June 27, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Chimp Altruism: Is it All True?

Humans are the only inhabitants of earth that are masters of true altruism: helping others with no thought of reward.  Previous experiments had shown that chimpanzees lack this trait.  Given an opportunity to help another chimp get a banana, they showed no pattern of charity.  New experiments by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have contradicted the earlier studies, indicating a possible simple altruistic behavior.
    In three experiments, chimps unable to reach a banana did make it possible 80% of the time for a neighbor in an adjacent room to obtain it, even if it was costly to them, and they had to use a newly acquired skill to give access to the food.  For a control, they tried it with human infants and got similar outcomes.  The research was published in PLoS Biology.1.  Acknowledging that their work differed from previous experiments, they said, “These results indicate that chimpanzees share crucial aspects of altruism with humans, suggesting that the roots of human altruism may go deeper than previous experimental evidence suggested.”
    The news media are expressing these results as evidence of ethical behavior in the animal world: “Is it a chimp help chimp world?” asked News@Nature.  “Chimps not so selfish after all,” announced Science Now.  “Research shows chimps can be selfless,” said Charles Q. Choi at LiveScience, adding “Observations may shed light on evolution of altruism.”
    Some of the articles include views by those skeptical of the results.  Choi mentioned that it is not clear chimpanzees in the wild would behave like those in captivity.  News@Nature also brought this up; Joan Silk (UCLA) also wondered if the age of the chimps mattered, or if other factors contributed to the outcome.  But none of the reports questioned whether altruism had evolved, but whether these experiments showed how it evolved.  News@Nature ended by asking whether “Human society… has cultivated a trait that was already present, rather than inventing it anew.”  The authors of the paper, Warneken et al, said, “The evolutionary roots of human altruism may thus go deeper than previously thought, reaching as far back as the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees.
    From another angle, Science Now speculated earlier this month that humans are altruistic because it feels good.  Adam Hinterthuer wrote, “You don’t need to donate to charity to feel all warm inside.  Researchers have found that even when money is taken from some people involuntarily, they feel good about the transaction, as long as the funds go to a good cause.”  Does this explain why people succumb to the legal plunder known as paying taxes?  Neuroscientists at the University of Oregon measured a “warm glow” reaction using MRI when 19 female subjects gave (or lost) money that they were told went for a good cause.  Presumably, this shows humans are neurologically wired for warm-glow reactions.  It appears to provide a selfish explanation for giving.  What seems to be lacking is an explanation for how the warm-glow response became attached to altruism via mutations, and passed on to one’s descendents by natural selection.


1 Felix Warneken, Brian Hare, Alicia P. Melis, Daniel Hanus, Michael Tomasello, “Spontaneous Altruism by Chimpanzees and Young Children,” Public Library of Science: Biology 5(7): e184 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050184.

So where’s the Monkey Red Cross, or the United Apes Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization?  Why don’t The Monkeys organize a rock concert (03/27/2007) to raise funds for Banana Aid?  The chimp behavior only underscores the gulf between me, thee, and the chimpanzee.
    Animals in captivity often take cues from their human caregivers and respond in ways that are likely to produce rewards.  Your dog probably shows more charity to you than these apes ever would (though Lassie shows never revealed the off-set director with his cues).  Even in the wild, animals often show care and sacrifice (think ants, bees, and March of the Penguins).  These acts, however, are limited to the population, explained as learned adaptations that help pass on the genes of the species.  Mutualistic symbiosis also has “selfish” evolutionary stories.  (Darwinism is built on SELF as the designer god.)
    Evolutionists have felt they have had plausible just-so stories for all behavior but this one: true, self-sacrificing altruism toward strangers.  That’s why the excitement every time an experiment suggests or appears to shed light (Darwinian code for hoping in the dark) on a missing puzzle piece for their scheme.  Did you notice their explanation?  It’s becoming all too familiar.  They pushed the origin of the trait further back into the misty past, suggesting it arose millions of years earlier in a remote, mythical, unspecified common ancestor.  This is how they lock up their documents in the basement.  When we want to see them, they just smile and say, “trust us.”
    Good grief, the neighboring chimps banged on the door so loud the “altruistic” ones probably gave in just to get some peace and quiet.  Let’s see the chimpanzees organize a campaign to rescue an endangered species – like rational humans.

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Categories: Early Man, Mammals

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