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View Poll Results: Does altruism exist?
Yes 9 52.94%
No 6 35.29%
I don't know. 2 11.76%
Voters: 17. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 08-10-2014, 05:26 PM   #31 (permalink)
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I would argue that altruism does exist, it's not just not the pure ideal of altruism that some people think it is. Altruistic behavior is our behavior that is irrational in terms of personal survival, but somehow helps the survival chances of species or individual members of the species. It doesn't matter whether the altruistic behavior makes the organism feel good or not, though typically it does and that's why they do it.

In primates (including early humans) altruism stemmed from limited inbreeding (a typical trait of social organisms). It turns out that social animals are more willing to help out fellow members of their species that share more resemblance to them. The benefits/cost of altruism aren't necessarily realized by the individual itself, it is a random mutation that favored reproduction of social species, and thus, those groups of primates had a higher chance of survival than groups with more in-group competition.

Altruism - EvoWiki
I wouldn't call that altruism myself. Being nice to family who you share genes with is called kin selection. The reason doing so has evolved is because generally, there's a fitness reward associated wth it, which means there's a selfish reason behind it all. By being "altruistic", you are doing something to perpetuate your genes and ensure your biological fitness. Can it then be altruism?

It's the same thing with social bees kamikaze-killing themselves for the good of the hive. Unlike us humans, a worker bee always has the same set of chromosomes from her (haploid) father, and they make up 50% of her genes. So 50% of the genetic material will always be the same. Then they also inherit one of two sets of genes from their (diploid) mother. So, putting it simply, on average any worker bee will share 75% of her genes with her sisters.

If a worker bee would have her own children, she would only share 50% of her genes with each child (the other half would come from her father), which is actually less relation than she would have to a new sister. So, in fact, a better strategy for a worker bee to maximize fitness would be to ensure that her mother, the queen, births more sisters .. even if it means giving her life for that cause. Is it then altruism? I would say not, because the basis of it all is selfish.

edit :

A simple mechanism by which one might argue that altruism exists is by variation. The optimal strategy or expression of a trait depends on the environment. Let's say that there's a gene that makes people nice and it evolved because being nice raises their fitness, so it evolved out of selfishness. But how nice should you be? That depends on the environment and generally speaking, the environment changes constantly and you also have genetic variation and so the gene will generally never be optimally expressed. A person would either be too nice or not nice enough. If they are too nice, you could argue that that is altruism.

A gene could also mutate, resulting in a new behaviour making an individual behave more altruistic.
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Last edited by tore; 08-10-2014 at 05:36 PM.
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Old 08-10-2014, 09:00 PM   #32 (permalink)
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I wouldn't call that altruism myself. Being nice to family who you share genes with is called kin selection. The reason doing so has evolved is because generally, there's a fitness reward associated wth it, which means there's a selfish reason behind it all. By being "altruistic", you are doing something to perpetuate your genes and ensure your biological fitness. Can it then be altruism?
Note the context of the altruism wiki. Kin selection is not altruism, but it is a proposed mechanism for altruism.

Gene propagation is not the human reason for altruism; that's the evolutionary reason. For example, sex yields children, but that's not why we do it; we do it because it feels good. If reproduction relied on some kind of intellectual acknowledgement of the fate of the species, we would probably be doomed. Instead, it relies on us having an urge to get off.

Altruistic urges aren't much different in that regard. It makes some people feel good to make sacrifices for others. The individual hasn't necessarily reached the conclusion that it will increase the odds of their genes propagating, they are just following compulsions that randomly developed through evolutionary pressures and happened to lead to the propagation of genes that tend to lead to such traits.
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Old 08-11-2014, 04:43 AM   #33 (permalink)
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By being "altruistic", you are doing something to perpetuate your genes and ensure your biological fitness. Can it then be altruism?
yes. i don't see the dilemma at all because your genes are not the ones being described as altruistic. you, the animal, are the one that is making a sacrifice. the genetic programming that compels you to make that sacrifice doesn't cancel that out.
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Old 08-11-2014, 08:59 AM   #34 (permalink)
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Note the context of the altruism wiki. Kin selection is not altruism, but it is a proposed mechanism for altruism.

Gene propagation is not the human reason for altruism; that's the evolutionary reason. For example, sex yields children, but that's not why we do it; we do it because it feels good. If reproduction relied on some kind of intellectual acknowledgement of the fate of the species, we would probably be doomed. Instead, it relies on us having an urge to get off.

