Sociobiology is a field of scientific study which is based on the hypothesis
that social behavior has resulted from evolution and attempts to explain
and examine social behavior within that context. A branch of biology that
deals with social behavior, it also draws from ethology, anthropology,
evolution, zoology, archaeology, population genetics, and other disciplines.
Within the study of human societies, sociobiology is very closely allied
to the fields of Darwinian anthropology, human behavioral ecology and
From a Darwinian viewpoint, the existence of altruism in nature is at first sight puzzling, as Darwin himself realized. Natural selection leads us to expect animals to behave in ways that increase their own chances of survival and reproduction, not those of others. But by behaving altruistically an animal reduces its own fitness, so should be at a selective disadvantage vis-à-vis one which behaves selfishly. To see this, imagine that some members of a group of Vervet monkeys give alarm calls when they see predators, but others do not. Other things being equal, the latter will have an advantage. By selfishly refusing to give an alarm call, a monkey can reduce the chance that it will itself be attacked, while at the same time benefiting from the alarm calls of others. So we should expect natural selection to favor those monkeys that do not give alarm calls over those that do. But this raises an immediate puzzle. How did the alarm-calling behavior evolve in the first place, and why has it not been eliminated by natural selection? How can the existence of altruism be reconciled with basic Darwinian principles?
Enter Genetic Altruism!
In the study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, German researchers took a saliva sample from 101 men and women, using the sample to extract DNA from the participants’ cells. The researchers were focusing on the three variations of a gene called the COMT gene, which influences how certain neurotransmitters are activated in the brain. Previous research has linked those particular neurotransmitters, including dopamine, to positive emotions and social behaviors like bonding.
After providing the saliva sample, the participants had to try to memorize a set of numbers and repeat them as accurately as possible; they received five Euros for completing this memory test. After the test, they could try to increase their reward by gambling with it.
Finally, the participants were shown images that were taken from an ad for a charity: a picture of a little girl—named Lina, from Peru—and a bracelet she had knitted. The experimenters left the room and told the participants they could anonymously donate to the charity some or all of the money they’d earned, though the experimenters were actually able to keep track of how much money each person gave. (After the study ended, all money the participants chose to donate was in fact given to the charity.)
The researchers discovered that people with either of two of the variations of the COMT gene (called the Val/Val and Val/Met variations) donated twice as much money to the charity as people with the other variation (called Met/Met), regardless of their gender. In fact, more than 20 percent of the people with the altruistic variations donated all of their money.
In the general population, the number of people with the altruistic variations of the COMT gene varies by ethnicity, says study author Christian Montag, a psychologist at the University of Bonn. Among Caucasians, the ethnicity of all the participants in this particular study, roughly 75 percent carry one of the two altruistic variations: 25 percent carry the val/val, 50 percent carry the val/met, and 25 percent carry the met/met variant.
While researchers have had evidence for years that altruistic behavior is at least partly influenced by genetics, that evidence has come mainly from studies of twins reporting how altruistic they are, which have found that people with identical genetic material show similar patterns of altruism. This is the first study to link altruism to a specific gene.
Psychologist Sebastian Markett, a study co-author also at the University of Bonn, says the results show how a single genetic mutation can have a large effect on our behavior. But he believes science still has much to learn about the genetics of altruism.
“There must be more genes which influence altruistic behavior whose association has not been discovered yet,” he says. “Our future objective will be to identify all of those genes and how they interact with each other to eventually put a pretty complicated puzzle together—with the goal to understand who we are and why we are how we are.”
The “selfish gene” is a catchy anthropomorphic metaphor for a basic evolutionary truth: The goal of every organism is to perpetuate its own DNA. Metaphors may be useful in providing “handles” for understanding complex processes, but they are loaded with booby traps. In the case of “the selfish gene,” the metaphor has morphed into a slogan and the slogan acts as an enemy of thought.
Dawkins’ premise is that the human capacity for sacrifice is the product of a gene for altruism that somehow sneaked past the “survival of the fittest” screen. He bases his premise on studies by W. D. Hamilton, who showed self-sacrificing behavior to be statistically possible, if the sacrifice was of value sufficient to enable close kin to survive. But Hamilton’s research was based on social insects, in which the reproductive role is limited to a few ants and bees in the hive or nest — these are the units of natural selection. Observations of a social organization in which the rank-and-file do not have sex and do not compete as mammals must do for mates, are hardly applicable to humans.
