Re: altruism

Robert Snower (rs222@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Thu, 15 Aug 1996 04:32:58 +0000

"David L. Carlson" <dcarlson@TAMU.EDU> wrote:

Neo-Darwinists do not require that any of these methods of selection
be limited to the genome, but they would argue that any are
theoretically possible at the genome level. In other words, it makes
little real difference whether a "reciprocal altruism" allele exists
or human mental capabilities have evolved in such a way as to
make it more likely that the wisdom of reciprocal altruism is
I must disagree here. To be "theoretically possible" is not quite enough.
If there is no allele involved, in some way, at some time, then sociobiology
collapses as a serious science. Just because altruism is good for the
survival of a society (which is completely obvious) will not save it. For
example, suppose a specific technology is "good" for society, good in the
sense of contributing to the success and survival of that society. No doubt
"human mental capabilities have evolved in such a way as to make" the
technology possible. But the technology is not genetically based, and
cannot said to have been selected. Likewise, if altruism is ONLY a mental
construct, not genetically connected, but good for society, it cannot have
been selected.

In which case, sociobiology becomes irrelevant. Other, unrelated sciences
apply. Of course, one could hold that the above is true for humans, but the
genetic argument is true for insects. Then sociobiology would have
relevance for insects, and none for humans. We would have to take the
"socio" out of sociobiology when it comes to humans, but we could still
leave it in for insects.

But I want to repeat what I said in a previous post, that I do not think the
genetic connection to altruism is obvious, and does not consist of an
"altruistic gene," in the abstract. Altruism arose as a (sucessful!)
cultural defeat of the genetic, and herein lies it connection to the
genetic. Both in regard to reproduction and kinship. (In insects, there is a
genetic defeat of the genetic: fertility is curbed genetically!)

Best wishes R. Snower