Intelligent Design

A surprising admission on altruism by Professor Jerry Coyne

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Professor Jerry Coyne makes a surprising admission on the origins of altruism in a recent post titled, David Sloan Wilson tells the BBC that the evolution of altruism in humans is “solved”: it’s group selection (of course). In his no-holds-barred critique of David Sloan Wilson’s “group selection” theory of how altruism arose, Coyne is refreshingly frank in his acknowledgement of what scientists don’t know about altruism:

The fact is that human ‘altruism’ is a mixture of diverse and complex behaviors, only one of which corresponds to the real evolutionary issue of altruism: reproductive self-sacrifice by people that benefits unrelated people who give nothing back. And we simply haven’t the slightest idea whether that form of altruism evolved, or even if it has a genetic basis: i.e., that we have specific genes promoting such reproductive sacrifice. “True” biological altruism in humans appears rare, and when it does it appears to hijack behaviors that evolved, probably by individual or kin selection, for other reasons. Finally, there are formidable problems with explaining altruism and self-sacrificial cooperation by group selection compared to individual selection (see Pinker reference below) – problems that make the group selection explanation less parsimonious…

But for the most cogent critique of why human cooperation and altruism are unlikely to have evolved by group selection, see Steve Pinker’s Edge essay, “The false allure of group selection.” I won’t repeat his many arguments, but if you’re interested in the evolution of traits that seem bad for the individual but good for the group, it’s a must-read. One of his most telling arguments is that the traits that lead one group to dominate others are in fact not altruistic: they’re things like coercion, slavery, contempt for weakness, and so on. Groups that we see as really altruistic, like the Amish and San, don’t seem to have done well in inter-group competition…

In the end, Wilson is simply wrong in asserting that the evolutionary problem of altruism has been solved – and here I mean the existence of true biological altruism in humans. We don’t have any idea if such altruism is even based on “altruism” genes. (And if we all have such genes, why do so few of us display true biological altruism?)”

Of course, Coyne has his own pet theory of how true altruism arose: he thinks it’s just a spin-off of reciprocal behavior.

Simple “helping” behaviors that likely evolved in our ancestors, in which individuals benefit those who aren’t especially closely related, could have evolved by individual selection, via a “tit-for-tat” strategy, also called “I’ll scratch your back; you scratch mine”). In these scenarios, individuals remember and recognize each other so that help given to a group-member will eventually be repaid. In other words, the “sacrifice” is only temporary and illusory since it’s repaid. If altruism like that—which isn’t true altruism in the sense that you don’t lose net reproductive fitness — evolved by individual selection, we’d expect to see it evolve in smallish groups in which individuals remember and recognize each other so that generous acts can be repaid to the right people. These are in fact precisely the conditions under which most of human evolution took place…

As I say in Faith versus Fact, where I’m addressing Francis Collins’s claim that altruism couldn’t have evolved at all but must have been vouchsafed us by God:

In fact, many aspects of cooperation and altruism are precisely those we’d expect if their rudiments had evolved [by individual selection]. Altruism toward others is reciprocated most often when many people know about it, but often isn’t when you can get away with free riding. Humans have sensitive antennae for detecting violations of reciprocity, they choose to cooperate with more generous individuals, and they cooperate more when it enhances their reputation. These are signs not of a pure, God-given altruism, but of a form of cooperation that would evolve in small bands of human ancestors.

An obvious problem with Coyne’s account is that true altruism requires an extended concept of self in order to justify it. One needs to either identify one’s true self with a larger group (e.g. the tribe, or society, or humanity), or locate one’s true identity in something – call it the soul if you like – which transcends the body. And in order to have such an enriched concept of self, one needs to possess a language in which one is capable of formulating this concept. But as recent research has shown, it appears that language arose very suddenly, in a manner which remains highly mysterious. In other words, evolutionary accounts of the origin of altruism fail because they do not adequately address the origins of human language.

In other news, it appears that late Acheulean hand axes required advanced cognition on the part of their makers, 500,000 years ago.

