• MR T
  • Bristol
  • United Kingdom

This conversation is closed.

Are there any human behaviours that can't be logically derived from selfish gene promotion?

We do it with animals in biology all the time, we study animals and realise that the more closely related they are, the more likely they are to help each other. So why, if humans arose under the same conditions (evolution) should we treat ourselves any differently in study?. Arrogance?

Take sharing between friends, one friend shares with another in a time of excess, so that in a time of inexcess the other might reciprocate. This way both fair better than they would alone. Could this be a 'selfish' act?.

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    Nov 18 2013: The selfish gene is one theory that implies that genes can promote selfish, as well as, ‘apparently’ altruistic behaviour. However, there are other theories that also describe how human behaviour have possibly been shaped or can be shaped. Another theory is mirror neurons and the link to empathy.

    Watch TED talk Jeremy Rifkin: The empathic civilization. Rifkin describes a study that discovered that all humans, primates are soft wired with mirror neurons. Rifkin suggests that we are all soft-wired to experience another’s plight, as if we are experiencing it ourselves. This suggests we are actually soft-wired not for aggression, violence, self-interest and utilitarianism but we are soft-wired for sociability, attachment, affection and companionship. So our first drive is to actually “belong”. This drive to belong triggers empathic behaviour.

    Through influencing our biology via environmental forces we can consequently influence our behaviour. Epigenetic theory supports the theory that genes are collaborative, not determining an individual’s traits in an independent manner, but rather determine traits in association with the environment. Environmental forces can influence the expression of genes. In addition, Neuroplasticity is another example of where human biology is capable of changing through behaviour and the environment.

    In regards to “So why, if humans arose under the same conditions (evolution) should we treat ourselves any differently in study? Arrogance?” The study of selfish genes was derived from Darwin’s evolution theory. Darwin’s study of Galápagos finches played an important part in the inception of the theory of evolution by natural selection. As Dawkins beautifully states “Despite the Great Chain of Being's traditional ranking of humans between animals and angels, there is no evolutionary justification for the common assumption that evolution is somehow 'aimed' at humans, or that humans are 'evolution's last word'.”
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    Nov 28 2013: Greed. The desire to own things much in excess of what is necessary.
    The selfish gene is popularly misunderstood as selfishness gene. Actually it means that when two individuals are genetically closer, it is more likely that they would show altruism to each other. It is easily demonstrable and the altruism decreases in the order sibling>family>neighborhood> society>nation>world.
    Greed can and does work even between siblings.
    • Nov 28 2013: that is one meme that play a role :-)
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      Gord G

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      Nov 29 2013: Generosity. The desire to help others regardless of their relationship to you.

      The list of countries that have benefited from the altruism of a global community begins with the Philippines, and stretches back in history. It's simply a question of whether you choose to see the glass half empty or half full.
      • Nov 29 2013: Gord,

        Bravo for bringing Generosity to the fore front.

        I choose to see the glass as it is... ALWAYS FULL!

        Full of what ? now thats the question... :-)
        BTW only the realists sees completely the glass as it is; the pessimists and the optimists are delusional stances!

        To be well involves having those around being well too :-)
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    Nov 14 2013: Overall, I believe that "arrogance" is the wrong term, as the "selfish gene" has more to deal with self-preservation, the maximization of inclusive fitness, and the preservation of our species as a whole. Please note that I am using the term "selfish" rather loosely, as there really doesn't seem to be an appropriate English word for what really is at play.

    As far as "selfish acts" are concerned, for both self-preservation and the preservation of our species, it is a necessity to act within one's own interest (self-preservation and inclusive fitness), even while accommodating for other's needs and interests (preservation of our species). For example, even altruism could be considered a "selfish" act, as the altruistic individual is still acting within one's own interest (albeit, for the greater good of our species). Even from a psychological standpoint, an altruistic individual is gaining something from such acts (happiness, satisfaction, recognition, etc.).

    Beyond the conceptual framework of the "selfish gene," oxytocin also plays a significant role in our relationships with others. This is especially the case for positive social interactions such as acts of altruism. This Psychology Today article has more information on how oxytocin plays a significant role in acts of altruism: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-moral-molecule/200911/the-science-generosity
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      Nov 17 2013: ...perhaps it should be referred to as the survival-gene.
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        Nov 19 2013: Agreed. I honestly think that the term "selfish" has rather narcissistic implications which are not beneficial to the preservation and propagation of our species. In reality, we act both within our own interest and within the scope of other individual's interests. As many have already pointed out, it's how we are "hardwired."
  • Nov 10 2013: How about religious behavior? Non-existent, spiritual outcomes have no influence on the gene pool and any behavior that seeks those outcomes will offer no feedback towards gene or trait preservation.

    Altruism towards other species. Pretty difficult to accommodate by kinship (genetic) altruism.

    A lot of responses on TED criticize the selfish gene interpretation of behavior because they see it as selfishness tout-court. And this actually makes the point: we don't like selfish individuals. Because they do not cooperate and they do not care about our genes. Cooperative behavior means that the overall advantage or the advantage for the individual in the long term is higher than non-cooperative behavior. Altruism is just that. You cannot judge however the truth of the theory by trying to counter it with examples like giving money to beggars who will not reciprocate. The selfish gene it's about the altruistic or cooperative attitude, not about precise calculations. It says "overall, if you cooperate, people are more likely to cooperate with you, and your group will do better". Be nice and people will be nice to you (which means that your individual well being will increase).

    MR T you should have asked for an example which opposes kinship altruism and other-group altruism. Are we ever capable of choosing a stranger over family? Someone who is far from our genetic background over someone who is close? This would be a very serious counterexample to the selfish gene theory.
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      Nov 14 2013: Regardless of one's personal views on religious and/or spiritual beliefs, organized religion has a significant influence on the propagation of our species, given that they create a communal framework within our society. Organized religions also promote altruism and create a common bond between individuals.

      Considering the hectic lifestyles that many of us live, it isn't uncommon for us to not know our neighbors. If you factor in the time that many of us spend forming relationships online rather than in person, there isn't much time in the day to actually form the strong communal bonds that previous generations once had. Besides other social networking events and activities (which are less common due to time constraints), organized religion serves as the primary means for us to form a strong community.

      On a side note, I'm not particularly religious, nor do I attend church. However, this does not change the fact that organized religions generally play a significant role in forming communities (this being directly related to the "gene pool" and "gene or trait preservation").
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      Nov 17 2013: Great statement. Thoughtful help towards others means investment in the undivided and highly interactive world of all living beings, on which our very existence depends endlessly.
  • Oct 31 2013: I've noticed that most people who have called me selfish have been people who have wanted something of mine that I've told them they can't have.
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    Oct 30 2013: Cooperation in order to obtain food and water is found throughout the animal kingdom. So yes, the act of sharing could be seen as ‘selfish’ in that it promotes survival—self-interested might be a better term. The “selfish gene” does not refer to a genetic disposition toward willful selfishness on the part of an organism, but is, according to Dawkins, descriptive of genes that serve their own aim to reproduce. Even pathologies, to the extent that a genetic component may be attributed, must replicate.

    Kinship survival is perhaps the strongest instinct, and is at the root of the “higher order” moral actions performed by humans today. Frans de Waal has provided evidence that the twin "Pillars of Morality" of Reciprocity (Fairness) and Empathy (Compassion) are expressed in chimpanzees, and the fact that behaviors such as cooperation, empathy and reciprocity provided survival advantages appears self-evident. Had our ancestors failed to demonstrate these behaviors with others outside of their immediate kin, we probably wouldn’t be here.
    • MR T

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      Oct 31 2013: Couldn't have put it better.
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    . .

