[extropy-chat] re: embedded in open hearts (Meta/EP)

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Tue Apr 12 13:02:52 UTC 2005

At 03:03 AM 12/04/05 -0700, Samantha wrote:

>On Apr 10, 2005, at 6:17 PM, spike wrote:
>>>Olga Bourlin
>>>...Voltaire said:  "I may disapprove of what
>>>you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it."   Olga
>>My version of Voltaire's meme is a bit softer:
>>I may disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the
>>point of non-life-threatening injury your right to say
>>it.  After all, anything you or I say is completely
>>irrelevant to me should I perish.
>Is there any level of evil that you would stand up against even if to do 
>so would quite likely put your life in jeopardy?  Sometimes I wonder if we 
>are not at a distinct disadvantage against those who may willingly put 
>themselves in harm's way for what they believe is sufficiently important.

We are social primates.  Our genes were selected by millions of years in 
hunter gatherer tribes where the people around us usually carried more 
copies of our genes than we did.  Thus (by Hamilton's inclusive fitness 
criteria) evolution can be expected to have selected genes that give us 
psychological traits to take horrible risks and face death to protect those 
close to us.

(Close companions were almost always relatives in tribal days.  Since our 
ancestors didn't have DNA testing, they had to make do with treating those 
they grew up with or were friends or bonded with as relatives.)

The sharp edged mathematical reason is that people who died in such 
circumstances on average left more gene copies (through protected 
relatives) than had they survived.

This little consequence of evolutionary biology that Hamilton and Haldane 
worked out more than 40 years ago is absolutely essential knowledge if you 
want to have any understanding of why human history took the twists it did.

For example, the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE. A small force 
(eventually wiped out to the last man) held up over 100,000 Persians in a 
narrow pass for six days while the Greeks mustered the forces that 
eventually defeated the Persians. The achievements of Greece lie at the 
root of western culture. Without this sacrifice the world would be very 
different place.

The exact same mechanism is still with us today.  It lies behind suicide 

And while the mechanism is not expressed in everybody to the same level, I 
would expect Extropians on average to be like other people in taking 
risk--even when there was a high chance of being killed--to save friends in 

If you have not already done so, it is more likely to be lack of 
opportunity than lacking these nearly universal human psychological traits.

Incidentally, it is extremely difficult to think rationally when faced with 
these kinds of situations--and very important to do so.  This is why 
emergency workers are trained--so they nearly have reflexes to high stress 

Keith Henson


Haldane, J. B. S. (1955). Population genetics. New Biology, 18, 34-51.
Hamilton, W. D. (1964). The genetical evolution of social behavior: I. 
Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7, 1-16.
Hamilton, W. D. (1964). The genetical evolution of social behavior: II. 
Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7, 17-52.
Maynard Smith, J. (1995). The theory of evolution. New York: Cambridge 
University Press.

"To express the matter more vividly, in the world of our model organisms, 
whose behavior is determined strictly by genotype, we expect to find that 
no one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single person but that 
everyone will sacrifice it when he can thereby save more than two brothers, 
or four half-brothers, or eight first cousins...." (Hamilton, W. D., 1964, 
"The genetic evolution of social behavior," Journal of Theoretical Biology 
7: pp. 16)

The evolutionary biologist J. S. B. Haldane made similar statements. I am 
not sure who has precedence.

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