What do readers think about the origins of altruism?

41 Replies to “A surprising admission on altruism by Professor Jerry Coyne

  1. 1
    awstar says:

    What do readers think about the origins of altruism?

    Did it come into being before “selfishness” or is it an improvement on “selfishness” or is it a degradation of “selfishness”?

    Before that can be answered, maybe we need to ask: What is the origin of “self”?

    Where, oh where can we look for an answer?

    definition of “Origin”: the point at which something begins or rises or from which it derives

    definition of “Genesis”: the origin or coming into being of something : the process or mode of origin

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    as to:

    “What do readers think about the origins of altruism?”

    Well, being a Christian, I think self-sacrifice for the good of others is built into the foundation of how God thinks and acts.

    Romans 5:8
    But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

    In other words, I think the ‘origins of altruism’ is a central part of the Creator’s character and should be, if true, reflected not only in the character of those who try to follow Christ, but also reflected in the Creator’s handiwork.
    And this characteristic of ‘sacrificing for the good of others’ is indeed what we find fairly extensively throughout life. This characteristic is found much more often than would be expected from the Darwinian survival of the fittest presupposition.

    In fact, this altruistic, cooperative, characteristic is found even all the way down to the bacterial level.

    The selfishness that is expected on the Darwinian view of things is clearly shown in the following quote:

    Richard Dawkins interview with a ‘Darwinian’ physician goes off track – video
    Excerpt: “I am amazed, Richard, that what we call metazoans, multi-celled organisms, have actually been able to evolve, and the reason [for amazement] is that bacteria and viruses replicate so quickly — a few hours sometimes, they can reproduce themselves — that they can evolve very, very quickly. And we’re stuck with twenty years at least between generations. How is it that we resist infection when they can evolve so quickly to find ways around our defenses?”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....62031.html

    i.e. Since successful reproduction is all that really matters on a neo-Darwinian view of things, how can anything but successful reproduction be realistically ‘selected’ for? Any other function besides reproduction, such as sight, hearing, thinking, etc.., would be highly superfluous to the primary criteria of successfully reproducing, and should, on a Darwinian view, be discarded as so much excess baggage since it would, sooner or later, slow down successful reproduction.

    But that is not what we find. Time after time we find micro-organisms helping us in ways that have nothing to with their individual ‘fitness to reproduce’.
    Indeed, instead of eating us, time after time these different types of microbial life are found to be helping us in ways that are essential for us but have nothing to do with their immediate, and individual, need to successfully reproduce,,,

    NIH Human Microbiome Project defines normal bacterial makeup of the body – June 13, 2012
    Excerpt: Microbes inhabit just about every part of the human body, living on the skin, in the gut, and up the nose. Sometimes they cause sickness, but most of the time, microorganisms live in harmony with their human hosts, providing vital functions essential for human survival.
    http://www.nih.gov/news/health.....gri-13.htm

    We are living in a bacterial world, and it’s impacting us more than previously thought – February 15, 2013
    Excerpt: We often associate bacteria with disease-causing “germs” or pathogens, and bacteria are responsible for many diseases, such as tuberculosis, bubonic plague, and MRSA infections. But bacteria do many good things, too, and the recent research underlines the fact that animal life would not be the same without them.,,,
    I am,, convinced that the number of beneficial microbes, even very necessary microbes, is much, much greater than the number of pathogens.”
    http://phys.org/news/2013-02-b.....tml#ajTabs

    Of Humans and Our Microbial Guests: A Dynamic and Living Balance – Stephen L. Talbott – Dec. 9, 2014
    http://natureinstitute.org/txt.....ome_25.htm

    Indeed, the entire bacterial world is infused with this altruistic, and cooperative, behavior.

