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Sally Le Page explains the concept of Inclusive Fitness in a brilliant Shed Science video. (Even if you don’t care one bit about evolutionary biology, you’re going to want to watch this!)
Highlight comes at the 2:35 mark
(Thanks to Andy for the link!)
Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.
What I took away from this video: some people are smarter than jesus
All people are smarter than Jesus. Even a bacterium is smarter than Jesus.
So, altruism is an act that decreases the number of your direct offspring, but increases the number of your relatives’? That’s an extremely restrictive definition, and basically makes kin selection the only type of altruism.
I also have a problem with the claim that one cannot alter the amount of altruism that one receives. The cuckoo bird, for instance, is quite successful at getting itself to be the beneficiary of altruism.
I’m not sure I’d call that altruism by the victim but deception by the cuckoo. Taking it even further, ants who are infected by a parasite and climb to the top of leaves of grass and freeze there only to be eaten by grazing animals which then spread the eggs of the parasite- are those ants being altruistic?
My point is that this seems to satisfy the definition of “altruism” defined by the video. It hurts the mother bird and helps the baby cuckoo bird. Your objection seems to be “Well, the mother didn’t mean to do it.” Like a bird has human-like agency. It seems to me that there’s a lot of anthropomorphizing going on. It seems like a lot of what determines whether something is considered altruism is whether a human views the animal as being “nice”. Helping your brother is “altruistic”… is helping your child? If breastfeeding someone else’s child is altruistic, isn’t breastfeeding your own child also altruistic?
Ya, early thoughts on strict definition for me, and I think I agree. Put her way the ant would be altruistic as well. I’m not sure how to put it in an economic sense that fits with my ‘gut’ feeling about what altruism is supposed to mean.
Which ant? The ant infected by the parasite? It is no longer the actor, so it is not altruistic. Ants in general as eusocial insects? Yes, they are altruistic. Part of this is all units of analysis. From the gene point of view, there is no altruism, only selfishness.
Agreed, altruistic behaviors can be exploited by parasites, and if this happens frequently enough, the behavior will decline in frequency. The question of breastfeeding, or even mammalian pregnancy introduces competition for resources between siblings and mother and child. This goes a long way toward explaining sibling rivalry and the competing hormonal regulating systems of the fetus and mother. Although both parties share some genes, there are selfish as well as altruistic “genetic motives” in play.
It’s not anthropomorphizing at all. It’s also not human like agency, it’s just that one animal is the primary actor. Sometimes it sounds like human agency, even when Dawkins describes these ideas, he just has pages of ink to spend on intros explaining that he’s just using a short hand. Yes, breastfeeding your own child is altruistic, to some extent.
“tricked” implies false beliefs induced by another. Beliefs mean consciousness. So talking about an animal being “tricked” is anthropomorphizing, or short hand.
I think the video is simplifying considerably to a sort of base case to get the general point across in under ten minutes. The video is really about inclusive fitness and how it is a significant piece of the picture of how altruism evolves, it’s not intended to claim that this is the only thing going on. Besides, she defines altruism as any action where the actor loses out and the recipient gains, not as something that decreases the number of your direct offspring but increases the number of your relatives. That’s just a proxy measure for altruism and an explanation of how it evolves, not a definition.
The case of the cuckoo does not meet the definition she gives for altruism because in that scenario the cuckoo is the actor.
So, you’re saying that she is defining altruism as any action in which the actor has the number of its relatives decrease, and the recipient has the number of its relatives increase? But if we’re talking about kin selection, then each action increases the number of relatives of both.
I don’t see how you can say the mother bird who feeds the baby cuckoo is not the actor. Just because one organism induces an action on the part of another, does not mean that other is not the actor. Otherwise you’re going down the rabbit hole of trying to decide who “initiated” the encounter.
She has some other good videos, too: http://www.youtube.com/user/shedscience
Great video. She’s a great science communicator and I’ve added her to my subscription list.
So is Hamilton cited in The Selfish Gene? I’m just going to assume he is, because the one problem I had with the video was that it was too slow to get where I was already pretty sure it was going. But that’s not really a problem with the video, it’s that the video’s target audience isn’t people who’ve already read and gotten the basic gist of the The Selfish Gene.
And now I’m starting to run out of hours in the day to keep up with all of these thinkers, let alone get my own work finished!
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