How Altruism Might Have Evolved

I spend a lot of time in my book Liars and Outliers on cooperating versus defecting. Cooperating is good for the group at the expense of the individual. Defecting is good for the individual at the expense of the group. Given that evolution concerns individuals, there has been a lot of controversy over how altruism might have evolved.

Here's one possible answer: it's favored by chance:

The key insight is that the total size of population that can be supported depends on the proportion of cooperators: more cooperation means more food for all and a larger population. If, due to chance, there is a random increase in the number of cheats then there is not enough food to go around and total population size will decrease. Conversely, a random decrease in the number of cheats will allow the population to grow to a larger size, disproportionally benefitting the cooperators. In this way, the cooperators are favoured by chance, and are more likely to win in the long term.

Dr George Constable, soon to join the University of Bath from Princeton, uses the analogy of flipping a coin, where heads wins £20 but tails loses £10:

"Although the odds [of] winning or losing are the same, winning is more good than losing is bad. Random fluctuations in cheat numbers are exploited by the cooperators, who benefit more than they lose out."

EDITED TO ADD (8/12): Journal article.

Related article.

Posted on July 29, 2016 at 12:23 PM • 42 Comments


de La BoetieJuly 29, 2016 1:35 PM

The way I read this is that what they have done is a more accurate form of modelling which includes "noise", and that affects the ESS proportions with a tendency towards cooperative behaviour - is that what others feel? I don't see anything particularly fundamental in that, it's "just" more accurate modelling of what can be very subtle dynamics.

They also make the opening statement:

"Deterministic evolutionary theory robustly predicts that populations displaying altruistic behaviors will be driven to extinction by mutant cheats that absorb common benefits but do not themselves contribute."

This is simply false as far as I understand it, for populations where you have repeated games, and recognition of individuals and memory of their previous behaviors. Quite specifically in that case, you get a proportion of cheaters vs cooperators in an ESS, not an extinction of the cooperators.

Now if only we could deal with the cheats and rent-seekers in our society, that would be nice. At the moment, there's great rewards and virtual immunity from risk for certain classes.

Colin BroughtonJuly 29, 2016 3:12 PM

Evolutionary biologists would say that biological evolution can be understood only at the population level - definitely not at the individual level. (The situation may be different for some artificial evolutionary systems.)

Perhaps this is a red herring, but Darwin wrote that sexual selection is the dominant driver of evolution for most of the species he considered. In humans, cultural/social factors appear to be important drivers, and there are others like sperm competition that are more controversial but could be surprisingly important. (On that last point, certain types of cheating may benefit a population!)

Even if an artificial evolutionary system does produce altruistic behavior, there is no guarantee that it does so in the same way as a natural system. The details of a selection mechanism may affect the gamut of altruistic behaviors as well.

Geoff WalesJuly 29, 2016 3:39 PM

Ludwig Von Mises book "Human Action" or Murray Rothbard's "Man Economy and State with Power and Market" are must reads, for an analysis of the emergence of society from multiple individuals. The premise starts with the individual and adds another individual then more individuals. A society is an orderly group of individuals. Individuals must be somewhat cooperative, otherwise there would be chaos and society would not exist.

Mises favoured an "a priori" method of analysis, then tested his theory with real situations. He does not rely on the animal instinct for cooperation to explain the emergence of human society and chance plays no part in its emergence. Instead, he explains the concept of cooperation generally. Key to the "a priori" method is the notion that: conscious action, indicates preference.

Cheaters (possibly non-cooperators), are individuals who are capable of internalising benefits, while simultaneously externalising costs. This is Hardin's, Tragedy of the Commons problem. Mises and Rothbard explain how such cheaters exist. They also explain what is required to remove them.

Modern economists have criticised the method for being overly focused on the individual and have derogatively named the method Crusoe-economics. However the aggregate or macro methods do not explain the micro mechanisms of human behaviour and human action. Modern micro-economics starts too late in the development of society, to explain the emergence of cooperation. In any case, modern macro-economics fails miserably to explain modern society and predict modern behaviour. Whereas Mises' theories have an excellent record in this area.

