An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of April 28, 2007
Issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve Headquarters in
Jalpan, Querétaro, MÉXICO

ALTRUISM

In biological terms -- but not in terms of everyday usuage -- altruism is behavior of an individual whose action reduces the number of offspring it itself is likely to produce, but enhances the likelihood that one or more other organisms will be able to reproduce.

For example, when a sparrow issues an alarm call to warn others of an approaching hawk it draws attention to itself thus reducing its own potential for producing offspring, while increasing that of others. Someone jumping into a swimming pool to save a drowning stranger does the same thing.

Since altruism reduces an individual¹s reproductive potential, we should expect the workings of Darwin's natural selection to select against the altruistic trait and eventually reduce its presence within a population to zero. Even if a population were composed only of altruists, it would be vulnerable to subversion from within because a single, mutant selfish individual could exploit the altruistic tendencies of his neighbors.

Therefore, it's hard to explain how biological altruism evolved. In fact, more than in the past, nowadays the subject of "altruism" enters into some of the most vigorous theoretical debates about the mechanics of evolution. You might enjoy looking over a page on the subject, provided by Stanford University, at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/altruism-biological/.

I have my own opinion about where altruism comes from. I'm not sure, but here's my best hypothesis:

The thing that is "me" is not the organism from which the altruistic urge arises. Nor is "humanity" the organism, and maybe not even "the Earthly biosphere," or "Gaia." My own humble opinion is that altruism blossoms from the body of the Infinite One, the Universal Creative Force, the pantheistic Nature that is both God and all things, and sometimes organisms find the need to harmonize with that blossoming.

When the sparrow calls to his mates that a hawk approaches, when Jarrod and Jennifer join the Peace Corps, when an individual, for the sake of the environment, decides to walk to the local store instead of driving to the mall on the edge of town, it is a firing of a synapse of the nervous system of the evolving, maturing Altruistic Everything.

To be a sentient being evolved and matured enough to be able to reflect on all this, and to consciously choose to harmonize my own behavior with the sweet, fragrant, rainbow ribbons of altruistic urges emanating from the soul of the Universal Creative Force and flowing majestically through all of time and space -- how pretty, how pretty... Facebook Icon.