RE: virus: Altruism, Empathy, the Superorganism, and the Priso

Wright, James 7929 (
Tue, 22 Apr 97 08:49:00 EDT

Martz wrote:

>On Mon, 21 Apr 1997, "Wright, James 7929" <> wrote:
>>Very well then, shall we attempt accuracy? I propose:
>>An act can be considered altruistic when:
>>1) An act occurs;

>Inherently. ;)

>>2) The consequences or benefits of that act do not confer any advantage

>>to the actor, their heirs, assigns or acquaintances;<<

>Bzzzzt! Sorry, it's got little to do with any *real* advantage anymore.
>There only has to be a perceived advantage on the part of the actor.
>This may be conscious or not.<

Whoa, there! Here we hit the "motive" problem again, which earlier you
said was unprovable; the "perception" part involves motive on the part of
the *perceiver*, which can be entirely different from the motive (IF ANY)
of the actor. I cannot agree with the "conscious or not" clause, either,
since it implies some sort of mental impairment on the part of the actor
(I don't know why I'm doing this, but you do?)
I am trying to remove motive from the discussion; can there be no act
without motive? Note that "desire" may be a better word than "motive"

>>3) The actor does not claim any ownership of the act, beyond simple
>>knowledge that an act has occurred;<<

>Irrelevant. *He* knows it happened. The left hand mustn't know what the
>right one is doing. I think that was Jesus' take on it and I think what
>he was trying to say was that true charity is an impossible act (howzat
>for an appeal to authority?).<

Not so. It is quite possible to forget that one has done a service; I
have occasionally been reminded of things I have done for people that I
had quite forgotten doing, and on one occasion had to be shown my
signature to accept that I had done it at all. For this reason I also do
not agree that true charity is an impossible act; it simply has to be so
trivial (or so common a part of your own behavior) that you just do not
recall doing it.

>>4) The consequences or benefits of that act do not confer any
>>disadvantage to any other party.<<

>Again, I think it has more to do with the actors perception. If she
>thinks she's acting for the good of the other person is her act any less
>altruistic if it goes horribly wrong?<

Yes, misguided harm done in attempted service is not altruism; it was for
this reason that I included this part of the definition. It also rules
out "Slaughtering the Serbs for the benefit of the Croatians" and similar
misuses of authority.
We need to determine if it is possible to act without attachment to that
act, either in the form of desire for recognition, desire for
self-satisfaction, desire for any personal reason, etc. If you cannot
recognize this possibility, I will not be able to show to your
satisfaction that altruism, charity or any other selfless action is
possible, and we can save some bandwidth by not trying.