Re: Altruism

Robert Snower (rs222@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Fri, 2 Aug 1996 03:29:28 +0000

At 10:23 PM 8/1/96 +0000, Dwight W. Read wrote:
>Cook replies:
>>Has anyone actually identified an allele for altruism in the human genome?
>Two issues are raised: (1) is it reasonable to talk about an "altruism
>allele" at all and (2) in general, has anyone found an allele that links to
>a specific behavior? I don't know the answer to the latter--in some sense
>the answer would be yes if one includes behaviors that are associated with
>genetic disorders. But I think it may be more useful to realize that
>alleles code for proteins and the way in which proteins are eventually
>implicted in behaviors is obsviously not a simple one and, in most cases,
>very indirect. E.g., the protein may be an enzyme which catalyzes a
>chemical reacting which lead then does ..... and so on until finally one
>gets to the brain and what it is doing that eventually leads to person X
>doing Y, which we then observe.
>D. Read

Surely it is even more unlikely that there is an allele for "altruism" in
the abstract, than even there is of an allele for being an "anthropologist"
in the abstract. The best one might expect is an allele for a specific
pattern of behavior which is an instance of "altruism." The allele for
maternal behavior found in mice we were talking about is apparently an
example of an allele pretty closely linked to a specific pattern of
behavior. Aren't there many examples of even more specific links? It seems
to me it would be harder to find an allele correlated to a very abstract
trait (such as altruism) than to find one correlated to a very specific
behavior, rather than the reverse. It might be the easiest to find an
allele for a very specific emotion, such as anger, and then the claim might
be made that the gene for "aggression" had been found.

Best wishes. R. Snower