AnonJuly 29, 2016 8:22 PM

This is ahistorical nonsense. At least through the time of William the Conqueror, evolution, in the sense of producing the most biological offspring, arguably favored the most ruthless warriors, who raped and plundered, and are probably sociopaths by modern day standards. The millennia since then, by evolutionary standards, is too short a time period to result in such a significant change in population genetics. If you think we're getting more altruistic all the time, then you have to ask why all the atrocities of the 20th century from WW1, WW2, the Holocaust, Mao, and Stalin took place. Altruism, at least until the 20th century, and beyond relatives, was inextricably tied to religion. This article sounds like it was written by someone who never took a history course.

MarshallJuly 29, 2016 9:31 PM

See also Sober and Wilson's "multi-level selection" theory, of which the OP link is perhaps a variation. It depends on having social groups in place already, begs the question how to get started in a population of autonomous individuals. Which would depend on some unlikely accident of environment, evidently. Still a hard problem, as far as I know.

yoshiiJuly 29, 2016 11:29 PM

Excellent topic. This is very much a way of thinking I can relate to.
By the way, the L & O book was very good.

From an ecological standpoint, beyond just same-species interactions, those who create too much hostility and discord and destruction tend to upset the entire balance of an ecosystem / biome. Also, even when there are counterbalances, the overall entropy of the ecosystem can be influenced more towards chaos and hypercarnivorism and "militancy" which threatens the general stability of all populations if every population is struggling to survive and is fighting everyone and everything.

But when cooperation is more abundant, including interspecies peacefulness, then the entropy is theoretically lower and the ecosystem can pretty much just be itself without the rampant competitiveness turning into hyperchaos. There's no waveform creating a shockwave modulating (or destroying) the entire medium.

Life chooses to live. Life tends to be life-affirming and life-supporting. Those beings that are more strongly death and destruction oriented and which are not properly risk-averse reflect a deviation from what it actually means to be alive. Threaten the whole topology of existence, and you are really not natural, you are defective in every sense of the word (not aimed at anybody in particular).

The other concept which I meditated upon is the possibility that those who thrive on competitiveness and aggression and dominance may inadvertantly end up attracting the largest and bigger and more threatening competitors/aggressors/dominators/carnivores/planetivores.

Esoterically speaking, essentially sociopaths attract other sociopaths and by nature they have no allegiance to each other. And anything hypercompetitive and hyperdominant just might attract something deeply more stealthful and collossally malevolent and threaten much more including the initial previous dominator/threat/predator.

This is undesirable for the bulk of lives on this planet. Life chooses to live and there are several trillion lives on this planet which are striving to keep on living. We may have heard the terms, "Please don't complicate our existence." Humans are not the only lives, and not necessarily the greatest threats to the biome of biomes. We really don't need to be making waves about who/what/when/where/why/how is the most insidiously/hyperactively/aggressively/relentlessly hostile and dominant. It's not in our interests.

Maybe the SETI people would have some thoughts and replies on this.

If I sound like a nutcase to you, it's because you haven't been exposed to enough previously taboo topics to comprehend the nuttiness of real life. But I'm not a hound for taboo either. And similar to sociopaths attracting sociopaths, addicts attract addicts, and taboo hounds tend to attract other taboo hounds. And I don't want to attract any scatologists or sociopaths or military-grade perverts either. End of re-/digression.

Anyways, cooperation amongst cooperators makes a lot more sense in my personal opinion. So even before reading the main articles I wanted to respond. The entire internet is in many ways an ironic example of the power of cooperation.

May Peace Prevail In All Realms of Existence.
Life chooses to Live.

TedJuly 30, 2016 10:03 AM

Great scientific research. Thank you for posting the links. (JG4 may have posted a link to the very same source around a week or so ago, and I thought it was great then too.)

