Re: Altruism

Robert Snower (rs222@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Thu, 8 Aug 1996 21:16:34 +0000

At 11:36 AM 8/8/96 +0000, Dwight W. Read wrote:
>Snower writes:
>>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.
>I don't disagree with your scepticism; however, one still has to account for
>how behavior X can occur. If altruism is a truly emergent property, then
>the allelic argument is no longer relevant. If not, then it suggests a
>biological component, hence an allele or set of alleles that provide the
>biological basis for the behavior.

We can't say it is a "truly emergent property," can we, because that would
do in all of sociobiology. I am saying the "allelic" basis is not as
"general" is to "specific."
An allele for brown eyes is just that, very specific. There is no allele
for "colored eyes" in the abstract, of which brown eyes are an instance. I
am saying the phenotype is not related to the genotype as the instance of a

I am not saying there is no problem here. It seems to me biology, in this
area, is full of unsolved mysteries. When it comes to the gap between
genotype and phenotype, or embryiological growth, or the gap between
ontogenetic recapitulation and the phylogenetic, biology theory, as far as I
know, has literally nothing to say. Biology knows nothing except
replication. Whether it is replication of DNA, or RNA, or peptides, or
whatever, how can difference be expained with replication? The only growth
replication can explain is undifferentiated multiplication of the same
things, e.g., more of the same cells. Am I wrong?

I think we need a new "logic" here. The move from the general to specific
(deductive) or vice-versa (inductive) does not seem to apply. McCreery
mentioned something recently which I think has a great deal of relevance
here, when he talked about Frazer's picking up on Locke, Berkeley, and
Hume's "invention" of the association of ideas, an association they based on
similarity and contiguity. William James improved on the concept a great
deal in his PSYCHOLOGY. (He reduced the similarity to contiguity, and did
so by making the "idea" divisible into its poperties.) But Freud was the
one who really went to town on this concept. His "etiology" of symptoms was
this kind of an analogic train of ideas, always stemming from some
primordial or prototype idea, which was not a logical generality of which
the symptoms were instances, but a very very specific original of which the
symptoms were metaphors. Then, in literature, James Joyce went about as far
as you can go with the same idea in ULYSSES, ending up with something the
reader needs a code book to understand.

There can be a gene X for a very specific behavior. Say a specific instance
of parental protective behavior toward the infant. We were talking about
the gorilla who helped along the old gorilla, altruistically. Let us assume
such phenotypical acts have been selected as advantageous, against their
alternatives. What does this mean? Let there be two alternative alleles:
Y1 and Y2. Y1 activates X. Y2 suppresses X. A simple binary choice. But
Y1 has been SELECTED, to the detriment of Y2. At the sight of the old
gorilla by the helper. So the helper gorilla, on seeing the old gorilla,
sizes up the situation in terms of a specific infantile situation. His
behavior is a "construction" of that original infantile situation, a
metaphor of it, just as the child's pretending the chair was a bear is the
"construction" he put on his original experience with the bear. If Freud
got to the gorilla, he could tell him the prototypical infantile source of
his behavior. And the gorilla would have to pay his bill.

Way out?

Best wishes. R. Snower