Re: Altruism

Tibor Benke (benke@SFU.CA)
Mon, 12 Aug 1996 08:02:58 -0700

At 9:16 p.m. 9/8/96 Robert Snower wrote:

>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?

I think Robert is on to something. But I suspect if he follows it up, the
number of metaphors possible will give rise , (so to speak) to emergence,

Tibor Benke
Graduate Student (Master's Programme)
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby,B.C. Canada