Scientists in the Human Genome Project have determined that no single gene determines a particular behavior. Instead, many genes are involved in determining behavior, and their effects are often influenced by environmental factors. Even disregarding Dawkins’ anthropomorphism in using the word “selfish,” to focus on a gene is spurious. Social behavior can’t be answered by specific genes, but by learned lessons of subjective nature with little relation to mere chemical interactions.
Wilson Flip Flop
In 1965, Wilson, then a young entomologist, was one of the first scientists to grab hold of Hamilton’s equation and used it to explain altruism he observed in ant colonies. Wilson quickly became an evangelist for the idea, championing the theory that altruism had emerged through natural selection as a means to pass on genes to the next generation, not as a selfless act of moral transcendence.
But over the years Wilson saw cracks in the armor of the theory of inclusive fitness. His doubts continued to build around a theory he had helped elevate to the level of near scientific consensus. Eventually the errors piled too high for Wilson to ignore. In 2010, he and his colleagues published a paper in the prestigious scientific journal Nature claiming a paucity of real-world evidence supporting the claim that organisms displaying altruistic behavior follow the rule rB>C. The authors went further to say that the factors in the equation, B and C were too difficult to quantify. Wilson, for his part, admitted that the equation was elegant and alluring, but just too simple to work in practice.
Wilson’s “flip-flop” (said with great respect, as changing one’s mind in science is more often a virtue than a vice) has caused an uproar in the scientific community and drawn heavy criticism from some of the most vocal evolutionary biologists, including Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins. Wilson’s critics have said he is using his authority to make assumptions without backing up his claims with real-world data. The critics also point out that a large group of evolutionary biologists (more than 140) have publicly announced their support for the theory of inclusive fitness despite Wilson’s apostasy. Wilson has countered his critics by pointing to a lack of biological examples showing altruistic traits emerging in species that follow Hamilton’s equation. The dust-up makes for the juiciest kind of intellectual debate, one that sends scientists out into the field in search of more evidence.
Subjective and individualistic Social Experience; Wisdom
First let me say it outright, in case the title of my post had not alerted you about my stand on this issue, I am not merely in disagreement on this issue, but I hold in total contempt the idea that there is a gene for altruism, just because it will be the only rationalistic, and materialistic explanation to such behavior, when in actuality not such a gene has ever being discovered and isolated as proof of such behavior, that without it, humans would behave like beast of prey, a far common behavior, not due to a gene, but to selfishness, born out of ignorance, not of a gene, in my view the lack of a spiritual approach from contemporary science force them in to idiocy!
Moral qualities are not born of a gene but out of the subjective experience, and social interaction of intelligent individuals and passed not on our genes but taught, by men of virtue, many times at the price of their life like a Socrates, or Jesus.
The danger with discarding any other explanation not subjected to a total materialistic view of existence it’s here patent, sending this supposedly well educated, but nevertheless misguided individuals looking for a gene in our DNA, well good luck!
This is what happens when ideology trumps common sense, and everything it’s reduced at chemical neuron interactions which bring the old Vedanta philosophy, of our scientist pursuing illusions (Maya) :
Just because a rope in the dark can be perceived as a snake and this trigger the chemical reaction of fear, doesn’t mean the danger was real, once light allows to see the rope, there is no more fear, here you have to differentiate the gene producing the chemical reaction to a perceived treat, to the knowledge making us see the reality of it, you may argue the capacity of understanding knowledge to be in our genes, but not that the knowledge it’s itself the product of a gene, but the subjective quality of discrimination, just like Virtue, or altruism subjective experiences, and not genetically engineered, but the product of wisdom, particular to the individual experience, and not subjective to be inherited as such, at least I never heard wisdom to be inherited, but earned through hard work on an individual basis, like earning a degree in college is not an inheritance but hard work, unless your super rich dad, bought you a title, but still this was not a genetic transmission, but a shameless social behavior!
