Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Altruism files: How birds explain it all

Here is an article on altruism in birds that offers such convoluted explanations of the willingness of some birds to feed others that they make me wonder why anyone bothers to try to find an explanation for altruism in birds. Maybe, when food is not in short supply, some birds will take to feeding others.
... when helpers are at hand, female fairy-wrens produce eggs with 12 percent less fat, 13 percent less protein, and less carbohydrate, than eggs produced by females that do not have helpers. The hatchlings of those "lite" eggs are smaller than normal chicks, but their initial scrawniness is quickly overcome by the extra food brought by the non-breeding helpers.

The one who benefits is the mother.

Now, the obvious reason for all this bother is to try to find a selfish reason is to explain away altruism in humans as the outcome of the activities of selfish genes, and not of thinking minds. That is, you do not decide anything, your genes decide it and you carry it out.

Superstition is hardly dead. It is alive and well, and has gravitated to the many offspring of the Human Genome Project.

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