From annalee

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I know, I was really sad to hear that too. My dad has read pretty much all of his books and I have really enjoyed the ones I have read and when I've heard him talking, very fascinating person who did fascinating things. Certainly a life well lived and great contribution left for us all. I went to events at the book festival here today and there were lots of people writing and talking about great things so I felt comforted by that. I especially liked Theodore Zeldin, he was very uplifting. Hope you are well! 

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RE; my post to your page yesterday. I thought that you and @annalee might find this interesting http://www.georgetown.edu/news/abigail-marsh-brain-altruism-study.html

outlier:
@SATANACHIST  I read this and here are some thoughts that sprang to mind, in no particular order:

1. She looked at 19 brains.  It's hard to imagine any results being statistically significant with an n of 19.
2.  Is anyone surprised by this??  Women's brains are different than men's.  Different subpopulations of humans have different brains than each other.  "Foodies" have enlarged olfactory + gustatory areas of their brains.  Musicians have different brain structures than ordinary people.  Who we are and what we do mostly comes from our brains, so it seems pretty obvious that if you look carefully enough you can see the differences between us reflected in our brain architecture.
3. What is truly surprising is that she could see any difference at all on such a gross level.  I remember when brain research meant hooking up an EKG.  But this only picks up electric signals from the top 5mm or so of the brain (no deeper structures at all!) and even then the signals are all mixed together into a mostly meaningless jumble.  The imaging of thoughts or memories or personality traits like altruism has only become possible with the advent of PET scanners and then the fMRI that Dr. Marsh used.  Eventually we may be able to trace a personality trait exactly with high resolution, including all the connections to other brain structures.  Ain't science grand?  For now, what she's done is very, very basic and looking at the most obvious thing (size of one compartment of the brain).  This is analogous to looking at people from half a mile away.  Yeah, you can tell which are taller, but that's about it.  (This brings up the old adage, so well-known in high school, that all girls are pretty ... from a mile away; however as you get closer, the % of pretty ones drops substantially.  haha)
4.  Who gets to define "altruism?"  This is one reason so much of social science is considered soft science and liable to be misused by political groups or governments.  As just one example, there is an inherent hidden (or maybe not so hidden) premise in this study that altruism must be good for society and the lack of it is bad.  As a biologist I can give you cases for and against altruism.  Too much altruism can kill a person or a society dead.  More personally, if I were ever matched as a kidney donor, despite my wishes to help other people I would have to think very carefully what to do.  Giving away a kidney might be lauded by society and well-intentioned liberals, but it does put my life at increased risk from the surgery and from possibly needing that kidney in the future, thereby creating a potential harm to my family.  Far from altruism being a good thing, in that case it might be a very stupid idea personally and in an utilitarian analysis actually cause more harm to society.  (Especially if I gave my kidney to a drug addict or serial killer and then I died 20y too early because of complications.)  In my opinion one must carefully examine on a case-by-case basis each example of altruism, including the motivations behind it, before calling it altruism.
5. One of the hardest things to keep in mind with medicine these days, especially with all the wonderful gizmos and tons of research, is that we don't know very much at all about how the body works.  A classic line for your 1st day at medical school is to hear from your professor, "HALF of what you will learn here is wrong ... but we don't know yet which half it is."  Old doctors know this very well, but sometimes the youngsters are a bit arrogant and they think they know it all.  Whenever I see some new research, my first thought it "hey that's cool!"  Then the next thought is always, "how much of this stuff is crap and will be completely rewritten in 10y?"  ;-)
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@outlier if you could discuss where you draw your conclusion that everyone operates purely from self interest I think that would be an interesting blog.  My experience and what I have read describes a continuum from absolute self interest to absolute altruism with many gradations in between.  Interestingly you mention the investment you put into your marriage and that you do that because you own it.  It has been my experience that a marriage is an entity born of the interests of the two parties forming it and that it will be destroyed if one partner acts in absolute self interest.  It seems actually a microcosmic version of our macrocosmic relationship to the greater whole of society. As above so below as it were :) No hurry on this.  I took my time getting something together about income disparity and health and didn't even get to a solid conclusion. Thanks -S

outlier:
Hi @SATANACHIST, you've been busy since I last checked in!  3 comments to respond to.  I'll start with this one and work around to the others if I have time.  :-)

You are misstating my argument; I did not state that everyone operates purely from self interest.  (I went back and read my comments to make sure, but I must have written poorly because Annalee also initially misunderstood me.  It probably comes from my habit of including lots of diverse points in a single comment plus throwing in a few incendiary (but true) statements to provoke thought.)  My main point regarding self-interest was simply that people tend to work harder for things they own and/or have a personal interest in.  I used my marriage as an example because that is the thing I value the most in this life.  I value it because it makes my own life better but I value it more because I love my wife and want her happy.  That's why I included the quote, "love is the condition where someone else's happiness is essential to your own."  By that I don't mean to say I do everything to benefit myself, just that her happiness is essential to me and I want to maximize it.  As an extreme example, I would die for my wife or my kids, and that's not very self-interested is it?  Anyway, because I value it so highly I willingly put a lot of "extra" effort into maintaining and growing that closeness I feel with my wife, often times more effort than I want to or is convenient at the moment.  It's so much simpler to just read a book....  More broadly, I think it's pretty obvious that we work hardest on the things we love to do or value highly, that's just human nature.  This doesn't mean people will only ever work hard on things that maximally reward them, it's just that MOST people will TEND to exert the greatest effort when they are rewarded well for those efforts.  Of course rewards can equal $ or fame or power (the "selfish reasons" for doing something) or altruism or personal satisfaction or any other coin or a combination of those.  The reason capitalism works so well (when not distorted by government -- as I said pure free enterprise is very rare in the world!) is that for me to be rewarded in money, I must make some product or service that makes some other person's life so much better they will willingly pay me for it.

The concept of private property comes into play here because if you don't own it, the thing you are working so hard on naturally loses some of its appeal, because a lot (but not all) of the rewards I talked about above are dependent on ownership.  In economics this manifests as less tax revenue the higher the tax rate, because as the theft from the producers grows more onerous, they naturally stop working as hard.

I should really stop here, but I can't resist throwing a little thought-bomb into this reply, so here goes:  Actually, although I did not say this in my Annalee comments, one could actually make a good case that ALL human actions are done for selfish reasons, because they somehow in some manner benefit that person.  All the "selfless" good deeds we do are really done for self-interest.  I've done a lot of charity over the years.  In my younger days I came up with all sorts of reasons why I did it:  I wanted to do good deeds, I wanted to pay God back, I was making a difference in the world and making it a better place bit by tiny bit, I was improving people's lives, I wanted to feel better about myself.  As I grew older I realised the last one is the real reason.  I genuinely want to help others, but I help them because it makes ME feel good.  Do you see?  Everyone does this whether you admit it or not.  But that's OK, because as a free agent you have the right and the power to do good things, no matter the reason.  So I'm not putting anyone down here for their altruism and/or charity.  This last paragraph is just a way of looking at motivations. A similar point is that you can't really force someone to do anything they don't want to do.  There's always a choice because we are thinking beings.  Of course the choice is sometimes between two evils and we don't have the luxury of choosing something else.  But there's always a choice, even if it is to do nothing or be killed or be a jerk.