Apparently, a study at the University of Zurich discovered something rather different in the brain structures between people who exhibit altruism and those who do not.
I cannot help but be curious what Dr. Harris’s reaction to this news could be. I think this relates directly to his ideas about free will - which I think are very exciting - and what kind of implications this could have for ethics and politics.
Specifically, I it seems that there are people who, while being in other ways quite normal, don’t have it in them to respond to an inhumane condition, and wouldn’t do so unless some other kind of persuasion were being applied. I’m keenly aware of confirmation bias in this kind of situation, but perhaps this news is an unexpected argument in favor of a social safety net established by taxation?
Gotta RTFA. From the article:
Ernst Fehr adds: “These are exciting results for us. However, one should not jump to the conclusion that altruistic behavior is determined by biological factors alone.” The volume of gray matter is also influenced by social processes. According to Fehr, the findings therefore raise the fascinating question as to whether it is possible to promote the development of brain regions that are important for altruistic behavior through appropriate training or social norms.
So it’s not a matter of biology being destiny except in the sense it’s always biology being destiny, which is to say if I change your brain by some means, I can alter your behaviour. But unless you think behaviour is not mediated by the brain , this is not news.
In general, almost everything you can shake a stick at has some physical correlation in the brain. That correlation may be as short lived as a pattern of neuronal activity or as enduring as the size of grey matter in a specific location of the brain or as ambiguous as a “tendency to fire more rapidly” on the part of one or more neurons. This is the same result we expect to find about everything psychological. The fact that it’s related to the size of grey matter means that this area of the brain has a dedicated information processing purpose. But we already know that from studies of vision and memory etc.
As it relates to free will, it’s not actually telling us anything new. If I practice altruism strenuously, that part of my brain will grow. laymen think brains don’t change in gross morphological ways as a result of what we call effort. Wrong. Read The Brain That Changes Itself (a book). Brains change themselves all the time, as a result of willful effort. Those changes (can) effect character , but character depends on brain activity so no surprises there either.
Personally I wish it were genetic (in some sense it may be, we don’t know yet) . Then we’d simply enhance or genetically modify people to be altruistic. That in blow would solve 98% of the world’s most pressing problems.
<<Then we’d simply enhance or genetically modify people to be altruistic. That in blow would solve 98% of the world’s most pressing problems.>>
Really? Some of the most altruistic societies have been the most blood-thirsty- Red China, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, etc. I value cooperation much more than altruism. Altruism almost always leads to sacrifice and death. No thanks.
Thak you for the report, Mormovies No I think you are wrong what happened with those countries is that they had an altruistic ideal written in a book from altruistic author who thought everybody is altruistic, but the population didn’t have the brain for that so autistics dogmatics dictators took the ideology and they oblige people to share so it became what it became.
Obviously, if we were genetically altered to be 100% altruistic, it would be a utopia if your idea of utopia is an ant colony or bee hive. We have evolved to be altruistic, although the correct term should be cooperative, but as higher life forms we should be trading values for values, not self-sacrificing which is what is true altruism. The human species is higher evolved than non-reasoning ants and bees and we can’t transplant their values in place of ours. In human societies we should respect and leave alone individuals who don’t want to cooperate as long as they don’t interfere or violate others rights. Unfortunately, when altruism is applied to political systems, systems that rely on brute force, the utopia is usually a nightmare.
One of the biggest error in evaluating what is happening in societies is that we don’t apply the theory of evolution well, evolution happens in mosaics, so it means that not of all the individual have evolve at the same time, so if we apply our own theories well we will find a lot more of responses to our questions. When we talk about we evolved, who is we?, everybody?, obviously not right. at least not equally, and we have to specify with respect of what, of course we all evolve whit respect of homo erectus, but there is evolution going on now too, and it happens in mosaics, just look at the history of science, the evolution even of religion, Christ and Buda ( as human beings and not Gods) have totally other kind of mind that their old masters right and as a consequence another king of behavior and another kind of morality. so the same with the scientific atheistic mental process which obviously not every body has access to it Physiologically, look at this guy born atheist converting to Islam http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5oh1F2UggY, a scientist converts to islam http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94rjdmZg8a0, How do you explain this, if they don’t have a biological pro-pension then I’m lost, any of the other theories are applicable for them , not education, not social context, not social pressure then what?. Either we need new theories or we see what is obviously there, Evolution in Mosaic in the human brain. Of course you may say all those Atheist converted they are stupid, but what does stupid mean in science? we tend to avid the reality whit cynicism and simplistic explanations.
Newbie obviously you don’t like to cooperate, you have the fortune to live in a highly individualistic, abusive society, don’t worry most of your neighbors are like you so do not be scare you will be able to continue to live like that, the only reason they don’t abuse is because they’ll be punish, so be happy don’t worry. I think you have a miss understanding what altruism is about, I’m the contrary of you, I have the big tendency to cooperate and a like to do it, thats to be altruistic, is to love cooperate, our happiness comes from giving, so the only thing that can happen if a society is in the majority constitute of altruistic people is that we leave you alone to live the egoistic way of doing things with your egoistic friends, a real altruist never attacks, kills and hurts but we can abandon not altruistic in their shit after being abused many times, that we can , ; ) lol, take a look on this is very very good explanation about this issue: Richad Dawkins documentary : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9RicAuk_2U&feature=related.
For a person with altruistic mind is a big effort not to share, help, give etc, so the contrary for not altruistic, for them is a big effort to share, in my case for example when I have a person with a problem in front of me, I automatically help whit our thinking, and in order not to help I would have do to big a big effort with my reason, so to think a lot not to follow my altruistic instinct. But of course we have our biological limits, and in my case I if can chose who to help an altruistic or an egoistic, I chose always the altruistic, and not only for me, may be he o she will never help me in a personal problem, but just because I prefer him to exist, for everybody, for children in the future etc. because if I help an altruistic I know he will use this help to help later others, and so I help more people helping an altruistic than an egoistic, I developed method to identify altruistic and not altruistic, and I’m training young altruist to identify and be efficient in choosing the right person to help, I’m writing a science fiction book about this issue. It is very painful to see egoistic abusing in between them, and the consequence of their brain functioning, but we are coming to a time where we are going to have a big dilemma, either all die or to survive and unfortunately for me altruistic have more chance, and I think we are arriving also to our limit of tolerance, many young altruistic people do not want to help egoistic any more. so many things to say about this. I’m happy science starts to have mensurable methods to identify people, I think this will be something very important in this time. You can fake altruism but it is not the real thing, my mother was trying all her life to be altruistic, but the thing with this kind of mind is that they do not have the original ideas, so for example she has to ask me always what to do in order to be altruistic, I saw many cases like that in Buddhist for example, thats why they need settle ideas about what exactly to do to be altruistic ( religion or constitution, laws), but this not the real altruism, when they face a new problem and they do not have the law, or the formula they are totally lost and they behave egoistic. So I don’t think really that you can really train your brain for that, I never found a case. Because the think is that it goes the same ego way ” I am altruistic” so an altruistic is not doing things to ” BE altruistic”. I have a sister and she is not a natural altruistic and she tries, but she always needs another person to find the altruistic solution to her problem, sad but it is so. We lived in the same environment, education etc, but we didn’t developed the same brain, so genetics?