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Altruism of a Species

  1. Aug 24, 2012 #1
    True Altruism is a waste strategy for life. I know there are numerous examples of individual cases of altruistic behavior but I don't know if there are documented species that show true altruism. If there are any, can you please post them here as well as the studies behind the conclusions?

    I cannot think of any and am wondering if there is an anomaly species out there.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 24, 2012 #2
    Please explain the difference between "true altruism" and individuals showing "altruistic behaviour".
  4. Aug 24, 2012 #3
    True altruism is a net negative of energy consumption of the giver to benefit a receiver that has no ways of increasing the fitness of the givers life or genetic future. I am wondering if true altruism is even possible at a species level.

    We have heard stories of individuals in a species that seem to be altruistic such as pig mom raising a stray kitten.
  5. Aug 24, 2012 #4
    In terms of gene selection, this makes sense.
    Natural selection can take place on the level of an individual body or a gene. I suggest that gene selection may be the key here. I suggest that this is an example of the "green beard mechanism" working on a genetic level.
    The pig and the kitten share genes. Some of the genes make babies who are shaped a certain way. The have big heads, round eyes, and other features common to all juvenile chordates. In mammals, there are also genes for the maternal instinct. The mothers love other organisms with big heads, round eyes, and other features common to all juvenile chordates.
    The genes for big heads, round eyes and other juvenile features are favored when the mother takes care of children of whatever species of chordate. Furthermore, juveniles with these features most probably have the genes for maternal instinct, since the two basically evolve together. So these genes are favors when the mother takes care of the children of whatever species of chordate.
    Human beings decide on species mostly based on the appearance of the adult. However, genes don't know what a species is. Each gene effectively "favors" copies of itself in other individuals, regardless of what species the individual is in. Many of these genes originated in the common ancestor of these animals.
    The genes that control the adult appearance are not necessarily favored by the maternal instinct. The genes for square dry nose are not favored when the pig takes care of the kitten. However, these genes probably came into existence much later than the genes that control juvenile appearance.
    Dawkins in one of his books called such a theory the "green beard hypothesis". The appearance of a baby chordate can be thought of as like a green beard. The genes for the maternal instinct may be like attraction toward men with green beards. So the instincts for green beards and attraction toward green beards have a type of synergy. They favor each other in the competition for fitness of genes. They may even statistically work against other genes in the body, such as a gene for brown beards. However, the competition is between genes not species.
    I deliver the standard moral caveat. Explanations of natural selection can never be rationalizations for ethical standards. Explanations of natural selection, even when correct scientifically, are merely a type of pattern recognition for diversity. A pattern in itself can never be an ethical standard.
    However ethics originated, they now have their own existence independent of natural selection. Therefore, one deviates from ethics at ones own risk.
    It doesn't really matter, on an aesthetic or ethical level, why the pig mother takes care of the kitten. Discussions of whether the pig mother is being "cheated" are meaningless. And anyway, maybe it is genetically favorable for the pig mother to take care of kittens. Maybe the farmer who owns her is less likely to use her for pork, once he sees her take care of a kitten. So in the long run, "species altruism" may work to her genetic advantage!

    The "green beard effect" is described in:
    "The Extended Phenotype" by Richard Dawkins (Oxford, 1982) pp 143-155.
    Page 144: "Note, by the way, the ineptness of notions of individual fitness, or even inclusive fitness as ordinarily understood, at dealing with situations like this. The normal calculation of inclusive fitness makes use of a coefficient of relationship which is some measure of the probability that a pair of relatives will share a particular gene, identical by descent. This is a good approximation provided the genes concerned have no better way of 'recognizing' copies of themselves in other individuals."
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2012
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