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