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Ch. 1: Apes in the Family 
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Chris wrote:

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On page 2 the author asks, "But if all that people care about is their own good, why does a day-old baby cry when it hears another baby cry?"

As much as I'd like to reject Richard Dawkins gene-centered view of biological evolution I'm more inclined to say that Frans de Waal might be taking the "selfish gene" concept out of context.

So why do they cry? How about "they just do." Babies do what nature has selected them to do.


I think different people could come up with many explanations here.
The author thinks the baby cries out of empathy for the sorrows (or hunger, discomfort ) of the other baby. This may be, if we think of a very simple form of empathy.

empathy
2: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this.
Merriam-Webster's dictionary.

But then the baby would also cry if he heard another loud noise that he found stressful.
I can imagine that the cries of baby 2 remind baby 1 of times when he himself felt upset. Baby 2 may not really share the suffering of baby 1, but feel distressed that this might happen to him again.

I wouldn't put it like Chris, that nature has selected babies to cry when they hear another baby cry, it would be hard to imagine that this much has been programmed, I imagine the reaction is partly automatic and partly a sign of the emotional development of the baby.
If there was a loud noise, or a baby two was crying, and baby 1 was not deaf and yet did not respond in any way, there would be something wrong with him.


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I've come to this book late. It's certainly much different in approach and tone from the similarly titled book some of us are also reading. We can marvel at our physical relationship to fish, but have a hard time developing much fellow-feeling with them! Not so with apes, as De Waal shows us skillfully.

De Waal's and Shubin's intents are similar, though, in their locating the origins in other animals of traits we might otherwise assume to be ours alone.

What I cannot explain about the empathy topic others have commented on, is how empathy would develop, how it could come about that an "empathic variant" of a primate appeared in the first place. Can anyone help me out with this? It seems we're talking about something far different from the bones in a fish's fin. Empathy, after all, is just what we call the trait we observe in people (the phenotype). What is it genetically, and how did it appear on the scene? Maybe it appeared in phases somehow as the complex eye did, or maybe it was at first a side-effect of some other variant. It doesn't seem sufficient as explanation just to point out that we can see caring behavior increasing in animals as we move forward in evolution, and that eventually this caring behavior becomes that ability to know what a fellow creature is feeling. This is a description but not an explanation. Of course empathy can be assumed to increase the rate of survival, but the question is still going begging, as far as I see. Have we reached the limits of our current knowledge with this kind of question, or is there something I'm missing?
DWill


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DWill wrote:
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What I cannot explain about the empathy topic others have commented on, is how empathy would develop, how it could come about that an "empathic variant" of a primate appeared in the first place.


Look on page 6, second paragraph for at least a partial answer to how empathy would develop.

De Waal:
Quote:
In mammals, parental care cannot be separated from lactation. During the 180 million years of mammalian evolution, females who responded to their offspring's needs outreproduced those who were cold and distant.


I can see how mammals that better tolerate their offspring would be more successful and therefore tolerance would be selected. Over time higher and higher levels of tolerance would become outright attentiveness and eventually develop into being able to anticipate need. Now it's just a short hop to empathy. I'm not sure humans could have evolved without the trait of empathy already in place. The human infant is so vulnerable and completely dependent for such an extended period of time. The mother must be able to feel empathy toward her infant. Think about nursing a baby; it is not always easy to get started, it can be confusing for mother and baby, painful, and tiring. Gaining weight in the first few weeks of an infant's life is critical to survival. This is true even today in our modern, protected and sanitized world. If a mother was not able to understand and feel the baby's distress when hungry, she might not be all the keen on feeding it in the middle of the night when her nipples are cracked and sore. Many, if not most other mammals have some mobility and can get to the mother's nipple. Human infants are totally dependent on the mother or other adult to bring them to the nipple.

I'm not sure about the second part of your question.


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Sat Jun 07, 2008 10:15 pm
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Post Apes are not Monkeys
The media, including some documentaries, constantly refer to chimps as monkeys. Since this is a mission of mine, I thought I'd point out how well De Waal explains the difference between apes and monkeys. The bottom of p 13 does a good job! Yay!



Tue Jun 10, 2008 5:01 pm
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[quote="Saffron]
I can see how mammals that better tolerate their offspring would be more successful and therefore tolerance would be selected. Over time higher and higher levels of tolerance would become outright attentiveness and eventually develop into being able to anticipate need. Now it's just a short hop to empathy. [/quote]

Well, maybe in evolutionary time, the "hop" to empathy took a few thousand generations, but I see what you mean. Right now, I'm puzzling over something that has never occurred to me to question, and that I suppose is this matter of the randomness of variants that may appear. Having a variant of greater empathy appear at random is hard for me to grasp, and I don't see any scientific explanation offered for it, if by scientific we might mean an explanation of the regularities of a process. To call the appearance of variations random is to say that science doesn't have a handle on the deeper workings that might show order underlying an apparent randomness. Or, it might be to say that science, as practiced at least, cannot reach into this phenomenon because it may have an inherently unpredictable element of spontaneity.
DWill


