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Biotech Science

The Drive For Altruism Is Hardwired 582

Posted by kdawson
from the good-feels-good dept.
Dekortage writes "The Washington Post is reporting on recent neuroscience research indicating that the brain is pre-wired to enjoy altruism — placing the interests of others ahead of one's own. In studies, '[G]enerosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex... Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.' Such research 'has opened up a new window on what it means to be good,' although many philosophers over recorded history have suggested similar things."
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The Drive For Altruism Is Hardwired

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  • by zappepcs (820751) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:49PM (#19312199) Journal
    Altruism != generosity even if they go hand in hand.
    • You mean...Lou Cipher may display some tactical generosity to bring about the strategic ruin?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dr. Manhattan (29720)
      "Generosity is inborn. Altruism is a learned perversion." - Robert Heinlein, quite a few years before this study came out.
    • by h2_plus_O (976551) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:32PM (#19312859)
      If we didn't get something out of giving, we wouldn't do it.
      I can say without cynicism that if I didn't get incredible joy out of caring for my infant son (who is teething, very expressive about it, and quick as a ninja monkey) I don't know that any force on earth could make me change a dirty diaper- yet somehow it's strangely enjoyable and I come back for more.

      It's pretty obvious if you think about it that we get a LOT out of contributing to others. My most-satisfying jobs have all been ones where I helped people out, my least-satisfying ones have been the ones where I couldn't tell that I was making any difference for anybody. I once put together a program to teach at-risk teens how to kayak, and when I told people what I was doing and asked for their help, they thanked me for creating the opportunity to donate gear, time, money and expertise. My experience asking for help to put the program together was quite surprising- I had thought it would be hard, they wouldn't want to, but it was the opposite: people are hungry for any chance to help others.

      If you look broadly, people are willing to die in order to make a difference. People join the army in time of war to serve. They strap bombs to themselves and blow themselves up in a crowded market, in order to serve. People will open their checkbooks and donate money, they'll give blood, they'll use their vacations to go build houses for people- there's not much people won't do for the chance to make a difference for others.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jafiwam (310805)
        Well, technically what you describe is not altruism or generosity in the framework TFA is on about.

        You share 50% of your genes with your child (jokes aside), and therefore it is an expected benefit to your genes of valuing your child's life 50% of yours. Kids don't grow up and reproduce if you don't do the stuff you are doing, so you are hardwired for that. Same thing is true for brothers, cousins, tribal hunter gatherer members, etc. (To lesser extent as you get less and less related.)

        TFA is talking abou
      • It's pretty obvious if you think about it that we get a LOT out of contributing to others.

        That blows holes in the "selfless" claims to "altrusism", doesn't it?

        If contributing to others really was selfless, then you would get NOTHING out of it.

        In fact, if would be even more selfless if you were HARMED by contributing to others.

        In fact, you can take that a step further and be even more selfless if contributing others harmed not only you, but all your loved ones, too, and also helped your enemies to harm more
  • altruism (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jshriverWVU (810740) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:50PM (#19312205)
    The principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others. For those that didnt know.
  • What does this say about people who complain about the GPL and open source? (The GPL is a cancer. Open source is un-American.)
    • by Moridineas (213502) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:00PM (#19312347) Journal
      What does this say about people who complain about the BSD license? (BSD isn't as free as GPL. etc) Do GPL supporters have defective brains?

      Ok, just to be 100% clear, I don't believe that, I just think the parent posted something that utterly misses the point and just buys into more of the "if you're not with us, you're against us" / "anyone who doesn't agree with me is stupid" mentality that is all too prevalent today.
  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:52PM (#19312229) Homepage Journal
    "-- placing the interests of others ahead of one's own. In studies, '[G]enerosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex... "

    So I guess chicks that put a man's sexual interests ahead of her own...REALLY lights up her own pleasure response!!!

    I gotta make a note of this one...sounds like material to submit for an investigational grant!!

