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Difficult time understanding altruism

by Sastronaut
Tags: altruism, difficult, time
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Sastronaut
#1
Jun5-14, 05:49 PM
P: 66
I am having a difficult time understanding altruism because when I think through the concept "cheaters" would be adapted to exploit the altruist. Though, do altruists often die for their efforts? Thus, leaving fewer offspring...


Any help would be great thank you pf!
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Choppy
#2
Jun6-14, 05:42 AM
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I think there is still a fair amount of debate about this. You might want to pick up a copy of Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, as it goes into a fair amount of detail on this topic.

Personally I think the answer boils down to the fact that behaviour is generally not encoded by a single gene.
SteamKing
#3
Jun6-14, 06:53 AM
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And, as George Costanza memorably said, "We're trying to have a society here!"

If everyone operated strictly on the impulse of what benefited himself and everyone else can go to hell, it would be a very cold, uncaring manner in which to live.

Yes, altruists sometimes tragically die for their efforts. Trying to rescue someone from drowning or carrying someone from a burning building has risks. Yes, there unfortunately are people who will try to exploit altruistic impulses of others, but down thru the ages, many different societies and cultures have made the decision that it is better to cultivate the altruistic impulse than not because over time, I think, it causes the members of the society to think and live in unselfish ways. This behavior is codified in different ways, like the Golden Rule in the west, or the concept of karma in eastern religions.

Which type of society would you prefer to live in?

Windadct
#4
Jun6-14, 07:25 AM
P: 553
Difficult time understanding altruism

IN general Humans have survived better in groups - so we are coded to get along. But all behavior of individuals in a group is distributed, there are those that are "good to a fault" - where they are so dedicated to those around them they neglect themselves, and conversely those that are so dedicated to self they can not take part in society.
I would put true altruism into an intellectual category - where a person though logic and thought sees how their actions are helpful, however it is very easily argued that the behavior comes first and the logic is just a biological rationalization - to justify the behavior or their desire. This point easily becomes a circular argument / discussion.
Lavabug
#5
Jun6-14, 09:00 AM
P: 881
Quote Quote by Choppy View Post
I think there is still a fair amount of debate about this. You might want to pick up a copy of Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, as it goes into a fair amount of detail on this topic.
A million times this, I'm about halfway through. If I understand correctly, altruistic behavior is a necessity to explain the continued survival of many species up until now, and is a hereditary trait. "Cheaters" do not significantly perpetuate the whole species, otherwise you'd expect to find most individuals of a species to be ruthlessly selfish which observationally is not the case.

I still am not sure what is meant when it is said that altruism is "hereditary", is it actually a gene or several genes or is it something that is learned through environment/fellow animals? Might've glossed over that.
Pythagorean
#6
Jun6-14, 10:06 AM
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Quote Quote by Sastronaut View Post
I am having a difficult time understanding altruism because when I think through the concept "cheaters" would be adapted to exploit the altruist. Though, do altruists often die for their efforts? Thus, leaving fewer offspring...


Any help would be great thank you pf!
You have a couple things here:

1) cheaters would be adapted to exploit altruists
2) altruists dying for their efforts
3) leaving fewer offspring

3) depends on whether the altruist has produced viable offspring or not yet. Altruism is more of a population thing, like homosexuality. Having some degree of it helps the population as a whole produce viable offspring (gay uncle theory) so the genes will get passed down through generations but will seldom be expressed. For example, you could carry a gene for blues eyes and not express it (have brown eyes). So that should clear up 2), hopefully.

1) Is a matter of competition. There will always be cheaters and there will always be cheat detection methods and they will co-evolve and you will have members of a species that make better victims to cheaters than others. Similarly, male and females compete in species: sometimes something that is better for the reproduction of the species can be worse for a whole gender of the species in terms of both comfort and longevity.
tadchem
#7
Jun6-14, 12:45 PM
P: 70
My thinking is that altruists are generally better company, and have less trouble attracting mates.
Lavabug
#8
Jun6-14, 12:58 PM
P: 881
Quote Quote by tadchem View Post
My thinking is that altruists are generally better company, and have less trouble attracting mates.
This is a human trait (being highly social improving reproductive chances). Doesn't apply to plenty of other animals. Some show altruistic behavior even outside the boundaries of their own kin, mating pool, and even species in some instances.
256bits
#9
Jun6-14, 10:55 PM
P: 1,418
Quote Quote by Sastronaut View Post
I am having a difficult time understanding altruism because when I think through the concept "cheaters" would be adapted to exploit the altruist. Though, do altruists often die for their efforts? Thus, leaving fewer offspring...


Any help would be great thank you pf!
One is not altruistic nor a cheater all of the time, so it cannot be essentially split up into 2 distinct classes of behavior. In fact if an individual is born 100% innately altruistic, the chance of their survival is limited from the day they were born, by giving away ALL of their resources either willingly to another who seems less fortunate or by being slyly convinced that another is less fortunate, and would probably thus not live to reproductive age, their genes would not survive. ( In addition, it is the altruistic behavior of the mother/father that keeps a demanding newborn alive. ) A 100% born cheater - also not likely - they could live to reproductive age, but being 100% a cheater, they would also have to by definition cheat their own offspring out of necessary resources, and the genes would not survive.

That is only assumng that altruistic/cheater is only a gene thing. How many young children have to be asked or told to share with others? Or a kid comes home from school complaining about friend Sally taking all the red Smarties. So some learning is also involved through parental and peer pressure.

Speaking of the value of learning, as an example, if I have some surplus food, and since I like sharing, I may decide to share some surplus with the hungry you. If you decide to rather than wait for my offer, cheat me out of food for me and my family, I may become angry and bop you one on the head, giving you a cognitive appreciation of the implications of bald faced cheating. Since my level of trust in you is now curtailed, you may find that the sharing part of my altruistic behavior has dropped considerably, and as a cheater you will find yourself more hungry than before. So I learn to be less altruistic and you learn to be less cheating.

I think that falls in line with what Pythagorean stated.
Sastronaut
#10
Jun7-14, 07:28 PM
P: 66
Thank you all for your input i greatly appreciate all of your thoughts! But continuing from what Pythagorean and 256bits stated......The issue that i come across is in how Pythagorean answered my question, in that 2) and 3) are together when i read about them in my bio book. It states that "altruist often die for their efforts, leaving fewer offspring". But as lavabug pointed out "'Cheaters' do not significantly perpetuate the whole species, otherwise you'd expect to find most individuals of a species to be ruthlessly selfish which observationally is not the case." So the question remains...but after reading all of your comments i think when 2) and 3) are together it is (in general) a false statement or we would find many selfish individuals among species. agree or disagree? thanks pf!
Czcibor
#11
Jun9-14, 03:19 AM
P: 76
What about being "altruist" means:
-"altruist" to kin and not related members of herd with which actually exchanges favours
-not very good at distinguishing who is who and is doing small favours often as chance of starting cooperation. The gains from cooperation are high enough to justify wasting favours on some untrustworthy individuals. (anyway, when after a while learns that someone cheats then stops being nice)
tadchem
#12
Jun25-14, 11:51 AM
P: 70
Look up "Tit for tat" in Wiki. It is a simple and effective strategem in game theory for balancing cooperation (altruism) with retaliation (being cheated).
pagetheoracle
#13
Jul12-14, 07:24 AM
P: 6
Altruism to me is an adult trait, that comes from (and follows) having got something you desired but now don't because you're curiosity has been assuaged by getting it.

Another point is that while selfishness (greed) might lead you to covet something (male trait), where would the world be without altruism, to put something back into the system (female trait)?


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