WTM FAQ 5.6  How did unconditionally selfless behaviour become instinctive? / How do you explain the transition from love-indoctrination creating selfless behaviour, to that behaviour becoming instinctive?


As Jeremy Griffith explains in Part 3 of THE Interview, “how we acquired our moral instincts has been one of the greatest mysteries in biology. The primatologist Richard Wrangham described it as ‘A question that has lain unsolved at the core of biology ever since Darwin’. And Darwin himself described it as the ‘one special difficulty’ with his concept of natural selection. The reason for the ‘difficulty’ is that genes normally can’t select for unconditionally selfless, fully cooperative traits, simply because such traits tend to be self-eliminating and so normally can’t become established in a speciesI mean, ‘By all means, you can be selfless and sacrifice your genes for me, but I’m not about to be selfless and sacrifice my genes for you.’”

So how did humans develop unconditionally selfless, fully cooperative instincts? As Jeremy also explains in Part 3 of THE Interview, the answer was through the nurturing-based ‘love-indoctrination’ process: while a mother’s maternal instinct to care for her offspring is selfish (which, as mentioned, genetic traits normally have to be for them to reproduce and carry on into the next generation), from the infant’s perspective the maternalism has the appearance of being selfless. From the infant’s perspective, it is being treated unconditionally selflesslythe mother is giving her offspring food, warmth, shelter, support and protection for apparently nothing in return. So it follows that if the infant can remain in infancy for an extended period and be treated with a lot of seemingly altruistic love, it will be indoctrinated with that selfless love and grow up to behave accordinglyand over many generations that behaviour will become instinctive because genetic selection will inevitably follow and reinforce any development process occurring in a species; the difficulty lay in getting the development of unconditional selflessness to occur in the first place, for once it was regularly occurring it would naturally become instinctive over time. And if we think about primates, being semi-upright from living in trees, swinging from branch to branch, and thus having their arms free to hold a dependent infant, it’s clear that they are especially facilitated to support and prolong the mother-infant relationship, and so develop this nurtured, loving, cooperative behaviour. (This love-indoctrination process is presented in Freedom Essay 21, and in full in chapter 5 of FREEDOM.)

The following outline of Darwin’s theory of natural selection may assist in understanding how this unconditionally selfless behaviour would naturally become instinctive over time: ‘If you have variation, differential reproduction, and heredity, you will have evolution by natural selection as an outcome…those individuals (of a species) with characters that help them to become adapted to their specific environment tend to leave more offspring and transmit their characters, while those less able to become adapted tend to leave fewer offspring or die out, so that in the course of generations there is a progressive tendency in the species to a greater degree of adaptation’ (https://australian.museum/learn/species-identification/ask-an-expert/what-is-natural-selection/).

So we can now understand why genetic selection would inevitably follow and reinforce selfless behaviour that resulted from love-indoctrination: natural variation means that some individuals in a population would have an instinctive propensity or adaptation for selfless behaviour, and, as explained, normally those individuals would self-eliminate, and so those traits would not be passed on, however, in a love-indoctrinated society they would not self-eliminate because all the other members of the population would also be behaving selflessly. In fact, in a population where all the individuals have been trained to behave unconditionally selflessly, individuals with an instinctive adaptation for selfless behaviour would thrive. As a result they would produce more offspring than those without that instinctive adaptation, and so over many generations the adaptation would spread through the entire species, which is how humanity gained its unconditionally selfless instinctive moral soul. Again, the difficulty was not in getting selfless behaviour to become instinctive, it was getting the selfless behaviour to occur in the first place, which is what is so significant about the love-indoctrination process.


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The love-indoctrination explanation for humans’ moral instincts is presented in Freedom Essay 21 and in full in chapter 5 of FREEDOM, including extraordinary evidence from bonobos (once referred to as ‘pygmy chimpanzees’) and from the fossil record. You might also be interested in FAQ 1.41 What are instincts and what is consciousness, and how do they differ?