Darwinism Evolution

Darwinism: Altruism and Spite

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4620922.stm

Lead researcher Dr Tania Singer said: “Men expressed more desire for revenge and seemed to feel satisfaction when unfair people were given what they perceived as deserved physical punishment.

“This type of behaviour has probably been crucial in the evolution of society as the majority of people in a group are motivated to punish those who cheat on the rest.

“This altruistic behaviour means that people tend to protect each other against being exploited by society’s free-loaders, and evolution has probably seeded this sense of justice and moral duty into our brains.”

http://www.mpg.de/english/illustrationsDocumentation/documentation/pressReleases/2006/pressRelease20060117/

In a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy (January 17, 2006), Keith Jensen and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany looks at altruism and spite in our close cousin; the chimpanzee. In Jensen’s study, chimpanzees from the Wolfgang Koehler Primate Research Centre in Leipzig were given a choice; by pulling on a rope they could either deliver food to another chimpanzee or they could deliver it to an empty room. In both cases, the chimpanzee pulling the rope did not receive any food itself. Contrary to initial expectations the chimpanzees behaved neither altruistic nor spiteful. According to the researchers, both characteristics therefore seem to be human-specific.

An altruistic chimpanzee would give food to its neighbour, despite the effort in pulling the food, and a spiteful chimpanzee would prevent its neighbour from having the food by delivering it to the empty room.

‘I predicted chimps would be spiteful. I thought if they knew they couldn’t have the food, they wouldn’t let anyone else have it.’ Jensen found that half the time, the chimpanzees did nothing. A quarter of the time they delivered food to their neighbour, then a quarter of the time to the empty room. This demonstrated neither altruism nor spite.

‘They didn’t seem to care about the other guy one way or the other. All that concerned them was getting the food and they were completely focused on that. Even when they knew they couldn’t have the food, they didn’t help the other chimp but they weren’t spiteful either.’
……..
If altruism and spite are unique to humans and are not present in chimpanzees, then it is likely that these characteristics have arisen in the last 6 million years since humans and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor.

23 Replies to “Darwinism: Altruism and Spite

  1. 1
    Bombadill says:

    “According to the researchers, both characteristics therefore seem to be human-specific.”

    Really??? So, we’re not just feces flinging apes then? Shocker.

    Yes, I love how the narrative tells us that altruism and the dizzying complexity of emotions unique to homo sapiens are just an “emergent” property that a mindless mechanism is ultimately responsible for. Good science there, fellas.

  2. 2
    ftrp11 says:

    What about the article does not make sense? Wouldn’t one supposse that as human society became more complex so would the cultural and instinctual forces that mold our personalities?

  3. 3
    Bombadill says:

    Altruistic animals expend energy helping others with no direct advantage to themselves. This seems inconsistent with evolutionary theory. Useless expenditure of energy on something completely unproductive would have been eradicated during the animal’s alleged evolution, wouldn’t it? “Good of the group” you say? There are instances where dolphins and whales that have supported ill animals of a different species. In some cases dolphins have aided humans who were drowning. This doesn’t benefit their particular group.

    It seems that evolutionists have a difficult time explaining it when animals express altruism, as well as when they don’t.

  4. 4
    taciturnus says:

    ftrp11,

    An ongoing discussion on this blog is the extent to which Darwinism has or assumes metaphysical dogmas. This is a clear-cut case of it.

    Might it be that altruism and spite are actions characteristic of rational creatures (i.e. man) and that they have no true analog or precursor in natural history? We act altruistically because we rationally choose to in a manner not available to non-rational creatures like chimps. The possibility that human behavior might transcend (through rationality) the cause-effect nexus of evolution never occurs to the scientists, even though the very existence of their science depends on it.

    As evolutionary scientists, they take it as a metaphysical dogma that all aspects of human behavior have evolutionary explanations. When their experiments with chimps fail utterly to show any connection between human spite and chimp behavior, the dogma is never questioned, rather it is assumed that the evolution in question must have occurred where they can’t detect it (in the last 6 million years.) When a hypothesis is saved by pushing it off into a region where it can’t be contradicted, it’s a pretty good indicator that an unspoken dogma is at work. The dogma, of course, is that the nature and behavior of man can be explained in its entirety by evolution.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

    P.S. Who was it that quipped that Punctuated Equilibrium is the theory that evolution always happens somewhere else?

  5. 5
    DaveScot says:

    I guess we need to modify “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” to “Nothing in Biology or Civil Justice Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”. 😉

  6. 6
    taciturnus says:

    Bombadill,

    I see my post crossed with yours. I would say that dolphins don’t exhibit true altruism because they do not rationally choose it. It is instinctual rather than rational with them. But I see how it would still pose a problem for evolution.