    Behavior that is almost completely, if not completely, antithetical to Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ mantra:

    Microbial life can easily live without us; we, however, cannot survive without the global catalysis and environmental transformations it provides. –
    Paul G. Falkowski – Professor Geological Sciences – Rutgers

    Doubting Darwin: Algae Findings Surprise Scientists – April 28, 2014
    Excerpt: One of Charles Darwin’s hypotheses posits that closely related species will compete for food and other resources more strongly with one another than with distant relatives, because they occupy similar ecological niches. Most biologists long have accepted this to be true.
    Thus, three researchers were more than a little shaken to find that their experiments on fresh water green algae failed to support Darwin’s theory — at least in one case.
    “It was completely unexpected,” says Bradley Cardinale, associate professor in the University of Michigan’s school of natural resources & environment. “When we saw the results, we said ‘this can’t be.”‘ We sat there banging our heads against the wall. Darwin’s hypothesis has been with us for so long, how can it not be right?”
    The researchers ,,,— were so uncomfortable with their results that they spent the next several months trying to disprove their own work. But the research held up.,,,
    The scientists did not set out to disprove Darwin, but, in fact, to learn more about the genetic and ecological uniqueness of fresh water green algae so they could provide conservationists with useful data for decision-making. “We went into it assuming Darwin to be right, and expecting to come up with some real numbers for conservationists,” Cardinale says. “When we started coming up with numbers that showed he wasn’t right, we were completely baffled.”,,,
    Darwin “was obsessed with competition,” Cardinale says. “He assumed the whole world was composed of species competing with each other, but we found that one-third of the species of algae we studied actually like each other. They don’t grow as well unless you put them with another species. It may be that nature has a heck of a lot more mutualisms than we ever expected.
    “Maybe species are co-evolving,” he adds. “Maybe they are evolving together so they are more productive as a team than they are individually. We found that more than one-third of the time, that they like to be together. Maybe Darwin’s presumption that the world may be dominated by competition is wrong.”
    http://www.livescience.com/452.....f-bts.html

    Oceanic microbes behave in a synchrony across ocean basins – March 16, 2015
    Excerpt: Researchers have found that microbial communities in different regions of the Pacific Ocean displayed strikingly similar daily rhythms in their metabolism despite inhabiting extremely different habitats — the nutrient-rich waters off California and the nutrient-poor waters north of Hawai’i. Furthermore, in each location, the dominant photoautotrophs appear to initiate a cascade effect wherein the other major groups of microbes perform their metabolic activities in a coordinated and predictable way.,,,
    The bacterial groups common to both ecosystems displayed the same transcriptional patterns and daily rhythms — as if each group is performing its prescribed role at a precise time each and every day, even though these communities are separated by thousands of miles.
    “Our work suggests that these microbial communities broadly behave in a similar manner across entire ocean basins and that specific biological interactions between these groups are widespread in nature,”,,,
    “Surprisingly, however, our work shows that these extremely different ecosystems exhibit very similar diel cycles, driven largely by sunlight and interspecies microbial interactions,” said Aylward, “This suggests that different microbial communities across the Pacific Ocean, and likely waters across the entire planet, behave in much more orderly ways than has previously been supposed,”
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....102112.htm

    Programmed Cell Death is another amazing altruistic process that certainly does not fit well into the Darwinian view of things:

    To Die is Gain – Cornelius Hunter – December 26, 2009
    Excerpt: Can death ever be a good thing from an evolutionary perspective? Even though natural selection is all about survival and reproduction, the death of individual cells within a multicellular organism can be beneficial. For example, as the organism grows or when in stressful environments, some cells are no longer needed.,, In fact,, cells have an elaborate and sophisticated programmed cell death (PCD) apparatus. When the signal is given an amazing process of disassembly begins where the cell’s molecular structures are chopped up in an orderly manner. Like the engineers who know just where to dynamite a bridge, the PCD apparatus destroys the cell with remarkable efficiency.
    PCD is yet another example of biology’s elaborate and sophisticated designs that evolution struggles to explain.
    http://darwins-god.blogspot.co.....-gain.html

    Supplemental note: At the 10:30 minute mark of the following video, Dr. Trifonov states that the concept of the selfish gene ‘inflicted an immense damage to biological sciences’, for over 30 years:

    Second, third, fourth… genetic codes – One spectacular case of code crowding – Edward N. Trifonov – video
    https://vimeo.com/81930637

    Verse and Music:

    Matthew 25:40
    “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    The Hollies – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jl5vi9ir49g

  3. 3
    lpadron says:

    If Coyne can explain how atoms and molecules arranged in a certain way so that they’re unbreakable instructions for behavior and *thinking* about others then I’d be happy to take the plunge with him.
    Until then it’s best to go with the most obvious and best explanation that has nothing to do with his pet theory.

