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Author Topic:   Evolution of Altruism
Stephen Push
Member (Idle past 2970 days)
Posts: 140
From: Virginia, USA
Joined: 10-08-2010


Message 1 of 103 (585675)
10-09-2010 9:09 AM


A few days ago I saw a TV news segment about a couple who adopted a Marine dog with PTSD. They did this to honor their son, the first Marine to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor since Vietnam. He died when he dove on a live grenade to save the other Marines in his squad.

While this was an extreme example of heroism, such self-sacrificing behavior is common enough in our species to raise a challenge to the TOE. Kin selection doesn't explain such behavior, because non-kin are often the beneficiaries. Reciprocal altruism might explain it, but that seems to be a stretch when a young man who has not had an opportunity to reproduce sacrifices his life for others. Perhaps this behavior is evidence for group selection, but most evolutionary biologists seem to believe that group selection plays little, if any role, in evolution.

Any thoughts?


Replies to this message:
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Message 2 of 103 (585681)
10-09-2010 9:22 AM


Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thread copied here from the Evolution of Altruism thread in the Proposed New Topics forum.
    
subbie
Member (Idle past 70 days)
Posts: 3508
Joined: 02-26-2006


(1)
Message 3 of 103 (585682)
10-09-2010 9:40 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Stephen Push
10-09-2010 9:09 AM


such self-sacrificing behavior is common enough in our species to raise a challenge to the TOE.

Why?

I mean, I fully understand your point that it will take some work to come up with an evolutionary explanation for this behavior. I have no idea whether anyone already has such an explanation. But, let's assume no explanation is ever developed. Why is this a problem for the ToE? Where is it written that if the ToE doesn't answer every question anyone ever asks that that's a problem? Where is it written that the ToE is supposed to answer every question?

What's the evolutionary explanation for smoking? What's the evolutionary explanation for game shows? What's the evolutionary explanation for the popularity of Paris Hilton?

Humans are reasoning and feeling individuals. I see nothing whatsoever contradictory between humans doing things against their own self interest and the ToE. I don't mean to suggest we shouldn't look for an answer to the question, because it is interesting and finding an evolutionary explanation could lead to other interesting ideas and discoveries. But the lack of an evolutionary explanation for this behavior presents absolutely no problem for the ToE in any way.

My two cents, and sorry if I'm starting your thread off by going off topic right from the start.


Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. -- Thomas Jefferson

We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat

It has always struck me as odd that fundies devote so much time and effort into trying to find a naturalistic explanation for their mythical flood, while looking for magical explanations for things that actually happened. -- Dr. Adequate

...creationists have a great way to detect fraud and it doesn't take 8 or 40 years or even a scientific degree to spot the fraud--'if it disagrees with the bible then it is wrong'.... -- archaeologist


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 Message 1 by Stephen Push, posted 10-09-2010 9:09 AM Stephen Push has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 15 by Stephen Push, posted 10-09-2010 2:33 PM subbie has responded
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Panda
Member (Idle past 1823 days)
Posts: 2688
From: UK
Joined: 10-04-2010


Message 4 of 103 (585684)
10-09-2010 9:57 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Stephen Push
10-09-2010 9:09 AM


Stephen Push writes:

While this was an extreme example of heroism, such self-sacrificing behavior is common enough in our species to raise a challenge to the TOE.


Could you describe this challenge for me, please?
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nwr
Member
Posts: 5585
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 5 of 103 (585685)
10-09-2010 10:01 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Stephen Push
10-09-2010 9:09 AM


It is not obvious to me that altruism ever did evolve. I think it more likely that it is acquired (i.e. learned) behavior rather than inherited behavior.
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frako
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From: slovenija
Joined: 09-04-2010


Message 6 of 103 (585688)
10-09-2010 10:13 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Stephen Push
10-09-2010 9:09 AM


it is simple math, you dont jump on the grenade evry body including you dies, you jump on it only you die. they survive the ware has a better chance of being wone if the ware is wone you family is safe. if they die the ware has less of a chance being won, and your family is less safe.

and usualy the soldiers you fight beside are considerd brothers so in a sence you save your own family by giving your life.


