The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Selfish Altruism

The US biologist Robert Trivers noted that there was more than cooperation at work. According to Hamilton's genetic metrics, a child should see herself twice more valuable than her siblings. The parents, on the other hand, should see all siblings as equally valuable. Thus it is not surprising that siblings compete and fight for parental resources, while parents teach them to share equally. Parents have to literally brainwash their children into thinking that it is in their (each child's) interest to care for their siblings when in fact their genes tell them (the children) the exact opposite.

Beyond family, there is in general a whole repertory of attitudes that serves the purpose of regulating altruism (gratitude, compassion, trust, guilt, even hypocrisy). Eventually, it all boils down to game theory: how to maximize the chances of success and minimize the chances of failing.

We seem to be even equipped with a repertory of skills to lie, cheat and deceive, and we use that repertory to complement the equation that maximizes our chances of success, depending on social conditions. Our conscience is malleable, which is another way to say that our altruistic strategies are flexible. In a sense the reason why children lie is that they are just practicing the art of cheating. In fact the tendency in children to lie is so strong that they will stop lying only if punished consistently and severely. Otherwise the tendency to lie will amplify. Conscience is an adaptation of one's altruistic and anti-altruistic instincts to a specific social environment.


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