  4. 4
    wd400 says:

    e altruism requires an extended concept of self in order to justify it. One needs to either identify one’s true self with a larger group (e.g. the tribe, or society, or humanity), or locate one’s true identity in something – call it the soul if you like – which transcends the body. And in order to have such an enriched concept of self, one needs to possess a language in which one is capable of formulating this concept

    What? Why would either of these claims be true?

  5. 5
    Silver Asiatic says:

    wd400

    Why would either of these claims be true?

    Definition of altruism given by Coyne: “reproductive self-sacrifice by people that benefits unrelated people who give nothing back”

    A concept of self is required because there needs to be a distinction between self and others.
    The self has to be defined somehow. It is part of something, or it has some kind of discernable identity.
    Some sort of language of self is required to distinguish self from others, or find its identity.

    Regarding identity, a “thing” has to be seen in contrast to its surroundings. For example, “a drop of water in the ocean” does not have an identity, unless it is selected from the water and described as a “drop”.

    When it’s put back in the ocean, it has no identity.

    One drop of water in the ocean cannot be altruistic to another drop in the ocean because they have no identity. They are the same thing.

    Even things that we give identity to, are only identified by characteristics we ascribe to them.

    An “ocean current” for example – is not distinct from other ocean water. An “ocean wave” is more distinct – but it’s just ocean water in a slightly different form and can include any water particles from anywhere in the ocean.

    So there would have to be some kind of evolutionary explanation of the origin of “self” and/or “identity”.

  6. 6
    Don Pedro says:

    So there would have to be some kind of evolutionary explanation of the origin of “self” and/or “identity”.

    How about a nervous system integrating stimuli from several senses, and generating a unique representation of the world and of the organism’s place in it? It isn’t coupled to other nervous systems and has no direct access to their internal states.

  7. 7
    wd400 says:

    This doesn’t appeart to answer the question at all SA,

    Why do you need an “extended” verison of “self” (not just the normal version, which is present in life from bacteria to plants to giraffes) to be altruistic?

    And why on earth would you need language to hold a mental concept of this extended self?

  8. 8
    fifthmonarchyman says:

    Wd400 says,

    Why do you need an “extended” verison of “self” (not just the normal version, which is present in life from bacteria to plants to giraffes) to be altruistic?

    I say,

    Assuming materialism, when taking about e coli what is the entity we would designate as a “self” . Is it the individual cell or the colony?

    what about a Populus tremuloides is it an individual tree or is it the collective clone? What about conjoined twins? What about dissociative identity disorder?

    Please provide justification for your answers.

    I’m really curious where and how you can draw the line when you start from a bottom up system like materialism.

    thanks in advance

    peace

  9. 9
    Don Pedro says:

    I don’t think it makes much sense to regard an individual bacterium, plant, fungus, sponge, etc. as having a “self”, despite the fact that they can all process signals and react to some stimuli. I would argue that an experiencing self requires a highly specialised system that receives, transmits and stores information, and controls the organism’s actions. In other words, a nervous system.

    Conjoined twins are in most cases distinct “selves”, since their nervous systems are separate. In extremely rare cases, however, they may share some brain tissue, so that their nervous systems are interconnected and their “selves” partly overlap: they can experience some of the other twin’s perceptions and mental states:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K.....iana_Hogan

    From what I’ve read, DID comes in many flavours. Different “ego states” may be only partly individuated, aware of one another, and able to communicate via a core “self” — or, alternatively, be quite independent and “take turns” in the conscious mind. It’s a difficult subject and I know too little about it.