The Journal Reference for the summary (and full story) lists the authors and their original research as follows: George W. A. Constable, Tim Rogers, Alan J. McKane, and Corina E. Tarnita. Strength in numbers: Demographic noise can reverse the direction of selection.

Here's a little more on the authors/researchers if you're curious.

George W. A. Constable
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

Tim Rogers
Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Bath, United Kingdom

Alan J. McKane
School of Physics and Astronomy, The University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Corina E. Tarnita
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

Additionally, one of a handful of research interests for George Constable covers the seemingly unwieldy but not utterly impossible dynamic of:

The Stability of Complex Ecosystems
“The question of whether an ecosystem should become more or less stable with added complexity has been a source of debate in ecology for decades. Complexity is typically measured as a function of diversity and community connectedness."
[…] “This observation however runs counter to our observations that decreasing diversity typically decreases ecosystems stability. In part, this is simply because the above-mentioned mathematical measure of stability does not capture what we intuitively mean by stability. The stability of an ecosystem could instead be characterized by its variability (the size of population fluctuations), its susceptibility to invasions, and its structural robustness (characterized by the number of secondary extinctions following the loss of a single species). Indeed these are standard measures often used to empirically characterize ecosystem stability.”

(Just started to read the L&O book. Great and especially good if I can understand it.)

P GuptaJuly 30, 2016 10:37 PM

"Cooperating is good for the group at the expense of the individual."
I don't get this. Why is an individual at a loss when he chooses to work jointly with another person(s) to achieve a shared goal?

Seems like a false dichotomy to me: either the group wins or the individual. What about both winning through cooperation? trading their skills/values voluntarily?

The way I see it: Individuals in a group can work jointly with others on shared & bigger goals than they could aim for individually; A group cannot succeed without individuals in it succeeding; Individuals in a group cannot (claim to) succeed if the goal they shared as a group (member) was not achieved.

I just don't see a group's success coming at an individual's expense as a general rule to be taken for granted. Is there a specific context in which this is always true on principle?...that I am missing?

Anon CowardJuly 31, 2016 1:38 AM

"Cooperating is good for the group at the expense of the individual." might be true for theoretical zero-sum games, but we learned/evolved to cooperate because life rewards cooperative behavior.

(1) Defense--single thief attacking with weapon against single defender without weapon. Bystander without weapon joins the defense. Attack fails. In contrast, single attacker may defeat one then pursue the second as well. Cooperative scenario leaves two people with their property and one dead attacker. "Selfish" bystander scenario leaves one thief.

Raising young to maturity...

Similar results with illness--every society nurses their ill back to health.

I guess I'd call these insurance mechanisms--dealing with threats or spreading burdens across more people or time.

(2) Agriculture--time pressure to harvest and preserve food before it rots rewards labor specialization. Cooperation raises per-worker productivity for any complex task. Wine comes to mind (Armenia circa 4100 BC per Wikipedia.)

(3) Pack hunting--the haul is typically too large for immediate consumption, so sharing the surplus doesn't hurt the hunters but strengthens the group. Without even considering the improved probability of a catch, sharing perishable excess is form of storage. Food turns into goodwill.

So (2) and (3) seems like savings mechanisms--dealing with surpluses.

A final, random thought--I wonder if the ridicule heaped on overweight people is the evolutionary residue of pre-refrigeration life. It would be OK to pack on weight like squirrel in the fall, but if you didn't lose weight during the winter through harvest, you might be eating more than your share from the food cellars, endangering the group.

ianfJuly 31, 2016 4:16 AM

That's pretty good summary based on common sense, @Anon Coward or not.

As for YA Anon's […] “ahistorical nonsense, sounds like article was written by someone who never took a history course.

You need to quit bingeing on the Game of Thrones: it's adolescent fantasy for immature adults, and quite unbecoming for this Church of Clive's Knowledge Worship Soon To Be Expressed In Pecuniary Terms.

