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

Dan Henry (
Wed, 23 Apr 1997 22:30:51 +0600

At 04:07 PM 4/23/97 EDT, Wright, James 7929 wrote:
>I don't recall addressing what goes on inside academic institutions; I
>was generalizing about their role in society. The primary purpose of
>these institutions is still transmission of knowledge, in whatever flawed
>and fallible mechanisms they can manage. I am quite aware of the "publish
>or perish" mind-set, the academics who research in order to be able to
>have a technical basis for their own start-up companies, and so forth. I
>would still contend that despite their problems, they are a unique and
>efficient way to transmit knowledge from one group to another.
>The miracle is that they exist at all; the background of the discussion,
>I thought, was that knowledge could convey a competitive edge to the
>descendants of those who have it. If you create fire and could (somehow)
>keep its secrets to yourself, then your children will be better-comforted
>and possibly better-fed than your competition. The same applies to
>knowledge that creates tools, machines, lasers, etc. Universities and
>such transmit a tremendous amount of useful knowledge and discover more,
>along with cultural baggage, mindless prejudices, etc.

Because we are all driven by self-interest (IMHO), we tend to cooperate. If
I were a member of a tribe that had to hunt together, and I discovered fire,
then it would be in my interest to share that knowledge (or perhaps I'd
become the tribe's fire-builder and let the others go hunting). Why are we
hunting together in the first place? Because the prey is faster, stronger,
and too dangerous to hunt as individuals.

Do we think of gazelles as altruistic because they hang around together and
cooperate for survival? NO. It's a survival mechanism that is used by each
individual gazelle.

Educational institutions do what they do as a means of survival.
Disemination of information is the value that they provide to the other
individuals in the society. In exchange, they get the resources they need
to survive. They don't do it out of charity. If they are successful, they
grow (in prestige, if not in size) and perpetuate their memes. If they
don't, they fail. It's no different than any of us.

Why do I keep jumping back into this thread?