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Monkeys have a sense of morality, say scientists
02-15-2009, 09:03 PM (This post was last modified: 02-15-2009 10:09 PM by clarence clutterbuck.)
Post: #1
Monkeys have a sense of morality, say scientists
I came across this article in yesterday's Sunday Times and thought it may be of interest. It suggests that human morality is the result of strategies evolved through natural selection in our primate ancestors, rather than something uniquely bestowed upon us by a supreme being anointing his favourite creature. I find the idea quite refreshing really..

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From The Sunday Times
February 15, 2009
Monkeys have a sense of morality, say scientists
Jonathan Leake, Science Editor
MONKEYS and apes have a sense of morality and the rudimentary ability to tell right from wrong, according to new research.

In a series of studies scientists have found that monkeys and apes can make judgments about fairness, offer altruistic help and empathise when a fellow animal is ill or in difficulties. They even appear to have consciences and the ability to remember obligations.

The research implies that morality is not a uniquely human quality and suggests it arose through evolution. That could mean the strength of our consciences is partly determined by our genes.

Such findings are likely to antagonise fundamentalist religious groups. Some believe the ability to form moral judgments is a God-given quality that sets humans apart.

In papers at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) this weekend de Waal described experiments on monkeys and apes to see if they understood the idea of fairness.

The animals were asked to perform a set of simple tasks and then rewarded with food or affection. The rewards were varied, seemingly at random. De Waal found the animals had an acute sense of fairness and objected strongly when others were rewarded more than themselves for the same task, often sulking and refusing to take part any further.

Another study looked at altruism in chimps - and found they were often willing to help others even when there was no obvious reward. “Chimpanzees spontaneously help both humans and each other in carefully controlled tests,” said de Waal.

Other researchers, said de Waal, have found the same qualities in capuchin monkeys, which also show “spontaneous prosocial tendencies”, meaning they are keen to share food and other gifts with other monkeys, for the pleasure of giving.

“Everything else being equal, they prefer to reward a companion together with themselves rather than just themselves,” he said. “The research suggests that giving is self-rewarding for monkeys.”

Related research found primates can remember individuals who have done them a favour and will make an effort to repay them.

De Waal, who has written a book called Primates and Philosophers, said morality appeared to have evolved in the same way as organs such as the eye and the heart, through natural selection.

The debate over whether animals can tell right from wrong and make moral choices dates back to Charles Darwin, originator of the theory of evolution.

He suggested that when sexual reproduction first evolved it forced animals to develop codes of behaviour that became built into their genes. In humans these instincts developed into a sense of right and wrong. This fitted with his view that humans were derived from animals - a view fiercely opposed by the church at the time.

The big question now is why, alone among the primates, humans have developed morality to such a high level. It implies that humans were once subjected to some kind of powerful evolutionary pressure to develop a conscience.

Some researchers believe we could owe our consciences to climate change and, in particular, to a period of intense global warming between 50,000 and 800,000 years ago. The proto-humans living in the forests had to adapt to living on hostile open plains, where they would have been easy prey for formidable predators such as big cats.

This would have forced them to devise rules for hunting in groups and sharing food.

Christopher Boehm, director of the Jane Goodall Research Center, part of the University of Southern California’s anthropology department, believes such humans devised codes to stop bigger, stronger males hogging all the food.

“To ensure fair meat distribution, hunting bands had to gang up physically against alpha males,” he said. This theory has been borne out by studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes.

In research released at the AAAS he argued that under such a system those who broke the rules would have been killed, their “amoral” genes lost to posterity. By contrast, those who abided by the rules would have had many more children.

Other studies have confirmed that the strength of a person's conscience depends partly on their genes. Several researchers have shown, for example, that the children of habitual criminals will often become criminals too - even when they have had no contact with their biological parents.
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02-16-2009, 04:21 AM
Post: #2
RE: Monkeys have a sense of morality, say scientists
you have found daddy.?

Good evil salvation
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02-16-2009, 10:59 AM (This post was last modified: 02-16-2009 11:11 AM by Pilgrim.)
Post: #3
RE: Monkeys have a sense of morality, say scientists
Oh that's wonderful news! Big Grin Now all we have to do is enforce a eugenics program world wide where only those with perfect genetic makeup are allowed to breed! Then once we've done that we can concentrate on selective breeding combined with genetic engineering to create ideal people and all human ills will vanish!...Ummmm....hang on a sec....sure I've heard that somewhere before?

"If history has taught us anything, it is that we don't learn from history." Ferget who said that.

"Love is not a feeling, it's an act of your will." Don Francisco.
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02-17-2009, 12:58 PM
Post: #4
RE: Monkeys have a sense of morality, say scientists
Yeah, you heard it from the Bene Gesserit. The Kwiatz Haderach is within our grasp!

So, um . . . that reference too much? Go over too many heads? A little obscure? No one reads Frank Herbert anymore?
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02-18-2009, 03:13 AM
Post: #5
RE: Monkeys have a sense of morality, say scientists
(02-17-2009 12:58 PM)GTseng3 Wrote:  Yeah, you heard it from the Bene Gesserit. The Kwiatz Haderach is within our grasp!