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jar
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Posts: 30936
From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004


Message 7 of 103 (585691)
10-09-2010 10:26 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Stephen Push
10-09-2010 9:09 AM


Social Customs
What makes you think altruism is something that evolved biologically? There are, I will admit, many possible examples of what we might call altruism found in other critters, but is that the same thing as what you describe?

The behavior you describe is more likely a learned behavior, indoctrination over the lifetime of the individual that evolved (yes that word) but as a societal function.


Anyone so limited that they can only spell a word one way is severely handicapped!
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CosmicChimp
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Posts: 306
From: Muenchen Bayern Deutschland
Joined: 06-15-2007


Message 8 of 103 (585695)
10-09-2010 10:41 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Stephen Push
10-09-2010 9:09 AM


I think kin selection does adequately explain the behavior. You point to modern exceptions to the rule; but the rule was made long before exceptions like that one were prevalent. Do you think evolutionary processes can turn on a dime?

BTW, from a gene centered view, I don't think kin selection is particularly altruistic.

Edited by CosmicChimp, : No reason given.


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Modulous
Member (Idle past 214 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005


(1)
Message 9 of 103 (585699)
10-09-2010 11:31 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Stephen Push
10-09-2010 9:09 AM


Why does kin selection not work here?

Because they aren't kin?

How do you know who your kin are?

For a social primate whose primal social policies include ganging up with the family to attack nearby settlements - could you not see how on some level the band of brothers we are fighting alongside might be regarded as 'family'?

in-group/out-group interaction suffices well here, the origins of which are likely related to family. Even if they aren't family - it is in your family's best interest that a strong fighing force remains to protect them. 1 person dying versus 5, is simple arithmetic: for the maximising the chances of your family genes being propagated.

Rule number 1 with evolution: It's smarter than you


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Dr Jack
Member (Idle past 215 days)
Posts: 3507
From: Leicester, England
Joined: 07-14-2003


Message 10 of 103 (585706)
10-09-2010 12:07 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Stephen Push
10-09-2010 9:09 AM


It is a mistake to assume that individual acts are adaptive. The army, after all, goes to great lengths to train soldiers. It is reasonable to assume that this training results in behaviours that are not adaptive.
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Omnivorous
Member (Idle past 1078 days)
Posts: 3808
From: Adirondackia
Joined: 07-21-2005


(1)
Message 11 of 103 (585716)
10-09-2010 12:54 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Stephen Push
10-09-2010 9:09 AM


Stephen Push writes:

Kin selection doesn't explain such behavior, because non-kin are often the beneficiaries. Reciprocal altruism might explain it, but that seems to be a stretch when a young man who has not had an opportunity to reproduce sacrifices his life for others.

I'm not confident of the existence of altruism.

That aside, I don't see why benefits accruing to non-kin would mean that kin selection fails as an explanation. We have many behaviors that have been modified by different social contexts--fight-or-flight evolved far back in our lineage, but it still serves many well in the boardroom and badminton court, far short of tooth and claw.

Also, the notion of kin has certainly expanded. Our ancestors never had the opportunity to die for a nation; there were no nations. Some folks risk their lives to protect whales, precisely because of their sense of kinship with a big-brained mammal.

You are making a large assumption in your dismissal of reciprocal altruism: any man old enough to be an American combatant has had many opportunities to reproduce. Trust me on that. In the context of our species' evolutionary past, he most certainly would have already reproduced.

Many animals--even animals of different species--herd or flock together because the larger group decreases each individual's odds of being picked off by a predator. That isn't altruistic, though from the perspective of the individual taken, a "sacrifice" has benefited the entire group, kin and non-kin alike.

In war, you have a singular focus on frustrating the enemy's purposes. These jump-on-the-grenade scenarios are necessarily in the heat of battle, and I'm not sure evolution has to account precisely for the behavior at all: Is it altruism when the same warriors are always leading the charge, both promoting the odds of victory and making them more likely to die?