TedJuly 31, 2016 7:21 AM

The Institute for Economics and Peace

"The Institute for Economics and Peace is the world’s leading think tank dedicated to developing metrics to analyse peace and to quantify its economic value. It does this by developing global and national indices, calculating the economic cost of violence, analysing country level risk and understanding positive peace."

"The research is used extensively by governments, academic institutions, think tanks, non-governmental organisations and by intergovernmental institutions such as the OECD, The Commonwealth Secretariat, the World Bank and the United Nations. The Institute was recently ranked in the top 15 most impactful think tanks in the world on the Global Go To Think Tank Index."

"Founded by IT entrepreneur and philanthropist Steve Killelea (see full bio) in 2007, the Institute for Economics and Peace is impacting traditional thinking on matters of security, defence, terrorism and development."

AnonJuly 31, 2016 10:20 AM

The problem with @Anon Cowards argument and to an extent the paper is that it seems to equate altruism and cooperation. Economic specialization, as in agriculture, is cooperation, but can be completely explained by selfish desires to maximize individual economic output. Pack hunting can best be understood as sharing both the labor and the rewards in a joint endeavor. That's cooperation, but it's not an example of altruism(giving something away of value and getting nothing in return).

ianfJuly 31, 2016 10:41 AM

Yes, you should try to "completely explain" your cooperation is not altruism thesis (way beyond theory) to the first pack of hominids that you meet, provide them with a sound intellectual basis for their continuing deliberations for why they do it, then cable back their reactions.

AlanSJuly 31, 2016 12:06 PM

How it evolved is one question but theories that reduce human behavior to strategies of maximization and rational individual decision-making don't accurately account for human behavior, which is inherently social. These theories are, however, performative. For a recent critique see Prisoners of Reason. Neo-classical economists like to believe they are the only truly scientific social science which would be amusing if the influence of their thinking on social relationships wasn't so deleterious.

AlanSJuly 31, 2016 12:50 PM

@ P Gupta, Anon Coward

cooperating is good for the group at the expense of the individual

We're always individuals in social groups. The question should really be: good for which group? What we should be concerned with is factionalism: how some groups collude and subvert the legal / institutional framework that sustains liberal democracies. Given the current situation in the UK, USA and elsewhere factionalism is a pertinent issue. Good for is also a time-limited term. As wealth and power are concentrated by factions, the inevitable result is either a police state or revolution.

P GuptaJuly 31, 2016 3:15 PM

I agree completely with "altruism(giving something away of value and getting nothing in return) [is different from cooperation which is mutually beneficial]" - thanks for pointing that out.

As a team member, I like to cooperate on a team's shared goals, not "collaborate" in what is my (share of the) job or give up my share of the values achieved to "the group" when done. I cooperate but am not an altruist.

I also don't see how altruists could have survived evolution if they were giving up values rather than keeping what they earned. "Giving to the group" doesn't mean much since a group/team does not exist as entities - only individuals do - a group is only collection of individuals.

AlanSJuly 31, 2016 6:05 PM

Another critique of the "rational fool" theory of human behavior: Marshall Sahlins: On the culture of material value and the cosmography of riches.

The answer to Kenneth Boulding’s unasked question, as well as the reason it isn’t asked, already exists in the way he phrased its absence: as though “economic phenomena” were not themselves cultural facts, but some other kind of stuff embedded in a “cultural matrix” or “cultural context.” The problem is ontological: it consists of the banishment of the cultural organization of material life to the unexamined realm of “externalities,” the “non-economic,” whence this or that factor would have to be arbitrarily summoned on an impromptu basis—sometimes rather literally like a “god in the machine”—when needed to account for the (supposed) rationality of some particular pecuniary outcome. Yet when the so-called “exogenous factors” are thus conveniently translated into preferences of the hedonistic calculus, they are dissolved as such. The effect is merely to add various epicycles to the theory of the market as a self-regulating universe revolving around an egocentric individual by adducing one or another factor of imperfect competition or constrained satisfaction. To speak for example of a “segmented labor market” divided by race or gender is simply to appropriate a necessary (economic) condition from the cultural order that market theory itself cannot provide. Likewise for “risk aversion” and all such reservations on the rational dispositions of Max U (Maximum Utility): they may change his optimizing to satisficing but they leave intact the disguise of social values as personal desires, hence the resolution of material ways of life to individual interests. Yet for most material transactions in most (or all?) societies known to anthropology, insofar as these transactions take place among kinsmen, material interest in not even an individual fact.

