The Nature of Altruism
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23-10-2011, 06:07 PM (This post was last modified: 23-10-2011 06:16 PM by GirlyMan.)
RE: The Nature of Altruism
(23-10-2011 10:55 AM)Ghost Wrote:  Memes are basically logical algorithms:
IF you see a soldier THEN buy him a drink
IF you see a red light THEN stop
IF you go outside THEN wear a hat
IF you build a table THEN use oak
IF you're hungry THEN make a curry
IF you want information from them THEN waterboard them
IF the Star Spangled Banner plays THEN stand THEN remove your cap THEN put hand on heart THEN sing along

Memes allow us to react to given situations in unified ways. That's why they're the basic unit of cultural transmission.

Yeah, but goddam Matt, if we were that fucking simple we'd have been replaced with production systems decades ago. That ain't me, if anything I'm the try{} .... catch{} exception handler. Wink

As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
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23-10-2011, 08:50 PM
RE: The Nature of Altruism
Hey, GirlyMan.

Lol. Does not compute <head explodes>.

I'm not even going to pretend that I can comment on any of that stuff. In my defence, I did say basically Smile Clearly you know a hell of a lot more about computations and algorithms and that kind of thing than me. You're absolutely right to say that it's more complicated. What I said is akin to, there's a gene for blue eyes. It's WAY more complicated than that, but the basic idea is right.

Hey, BnW.

You misread/read into a lot of what I said.

I never called you a meme fountain. I said that you received that meme FROM a meme fountain. Read the original Blackmore for more on meme fountains. If you'd like me to explain more, that's cool too.

You are simplifying who gets the benefit. As I said earlier, there are FOUR beneficiaries, not just one; not just you.

Genes are selfish (see The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins). They don't give a fuck about us beyond how well we protect them (carefully noting that genes are simply information and have no actual wants). We are simply their survival machines. Kin selection, the earliest form of human altruism, was not driven by the person, the I, the me, the survival machine, it was driven by the gene's selfish desire to propagate itself. So when one asks, "who benefits," the answer is, “the gene.”

Blackmore then goes from kin selection, to reciprocal altruism, to Tit-for-tat to memetics. All of these processes can drive altruism. Memetics explains your altruism that day.

Memes too use us as a survival machine. They don't care about us beyond our ability protect and to transmit them. I said before that YOU weren't being selfish, ie, you the survival machine, but that the MEME was. THROUGH YOUR ACTION, the expression of that meme, YOU, the survival machine, facilitated that meme's transmission to two individuals: the bartender and the soldier. Mission accomplished. Rewind to the stuff about the meme fountain to explain how you got that meme in the first place.

You didn't have to tell me what your reason was. I told you what your reason was. A meme.

Neat eh?

The important thing to note when dealing with memes is that they “make us” do things. If you’ve ever screamed out, “Let’s play ball,” you know what it’s like to be controlled by a meme. I can guarantee that you didn’t invent that little piece of behaviour, but you and a few hundred million other people have said it (maybe, “objection, your honour,” is a better example in your case). Now I want to steer clear of hard core ‘do we have free will’ arguments because frankly, I don’t think that the science of memetics, still in its infancy, has adequately answered that question. The point is, memes “make us” act in unified ways.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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23-10-2011, 09:47 PM
RE: The Nature of Altruism
(23-10-2011 08:50 PM)Ghost Wrote:  You didn't have to tell me what your reason was. I told you what your reason was. A meme.

Uh-oh! Ghost is preaching gospel now! Big Grin

I agree with this kind of "gospel," because it makes sense. "Free will" is a concept that doesn't make any sense to me. Free the will from what? The concept of "free" is codependent to the concept of "limit, or bound." Will doesn't need that kind of adjective. Your will is your own.

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23-10-2011, 10:13 PM
RE: The Nature of Altruism
(23-10-2011 09:47 PM)houseofcantor Wrote:  I agree with this kind of "gospel," because it makes sense. "Free will" is a concept that doesn't make any sense to me. Free the will from what? The concept of "free" is codependent to the concept of "limit, or bound." Will doesn't need that kind of adjective. Your will is your own.

Der Mensch kann was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will.
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24-10-2011, 08:23 AM
RE: The Nature of Altruism
Ghost

I read that quickly and I did misunderstand. Ok, I'm drinking from the Meme Fountain. I'm good with that.