  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Normal Dan (1053064) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:52PM (#19312231)
    what they are saying is people are only generous because it feels good. That is, if it did not give them that feel good feeling, they would not be generous. Thus, everyone is generous for their own selfish purposes. Ergo, everyone is 100% selfish.

    Go ahead, try to follow my logic. I dare you.
    • by Nymz (905908) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:04PM (#19312407) Journal

      what they are saying is people are only generous because it feels good. That is, if it did not give them that feel good feeling, they would not be generous. Thus, everyone is generous for their own selfish purposes. Ergo, everyone is 100% selfish.
      Go ahead, try to follow my logic. I dare you.

      If I want to give money to a charity, that's selfish, but by denying my selfish desire and refusing to give to charity, I become altruistic.
      • by Jasin Natael (14968) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:47PM (#19313125)

        Actually, the most selfish are those who insist on working directly with the charity -- even though an extra hour of work would provide them with the money to do far better good for the masses. Slate had an article on this late last year. Simply not donating would be rather neutral, because no party would benefit, and thus both would benefit equally. Check out the blockquote:

        This isn't some silly tautology. If these do-gooders really were motivated by the desire to do good, they would be doing something different. It would almost always be more effective to volunteer less, work overtime, and give more. A Dutch banker can pay for a lot of soup-kitchen chefs and servers with a couple of hours' worth of his salary, but that wouldn't provide the same feel-good buzz as ladling out stew himself, would it?

        From this article at Slate [slate.com]

        • by harborpirate (267124) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @06:33PM (#19315349)
          Must be nice to be a Dutch banker. Here in the USA, professionals who make lots of money are salaried, meaning they could work round the clock until they died and not get paid a penny more than working 40 hours.

          Theoretically, you could get an extra job, but since working the same job for someone else would get you fired at BOTH workplaces, its much easier and better to volunteer your time and effort to a deserving organization who needs it.

          Couple that with the fact that working hard at the same or similar job all the time leads to declining health and an early demise, and volunteer work that makes you feel good about yourself and gives you a break from the daily grind starts to sound pretty great after all.

          The best option? Give some of your money AND some of your time.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by RobinH (124750)
            The same idea applies to the salaried individual if you realize that you can still use your spare time to make more money in your field of expertise. I, for instance, am salaried, but sometimes I do some on-the-side work (with my employer's permission) and can set billing rates considerably higher than what I'm making per hour. Of course, I have to pay taxes, etc. But the opportunity for the salaried banker to go out and make more money with his spare time than the good he's doing by ladelling stew is st
    • by Hatta (162192)
      what they are saying is people are only generous because it feels good. That is, if it did not give them that feel good feeling, they would not be generous. Thus, everyone is generous for their own selfish purposes. Ergo, everyone is 100% selfish.

      Ayn Rand [wikipedia.org] beat you to this by 60 years or so.

      Go ahead, try to follow my logic. I dare you.

      That's about how I feel about Ayn Rand too.
    • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by writerjosh (862522) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:19PM (#19312665) Homepage
      Not true:

      Or I should say, only partially true. You're saying that altruism is a selfish endeavor, meaning, giving away something is only done because the brain will reward you with pleasure. True. However, you're missing the bigger picture of this article: altruism is not just about pleasure, it's about survival.

      Take this altruistic concept back to a primitive, tribal society level. One hunter brings back a deer to the village. He can hoard it all to himself and ensure the survival of himself and/or his family, OR, he can divvy out the deer to the entire tribe even though this means he'll get less for himself. Why would he do this? According to you, it's simply because it feels good to give, but the point of this article (imho) is to show that it's actually beneficial to his survival. And his survival is 100% dependent on the survival of the tribe.

      So, yes, it is selfish, but it's selfish on a tribal/societal level. Sharing ensures the survival of the tribe, therefore sharing ensures the survival of the individual (because it's really hard, if not impossible, to survive on your own in a hostile world).