So, um . . . that reference too much? Go over too many heads? A little obscure? No one reads Frank Herbert anymore?
Ummm...Didn't Paul Atreides end up blind and his son Leto a sandworm hybrid called Shiatan which is the Arabic word for the Devil I believe. The symbolism between the ancient serpent/wurm in the story is striking at least.

However, that aside, the last time science got in on the act it involved selective breeding and people being put in gas chambers and since that was not so very long ago I have no reason to imagine that human nature has changed so very much.

"Love is not a feeling, it's an act of your will." Don Francisco.
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02-18-2009, 02:14 PM
Post: #6
RE: Monkeys have a sense of morality, say scientists
Eh, Frank Herbert was all about the heavy-handed religious references.

I do think people get too worked up when discussing genetic codes. Killing off people with "inferior" genetics is, of course, monstrous, but the fact is that medical science is not so far from the point where manipulating genes will allow the curing of genetic diseases, and allow us all to live longer and healthier. Eventually we're going to get to that point, but people getting all frightened at every hint of "eugenics" will delay that science. Just like how everyone got all frightened at using stem cells is delaying that science, science that could be curing diseases.
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02-21-2009, 09:03 AM
Post: #7
RE: Monkeys have a sense of morality, say scientists
(02-18-2009 02:14 PM)GTseng3 Wrote:  Eh, Frank Herbert was all about the heavy-handed religious references.

I do think people get too worked up when discussing genetic codes. Killing off people with "inferior" genetics is, of course, monstrous, but the fact is that medical science is not so far from the point where manipulating genes will allow the curing of genetic diseases, and allow us all to live longer and healthier. Eventually we're going to get to that point, but people getting all frightened at every hint of "eugenics" will delay that science. Just like how everyone got all frightened at using stem cells is delaying that science, science that could be curing diseases.
*nods softly* Yeah I'm sure given the evolutionary world view of the ascent of man from brute to higher moral and ethical being that pervaded the western world at the time no one envisaged the holocaust in which eugenics played a major part. 'if history has taught us anything, it is that we don't learn from history.'

"Love is not a feeling, it's an act of your will." Don Francisco.
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02-21-2009, 05:46 PM
Post: #8
RE: Monkeys have a sense of morality, say scientists
Please. People were racists and genocidal maniacs long before Darwin. Don't forget, God had the Israelites commit genocide again and again. You cannot tell me that every single member of that nation, including women and children, were guilty of such great sin against God. No, it was a racist thing, the Israelites were moving in, and everyone else had to be killed. The treatment of the Kurds by the Iraqis under Hussein had nothing to do with evolution, it was just racism.

Indeed, one of the most consistent excuses for racism in this country is not evolution, but is the "Christian Identity" movement, which identifies black people either with the serpent from the Garden of Eden, or with the children of Cain, or of Ham, Noah's cursed son.

Science can be abused, always. Nuclear power can also be a nuclear holocaust. But don't pretend that science is somehow inherently evil. Religion has been killing people for no reason long before people ever thought of using science as an excuse.
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02-23-2009, 02:34 AM (This post was last modified: 02-23-2009 02:35 AM by Pilgrim.)
Post: #9
RE: Monkeys have a sense of morality, say scientists
(02-21-2009 05:46 PM)GTseng3 Wrote:  Please. People were racists and genocidal maniacs long before Darwin. Don't forget, God had the Israelites commit genocide again and again. You cannot tell me that every single member of that nation, including women and children, were guilty of such great sin against God. No, it was a racist thing, the Israelites were moving in, and everyone else had to be killed. The treatment of the Kurds by the Iraqis under Hussein had nothing to do with evolution, it was just racism.

Indeed, one of the most consistent excuses for racism in this country is not evolution, but is the "Christian Identity" movement, which identifies black people either with the serpent from the Garden of Eden, or with the children of Cain, or of Ham, Noah's cursed son.

Science can be abused, always. Nuclear power can also be a nuclear holocaust. But don't pretend that science is somehow inherently evil. Religion has been killing people for no reason long before people ever thought of using science as an excuse.
Actually Bud I was simply refering to the Zeitgeist of the day not blaming Darwin for anything. That being the commonly held western view that science was going to be the panecea for all man's ills and the hangover from a Victorian, smug self satisfied attitude, that the whiteman was superior. The theory of Eugenics had the effect of validating this attitude in it's expression and nowhere more powerfully than in the events leading up to and resulting in the Holocaust. If we have learned anything at all from those days it is that regardless of scientific and technological progress we are as we have always been since the fall. Your reference to white supremisists that use the word Christian and try to claim it as their own, is further proof that this mentality persists. Further, neo-nazism is the fastest growing political movement world wide. All the more so with present ecconomic crisis and terrorism where people get scared and look for easy answers to complicated questions.

God bless Bud Smile

Pilgrim

"Love is not a feeling, it's an act of your will." Don Francisco.
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02-24-2009, 05:18 AM
Post: #10
RE: Monkeys have a sense of morality, say scientists
We indeed are as we have always been, whatever our creed, race, or religion. Luckily natural selection favors the advanced, civilized, and ethical, upon which I base my hopes that mankind may someday ethically evolve into something better (in the same way that modern society is far less barbaric and ruthless than ancient society). Thank Darwin for defining that principle.
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