As for your opening premise, I think picking on religious folks why they give without looking at other reasons for giving is shortsighted. For example, in the US they have capped some of the deductions you can take for charitable contributions and charitable contributions have gone down (although that could easily be due to the economy as well). People give for a lot of reasons. Religion may get you to be more generous then you would otherwise be because of fear but I don't see that as being any different than giving for the tax write-off.

So, basically, I agree with your opening premise. I was just curious to explore it more. But, I do agree. Mark the time and the date. ;-)

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24-10-2011, 11:28 AM
RE: The Nature of Altruism
Altruism on the individual level may be selfish in part, but it is an unselfish act in nature when viewed at the population level over long periods of time. It does not matter who is receiving or giving a benefit because at the population level over a given length of time (let's say a generation) the act of giving and receiving is beneficial to the entire population. It is also important to note that giving does not always guarantee a returned favor, it simply increases the possibility for one. And although altruism applies to the entire population, it is often only exhibited between individuals of the same family or brood. It is beneficial to the whole population because it strengthens the group as a whole, increasing the group's chances at survival. If the giver was purely selfish then it would not give anything away that would decrease its chances of survival.

Also, anthropomorphizing terms like genes or memes is something you should avoid. Saying that a gene or a meme "does" anything is erroneous. It is easier to say that a gene wants to propagate itself in the population but that is NOT what is actually happening. The individual who carries that gene wants to mate and pass its genetic information on, but the gene itself has no control over this decision. Even the individual itself does not make the conscious decision to mate because it wants to pass on its genes. Organisms mate because it is a natural process for them. Only humans can see what is happening beyond the level of the individual. When you talk about genes don't talk about them "doing" anything or making any decision. They don't.

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24-10-2011, 11:51 AM (This post was last modified: 24-10-2011 11:58 AM by Peterkin.)
RE: The Nature of Altruism
Um... Ghost?
I was unnecessarily snippy back there, and have been wondering why.
Three aspects of this subject bother me.

One is the usual: tainted concepts - that is, words and ideas that have become so coloured by centuries of the unquestioned religious evaluation that it's exceedingly difficult to talk or think about them - and maybe even to study them in a laboratory - without that bias. Like selfishness = bad; altruism = good. Put them together, and it's an oxymoron; it appears to be contradictory behaviour. If we could look at each trait and its real life applications, they would make more sense.

Second, they only make sense in the context of human social interaction. Not in isolation, not in a mechanistic test; not in a model devised to produce objectively measurable, reliably reproducible, graph-compliant results.
ETA - TheBeardedDude beat me to this part and explained it better. Thanks... and drat!

Third, the OP and its published antecedents seem to deal only with positive, accrued benefits, not negative-cancelling benefits, like guilt, shame, regret, obligation, gratitude, reparation, atonement - in other words, the restoration of damaged social balance.
Nor, for that matter with peace love and empathy.
I find that too limiting, don't you?

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24-10-2011, 04:33 PM
RE: The Nature of Altruism
Hey, BD.

Ok. I'm about to rebut pretty much everything you just said. Please don't construe it as a personal attack.

Quote:Altruism on the individual level may be selfish in part, but it is an unselfish act in nature when viewed at the population level over long periods of time. It does not matter who is receiving or giving a benefit because at the population level over a given length of time (let's say a generation) the act of giving and receiving is beneficial to the entire population... It is beneficial to the whole population because it strengthens the group as a whole, increasing the group's chances at survival.

The idea of group selection was popular among behaviourists at one point, but it has long since been debunked.

Selection does not occur at the level of the population, it only occurs at the level of the individual; however, I cannot say that there is zero controversy on the matter, but I can say that there is very little controversy.

I concur that altruism benefits the population, but that is an effect rather than a cause. The cause is selfishness. The effect is social benefit, but only because a healthy whole helps the individual.

Wikipedia had a great quote from Jerry Coyne:
Quote:Group selection isn’t widely accepted by evolutionists for several reasons. First, it’s not an efficient way to select for traits, like altruistic behavior, that are supposed to be detrimental to the individual but good for the group. Groups divide to form other groups much less often than organisms reproduce to form other organisms, so group selection for altruism would be unlikely to override the tendency of each group to quickly lose its altruists through natural selection favoring cheaters. Further, we simply have little evidence that selection on groups has promoted the evolution of any trait. Finally, other, more plausible evolutionary forces, like direct selection on individuals for reciprocal support, could have made us prosocial. These reasons explain why only a few biologists, like Wilson and E. O. Wilson (no relation), advocate group selection as the evolutionary source of cooperation.
-Jerry Coyne

While the debunking of group selection and the rise of the gene-centred view began before 1976, Richard Dawkins' book, The Selfish Gene, pretty much sealed the deal.

