Friday Fluff – July 8th, 2011

By Razib Khan | July 8, 2011 7:20 pm


1) Post from the past: From each according to their nature, to each according to their nature.

2) Weird search query of the week: “incest blogs.”

3) Comment of the week, in response to Scientific American blogs!”:

What’s there to compete for? Do blogging and ads pay much? I mean, besides prestige, attracting smart readership, thought-worthy comments, and possible collaborations? I guess, I kinda answered my own question.

4) And finally, your weekly fluff fix:

MORE ABOUT: Friday Fluff
  • Grey

    From Post from the past:

    1) Random dispensation of altruism
    2) Nonrandom dispensation by reference to kin
    3) Nonrandom dispensation by reference to the altruistic tendencies of the recipient
    The second scenario is Hamiltonian, and can be ignored. The first scenario is clearly one in which altruistic tendencies simply cannot spread because non-altruists can “free ride” upon the good will of altruists, who make no attempt to combat this behavior.”

    I wonder if irrational altruism can survive (and possibly increase).

    Say the premises are
    1) A trait Empathy exists that causes distress at distress so it *makes* people do things to get rid of the distress
    2) In terms of child-mortality the optimal case is for a mother is to have 2x amount of this trait (on average)
    3) Males may not originally have needed this but get x amount anyway simply through their mother’s genes.

    (The free riders in this case are babies – which is a group benefit.)

    4) Either way the standard amount of this trait is x
    5) If this trait is passed down like height or IQ or whatever then maybe it is passed down with a bell curve type distribution. The bulk of the population have the trait in an amount around the mid-point x, a minority have a lot less and a minority have a lot more

    So basically a mechanism designed to provide potential mothers with 2x of this trait (on average) leads to outliers, people with levels of empathy which are too high for the original purpose which through causing distress at distress *makes* them do things which aren’t in their rational interest.

    Now diving into rivers with no thought of reciprocity maybe ought to lead to excessive amounts of this trait being bred out but not if there were accidental compensating advantages like, for example, if people like this were seen as more attractive so 4 in 20 drown and 16 in 20 have on average 1.25 more kids than other people.

    (This could be reinforced by an elite that wanted to reward certain behavior to act as an example.)

    Also if people with excessive amounts of this trait (from an individual game theory point of view) were also particularly co-operative then, if they can find others who are the same, the co-operativeness benefit of a combination of 2+ individuals who were this way might partially balance out the negatives.

    (Conmen generally have to be nomadic and focused on short-term gain and portable property. Altruists can stay put and focus on long-term improvements to base capital.)

    So a trait, empathy, originally specifically designed to *reinforce* free-riding in a specific context (babies) which leads to irrational altruism through excessive amounts of this trait in certain individuals which despite that might be able to replicate long-term because of accidental compensating advantages.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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