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Thread: Biological Altruism

  1. #1 Biological Altruism 
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    From the link, below: Altruistic behaviour is common throughout the animal kingdom, particularly in species with complex social structures. For example, vampire bats regularly regurgitate blood and donate it to other members of their group who have failed to feed that night, ensuring they do not starve. In numerous bird species, a breeding pair receives help in raising its young from other ‘helper’ birds, who protect the nest from predators and help to feed the fledglings. Vervet monkeys give alarm calls to warn fellow monkeys of the presence of predators, even though in doing so they attract attention to themselves, increasing their personal chance of being attacked. In social insect colonies (ants, wasps, bees and termites), sterile workers devote their whole lives to caring for the queen, constructing and protecting the nest, foraging for food, and tending the larvae. Such behaviour is maximally altruistic: sterile workers obviously do not leave any offspring of their own—so have personal fitness of zero—but their actions greatly assist the reproductive efforts of the queen. Biological Altruism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) I find this to be a very interesting topic, one that often becomes controversial when discussing it with theists. It's quite fascinating to note that even insects, have a certain ''protocol'', with respect to altruism. (there are also different 'categories' of altruism) Thought it would be an interesting topic to chat about, here.


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    (Pardon the paragraph structure--for some reason, I have trouble separating paragraphs even when I try to do so through editing, my apologies.)


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    Quote Originally Posted by PhDemon View Post
    Try editing it with a <br> tag where you want the line break -- that sometimes works is I'm posting from my phone.
    Thanks, PhD...I can't get it to work. lol Gah! Must be a glitch of some sort. (If a mod feels this thread is better suited for the Biology section, please relocate. Thx.)
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    I've encountered trouble reconciling altruistic expression exhibited by insects with that which we are familiar with. If a species have no concept of Self and/or self-awareness, can any of it's actions be deemed altruistic?
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    If a species have no concept of Self and/or self-awareness, can any of it's actions be deemed altruistic?
    I think this is one of those common characteristics we dress up with false attributes to claim as human--a hold over from pre-scientific (and ironically egotistic) philosophies.
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    I've encountered trouble reconciling altruistic expression exhibited by insects with that which we are familiar with. If a species have no concept of Self and/or self-awareness, can any of it's actions be deemed altruistic?
    Quote Originally Posted by Lynx_Fox View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    If a species have no concept of Self and/or self-awareness, can any of it's actions be deemed altruistic?
    I think this is one of those common characteristics we dress up with false attributes to claim as human--a hold over from pre-scientific (and ironically egotistic) philosophies.
    Agree with you both--here is an excerpt from the link above, that speaks to your points (it stands to reason then, how insects have no real 'motivational' intentions behind their 'behaviors'): The key point to remember is that biological altruism cannot be equated with altruism in the everyday vernacular sense. Biological altruism is defined in terms of fitness consequences, not motivating intentions. If by ‘real’ altruism we mean altruism done with the conscious intention to help, then the vast majority of living creatures are not capable of ‘real’ altruism nor therefore of ‘real’ selfishness either. Ants and termites, for example, presumably do not have conscious intentions, hence their behaviour cannot be done with the intention of promoting their own self-interest, nor the interests of others. Thus the assertion that the evolutionary theories reviewed above show that the altruism in nature is only apparent makes little sense. The contrast between ‘real’ altruism and merely apparent altruism simply does not apply to most animal species.
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    I've encountered trouble reconciling altruistic expression exhibited by insects with that which we are familiar with. If a species have no concept of Self and/or self-awareness, can any of it's actions be deemed altruistic?
    Altruism doesn't require a sense of self. All it requires is that an organism act (or attempt to act) for the good of other organisms.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lynx_Fox View Post
    I think this is one of those common characteristics we dress up with false attributes to claim as human--a hold over from pre-scientific (and ironically egotistic) philosophies.
    I agree.

    Are there differences between biological altruism vs altruism as a possible conscious act, or are they one and the same? As of now, I find the distinction to be somewhat vague; possibly due to my efforts at making sense of the word from a humanly perspective, and extending that understanding into identifying similar behavior in other species. The standard definition of the word altruism often/always include "selfless", and if there is no self to begin with, it basically removes the qualifier for such behavioral expression.
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Lynx_Fox View Post
    I think this is one of those common characteristics we dress up with false attributes to claim as human--a hold over from pre-scientific (and ironically egotistic) philosophies.
    I agree.