Harald KAugust 1, 2016 6:00 AM

See, this here is one of those things where a NetLogo model would be worth a thousand words.

Peter A.August 1, 2016 9:07 AM

I tend to see altruism as a kind of "insurance". If the culture of altruism is well-accepted by a society it serves to distribute the cost of random adverse events (e.g. house fire). If you help others by giving out some resources (e.g. construction materials, labor, food) to those who have suffered a random adverse event voluntarily and without an expectation of a recourse - because the receiving people simply don't have anything to give back in return at the moment (e.g. all their possessions have burned up) - it increases chances that when another random adverse events hits YOU, those other people who remember you helping them (or others) will feel inclined to help you. In such society some individual who consistently refuses to help others in need (a defector) will be frowned upon and when a misfortune hits him he would have difficulty in soliciting help from other people on the basis of "revenge": you have refused to help me or the neighbors, now go fish. This encourages altruistic behavior as a precursor to future successful solicitation of help in case of need.

Of course that would truly work only in relatively small society which is able to remember past behaviors of its members.

Jim AAugust 1, 2016 11:50 AM

Cooperation and altruism are really points on a line, not a binary choice.
Classical game theory often shows that it is advantageous to deal forthrightly and honestly to people within the group, because if you screw them over, they won't deal with you again. OTOH if you're never going to deal with people again, you can safely screw them over. So one question is just how big a group do you give trusted treatment to? Nuclear family? Extended family? Village? Ethnic group? Nation state? Humanity? All living things? The worse the situation is, the smaller our trusted group generally becomes.

The other thing is that the drives that lead one to cooperation or selfishness are not exact mappings on to group size. Just as the drive to love your children can make people love all babies or cute animals, the drive to cooperate even if there is no direct benefit can be extended to people who you will never have to deal with again.

And on the gripping hand, we are evolved to judge how well OTHERS will treat us, and treat them accordingly.

P GuptaAugust 1, 2016 1:20 PM

"This encourages altruistic behavior as a precursor to future successful solicitation of help in case of need."
So why call it "altruism"? Altruism ('Other'-ism) as it was meant by its creator Auguste Comte is a doctrine "that individuals have a moral obligation to renounce self-interest and live for others."

When someone helps another who is in need, they do it as pursuit of their own values - for they see the other as a value to themselves (now or in the future).

For a human-being another human-being is a source of (a lot of) potential and very unique (only another human-being can provide certain) values. Why wouldn't a human-being want to help another?...unless the other is seen as some sort threat (as in a small-context of a zero-sum game). I would imagine "benevolence" to be the default feeling between human-being and the source of "providing help" to others in need - I don't see why I would be motivated by "giving up self-interest" to provide help to others. For eg. I wouldn't "go looking" for someone who needs help as a way to live my life but if I do encounter someone who needs help, I'll keep the context of my life in mind when I help others.

"Cooperation and altruism are really points on a line, not a binary choice."
Cooperation is pursuing YOUR OWN goals/values which you SHARE with others....Altruism is giving up of your values/goals for the sake of others with whom you DO NOT SHARE anything. I am not sure how they two points on a line.

