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$$$$$exyGal's Journal: The Evolution of Compassion 14

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My Theory of Evolution - Scenario #1: "Now"

By chance, one trait is introduced into the genome of a specific individual living thing. If the trait is immediately advantageous over those of the same species who do not possess the trait, then the trait will very likely be passed along to future generations. If the trait is immediately undesirable, then the individual will be rejected by its peers and will be unable to pass along the new trait. This is called evolution.

My Theory of Evolution - Scenario #2: "Later"

By chance, one trait is introduced into the genome of a specific individual living thing. The trait is neither immediately advantageous or immediately undesirable. Over 10's of generations, the trait is very quietly passed along to a significant portion of the species (perhaps 3% or even 75%). After a significant time has passed, a significant event occurs. That event causes Scenario #1 to nearly immediately affect a significant portion of the species (those with the trait will die out or those without the trait will die out). This is called evolution.

The Random Trait Home Game!

A fun little game I sometimes play is to theorize why a specific animal or human characteristic was advantageous in the past. Maybe a specific trait allowed our ancestors to live long enough to get laid? Or maybe a specific trait somehow made our ancestors more desireable to the opposite sex? Or maybe a specific trait just randomly entered our genome without any bearing on evolution (yet!) ?

Some characteristics are easy to figure out. Why is sex fun for you? Easy! If your ancestors never had the "sex is fun" gene, then they wouldn't have had sex and you wouldn't have been born :). Other characteristics are more interesting to discuss, such as compassion for animals. How was it advantageous for our ancestors to be compassionate to animals? Or did the "compassion for animals" trait just enter the genome at random without any evolutionary effect?

What do you think? Any other interesting characteristics to discuss? This is fun for me ;-).

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The Evolution of Compassion

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  • etc (Score:3, Insightful)

    by XO (250276) <blade DOT eric AT gmail DOT com> on Monday July 07, 2003 @09:06PM (#6387728) Homepage Journal
    I don't believe that that would be a genetic trait, as "compassion for animals" is likely something that would be a learned action.

    Think about what would be a genetic trait, and what would be something learned...

    • Re:etc (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by $$$$$exyGal (638164)
      ... "compassion for animals" is likely something that would be a learned action.

      That's debateable. Perhaps there is a genetic trait for "ability to learn compassion towards other species" ? "Nature vs. Nurture" always has to come into the discussion ;-).

      I personally believe that there are specific genetic traits for "compassion for animals". We have extremely strong genetic traits to "protect our young", and I believe we also have weakened traits for "compassion for animals".

      • I agree that animal compassion is at least partially genetic, it is also a well known fact that love for animals often run in the family, and sometimes defy logic - at least as far as human senses can supply data.

        My mother has the ability to steal any dogs heart in secconds, even trained guarddogs are swayed by her charms. I too have this ability, as does my maternal grandfather. No other (living) member of my extended family has it. They can all get along with dogs, but we can lure a dog from his favorit
      • Genetic and learned. Compassion for animals is borne from the ten tousand year relationship between men and dogs. I am not joking. Wolves were tamed and bred to help in the hunt. This has been happening since modern man was separated from other prehumans.
    • There is a fundamental difference between a genetic trait that is "for" a specific thing, and a genetic trait that makes something else possible. The aforementioned trait that allows compassion for animals might be something that regulates our hormones in such a way as to make social cooperation within our species possible, with a secondary effect of allowing compassion for animals.... This would enable us to domesticate animals and be a secondary benefit in and of itself, but at the same time, the trait it
  • by glenebob (414078) on Monday July 07, 2003 @09:37PM (#6387887)
    One of my favorite of such questions is why us men like large breasts and wide hips. The answer goes something like: Large breasts are better at feeding babies, and wide hips indicate a sufficiently large birth canal. Men who preferred women with small breasts and narrow hips had sex for not, because quite often their offspring died (along with their mates) during child birth, or due to malnutrition caused by insufficient breast milk production. Evolution is fun to think about sometimes :-)

    Your question doesn't seem to be so easy to answer. I'll just throw out a couple possible explanations.

    Compassion may not be a trait that was passed along for any reason at all. It seems more like an intelligent choice we make rather than an instinct. I'm quite compassionate to animals now, but as a kid growing up, I was as cruel and heartless as the next kid. Somewhere along the line I just decided it wasn't very nice and decided not to do it anymore.

    Perhaps the tendency toward compassion stems indirectly from the need to eat. In times of food scarcity, killing for fun could possibly end up causing starvation. If you think of killing as simply a solution to hunger, there isn't much room left for fun. The tendency toward cruelty has no positive affect and is therefore abandoned or suppressed. On the other hand, if you kill that last animal in the area for fun, allowing it to be devoured by local scavengers, you may starve by the end of winter.

    Maybe compassion is just what happens when you realize intellectually that killing has a purpose, and that in the absence of that purpose, it is an utter waste of energy.

    Here's a question for you. What is medical technology doing to our gene pool? In the past, susseptability to illness was filtered out by natural selection. Today, susseptability to illness is allowed to spread throughout the gene pool. Will we be walking pharmacies in 1000 years? Will we even be able to survive a common cold?
    • glenebob,

      A more recent T&A theory is that tits have a remarkably similar shape (minus the nipples of course) to the ass. Think of them more as billboards for what's on the other side, not just as utters.

      Since the production of milk is dependant upon the mammary glands, not the fatty tissue, it appears more probable to me that the "bigger is better" has more to do with above as well as what images society dubs as "hot". For example, in America, 50 years ago, "ideal" body image for a 20something year ol
  • How was it advantageous for our ancestors to be compassionate to animals? Or did the "compassion for animals" trait just enter the genome at random without any evolutionary effect?

    Hmm... pretty much an amatuer opinion. Having read some books on the subject (like 'the selfish gene', 'Techgnosis', and other random reads) not to mention having taking biology, and my girlfriend having taken a honors level evolotion seminar... I'd say this: humans are 'nice' to animals the same reason they encorage and prom

    • > I guess that it doesn't explain current life.... You don't have to explain _current_ life. Our "design" was pretty much completed a few hundred thousand years BM (Before Microwaves). Any hunter/gatherer/livestock-keeper who took pleasure in killing young animals for any reason other than food or to improve the herd (unnatural selection) would be apt to die young due to wasting food. Indeed, modern society makes it possible for lots of otherwise useless individiduals to breed. Good for me, since my f
  • "Other characteristics are more interesting to discuss, such as compassion for animals. How was it advantageous for our ancestors to be compassionate to animals? Or did the "compassion for animals" trait just enter the genome at random without any evolutionary effect?"

    Something I once saw in some documentary I think:

    We feel 'compassion' for small/young animals because they share traits with (human) babies: large head, big eyes, clumsy movements, etc.

    We have evolved a need/urge to protect and nurture litt
  • Compassion is simply the softer side of tribal preservation.
  • There's no way to nail down the genetics of "compassion for animals." It is advantageous for humans to have compassion for animals here in the States because if you're mean to dogs people will not like you.

    Also, it's all but impossible to examine modern humans from such an evolutionary perspective, simply because almost none of us die before we have the opportunity to breed.

    However, there is a very interesting similar question: What causes the evolution of altruism? There are many examples of altruism in

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