruism. Research is still needed to explore whether an absence of control of these non-conscious emotional reactions increases the likelihood of acting upon them with manifestations of sympathy, such as altruistic acts or consolation. Based on the reviewed evidence, there is no doubt that human empathy related behaviour has been primed by evolution and that it largely depends on both emotional and cognitive processes. And, although we see reflections of empathy in other animals, some could have evolved independently of our own empathy. Do we know how far back do our sympathy, consolation and altruistic behaviours go back in time? The species Homo sapiens sapiens is ca. 200.000 years old and descends from a long lineage of 7-5 million years of Hominines (Kumar et al., 2005; Sibly & Ahlquist 1984). Our five MA ancestors were physically and genetically very much like chimpanzee’s ancestors, and we know from paleoanthropological evidence that our estimated 300.000 year old relatives, the Neanderthals, took care of their elderly and ill fellows, who crippled by serious bone disease such as bone cancer, osteoarthritis or damaged and even absent teeth (Stringer & Gamble, 1993; Tappen, 2005), and couldn’t have survived without extensive assistance from other members of their clans. The Mirror Neuron System similarities and the empathic behaviour in other primates suggest it has its roots in a far more distant past. From its advantages in both human and non-human primates we can certainly envisage its advantages in the lives and survival of other social mammals, of whom we have only heard anecdotal reports of empathic behaviour (Bekoff, 2007; de Waal 1996; 2006) and so far no knowledge of a MNS.
    Looks like in its new interdisciplinary path, Psychology will no longer attend to prejudice about our biological selves and remain isolated from Physiology or Neuroscience in its quest to understand brain and behaviour, human or non-human, for these are inextricable realities.”

    The evolving empathy: hardwired bases of human and non-human primate empathy

  11. Altruism is synonymous with self-sacrifice. Why would it be good for members of any species to sacrifice itself? Why is this so often considered to be good? Survival, in human terms, specifically needs non-sacrifice of anyone to anyone. This is not to say that empathy for other people and their circumstances should not exist, but it must not be at the extent of one’s own sacrificial destruction.

  12. SJT #11
    Jan 14, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Altruism is synonymous with self-sacrifice.
    Why would it be good for members of any species to sacrifice itself?

    That is how survival of genes works in evolution.
    It is not “good for the individual”. It is good for the community.
    This is best understood when looking at the social insects of bees, wasps and ants.
    Only the queens breed a new generation, but the non-breeding workers, all contribute to the queens and offspring, which share their genes, and hence to the survival of the community as a whole.

    Why is this so often considered to be good? Survival, in human terms, specifically needs non-sacrifice of anyone to anyone.

    In human populations sacrifice which is less than fatal, is often on a reciprocal basis, where some loss is taken by individuals but the favours are returned either as repayment to them as individuals, or in benefits shared by the whole community in which they participate.
    Where individuals are killed their sacrifice may help the survival of their relatives who share their genes.

  13. Chimpanzees are primates like us, but altruism also occurs within
    species less closely related to humans

    Ants are not so closer to us as chimpanzees , however we can think of ourselves in analogy with ants as social insects (Aristotle did it) too, amazing isn´t it?

    Ant societies and what we can learn from them: Laurent Keller at TEDxLausanne

    Only the queens breed a new generation, but the non-breeding workers, all contribute to the queens and offspring, which share their genes #12

  14. Only the queens breed a new generation, but the non-breeding workers,
    all contribute to the queens and offspring, which share their genes

    12

    If an egg would be laid in such colonies, other than the “queen´s”, it would be destroyed by police members, it seems there are “fugitives” in the system too?

  15. In the film The Predator, the alien anthropologist made an analogy between our species-humans- and a colony of bacteria, after using all the resources available these colonies need more resources and another environment (many science fiction movies and tv series explore this guilt idea, planet Earth is left behind and is too much poluted).

  16. If we train a dog to protect sheep, is that altruism? If we train Dogs to pick up litter and put it in the right recycling bin, is that them planning for the future? There are clever scientists that have identified the problem and the rest of us are acting like trained dogs picking up after ourselves.

    The question for me is, what triggers altruism. It will mean different triggers for everyone and everything. I love to see these triggers being activated by the “Dog Whisperer”, Cesar Millan.

  17. @Alan #12

    It is not “good for the individual”. It is good for the community.

