In my Biology class, my teacher was saying that although it may seem like altruistic behavior, it's selfish.  And they are behaving the way the do for the good of their gene.  What do you think? Question Who's Online | Find Members | Private Messages
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3,807 hits Rate me! Share Favorite | Flag 16 years ago by prez1985

Do you think someone can truly be altruistic?
In my Biology class, my teacher was saying that although it may seem like altruistic behavior, it`s selfish. And they are behaving the way the do for the good of their gene. What do you think?


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16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Saturday 5/15/04 - 9:12:42 AM EST (GMT-5)
I don't think it's possible for *every* action a person makes to be altruistic. Whilst one might argue that food is necessarily for the person to continue their altruistim, one might also say that, whilst food is a necessary tool of survival, it doesn't benefit any other person and thus isn't altruistic.
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 12:01:31 AM EST (GMT-5)
For the good of their gene, what do you mean? Do you mean that its in thier genes to help people?
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 5:33:51 AM EST (GMT-5)
Well for example, if a predator comes near a family of birds, one of the parents will distract it by faking an injury. Now that seems altruistic because it's saving it's family, but really they just want their gene to continue. Or so my biology teacher says. It's hard to see it completely one way or the other. Do they love their family therefore they want their gene to continue? Or do they want their gene to continue therefore they love their family? Maybe they unconsciously think about their genes continuing. I don't really understand, I'm confused.
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 6:17:31 AM EST (GMT-5)
Prez - you're unconsciously ascribing love to birds. But I think you got the basic theory of behavioral altruism down (for behavioral biology) - what may look like an altruist activity at the level of the individual actually provides a significan advantage at the genetic level, where it really counts.

As far as applying this to humans? I'd argue it still holds true, but not publicly and not to the point of being able to back it experimentally.

16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 6:19:19 AM EST (GMT-5)
(you should read Dawkins' Selfish Gene - fairly light reading even if the metaphors get a bit out of hand at times, and the footnotes are actually quite good)
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 6:25:04 AM EST (GMT-5)
I'm not sure animals are capable of demonstrating altruism, although there are cases that make me think otherwise such as dogs who act to save their owners.
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 6:36:17 AM EST (GMT-5)
What the theory is saying, basically, is that animals don't engange in altruism. Though, I think there are some grey areas, like the case you've mentioned above. I'm not a behavioral biologist, but I could see how a dog would be hardwired to save genetically related members of its own pack (thus ensuring the continuation of its genetic lineage). If for some reason there isn't a good way for a dog to evaluate to what it is genetically related to other than simply by long association (as in pack members) and this evaluation is thrown off by it thinking humans are its pack. . . it might be an altruistic act, but not because altruism is inherently in the nature of a dog.

That's a great example of the kind of speculative pop science writing that I really abhor. Take it with a grain of salt.

16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 6:55:25 AM EST (GMT-5)
I don't think you're far off with that. I was thinking of specific examples where a dog risks its own life to save a member of its pack...where it might override its survival instinct. But then (and I am again speculating) perhaps that could be explained by the dog seeing its human as the alpha pack member in which case the alpha's survival would come first.

Dogs are always a grey area for me because it's obvious they feel more than a genetic tie to their pack. I can see that my dog loves me, and that's not simple anthropomorphisation, so if they are capable of non-sexual love as we humans know it, perhaps they are capable of acting on that love to perform an altruistic act. I'd like to think so.

16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 8:02:46 AM EST (GMT-5)
Or that we've selectively bread them to perform seemingly altruistic acts - and these altruistic acts are more self serving than we realize, as in they are artificially selected for, and therefore not altruistic at all.
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 8:31:24 AM EST (GMT-5)
That is the case with rescue dogs, I'm certain, but I was thinking more in terms of pet dogs.
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 12:19:58 PM EST (GMT-5)
woah...everyones posts are so long and complicated with BIG words
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 1:28:03 PM EST (GMT-5)
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 2:02:25 PM EST (GMT-5)
Well, today my school announcements were saying how people who help others live longer. Also people always say "help out and you'll feel better." That's not truly altruistic.
I don't know though, it must be different for some people because if I thought that I could REALLY make a difference I would undergo all kinds of suffering.
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 2:51:51 PM EST (GMT-5)
I'm actually reading that book for the class, catchall.
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Monday 5/17/04 - 2:54:57 PM EST (GMT-5)
Oh - missed the slide you put up in the Q - inclusive fitness. Cool stuff. A great way out for the group selectionist?
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Tuesday 5/18/04 - 9:27:58 AM EST (GMT-5)
Many human attributes are rooted in the desire to continue the species. Humans, however, have complex desires... Yet everything we do is to be happy. If, by seeing others have joy and destroying our own joy, we recieve fulfillment, then indeed it is a selfish act. The only way we could be truly altruistic is if we no longer had any desires... Is this possible?