Or is that merely the behavior of more aggressive individuals on a continuum defined by expressions of self-defense instincts differing in intensity, and societal imprinting? Did Norse berserkers evolve--or did the social constructs of the time create them? Both, probably: the ability to fight in a self-neglecting fury wins more fights; societies developed different triggers for the behavior. No altruism is required.

At any rate, I think war-time scenarios are poor examples on which to proceed with a discussion of altruism. The elements of training and super-stimulated aggression are just too confounding.


Dost thou prate, rogue?
-Cassio

Real things always push back.
-William James


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Coyote
Member (Idle past 216 days)
Posts: 6117
Joined: 01-12-2008


Message 12 of 103 (585721)
10-09-2010 12:59 PM


Kin
In tribal societies, kin and tribe were generally pretty close to the same.
  
Stephen Push
Member (Idle past 2970 days)
Posts: 140
From: Virginia, USA
Joined: 10-08-2010


Message 13 of 103 (585731)
10-09-2010 1:59 PM


Wow, my message really generated a lot of replies. I'll try to respond to each when I have time, but for the moment, I'd like to make a few general observations that address some of the most common themes in your replies.

Is war a good model? Perhaps not. But I can think of instances of self-sacrificing behavior other than war. Firefighters and police officers put themselves in mortal danger to protect people they don't know. Yes, it's their job. But when faced with a life-threatening situation, why don't most firefighters and police officers say, "Take this job and shove it!"

Does the ToE have to explain everything? No. But when a portion of the population engages in behavior that, on the face of it, appears to be highly maladaptive, it is reasonable to expect the ToE to give a satisfactory explanation.

In our past, wasn't everybody in the tribe pretty much kin. This is a factual claim that requires evidence. Even if it is true, an unspoken assumption is that, in the last 10,000 years, we haven't adapted to our new social environment, in which many of our daily contacts are not close relatives. This claim also seems to be contradicted by research suggesting that we can recognize kin, even to the point that identical twins help nieces and nephews more than fraternal twins do.


Replies to this message:
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subbie
Member (Idle past 70 days)
Posts: 3508
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 14 of 103 (585733)
10-09-2010 2:10 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by Stephen Push
10-09-2010 1:59 PM


But when a portion of the population engages in behavior that, on the face of it, appears to be highly maladaptive, it is reasonable to expect the ToE to give a satisfactory explanation.

You failed to actually address the point that several people here raised, that altruism may be a result of social evolution, rather than biological evolution. As such, there's really no point in looking for a ToE explanation. In fact, if altruism is maladaptive, it seems highly counter intuitive to look for an adaptive explanation.


Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. -- Thomas Jefferson

We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat

It has always struck me as odd that fundies devote so much time and effort into trying to find a naturalistic explanation for their mythical flood, while looking for magical explanations for things that actually happened. -- Dr. Adequate

...creationists have a great way to detect fraud and it doesn't take 8 or 40 years or even a scientific degree to spot the fraud--'if it disagrees with the bible then it is wrong'.... -- archaeologist


This message is a reply to:
 Message 13 by Stephen Push, posted 10-09-2010 1:59 PM Stephen Push has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 17 by Stephen Push, posted 10-09-2010 2:48 PM subbie has responded

  
Stephen Push
Member (Idle past 2970 days)
Posts: 140
From: Virginia, USA
Joined: 10-08-2010


Message 15 of 103 (585739)
10-09-2010 2:33 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by subbie
10-09-2010 9:40 AM


What's the evolutionary explanation for smoking? What's the evolutionary explanation for game shows? What's the evolutionary explanation for the popularity of Paris Hilton?

Smoking is sometimes fatal, but it is probably new enough that we haven't had time to develop an instinctual fear or aversion to it. Fear of fire and violence comes naturally, however, and thus I think our tendency to sometimes overcome this fear to help others with no obvious benefit to ourselves requires an explanation.

I don't think we need to explain game shows or Paris Hilton (at least not in the same way) because these passtimes are not as dangerous as firefighting, police work, or soldiering.


This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
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