    Are there differences between biological altruism vs altruism as a possible conscious act, or are they one and the same? As of now, I find the distinction to be somewhat vague; possibly due to my efforts at making sense of the word from a humanly perspective, and extending that understanding into identifying similar behavior in other species. The standard definition of the word altruism often/always include "selfless", and if there is no self to begin with, it basically removes the qualifier for such behavioral expression.
    Just going by the article's assertions, I'm assuming that how we define altruism in animals isn't synonymous with how we view it in humans.
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    Quote Originally Posted by billvon View Post
    Altruism doesn't require a sense of self. All it requires is that an organism act (or attempt to act) for the good of other organisms.
    I think we may want a working definition for (biological?) altruism before going forward. That or I need one.

    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    Just going by the article's assertions, I'm assuming that how we define altruism in animals isn't synonymous with how we view it in humans.
    I understand that, but what are the distinct differences (if there are any).
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by billvon View Post
    Altruism doesn't require a sense of self. All it requires is that an organism act (or attempt to act) for the good of other organisms.
    I think we may want a working definition for (biological?) altruism before going forward. That or I need one.

    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    Just going by the article's assertions, I'm assuming that how we define altruism in animals isn't synonymous with how we view it in humans.
    I understand that, but what are the distinct differences (if there are any).
    According to the standard definition, a social behaviour ''counts' as altruistic if it reduces the fitness of the organism performing the behaviour, but boosts the fitness of others. <<< --- (taken from the article) ...However, there are different categories thoroughly explored and analyzed within the article, that deviate a bit from that standard definition. There are also the concepts of 'cooperation,' and 'mutualism.' Both seem to be offshoots of altruism. This article gives some great, practical examples as well, as to how to view some of these 'sub' categories of (biological) altruism.
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    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    According to the standard definition, a social behaviour ''counts' as altruistic if it reduces the fitness of the organism performing the behaviour, but boosts the fitness of others. <<< --- (taken from the article) ...However, there are different categories thoroughly explored and analyzed within the article, that deviate a bit from that standard definition. There are also the concepts of 'cooperation,' and 'mutualism.' Both seem to be offshoots of altruism. This article gives some great, practical examples as well, as to how to view some of these 'sub' categories of (biological) altruism.
    So, biological altruism would be a genetically motivated behavior (as such in the advancement of the group/collective), whereas non-biological altruism would be an emotionally motivated one (extending altruistic expressions outside of the group/collective and even across species)? Does that work?
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    problem quoting/deleted post
    Last edited by wegs; November 3rd, 2013 at 05:51 PM.
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    problem quoting/deleted post
    Last edited by wegs; November 3rd, 2013 at 05:52 PM.
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    I have tried to quote and comment to your reply scooby from my phone but I don't know why its not picking up my reply. :/ I'll reply later when I'm home using my laptop. Wth?!
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    I'm not really sure if I'm on the right track here but perhaps it could be that we, I mean life in general here, are indeed just the carriers for our genes and that altruism on a biological level is an in built mechanism designed to help give the genes we carry the best possible chance to propagate.

    That whilst some of us may not have children but their relatives do, the point being is that the genes are still passed on to successive generations, but facing less competition from each other as their only limited copies of these same genes, these limits being influenced and imposed at the genetic level.

    The idea of altruism on a more recognisable level shows how people are willing to sacrifce themselves for the welfare of others on a regular basis, certain people really just do seem predisposed towards altruistic behaviour. Could it be this type of personality trait also somehow has been influenced or even induced by the very genes they carry, perhaps this could also help explain some of the altruistic behaviour being displayed by other species.
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    I think we may want a working definition for (biological?) altruism before going forward. That or I need one.
    My definition is behaviors that benefit other organisms while having a net zero or negative impact on the organism itself.
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    According to the standard definition, a social behaviour ''counts' as altruistic if it reduces the fitness of the organism performing the behaviour, but boosts the fitness of others. <<< --- (taken from the article) ...However, there are different categories thoroughly explored and analyzed within the article, that deviate a bit from that standard definition. There are also the concepts of 'cooperation,' and 'mutualism.' Both seem to be offshoots of altruism. This article gives some great, practical examples as well, as to how to view some of these 'sub' categories of (biological) altruism.
    So, biological altruism would be a genetically motivated behavior (as such in the advancement of the group/collective), whereas non-biological altruism would be an emotionally motivated one (extending altruistic expressions outside of the group/collective and even across species)? Does that work?
    Yes, I think so, and billvon's reply to you is a good working definition of biological altruism. Relating to human beings, I don't believe the two 'concepts' as you suggest here are mutually exclusive, either. The interesting thing to me personally, is that animals have a biological instinct if you will, to help and take care of...other animals. It isn't a behavioral pattern unique to humans.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ascended View Post
    I'm not really sure if I'm on the right track here but perhaps it could be that we, I mean life in general here, are indeed just the carriers for our genes and that altruism on a biological level is an in built mechanism designed to help give the genes we carry the best possible chance to propagate.