      That's my two cents.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Spazntwich (208070)
      What it comes down to, is we're basically just machines acting on our hard wired impulses and genetic programming.

      I'm not sure why any of this should come as a surprise to anyone.
  • First post (Score:5, Funny)

    by Teddy Beartuzzi (727169) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:53PM (#19312237) Journal
    Well, I wasn't, but that's because it gave me more pleasure for someone else to get it.
  • by Artifex (18308) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:53PM (#19312245) Journal
    I'm broke; give me money :)
    • by Virak (897071)
      Thanks, but no thanks. I'm quite adept at facilitating my own pleasure. And for free, too.
  • by ATestR (1060586) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:53PM (#19312249) Homepage
    It is thus logical that a truly superior human will learn to abandon any primitive altruistic tendencies.
    • by gutnor (872759)
      Difficult to get rid of human nature.

      So instead man created Companies and Ultra Liberalism.
      So he can fool his brain behind "The System" and still enjoy altruism when giving money to some orphan in Africa.
    • What is your rational for saying this? It doesn't make the least bit of sense.
  • by the_skywise (189793) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:54PM (#19312253)
    If it's so "basic" to the brain then why is it the exception in human society and not the rule?

    Sure you've got the basic need as a parent to provide for the family and to others of your pack/tribe. But "altruism" in its known sense as just giving to somebody you don't even know? If it's so "basic" we'd all be in the homeless kitchens in Thanksgiving (in the US) instead of at home.
    • We evolved in small roving bands. In terms of being nice to those immediately around us, I'd say that's pretty universal. I'm more willing to loan my neighbor some money than a complete stranger.

      Secondly, who is to say that most members of society aren't altruistic. Perhaps it's just a minority, a group of mutants, who twist society and work for their own ends.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nine-times (778537)

      It compared it to the pleasure of food and sex. We don't eat and screw all day long every day, and if we did, it would cause problems. I don't just mean the society problems of no one working, either, but-- you know, things get sore and over-stuffed. We also have other pleasures to compete with these. We derive satisfaction from accomplishing, we receive pleasure from dominating, and sometimes even sore muscles from a hard day's work feel like a reward when your head hits the pillows.

      Besides, our socie

    • by danpsmith (922127)

      If it's so "basic" to the brain then why is it the exception in human society and not the rule? Sure you've got the basic need as a parent to provide for the family and to others of your pack/tribe. But "altruism" in its known sense as just giving to somebody you don't even know? If it's so "basic" we'd all be in the homeless kitchens in Thanksgiving (in the US) instead of at home.

      If "sex" is so "basic" to the brain then nobody would willingly choose not to have sex. If "hunger" is so "basic" to the brai

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by skorch (906936)
      Altruism is most certainly not the exception; it only appears as such on a large scale because of the structure of modern society. The summary doesn't discuss it, but the theory plays along with a lot of well known psychological behaviors that have to do with in-group vs. out-group behavior. The vast majority of people are certainly much more altruistic within communities of peers that they can view in some capacity as in-group, whereas we have evolved to be naturally suspicious and slightly xenophobic of c
    • by servognome (738846) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:27PM (#19312791)

      If it's so "basic" to the brain then why is it the exception in human society and not the rule?
      Why do you think giving is the exception? Almost everybody I know contributes money to charitable causes, and most also donate some of their time.
      Does giving only count when you sacrifice everything else?
    • by Not_Wiggins (686627) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:52PM (#19313189) Journal
      If it's so "basic" to the brain then why is it the exception in human society and not the rule?

      Methinks you're nothing thinking of this broadly enough.

      Family units tend to be altruistic; parents usually put the needs of their off-spring ahead of their own.

      Just because it doesn't exist at a more intellectual macro level (why doesn't Bill Gates give all his money to poor people?) doesn't mean it isn't a core part of human interaction.
    • by monoqlith (610041)
      It isn't the exception. Think of the thousand kindnesses that exist as conditions of pursuing your daily activities . Most everyone follows traffic laws, good etiquette on sidewalks, and some even open the door for you when it's not clearly in their immediate interest to do so, just to name some examples. You just don't notice that these things happen because you've been conditioned to take them for granted.