Roger WolffAugust 2, 2016 4:32 AM

IMHO, the "key insight" is that it is the GENES that compete for survival. The "selfish" gene loses out when a group of "altruistic-gene-influenced" people throw the selfish guy out of their group or not to help him when he turns ill, lowering his gene's chance for survival. This insight was put forward by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book "the selfish gene".

The theories set forth by Manfred Eigen and Ruthild Winkler in their 1975 book "Das Spiel" then show that such a "sub optimal gene" will often not be eradicated but often survive in the "gene pool".

This is a good thing, from the standpoint of evolution: Should circumstances change, the advantage might turn around, giving the previously sub optimal gene a better chance for survival. An example where this might happen is with color blindness. Some forms apparently allow the affected people to see some things that non-color-blind people cannot see.

JG4August 2, 2016 7:25 AM

can't recall if I posted this before, but it is a metaphor for failure in complex systems. the mention of erosion of trust jogged my memory. once the trust is gone, the system can unravel very quickly

Mystery of Prince Rupert's Drop at 130,000 fps - Smarter Every Day

AlanSAugust 2, 2016 8:43 AM

The trouble with rational choice theory, game theory, neoclassical economics, the selfish gene and such arguments as applied to humans is that what it is to cooperate, act in one's own interest, what counts as value, what counts as being rational are already sociocultural facts. Society doesn't emerge from the rational, self-interested actions of individuals. As Sahlins points out in the paper I cited above all these theories are per-Copercican: "the effect is merely to add various epicycles to the theory of the market as a self-regulating universe revolving around an egocentric individual by adducing one or another factor of imperfect competition or constrained satisfaction." And as such one might observe they nicely serve the established order of things, just as pre-Copercican theory did. These theories aren't successful because the evidence supports them, quite the contrary.

Clive RobinsonAugust 2, 2016 10:25 AM

@ JG4,

Twist the tail hard enough and the body explodes, cats and voters can be very much like that.B-)

P GuptaAugust 2, 2016 10:53 AM

"Society doesn't emerge from the rational, self-interested actions of individuals."
Sorry to disagree here. I contend that society are formed and "kept up" precisely because being in a society is of value and self-interest to each & every individual in it.

Further it is not altruism (sacrifice of your values) but trade of values to mutual benefit, joy of cooperation with your fellow-beings, division of labor that allows specialization to your own interests, freedom to do what you love while having access to products and services created by others (via trade), gains from higher standard of life via inventions of others who pursue their interests etc. that lead to a thriving human society (when humans are allowed to use their mind with freedom in pursuit of their interests/values).

That is why free-er societies prosper as against centrally-planned/governed/ruled. Societies are peaceful and grow when humans don't see each other as treat to their freedom or to their earned/created products/services, since they can trade freely. The west has advanced because of freedom not because its philanthropic. Freedom creates the surplus that is benevolently given to the (very) few (percentage in society) who can't produce themselves. It is reversal of cause-effect to say altruism causes societies/humans to prosper - institutionalization of a divided society of people who receive and people who give and people who take-on the job transfer of the wealth cannot lead to sustained societies - the evidence for this is all around us in present & in history - near & far.

I moved from a country of "givers/takers" to a country of "makers" - I prefer to live in a society where people richer than me make and KEEP their earnings - for while they pursue their paths, I can mine all the while enjoying the benefits of living in a better and more prosperous society.

AlanSAugust 2, 2016 11:58 AM

@ P Gupta

But you miss the point. When you speak of individual decisions and value all this this presumes a sociocultural context in which the value has meaning.

AlanSAugust 2, 2016 12:30 PM

Also see Hodgson, Geoffrey M. On the Limits of Rational Choice Theory. Economic Thought, no. Vol 1, No 1, 2012.