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    Oct 29 2013: Examples:


    We can overcome selfishness, at "the choice moment", by opting for:

    1. spontaneous kindness
    2. listening
    3. compassion
    4. understanding
    5. volunteer assistance
    6. proactive thoughtfulness
    7. offering ideas that might serve as solutions
    8. pre-emptive action to prevent suffering
    9. real-time action to prevent suffering
    10. mentoring
    11. reaching out with a helping hand
    12. amplifying the good
    13. sharing prosperity
    14. being instrument of loving kindness
    15. behaving in a humane manner
    16. deliberate act of peace
    17. intentional act of love
    18. being happy for the success of others
    19. being happy for the wellness of others
    20. rejoicing in the good news of others
    21. teaching by being
    22. being the change
    23. being the healer
    24. being the love
    25. being the good
    26. being the joy
    27. causing a smile
    28. speaking good words
    29. being present
    30. empowering goodness
    31. celebrating life
    32. being patient
    33. love
    • MR T

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      Oct 29 2013: Thanks!, are there any of those videos in particular that you think could be the exception? a truly altruistic act that could not be rationalised for selfish gene promotion?
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        . .

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        Oct 29 2013: .
        A reply within 10 minutes of what takes at least 60-minutes to watch, indicates that
        1. perhaps the TED Talks were not watched, otherwise surely traces of unselfishness could have been found in some of these examples!
        2. perhaps by overlooking, absolutely everything can be traced to the "selfish gene promotion."

        Darkness can only be alleviated by shining light. These people are working everyday to be the light. And TED is for ideas WORTH spreading...TED has been the "light" for 30 years.

        The world needs us to put our time, energy and passion into CONSTRUCTIVE actions and positive words.

        Perhaps it would be good to watch the TED Talks first to learn how we can be part of the solution..
        • MR T

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          Oct 30 2013: I asked you for one talk in particular that you thought proved your point so I wouldn't have to watch a whole hour of video.

          So I am the darkness and you are the shining light and you wish me some of your light.

          My interpretation of your metaphor is that pragmatism is the darkness and random meaningless descriptives are the shining light.

          You are saying my idea is not worth spreading because you don't like it. I don't like a lot of things but they still happen.

          Something CAN be constructive without it being wrapped in silk bunnies and sprinkled with flowers.
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    Nov 21 2013: The sacrifice of life to save another person can hardly be explained by the selfish gene. Unless, of course, the person sacrificing his life believes that he will go to heaven. I've heard an opinion that being religious disqualifies everyone from being completely altruistic because all good deeds are done for the "reward in heaven"... I'm not sure what to say to this opinion.

    Donating a kidney to a friend is also difficult to explain by the hidden hope that the friend will share his kidney in the time of kidney scarcity. Religious disclaimer still applies.
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    Nov 17 2013: In order to learn about the roots of human nature we do not need to investigate on what appears to our illusive minds as genes, under the researcher's microscope.

    Can we at least explain how our society effects us, for instance, Why it creates huge crowds producing great mass psychosis and deadly threats, quickly turning every individual into a desperate fighter for one's life regardless any mercy towards others? I mean how greatly our artificial environment effects our human character and behavior?
    • Nov 17 2013: Vera,

      Most individuals are oblivious to the surroundings about them physically, environmentally, historical, contextual, ideological, to name a few. There are many human behaviors that are derived from ideas, stories, feelings, beliefs, groups, events and other factors that surround the individual. Incidentally many of these have little to do with selfish gene promotion. The artificial environmental theaters, roles and players created to sustain ways of being by providing a playing field in which serious games are played... and where the rules are a bit biased towards ensuring sustaining the ways while casting a vail over what really be going on.

      The short answer to reason why I think has to do with individual ideas herding beings to feed upon the energy of our feelings, thoughts, behaviors, acts and experiences while providing the ideas a comfy hosted-home that tends to their ideological needs. In a way just like human heard cows to milk them and creating all sort of produces, ideas heard individuals to milk out all sort of produces... though in our case we have to choose to do it and go along with their invitation. In other words we can resists the urge and inclination of our genes and our memes, our habits, our addictions and determine our actions... though most just follow the script set before them... At (http://www.memecentral.com/level3.htm) there is a story that I found entertaining to consider.

      I am interested in the ideas and stories we choose to replicate... and initiated a conversation
      over at (http://www.ted.com/conversations/21359/how_to_determine_ideas_worth_s.html) to explore how to determine ideas worth spreading... though its morphed a bit into how to worthily spread ideas worth spreading. Everyone is invited to contribute here or there
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      Nov 18 2013: "...this old world keeps spinning round; it's a wonder tall trees ain't laying down...

      - from Neil Young's song 'Comes A Time', from his album by the same name:

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      Nov 19 2013: I think that we, as a species, strive for convenience, even at the cost of destroying our environment, and/or creating conflict and mass suffering in other parts of the world. The problem is that we don't see from a long-term perspective, nor do we have an all-encompassing worldview which allows us to see the true cost of this convenience.

      All seriousness aside, this Cracked article coined the term "Monkeysphere," which directly correlates to what I'm implying (http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html). Basically, the article draws upon a biological conclusion which suggests that our immediate social network is limited by the size of our brains (source: http://www.liv.ac.uk/researchintelligence/issue17/brainteaser.html). Although we live in complex social structures, our immediate social network usually contains around 150 individuals (family, friends, etc.). This immediate social network holds great importance because we have a diminished emotional connection with individuals that are outside of this network (even if these individuals are members of our society). Biologically, we are short-sighted.
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    Nov 17 2013: Most of the things we do are attempts to fulfill a need. There are very few things we do as humans that could be considered selfless.
    • Nov 17 2013: Many confuse their wants with their needs leading to a distorted 'perception' of what a need be...
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    Nov 14 2013: Great discussion folks!!

    I hate to be the one that presents what may be a highly simplistic post here,

    BUT ....

    I LOVE my wife unconditionally,
    I LOVE my family Unconditionally,
    I LOVE helping others unconditionally,

    Now I'm sure that the greatest of debaters may state that I'll be loving these people in view of the love that I get in return, and also for the phenomenal feelings that I experience as a result of the love that I give.

    I guess that unless a human being has experienced receiving unconditional love, reading all the scientific textbooks in the world will not get that person one step closer towards understanding it.

    May I suggest that selfishness may not be a gene nor a scientific theory, but simply a choice?

    If selfishness is primarily centred around 'GETTING', whereas unconditional Love is primarily centred around 'GIVING', surely the human behaviour of unconditionally loving others is as much a choice as what being self consumed is.

    Giving is looking outwards at others, whereas getting is looking inwards at the self.

    Perspective is based upon our beliefs, and our beliefs are based upon our experiences.

    Plato stated once that opinion is merely the medium between sheer ignorance and insightful understanding, therefor the opinions that people have about love or about selfishness could only ever be based upon their direct personal experience.

    Love Wins the debate guys.
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      Nov 14 2013: It sounds like you LOVE for the LOVE of LOVING Kain.......I LOVE it, and I also think/feel it is a choice which is much more enjoyable than the alternative:>)
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        Nov 16 2013: Hello Sweet Colleen. Good to see your lovely face again.
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          Nov 17 2013: Hello Sweet Vera Nova.....always nice to "see" you as well:>)
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      Nov 14 2013: I agree with you that many people lead a life based on giving and on loving.
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      Nov 14 2013: Great post, and I definitely agree with you. Overall, I don't think that the gene-centered view of evolution is intended to downplay or otherwise replace "love" or "altruism," but it does shed some light on why such feelings are critical for the survival of our species. Regardless, these are very real feelings. Unconditional love truly exists.
    • Nov 14 2013: Kain,

      I like your notion that 'it' may be simply a choice... I would like to incorporate something you mentioned with and idea I like a bit... so to complement what you said and share something enriched by it...

      To give or to get isn't the question; the question be how to share whats about as each chooses what to cultivate.
      I choose to act pro wellbeing... that is I choose to love and care about wellbeing .

      perspective/ beliefs/ experiences are often based upon each other... thus ...

