Re: There is No Altruism

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu Mar 24 2005 - 20:11:31 MST

At 01:05 PM 24/03/05 +1100, you wrote:
>Hash: SHA1
>Keith Henson wrote:
>| At 02:26 PM 23/03/05 -0500, you wrote:
>|> It has been interesting to see the chats concerning the
>|> self-proclaimed altruism of Eleizer and the differing view
>|> proposed by Robert Ettinger (originator of the Cryonics
>|> Organization in Michigan).
>| Snip
>| I am surprised that the responses to the original post don't
>| mention William Hamilton's inclusive fitness or evolutionary
>| psychology.
>Why? They are simple ideas and I guess people don't feel the need to
>reference any particular philosophy of altruism...

It is true that Hamilton's ideas are simple, but it should be noted that
altruism baffled the best minds in evolutionary biology for over 100
years. However, I don't see how you justify using the word "philosophy" in
this context. Perhaps you could explain?

>| The root of what looks like altruism is selfish genes, evolved to
>| do the best the can with whatever nastiness nature deals out.
>Yes. Evolution is true. Gasp!
>| Altruism between unrelated people can be considered a misfiring of
>| the evolved psychological traits. We just don't live in related
>| tribes to the extent we did in the stone age so we treat others
>| better than their relatedness to us would justify in gene terms.
>Psychological-traits are not goal oriented, they are evolved. To
>consider any evolved system to be "mis-firing" is to misunderstand the
>nature of evolution, which is simply the mechanism by which organisms
>adapt to circumstances.

Perhaps you mean "species" because evolution is not something that happens
to an organism. (The organism reproduces more or less than the other
members of the species changing gene pool frequencies.)

But let me give you an example of misfiring. We have chemically mediated
reward systems in our brains that for the most part reward us for things
like sex, attention, and food. This reward system is very well adapted to
promote reproductive success in hunter gatherer tribes.

The reward system misfires when it is activated by addictive drugs. This
has been determined in great detail most recently with fMRI studies. Now
the trait to get addicted to drugs is an obvious misfiring of the social
reward system evolved for other reasons. (Otherwise you need to make a
case that being nodded out on plant narcotics made you more likely to
reproduce (instead of being eaten) in a hunter gatherer world.)

>Altruism between unrelated people is simply
>another evolved response. There is no need to claim that kin selection
>is the "real" altruism, and unconditional altruism is somehow lesser.
>They are both merely features. Why do you feel that altruism must be
>defined in a kinship-selective manner?

Well, how do you account for the evolution of traits where one animal does
something for the benefit of another? Consider bees rather than humans to
work it out. That's how Hamilton first understood the origin of altruism.

Keith Henson

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