      In day to day life, at least inside of America, it's the destructive impulses of mankind that are exc
  • Lift each other up (Score:5, Interesting)

    by e2d2 (115622) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:55PM (#19312273)
    I know it may be slightly warm and fuzzy, but imagine a world where we lifted each other up, instead of constantly tearing each other down. Not to say that due criticism would be curtailed, but instead that our efforts be focused on others, instead of ourselves. The world would be much easier if we weren't constantly bombarded with what could be summed up as "drama" from others and instead worked together. It's just really hard when everyone around you is a stranger, the idea of family has been all but lost, and the world is going at a pace that you can hardly keep up with.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Overzeetop (214511)
      This kind of thinking has to be ingrained early in childhood, by both word and deed. Those of us who teach this to our children are constantly frustrated by the parents who don't. And those who don't are in a decided majority.

      Not that it would matter. No matter how inclusive and positive a group is, at some point someone will feel slighted as not all resouces are infinite. Once one person is turned against the group it becomes more and more likely that the system will break down. I'm not entirely certain th
    • We live in the world you propose. Look at cats: are they ever going to develop civilization? Dogs, however... the point being: cooperation, sharing research (violating IP laws!) is behavior intended to further the group's well-being, while at the same time furthering the individual's well-being by being associated with the new-found gains.

      To make a long story short: if you look at zero-sum games, and have a large number of players playing zero-sum games repeatedly with one another, players that show altr
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lawpoop (604919)
      What you're describing is basically the hunter-gatherer tribal lifestyle that modern humans evolved in. It was a great big extended family, and more often then not, people would freely help each other. The tribe had ambiguous relationships with other tribes; they need each other for trade and intermarriage, but they also compete for resources and usually have long-running revenge cycles ( for instance, check out the Yanomamo. The anthropologist Chagnon's informants were surprised to find out he had no son -
  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:56PM (#19312277) Journal
    ...that's similar to that when you get food and/or sex from doing "good things", doesn't that possibly mean that doing good things is historically/genetically programmed into us as one common way to get more more food and sex? And if you are doing good deeds in anticipation of that "dinner and a movie," it isn't really altruistic, is it?

    warning, possible flamebait follows:
    If you're a Christian, is it impossible to be altruistic? If you do good deeds, don't you ingratiate yourself witht he Lord, thereby increasing your chance of being admitted to heaven? So, even if you don't really "get" anything for doing good deeds, you're still going to get a reward for it in the afterlife right? Which would mean it wasn't really altrustic.
    • by Golias (176380) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:08PM (#19312467)
      If you're a Christian, is it impossible to be altruistic? If you do good deeds, don't you ingratiate yourself witht he Lord, thereby increasing your chance of being admitted to heaven?

      Nope.

      It is axiomatic of Christianity that we've all "earned" nothing more than death, and it's only by divine grace that we are reunited with God. The religion is not about "getting in" to an afterlife paradise for being good (though many so-called believers behave that as if it is). It's about maintaining a loving relationship with your creator, both in this life and beyond.
    • 1. You get a good response from being selfish as well. i.e. You get to have the thing in question and someone else doesn't. A good feeling of altruism still leaves you without the thing you gave up. So if your mind is warring over selfishness vs. altruism, then what makes the decision?

      Being the most intelligent species on the planet, it would seem that our conscious logic centers often make this decision. Thus someone can make a decision even if they "feel bad" about it later. With time, it's quite possible
    • by Rolgar (556636) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:21PM (#19312701)
      The good works are not sufficient to get a person to heaven. Getting to heaven, in the Christian mindset, requires a recognition and acceptance of God's forgiveness of offenses against God and neighbor, and responding with a selfless desire to please God and look out for our fellow humans. I suppose someone MIGHT do these things for a reward, but a growing and maturing Christian will grow beyond that in time. God also can read our minds and hearts, and when we die, he won't be using a checklist to see who gets in and who doesn't. If our hearts are in the correct state, as developed through a life's worth of experiences, then he will let that person into heaven.