      "Perspective is based upon our beliefs, and our beliefs are based upon our experiences"... and our experiences are based upon a combination of what happens what we think about it (before during and after) and the stories told around it.
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      Nov 16 2013: What can be more playful and deceiving than a human mind creating its highly emotional beliefs? My mother loved me madly, my lovers loved me "to death", my friends still say they sooo love me.

      But in reality they only "loved" their own creations, and fantasies in their own minds, glued to some image of me they so liked. They never really understood me, never sensed what I really needed and tried to achive, in stead they did "for me" things that I often suffered from.

      Must say that those who can keep up with their dreams, without trying to "adjust" their real love-ones to their own ideas, are rarely lucky, and the reward is that they stay pleasantly blind… Often people open their eyes and face the difference between their created image, and reality. Then they get upset, aggressively angry, even self-destructive.

      I was lucky to experience unselfish love myself, but not for people. I love the cat - and I'm gladly ready to give my life for him. He was and still after his death, remains my great teacher of wisdom that can only be possible through ultimate openness, he taught me instant communication without words within any distance, self-independence and irreversible respect for other's independence, and at the same interactiveness based on a mutual sense of union, impossible to replace by any technology.
      • Nov 16 2013: Vera,

        "Often people open their eyes and face the difference between their created image, and reality. Then ..."
        ... they choose what to do... some as you stated "...get ..." a certain way.... and then some choose the better course of action... at times that means keeping the vision focus as one advances ... and at times that means reversing their course as one advances onward... I understand (well for the time being I realize that I believe I understand and would have to validate if what I understand corresponds to what you understand). You stated "They never really understood me, never sensed what I really needed and tried to achive, in stead they did "for me" things that I often suffered from". I have experienced such instances as well as the other kind: where they did really understood me, sensed what I really needed and tried to achieve, they did "for me" things that I often suffered from, which I nor them needn't suffer from. I to am lucky to experience love... I sense that 'the cat' isn't a little kitty though you do see it as a little kitty... if only everyone could understand "the wisdom than can only be possible through ultimate openness" and as you sort of said instant communication without words (and with words) within any distance, self-independence and irreversible respect for other's independence, and at the same interactiveness based on a mutual sense of union, with or without technological crutches...

        In response to your first question : a human mind actually creating highly emotional beliefs and realities beneficial to everything and everybeing...
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          Nov 17 2013: Thank you for your thoughtful post, Esteban. I like what you're saying very much.
          In any case I help everyone I know, and am very driven to truly help people I do not love, even cannot stand.

          I do this even when my "action of mercy" does not make any common sense in my life, when I let people easily take from me what they want, without any gratitude.
          One guess - I feel my help works towards some sort of "universal peace" (or goodness) that is beyond myself, that is beyond any individual life.
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          Nov 18 2013: Esteban, Just love the way you think!
      • Nov 17 2013: Vera

        my definition of love: a conscious choice pro well-being

        from what you wrote you seem to me to fit into that definition when you help others.
        In a way love isn't about their gratitude or a business interchange one does with the other (our collaboration for whatever they give us back in return) Love is about a conscious choice one chooses... if the other chooses to love or to hate (accept reject) thats up to them... one choose to do what one does because one choose todo what one does.... one feels and knows each ones contribution towards what be taking place...

        For now there are still winer-loser dynamics at play, for now there still are predator-and-prey... there will come a time when this will change once and for all; there will be shared interchange of winners collaborating to cultivating abundance and diversity of life... the dynamics of sustainable-desirable-congruen with the ways of life agriculture. Even businesses will realize that ROI will cease to be the driving force for what they do... A sustainable business has an infinite ROI its just a matter of time to meet a given profit. Note the relationship plants-gardeners each helping the other to flourish with life... recycling the other's waste into stuff the other employs, breathers, eats...

        BTW sometimes we need to care for others even the people who cannot stand ... (yea I know i am using a bit different meaning than the one you likely intended)... they may surprise us and tell an entertaining story (or be part of one).
    • MR T

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      Nov 18 2013: I think under the assumption that everything has a cause. So for me, that's all very nice but 'love' is an unsatisfying as an explanation for why people act the way they do, as it doesn't explain anything.
      • Nov 19 2013: Mr T

        I too think under the assumption that everything has a cause/reason... (an amusing side-road that I just want to point at without getting into : one ought to determine the cause why for some individuals " 'love' is an unsatisfying as an explanation for why people act the way they do, as it doesn't explain anything" when maybe it does explain quite a bit)

        In a comment I made previously one of the underlying ideas was: individuals choose what to do, often they claim its dew to something ...when in fact it just was what individuals choose to do. I consider 'love' to be a conscious pro well-being choice individuals make; thus the notion that 'love doesn't explain anything' seems out of tune - though I do think to understand why someone would claim it. What I am trying to say is that 'the explanation' for why people act the way they do need not determine if people will inquire further into the matter, hold that that explanation isn't an explanation, would find it satisfying or find it satisfying, hold that the explanation is an explanation and still inquire further into the matter and the reasons and causes and other particularities involved.

        I think that there are human behaviors that stem from ideological beliefs and which do not stem from selfish gene promotion ... well, unless we are considering 'gene promotion' to include meme self-replication.
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    Nov 13 2013: Each of us is at the centre of our own universe.
  • Nov 9 2013: That's really true:all our human behaviours can be explained all derived from selfish gene promotion.But we should be aware of we are human who have conscience and consciousness to develop ourself.
  • Nov 8 2013: I bet leaving a planet uninhabitable for the (our) future generations does not promote selfish gene promotion... and we do it constantly. At least on the industrialized "world".
    • Nov 8 2013: Our genes were not designed so that we would keep the planet safe--indeed, it hasn't been tested enough by evolution to kill off only those humans with the "endanger the planet" gene, nor would it hurt exclusively those people, so the selectivity of that gene (or trait) would be nonexistent. We also are designed to behave with a temporary mindset. Few times in nature are animals required (or able) to plan ahead for future generations in such an elaborate way. We also have to take into account that the people/actions destroying our planet may very well seem truly harmless to those people committing the crime. Lastly, the failure of some individuals in a species to fulfill a general predisposition to something (e.g., procuring a safe future for the next generation) does not negate that predisposition in the whole. Most humans do behave sensibly in protecting their progeny. In matters of global climate change, for example, we are too separated from the actions and the consequences. None of us leaving our lights on while we're out are receiving a (negative) stimulus to deter that behavior, something telling us that there's danger involved. It's not a matter, in short, of apathy, but of separation from the consequences.
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    Nov 5 2013: Perhaps there are some behaviors that are not directly compatible with the selfish gene theory, at least on the surface.

    choosing not to have children.
    • MR T

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      Nov 8 2013: That certainly leaves a little room for free will.
    • Nov 9 2013: Exclusive homosexuality combined with moving away from all ones relatives. Adopting won't count, because it's not a genetic attachment.
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    Nov 1 2013: For anybody who is interested in this topic I suggest to read "The selfish gene" by Richard Dawkins.
    • Nov 1 2013: I completely agree. It seems that Dawkins arguments for the existence of genuine altruism are persuasive.
      It is important to keep in mind that altruism can only be discussed intelligently in terms of things we can observe.
      If a man jumps the pathway of an oncoming bus to save the life of a child, his state of mind is immaterial.
      I suppose that in a trivial sense, one can argue that he is doing what he wants to do most (thus being selfish rather than altruistic). Such a claim misses the point of the discussion entirely.

      The simple fact is that a man risked his on life to save the life of another. And while it was not stated explicitly in the original statement of what happened, it is possible that the man did so with no expectation of a personal reward. Based on every bit of evidence which be observed, it is unavoidable to escape the conclusion that the man acted altruistically.

      It has been a time since I read "The Selfish Gene" and I do not recall whether Dawkins discusses the following in any detail. In any case, it important to keep in mind the circumstances under which the genes which control our behavior as a species were selected. During that time in our history, humans were incapable of survival by ourselves (we still are). Residing in a host which was willing to band together with other humans was essential in order for a gene to survive. Furthermore, genes which inhabitted humans who were willing to risk themselves for the good of the tribe were much more likely to survive.

