The Paradox Of Altruism

The Paradox Of Altruism

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Charles Darwin regarded the problem of altruism—the act of helping someone else, even if it comes at a steep personal cost—as a potentially fatal challenge to his theory of natural selection. After all, if life was such a cruel “struggle for existence,” then how could a selfless individual ever live long enough to reproduce? Why would natural selection favor a behavior that made us less likely to survive?

And yet, as Darwin knew, altruism is everywhere, a stubborn anomaly of nature. Bats feed hungry brethren; honeybees defend the hive by committing suicide with a sting; birds raise offspring that aren’t their own; humans leap onto subway tracks to save strangers. The sheer ubiquity of such behavior suggests that kindness is not a losing life strategy.

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