      By the standard you're using, can any act ever be altruistic? Someone always receives a reward in doing good for someone else either by having pride in being a person who can choose doing something for someone else over doing nothing, or that by doing something to improve humanity in general everybody is better off including the one doing the act.

  • by Applekid (993327) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:59PM (#19312331)
    "Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable."

    So, if altruism creates pleasure in the brain, is it still considered altruism? You ARE getting something out of it, after all.

    I knew I should have paid more attention in my humanities courses, particularly Philosophy.
  • If the evidence is that giving triggers a similar part of the brain as food or sex, might it be that those who give are anticipating receiving food or sex?
    -----------
    "Honey, take a look at this paycheck. Want it?"

    "Sure. I made meatloaf. Mrs. Green called and they are having a garage sale at the school, to raise money for the dance. You know about the dance, the one I told you about last week when we were picking out the wallpaper for the kitchen. Mrs. Green says they should be able to open up the whole
  • there could be many more parts of the brain that derive immense pleasure in the P.T. Barnum Effect: scamming some poor chump out of his hard earned money. Or from the Highlander Movie Viewer Effect: lopping the head off of some S.O.B. just because he's annoying.
  • Guilt and altruism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pieterh (196118) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:04PM (#19312399) Homepage
    Altruism is also observed in vampire bats, curiously, who remember who shared blood with them previously, and who did not. Altruism is a simple kind of savings scheme. When you are lucky, you share. When you are unlucky, you borrow. It depends on a good memory and a set of rules that have to be instinctive, so everyone agrees with them. (No point if everyone randomly invents "good" and "bad" behaviour.)

    Guilt, on the other hand, is waiting for the blow to fall. We don't feel guilty when there's no risk of being punished, and we don't act altruistic when there's no-one watching.

    So even if the moral compass is in-built, it only activates in the presence of others.
    • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:20PM (#19312681) Journal
      We don't feel guilty when there's no risk of being punished

      Speak for yourself. Some of us find our personal code of ethics important to follow whether someone is watching or not.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nine-times (778537)

      So even if the moral compass is in-built, it only activates in the presence of others.

      Well what would it mean to be altruistic outside the presence of others? Someone else needs to be involved somehow, or else there can be no object of the altruism. What I mean is that the object of altruism must always be "others", so without "others", there's no possibility of altruism or selfishness.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by smellsofbikes (890263)
      >We don't feel guilty when there's no risk of being punished,

      Speak for yourself. I feel vaguely uncomfortable running stoplights on my bicycle, when it's 3AM and I know there isn't a cop within km of where I am -- because I think that running stoplights is wrong. (Why do I run them? Because my bike won't trigger the traffic detector since it's mostly not metal.)

      Some people make the distinction between shame cultures and guilt cultures: shame cultures are where morality is mostly external, and society
  • by mythar (1085839)
    these people were obviously conditioned to expect food and sex in exchange for sums of money.
  • Easily Explained (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CompCons (650700) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:10PM (#19312495)
    I see alot of people discussing what this means... It's all very simple. Way back in time when we all lived in small tribes we were surrounded mostly by people who we shared DNA with. Most of the people around us were immediate or extended family. We can also assume that a group of people who are sometimes generous with each other will survive better than people who are strictly selfish. If we put those two facts together and stir it with some evolution... what do you get? People who help each other are more likely to survive as a group. So if we have two tribes, one family that has only selfish tendencies and one that has generous tendencies; the generous family is more likely to survive as a whole. There's no secret here. Nothing ground breaking has happened, simply more evidence for evolution.
    • hmm... i think you're confusing evolution with natural selection.

      It's not that humanity evolves into a more loving, caring society; it's just that those social groups who are more generous are preferred in getting their genes passed on to future generations...