      The means used to influence host behavior may have been feel good, guild avoidance, or any other strategy one can think of. In all cases, observable information points to true altruism.
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    Oct 31 2013: Your latest statement is: 'all human behaviors can be logically derived from selfish gene promotion'.

    Maybe this helps:

    There are a number of ways to look at human behaviour in general and one of the ways I use myself is to simplify things to the extreme.

    So let’s just look at physical movement; the way we walk. Can that single feature be derived solely from gene propagation?

    Genes shape our limbs and evolution changed the genes (not the other way around as you stated in another reaction: The fundamental cause behind gene promotion would be evolution I suppose.). Genes are responsible for the variety of muscles in every individual and the presence of a specific gene is presently held responsible for the fact that someone can win a marathon while another gene gives you the ability to run 100 meters within 10 seconds. So genes are assets, building blocks, and they define our possibilities.
    But: we personally are responsible for the way we train those muscles in order to achieve goals. My behaviour, the way I walk is a continued process of learning from my first baby steps till the present moment. And I learned it from my environment; my parents, my peers.

    So my physical movement – only a fraction of my complex behaviour - appears to be primarily a matter of training supported by the presence of specific genes.

    When you look at nature, there are examples of animals that are able to get up and walk within minutes after they are being born. So there could be more aspects present than just genes and training. I don’t know. I’m just guessing now.
    There are many more point of attention you can include in this example, but that that would make things more complex too. Something I try to avoid ...

    I don’t know if I’m correct, but it’s fun thinking this way.

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    Oct 30 2013: In my opinion, this is a little difficult point to define. I think that the part of us that is purely animal, relic of the days when we lived constantly faced with predators, should decay to the more social and 'human' one.
    The evolution of civilization and culture should make us weaker as 'survivors' or 'predators'. What happens is that there may be people with somehow primitive instincts prevailing over the social and solidarity ones, instead of developing the the opposite behaviour.
    But, I think, that a calmed reflection on who we are and where we should like to gol probably could lead us to the conclusion that we are stronger if united and that we are better people when we act as humanitarian and solidarity network, and worst people when we act as wild predators.
    I also think that egoism was useful milleniums ago, not so much in the present.
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      Oct 30 2013: I Hope that a "calmed reflection" also lead us to the conclusion that that selfishness (in almost any form we encounter) is the spin off of unintentional competition. Most people are not aware that that they compete in the most common situations.

      Many little children at school do not learn things to increase their knowledge, but intend to outsmart their peers. That is competition. But what is the ultimate purpose of learning?
      Many parents teach their children to perform well in order to have better opportunities in future life. That is competition. But what should be the purpose of life on a planet that has to support the whole human race?

      I agree Sean, I also think that egoism was useful millenniums ago, not so much in the present...
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        Oct 30 2013: It's ok. Shelfishness as a part of human condition. Why not? We are a deep and wide ocean of emotions, feeling, etc.
        Very interesant point of view, thanks.
  • Oct 29 2013: What you talk of is called enlightened self interest, helping others because it helps yourself. The morality of it is irrelevant as far I'm concerned, from a pragmatic standpoint, its mutually beneficial, and that's the important bit.

    As for human behaviors that can't be rationalized for gene preservation, plenty. Volunteering for dangerous work for instance. Or using birth control. Or committing suicide. I could go on.
    Evolution is not a particularly good designer (it just had a lot of time for trial and error), and it shows in our behavior in the sense that its a pretty long list.
    • MR T

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      Oct 29 2013: In the case I mentioned it is mutually beneficial, if you bear the assumption that both gifts were equally energy intensive to obtain.

      I suppose that contraception is in effect, cheating the 'will' of our genes, obviously we have the desire to have sex yet recently we have found a way to eliminate the repercussions via contraception.

      However if you are familiar with R & K strategy in ecology you will know that, generally, higher parental investment is synonymous with less offspring and vice versa. If someone were to conceive every time they had sex, they would require a high parental investment to raise the offspring to a sufficient standard to effectively promote the success of their genes in their children. Therefore, contraception satisfies the evolutionary will, yet also allows parents to optimise the time of conception so they can balance the cost of rearing offspring against the likely chance of success of rearing those offspring. Given the environmental conditions at the time, such as how much money the parents are earning. Optimising gene promotion can be seen as selfish. Not in a moral sense as such, but in an evolutionary sense.
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    Nov 27 2013: The behaviour in which typically, humans become happy when they see others happy, for example smiling when seeing others smiling. I critically resolved this in that the happiness gained is simply a contageous reflection of someone or something that you can empathise with. However regardless of how many ways you think about the morality and tendencies of human behavior, good or bad; the conclusion is simply that we do it. Why we behave this way is a more difficult and perhaps important question.

    There is a wide spread assumption that evolution is a perfect ability or explanation of humans. However we have traits and gene pools which actually limit our survivability. Such as empathy, the protective trait, and even anger. Surely if evolution is perfectly consistent in the mentality of humans our emotive structure would be free of limiting factors, for example our reaction to high pressure situations; the fight or flight mechanism. Although this mechanism results in adrenaline production the mentality is flawed and has been shown to limit performance. Thus if the rise of humans above other species is due to our superior intelligence, why would it have ever evolved to be flawed in survivability?
    • Nov 27 2013: Theo,

      The adrenaline production I believe has to do with a response to physically move quickly through the high pressure situations using a narrow cognitive focus be it to fight or to flea... The stick around to observe and decide what happens goes out the window replaced with something like better safe than sorry or live to fight another day observe from a safe distance (in other words jump to that safe distance and then observe).

      The thing is that this natural response may be triggered by other situations that would be better resolved though sticking it out without at the very edge without falling into the fight nor retreating from it nor provoking it. Easier said than done when some feel corralled and backed into a corner that has no way out but to fight for their lives... thing is if they fight everyone loses ... gracefully dancing around towards a resolution is the only way to win for everyone to win... thought that may imply leaving behind certain weapons used as a fundamental support of individual safety. One would drop the weapons and walk through the conflict unharmed thought that may be counter intuitive to those in such situation.
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        Nov 28 2013: Thank you for your explanation Esteban.

        I understand what you are saying about the fight or flight mechanism and its relationship to adrenaline. Could you also explain my other query? That if humans are at the top of the food chain due to our intelligence, why is our intellectual performance flawed when it comes to survival situation in which adrenaline is produced and stress and pressure follows. Because if this were true humans should have evolved to deal with dire situations with calm intelligence rather than adrenaline production because that is the factor that caused us to climb to the top of the food chain. Hence in gene selection intelligent decision making would be favored because it led to survival.
        • Nov 28 2013: Theo,

          This may put a twist into this thread... and may even redefine who or what is at 'the top' of the food chain. BTW the food chain may be more of a shared life cycle where individuals collaborate (willingly on not :) with each other. In this nature cycle we can observe codependent relationships between all sort of organisms plants 'hire' workers to move pollen from one flower to the other and pay-them-workers with nectar. Plants also 'hire' animals to propagate their seeds throughout the land and 'pay them' animals with fruits. I heard that some ants even cultivate their food, defend some plants, and even enslave other ants! (Some slaves also rebel and kill their captors) (http://insects.about.com/od/antsbeeswasps/a/10-cool-facts-about-ants.htm ). This was just to put into context that we humans form a part of an intricate interconnected cycle with all sort of relationships some synergistic, some collaborative, some exploitative. For example we share an intimate relationship with plants... The oxygen we need to live on is put out by plants and the CO2 that plants need to live on is put out by humans (and other animals).

