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PostPosted: 08 Apr 2008, 03:04 
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Selfishness is often brought up as a basic problem of human nature, especially by Christians. Having experimented with it in recent years, I’ve come to a different conclusion. I don’t think that the problem is with being motivated by personal gain, but with lacking understanding of what constitutes personal gain. In cases where I felt that I had pursued what was truly in my best interests, I found that it was in other people’s best interests as well.

Has anyone had a similar experience?


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PostPosted: 08 Apr 2008, 10:38 
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We are fundamentally a cooperative species--individual interests and group interests coincide far more often than they conflict.

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PostPosted: 09 Apr 2008, 22:04 
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Semantics?

I have always viewed selfishness as being defined as "pursuing ones own interests at the expense of others." The "selfishness" you describe I refer to as "motivated self-interest". Still, selfishness is a word that defines the concept, it is just not a PC usage.

PC is such a PITA!


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PostPosted: 10 Apr 2008, 00:04 
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What does PC and PITA stand for?

It makes more sense to me to define selfishness as “pursuit of one’s own interests with disregard for the interests of others”. If we have a scenario where one’s own interests are not to the detriment of others, a selfish person should still pursue them. Otherwise he is not motivated by self-interest, but by a desire to harm others, even if this is not in his best interest.


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PostPosted: 10 Apr 2008, 09:04 
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Sorry.

PC is "Politically Correct"
PITA is "Pain In The Ass"


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PostPosted: 10 Apr 2008, 15:08 
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Hrvoje Butkovic wrote:
It makes more sense to me to define selfishness as “pursuit of one’s own interests with disregard for the interests of others”. If we have a scenario where one’s own interests are not to the detriment of others, a selfish person should still pursue them. Otherwise he is not motivated by self-interest, but by a desire to harm others, even if this is not in his best interest.


Just to throw a sort of monkey wrench in the gears here, I think that maybe I can reconcile some of Karalora's and HavenMage's comments in making sense of this last view by Hrvoje.

Primates (especially apes, which includes us, of course) are recognized as being altruistic. Now, some of this is an actual sacrificing one's self for group survival (where an alpha or beta will attempt to stand up to/mislead a predator in order to buy the rest of the group time to get far enough away to be safe, at the risk of their own life), but most times the altruistic acts actually give long-term benefits as a sort of 'pay-back' from members of a lasting social group.

Food 'gifts' and grooming activities between potential non-human primate mating partners often persuade a female to choose a specific male provider when she enters estrus. The male's continued 'gifts' which trickle into 'paternal care' for the female's offspring can be seen as investments toward his being chosen as a reproductive partner in the future. Acts that protect the entire group are again forward payment into investements of status in the group in terms of dominance heirarchies, or alliances which will leverage protection in case of some occasion of infirmity or age.

In this way, we can see that an individual, acting in his/her best interests within a lasting social group might very well find that the bigger benefits come in aiding the group in the long term. But in the short term, stealing food/ infanticide of potential breeding partner's offspring/ challenging a dominant for control, even when the outcome is expected to be failure may be seen as a benefit to the individual, not the group.

As humans, we tend to have very complex chains of thought; cause and effect, and the effect of the effect, and so on. We are likely to be more aware of the long-term benefits in some cases, and thus forgo the 'instant gratification' for a greater benefit by waiting. (Look to agriculture as a means of subsitance if you have any doubts here.)

But at the same time, we are very oppertunistic. If the situation deems, we (as individuals) will often look to self-preservation, self-gratification, and the like in order to better our individual self.

Why? Well, look to Dawkin's arguement of the 'selfish gene'. Overall, we, as humans, want human DNA to survive, so we might be altruistic to our group, so that the group survives even is we perish. However, we are carriers of our own DNA which we want to survive. Breeding is important for this, and we can see that in our cousins the gorrillas, usually peaceful and non-lethal even when fighting to defend territories, the only time when we are likely to see to-the-death combat is when it's over access to a female in estrus. We, as vehicles for DNA, want human DNA, especially ours to proliferate. So, we have to give ourselves an edge while we keep our population going. Sometimes we aid the group, sometimes we aid ourselves ...