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Thu Jun 12, 2008 11:26 am
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There is a story in today's edition of The Economist illustrating the evolutionary basis of exchange behaviour. The endowment effect: Mankind's inner chimpanzee refuses to let go. This matters to everything from economics to law. See
http://www.economist.com/science/displa ... d=11579107



Thu Jun 19, 2008 9:09 pm
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DWill wrote:
I'm puzzling over something that has never occurred to me to question, and that I suppose is this matter of the randomness of variants that may appear. Having a variant of greater empathy appear at random is hard for me to grasp, and I don't see any scientific explanation offered for it, if by scientific we might mean an explanation of the regularities of a process. To call the appearance of variations random is to say that science doesn't have a handle on the deeper workings that might show order underlying an apparent randomness. Or, it might be to say that science, as practiced at least, cannot reach into this phenomenon because it may have an inherently unpredictable element of spontaneity.
DWill


Hi DWill, your questions are well answered in evolutionary biology. Mutations are random, but only beneficial mutation improves reproduction, so the variance of evolution is anything but random. Rather, evolution is directed towards more complexity and greater adaptation to the niche barring external disasters. We see this adaptive explanation clearly operating in empathy. Maiden aunt birds help their sisters to feed chicks, in a behaviour that improves the transmission of their own genes. Humans live to be grandparents, due to the fact that children with caring grandparents were more successful that those without, so the gradual lengthening of human life after raising a family has a clear adaptive reason. Over time, whichever behaviours produce most offspring are favoured by natural selection. These are completely regular evolutionary processes. In human life, an instinctive concern for others has a whole range of benefits, as we can imagine a clan who has strong internal bonding having greater morale and trust than a clan who are cold and rude to each other. These traits are not universal, as the cold rudeness of modern life is probably rather adaptive in our technological globe where empathy has been outsourced by the community to the state, and people are falling back on the isolated household unit as the basic level of social organisation due to the powerful atomisation of life caused by mass media and technology.



Fri Jun 20, 2008 9:12 am
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Robert Tulip said:
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We see this adaptive explanation clearly operating in empathy. Maiden aunt birds help their sisters to feed chicks, in a behaviour that improves the transmission of their own genes. Humans live to be grandparents, due to the fact that children with caring grandparents were more successful that those without, so the gradual lengthening of human life after raising a family has a clear adaptive reason. Over time, whichever behaviours produce most offspring are favoured by natural selection. These are completely regular evolutionary processes.


I still feel that much of this is described by evolutionary theory but not really explained by it. A genetic mutation causing an increase in what we call empathy--what would that look like genetically? It is not bound to be simple. I'm gonna stick with my Missouri attitude on this--someone's gotta show me.

I don't really think that evolution cares at all about us old people. We've already passed prime reproductive age. More grandparents are around because we've been able to secure a food supply and get rid of most infectious diseases in the developed world.
DWill



Wed Jun 25, 2008 11:23 pm
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Hi DWill
This discussion of empathy opens the question of to what extent character traits are genetic or learned. The jury is still out on that, but de Waal is arguing that genetics has a bigger role than commonly understood in causing friendly behaviour. In an environment where empathetic individuals have more progeny, such as Bonobo paradise in pre-modern Congo, any genes which support this friendly tendency would increase within the population.

The evolution of humans to the biblical 'three score and ten' age shows that 70 has long been the normal life expectancy barring mishap, of which there were many more in earlier times. There is a clear adaptive explanation for human longevity, in that a mother who had living parents in a hunter-gatherer society would have more children survive. Sure, this genetic basis has been affected by modern technology, but it remains an underlying explanation for the abundance of elderly wisdom in our world :roll:



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Hello Robert,
There seems to be good evidence that empathy is innate. The kernel of empathy then can be 'trained up", or not, depending on the individual's culture/family. My puzzlement is over how traits like empathy occur through natural selection. I think that natural selection, though central, is not sufficient in itself, and that principles of self-organization having to do with complex systems must be at work before the selection even takes place. Not my own idea, of course; there is a growing body of work on complexity theory and self-organization. If you have time to look into Stuart Kaufmann's two most recent books, I think you might find something to like. He has a chapter in Reinventing the Sacred called "The Evolution of the Economy"--right up your alley! The difference between you and him might be that it is the principles of self-organization (or "order for free") that are similar in biological and human systems--not the manner in which forms are selected for survival. I can't travel that far with Kaufmann into the technical justifications, but I find his summary ideas to be potent and inspiring. His "mission" is to reclaim for us humans some of the ground we totally conceded to reductionistic science, reinvent the sacred, and restore a God who can be either the creator God of theism or the creativity in the universe of non-theism.

DWill



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"Let us understand Darwinism so we can walk in the opposite direction when it comes to setting up society."
-Richard Dawkins, The Washington Post Magazine

I had given up on this forum as being dominated by a bunch of reactionary social Darwinists, but this discussion is luring me back. I just ordered the book from Amazon. I hope I'm not too late!

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Sat Jun 28, 2008 7:12 pm
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