          Now the the twist into this thread.... A while ago I came across the 'Meme' which are sort of like physical genes in the non-physical domain. Another way to envision the memes is a computer programs. The thing is that these 'non-physical' 'creatures' also seek to reproduce and may form intimate relationships with their hosts (willingly or not so willingly) The thing is that a host like a bee may have to be coxed and enticed into working. Some programs are useful thought not so good at spreading; some programs are 'viruses' that spread like fire and may even be vicious to the host computer operational system and user. What caused us to climb to the top (and indirectly to climb to the top certain ideas) I think involves body-mind-spirit interrelationship and codependencies. 'Some' 'control' ideas & action and some chose to be under control
        • Nov 29 2013: Theo,
          My understanding of this differs. Whatever traits exist as a result of evolution are there because at one time they resulted in a mathematically greater percentage of offspring to survive, procreate and pass on the trait. Hence the fight flight response was at one time a trait that helped survival. Unless it subsequently prevents offspring being born and surviving to procreate, it will continue. If subsequent conditions favoured greater cognitive intelligence for procreation and survival, notwithstanding the adrenaline / stress response, then natural selection would begin to favour such a development. There is no evolutionary mechanism that makes the whole system fit for purpose at any future environment.

          For evolution of calm response while under duress to evolve we would need both a mutation or development of some people without the stress response, and at the same time a significant procreation advantage to them and disadvantage to those with the stress response. If in fact those with the stress response are somewhat disadvantaged in terms of, say, good decision making under stress, but there is no reduction in procreation and survival rates, the stress response will still exist.

          For one set of traits to emerge that fuels species success (at least in numerical terms) there is no requirement for others to align to support it - there is only the requirement that that trait gives a numerical procreation and survival advantage.
        • Nov 29 2013: Terry,

          Edited to add and change a bit what I had stated.

          A calm response may be nurtured into nature so as to direct the outcome along the path we seek to establish. The notion that the ones who reproduce the most will establish the traits that dominate would see to imply that poverty, illiteracy, and other world problems will persists because these reproduce more than the conscious responsible ones... still with the notion that memes like genes it may be possible for ideas to reproduce and spread to constrain the physical actions within a set benevolent ways. In other words we are getting to a point of conscious evolution where brute force is guided into subtle collaboration to cultivate abundant and diverse synergistic ecosystems...
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    Nov 18 2013: I'm afraid that the profound answers can be found if we pay good attention at the environment, and surroundings.

    Animals are way more "real" than we humans in terms of reacting within manmade artificial conditions. Animals in captivity may look "stupid" not responding to artificial, unknown setups/ "tasks", they often get easily ill. We may not be sure at all about the correctness of our research or experiments regarding animals that we keep and watch in cages, depriving them of natural resources in wilderness.

    Our manmade contemporary environment of colossal crowds triggers our naturally built-in "defense mechanism" (not the same meaning as the term , defense mechanism, suggested in psychology). When we become too many, pushing one an other - this mechanism begins to work aggressively, even against our morals. Lets not forget the power of environmental conditions that change our behavior and eventually our genes.
    • MR T

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      Nov 18 2013: I get your first point, that animals are clever in that they are suited well to their environment. We often study animals with bias, by measuring their performance in tasks suited to survival in our society.

      Your second point lost me a bit, you suggest that its recent, rapid change in human society that is the cause for immoral actions? Chimps kill each other, as have we, for as long as human history has been documented.
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        Nov 18 2013:  What I mean is that our human kind when compared to animals, can kill, torture, easily deprive others of what does not belong to them with no need for it, but just for the sake of some made-up "idea" or "belief", or abnormal desire. Unlike animals we, humans, devour way more than we truly need…

        However, Separated from natural environment and its vitality, living in dense crowds of the cities, in concrete cubicles of "homes", we deprive ourselves of natural emotional exchange that keeps us healthily alert and in touch with reality. We have difficulty to recharge ourselves, starving emotionally, and even while consuming a lot of processed food our bodies are suffering malnutrition. Therefore, the majority is needy to play artificial games, behaving irrationally spending endless money on artificial intertwinement of all sorts, developing sickly habits. (We intuitively feel better when we bring a living plant or an aquarium with playful fish to our workplace, to compensate for that emotional starvation in concrete jungle.)

        We become very selfish within cruel environment of our social and industrial systems, which are designed to treat everyone as a non-existing collective prototype. Our systems are violating our unique charachters - a gift given by nature to every living creature. I trust that our "defense mechanism" reacting aggressively and way more aggressively that if we lived in wilderness. Our society is very poorly "designed" and needs major change.

        I'm sure, there is some truth in what you are seeing in "selfish" genes. In my modest opinion Our environment that we create for the sake of our very questionable "safety" and "comfort" plays a grand role in shaping up our characters and behavior.
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    Nov 16 2013: Animals in wilderness are possessing extremely sensitive perceptions within their environment for the sake of superb communication with nature and survival, while we, humans, greatly suppress these nature's given abilities for to survive in our manmade artificial environment that does not make any sense in wilderness. Since we are born we are getting trained to imitate conventional behavior and language, and most importantly, begin to believe in collective ideas, retarding our own nature's given intuition and sensitivity. (Our human talent to imitate others in our young years is outstanding). Why is that in the age of technology and good communication devices we still do not understand each other any better than millennia ago? If a powerful lion has her strength to get only what she necessarily needs, a human being needs are practically endless, way beyond any reasonable necessity. We are tremendously needy and become more needy with every new technological toy on a market.

    How can we explain our extremely theatrical and superficial sense of the existence of others? The rest of living forms we somehow recognize, are immensely superior to us in terms of orientation in ever changing environment, danger of all sorts, in finding practical sources for food and shelter, and most importantly, having the sense of each other, the most precious gift we may ever have in this life.

    I hope that some day we will establish an institution for understanding our own supressed sense of reality, that feeds on superficial beliefs in stead, feeds on corrupted systems, fantasying about our immediate environment, other living forms, and each other. We have to explain why we prefer to trust our badly confusing, deceiving shallow sight, especially when augmented with technology, often misdirecting sciences. We need to answer why we are building a colossal theatrical stage for our society, labeling everything in it for to play mad, blind and deaf games
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    Nov 16 2013: Many issues embedded here - obviously free will, determinism, responsibility, soul and divinity etc. Our 23 chromosome pairs carrying 6 billion base pairs, 80% of which are 'eloquent' (20% function to be determined) are the foundation, infrastructure for our entire being including the nervous system. There are multiple additional levels of complexity - epigenetics. The genome largely self-regulates - 'decides' which proteins to encode, which genes to silence, etc. And much of this process is in response to environmental (including social and emotional) factors. So we are back to nature and nurture in a somewhat dissatisfying fashion. Of course assigning responsibility and consequences still have important functions even if one concludes that much of behavior is predetermined. The safety and maintenance of social order requires this. On another note we have devised numerous techniques to alter behavior from murder to small molecule pharmaceuticals. I find it interesting to consider the possibility of using macromolecular approaches, eg gene therapy, or neuroprostheses to modify say empathic capacities. Anyone working on that?
  • Nov 13 2013: Behavior that is beneficial to the individual is caused by the selfish gene
    Any behavior engaged in by the individual is beneficial to the individual
    Therefore all behavior is caused by the selfish gene

    Since DNA controls all behaviors in an individual
    Since the Selfish Gene controls all behavior in an individual
    then the Selfish Gene is the same as DNA
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    Nov 9 2013: From a scientific perspective, humans are just like any other animal. Our biologically and culturally defined actions are based on the perpetuation of our genes or those genes of people closely related to us. Only from a religious perspective would it make sense that such is not the case. Then one would have to discuss the divine souls and other concepts such as good or evil. So, really it boils down to whether or not we look at human behavior from a purely scientific point of view or if we extend our discussion into the realm of religion and spirituality.
  • Nov 5 2013: I would say not, but not because "selfish gene promotion" is valid. It's because "selfish gene promotion" is such a broad model that it is meaningless. When something explains everything, it explains nothing. It just becomes magical hand-waving. "Selfish gene" models need to be historically evaluated. It's really just another form of social darwinism. You might say it is the individualistic form of social darwinism, in contrast to the more conventional collectivist social darwinism. When it was a new theory, it has some value, but it looks like the reality is somewhere between a selfish and a group model.
    • MR T

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      Nov 7 2013: "When something explains everything, it explains nothing."

