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

Jesse S. Cook III (jcook@AWOD.COM)
Thu, 25 Jul 1996 10:13:52 -0400

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

>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.

>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?

>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*.

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."