16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Friday 5/28/04 - 9:18:58 AM EST (GMT-5)
I agree...in fact, I think a truly alturistic act is impossible for any living thing because we are either driven by our biology as in the case of the birds or our psychhology as in the case of someone who finds fulfillment in bringing joy to others through their own suffering. A toaster is truly alturistic. Oh, not it isn't; we force it to exist and to make toast for us...and nature is not alturistic because it hinders life as well as helping it... I don't think anything can be truly alturistic...but then I am, apparently, a cynic and a pedant so I suppose I might be looking at it too technically...
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Friday 5/28/04 - 9:28:07 AM EST (GMT-5)
I'm not sure I understand the altruistic toaster reference, but I certainly enjoyed it...
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Friday 5/28/04 - 9:40:15 AM EST (GMT-5)
The argument that no one can be truly altruistic is more semantic than literally accurate. The problem here is that the concept is not translated perfectly into a description, but you don't have to be that smart to figure out what it's really supposed to mean. Altruism means effectively that the primary motivation is not self serving. It doesn't mean that no self benefit can come of the action, it doesn't exclude situations where moral conditioning or genetics influence an act. The obvious intended meaning is to seperate actions which do not account for the feeling or well-being of others from those that do. If your biology professor wants to insist that the meaning is literal to every degree then he is admiting that it has no use as a description except as the theoretical opposite of selfishness. I suggest you ask him why he took time that you pay for to explain a concept that is totaly useless in the feild of biology.
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Friday 5/28/04 - 9:59:07 AM EST (GMT-5)
liberals can be; conservatives are not in the slightest
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Friday 6/4/04 - 7:33:18 PM EST (GMT-5)
i agree with you teacher
it looks like they do it for someone else
and they do
but they also get something out of it
like a thanx, a good feeling, whatever
so they get something out if it
so its not altruistic
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Wednesday 6/9/04 - 7:21:59 PM EST (GMT-5)
This would depend on one's definition of "Altruism"--people take it to various extents. For example: Say there is a brother and a sister; the sister has a child. The child is caught in a fire--would the brother/uncle be considered altruistic if he sacrificed his life to save his niece/nephew? Some debate that it is NOT altruistic, being as the act is driven by the wish for one's genes to pass on--the niece/nephew would pass on the childless uncle's genes, at least in part. But, then again, I'm sure that the thought "I'm doing it for the genetics!" is not the first thing that passes through the uncle's mind, so, with the lack of that intent, is that really a selfish act? Some also consider feeling good about doing something is a benefit, therefore any act that you do that makes you feel good even if it doesn't benefit you, is selfish. So, this would all depend on the definition of "altruism".
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Wednesday 6/9/04 - 8:28:43 PM EST (GMT-5)
Altruism-consciously doing something for others, without personal benefit. The above can be proven, but space is limited. Using the above definition and using the uncle, who decides to save his niece from a fire, as an example, you can see the following. Uncle has little time to make a fully conscious decision about what he is doing; uncle is driven by the subconscious, biological drive to protect his genes. The situation is hectic and arousing, the uncle’s decision is based on subconscious knowledge. Subconsciously, the uncle knows that he needs to further his genes. Subconscious decisions are illogical, conscious decisions are; therefore, the two cannot be compared. Conscious decisions are always present in human behavior. If altruism is viewed as a conscious act, the uncle’s decision to save his niece/nephew is altruistic, even if it is driven by the subconscious need to further his genes.
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Wednesday 6/9/04 - 8:32:42 PM EST (GMT-5)
Altruism has to be assessed like hypocrisy. No one is perfect, so it's about degrees, really. The argument can be made that every action you do for others brings you some modicum of happiness, however discreet, subliminal, indirect, long-term, or whatever else. I think we have to lower that "technically..." bar.
16 yrs ago, 1 mos ago - Wednesday 6/9/04 - 8:35:31 PM EST (GMT-5)
i just wrote this because i wanted to look smart and show of in front of everyone

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