Altruism in animals

HandyMacDecember 11, 2007

As some folks here know, I am on record often saying animals do not reason---and are not sentient. It seems my definition of sentient is too restricted and animals are indeed sentient.

Now comes the results of a study done by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology that reported the first experimental evidences of spontaneous altruism in chimpanzees---altruism towards both chimps and humans.

Altuuism being defined as aiding another being for no reason or reward---totally free and unencumbered generosity.

The article is in the January 2008 issue of Discovery magazine, on page 63.

Now, on page 62 is an article on how robots evolved---in laboratory tests----the ability to sacrifice themselves for the good of the group. Other robots developed the ability to lie.

Hmmmm, sounds sentient to me.

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You know, I started to read that and thought to myself "wow, Handy is ACTUALLY admitting he was wrong and coming to his senses in realizing that animals are indeed sentient and do reason".

How wrong I was. You proved NOTHING last time when you went on and on and on about sentience and blah blah blah. But now you go so far as to compare robots to animals?

I still can't figure out if you are just trying to start debates for the heck of it, or if you truly are as lacking in intelligence as you seem to be. I'll choose the latter.

I mean, come on....did "robots evolve", or did the people who MAKE the robots just get better at it?? These are machines, Handy. They are programmed by humans.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 4:11PM
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I personally believe that there are some humans who also lack the ability to reason - at least MY version of reasoning!

handymac - this argument is the human equivalent of playing "chase the tail." You cannot, to any degree and in any way, prove your point. You have an opinion. Although I disagree with you, I too cannot prove my point. It's my opinion. When you attempt to debate opinion, and neither side has any access to real solid evidence, you have the makings of a very amusing night out at the local corner bar!

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 5:05PM
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I admitted animals are sentient---according to the dictionary definition. I was wrong and I can stand up and take my lumps.

But, there is NO proof---clinical, scientific, or anecdotal---that animals have the power of reason.

Oh, where did I compare animals to robots? I simply included an article about a laboratory test. That test actually helps prove that animals can be altruistic-----quite the opposite from what you who accuse me postulate.

One needs to actually read the articles I mentioned to understand my comparison. Without reading both articles, a person has no basis for comment, since they do not know what the information presented is.

However, and I am being starkly sarcastic here, knowledge or lack of has never stopped a person from arguing. A debate happens when both sides have information with a connection to the subject. That was my point in posting---to provide an opportunity to debate.

I will be happy to try and carry on either side of a debate about animals and altruism---since often taking the Con side of a debate strengthens ones Pro opinion.

I do not know enough about robots and altruism to debate much---since the mentioned article is the first and only one I have seen on the subject----but it occured to me it is a positive for the Pro side of my proposed debate.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 7:01PM
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Sorry, handymac, didn't mean to offend. I was making an (apparently poor) attempt at humor. My point, if I had one, was that this type of conversation is one that I would love to have - but probably over a stronger beverage than the ice water I currently have in hand. I never intended to imply that you lack knowledge - just absolute proof. Again, no harm intended.

However, since we are here and on this topic, are we discussing domestic or wild animals? Does it make a difference? Are any human beings genuinely altruistic? Or is there an ulterior motive behind every good deed? If we can't be sure about that, how can we be sure about animals?

I do believe that animals can think and reason. Do they do it out of selflessness? I don't know.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 8:55PM
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To me reasoning is taking known information and making a decision based on that information.

Example--I used to use a single strand of wire, hooked to a charger to keep our horses fenced in certain areas. Once the horses touched the wire and got a shock, they no longer touched the wire and stayed away. From the point of the shock, they treated the wire the same---whether it was connected to the charger or not---and the connection was in plain view. I could touch the wire---they would not. If they could reason, they would determine since I could touch the wire---so could they. Never happened.

However, when I moved the wire from the opening----so they could be led in and out, they would go through the opening----because the wire was not there. If the wire fell on the ground and they could not see it---they would step over it---unless they stepped on it---where upon they acted just as if it shocked them. That is learned behavior, not reasoning.

I had a dog who used to crawl under the fence. He was on a 20 foot long tie out cable which was attached to a long cable with a roller so the dog had the run of the yard. He would crawl under the fence and not be able to get any farther than the tie out allowed. But, he could not get back in without help. Ifd he were able to reason, he could have gotten back in on his own---or realized he could not get loose and ceased to crawl under the fence----but he nnever did---just kept crawling under the fence and whimpering when he could not get back in. That shows the learned task of trying to get out---instinct to wander driving that---but no ability to get out of the situation.

Many other instances apply. My present dog comes to me when he wants out or wants attention. He lays his chin on my arm or knee and looks up at me with his soulful eyes. I have to decide what he wants---easily done by the time of day or time I have ignored him. When I ask "What?"he wags his tail. I then ask, "You want out?" and he jumps. I say "You're sure?" and he barks. I get up and he runs to the door. I go to the door and he hurridly assumes the Wait to go out position. All learned behavior. I know it is because he knew none of that when I got him---he was so uncontrolled it was difficult to handle him. But, it is easy to see him doing what he is trained to do without knowing about the training and wonder how/why he does those things.

Now, the article about animals and altruism. Chimpanzees,not dogs. The article details the test procedures and explains this is one of the first expirements of its kind---and got surprising results.

My point about including a similar experiment with robots was to show evolution happens(yes, I believe in evolution) when the circumstances allow it to happen.

By reading the two articles, it is easy to see the same phenomenon is occuring with living animals as well as manufactured machines. Which to me proves that evolution does happen---and animals can change.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 11:47PM
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"By reading the two articles, it is easy to see the same phenomenon is occuring with living animals as well as manufactured machines."

Robots go through evolution? I think not. The humans that MAKE the robots just get better at it.

I think it will be quite difficult for you to find even one person to agree with you that animals cannot reason.

Not everything that animals do is "learned behavior". Many of their actions have never been learned, yet they perform these actions because of their cognitive abilities and their ability to reason. Instead of relying on your personal experiences to form your opinion, try reading some literature on the subject:
1. "Through a window". Goodall, J. (1991). London: Penguin.
2. "Animal minds". Griffin, D. R. (1992). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
3. "Differential memory for different cache sites by Clark's nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana)." Kamil A. C., Balda R. P. (1990). Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 16, 162-168.
4. "Theories of learning", 2nd edn. Hilgard, E. R. (1958). London: Methuen.
5. "Estimation of animal intelligence by university students in Japan and the United States." Nakajima, S., Arimitsu, K., & Lattal, K. M. (2002). Anthrozo, 15, 194-205.
6. "Animal intelligence", 4th edn. Romanes, G. J. (1886). London: Kegan Paul, Trench.
7. "Cognition, evolution and behavior". Shettleworth, S. J. (1998). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 11:47AM
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Robots are programmed by humans, animals are not. Robots are machines, animals are not.
I had to buy dog food last night, and also picked up a couple squeaky toys for the dogs. A small ball for the Boston, and a large bone for the lab. While throwing the ball for the Boston, it landed in the water dish and she was unable to retrieve it. Our lab saw her predicament, fished the ball out of the bowl, put it down in front her and continued to play with his squeaky bone. To me, that is pretty altruistic, he derived no benefit from retrieving the toy for her.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 2:00PM
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Good example Petra. And I'm guessing you didn't "teach" your lab to fish a squeaky toy out of a water dish and put it in front of the Boston :)

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 3:36PM
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Ok, I give up. Again, I know when to quit.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 7:10PM
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