Re: Altruism

Dwight W. Read (dread@ANTHRO.UCLA.EDU)
Wed, 31 Jul 1996 12:48:04 -0700

Cook raises an interesting point:

>Granted, but it would still make more sense to have a different name for how it
>gets from a group of kin to the species. Assuming for the sake of argument
>that there is such a thing as altruism among nonhuman animals, would it be so
>selectively strong that all kin groups not having it would die out, leaving
>only groups that have it?

It gets to be tricky. At the kin level, the argument requires that the
individual with the altruistic allele, while giving up fitness, provides
enough relatives with enough extra fitness so that by virtue of their also
having the altruistic allele, the "fitness of the allele" summed across the
altruist and the relatives is positive. I suspect that if you look at the
mathematics in the original argument carefully, you may well find that the
argument gets to be problematic (as Cook suggests) when one goes from the
kin level to the assertion that this will lead to replacement. The weaker
form of the argument would be to assert that a balanced polymorphism arises
between the altruistic and non-altruistic form of the allele.

There are clearly some conceptual problems; e.g., if I and my relatives
share the altruistic allele, we cannot all simultaneously act to increase
each other's relative fitness--or at least it starts to look like exchange
rather than altruism at that point.

D. Read