    This brings to mind an issue that has puzzled me, not being an expert in biology. We have the notion of irreducible complexity for individual organic structures. Is there also irreducible complexity on a macro level? Are there ecosystems that consist of marvellously integrated components, the absence of any of which would cause the ecosystem to collapse and makes problematic how the ecosystem came about in the first place?

    The dolphin “altruism” makes me think of this because you might be able to show how the dolphin altruism makes the ecosystem as a whole work (how it “makes sense” on a macro level), but such a demonstration would just show that we have ecosystem irreducible complexity. The parts work together, but not on their own.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  7. 7
    Red Reader says:

    Dave Scot wrote:
    I guess we need to modify “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” to “Nothing in Biology or Civil Justice Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”.
    ….
    Add “Nothing in art, history, government, economics, politics, theology, philosophy, psychology, music, sex, marriage, environment, basket-weaving, kite-flying….diet, exercise…accounting….”

  8. 8
    Bombadill says:

    Interesting point, Dave T. And I agree. It’s safe to say that we can put “altruism” in quotations when speaking of irrational animals.

  9. 9

    Of Monkeys and Men

    This sounds a lot like Genesis: God made only humans in his image, and only humans fell into sin, marring that reflection of God.

  10. 10
    DaveScot says:

    Dave T.

    How do you know altruism is instinctual with dolphins but rational with humans?

    If it were instinctual with dolphins it seems they would be predictable in their altruistic display. Yet they are unpredictable in this behavior.

    A classic model organism for instinctual altruism is the social ameoba. These are normally free living individual cells that live in soil but when stressed by lack of food they send out a chemical call to arms which causes millions of them to form into a slug. Individual members of the slug harden and form a stalk that protudes above the ground and others at the tip of the stalk form a hardy spore body that can endure until food supply is renewed or be trasnported by wind to a new location with more food.

    The individuals that form the stalk die afterwards. The rest disband to meet their individual fates which is usually starvation at that point. Some lucky few are reincarnated in the future from a spore body and go on to continue the species.

    It is quite predictable and undoubtedly instinctive behavior in these amoebas. They all react the same under the same conditions. Dolphin altruism is largely unpredictable just like human altruism and is probably the result of an individual and unique thinking response from these intelligent, emotional animals. Mammals are all, in my experience, unique individuals with distinct personalities from one to another and do not react like machines in a predictable way from one to another.

  11. 11
    DaveScot says:

    An argument might be made that revenge is most highly developed in humans but it’s not anything to brag about.

    However, it doesn’t seem restricted to humans. A dog that is treated badly by one person and well by another will differentiate between the two and act differently towards them. Clearly this is a reasoned response based upon experience. It might be argued that it isn’t strictly revenge. But I’d reiterate that revenge is no virtue and while it might separate humans from other animals it doesn’t morally elevate us above them. Quite the contrary in fact.

  12. 12
    watchmaker says:

    Bombadill notes:
    “There are instances where dolphins and whales that have supported ill animals of a different species. In some cases dolphins have aided humans who were drowning. This doesn’t benefit their particular group.”

    An adaptation does not have to be 100% beneficial to persist in a population. Rabbits will continue to flee from predators even if it causes some of them get hit by cars.

    Chimpanzees, bats and wolves have been observed offering food to others. In the Jensen experiment, I wonder whether the chimpanzees involved had an established relationship or were strangers. An interesting variation on the experiment would be to see if the chimps would be willing to share the food after obtaining it themselves.

  13. 13
    TomG says:

    DaveScot,

    Is it a reasoned response or a conditioned response? The dog, that is.

    As to being morally elevated, are we better than animals or worse? Both. That we have a capacity for moral comparison is what makes the difference. That we have high aspirations, and fail to meet them, is well explained in a certain origins document I already referred to above. It’s our glory and our shame–but at least we see it as such. Dogs and chimps don’t. (Nothing new to you, but I thought I’d bring it out here anyway.)

  14. 14
    taciturnus says:

    Dave,

    It does not follow from the fact that animals are instinctual that there behavior will always be predictable. Animals (and ourselves) have many instincts, some of them in conflict with each other, and it is impossible to say with certainty how they will work out in any given situation. That’s why animal trainers always stress how dangerous it is to work with wild animals, even ones that have “behaved” for years.