    That whilst some of us may not have children but their relatives do, the point being is that the genes are still passed on to successive generations, but facing less competition from each other as their only limited copies of these same genes, these limits being influenced and imposed at the genetic level.

    The idea of altruism on a more recognisable level shows how people are willing to sacrifce themselves for the welfare of others on a regular basis, certain people really just do seem predisposed towards altruistic behaviour. Could it be this type of personality trait also somehow has been influenced or even induced by the very genes they carry, perhaps this could also help explain some of the altruistic behaviour being displayed by other species.
    Hmmm...that's curious. I don't know. From what I've read, I think that could be true (the genetic component as you suggest here) which leads one to wonder if for human beings...is altruism both biological instinct as well as... choice-driven? With humans, it would seem that altruism is often times based on choice, over instinct. We see this in everyday life, as humans 'compete' with one another in work settings, instead of helping one another. Or if they appear to be helping others, it is to derive some type of benefit, themselves--which isn't at all representative of genuine altruism. I think it's such an interesting topic, because if you read the article, it talks about varying categories of altruism, and how there are even different ways of viewing the motivation behind altruistic acts and behaviors. Cool stuff.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ascended View Post
    I'm not really sure if I'm on the right track here but perhaps it could be that we, I mean life in general here, are indeed just the carriers for our genes and that altruism on a biological level is an in built mechanism designed to help give the genes we carry the best possible chance to propagate.That whilst some of us may not have children but their relatives do, the point being is that the genes are still passed on to successive generations, but facing less competition from each other as their only limited copies of these same genes, these limits being influenced and imposed at the genetic level.The idea of altruism on a more recognisable level shows how people are willing to sacrifce themselves for the welfare of others on a regular basis, certain people really just do seem predisposed towards altruistic behaviour. Could it be this type of personality trait also somehow has been influenced or even induced by the very genes they cary, perhaps this could also help explain some of the altruistic behaviour being displayed by other species.
    Legit. And the extent to which we exhibit altruistic behaviour is proportional to the extent of relatedness of the recipient. Simply from the perspective of Natural Selection, it would make sense that a number of species are hard wired for altruistic behaviour
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    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    Hmmm...that's curious. I don't know. From what I've read, I think that could be true (the genetic component as you suggest here) which leads one to wonder if for human beings...is altruism both biological instinct as well as... choice-driven?
    It's almost certainly both. We have a basic drive towards altruism from the mechanisms discussed here, and that shapes our worldview - and thus we see value in altruism as a good thing (morally) and do it at a higher level. (In other words, while we may have an instinct to help someone who we see having trouble, we extend that to more abstract concepts like foreign charities, helping people we never see.)

    With humans, it would seem that altruism is often times based on choice, over instinct. We see this in everyday life, as humans 'compete' with one another in work settings, instead of helping one another.
    Definitely. We are all a mess of conflicting evolutionary drives - competitiveness, altruism, sexual attraction, self-preservation - and they get expressed in a lot of different ways.
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    Quote Originally Posted by billvon View Post
    My definition is behaviors that benefit other organisms while having a net zero or negative impact on the organism itself.
    That seems decent. Can this definition be applied to bacteria as well? That is to say can what LAB, bifidobacteria, and cyanobacteria (for example) do be considered altruistic?
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    It is a reasonable definition. Especially if thought of as of as short term--while recognizing that it's the long term benefits that really count--in evolutionary terms for reproductive fitness of genes. Obviously many behaviors put one at short term risk but on average might provide long term advantage--that's also what makes this a pretty interesting subject.

