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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rethinking The Science Of Generosity | Greg Baldwin, Co.Exist

In this blog, Baldwin responds to a new book by legendary biologist E. O. Wilson:
How we give back, and for what reason, has long baffled scientists. Will a better understanding help us activate more people to altruism?
Wilson's book, The Social Conquest of Earth, apparently "shook the world of science" by challenging the established understanding of evolution and the accepted explanation of altruism.

Baldwin explains the conflict, briefly, noting the terms of evolution: natural selection, survival of the fittest, and genetics. He writes:
Over the last 40 years, academics have adopted a very narrow view of altruism based on the theory that individuals only act selflessly in nature in order to protect the longevity and reproductive capacity of other family members.
But Wilson, who's been a staunch advocate of a theory called "kin selection," has recanted:
His new theory moves away from genetic relationships and focuses instead on the development of cooperative groups and the biological advantage they have over less cooperative groups.
Baldwin likes what Wilson is saying. As president of "the Internet's largest volunteer engagement network," Baldwin writes:
it is difficult for me to believe that the millions of people who searched our network last year to find an opportunity to be helpful did it because of a biological imperative to advance the genetic pool of their relatives.
And later, he concludes (emphasis added):
It is time to dig a little deeper and challenge the assumption that altruism is an evolutionary sideshow. Wilson seems to think there is more to be learned here, and I can think of nothing more important to the future of service than joining him in the search.
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