Monday, April 16, 2012

Altruism, an adaptive trait

From an interview with E. O. Wilson by Charlie Rose, quoting from the New Yorker magazine:  "Wilson's larger point is that, to the extent that altruism exists, it isn't an illusion. Instead, goodness might actually be an adaptive trait, allowing more cooperative groups to outcompete their conniving cousins. In a field defined by the cool logic of natural selection, group selection appears to be the rare hint of virtue, the one biological force pushing back against the obvious advantages of greed and deceit."

From Science News, April 7, 2012:  Cheney relays the story of Ruby, a young, low ranking but gregarious baboon who lost all her kin in a leopard attack.  Because kin are the lifeblood of social support in female baboon society, a low-ranker such as Ruby night might be left with little access to food and other resources.
 Despite lacking the skills to set up a Twitter account, likable Ruby managed to build a network of followers by taking advantage of the social opportunities.  She spent hours grooming one particular high-ranking baboon, Sylvia, and managed to climb up the hierarchical latter, gaining access to the best food in the most desirable resting places.

More and more proof of the natural, evolutionary nature of altruism and cooperation is being uncovered by biologists, geneticists, neurologists, and other scientists.  Yet the Radical Republicans continue to insist that science and Christian belief are wrong.  They declare that all humans are naturally and completely selfish.  Only the Social Darwinism of Ayn Rand and the most extreme beliefs of Friedrich Hayek can be trusted.  Ideology trumps reality every time.  


1 comment:

  1. EO Wilson was a pioneer. I find it fascinating how evo-psychologists are returning to multi-level selection as a proper model for the rise of human cognitive peculiarities. What I find striking is that given the mechanism of group-level solidarity selection, the implication is that in-group effects like altruistic selection exacerbated out-group biases. The logic pins part of prejudice and discrimination to the same mechanism from which group (not reciprocal) altruism arose.