      What? please expand
      • Nov 8 2013: "Selfish gene" is like saying "God's will" for everything. It explains everything but actually explains nothing. It's a cover-all "explanation" that does not give any models or mechanisms that can be tested.
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          Nov 8 2013: Incorrect.

          Have a read of 'the selfish gene' by Richard Dawkins, within are hundreds of examples of mechanisms that have been tested.

          Explaining everything and nothing is a logical fallacy
      • Nov 8 2013: I have read "The Selfish Gene"--it was already ten years old when I got to it. In its day, it was useful, but the idea has since been overextended so very far that it is now a meaningless non-model. EVERYTHING gets some yoyo trying to "explain" it by the "selfish gene" model. It's a 40-year-old work, and science moves on. I'm not speaking theoretically. I am a working scientist.
        • MR T

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          Nov 8 2013: So after denying the existence of evidence to support the theory, you are now accepting that it does exist and that you have seen it, but you have decided to discount the evidence because its old?


          What does overextended mean?
      • Nov 8 2013: Just resume worshiping a man as if he were a god. Science doesn't work the way you think it does. I stated that the "selfish gene" model, in the present tense, is not valid. The present tense. At one time, it may have been valid, but it has been applied willy-nilly and so blindly to attempt to "explain" ever possible behavior that it is now just invoked like some sort of religious mantra--it's now meaningless. Science is not about finding forever-and-ever-amen dogmas. It's about building models then discarding them when their limits become too unwieldy. How much biology have you done professionally, anyway?
        • MR T

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          Nov 8 2013: So again your saying the theory is worthless because its old. And I sense some aggravation in your response.

          Quit pattering on about fashion and come up with some actual reasons as to why I'm wrong.

          If I have practiced biology ten minutes longer than you have, it has no bearing on who is right and who is wrong. I don't think a who's dick is bigger contest would be particularly relevant.
      • Nov 9 2013: I did not say the theory is no longer valid because it is "old", I have said that it is invalid because, as a result of historical processes, it has become the biological equivalent of "It's all God's Will". When EVERYTHING can be explained by a model, that model ceases to have any use, because you can't explain why X is not 100% EXACTLY the same as Y. Any actual scientist, as opposed to a wannabe or groupie, already knows this and doesn't have to have it explained to them. It's like somebody going into a garage and nattering on to mechanics about what kind of carbeurators this year's new American automobiles are going to have.
        • Nov 10 2013: What "historical processes" drove to the selfish gene's theory becoming a theory of everything? What kind of scientist would judge the validity of a theory based on "historical processes"?

          Ipse dixit. You present some ridiculous claim with an all-knowing attitude and expect your opponent to present his credentials in order to see if he has the right to disagree with you. That kind of speaks for itself. Not every evolutionary biologist agreed or agrees with Dawkins. For example, Frans de Waal does not agree with him. But De Waal does not agree for reasons other than "it explains everything". "Explaining everything" means that the theory is compatible with every observed outcome and also that it predicts every observed outcome. So you are basically saying that when physicists will develop a theory of everything (which they are striving to do), they will have to throw it away, since by definition, it has become too broad.

          So, give us an example of experimental, observational evidence that contradicts the predictions of selection at the gene level (what Dawkins is arguing actually).
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        Nov 16 2013: I'd like to make a comment - "Everything" means only a manmade concept, a collective idea, that is absolutely impossible to truly perceive by anyone. If one tryes to perceive "Everything" in whole he perceives "nothing".

        We may perceive something, but only as individual minds, and through tremendously limited perceptions. There is no real wholeness, completeness or endlessness ever possible within, or without our existence - the world is new and entirely different in every instant, it cannot be ever stopped for observing "Everything".
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    Nov 4 2013: Dr. Hawkins disputes "true" human altruism in his book 'The Selfish Gene.' He makes a compelling argument against any primacy of human beings or human values out side of evolutionary gradient.
    I refute his argument partly as he completely ignores 'emergence' as an unique quality of a complex system free from the qualities of it's initial configurations or purposes.
    When human brains evolve to be sufficiently complex, it can develop purposes outside of or in contradiction of evolutionary pressure. If I am right, therefore, there can be human behaviors that cannot be logically derived from selfish gene promotion. Like say, Jack Dawson sacrificing his life for Rose.
    • MR T

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      Nov 4 2013: 'When human brains evolve to be sufficiently complex, it can develop purposes outside of or in contradiction of evolutionary pressure'

      I would argue that the rules of evolution are no different now as they were millions of years ago. What is happening now is that we are sexually selecting for desired traits, ie. those most successful in society which happen to be different to those thousands or even hundreds of years ago.
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      Nov 5 2013: I agree. We can decide not to procreate.
      but then are the reasons we choose not to reproduce related to or derive from evolutionary out comes.
      I suggest our drives and motivations even if driven by reason counter to overtly passing on our genes may be entangled with drives and instincts that are outcomes of evolution.

      some behaviors may be misfiring of evolutionary outcome s
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    Nov 4 2013: As Frans de Waal (referenced by previous respondents) points out, biologists make a very sharp distinction between evolutionary imperative and individual action.

    As an example, we can say that sex evolved for reproduction, however I would suggest that most of us indulge in this activity for reasons other than reproduction. An appetite which has proved valuable to manufacturers of birth control interventions.

    Empathy as a possible cornerstone of our "higher morality" may also be traced back to an evolved behaviour designed to protect our gene pool (if not our own individual safety). However what links this evolutionary imperative with the action of someone who dives into a flood swollen river to rescue another's dog?

    In order to explain the rescuer's willingness to risk life and limb, It may be that we can construct a tenuous link to a prehistoric partnership between human and canine. It may also be however, that the rescuer's motivation was based on an empathetic response (with dog owner and/or dog) which has itself evolved far from its pretty transparent and base beginnings.

    Is it really possible that human morality, altruism and love have evolved from such base instincts? If there is indeed a mechanism which can be described, isn't this more threatening to the idea of God than the physical mechanisms by which a monkey may become a man?
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      Nov 4 2013: You are talking about the proximate cause for saving the dog, as a biologist I would interpret the word 'empathy' as a physical state of chemical & or electrical activity within the brain. I would say that the ultimate cause of the human diving in to save the dog would be the action of a gene or set of genes that gave rise to this state in the brain. That the human is saving a dog, not another human could be explained a number of ways. We can assume that is this not a common type of response in people and that it is also not a good survival strategy for that individual, as the risks are high and the payout is low. Unless this scenario is a few thousand years ago, when a dog could have made the difference between eating and not eating. Given this, we could construct a tenuous link. Or we could assume the results of evolution aren't perfect.

      If we take the stance that individual genes or clusters of genes are out for their own again, in other words we take the standard unit of evolution to be a gene, not an individual. It could be that there is a gene that predisposes us for taking an extreme liking to dogs. Most people don't have this gene, for a very good reason, most people that did died trying to save dogs from perilous situations a long time ago. However, a few will have been successful in saving the dogs and lived long enough to pass on the gene to their children.

      I admit that perhaps there is a need to reconcile that in this debate I am trying to explain actions as selfish, when really it is not the individual that is, the individual is more a product of the selfish genes.
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        Nov 4 2013: Thanks for the reply Mr T,

        No argument about the layers of causality, or that "Empathy" is as proximate a cause as I probably could have come up with (apart from maybe that the dog had run off with his/her ipad..).

        However, given the following relationship, I would say we can only really get as far as the phenotype in attributing a distal cause.

        genotype (G) + environment (E) + genotype & environment interactions (GE) → phenotype (P)

        This viewpoint in conjunction with recent findings in epigenetics would seem, in my opinion, to indicate that environmental factors have the facility to influence observable behaviour and attributes to a similar degree as the genotype itself.