Quote:It is also important to note that giving does not always guarantee a returned favor, it simply increases the possibility for one.

The idea of ‘favours given for favours returned’ is the basis of reciprocal altruism; a theory with a great deal of scientific backing. Blackmore suggests that refusal to return a favour is heavily regulated by our emotional responses to defectors and to unfairness (it even influences the justice system) and that the Tit-for-tat strategy "will spread in a population and come to dominate it". Even among vampire bats, the ability to keep track of who owes what and the predilection to punish offenders are strong. So while it's true that it doesn't guarantee the return of a favour, the system is based on it, cannot function without it and it is supported by very strong mechanisms that keep defections to a minimum.

Quote:And although altruism applies to the entire population, it is often only exhibited between individuals of the same family or brood.

This is what Hamilton refers to as kin selection.

Quote:If the giver was purely selfish then it would not give anything away that would decrease its chances of survival.

For a long time, the argument against altruism was that an organism that gave energy to another organism with no return was evolutionary suicide because that sort of behaviour does decrease their chance of survival. Altruism made no sense from an evolutionary perspective. The gene-centred theory shows us that they are not giving energy for nothing. Being altruistic creates an environment that increases the odds that the replicator will survive and be transmitted. This is why it is said that altruism is in fact selfish; however, and this is a big however, selfishness should not be conflated with hogging. Regardless of any motivational theory one might champion, altruism itself remains the giving to others at cost to the self.

Quote:The individual who carries that gene wants to mate and pass its genetic information on, but the gene itself has no control over this decision.

Not so. Genes have probabilistic influence on behaviour.

Quote:Organisms mate because it is a natural process for them.

This statement is the equivalent of ‘organisms mate because they mate’. The question is, why do they mate? What drives that behaviour? With overwhelming support from the scientific community, it's our genes.

Quote:When you talk about genes don't talk about them "doing" anything or making any decision. They don't.

This is true. That's why I carefully pointed out that distinction before. No one would disagree with you. At the beginning of the excerpt in the first post, Blackmore says specifically that it is a shorthand. That being said, replicators reproduce selfishly. (On this particular subject I admit that I may have misconstrued what your meaning was. If I have, please accept my apology and please point me in the right direction.)



Hey, Peterkin.

Quote:Like selfishness = bad; altruism = good. Put them together, and it's an oxymoron; it appears to be contradictory behaviour. If we could look at each trait and its real life applications, they would make more sense.

Is this an issue for you because you disagree with that dichotomy? If so, I agree. The two are a complex. Selfishness drives altruism.

Quote:Second, they only make sense in the context of human social interaction. Not in isolation, not in a mechanistic test; not in a model devised to produce objectively measurable, reliably reproducible, graph-compliant results.

Come again? I don't know what you mean by "they" so I couldn't follow your argument. Hook me up?

Quote:Third, the OP and its published antecedents seem to deal only with positive, accrued benefits, not negative-cancelling benefits, like guilt, shame, regret, obligation, gratitude, reparation, atonement - in other words, the restoration of damaged social balance.

Dang. Long day. You lost me on this one too.

My gut is telling me that those emotions are felt on the part of the receiver of altruism and are part of the mechanism that guide/impel us to pay people back, but I don't know if I keyed into your argument.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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24-10-2011, 04:43 PM (This post was last modified: 24-10-2011 04:55 PM by houseofcantor.)
RE: The Nature of Altruism
(23-10-2011 10:13 PM)defacto7 Wrote:  Der Mensch kann was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will.
Max Planck

Man can do what he will but he cannot will what he wills.

