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This seemed to disappear en route, but it may well now turn up twice...
Grant Callaghan wrote:
> .. No
>> examples of altruism exist in biology.
> Chris, have you read The Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley? He gives a
> good discussion of the subject. I'm wondering, though, how you define
> altruism. I saw a story in the paper yesterday about a lion in Africa
> that adopted and nurtured a (I think) gazell, protecting it from other
> preditors. They had a nice relationship until anoter lion came along
> while the protector was absent and ate it. I, myself, have seen a dog
> adopt a cat and nurse it when its mother died. If you define altruism
> as giving without receiving anything in return, that's hard to prove.
> The giver must get some satisfaction or the behavior wouldn't exist.
> But the world is full of examples of giving with no obvious reward.
> Just look at all the totally useless animals humans adopt and devote
> time and money to caring for. What's their motivtion?
I think to uncover the motivation for pets you have to examine how
people feel, and what they miss, when their pet dies. People like their
pets to like them unequivocally (dog always happy to see you), or they
are amused by their behaviour (one of my cats plays a good game of
fetch, parrots parrot and so on), or they just love them cos they're
'cute' (very heavily culturally dependent partially subconscious learned
stuff) or interesting etc etc. It's about the human's needs though. The
cross-species 'altruism' such as you mention does occur but is usually
just a misdirected parental response (learned or otherwise) - cuckoos
make a living this way.
I haven't read Matt Ridley (although I've heard him on the radio a
couple of times, and he talks a lot of rubbish about human behaviour
along with the rest of his evo-psych fellow travellers like Pinker and
Cronin) but I would restate that I've yet to see an unequivocal example
of pure altruism (nothing in return) in humans or anywhere else; almost
always the 'altruism' is just reciprocal altruism with stranger
exclusion, or cultural conditioning to feel good about doing stuff (the
kind of Big Brotherish thing where God will reward you, or something
similar but less well defined to do with our self image compared to
Chris Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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