        In support of this, I would suggest that our society has become a great deal less heterogenous as a result of global media and culture. Particularly in virtual networks strangers may appear to share our "green beard" and this virtual phenomenon may affect our perception of people in real life situations.

        It's an idea which is obviously open to ridicule, but perhaps this nascent connectedness we're experiencing via the internet, just might lead to a kinder and more gentle world after all.
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      Nov 5 2013: It seems most likely human morality has evolutionary foundations.
      Now we can also use our reasoning to reduce suffering even if empathy evolved.

      the better we understand things the less reasonable it is to assert gods or goddesses or supernatural agency is responsible or reasonable explanations.

      generally invoking the supernatural seems to be an argument from ignorance.
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    Nov 4 2013: There is no doubt at all that our physical body evolved together with the animals but to think that we as human beings are just products of physical evolution doesn't make sense. If we were just the product of the combination of our genes wouldn't our behavior be as predictable every time as the animals to some extent are. We feel fear and probably have a "fear gene" too but human behavior isn't always dominated by these genes- our will-power has helped us overcome the animal instincts and so is also true with the "selfish gene".

    Any altruistic act that is done could be explained as having derived from the "selfish gene" but to do so would be too simplistic. To say that a mother takes care of her child because of selfish interests doesn't not make sense because I know mothers who show care and love even to children who are physically or mentally challenged. Even that too could be explained as some doing of the selfish gene if one wants too but when I see people with limited means making sacrificial efforts to take care of their children I know we are more than just selfish gene.
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      Nov 5 2013: Why couldn't complex human behavior be consistent with evolution resulting in self aware beings capable of reason, not just slaves to instinct.
  • Nov 4 2013: This is the big question, as you say, "if humans arose under the same conditions (evolution)"
  • Nov 1 2013: I agree every decision/action is based on self/family/tribal needs
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    Nov 1 2013: the free will is the cure of this gene like human might be?
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    • MR T

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      Oct 31 2013: Sounds like the matrix... I can't disprove my life is a simulation but that does not make it true. I can't disprove that there is a giant bear living in the center of the moon. Same.. goes, doesn't make it true.

      "quit asking for evidence asserting negative perspectives on humanity and enticing others into this toxic mindset by asking for proof"

      Again... I am asking to for exceptions, to DISPROVE the hypothesis.

      "By taking control of your reality - and instead finding evidence to support what it is you do want"

      Find the evidence that supports what you like, ignore the rest. Very scientific.

      Again, just because you or I don't like something doesn't mean it is not true. I want fact.
      For this topic, I am not interested in morality, I only use the word 'selfish' for want of a better word.

      By 'selfish gene promotion' I mean mean an act to benefit the genes or gene within an individual.
      There is nothing 'toxic' about having sex, eating or anything else that is in self interest.
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        Oct 31 2013: I’m afraid you may be wasting your time in this simulation—no bedrock here, just quicksand.
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    • MR T

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      Oct 31 2013: Wow I must be a real idiot,

      How about you jump from a building and Ill see if you fly....

      To think something doesn't make it true.

      I'm looking for exceptions to disprove my observation which was not phrased as a statement but as a question.
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        • MR T

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          Oct 31 2013: "And just because I've thought of how it's possible to fly like Superman, does not grant me the ability immediately to do it. "

          Oh, right, I guess you will do it at a later stage.

          "The mind is a programmable device. That's all I am trying to get across to you. When you program your mind to believe as you do, that's toxic."

          I'm not concerned with belief, just observations.

          "Just to be sure, do you realize that a scientist issuing a hypothesis generally speaking asserts his or her hypothesis by logically and rationally filtering out contradictions to that hypothesis? These filters are established by inbuilt biases based on experience, culture, gender, and so much more.

          So asking the question, you assert your hypothesis and thus establish the expectation of the results and filter out contrary perspectives. I'm merely trying to ... encourage you.. to understand this"

          'Toxic' - very encouraging....You are incredibly arrogant.

          In being a scientist I am familiar with science which is why I don't buy all your fluffy energy talk.

          I have already said that I am looking for contradictions to my hypothesis that 'all human behaviours can be logically derived from selfish gene promotion'.

          I am yet to see any from you.
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      Oct 31 2013: Lol Brian, it seems you are playing too many video games.
      "Therefore, the laws of Physics and Nature are merely programmatic permutations that attempt to arbitrarily restrict a lifeforms ability to evolve"
      What about you showing us how to overcome those arbitrary restrictions ?
      Let's start with something easy, let's say the universal speed limit of light.
      C'mon, your turn, we are waiting.
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          Nov 4 2013: Brian, esoteric really isn't my field of interest.
          Speed of light is actually 186282.4 miles per second and that's what was already in the textbooks when I went to school, so I don't really understand your point.
          Beside, don't forget that the precision of constants might very well change as our methods of measurement improve, but that doesn't mean the constants are changing constantly.
          Pi is a constant because it is the ratio of a circles circumference to it's diameter. This is never changing. Pi is only special in the sense that there are infinite decimals after the comma.
          As to your perceptions: they can either be right or wrong. If they are right, they are most likely shared with the majority of people like I perceive an object as a car. Everybody I ask agrees that this is a car.
          Now, if I say that's a car and everybody else says that's a tree I can either believe there is a conspiracy against me underway or something is wrong with my perception.
          Although in rare cases the perception of the view might be the right one while the one of the many is wrong.
          In this case, as I mentioned before, you'll have to make your point and provide proof that your perception is the right one.
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      Nov 2 2013: Here we have the penultimate example of a mind gone “off the reservation.” Enjoy your “walkabout” Brian, but do try to come back to planet Earth soon, and communicate rationally with your fellow denizens who, for better or worse, do not share your esoteric idiosyncrasies.
  • Oct 31 2013: Our ability to empathize with each other is an evolved ability. It seems our ability to our logical abstractions is also an evolved ability. So I pose a new question, if our ability to empathize and mentally abstract evolved does that mean that every behavior that derives from our empathy and intelligence if necessarily a survival advantage or is 'selfish'. The answer is no, but it is useful to realize that our behaviors do have biological aka evolutionary roots despite the fact that the behavior may not have directly evolved.

    For a concrete example, a young man might empathize with his fellows and this empathy is biological. But he then decides to go to war and ends up sacrificing his life. That specific behavior isn't evolved, but it grows from underlying biological characteristics that are then shaped by culture.
  • Oct 31 2013: Just three points.

    "Selfish" has too many negative moral connotations. There is nothing ethically wrong with acting in your own self interest while doing no harm.

    People who are good at rationalizing can rationalize anything to mean anything.

    Should we treat ourselves differently than other animals? Yes, to the extent that we are different from other animals. For example, do other animals become concerned about their fellow animals rationalizing their motives?
    • MR T

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      Oct 31 2013: Yes the word selfish does have negative connotations, but what I'm posing is not necessarily a moral question, but one of objective biology, I am asking that human behaviour be studied as it is for other animals, without the assumption that we are wholly different. If there were a better word, I would use it.

      "There is nothing ethically wrong with acting in your own self interest while doing no harm"

      This statement is an extremely interesting one, say a person is drowning in the sea, but the current is strong and it is risky to attempt to save them so you choose not to.....Now say that instead of giving £100 to charity that you won on a scratch card, you buy yourself the new trainers you wanted. In both scenarios the action was in your own self interest, but which one causes harm to another?

      From this I could argue that Inaction to help others can be harmful, just as action to harm others can.... whatever do you in any situation, even if nothing, has ethical repercussions.

      Haha your second point leaves me little room to rationally disagree! Rationalise was probably not the right word to use, 'Logically derive' is much closer to my intention.

      As for your third point, as a biologist I think that we are more similar to animals than we give credit and of course very different in some ways. As for thought processes, nobody can prove what an animal is thinking!
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        Nov 18 2013: I so like your abservation on animals in comparison with us, humans, driven and confused by our made up conventions and morals, beliefs and ideals commonly misleading our twisted mentality.