For the neoclassical economist, the fact that utility theory can ‘explain’ a wide variety of types of economic behaviour is regarded as a strong vindication of this general approach. I take a different view. First, the sheer generality of a theory tells us nothing of its explanatory power. We could conceive different general theories, such as that we all are programmed by aliens from outer space, or that we are all pawns of God. These would be quite general in their scope and could be applied in principle to any behavioural manifestation. But we would rightly be sceptical of their explanatory value. A theory does not explain anything unless it points to an underlying causal mechanism. In the case of individual behaviour, explanations must thus relate to the known mechanisms of the human psyche and human interaction and draw upon psychology, anthropology, sociology and other disciplines. This is precisely what the neoclassical advocates of utility theory refuse to do. They take the utility functions as given and give the job of grounding them theoretically to somebody else. By this refusal they indicate that utility theory itself cannot provide a real explanation. Arguably, human societies are partly differentiated from other animals in terms of developed institutions and cultures. If utility maximising behaviour not confined to humanity, then these differentiating elements are effectively absent from the universal picture. Whether true or false, this picture can tell us little of importance about historically specific human cultures or institutions. That is the unintended achievement of the exponents of ubiquitous rationality and economic imperialism. The causal mechanisms through which culture and institutions mould and constrain human agents remain unexplored in this paradigm. Essentially, there is no adequate and substantial theory of human agency at the core of the standard theory. It tells us nothing of significance that is specifically about the human psyche or about human interaction. Outside the realm of the universal, no particular causal mechanism is identified by the theory. With respect to specifically human characteristics and specific human societies, it is causally vacuous. Its very weakness stems from its excessive universality. Indeed, to attain the status of universality it has to be evacuated of much of its real content.

AlanSAugust 2, 2016 12:54 PM

@ P Gupta

That is why free-er societies prosper as against centrally-planned/governed/ruled. Societies are peaceful and grow when humans don't see each other as treat to their freedom or to their earned/created products/services, since they can trade freely. The west has advanced because of freedom not because its philanthropic. Freedom creates the surplus that is benevolently given to ...the (very) few (percentage in society) who can't produce themselves

Who said anything about "centrally-planned/governed" societies? Go read some Adam Smith. And just ignore what economists, in particular the Chicago School variety of Stigler, Friedman, Becker et al. say about Smith (I doubt they read him much given the bs they spout about him). Individual freedom as you discuss it is only possible within a framework of social institutions, social values, etc. Here's one of the Chicago School's own mocking them them for their MaxU theories: Smith, Entry, Samuelson, and Why Economics Should Teach Good Old Chicago School Economics.

TedAugust 2, 2016 1:54 PM

@ AlanS

Another critique of the "rational fool" theory of human behavior: Marshall Sahlins: On the culture of material value and the cosmography of riches.

There are a few especially poignant thoughts in that colloquia.

“Parents love children as other selves of themselves, even as brothers and cousins belong to one another, if in varying manners and degrees (Aristotle 2002: VIII, 1161a–1162b). Kinship, as I have argued elsewhere, is mutuality of being (Sahlins 2013). Kinfolk are members of one another, intrinsic to each other’s persons and identities. Participating thus in each other’s existence, kinsmen symbolically and emotionally live each other’s lives and die each other’s deaths, knowing the other’s pleasures and pains as their own. “You were born in me,” says a Maori man to another."

P GuptaAugust 2, 2016 7:06 PM

"When you speak of individual decisions and value all this this presumes a sociocultural context in which the value has meaning."
Social values, yes I agree....but whether or not I choose to be part of a society (which I do, specifically the one that assures my freedom of choice and action) value to me is whatever furthers my (individual) life - both physical & spiritual. The "standard of value" is my LIFE including being a part of society (i.e. society is a value [to me]).

"Individual freedom as you discuss it is only possible within a framework of social institutions."
I *think* I agree here. I believe (sorry if I am mistaken) our difference is in whether root of a civilized/successful/peaceful society is altruism or self-interest of its individual members. I contend self-interest and trade is.