Altruistic urges aren't much different in that regard. It makes some people feel good to make sacrifices for others. The individual hasn't necessarily reached the conclusion that it will increase the odds of their genes propagating, they are just following compulsions that randomly developed through evolutionary pressures and happened to lead to the propagation of genes that tend to lead to such traits.
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yes. i don't see the dilemma at all because your genes are not the ones being described as altruistic. you, the animal, are the one that is making a sacrifice. the genetic programming that compels you to make that sacrifice doesn't cancel that out.
Some great points made here

I get them too and I could just leave it at that. It could be a matter of perspective.

Still, the nitpick in me thinks true selflessness would have you gain nothing, not even an unconscious fitness reward. It exists f.ex when an "altruistic" optimal strategy fails to be optimal and becomes too nice to the point where it's actually self-destructive fitness-wise. Natural selection would work against it and adjust those genes accordingly. To put that in a more social perspective, I think a good society should create an environment that promotes selflessness and altruism (whether one thinks of it as a real thing or not).

Somewhat related, I once read about green beard hypothesis (think it was green). The idea is that a gene gives a man a green beard (easily recognizable) and the gene also controls friendly behaviour towards others with green beards. The gene is selfish; it's promoting its own survival when it recognizes itself in other individuals. That could also be a way for "altruism" to exist, but again the underlying evolutionary mechanism is, of course, selfish.

I'm not sure if any "green beard"-genes have been identified, but I should look into that.
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Last edited by tore; 08-11-2014 at 09:04 AM.
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Old 08-12-2014, 12:34 AM   #35 (permalink)
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the way i look at it is basically that it is selfish at a genetic level but not selfish at the level of the individual organism. the gene that codes for the altruistic behavior is in itself selfish since genes by definition are selected based on their success in propagating themselves. so if the gene itself had any sort of agency you would have to consider it selfish. but the organism is not the gene, and the organism doesn't actually benefit from the sacrifice the gene has programmed it to make. e.g. the bee example; the genetic lineage might benefit from that sort of sacrifice. the individual bee that makes the sacrifice doesn't benefit. if they did then it wouldn't be a sacrifice.

so i think that there is a real distinction to make between instincts which promote the organism's individual well being and survival and those that promote the organism to sacrifice those priorities, and i think it makes sense to label the latter as altruism.
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Old 08-12-2014, 09:47 AM   #36 (permalink)
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I disagree with separating one's genes from who they are, because I don't believe in souls. One does not exist without their coding, a different one exists.
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Old 08-12-2014, 12:36 PM   #37 (permalink)
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I disagree with separating one's genes from who they are, because I don't believe in souls. One does not exist without their coding, a different one exists.
Genes are only half the story, though. The other half is how environment shaped and selected those genes. A pair of monozygotic twins cam develop differences in personality (in fact, we do monozygotic twin studies comparing twins raised together to twins separated at a young age to tease environmental effects from genetic effects.)
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Old 08-12-2014, 12:47 PM   #38 (permalink)
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I disagree with separating one's genes from who they are, because I don't believe in souls. One does not exist without their coding, a different one exists.
i don't believe in souls either. i believe in brains. all i'm saying is the individual organism doesn't benefit from making the altruistic sacrifice, so the individual organism isn't being 'selfish.' the gene might benefit, but the gene is not the organism.
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Old 08-12-2014, 01:03 PM   #39 (permalink)
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@Both: The organism wouldn't exist without the genes, it would be a different organism. In order to be altruistic, it would literally have to lack survival genes and contain specific 'sacrifice without reward', communal or individual, genes. And that just plain doesn't happen because the species wouldn't have made it this far.

Edit: Maybe it's a matter of defining altruism. In my eyes, it is a concept that does not exist. But I do think the 'fake' altruism sometimes exhibited is admirable enough.
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Old 08-12-2014, 01:47 PM   #40 (permalink)
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Edit: Maybe it's a matter of defining altruism. In my eyes, it is a concept that does not exist. But I do think the 'fake' altruism sometimes exhibited is admirable enough.
I think, in general, the differences are in the semantics of altruism. I agree, to some extent, that idealistic altruism doesn't exist, though it may crop up as a social construction. The problem, in terms of falsifiable observations, is that motivations can't be directly observed like behavior can, so altruism is defined behaviorally in a biology context. The means that the intrinsic value system is neglected.

This is an interesting problem to me. Imo, marketing and propaganda research and a model similar to Maslow's Hierarchy could help to make a rational concept out of internal value systems (really, we know that sex, money, and food are up there, but then there's more complicated social rules that emerge from social value systems like religion, law, and community).
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