    I think though even for humans, altruism is pretty strongly rooted in genetics but by different mechanisms depending the development of the brain. For example, a male stickleback or a European starling is hardwired to put itself at great risk to protect its offspring. That "raw" instinct still seems rather strong in human mothers protecting their young and in many other animals. More subtle behaviors are more difficult to sort out. At some point emergent emotions evolved around some forms of altruism. One primate grooms another primate (two baboons picking fleas or two humans combing each other's hair) and probably feels good about it because they've evolved good feelings in the brain to support social bonding and spending a little energy now for a longer term reciprocal benefit--the good feelings are hardwired and become to mechanism for altruism and other behaviors to increase reproductive fitness for their genes. Than you add the new evolutionary emergent property on the field: robust imagination and ability to abstract ideas. The result is more complex brained animals, particularly humans, though still largely driven by feelings, can link and harness to feelings to those abstract ideas--so we give to not only feel good, but to get approval from peer groups, or to get our favorite god's favors; you could say we can even trick our evolutionary basis for biological altruism while still embedding it in the same simple chemical pleasures as our ancestors.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lynx_Fox View Post
    It is a reasonable definition. Especially if thought of as of as short term--while recognizing that it's the long term benefits that really count--in evolutionary terms for reproductive fitness of genes. Obviously many behaviors put one at short term risk but on average might provide long term advantage--that's also what makes this a pretty interesting subject.

    I think though even for humans, altruism is pretty strongly rooted in genetics but by different mechanisms depending the development of the brain. For example, a male stickleback or a European starling is hardwired to put itself at great risk to protect its offspring. That "raw" instinct still seems rather strong in human mothers protecting their young and in many other animals. More subtle behaviors are more difficult to sort out. At some point emergent emotions evolved around some forms of altruism. One primate grooms another primate (two baboons picking fleas or two humans combing each other's hair) and probably feels good about it because they've evolved good feelings in the brain to support social bonding and spending a little energy now for a longer term reciprocal benefit--the good feelings are hardwired and become to mechanism for altruism and other behaviors to increase reproductive fitness for their genes. Than you add the new evolutionary emergent property on the field: robust imagination and ability to abstract ideas. The result is more complex brained animals, particularly humans, though still largely driven by feelings, can link and harness to feelings to those abstract ideas--so we give to not only feel good, but to get approval from peer groups, or to get our favorite god's favors; you could say we can even trick our evolutionary basis for biological altruism while still embedding it in the same simple chemical pleasures as our ancestors.
    I enjoyed reading what you posted, here. Well put. In reading through the article, it discusses 'reciprocal altruism.' lol What? How on earth can an act or behavior be seen as genuinely 'altruistic,' if the person who is extending him/herself is only doing so in hopes of receiving something in return, at a later date? Gee, I think I know one too many people who would fit that bill!
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    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    Yes, I think so, and billvon's reply to you is a good working definition of biological altruism. Relating to human beings, I don't believe the two 'concepts' as you suggest here are mutually exclusive, either. The interesting thing to me personally, is that animals have a biological instinct if you will, to help and take care of...other animals. It isn't a behavioral pattern unique to humans.
    So the key differences here are that the (humanly?) conscious behaviour of altruism is when one assigns a value to an altruistic expression for the positive emotional feedback in an attempt at making sense of one's behaviour?
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    Human altruism is different because human behavior is more influenced by culture, much more than other animals. We have language by which complex rules of behavior can be communicated. This is something other animals can only do in a rudimentary way. This makes us much more adaptable to changing situations. Sometimes it seems to me the original reason for the behavior has been lost, and no longer serves the original purpose.
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    Yes, I think so, and billvon's reply to you is a good working definition of biological altruism. Relating to human beings, I don't believe the two 'concepts' as you suggest here are mutually exclusive, either. The interesting thing to me personally, is that animals have a biological instinct if you will, to help and take care of...other animals. It isn't a behavioral pattern unique to humans.
    So the key differences here are that the (humanly?) conscious behaviour of altruism is when one assigns a value to an altruistic expression for the positive emotional feedback in an attempt at making sense of one's behaviour?
    Actually, altruism in its ''truest'' form is when you do something selfless for another person (just using humans as an example here), and expect nothing in return, indirectly or directly. The article talks about different 'types' or 'categories' of altruism which seem to have different motivating factors attached to the definition. So, in its truest/purest form, to even expect positive emotional feedback from the person you are helping, would be uncharacteristic of altruism. Now, this doesn't mean if someone offers to do something for you in return, that you didn't exhibit true altruism on your part. If your motive is to do something selfless for another person, with absolutely no expectation of receiving something back, even positive emotional feedback, then that would be a form of pure, unadulterated altruism. (At least, this is how I understand it.)
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    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    So the key differences here are that the (humanly?) conscious behaviour of altruism is when one assigns a value to an altruistic expression for the positive emotional feedback in an attempt at making sense of one's behaviour?
    ... to even expect positive emotional feedback from the person you are helping, would be uncharacteristic of altruism.
    My apologies for being unclear. My line of thought was a continuation from my reply to sampson in a philosophy thread here.