It's got to be a close game of brinksmanship to keep things even as we keep our individual DNA strong at the expense of others and, at the same time, keep our species-wide DNA going at the expense of ourselves.
:goodbad:

And, even if you don't like the biological determinism of Dawkin's arguement, realize that we can see the effects of a sort of 'natural selection' in the realm of culture (the social world) as well ... :wave:

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PostPosted: 11 Apr 2008, 05:41 
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Hex wrote:
Why? Well, look to Dawkin's arguement of the 'selfish gene'. Overall, we, as humans, want human DNA to survive, so we might be altruistic to our group, so that the group survives even is we perish. However, we are carriers of our own DNA which we want to survive. Breeding is important for this, and we can see that in our cousins the gorrillas, usually peaceful and non-lethal even when fighting to defend territories, the only time when we are likely to see to-the-death combat is when it's over access to a female in estrus. We, as vehicles for DNA, want human DNA, especially ours to proliferate. So, we have to give ourselves an edge while we keep our population going. Sometimes we aid the group, sometimes we aid ourselves ...

I’ve always had difficulty taking the ‘selfish gene’ idea seriously, probably because it runs completely counter to my personal experience. I was never particularly keen on having children, so I left the decision to my wife. Now that we have two, I definitely don’t want any more. I take care of my children because I love them, period. I doubt that I would feel any differently about them had they been adopted. People I know who did adopt children also don’t differentiate between them based on who carries their DNA.

I suspect that our behaviour is largely determined by what we self-identify with (body, family, nation, race, etc) in a particular situation.


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PostPosted: 09 Jul 2008, 08:59 
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Hrvoje wrote:
I’ve always had difficulty taking the ‘selfish gene’ idea seriously, probably because it runs completely counter to my personal experience.


I suspect that that might be because you don't quite understand the subtleties of the SG idea. I wonder if your understanding of it comes from reading Dawkin's book, or from second hand accounts.

Quote:
I was never particularly keen on having children, so I left the decision to my wife. Now that we have two, I definitely don’t want any more.


Leaving such decisions to one's wife is something of a modern luxury, depending as it does (to a high degree at least) on the availability of effective contraception. 'Selfish' genes. IMV, are waht makes sex nice.

Quote:
I take care of my children because I love them, period.


Which strikes me as being a part of the human condition - a condition in which there is a lot of genetic input.

Quote:
I doubt that I would feel any differently about them had they been adopted. People I know who did adopt children also don’t differentiate between them based on who carries their DNA.


I'd suggest that kids are 'designed' to be cute and loveable - both one's own and others. However, I understand that statiscally there is more parental violence inflicted on step children and adopted children rather than one's own. I'd have to re-read Pinker to check on sources, but I have a strong memory that this is pretty much established.

Quote:
I suspect that our behaviour is largely determined by what we self-identify with (body, family, nation, race, etc) in a particular situation.


No doubt that is very significant - but do you not think that there might be a bit of genetic input into these attributes?

David B


Last edited by Hex on 09 Jul 2008, 10:05, edited 1 time in total.
Fixed quote tag - quote="Hrvoje"


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PostPosted: 09 Jul 2008, 09:13 
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Regardling 'loving' your own vs someone else's children,

This was posted in news. The part that pertains:

Quote:
In some of the photos, babies were smiling or happy. In others they were sad, and in some they had neutral expressions.

They found that when the mothers saw their own infants' faces, key areas of the brain associated with reward lit up during the scans.

...

"We were expecting a different reaction with sad faces," he said. In fact, they found little difference in the reaction of the mothers' brains to their own babies' crying face compared to that of an unknown child.

Overall, the mothers responded much more strongly to their own infants' faces than to those of an unknown baby.



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PostPosted: 15 Jul 2008, 12:52 
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David B wrote:
I suspect that that might be because you don't quite understand the subtleties of the SG idea. I wonder if your understanding of it comes from reading Dawkin's book, or from second hand accounts.

It comes from second-hand accounts. I take it that they are significantly different from the way Dawkins presents it?

David B wrote:
'Selfish' genes. IMV, are waht makes sex nice.

It never occurred to me to connect genes with the beauty of sex. Could you please elaborate?

David B wrote:
However, I understand that statiscally there is more parental violence inflicted on step children and adopted children rather than one's own. I'd have to re-read Pinker to check on sources, but I have a strong memory that this is pretty much established.

I’m pretty sure that this is the case. However, genes are hardly the only variable that needs to be considered. I mentioned the example to illustrate that genetic programming can be overcome.

David B wrote:
No doubt that is very significant - but do you not think that there might be a bit of genetic input into these attributes?

I’m fine with genetic input. It is the concept of things of this nature being genetically determined that bugs me. Am I overstating Dawkins’ point?