    [Edited to add: All that said, having a “self” is not required for altruism in the biological sense. Plants or bacteria can be “altruistic” — that is, they may engage in cooperative interactions that seem to benefit other individuals in terms of survival and reproductive success. They don’t have to know what they are doing.]

  10. 10
    wd400 says:

    Fifth,

    In the sense SA appears to be talking about, the cell and tree are individuals. I don’t know what “materialism” has to do with, but people here sure do like that word.

    I’m still waiting for anyone to explain what any of this as to do with altruism.

  11. 11
    fifthmonarchyman says:

    Hey Don Pedro,

    So in your view a “self” emerges with a nervous system correct?

    Just to follow up.

    Does a Ctenophora have a “self” then? Does a fetus become an individual person when the nerve cells differentiate?

    I have lots of questions. I find this topic fascinating. I would really like to understand how a “secondary” thing like the self emerges in your worldview.

    In my Worldview it’s the Imago Dei that is the root of the concept of self. Nonhuman organisms are individual when and if a conscious agent deems them to be such. That approach won’t work in a system where consciousness is not the primary realty.

    And obviously self sacrifice makes no sense until there is a self to be denied for the sake of the other.

    anyway Thanks for the interaction.

    peace

  12. 12
    Don Pedro says:

    And obviously self sacrifice makes no sense until there is a self to be denied for the sake of the other.

    Only if you anthropomorphise nature. One bacterium does not “deny” anything “for the sake” of another — not literally, at any rate. It isn’t a conscious agent. Its “altruism” is a self-sustaining pattern of successful gene propagation, governed by pop-gen statistics — not an act of sacrifice.

    On “self” — perhaps more tomorrow. I’ll be off to bed now.

  13. 13
    fifthmonarchyman says:

    Don Pedro says,

    Its “altruism” is a self-sustaining pattern of successful gene propagation, governed by pop-gen statistics — not an act of sacrifice.

    I say,

    So obviously bacteria and comb jellys and aspen trees are incapable of altruism. Do you agree?

    peace

  14. 14
    Robert Byers says:

    The bible clearly says We were meant to love each other. God does and its a command to reinforce our natural instinct. Yet our rebellion and sin makes us not love.
    Thats all .

  15. 15
    Silver Asiatic says:

    wd400

    Why do you need an “extended” verison of “self” (not just the normal version, which is present in life from bacteria to plants to giraffes) to be altruistic?

    I don’t know what was meant by ‘extended’ version of self – so I’ll have to leave it to the author to explain. I was just talking about the normal version of self.

    Aside from that, I’d like to see the empirical evidence that “self” is present in bacteria and plants.

    And why on earth would you need language to hold a mental concept of this extended self?

    At what point in binary fission does an amoeba recognize a different “self”? As fmm points out, there’s no empirical evidence (that I know of so far) that indicates that a swarm is not an individual.

    Language is required to make distinctions like this.

    Does each cell in the human body have a “self”? Is each cell an “individual”? Why would unicellular organisms be different?

    As for what this has to do with materialism, in that view, everything is matter.

    Materialism is a monist belief. Everything is actually just one thing.

    You can take a look at my analogy regarding water drops for the idea on how this works.

  16. 16
    wd400 says:

    Again, sa, this bears no obvious relation to the question of altruism.

    Cells need to “know” what’s going on inside them and outside, reacting to those cues. In multicellular organisms cells also have to cooperate,(indeed, cancer is more or less the breakdown of this cooperation, with evolving on their own). But these designations of “self” don’t require and magic “concepts” let alone language (!). Just chemicals.

  17. 17
    Silver Asiatic says:

    wd400

    Again, sa, this bears no obvious relation to the question of altruism.

    I’m trying to understand what you’re saying.

    Jerry Coyne as quoted: the real evolutionary issue of altruism: reproductive self-sacrifice by people that benefits unrelated people who give nothing back.

