genes for altruism

what if there aren’t any genes for altruism.

what if the default setting is just: be un-altruistic to “not self” (i.e. what if there are just genes to be un-altruistic).

we already have inbuilt systems to repel what’s foreign — immune system, physical barriers like the walls of cells, etc.

what if altruism is just behaving towards individuals that register as “like self” (’cause they share genes with “self”) kinda as if they were “self,” as opposed to treating them as foreign, the default setting for behaving towards others (here in my scenario).

so, there wouldn’t have to have been any evolution for altruism genes; altruism would just be normal behavior towards self/”like self” — the flip-side of un-altruism (or whatever you want to call it).

it’s kind-of an easier scenario, don’t you think? no need to evolve special altruism genes.

hamilton’s rule would still apply, tho, ’cause we’d all still be interested in how related we were to other individuals.

(yes, there is also reciprocal altruism, too.)

(note: comments do not require an email. and maybe not even any special “genes for commenting.” [you know you have them!])

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6 Comments

  1. “it’s kind-of an easier scenario, don’t you think? no need to evolve special altruism genes”

    Well the thing is empathy definitely exists and definitely exists as distress at distress. One of the reasons for extreme acts of bravery – even towards non-kin – is a person with a great deal of empathy feels such extreme distress at someone wounded in no man’s land or in a burning building they *have* to help them. The distress outweighs the fear and they really have no choice in the matter. It’s like an extreme form of the kind of discomfort caused by a nictotine craving.

    Now for non-kin the above behavior may not make much sense but i think that’s easily explained if empathy exists on a bell curve like IQ where the center of the curve is fixed at the most adaptive level of empathy and the bulk of the population group are concentrated near that center but there are also trailing edges where smaller numbers either have an excessive amount or very little.

    However that doesn’t mean there isn’t a simpler mechanism as well that maybe came first.

    If you look at it on the basis of traits evolving to meet needs then the greatest need for altruism in mammals is mother-child. If the default mode of bahavior was FEK but a simple self vs non-self test, based on scent maybe, could flick a switch to change that default behavior for a mother with cubs then that would be simpler than empathy and would only apply to her own cubs.

    However say you move on to a creature where the young take sixteen years to mature and not six months. That’s a lot of continuous care-giving. Traits that added to the self-test mechanism might be adaptive if the mothers with those traits treated their off-spring not just as if they were the same as themselves but as if they were *more* than themselves i.e. the mothers act more *selflessly*. If a mother developed a trait that released a chemical that caused a small amount of distress at distress then when their infant was distressed they would react *more* than the mothers without the trait. If minor selflessness was adaptive for mothers then it would spread.

    In fact thinking about it it might work better if there was an already existing mechanism because if the new trait only acted *on top of* the existing mechanism it wouldn’t be enough to make the mother worry too much about over mother’s kids. Say an individual’s concern dial for themselves was 10 by default and their default concern for everyone else was 0. If the self-test mechanism turned the mother’s concern dial to 10 with regard to her kids then adding an extra 1 from empathy means her dial go all the way to 11 for her kids while only increasing her concern for non-kin kids from 0 to 1. So altruism might be more adaptive if there were two component parts – the primal self-test part with some empathy icing on the top.

    The key would be a context where selflessness was more adaptive than treating others the same as self.

    Of course if empathy developed initially simply as a booster rocket for the mother-child relationship that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have lots of side-effects in other ways as it spread among the population.

    Thinking aloud.

    Reply

  2. @g.w. – “So altruism might be more adaptive if there were two component parts – the primal self-test part with some empathy icing on the top.”

    that’s good. i like that!

    i’m gonna have to go do some thinking on all your “thinking aloud.” time to ruminate…. (^_^)

    Reply

  3. The neurotransmitter serotonin appears to alter moral judgment, making people less willing to offend others, while oxytocin increases sociability and trusting—within the group. According to one study, oxytocin makes people more likely to sacrifice for their in-group and oppose those in the out-group. The genes known as DRD4, IGF2, and DRD5 have been associated with altruism and selflessness. As one of the contributors notes, “It seems safe to conclude, then, that traits behind costly altruistic behaviors are under a substantial biological influence that manifests itself through a variety of neurohormonal pathways and mechanisms that have only just begun to be understood.” http://www.amren.com/features/2012/07/pathological-altruism/

    Reply

  4. BNK
    “that traits behind costly altruistic behaviors are under a substantial biological influence that manifests itself through a variety of neurohormonal pathways and mechanisms”

    Yes. I’ve done that sort of thing many times and there’s very little choice involved. There’s the level of compulsion to “do something” and the level of fear and that’s about it.

    I think attempts to explain the evolution of this kind of thing using game theory would be a lot easier if they included traits that cause compulsion as compulsion doesn’t need any cognitive process, just probability i.e. is the average level of altruistic compulsion felt within a population adaptive on average or not.

    Reply

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