Also, I put my wife ahead of my children. This strikes me as odd from the genetic point of view, whereas it makes sense from the point of view of pure companionship.


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PostPosted: 15 Jul 2008, 13:07 
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jess wrote:
Regardling 'loving' your own vs someone else's children,

This was posted in news.

To quote from the news item:
Quote:
To study this relationship, Strathearn and his colleagues asked 28 first-time mothers with infants aged 5 to 10 months to watch photos of their own babies and other infants while they were in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner.

5-10 months since birth plus 7-8 months during pregnancy (since they became aware that they were pregnant) is plenty of time for an emotional bond to develop. Again, genes are not the only variable that needs to be considered in this study.


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PostPosted: 15 Jul 2008, 15:00 
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Hrvoje Butkovic wrote:
David B wrote:
I suspect that that might be because you don't quite understand the subtleties of the SG idea. I wonder if your understanding of it comes from reading Dawkin's book, or from second hand accounts.

It comes from second-hand accounts. I take it that they are significantly different from the way Dawkins presents it?


Without knowing your exact sources it would be hard to put a finger on it, but there are certainly lots of sources that, by accident or design, mis-represent what Dawkins wrote. Dammit, I can't find my copy of TSG - mu8st have lent it to someone.

I'd suggest reading the book, feeling fairly confident that doing so would lead you to re-assess your opinion of it.

David B wrote:
'Selfish' genes. IMV, are waht makes sex nice.

Quote:
It never occurred to me to connect genes with the beauty of sex. Could you please elaborate?


While there are some environmental factors that can have an influence, I'd suggest that feeling pain if one stubs one's toe, feeling pleasure at a sweet taste, feeling displeasure at tasting something very bitter...are largely genetically determined. I'd put pleasure at genital stimulation in the same ballpark, though there may be environmental sources (like hormone levels in pregnant mothers) that might influence what particular sorts of genital stimulation people find more or less pleasant.

David B wrote:
However, I understand that statiscally there is more parental violence inflicted on step children and adopted children rather than one's own. I'd have to re-read Pinker to check on sources, but I have a strong memory that this is pretty much established.

Quote:
I’m pretty sure that this is the case. However, genes are hardly the only variable that needs to be considered. I mentioned the example to illustrate that genetic programming can be overcome.


Certainly not some sort of particular gene that makes people prefer there own children. There does seem to be some sort of innate (hence genetic) impulse to find kids cute, and to feel protective to them. As there is a genetic input on kids looking cute.

I wish I could find my copy of TSG, to quote the Dawkins passage in which he asserts something to the effect of gemetoc programming can be overcome. Within limits - it would need genetic reprogramming, I'd suggest, for people to grow four arms.



David B wrote:
No doubt that is very significant - but do you not think that there might be a bit of genetic input into these attributes?

Quote:
I’m fine with genetic input. It is the concept of things of this nature being genetically determined that bugs me. Am I overstating Dawkins’ point?


Yes, very much so.

Some things do seem to be genetically determined (number of eyes), others to have genetic inputs. How do you feel about things being sociologically determined? It seems clear to me that socialisation can also have an input into how people develop.

But then again, it also seems to me that often genetics has an input into how things are influenced by social inputs.

Quote:
Also, I put my wife ahead of my children. This strikes me as odd from the genetic point of view, whereas it makes sense from the point of view of pure companionship.


Hmm. Having a loving partner with whom one can make and nurture more children would seem to make a lot of sense, especially when one looks back though history to the time when the potential survival of children wasn't high. So I don't think that as clear cut as you suggest.

The book is well worth reading - it is not the 'everything is genetically determined' missive that some people sometimes claim.

And it does, to me at least, make a lot of sense.

David B


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PostPosted: 15 Jul 2008, 15:14 
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To add to my previous post, I'd argue that human beings, more so and more flexibly than any other species, are genetically 'designed' to learn, and to consider, and to act flexibly in the light of learning and consideration, as well as more firmly wired genetic inputs (like feelings of pain when stubbing toe).

David B (wonders if that helps)


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PostPosted: 17 Jul 2008, 17:50 
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I have bought the book, despite my better judgement. :)

Out of interest, how does the selfish gene idea deal with the finding of evolutionary developmental biology that biological diversity doesn’t always correspond to genetic diversity, but rather to diversity in the regulation of genes?


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PostPosted: 17 Jul 2008, 18:02 
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Orgel's second rule.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leslie_Orgel

David B


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