    I should clarify that by "emotional feedback", I meant deriving pleasure, satisfaction, contentment, etc. in and from an altruistic expression that one performs. It is something that the person performing the altrustic act experiences, and not on the part receiver. An example of this would be someone making a charitable donation anonymously to faceless receivers of the act; even in the cases where the wouldbe receivers aren't real (think frauds/scams).
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    So the key differences here are that the (humanly?) conscious behaviour of altruism is when one assigns a value to an altruistic expression for the positive emotional feedback in an attempt at making sense of one's behaviour?
    ... to even expect positive emotional feedback from the person you are helping, would be uncharacteristic of altruism.
    My apologies for being unclear. My line of thought was a continuation from my reply to sampson in a philosophy thread here.

    I should clarify that by "emotional feedback", I meant deriving pleasure, satisfaction, contentment, etc. in and from an altruistic expression that one performs. It is something that the person performing the altrustic act experiences, and not on the part receiver. An example of this would be someone making a charitable donation anonymously to faceless receivers of the act; even in the cases where the wouldbe receivers aren't real (think frauds/scams).
    Oh, I see. In my opinion--I wholeheartedly think it's perfectly 'healthy' to derive pleasure to some degree, when we offer our services or money to another, with no expectation in return, knowing we've helped another person. Helping others and being selfless about it in turn helps us become more compassionate to others' needs, and hopefully, the people we help, will ''pay it forward,'' as the saying goes. I've always been a believer that everything we do or don't do, has a ripple effect. Good or bad. So, when you are altruistic, it has a ripple effect for years to come, even. Another positive ‘’byproduct’’ from altruism is that itreminds us of our own good fortune. I think something we should keep in mind is that altruism shouldn't be an obligatory act, done with dread. Yes, it's good to help others, but there should be a willingness to be selfless, that probably makes a person's actions seen as altruistic. So, to answer your question, from all I've read about altruism in humans, it would seem perfectly reasonable to ''feel good'' about helping others, without any reciprocation on their part.
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    double post
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by billvon View Post
    My definition is behaviors that benefit other organisms while having a net zero or negative impact on the organism itself.
    That seems decent. Can this definition be applied to bacteria as well? That is to say can what LAB, bifidobacteria, and cyanobacteria (for example) do be considered altruistic?
    I can't believe it, but the answer to your question is YES. https://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/viewArticle.do?id=153209 (From the article: When it comes to bacteria protecting themselves, it’s all in the family.A new study shows that marine bacteria can produce antibiotic compounds that kill unrelated bacteria but do not harm their closest relatives. What’s more, only some of the bacteria within their family make the antibiotics, so that the action of a few protects the entire group, according to scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
    “I think this is showing that bacteria can form social networks and have a partitioning of tasks,” said Tracy Mincer, a microbiologist at WHOI and co-author of the study, which was published in the Sept. 7 issue of Science. “Bacteria are coordinating with one another, and they’re sharing resources.”
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    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    I can't believe it, but the answer to your question is YES. https://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/viewArticle.do?id=153209
    I had actually found this particular article and others before posing the question, but if I read it adequately enough, it highlights a kin favored form of altruistic expressions and no further.
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    ...matter and pixie dust wegs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    I can't believe it, but the answer to your question is YES. https://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/viewArticle.do?id=153209
    I had actually found this particular article and others before posing the question, but if I read it adequately enough, it highlights a kin favored form of altruistic expressions and no further.
    That's true; I wasn't expecting to find much on the subject, tbh. I found this article also--not sure if you've run across it: 'Charitable' behavior found in bacteria Maybe I shouldn't be surprised (but I am) that bacteria would be classified by scientists as (potentially) 'charitable.'
    Last edited by wegs; November 4th, 2013 at 09:30 AM.
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