This Week on Skepticallity….



This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Professor Oren Harman, author of The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness. Both a history of the study of social evolution and a biography of George R. Price, this book explores a life which would become an illuminating experiment in altruism and lead to the development of the Price equation (a mathematical equation used to study genetic evolution).

The Price of Altrusim by Oren Harman

“Both a history of the study of social evolution and a biography of George R. Price, this book explores a life which would become an illuminating experiment in altruism and lead to the development of the Price equation (a mathematical equation used to study genetic evolution).”

On the whole a very interesting and highly informative episode.

In an interview with Swoopy, author Oren Harman, raised some very interesting points with regard to evolution and its impact on the the human drive toward altruism.  George Price theorised that pure altruism was impossible.  By coming with a mathematical equation, he demonstrated the absence of pure altruism in nature.

He went to great lengths to prove his theory wrong, believing that any gratification he felt from his selfless behaviour was proof of his own theory that there is no true altruism.  In so doing, he took altruism to it’s limit in the 1970s by trying to help the homeless.  He had earlier undergone an operation on his thyroid which both left it under-active and him with limited mobility. The depression he experienced was very probably due to his decision to discontinue his medication and it may well have also had a bearing on what gratification he felt -if any- from his experiences and actions.   This course of action ended with him becoming one of the group he had been trying to so hard to help.   He died penniless after committing suicide and  is buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery at St Pancras in London.  In many ways he proved that total altruism is in conflict with the normal human survival instinct.

I can’t wait to get a copy of this book.  In the meantime have a listen to the podcast.

Sources

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