Friday, November 02, 2007

Karma, karma-lite and evolutionary psychology

I’ve blogged elsewhere before about my take on full-blown karma, that it’s both as illogical as western monotheism’s heaven/hell, and personally, at least as offensive.

But, what about “karma-lite,” the non-metaphysical, or less-metaphysical, generic claim that “what goes around, comes around”?

There’s a better, scientific explanation from evolutionary psychology. It’s called “reciprocal altruism,” or, in even easier layperson’s terms, “tit for tat.”

Animals with enough memory intelligence to remember past good or bad actions by their fellows and attribute them to specific actors, especially amongst highly social animals, can and do practice this. In the case of bad actors, it’s the old “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” schtick. Intelligence social animals can and do remember who cheats in the old game of back-scratching and won’t let Mr. or Ms. Cad play in any more reindeer games.

It’s that simple. Nothing metaphysical needed.

And, scientists are finding the first genetic support for reciprocal altruism. The gene in question appears linked to dopamine production and a similar gene in voles that promote social bonding, which makes sense to me. Reciprocal altruism certainly promotes social bonds, and a dopamine-based “feel good” feeling for doing it would be the reward individuals get to be good group members.

So, do altruism cheaters lack a copy, or good expression, of this gene?

1 comment:

Addle Allone said...

Well said. I have often thought the notion that a child is punished for the sins of the father is about as rational as worshipping a totem pole. It makes no sense.

Reciprocal altruism seems a perfect explanation of what karma really is.

I have an additonal idea about karma, that people punish themselves (assuming a conscience) for the things they have done that they think were "bad"

This punishment takes form as guilt, shame, and depression .

Thats why forgiving yourself for things can often be beneficial for mental health.