Just because we are natural born killers does not mean we are not good people

September 18, 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Good morning:

The significance of the recent scientific study published in Nature, which found that chimpanzees are natural-born killers, is that killing has a genetic basis. They did not learn that behavior from humans or choose to be that way. They are genetically predisposed to kill because, via natural selection, that predisposition has resulted in a competitive advantage for scarce resources and reproduction compared to chimpanzees that do not have that predisposition.

We need only look to our own culture and past to realize that we have the same genetic predisposition.

The Boston Globe reports:

It can be tempting to take a dark view of the violent behavior of chimpanzees, but Joan Silk, a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University, said discovering the origins of human behaviors in other animals is not the same as learning our destiny.

“How do animals resolve conflict is interesting,” Silk said. “How do animals find out ways to cooperate? Those are general principles from which we can learn a lot, but it doesn’t mean we’re expecting them to be the same across species. I study baboons, and I love them dearly, but they do all kinds of things I think are sort of uncivilized. If they were my kids, I’d be very distressed.”

We are finally beginning to understand that human behavior has a genetic basis. That is, we are predisposed to act in certain ways, despite our race, ethnicity, language and culture.

A predisposition to kill when vital resources are scarce is a competitive advantage. In times of plenty, it’s a competitive disadvantage.

Empathy is a competitive advantage during times of scarcity because survival is enhanced by living in a peer-to-peer cooperative relationship with others.

Individuals cannot long survive unless they belong to a group and groups cannot survive without the informed consent and cooperation of their individual members.

Mutual respect and dignity promote harmony and cooperation in times of scarcity and plenty.

Greed and exploitation of others never do. They promote discord and ultimately cause chaos.

This is why living the Golden Rule and democracy are a better model for living than a corporation that exploits other people and the environment for profit and has no accountability for the harm it causes.

Survival of the fittest is not a law. It’s only a prediction of the outcome of a fight.

Science Friday: Why Are You So Damned Smart?

May 11, 2012

Greetings to all of you. Today I am initiating a new topic for my blog, titled Science Friday. Each Friday, I will pick a new scientific topic or experimental result and introduce it with a link to more information.

Today, I am starting with an article about partial cell DNA duplication and the role it may have played in developing Homo sapiens sapiens.

Yes, I know this is not about law and this is a law blog. Well, guess what? Even lawyers need to know some science and besides, it is interesting for its own sake.

First, a little background.

The nucleus of each cell in our bodies contains a complete copy of the human DNA genome. Prior to dividing to create a new cell, each cell creates another complete copy of the human genome. Mistakes happen occasionally during this process and the error becomes a genetic mutation, if the cell does not correct it.

Mutations are not inherently good or bad. Whether they are good, bad or neutral depends on the environment in which the organism exists. Most of the time they are neutral. Sometimes, however, a mutation creates a competitive advantage or disadvantage for an organism that allows it to prosper or struggle in the existing environment relative to other organisms that belong to the same species. Depending on the environment, successive generations that inherit the advantage may expand in number and end up prevailing over organisms that inherit the disadvantage and gradually die out. Sometimes the environment changes radically and suddenly amplifying the importance of the advantage or disadvantage. We call this process natural selection.

Duplication is one type of error that occurs during genome replication. When that happens, a section of the genome is copied twice instead of just once. The extra copy can change over time gaining mutations or losing parts.

In a paper published today in the peer reviewed scientific journal, Cell, genetic researchers have reported that they have discovered that the human gene SRGAP2 has duplicated itself twice, approximately 3.5 and 2.5 million years ago. This corresponds to the period when the brains of our ancestors began to expand, increasing cognitive ability, and the now extinct hominin Australopithecus declined and disappeared in favor of the genus Homo that led to us, Homo sapiens sapiens.

The more recent duplication was an incomplete duplication. Using mouse DNA in the lab, they replicated the incomplete duplication and discovered that it appeared to speed the migration of brain cells during development making brain organization more efficient.

To read more about this study, go here to read an article in Discovery News by Jennifer Welch, reporting for LiveScience.com on Sunday, May 6th.

Survival of the Wisest

December 12, 2011

Empathy is the basis for true morality.

Empathy is the basis for true morality
by aerie under flickr Creative Commons

Randian neoliberals, as in Ayn Rand, believe in competition and social darwinism. They claim that human life is like a vast jungle and they have adopted “survival of the fittest,” formerly known as the law of the jungle, as the guiding principle of their lives.

They adopted Grover Nordquist’s advice to privatize government as much as possible and drown what little remains of it “in a bathtub” abolishing all laws, regulations, and regulatory oversight.

They claim they want to create the free marketplace that Adam Smith wrote about in the Wealth of Nations; a mystical place controlled by the “invisible hand” of self-interest that they declare to be maximizing short-term profits.

They have elevated greed to the status of not just any god, but the god of gods. That their interpretation ignores Adam Smith’s warning that the marketplace must be regulated to protect competition from the monopolies that inevitably will develop in a truly free marketplace is no trivial matter.

They have committed an egregious sin by creating a philosophy to justify stealing from others that they put together with disparate elements of philosophy, science, economics, and religion as though selecting from different columns on a Chinese menu to feed their ravenous greed.

Survival of the fittest is not a law; it is a description of what happens when a hungry apex predator hunts, kills, and consumes its prey. If there were no other laws at work after approximately 4 billion years of evolution, only apex predators would exist, and possibly none of them either as they would have extinguished themselves by cannibalism.

Natural selection is an evolutionary process that weeds out unsuccessful genetic adaptations. Natural selection is not survival of the fittest.

In a recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, research scientists at the University of Chicago reported that lab rats can show empathy. Their experiment demonstrated that free rats will work tirelessly to free caged rats. Even when presented with chocolate chips, a free rat will continue to labor on freeing the caged rat until successful. Then they share and consume the chocolate.

While survival of the fittest may dictate the outcome in most battles between a hungry predator and its prey, unless its prey outsmarts it or it is fortunate to escape, empathy occupies a far more important role in determining whether a species survives. Empathy leads to survival of the wisest and validates the age old maxim that the meek shall inherit the Earth.

Empathy is the basis of the Golden Rule.

Randian neoliberalism is junk science at its worst and should be universally discredited and the legacy of its practitioners condemned to a mere footnote in the sorry history of human greed.

Happy holidays.


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