    Your explanation:

    In multicellular organisms cells also have to cooperate

    Hydrogen atoms cooperate to form a hydrogen molecule. So you’d call that ‘altruism’? “Just chemicals”.

    But these designations of “self” don’t require and magic “concepts” let alone language (!).

    You may be right – you seem very emphatic about it. You already stated that “the normal version [of self] … is present in life from bacteria to plants to giraffes”

    However …

    SA – I’d like to see the empirical evidence that “self” is present in bacteria and plants.

    That was my way of asking you to show me that and I’m sorry it was a bit indirect. I’ll restate:

    “You claim that ‘self’ is present in all life. Please show me empirical evidence of this.”

    This appears to be your argument:

    Self exists. But language is not required to identify it.

    And while self exists, a concept of self is not required for self-sacrifice.

    How does one distinguish a “self” from non-self without language?

    As I asked, is a single cell a “self”? Is a hydrogen molecule a “self”? Are 4 hydrogen molecules joined another “self”? If you took just 2 of those, would that be ‘half a self’? Is one cup of water from the ocean an “individual”? Is a quart another “individual”?

  18. 18
    wd400 says:

    This is getting dangerously close to first year philosophy. When I said “self” I didn’t meant some mystical concept of selfhood, I just mean ability to determine where an individual starts and ends. That’s what you seemed to be talking about in your first comment.

    Perhaps some concrete examples will help.

    In a human (or any orther multi-cellular organism) body, most cells could reproduce much more quickly than they do. They could send out chemical signals that create new vasculation, giving them more energy, turn of the various checks in the cell cycle. Instead of doing that they give up their short-term ‘gain’ (in terms of number of descendant cells) for the long term gains made from cooperating. But the cell doesn’t “know” it’s part of a whole, it just that genes that do this have been favoured.

    Cancer is basically the breakdown of this cooperation. When a cell evades the cell-cycle, or can greedily grab more blood/nutrients it stops acting as part of the whole creates a new cell lineage that evolves on its own (with sucessive mutations taking over the tumour. But this switch from cooperation to selfishness didn’t require any extended concept of self, it was just mutations that changed the way those gene products worked.

    In ecoli, for instance, the release or otherwise of siderophores (which help other cells digest certain compounds) is likewise the result of simple chemical reactions, and influenced by mutation. All the “self” an ecoli cells needs to “know” to do this it what’s inside and what outside of it.

    So why should any of this “self” stuff be a problem for altruism?

  19. 19
    Silver Asiatic says:

    wd400

    I asked a number of questions that you avoided. We notice hydrogen atoms cooperating to form hydrogen molecules. In your view, is this an example of an “individual” or a “self” of some kind?

    Instead of doing that they give up their short-term ‘gain’ (in terms of number of descendant cells) for the long term gains made from cooperating.

    The number of descendent cells is not a gain for the individual cell. It is no less selfish than cancer cells in that case. Additionally, altruism is a case where the self-sacrifice gives nothing back – including long-term gains. It’s not mere cooperation, which is something we can see in chemical reactions, but the loss of a self for the benefit of another, unrelated self.

  20. 20
    wd400 says:

    I asked a number of questions that you avoided. We notice hydrogen atoms cooperating to form hydrogen molecules. In your view, is this an example of an “individual” or a “self” of some kind?

    Yeah, this is the first year philosophy stuff I’m trying to avoid. A hydrogen molecule is an individual, but it doesn’t cooperate in any way relevant to altruism. Which is the topic of this conversation.

    The number of descendent cells is not a gain for the individual cell.

    Again, in terms of the evolution of altruism, the optic of the conversation, that is indeed a gain.

    Additionally, altruism is a case where the self-sacrifice gives nothing back – including long-term gains. It’s not mere cooperation, which is something we can see in chemical reactions, but the loss of a self for the benefit of another, unrelated self.

    Have you read the OP? Coyne thinks the “true” altruism (with no biological pay off at all) is a result of normal cooperation applied to the wrong case.

