Re: "Cross-specifically" - with an example added

Lawrence S. Sugiyama (6500sug@UCSBUXA.UCSB.EDU)
Sat, 27 Jul 1996 15:43:57 -0700

On Thu, 25 Jul 1996, Jesse S. Cook III wrote:

> On 24 July 1996, Lawrence S. Sugiyama wrote:
> >The standard biological definition of altruism is when one organism
> >provides fitness benefits to another at some fitness cost to itself.
> Therein resides the problem: we take a concept originally conceived to
> describe human behavior and, by anology, apply it to the behavior of other
> creatures. Anthropomorphism almost inevitably follows, leading to false
> conclusions.

Many people say "apparent altruism" or some such for behaviors that, in
absence of kin selection or clear reciprocal altruism, appear

> >The most puzzling case was that of social insects where reproduction is
> >forgone by most individuals who invested their energies into the queen's
> >reproduction and provisioning of her offspring. The question is, how could
> >adaptations evolve that lead to such behavior? No satisfactory solutions
> >to the problem of altruism were provided till kin selection and reciprocal
> >altruism theory.
> Unfortunately, the solution is not satisfactory to all, as the literature
> amply demonstrates. Some would say that "reciprical altruism" is an oxymoron.
Quite right, and, if I remember correctly said evidence on social insects
was around at the time kin selection theory was first put forth. Sorry
about the unclear antecedent. I didn't mean there that the social insect
prob. was adequately solved, just that the two theories could account for
the some of the apparently altruistic behavior seen that couldn't
previously be accounted for.

> >Now, previous posts have also confounded levels of explanation when
> >addressing the topic of altruism in humans. Specifically someone stated
> >that although other animals can display altruistic behavior, they aren't
> >really altruistic, ie, selfless--that is only in humans. That would mean
> >"altruism" as that post took it only occurs when the individual exhibiting
> >the behavior does it as a conscious act of do-gooding.
> The problem is not confounding "levels" of explanation; the problem is
> confounding concepts. And the act is not necessarily conscious; it might be
> automatic, based on enculturation.
> >But that is a question about the design of the mental adaptation that
> >motivates the behavior, not one of the ultimate causation.
> Ah. Another problem. Is the motivation not the cause of the behavior?
Precisely the point. The motivation is at one level a cause of the
behavior. But the motivation is a product of the evolved design of the
brain picking up on specific environmental cues that trigger the
motivational system leading to the behavior. Another level of
explanation, which must be specified for any given adaptation, is found in
the set of selection pressures that caused the evolution of the
adaptation in question and, there is the history of events that bring the
organisms to the circumstances they find themselves as another causal
question that must be addressed.

> >In any event it is likely that the assertion is wrong.
> I'm glad you said "it is likely".
> >One presumes that a bear protecting her cubs is not thinking, "well, this
> >cub represents a lot of investment, it carries half my genes, my fitness is
> >furthered by ensuring it's survival, so I'll protect it from this mountain
> >lion". Those calculations are built into the adaptation but her mental
> >experience is more likely to be something like, "large predator, cub in
> >danger, I defend" much as would be the mental experience of a human mother
> >in the same situation.
> I would not consider the maternal instinct to protect offspring as
> altruistic behavior, even in humans; it is clearly adaptive. Altruistic
> behavior, on the other hand, is not *clearly* adaptive, in spite of
> kin-selection and group-selection theories, which strike some as being *ad hoc*.
You're right that maternal solicitude is not considered altruistic, but
not for the reason you state.
Again sorry, here for not being clear. The example is not one of altruism
as usually defined per se. Aid to offspring is not considered altruism
because it can be
understood in terms of simple fitness. The use of the example was
simply to illustrate the difficulty of using conscious motivation as a
criterion in the classification of behaviors. Whether something is
conscious or not is likely to be a design feature of the specific
adaptation, and conceptually like behaviors can occur in dif. species
through different adaptations.
Nothing is clearly adaptive, including maternal solicitude, in
absence of an account of why that is so given the specifics of the
species in question, the behavior elicited, and the outcomes it
produces, as well as a theory as to how such behavior could evolve.
Maternal solicitude was apparently not of
sufficient benefit in
sea horses, salmon, sunflowers etc. to select for such adaptations.
Prior to kin selection theory, aid at the expense to oneself to
individuals who were not lineal descendants was problematic and it was
not apparent that such behavior could be clearly adaptive. So, this too
is a poor criterion upon which to conceptualize behavior. (of course
the question of why we normally have conscious access to some processes and
not others is an interesting one).
To end this for myself about where I came in, I just wanted to
point out that there is a biological def. of altruism that it would
behoove one to know in order to clarify the concepts at issue.
Substitutine "apparent" altruism is one way of clarifying the
notion. Presence or absence of a conscious self-justification of
why one engages in a
behavior is likely to be a design feature of a given adaptation but is
not highly relevant to whether the organism is "really" engaged in some
kind of behavior or not. Are we not "really" breathing when we aren't
aware of it?
> Jesse S. Cook III E-Mail:
> Post Office Box 40984 or
> Charleston, SC 29485 USA
> "Our attitude toward others is not determined by who *they* are;
> it is determined by who *we* are."