The Evolution of Altruism

Discussion of everything related to the Theory of Evolution.

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The Evolution of Altruism

Post by joe777 » Tue Dec 06, 2011 4:34 pm

Hey all,
Long time since I've been here. I've come back looking for a little advice as I recall so much intelligence oozing from you all on my last tarry.
I'm writing a little info-graphic-type-thing as an educational tool for mainstream audiences. In it, I try to explain the evolution of altruism in a way that the average non-science person could understand.
I would be ever grateful if you guys could take a look at the draft (very much a draft - envisage much neater writing and bright little pictures) and shoot me anything at all that you think would make it better including any flaws in reasoning, and also anything about the style/tone of the writing with respect to getting the message across a clear and succinct fashion.



(.png is attatched)
1.39mb... sorry

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Post by joe777 » Fri Dec 09, 2011 7:59 am

Hmm, couldn't work out how to edit my post, so please excuse double post. So many views, so few replies? Is it too messy to read (obviously this isn't the good copy)? Not that good? Fine? Please speak!


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Post by Semisane » Sat Jan 07, 2012 5:22 pm

I read it through very quickly and I do have some questions/comments.

You suggest that natural selection acts on individuals, but that is not really the case. ( If natural selection acts on anything it is on gene's and in fact more so on the gene pool of an group of individuals then on an single individual.

You call it group selection, but that is basically the level on which natural selection works anyways. Of course individuals get selected as in those that die before reproducing vs. those that die after they reproduce. But on the whole it the total gene pool of a group of organisms and it's characteristics get selected.

Well...I guess I understand what you mean, but I don't really see why you would make the distinction between "individual natural selection" and "group selection" since they are both part of natural selection as a whole.

There is another reason why I do not like the distinction. Your text suggest that altruism would not be beneficial to the individual, but I disagree. Especially since altruistic behaviour doesn't necessarily mean the individual has to die, to the contrary even.

In fact I see altruism as a by product of social behaviour...or to put it more boldly I doubt if any social behaviour could have even evolved with out altruism and it might not even have to evolve in small steps as you do suggest.

Sharing substance (food and water) with offspring is the most simple and basic social interaction, and it is also a form a altruism. This is quite a big step from simply releasing the offspring and let them fend for themselves.

This coupled with a sort of family bond and it is easy to see why such a thing as altruism not only evolved but is in my opinion hard-wired in to our DNA. We, humans, are after all social animals. We need to be altruistic to be able to form social bonds.

This all though has it's limits and this is easily seen in society. Most people are willing to help the perfect stranger, even if we don't have a social bond with that stranger. We only need to be able to relate with them on an emotionally level. (also a by product of our social nature as I see it)

However our altruism diminishes fast the bigger the group of strangers. It has been shown that when we see one hungry child, on for example TV, we "use" our altruism a 100% and thus are willing to actually give a unsubstantial amount in aid.

If the same TV ad (or show) shows 2 children our altruism drops by about 25% (probably calculated in the amount of money given) and this drops steadily the bigger the group is.

This shows indicates, at least to me, that altruism, social behaviour and the ability to emotionally connect with other people, whether family or stranger, is closely related.

Altruism does not need to be explained in such an exception and should, in my opinion, be seen as a consequence of social behaviour. Similar social behaviour (and altruistic behaviour) we see in many social animals.

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Post by Darby » Mon Jan 09, 2012 3:10 am

Group selection is a generally-recognized (but not always accepted) concept that traits may be selected not for effects on the individual holder but on the group that the holder belongs to, social groups.

When evolutionary theory was used in the early 20th Century to support the "superiority" of Western groups and the subjugation of native populations, the idea of group selection became reviled and has only resurfaced in the last couple of decades.

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