Evaluation of Evolutionary Theory of Altruism and the Role of Genes-a Modern View

Topics: Evolution, Altruism, Evolutionary psychology Pages: 11 (4014 words) Published: March 20, 2012
Evaluation of Evolutionary Theory of Altruism And The Role Of Genes-A Modern View Background:
Evolutionary theory holds that organisms with the strongest genes for survival and reproduction do, in fact, survive and reproduce most successfully. They thus multiply their genes most widely, spreading the advantageous genes through whole populations. Ceaseless repetitions of the process can gradually transform species into totally new ones. Such a world seems to have no place for self-sacrificing types, who presumably couldn’t spread their genes very far. Several competing theories attempt to solve the puzzle. One is that groups with cooperative members out compete groups with selfish ones, and thus spread their niceness genes, in a scaled-up version of the process by which genetically favored individuals trump other individuals. Variants of this notion have gained popularity in the past decade, although it fell from favor earlier, as it has some trouble explaining how altruism got a foothold in the first place. The origin of altruism and cooperation is an enigma because evolutionary theory seems to predict such behavior should be rare or nonexistent. Yet some forms of altruism, conscious or not, are widely documented in creatures as humble as insects and bacteria. Evolutionary theory attempts to explain the evolution of aiding others in two general ways: 1. It argues that genes favoring altruism can spread in future generations if their costs to altruists' personal reproductive success is outweighed by the benefits in reproductive success of altruists' relatives carrying copies of the same genes ('kin selection'). The ratio of these indirect benefits through relatives, versus costs to oneself, needs to be greater the less closely the altruist is related to those helped - i.e., the lower the likelihood the altruist will be helping copies of their genes in the other. 2. It proposes that genes favoring altruism could spread if the altruism is sufficiently reciprocated ('reciprocal altruism') (Axelrod, R. & Hamilton, 1981).

Biological Altruism versus Psychological Altruism
Charles Darwin theorized that all species behave in ways that increase their chances for survival. Often, this survival instinct expresses itself as selfish behavior. Humans (and some animals), however, frequently ignore their personal interests and help others—a behavior called altruism. In evolutionary biology, an organism is said to behave altruistically when its behavior benefits other organisms, at a cost to itself. The costs and benefits are measured in terms of reproductive fitness, or expected number of offspring. So by behaving altruistically, an organism reduces the number of offspring it is likely to produce itself, but boosts the number that other organisms are likely to produce. This biological notion of altruism is not identical to the everyday concept. In everyday parlance, an action would only be called ‘altruistic’ if it was done with the conscious intention of helping another. But in the biological sense there is no such requirement. Indeed, some of the most interesting examples of biological altruism are found among creatures that are not capable of conscious thought at all, e.g. insects. Altruistic behavior is common throughout the animal kingdom, particularly in species with complex social structures. For example, Vervet monkeys give alarm calls to warn fellow monkeys of the presence of predators, even though in doing so they attract attention to themselves, increasing their personal chance of being attacked. In social insect colonies (ants, wasps, bees and termites), sterile workers devote their whole lives to caring for the queen, constructing and protecting the nest, foraging for food, and tending the larvae. Such behavior is maximally altruistic: sterile workers obviously do not leave any offspring of their own — so have personal fitness of zero — but their actions greatly assist the reproductive efforts of the queen....

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