"Parents love children as other selves of themselves"
Yep! this is my point...In choosing to help others (eg parents helping their children or vice-versa or a friend helping another friend or a human-being helping a stranger) we are NOT giving up higher value for lower value - we consider the other (whom we are helping) as a value to ourselves and giving up some time/money/etc. for their sake is not altruism but pursuit of our interest - it is not altruistic behavior (as formulated by Auguste Comte) but behavior consonant with what we think as self-value (egoism/self-interest).

P GuptaAugust 2, 2016 9:07 PM

"Go read some Adam Smith."
In using words like "self-interest" or "individual freedom" I mean them with their objective meaning and not how other thinkers/philosophers have described them in their theories - which I may agree, disagree or partly agree with.

JG4August 3, 2016 6:13 AM

from the usual compendium, a surprising example of altruism. maybe it is just a manifestation of boredom by some especially large-brained mammals

I've been too busy to comment on the Clive life-extension project (speaking of large brains), but metformin appears to work and is being rigorously tested:

One of the best predictors of mortality risk is A1C. See for example:

Post-Meal Blood Sugar and A1c Predict Cardiovascular Events and Deaths

If this is the link I think it is, there is a stunning graph of age at onset of blood glucose rise and longevity. 20 minutes of brisk walking three times a week is a good start, but the real magic is 5 miles a day, every day.

Apologies if I've posted this before. My memory isn't quite as sharp as it was before the 10,000 pints of beer. Now I'm low carb, so it is red wine these days.

Clive RobinsonAugust 3, 2016 8:38 AM

@ JG4,

I've been too busy to comment on the Clive life-extension project (speaking of large brains), but metformin appears to work and is being rigorously tested:

Not just metformin (which I take) but statins as well. However whilst they might work for some parts of the body, they don't prevent some types of aging such as the muscles and brain, Whilst a common food enhancing compound "cyclodextrin" apprars to retard various types of dementia there are issues about getting it to the targey site. Human growth factor used by naughty athletes does help with muscles but has side effects. A fairly famous computer geek has decided that transfusions with youthful blood is a way around that. However it is reminiscent of a historical figure who believed "bathing in virgins blood" would keep her good looks, but unsuprisingly failed. She would have been better advised to drink human milk and stay out of sunlight, and avoid all forms of sugar, and lower complexity starches, and keep the calorie count low.

I'm of the view that living for ever will be boring eventually, however the longer I live...

One possibility that is not available to those of us currently alive is to make changes to our DNA etc. One such is the "telomere" found at the ends of chromosomes, which shortens every time DNA divides and eventually stops further division. The only place it's not found naturally active is "in the sex cells" and cancer cells. It's shortening can be prevented by an enzyme (lookup "telomerase reverse transcriptase" for more info).

JG4August 3, 2016 11:48 AM


Thanks for your helpful comments. There is an excellent TED talk on longevity by Dan Buettner. He doesn't delve into the IGF-1 topic there (if I recall correctly), but it is closely related to many things, including sugar, protein and HGF. The Seventh Day Adventists live a long time mainly for two reasons. One is community and the other is a plant-based diet. The absence of animal protein from the diet lowers IGF-1, which reduces the rate of cell division, preserving telomere count. The sense of community reduces stress, which also helps telomere count. Cynthia Kenyon at Calico (a google project) is working to find/prove pharmaceuticals that slow aging via suppression of IGF-1 expression. If I am not mistaken, sugar and high quality protein both increase IGF-1 production, producing more muscle mass and faster aging. The best case scenario may be to modulate IGF-1 by cyclic fasting, where muscle is built during the growth phase, followed by cell resting during a starvation phase. Ideally, insulin sensitivity is enhanced during the starvation phase, which could help keep A1C and cardiac risk down. If I am not mistaken red wine reduces the odds of dementia significantly, but the bottles didn't seem to have a warning about memory loss. Life is a series of tradeoffs. May yours be favorable. I am very suspicious about the statins, which do indeed low cholesterol, but I don't think that anyone has done a proper total mortality study on them. It may not be good for the pharma companies, who have been part of the national security/financial complex for a very long time.

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