  21. 21
    fifthmonarchyman says:

    Wd400 says,

    Yeah, this is the first year philosophy stuff I’m trying to avoid.

    I say,

    The problem is you can’t avoid philosophy if you want to explain something like self sacrifice for the benefit of the other.

    You can’t explain self sacrifice unless your worldview account for the self.

  22. 22
    wd400 says:

    You can’t explain self sacrifice unless your worldview account for the self.

    Why? People keep saying this but noone can explain why, in the context of biological altruism and Coyne’s explanation, this is so.

  23. 23
    fifthmonarchyman says:

    hey WD400,

    I know you often have a hard time understanding me so I don’t have a lot of confidence that you will get this. But I’ll give it a shot

    You can’t get to altruism by appealing to cooperation but you can’t even get cooperation unless you have separate discrete individual whole things.

    The problem is in your worldview you have no objective way to specify where a particular configuration of matter ends and another begins.

    peace

  24. 24
    wd400 says:

    What’s my “world view”? I’ve talked about my own religious views here and have no interest in discussing relighous topis. The evolution of altruism is a scientific question.

    But the individual E coli cells are pretty obviously individuals capable of cooperating or not. The end of an ecoli being the the cell wall…

  25. 25
    fifthmonarchyman says:

    Wd400 says.

    I’ve talked about my own religious views here and have no interest in discussing relighous topis.

    I say,

    Your Worldview is not a religious topic it your fundamental cognitive orientation encompassing the entirety of your knowledge and point of view.

    It influences and constrains everything you know and believe. There is nothing that is above it in your mind, science included.

    Your worldview is the framework by which you interpret all the observations you make. Science is secondary. In fact you worldview even determines what you mean when you think of science.

    you say,

    But the individual E coli cells are pretty obviously individuals capable of cooperating or not. The end of an ecoli being the the cell wall…

    I say,

    I’m not so sure that is the case given materialism. And I have no idea why it would be so.

    In a single E coli cell there are individual genes that may or may not cooperate.

    And a colony of bacteria is often separated from it’s environment by a bio-film.

    Why stop at the level of the cell and not the gene or the colony???

    What justification do you have to arbitrarily focus on one particular configuration of mater instead of the others?

    peace

  26. 26
    Zachriel says:

    fifthmonarchyman: What justification do you have to arbitrarily focus on one particular configuration of mater instead of the others?

    Because materials clump. A certain clump we call an individual organism.

  27. 27
    fifthmonarchyman says:

    Zac says,

    Because materials clump. A certain clump we call an individual organism.

    I say

    We can call…….or not.

    How is that approach not arbitrary?

    peace

  28. 28
    Zachriel says:

    fifthmonarchyman: How is that approach not arbitrary?

    The clump isn’t arbitrary, but observed.

  29. 29
    fifthmonarchyman says:

    zac says,

    The clump isn’t arbitrary, but observed.

    I say,

    The arbitrary part is in the choosing of a particular clump to focus on rather than another.

    Of course you knew that obvious point already but choose to ignore it because you are not interested in actual discussion here.

    peace

  30. 30
    wd400 says:

    Ok, you seem to be compelled to waffle on about this irrelevant philosophical.

    I’ve no interest in that, mostly because it’s not at all related to the evolution of altruism. Feel free to contin

    ue, but I’m not going to waste any more time on it

  31. 31
    Zachriel says:

    fifthmonarchyman: The arbitrary part is in the choosing of a particular clump to focus on rather than another.

    All models are wrong, but some are useful. — George E. P. Box

  32. 32
    fifthmonarchyman says:

    Wd400,

    I’ve no interest in that, mostly because it’s not at all related to the evolution of altruism

    I say,

    Of course it is at the core of the question of how altruism arose.

    How could what goes on in a particular arbitrary clump of matter have anything whatsoever to do with the concept of self sacrifice.

    The reason you do not see the irrationality of your position is because you assume the truth of your position from the outset.