  • So when they pass the plate in church, it's kind of like public sex?
  • Seems obvious (Score:3, Insightful)

    by skintigh2 (456496) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:12PM (#19312531)
    According to evolutionary theory: since society benefits the individual evolution ought to favor traits that help form and maintain societies. For instance: faith and altruism. I would imagine other animals that live in colonies or collectives have similar mechanisms. Perhaps not faith, but feel reward for performing whatever their limited role is before dying without the opportunity or even ability to reproduce.

    What's most surprising is that scientists are still surprised by this, as if they have never heard of evolution or thought about it's affect on society. Perhaps these are the same scientists who agree that emotions are in primitive parts of our brain yet insist "primitive" animals don't have emotions.
  • I'm not sure why the Post is just getting around to this when everybody else was discussing it back in March:

    USA Today [usatoday.com]

    The BBC [bbc.co.uk]

    Reuters [reuters.com]. This last one has some interesting speculation on why altruism may be related to the similarly-entrenched idea that it's not OK to kiss your sister.

    I was going to put something troll-ish in here about the fact that Slashdot seems to be serving up quite a bit of this warmed-over stuff recently--days and days after it's hit the mainstream news outlets. It would probably be a mo
  • Ethics. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:17PM (#19312613) Journal
    Humanity is a social animal. We form packs. We are hardwired to be pack-supporting; you see a huge natural disaster and people rush to the area to help...They don't turn and run the other way. A child gets lost in the mountains, and you get hordes of volunteers tromping around and getting themselves lost in the search.

    This is not behaviour that is smart for the individual. Risking your own life for others? Not something you see often in the animal kingdom. But it is something that occurs among humans, and it is a big part of what we consider "good".

    Philosophically, ethics falls into two distinct branches: relativism, and objectivism.

    Relativism basically states that good and evil are relative...Relative to you personally, relative to your culture, relative to your psychological state. It fits with people's differing views on what is right and wrong; I think it's right, you think it's wrong, we're both correct. Basically it's worthless. If you're a relativist, morals are meaningless, because you can only apply moral judgements to yourself, and what the hell point is there in that?

    Objectivism states that good and evil are objective...That there are things that everyone should agree are right and everyone should agree are wrong. Logically, objectivism must be correct, because the alternative is relativism, and relativism is worthless. But no one agrees about right and wrong, so how can it be right?

    But when you look at it in terms of humanity as a social animal, it becomes a little clearer. The "Robin Hood" story is a classic example: Stealing is bad, except when you're stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, right? Obviously the group that is being stolen from (the rich) still think it's bad, but since the vast majority of people are not rich, historically it's been considered good.

    Mill came up with the theory of Utilitarianism to attempt to explain this sort of thing: in a nutshell, whatever makes the majority happy is right, and whatever makes the majority unhappy is wrong. Politicians live by this one, because they never have to actually consider the greater good, they just have to make 51% happy until the next election. So adding a tax on gasoline to reduce consumption and using the money to pay for better public transit and research into cleaner energy, while probably the "right" thing to do, would never fly because it would piss off 80% of people and the guy'd get canned in the next election by someone running on a "repeal the gas tax" platform.

    So utilitarianism clearly needs some work...Reduce "good" into "happy" and you end up with nothing but bread and circuses, because that would make people happy, and happy == good. This, in a nutshell, is the problem with democracy.

    So we have a hardwired inclination toward altruism. It definitely explains a few things. The problem is, humanity has a lot of hardwiring. We have tons of instincts, reflexes, automatic responses. Most people learn to override those things as part of their day to day life. Can't live purely on instinct. So what value is it to have a piece of altrustic hardwiring in a society that preaches just the opposite? Altruism is an irrational response, from the point of view of the thing that's about to put its squishy coropreal self in harm's way.