    Animals have varying personalities but I’m not sure what this shows. My son’s 16 gerbils have recognizable personalities once you have been around them for awhile. All that proves is that they are not clones of each other. Each is unique, but I’m not sure this makes them rational creatures. They are lovable nonetheless.

    The reason I don’t think dolphins are rational animals is because, as far as I know, even those people closest to them don’t engage in rational debate with them. They train them, they play with them, they love them, they even communicate with them… all wonderful things, but (as far as I know) they don’t argue with them over the meaning of things like “altruism”, or try to convince them that they are intelligently designed rather than purely the product of RM+NS.

    I’m not one to claim that human beings are morally superior to animals, if by that we mean that men behave better than animals. Animals are, in a sense, perfect creatures because they always obey their natures. A beaver is always a beaver and never wonders if it was really meant to be a tiger. That’s the beauty and grandeur of an animal. The rational aspect of man has granted him the two-sided freedom of being able to transcend instinct through reason. That means we have the freedom to be better than our natures or, unfortunately, worse… as you point out in the peculiarly human capacity for revenge.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  15. 15
    chaosengineer says:

    “Taciturnus: We have the notion of irreducible complexity for individual organic structures. Is there also irreducible complexity on a macro level? Are there ecosystems that consist of marvellously integrated components, the absence of any of which would cause the ecosystem to collapse and makes problematic how the ecosystem came about in the first place?”

    Sure, that’s just symbiosis, and it’s all over the place. The classic example is orchid pollination. Orchids use nectar to attract insects, and the insects get pollen stuck to their legs and carry it off to other flowers. Some orchids are so specialized that they can only attract one species of insect, and if that insect goes extinct, the orchid species will go extinct, too.

    (Of course, even if a system is irreducibly complex in the present, it still could have evolved. It might be that the ancestral orchids were mostly wind-pollinated, but they sometimes got an random pollen boost from wandering insects. If a mutation attracted more insects, then the orchid would be able to reproduce more quickly. Over time, the insect-attracting mutations could make wind-pollination difficult and eventually impossible.)

  16. 16
    Charlie says:

    As Behe defines IC it is applicable only on the molecular level as there we can have a singular understanding of all of the working parts.

    Personally, I (erroneously but with intentionality) apply it to the emperor penguins in this summer’s March Of The Penguins.
    As I watched that film their behaviour immediately bespoke IC in that one generation without a variety of specific abilities (ie: the ability-among countless others – to transfer the egg from mother to father without it freezing on the ice ) would perish and be the end of the penguins.
    I am sure there are some stories of co-option available, and some abilities that will have analogues in non-Antarctic penguins, but the overall system looks very irreducible to me.

  17. 17
    DaveScot says:

    Dave T.

    “It does not follow from the fact that animals are instinctual that there behavior will always be predictable.”

    You missed my point. Unpredictable behavior does follow reactions based upon reasoning. Pulling your nose away from an electric shock is something both you and a dog will both do quite predictably. That’s instinctual. If your only source of food requires enduring an electric shock on your nose to get it both you and the dog will learn to do it. That is reasoned or learned behavior. Absent prior knowledge of the learned response you will predict that either a man or a dog will pull away from the shock. And you’ll be wrong. Reasoned responses are unpredictable. Instinctual responses are not.

    I don’t believe there’s any difference in kind there. Humans simply have a greater capacity for reasoning and a lesser compliment of instinct. The difference is one of scale, not of kind.

    And the reason why animal trainers can’t predict the responses of their animals is because they are not totally governed by instinct, not because instinct is unpredictable. Instinct is mechanical. It works the same every time. Let the response be processed through higher brain functions and predictability diminishes.

  18. 18
    DaveScot says:

    TomG

    Reasoned responses become conditioned responses in dogs and humans with enough repetition.

    If someone pulls out in front of you unexpectedly in your car, is stepping on the brake a reasoned response or a conditioned response?

    It depends on how long you’ve been driving. It’s a reasoned response for an inexperienced driver and a conditioned response for an experienced driver. Same for a dog that is learning something. What starts as a reasoned response becomes a conditioned response.

  19. 19
    taciturnus says:

    Dave,

    I think a lot of our differences are due to different meanings we have for words. I agree largely with your post #17, but where I would disagree is that not all human behavior can be characterized as what you call “reasoned or learned” behavior. I think “reasoned” human behavior can transcend what you describe as learned behavior.

    I have in mind the creative aspects of human behavior. For example, was Rembrandt’s act of painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son” an act of learned behavior? Yes, he had to learn technique to do it, but can the very act of painting that particular painting be fully accounted for with the “learned response” model you describe? I very much doubt it. How about Shakespeare’s writing of “Macbeth” or Einstein’s creative discovery of the Theory of Relativity?