    Pedantic correction. While it may be good of the community, that’s not a reason. It is for the good of the gene. If the community thrives, so does the gene. (Alan you were starting to sound a bit group-selectionist for a moment.) But maybe that’s what you meant, and I misread you.

  18. Olgun, others

    If we train a dog to protect sheep, is that altruism?

    Perhaps – on the part of the trainers! The sheep trainers may be taking action in the interest of the long-term future.—The dogs are not.

    It has already been established that animals (particularly chimpanzees) can be said to exhibit forms of altruism. But the point that Richard D. made remains true. (See comment # 4)

    What is altruism? What is empathy? Large questions. It might take a lifetime to even begin to find an answer. (“It’s in the brain, and a product of evolution” will never satisfy me – although it may satisfy others.)

  19. Having accepted Dr Dawkins explanation of altruism, I’d expect it to turn up anywhere, in any species where it can help gene survival. What’s so strange? Other animals, perhaps a bit like us, that lacked the level of altruism that we can muster, may have gone extinct for want of a bit more of it. That’s idle speculation.

    But since our ways to identify other individuals carrying the same gene(s) as us can be imperfect, a benefit-of-the-doubt form of altruism (extra generous) can be expected to compete with a strict proof-of-kinship approach, with only time telling which works better.

    We see these alternate strategies in play in different countries, with different forms of government and attitudes to things like healthcare and distribution of wealth. The competition in that arena is by no means settled.

  20. OHooligan #18
    Jan 15, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    @Alan #12

    It is not “good for the individual”. It is good for the community.

    Pedantic correction. While it may be good of the community, that’s not a reason. It is for the good of the gene. If the community thrives, so does the gene.

    Within species, kin-selection (or on occasions fictive-kin selection) dominates.

    (Alan you were starting to sound a bit group-selectionist for a moment.) But maybe that’s what you meant, and I misread you.

    There are aspects of reciprocal altruism in selection within mixed groups, where unrelated species are in symbiotic relationships – perhaps even unequal ones.

    Mixed herds of buffalo, wildebeest, and zebras watching out for lions, come to mind – although lions usually prefer zebra!

    Many species respond to alarm calls from unrelated birds warning of predators.

    However, in brief comments specifics can be scarce!

  21. Dan#19

    I posted a while back a video of a leopard killing a monkey only to find a baby monkey crawl out of its mothers fur. The leopard took the baby up a tree to protect it from the hyenas. To me, the ‘altruism’ in this case was the mothering switch tripping on the ‘wrong’ species. The baby died over night but the leopard stayed with it until then. can the trigger for kin be as easily triggered? I loved my best friend like a brother?

    I don’t think altruism is so allusive if you look to many places instead of just the one word we attach to it?

  22. Altruistic behavior and real sympathy are two different things. And conscious, ethical acts that humans engage in on behalf of the quality of the life of our own species and others – and not just the immediate well-being of individuals, in a physical sense (which is mere instinct) – is altruism at a completely different level.

    Animals do have compassion. This has been proven. But altruism in a zoological sense is a rudimentary instinctual phenomenon, and has almost no moral worth. It is hardly praiseworthy, although we may admire it; it is just behavior. No vision, no understanding, no sense of justice, no real nobility, no real choice involved. No real sacrifice either. We might as well praise a cave for giving us shelter.

    I am not a cynic when it comes to the moral aspects of animal behavior; I am a philosophically informed skeptic.

  23. Dan

    Our switches are many more I agree. Many more checks have to be made before a decision.

    I would thank the cave for shelter in this case as it was the caves shelter that formed the persons mind that helped me on that day. It is not altruism to jump in the water to save someone if you can’t swim. That would be foolish and not all the right switches have been tripped.

    Moral act or moral intent…which came first?

  24. ” I am not a cynic when it comes to the moral aspects of animal behavior; I am a philosophically informed skeptic.” Dan #24

    It doesn´t seem you´ve denied those aspects, only that humans take it to a higher degree (if the word is acceptable), not all humans can aspire to such fair distribution of welfare (within a species with “higher” ethical principles as you´ve mentioned), once a large part of humans didn´t even learn how to write and read, even those who do relay on the same basic natural morality.
    For one to be skeptical believing in evolutionary principles would be even more unlikly that animals don´t have basic morality, sense of justice, emotions. Marc Bekoff explains why in a convincing way, in case you were skeptical (which is not the case it seems).

