The Origins of Kindness

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oren Harman discusses 150 years of scientific attempts to explain kindness. In The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness he tells the story of the eccentric American genius George Price, who tried to answer evolution's greatest riddle: why does altruism exist?


Oren Harman

Comments [14]

A.B. from New York, NY wrote:

"I don't understand why the guest repeatedly uses the odd, phallocentric phrase 'have a penetrating insight' ... don't use language that is offensive in its implications."

You are kiddng, right? If not, you must have one hell of a 'hard' time looking at skyscrapers, writing with pens and pencils, flying in an airplane, standing upright, speaking with your tongue, and pointing with your finger.

Please be serious. Add that to your list of do's and don'ts.

Mar. 30 2011 03:28 AM
clayton orehek

the example of the (honey) bee acting in a way such that there is a benefit to others while annihilating itself , i do not think is an act of altruism in that the bee does not make choice over its action, that is, considering whether or not to sting based on knowledge of the outcome to itself, also, the question of how Darwinism works in such a case, it is sheer percentages, not 100% of the bees ever are in a situation whereby the colony dies because all the bees have killed themselves, only the bees commit an act, the consequences to themselves being uncontimplated and therefore unknown, that are needed to 'protect the queen/colony"

Jun. 30 2010 12:43 PM
A.B. from New York, NY

Our guest is a writer and academic who has written a book about Price. More generally, he specializes in producing this kind of history-of-science work. Given these facts, it is his job to communicate clearly to a general audience about his subjects, and in particular about the book that he's on Lopate to discuss. So I don't understand why the guest repeatedly uses the odd, phallocentric phrase "have a penetrating insight." When discussing the topic that you are supposed to be prepared to discuss, please be clear, avoid verbal tics, and don't use language that is offensive in its implications.

Jun. 30 2010 12:43 PM

If true selfless-ness is a problem, surely radical, 'true' violence or anti-altruism is also a problem. How do explain the profound violence of humans that is so at odds with observations of other species that engage in 'limited war' -- nothing limited about human suicidal tendencies.

Jun. 30 2010 12:31 PM
A. M. from New York, NY

What a beautiful insight, Gerald Fnord, and so eloquently put. Thank you.

Jun. 30 2010 12:30 PM

What a shame Price never ventured into philosophy. Rudolf Carnap and Willard van Orman Quine could have addressed his fears about determinism, mathematics and altruism.

Jun. 30 2010 12:28 PM
The Truth from Becky

I'm confused...are we talking about human kindness? If so, 150 years of exploration of this emotion? I guess we will never cure cancer or Aids if this is that difficult. Why is this important again?

Jun. 30 2010 12:24 PM

So conflicts among animals of same species are usually limited. What are we to make of humans? Our conflicts are usually disastrous.

Jun. 30 2010 12:23 PM
DrD from Sandy Hook

bumblebees can sting repeatedly.
it is honeybees that die as they tear themselves apart in stinging.
does the term haplo-diploid ring a bell?
defending the hive of sister to which you are more closely related than your mother makes perfect sense. this is not the sort of altruism you are trying to posit. and it requires no adjustment in normal natural selection.
it would be nice if it were all simple.

Jun. 30 2010 12:19 PM
A. M.

What a beautiful insight, Gerald Fnord, and so eloquently put. Thank you.

Jun. 30 2010 12:18 PM
Alex from New York, NY

"Quite late in life, at the age of 45," Price changed the way he lived and viewed live? I wonder how old our guest is. Whatever his age, this is a bizarre qualifier to use.

Jun. 30 2010 12:16 PM
Mike from Inwood

I don't think ant have any consciousness since insects do not have a central nervous system; the way they act is not connected to s single decision-making source.

Jun. 30 2010 12:13 PM
Savitra from NYC

I have to disagree with the guest...I know plenty of people who have the mind of an ant!

Jun. 30 2010 12:12 PM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, CA

As time goes by, it more and more seems to me that Ayn Rand's attitude toward altruism resembled nothing so much as the traditional Church's attitude toward sexual desire. In both cases something which really seems in-built is instead characterised as evil ("sin", "anti-life"), not intended for our ideal state (in the Garden or once having been convinced to Ayn Rand Thought), absent from our best outcome (Heaven, everyone embraces John Galt's view of the world) and permissible only for some greater good (reproduction, selfishness).

In both cases, this suppression of a natural impulse leads to distorted humanity (loveless marriages, pædorasty; being an obnoxious Randroid).

Jun. 30 2010 10:18 AM

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