    Still, it's nice to know that, if you're trying to be altrusitic, if you're trying to be selfless, you're instinctive responses are going to be in line with your conscious actions. Maybe everyone...most everyone...really does have some good in them, whether they like it or not.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TrekkieGod (627867)

      Relativism basically states that good and evil are relative...Relative to you personally, relative to your culture, relative to your psychological state. It fits with people's differing views on what is right and wrong; I think it's right, you think it's wrong, we're both correct. Basically it's worthless. If you're a relativist, morals are meaningless, because you can only apply moral judgements to yourself, and what the hell point is there in that?

      The point is that you shouldn't be passing moral judgements universally.

      Moral relativists don't believe "morals are meaningless", they believe they're relative. So, when the society you live decided that murder is a "bad" thing, everyone that participates in your society agrees to this rule in exchange for the benefits of living in a society where you are protected from being murdered by the other members of that society. If someone breaks the rules of that society, they get excluded (go to jail). In

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:18PM (#19312633) Homepage Journal
    For one, the research doesn't show that altruism is "hardwired", despite what Shankar Vedantam writes in the Washington Post. The brain has very little "hardwired" responses, especially for such complex and abstract behavior as "altruism". There are organs, nerve bundles, and the like, and surely some consequential neural connects at all scales of influence are determined by human genetics in a very consistent behavior (eg, the 12 cranial nerves). But even those "hardwired" connections aren't well understood, nor are the possibilities that environment after conception can make them very different.

    For another, just because altruism stimulates (some of) the same brain parts that sex and good food stimulate, doesn't mean that altruism is not "higher moral behavior". If higher moral behavior didn't stimulate neurons that we feel as pleasure, then higher moral behavior wouldn't feel good. Why not? Does god hate pleasure? Must all pleasure come from doing wrong? What kind of sick, immoral person thinks like that?

    This is just another journalist copout: we're not really good, or even responsible for what we do, because "we're wired that way". It's stupid, immoral, and should feel awful. But journalists like Vedantam and their editors seem to like it.
  • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:23PM (#19312731)
    I've tried that bit about generosity being as pleasurable as sex, but the hookers still insist on cash in advance.
  • by Slithe (894946) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:37PM (#19312955) Homepage Journal
    We are hardwired to perform altrusim, but we mostly tend to prefer our groups. This is called ethnic nepotism [vdare.com]. A study [yahoo.com] (I can't find the link; here's a summary) performed several years ago by the political scientist Frank Salter monitored beggars in Moscow and found that Russians preferred giving to beggars in this order: Russians, Moldavians (Eastern Europeans), and Roma (a.k.a. Gypsies).
  • by rlp (11898) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:54PM (#19313221)
    A discussion of altruism on Slashdot, and no one's quoted from "Star Trek: Wrath of Kahn" yet. Must be 'too obvious'.
  • by Simon Brooke (45012) <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @05:18PM (#19314457) Homepage Journal

    Peter Kropotkin [wikipedia.org] pointed this out [amazon.co.uk] over 100 years ago

  • Group Selection (Score:3, Insightful)

    by j3w (860785) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @05:18PM (#19314465)
    I wrote a paper a few years back for a philosophy of biology class defending altruism as an adaptive trait. Generally we look at selection as a process that takes place within a group for (or against) an individual. The problem with altruism, obviously, is that self sacrifice is not adaptive for an individual. Coming from Wyoming I tend to think of prairie dogs as an example of this. The one that stays above the surface screaming its little head off to warn the others is more likely to get snagged by a predator. However, if the process of selection includes the fitness of the group and not just that of the individual then altruism is really no problem at all. Within the herd the individual is going to share genetic traits with much if not most of the others. Just as a parent is often willing to risk it's own life for its offspring, which makes sense for individual selection, an individual risking its life for all its cousins is still protecting at least some of its own genetic traits. In effect the act of sacrifice is actually selecting for altruism as it allows the herd, with all its altruistic tendencies, to live on. Altruism is an adaptive trait, ergo "hard-wired", and should present no problem for evolutionary theory and no advantage for ID "theory".

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