    Antonio Damasio and Marc Becoff refer both that animals have undoubtly emotions, but not filter for those emotions (secondary and reflexive) and animals have emotions but not sentiments once it is necessary reflection on those emtions to become a sentiment, it seems. Well, some humans seem not to have “filters” either.

  25. mario melo

    humans take it to a higher degree

    Absolutely right. I don’t see any justification for insisting that there are absolute walls that divide these degrees in nature. Nature is one vast continuum; however, quality, as Engels said, changes quality. This observation does not contradict the idea of nature as a continuum, the idea of homogeneity. But I would also add that there is as much difference between a human being endowed with an abnormal or atypical degree of intellect (Jefferson, Newton, Lincoln, etc.) and the lowest form of organic life in an intellectual sense – and as much difference between a being endowed with a profound sense of sympathy combined with a social consciousness (MLK), and the most unfeeling living entities. This same profound difference, which one must’t ignore, applies to the relationship between organic nature and inorganic nature. That latter difference is also quantitative, although that has yet to be proven and is still more within the realm of speculation than science

  26. Altruistic behavior and real sympathy are two different things. And
    conscious, ethical acts that humans engage in on behalf of the quality
    of the life of our own species and others – and not just the immediate
    well-being of individuals, in a physical sense (which is mere
    instinct) – is altruism at a completely different level.

    Being classified as eusocial species and highly cooperative probably mean cooperative behaviour must have been selected because it seems a better way to thrive (you call it altruism), I wouldn´t feel any reserve that it is our very nature too, even at the level of instinct (I praise the Wall of this cave if I have to).
    However there are individuals ready to take advantage on that too, that´s why the talk about the “selfish gene” becames necessary, isn´t it?.

  27. Hi, Maria,

    …however, quality, as Engels said, changes quality.

    Oh no! I meant to write: quantity changes quality!! (Painful.)

    Altruistic behavior is not real sympathy. A politician, in front of a camera, reaches into his pocket and hands a ten dollar bill to a bum. That is altruistic behavior. It was not an act that arose out of compassion, necessarily. —In addition to other motives (or causes), instinct (impulse) may give rise to altruism; but it is a limited and rudimentary form of it, altruism on a low level. But what one consciously desires and chooses (wills to do) out of the goodness of one’s heart, if I may use that expression, is a much higher grade of altruism.

    I believe that animals have compassion. Why shouldn’t they? But humans are by far the most wicked and the most moral of all the creatures on earth.

    Animals are incapable of wickedness. Therefore, they are hardly capable of virtue.

    All a question of degree, however.

  28. Olgun #30

    Where does the ‘goodness of ones heart’ come from?

    I’ve touched upon this issue before, and have impressed no one; and as I’ve said again recently on another thread (or was it this one?), that is a large question, and one that I have neither the space nor the time to address here, with the hope of doing it any kind of justice. But surely “goodness of heart” does really exist, and has existed throughout human history. — It is a figure of speech, but also a peculiar feeling or condition that we are all, presumably, familiar with – some more than others – and not an illusion. “In the brain” or “a product of evolution” does not satisfy me as an answer. A product begs the question: what is the product itself? “In the brain” is another answer/non-answer; everything, including the absence of a given feeling, has a neural correlate somewhere, and can be, as it were, found “in the brain”.

  29. “Animals are incapable of wickedness. Therefore, they are hardly capable of virtue.”

    What are we then, “gods/godnesses”‘?
    Non-human animals are capable of both,
    We could take advantage of our higher moral and ethical condition as humans to protect animals then (not to mention other human fellows) that would indeed be a real virtue.

  30. @Dan

    But humans are by far the most wicked and the most moral of all the creatures on earth.

    Partly right, Dan. I agree with the first part. Not the second, show me the evidence. We like to think we have this good side, and it sometimes shows through spectacularly in some individuals. Oskar Schindler springs to mind. But we celebrate these because they are so rare. In general, and en masse, humans are especially good at tinkering with stuff, and at changing their environment to suit themselves, in the short term. In general, most humans seem content to live and let live, as long as there’s enough to go round, and will only take the great risks when times become desperate, and they retreat to a very narrow kind of self-interest, with altruism confined to very close kin (or kin-surrogates like nations, parties, football teams), and a frightening readiness to become murderously hostile to anyone else.

Leave a Reply