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History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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The wild goose chase of altruism models

June 4th, 2015 · No Comments

http://www.prospect.org/article/evolutionary-roots-altruism

Wilson has a new book on altruism: he won’t give up here. But the whole debate is more or less misguided. In general the mechanism of group selection is a mathematical puzzle, applicable to any number of derivations, but altruism? It seems doubtful, first because natural selection is not adequate to any evolutionary task, let alone a complex like altruism.

Altruism takes its place next to the larger superhard questions like language, consciousness, mind, and ‘soul’, the latter being the coup de grace for all forms of theory, including the religious. Finally, man’s ethical sense, and the ‘will’ to go with it, join the list of non-mechanical things scientists wish to find mechanical explanations for. In any case, what evolved was not ‘altruism’ but a feeling creature able to express emotions in a complex of moods and feeling states: the whole robot project graduating to a humanoid frame of mind. The piecemeal explanation tactic of isolating ‘altruism’ and then apply the mathematics of group selection can’t do the job of theory here.

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