Evolution of the Good

More on evolution and the basis for altruism.  I heard this show ages ago, I can recall listening to it while scrambling up a steep loose rockface!  (Miles reminded me about it on Facebook) The kinship theory makes total sense to me, but it does not mean the group theory is wrong does it?  Why the either/or here?

The Good Show – Radiolab:

In this episode, a question that haunted Charles Darwin: if natural selection boils down to survival of the fittest, how do you explain why one creature might stick its neck out for another? The standard view of evolution is that living things are shaped by cold-hearted competition. And there is no doubt that today’s plants and animals carry the genetic legacy of ancestors who fought fiercely to survive and reproduce. But in this hour, we wonder whether there might also be a logic behind sharing, niceness, kindness … or even, self-sacrifice. Is altruism an aberration, or just an elaborate guise for sneaky self-interest? Do we really live in a selfish, dog-eat-dog world? Or has evolution carved out a hidden code that rewards genuine cooperation?

Copy of the audio:
The Good Show


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Steven Rose & Richard Dawkins (Video)

Further to the last post, look at this video (thanks Josh)

Steven Rose by blindwatcher

It seems to me they all agree on the question where does “good” come from. Steven Rose is systemic in his thinking, Dawkins more reductionist.

Background to this discussion:

Steven Rose – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Research and scientific controversies With Richard Lewontin and Leon Kamin, Rose championed the “radical science movement.”[3][page needed] The three criticized sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and adaptationism, most prominently in the book Not in Our Genes (1984), laying out their opposition to Sociobiology (E. O. Wilson, 1975), The Selfish Gene (Richard Dawkins, 1976), and other works promoting an evolutionary explanation for human social behaviour. Not in Our Genes described Dawkins as “the most reductionist of sociobiologists”. In retort, Dawkins wrote that the book practices reductionism by distorting arguments in terms of genetics to “an idiotic travesty (that the properties of a complex whole are simply the sum of those same properties in the parts)”, and accused the authors of giving “ideology priority over truth”.[4] Rose replied in the 2nd edition of his book Lifelines. Rose wrote further works in this area; in 2000 he jointly edited with the sociologist Hilary Rose, a critique of evolutionary psychology: Alas, Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology. In 2006 he wrote a paper dismissing classical heritability estimates as useful scientific measures in respect of human populations especially in the context of IQ.[5] Rose was for several years a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4’s ethics debating series The Moral Maze.[1] Rose is a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association.

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Die for the group and spread your genes

I enjoyed this essay:

Where does good come from? – The Boston Globe: Instapaper

On a recent Monday afternoon, the distinguished Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson was at his home in Lexington, talking on the phone about the knocks he’s been taking lately from the scientific community, and paraphrasing Arthur Schopenhauer to explain his current standing in his field. “All new ideas go through three phases,” Wilson said, with some happy mischief in his voice. “They’re first ridiculed or ignored. Then they meet outrage. Then they are said to have been obvious all along.”

Wilson is 81, an age at which he could be forgiven for retreating to a farm and lending his name to the occasional popular book about science. Over the past year he’s tried his hand at fiction writing, publishing a novel about ants — his scientific specialty — and landing a short story in The New Yorker. But he has also been pressing a disruptive scientific idea, one he reckons is currently in phase two of the Schopenhauer progression: outrage.

The idea is that if the group that benefits from altruism, the tribe will live to spread the genes. This “outrageous” idea by Edward O Wilson is not so silly.  Nor is it new.  It is the bread & butter of what I learned at the University of Canterbury in the 60s from Dr Bigelow.
I enjoyed his classes and book. He taught the simple idea that the unit of evolution is the “gene pool”, not the individual carrier of the genes. Amazon

Social cooperation, which leads to the Golden Rule and what we call the highest human qualities, was demanded by what we call the lowest of human qualities: the ferocity of human enemies. Shakespeare’s two opposed foes that still encamp us therefore evolved together. They were not even two different sides of the same coin, but were as intimately interdependent as our brains and hearts are. Cooperation was not substituted for conflict. Cooperation-for-conflict, considered as a single, hyphenated word, was demanded — for sheer survival.

page 7 & 8 The Dawn Warriors.

Researching this a bit more, it is evident that Wilson is adhering closely to Darwin:

It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an advancement in the standard of morality and an increase in the number of well-endowed men will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another. There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection (Darwin, 1891, Vol. I: 203; italics added).

Found that quote in an interesting paper on the history of these ideas while searching for Robert Bigelow AND Edmund O Wilson: Human Evolution and the Origin of War: a Darwinian Heritage

[A fitting post for Easter Sunday!]

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