        I think that animals in wilderness have a privilege of interacting openly with their natural environment.

        To watch an image of a gene can be a fascinating work, however only if we see how it might be involved in a larger scenario of life. Is this what you're trying to see?
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    • MR T

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      Oct 31 2013: That you will be able to fly like superman is not rational or logical. I guess I forgot to mention the assumption that my questions are based under the laws of physics and nature, which happens to be the world we live in.

      Science is striving to find one size fits all equations, like evolution, or the unified theory of everything in physics. That is the goal.

      No one learns anything from assuming that any fact of life is too complicated to understand.

      I don't think there is anything toxic in questioning whether people are inherently out for their own gain. After all, it happens constantly around the world. People put themselves and those closely related to them before others in their priority list. I'm looking for exceptions that disprove the trend.

      Again I think selectively shunning questions because you don't like them is counter-productive.

      As good as TED is, it is also full of useless metaphors like 'wouldn't you rather fly' yours is particularly irrelevant because in your previous statement, you used 'flying' an an example to argue that you can rationalise anything if you want to, regardless of the laws of physics. In effect, your statement 'wouldn't you rather fly' is saying 'As opposed to logical, reasoned thought, wouldn't you rather make up some crazy stuff and have it be real'. I'm not even sure you are aware of the meaning of what you just said.

      By the way: Insanity is inherently irrational
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    Oct 31 2013: I suggest evolutionary forces are behind a lot of our behaviors .

    Having said that we have the cognative ability not to be slaves to instincts.

    eg we probably find high calorie food tasty for evolutionary reasons. Doesn't mean we have to eat ourselves to an early death.
    • MR T

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      Oct 31 2013: Its true we don't have to eat to our death, but then that wouldn't be any good for our genes.

      Which is generally why our genes don't predispose us to do that, but to eat a reasonable amount.

      Genes are selected through environmental pressures amongst others. Hundreds of years ago there was not a super abundance of food, which is one reason why obesity is so prevalent now in developed countries.
  • Da Way

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    Oct 30 2013: Physiologically maybe not, but pathologically there are plenty of psychopathic behaviours that doesnt have any advantage to the individual or population gene survival.
  • Oct 30 2013: Their is a sort of selfishness in our behavior, but it's not all about gene promotion. As a species, w have just about removed ourselves from the usual mechanisms of evolution. The weak aren't culled, the infirm don't become food for other species, we compensate for our weaknesses through technology rather than selective breeding, and when we do breed selectively, it is often for traits unrelated to species survival.
    However, we do make choices, and our choices are attempts to meet all our needs, both biological and "higher order." We form relationships with others in order to get help meeting our needs, and all relationships involve the exchange of need satisfaction. But this can be altruistic as well. We can choose to deny our own most urgent or obvious needs in order to help others meet their needs. That doesn't mean we are getting nothing from the relationship, only that what we get may be more aesthetic, or self-actualizing, or spiritual, rather than more basic.
    We can also choose not to reproduce, which would sort of negate any gene-selective aspects of our choices.
    BTW, the reasons that other species might be more likely to help each other may have to do with reasons other than gene selection, also. We don't fully understand all the functions of community in the more complex animals. Primates have shown remarkably human-like social behaviors. And we know that many animals can quickly become part of human families, where their own genetic futures are not a factor, and behave in the same ways that they would in same-species environments.
    So, no. I don't think that all our behaviors can be reduced to gene-selection. Though, I'd have to admit that some may still "rationalize" that way. :-)
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    Oct 30 2013: I think that nothing in human behaviour can be rationalised down to selfish gene promotion. All behaviour (human and animal) is the outcome of a variety of aspects, and gene promotion is just one of them.

    What is the relation between selfishness and gene promotion regarding humans?
    • MR T

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      Oct 31 2013: In order to perpetuate your genes via reproduction, you take actions that will allow you to do so. This is the relation.

      Im not saying no one can do 'nice' things like help another etc... but im questioning whether the ultimate cause of any action is to promote your genes.......
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        Oct 31 2013: In order to perpetuate my genes via reproduction I have definitely taken actions, but I constantly tried to be aware of the fact that I am not on this planet to use, exploit, or damage other people. I try not to be selfish. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail.

        You initial post stated:
        “Take sharing between friends, one friend shares with another in a time of excess, so that in a time of inexcess the other might reciprocate. This way both fair better than they would alone. Could this be a 'selfish' act?.”

        I think the answer to the question above is “NO”.

        I only have to be convinced that we both have the same definition of the word “selfish” and that’s not the case. I grasp that you define selfish as opposite of altruistic because that is the only reason I can imagine that you can consider mutual benefits to be selfish. So what is your definition of selfish?

        Off topic:
        Lots of debates get stranded in differences about definitions of words. We are not talking about physical object like baseball bats or coffee cups. Topics about behavior have many expressions who lack a uniform definition. We often try to express a phenomena in as little words as possible an end up in confusion.

        About your remark at the bottom: I (deliberately) past the stage of promoting genes a long time ago. What would be my fundamental cause of any action in your opinion when it all should come down promoting genes?
        • MR T

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          Oct 31 2013: In this case, by a 'selfish action' I mean one that benefits the survival of ones genes and or gene.

          As for your last point my previous statement of the relation between genes and actions is not good enough, it should read like the statement below, as parental care is also promotion of genes, not only reproduction.

          "In order to perpetuate your genes, you take actions that will allow you to do so.

          The fundamental cause behind gene promotion would be evolution I suppose.
  • Oct 30 2013: Yes
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    Oct 30 2013: how about when you give money to the homeless at a street corner ? or take someone food like the elderly that you have no idea who they are except they are hungry ?
    • MR T

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      Oct 31 2013: True I can't easily rationalise those as being selfish.

      Which leads me to think that perhaps there is a balance of some kind, in that the majority of our actions can be viewed as selfish gene promotion, however a minority aren't. I think if we look at our day to day lives we can see that most of our actions benefit us directly. Which is why we don't give all of our money to homeless people, but usually a small proportion. We stand little to lose by giving $10, but if we only had $10 we might act differently.
  • Oct 29 2013: Yes in biology its true, species simply look out for one another in an attempt to protect their life and future gene pool.
    Thus biologists say kind acts are carried out to ultimately benefit ourselves and our gene pool.
    There are so many examples of this being wrong in human behaviour and I believe its because we are one of the few species who are self aware. Its us and the dolphins!

    We are kind to dying people who will not return the favour, we help animals. My favourite example is in the movies, didnt Elliot help ET! Humanity has become more than biology!
    • MR T

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      Oct 29 2013: We are kind to dying people but of course evolution doesn't have a medical degree, a few thousand years ago we may have had trouble differentiating between dying and sick people. In either case we are more kind to those closely related to us.

      Haha someone has been watching/reading hitch hikers guide to the galaxy!, don't forget about chimps and bonobo's they are far more intelligent than dolphins.

      I believe the standard psychological test for self awareness is inherently flawed. That is, to place a sticker or mark upon an animal and see if they touch that sticker or mark when faced with a mirror. Mirrors do not occur in nature, humans, given this test are made aware of what a mirror is, they are familiar. Animals are not given that advantage.

      Surely, in order to move about a complex environment like a forest, or to interact with others. There must be some degree of self awareness. Otherwise, how would animals differentiate between themselves and their surroundings.
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    • MR T

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      Oct 29 2013: So I'm primitive, but the machine I may or may not build could tell me more, my views are out of fashion yet agree with quantum physics. And despite many animals having inferior senses to our own those animals believe (if they can believe) that we are all one creature?

      Sorry but I am really not following you on this.
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    • MR T

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      Oct 29 2013: In this sense, I use the word's 'selfish action' to mean 'an action that maximises the gain of an individual, at the cost or benefit to another individual'.