I do not disagree with Planck when I say I am an atheist of two wills. One is the 4 lines of code running my life (i love my Gwynnies), one is the coextant (i love); that's happened maybe a coupla times in my life. But I tell you what! Life ain't what people think it is. Big Grin

I'm one step below Socrates. The only thing I know is that I love my Gwynnies. Wink
(24-10-2011 11:28 AM)TheBeardedDude Wrote:  lso, anthropomorphizing terms like genes or memes is something you should avoid. Saying that a gene or a meme "does" anything is erroneous. It is easier to say that a gene wants to propagate itself in the population but that is NOT what is actually happening. The individual who carries that gene wants to mate and pass its genetic information on, but the gene itself has no control over this decision. Even the individual itself does not make the conscious decision to mate because it wants to pass on its genes. Organisms mate because it is a natural process for them. Only humans can see what is happening beyond the level of the individual. When you talk about genes don't talk about them "doing" anything or making any decision. They don't.

I've seen Dawkins criticize himself for the same behavior. As a scientist, the practice of rigor and integrity are fundamental to the identity. Are we scientists? I'm sure there might be some around here. I am an amateur, fringe scientist - I don't have accreditation beyond the experience of using the scientific method to produce good science.

As a non-professional, I have a dual mindset, of sorts. Which is why I find no sin in anthropomorphizing abstract concept in a non-professional environment. It is the power of science to explain reality that an atheist respects, no?

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24-10-2011, 09:09 PM (This post was last modified: 25-10-2011 09:04 AM by Peterkin.)
RE: The Nature of Altruism
Quote:Like selfishness = bad; altruism = good. Put them together, and it's an oxymoron; it appears to be contradictory behaviour. If we could look at each trait and its real life applications, they would make more sense.

Ghost: Is this an issue for you because you disagree with that dichotomy? If so, I agree. The two are a complex. Selfishness drives altruism.

Selfishness drives everything. Why focus on altruism in particular, unless for the irony of general perception that selfishness is bad and altruism is good? The slightly mean satisfaction of clobbering the warm-and-fuzzies we get from good deeds.

Yes, i do disagree both with the valuation of traits and with their polar pairing- as though there were only these two extreme choices in an either/or situation. In real life, these are merely two of many, many behaviours, one or more of which are in play all the time, in various combinations, intensities and degrees.
Not only are these impulses not opposites; they reinforce each other and cause each other and cancel each other and prompt one or both in other people, and interact with an uncounted number of unspecified emotions and impulses in any given situation.

Quote:Second, they only make sense in the context of human social interaction. Not in isolation, not in a mechanistic test; not in a model devised to produce objectively measurable, reliably reproducible, graph-compliant results.

Ghost: Come again? I don't know what you mean by "they" so I couldn't follow your argument. Hook me up?

Referring back to the previous paragraph, "they" are the traits under discussion: selfishness and altruism. When studying a particular behaviour in a laboratory model, it is seen in isolation from the normal daily activities, interactions, history and structure of a community. The studies are necessarily conducted in vitro: divorced from real social dynamics. One can test theories in this fragmentary way, but i don't think it's an accurate representation of what actually happens between people.
This is what Arthur Koestler called the ratomorphizing of people. (He didn't care for behaviourists, any more than i do.) I'll go one step further and call it the robotomorphizing of both people and rats. The meme idea is convenient for explaining cultural mechanisms, but it's a bad - inaccurate, unfair, incomplete, misleading - way to describe the behaviour of individuals. We may react blindly to memes - but we also think and are not entirely at their mercy.

Quote:Third, the OP and its published antecedents seem to deal only with positive, accrued benefits, not negative-cancelling benefits, like guilt, shame, regret, obligation, gratitude, reparation, atonement - in other words, the restoration of damaged social balance.

Ghost: My gut is telling me that those emotions are felt on the part of the receiver of altruism and are part of the mechanism that guide/impel us to pay people back, but I don't know if I keyed into your argument.

No, i mean these are some more of the emotions/ mental states that motivate altruistic acts. In such cases, the benefit to the giver is not a positive gain, but the diminution of a negative standing in the community, or in his own mind. Somebody with a bad reputation, or a load of guilt for past misbehaviour, might want to make amends, either to the person(s) they've wronged or to the society at large, or even to the world. Much like being sentenced to 40 hours of community service, assigned penance by a priest, going through AA's 12 steps, being fined $20 M for a careless chemical spill - similarly, one may undertake a beneficial projects voluntarily, often anonymously, in order to "pay off" what one considers a moral debt - even if he were never caught, even if the transgression was legal and actually rewarded by society.
We are selfish, yes - but we are also aware.

(Edited with more time in hand.)

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