Gut Feeling

Interesting article about researchers trying to explain the prevalence of altruistic behaviors in human beings, despite this seeming to be a deterrent to genetic proliferation.

The assumption is that living creatures exist and propagate with the purpose of passing on their genetic material to future generations – survival of the fittest genes, not simply individuals.  It’s an assumption based on evolutionary theory and natural selection.  But in such a model, altruistic, sacrificial behavior would seem to be counter-productive.  Those who sacrifice on behalf of others may not be able to pass on their genetic material as successfully as others who are selfish or less altruistic, conserving more resources for themselves and better ensuring propagation.

While this article wants to tout success in demonstrating that altruism could actually contribute to more genetic material getting passed on, to do so avoids all of the complicated questions such a hypothesis raises.  How is it that a microbe can encourage altruistic behavior (even on a widely-defined basis, as the researchers admit)?  Have researchers identified how parasitic microbes as referred to at the start of the article accomplish their ends?  And could that mechanism even be mirrored in human beings?  It seems like a ton more variables that need to be explained rather than providing an elusive answer to the question of altruism in human beings.




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