    However even if we assume materialism there is no reason that “cooperation” in particular clump of matter would have anything whatsoever to do with altruism at another level of arbitrary abstraction

    peace

  33. 33
    wd400 says:

    Is almost as you haven’t read this thread…

  34. 34
    fifthmonarchyman says:

    WD400,

    Is almost as you haven’t read this thread…

    I say,

    I could say exactly the same for you.

    We are looking at the same words but because of our different Worldviews we are inferring completely different meanings.

    Like so much of what goes on when we discuss stuff like this it is like we are living in two separate worlds with no connection between them.

    Oh well I told you I did not expect you to get it

    peace

  35. 35
    wd400 says:

    Worldview has nothing to do with it.

    If an ecoli cell exports a sideraphore when it could get away wih out doing do it’s being altruistic. It requires no magic (nor philosophical waffle) to see this. Indeed, all it requires for this behaviour to switch from cooperation to cheating is a single mutation. Just chemistry.

    If you want to waste time arguing this isn’t “altruism” as you define it you are welcome to, but that can hardly be relevant to the topic of biological altruism, which is the topic of this thread.

    I really don’t know how this could be explained more simlpy.

  36. 36
    fifthmonarchyman says:

    wd400 said,

    If an ecoli cell exports a sideraphore when it could get away wih out doing do it’s being altruistic.

    I say,

    No it is not. The ecoli is not a “self” so it can not sacrifice itself for the benefit of unrelated others. This much should be obvious.

    You say

    If you want to waste time arguing this isn’t “altruism” as you define it you are welcome to, but that can hardly be relevant to the topic of biological altruism, which is the topic of this thread.

    I say,

    What you are talking about is not altruism period. It is a completely unrelated concept.

    If I chose to I could say that photosynthesis is actually “biological altruism” and give an evolutionary just so story for how photosynthesis arrived but by doing so I have not solved the evolution of human altruism. far from it.

    I would just be blowing smoke.

    If you want to explain human altruism by appealing to what happens in ecoli you need to explain how ecoli is capable of self sacrifice.

    that means you need to explain how an individual bacterium is the equivalent of a human person.

    You have not even attempted to do so.

  37. 37
    Zachriel says:

    fifthmonarchyman: However even if we assume materialism there is no reason that “cooperation” in particular clump of matter would have anything whatsoever to do with altruism at another level of arbitrary abstraction

    Actually, biologists believe similar mechanisms are involved in the evolution of biological altruism in various organisms, including humans.

  38. 38
    fifthmonarchyman says:

    zac says,

    Actually, biologists believe similar mechanisms are involved in the evolution of biological altruism in various organisms, including humans.

    I say,

    Biologists think a lot of things.

    I’d like to see some actual evidence that the clump of matter we call Zachriel is analogous to the clump of matter we call a single e coli cell but not analogous to the clump of matter we call Pando .

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pando_%28tree%29

    peace

  39. 39
    Zachriel says:

    fifthmonarchyman: I’d like to see some actual evidence that the clump of matter we call Zachriel is analogous to the clump of matter we call a single e coli cell but not analogous to the clump of matter we call Pando .

    You misread our statement. Similar mechanisms are thought to be involved in the *evolution* of biological altruism in various organisms. The mechanisms of altruism itself varies considerably, from simple gene exchange to mothering to complex social interactions.

  40. 40
    fifthmonarchyman says:

    hey zac,

    Let me know when you have something concrete to discuss or when you have anything constructive to offer on the subject of altruism.

    Hint; saying that similar but varying mechanisms are thought to be involved is vacuous.

    peace

  41. 41
    Zachriel says:

    fifthmonarchyman: saying that similar but varying mechanisms are thought to be involved is vacuous

    You’re still misreading. While the mechanisms of how altruism is expressed vary, the evolutionary mechanisms leading to altruism are similar. In bacteria, altruism is expressed as gene exchange; in insects, programmed behavior; in mammals, bonding and nurturing. But in all these cases, they are thought by biologists to have evolved due to kin selection.

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