Sunday, May 17, 2009

Maybe I'm Wrong But

Some of this carp from evolutionary biologists or sociobiologists about altruistic and selfish genes and related strategies has been getting on my nerves, as I've commented elsewhere. It's much too reminiscent of the behaviorists, and their theorizing - observing, rationalizing, testing, hypothe-sizing more or less in that order - with less concern for the why of the matter than the what.
Such as when first they assume altruism must be genetic, then find what appear to be "sacrificial" genes in microbes - and while they haven't found the same in humans, the assumption is that where there is sacrificial behavior, the genes must be there. (
Case of this foolishness in point, their analogous comparisons between microbial, insect, and animal strategies. But microbes can evolve almost at will with strategies fitted to, or activating, small differences in physiology, resulting in one such strategic form of the species carrying out specific duties that benefit the survival of the species as a whole - the choice of carrying out the needed and specific assignments not being an option. The version of this dynamic in insects takes longer to evolve, and with more distinctive differences in the physiological aspects of these strategies, often with main or central physiological entities [queen & drone?] carrying the gene pool that reproduces all the rest.
And microbes and insects don't know or anticipate their fates in advance. What we and some other animals with our multiple choice short and long term stratagems may see as sacrifice will be faced as simply a duty for the strategic entity that risks destruction as part of its function. It's long term-schmong term where their goals and purposes are concerned.

I'll have more to say on this later.

In the meantime, as to whether altruistic genes could or should exist, you might find this an interesting read:

Also look at this excerpt from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Biological Altruism:
"Another popular misconception is that kin selection theory is committed to ‘genetic determinism’, the idea that genes rigidly determine or control behaviour. Though some sociobiologists have made incautious remarks to this effect, evolutionary theories of behaviour, including kin selection, are not committed to it. So long as the behaviours in question have a genetical component, i.e. are influenced to some extent by one or more genetic factor, then the theories can apply. When Hamilton (1964) talks about a gene which ‘causes’ altruism, this is really shorthand for a gene which increases the probability that its bearer will behave altruistically, to some degree. This is much weaker than saying that the behaviour is genetically ‘determined’, and is quite compatible with the existence of strong environmental influences on the behaviour's expression. Kin selection theory does not deny the truism that all traits are affected by both genes and environment. Nor does it deny that many interesting animal behaviours are transmitted through non-genetical means, such as imitation and social learning (Avital and Jablonka 2000)."