Re: virus: RE: virus, Abortion, etc.

John Steele (
Sat, 16 Mar 1996 10:17:45 -0600

Billy Pilgrim,

>> If you consider a small, geographically close group of individuals, I
>> would say that the two are the same. They are on the same "team" (re my
>> soccer analogy). Here seemly selfless acts, such as giving your life to
>> safe a drowning child, can be explained not only as good in a moral
>> sense, but good for DNA replication.
>This may be divergent from the current vein of the discussion but the
>above is incorrect. Saving a single child at the expense of your own
>life is _not_ in your best interest in terms of DNA replication. In
>terms of DNA similarity, direct siblings and individual parents have 50%
>of the subject's DNA, blood aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews have
>25% of the subject's DNA, and 1st cousins have 1/8 of the subject's DNA.
>In order to make this a positive tradeoff in terms of genetic material,
>one would have to save more than two parents or siblings at the expense
>of one's own life, more than four aunts, uncles, nieces, or nephews, and
>more than eight first cousins. The only _even_ trade for saving a
>singular life by sacrifice would be to save one's own identical twin.
>So, even genetically speaking, it is in one's own interest to stay alive,
>even if that means letting others die.

This is a good point. The British biologist J.B.S. Haldane once remarked
that he would never give his life for a brother, but would for "two
brothers or eight cousins".

But he went a little further. To quote from "The Moral Animal",

"In 1955, J.B.S. Haldane noted that a gene inclining you to jump in a
river and save a drowning child, taking a one-in-ten chance of dying,
could flourish so long as the child were your offspring or your brother
or sister; the gene could even spread, at a slower rate, if that child
were your first cousin."

Of course, reality is a little more complicated than this simple
mathematical model. What if the person who is giving his life has already
had children? Or perhaps they can't have children? In either case, a
useful strategy, from the point of view of getting your DNA into the next
generation, is to look out for the well-being of those with whom you
share some genetic material.

So altruism, though it may appear selfless, is in fact better termed,
"reciprocal-altruism" - genes are selfish after all.


John Steele Foresight Technology, Inc.
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