The Upanishads describe the universe, and the human experience, as an interplay of Purusha (the eternal, unchanging principles, consciousness) and Prakṛti (the temporary, changing material world, nature). The former manifests itself as Ātman (Soul, Self), and the latter as Māyā. The Upanishads refer to the knowledge of Atman as “true knowledge” (Vidya), and the knowledge of Maya as “not true knowledge” (Avidya, Nescience, lack of awareness, lack of true knowledge). Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, states Ben-Ami Scharfstein, describes Maya as “the tendency to imagine something where it does not exist, for example, atman with the body”. To the Upanishads, knowledge includes empirical knowledge and spiritual knowledge, complete knowing necessarily includes understanding the hidden principles that work, the realization of the soul of things.
Hendrick Vroom explains, “The term Maya has been translated as ‘illusion,’ but then it does not concern normal illusion. Here ‘illusion’ does not mean that the world is not real and simply a figment of the human imagination. Maya means that the world is not as it seems; the world that one experiences is misleading as far as its true nature is concerned.” Lynn Foulston states, “The world is both real and unreal because it exists but is ‘not what it appears to be’.” According to Wendy Doniger, “to say that the universe is an illusion (māyā) is not to say that it is unreal; it is to say, instead, that it is not what it seems to be, that it is something constantly being made. Māyā not only deceives people about the things they think they know; more basically, it limits their knowledge.”
Māyā pre-exists and co-exists with Brahman – the Ultimate Principle, Consciousness. Maya is perceived reality, one that does not reveal the hidden principles, the true reality. Maya is unconscious, Atman is conscious. Maya is the literal, Brahman is the figurative Upādāna – the principle, the cause. Maya is born, changes, evolves, dies with time, from circumstances, due to invisible principles of nature, state the Upanishads. Atman-Brahman is eternal, unchanging, invisible principle, unaffected absolute and resplendent consciousness. Maya concept in the Upanishads, states Archibald Gough, is “the indifferent aggregate of all the possibilities of emanatory or derived existences, pre-existing with Brahman”, just like the possibility of a future tree pre-exists in the seed of the tree.
The concept of Maya appears in numerous Upanishads. The verses 4.9 to 4.10 of Svetasvatara Upanishad, is the oldest explicit occurrence of the idea that Brahman (Supreme Soul) is the hidden reality, nature is magic, Brahman is the magician, human beings infatuate with the magic and thus creating bondage to illusions and delusions, and for freedom and liberation one must seek true insights and correct knowledge of the principles behind the hidden magic. Gaudapada in his Karika on Mandukya Upanishad explains the interplay of Atman and Maya as follows,
The Soul is imagined first, then the particularity of objects,
External and internal, as one knows so one remembers.
As a rope, not perceived distinctly in dark, is erroneously imagined,
As snake, as a streak of water, so is the Soul (Atman) erroneously imagined.
As when the rope is distinctly perceived, and the erroneous imagination withdrawn,
Only the rope remains, without a second, so when distinctly perceived, the Atman.
When he as Pranas (living beings), as all the diverse objects appears to us,
Then it is all mere Maya, with which the Brahman (Supreme Soul) deceives himself.
—Gaudapada, Māṇḍukya Kārikā 2.16-19
If every behavior has to be rule by a gene I muse, in my daily commute to work wonder what gene rules exiting the bus by the front door, despite the automated voice at every stop warning to leave by the two back doors, and the many signs saying so on the bus, instead many people like to jam themselves against the incoming persons who are boarding the bus paying their fare, inconveniencing many, and delaying the bus in the process, now the whole thing it does not make any sense, if most people would walk away from the bus heading in the direction ahead of the bus, at least I could understand, they want to save 2 or 3 seconds, but my amazement grows when most of the time people after leaving the bus by the front door, head towards the opposite direction, the one the bus was coming, the back of the bus, they would have been better served by exiting through the back doors, without inconveniencing anybody! How do you explain that?
What about a gene for the ones who despite many empty seats on the bus, like to ride gunshot standing near the driver, in the narrowest place of the bus, inconveniencing incoming people, and the ones who try to jam their way out through the front door, with the added risk of exiting the bus through the windshield, if the bus has to break suddenly?
Trying to use genes for explaining human behavior is nonsense, hubris, and a waste of time. What about looking for a gene for behavioral Idiocy?