    In what sense is Rembrandt unpredictable? We can’t predict whether the dog or human will take the food or avoid the shock without prior knowledge… but with prior knowledge, we could predict it. Given enough prior knowledge, could we predict that Rembrandt would paint the “Prodigal Son” or that Einstein would discover Relativity? This would seem possible only we if already knew about Relativity, which would mean that Einstein couldn’t discover it. And the painting of the “Prodigal Son” could be predicted only if someone already knew about it, which would be difficult if Rembrandt hadn’t yet painted it. My point is that human beings are capable of acting in ways that are creative to the point of being unprecedented. Who knows what art and science will be produced by mankind in the next 100 years? Not only can we not predict it, we can’t even imagine what it would be like, just as the men of 1600 had not the foggiest idea about Relativity. But I’ve got a pretty good idea of what dogs will be doing 100 years from now. Pretty much the same things they did 100 years ago and the 100 years before that. That’s no slight to dogs… they are wonderful animals and I’ll never forget the half-collie of my youth. But old Tippie was not on the verge of philosophy, art or science.

    What about your hypothesis of the “learned response” model… is your act of hypothesizing it itself a learned response? How could it be?

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  20. 20
    taciturnus says:

    Dave,

    My point in the last was that I am arguing that there is a difference in kind, not just in degree, between man and animals. My argument is that all animal behavior can in principle be accounted for by the model of “conditioned response.” But not all human behavior can. Art and science are my examples.

    In particular, our behavior of “accounting for behavior as conditioned response” cannot itself be a conditioned response.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  21. 21
    Bombadill says:

    Excellent points by everyone. Dave T. I agree that the evidence clearly points to a difference in “kind”.

  22. 22
    DaveScot says:

    Dave T.

    Crows collect shiny objects and make little treasure caches with them. No practical purpose to it. They just like hoarding shiny objects. A trait shared by a lot of women I know.

    Honey bees use symbolic language to describe to other bees how to navigate to sources of nectar. Is that like one guy telling another where the fish are biting?

    Zipper spiders make intricate patterns in their webs and like snowflakes, no two are alike. Is that like abstract art?

    Elephants exhibit revenge so you don’t get to claim that one.

    Cats communicate the extent of their territory and their height by marking trees with their claws. There’s writing.

    There’s no difference in kind. Just scale.

    Now I’m going to predict that none of this persuades you one iota. You may rest assured that your arguments are falling on deaf ears with me too. So how about we just agree to disagree?

  23. 23
    taciturnus says:

    Dave,

    Fair enough, we can agree to disagree if you wish, but you asked me some questions and I will answer them (in the hopes that you answer my question in post #19).

    “Honey bees use symbolic language to describe to other bees how to navigate to sources of nectar. Is that like one guy telling another where the fish are biting?”

    Yes.

    “Zipper spiders make intricate patterns in their webs and like snowflakes, no two are alike. Is that like abstract art?”

    No. Art is a non-utilitarian endeavor that is an end in itself. Spiders spin webs to catch food, but Rembrandt did not paint “The Prodigal Son” to catch food or for any other merely utilitarian purpose. Moreover, art carries meaning that transcends itself, unlike spider webs (as far as we know). That’s why Rembrandt’s paintings are unique in a way that the zipper spider’s webs are not. Every Rembrandt painting carries its own meaning not captured by the other paintings. “The Prodigal Son” has a different meaning than “Supper at Emmaus.” If you can show me that individual spider webs are similarly differentiated in meaning, I will consider the argument yours.

    “Cats communicate the extent of their territory and their height by marking trees with their claws. There’s writing.”

    Yes, we can call it writing. But it is writing for a purely utilitarian end. Is all human writing utilitarian? What is the utilitarian purpose of poetry? Do cats write literature?

    We agree on this: Much of human behavior is similar in kind to animal behavior. Where we differ is that I think you believe that ALL human behavior is similar in kind to animal behavior. To prove this, more needs to be shown than that animal and human behavior can in some cases coincide. I already accept this. What I doubt is that the deepest parts of human nature – that part expressed in literature, philosophy, music, art and science – can be understood with a “learned response” model. Which brings me back to my question:

    Is your hypothesizing the theory that all human behavior is “learned response” itself a learned response? How was the response learned?

    As this may be the end of the conversation, I appreciate the exchange and your patience. Semper Fi (2nd Mar Div, ’86 – ’90)

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

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