Sunday, 27 February 2011

Altruism and Selfishness

Hi guys, I'm back! You might be wondering why I didn't blog this weekend. Well, you can blame "hardupgamer" for my absence. Good ole hardup posted Civ 5 on his blog and after a bit of mulling over I decided to give it a shot Friday night. This is the first time I have left my room and my desktop since (apart from toilet breaks).

I thought civilization 4 was addictive but civ 5 takes it to a new level. And now I have nothing to show for my weekend except a very pissed off girlfriend who feels sorely neglected. meh civ5>>gf :P

She probably thinks I am being selfish, which brings me to my next topic and the meat of this post.


It's a bad trait right? A vice? Or is it?
It's in us for a reason, whether as a survival trait bred into us by natural selection or a god (or satan) given quality.

If you believe the "good book" then selfishness is a very bad thing which we would be better off without. Selflessness is preached and it is what every human being should strive to ascertain.

I completely disagree. I'm with evolution on this topic. Now it's fairly obvious how selfishness benefits an individual. An individual being selfish actively gets more resources than others who are not selfish and with those resources, has a higher chance of passing his selfish gene (as opposed tothe non selfish gene) onto the next generation.

But then how does altruism exist? Presumably the altruistic individuals woulkd have died off because they gave all their food and women freely to the selfish individuals.

Matt Ridley provides an excellent explanation in his book "The Red Queen". In layman's terms, altruism still exists and is quite rampant because the altruism gene is quite possibly the most selfish gene of all.
For starters, altruism is selective towards family and friends. Family members share genes so an individual being altrusitic towards his/her family is actively promoting his/her genes, in particular the altruism gene.

In terms of friends, an individual being altrusitic towards his/her friends benefits those who are most likely to return the favour.

So the net result is that while the selfish gene helps an individual's selfish gene to survive and replicate, it actively prevents/hinders other persons selfish genes. The selfish gene is stabbing itself in the foot. The altrusim gene, however, promotes the propagation of itself, twicefold. Once in the giver and once in the receiver.

There exists an equilibrium of the two.

What fascinates me the most though is how the two interact with each other and can benefit a species as a whole. I think the best way to explain it is through the game "left4dead".
Left4dead and its sequel are fairly linear zombie first person shooters where teamwork is an absolute necessity. It is also a great way to see how different individuals overcome obstacles and reach their goals with the resources (including human resources) available.

In each level the aim is to get to the safe room (or rescue) and in eahc level the AI director throws zombies and special infected at the team in order to stop them. The special infected have the ability to single handedly pin down (and eventually kill) a survivor, so it is up to a survivor's team mate to:
a) point out the special so that survivor 1 can kill it themselves
b) kill the special
and of course if the special does pin down the survivor
c) free survivor 1 from the special

So it is quite beneficial to have team mates who actively help each other out and look out for each other. Indeed it is near impossible to finish a campaign with a full team of selfish people who don't look out for each other and happily ignore each other as their team mates get pinned down, incapacitated and killed by the zombies and special infected.

What is even more interesting is how altruism can hinder a team and how selfishness can save a team from dying and having to restart a level. While it is always better to have a full team helping each other out, only one person needs to make it to the safe room or rescue.

  Often when the rescue comes all hell breaks loose and a survivor may find his 3 other team pinned down by survivors and being zombie horded. In such a scenario (which i have been in) an altruistic and selfless individual in an altrusitic team will stay behind to help his team mate only to be killed by zombies or a special and it is game over.

Whereas a selfish team mate runs past and gets straight into that rescue helicopter, ending the campaign in victory.

In so many games I have been in the position of that selfish survivor or the abandoned team mate.
I can't quite describe the feeling. As the selfish survivor I get a brief pang of survivor's guilt but self assured I did the right thing by the team (and selfishly glad i survived). And as the abandoned survivor who has been left4dead, I happily sacrifice myself for that victory screen and if you ever play with me you may hear my screams of "keep going, don't worry about me, you're almost there!".

Not that I consider myself altruistic at all.

But selfishness is there for a reason, just like altruism is there for a reason. In left4dead, altruism alone gets the team killed and selfishness only gets everyone killed quicker. But together the result is a team that survives.

This is humanity.The mechanisms are much more complex and less transparent in the real world, but humanity survives and thrives because of the equilibrium between selfishness and altruism.

And when the zombie apocalypse strikes you can safely wager that there will be those who sacrifice themselves for the greater good and those who consider themselves to be the greater good but humanity will survive.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A minor change

After seeing other blogs get flamed by nasty comments I have decided to add comment moderation, even though it is not necessary since you beloved readers only ever say nice things about my blog :).

On another note I want all you followers to know that I haven't forgotten about you. I may not comment on every post i read but I DO check and view all of your blogs daily, even when you have been lazy and haven't posted anything. Not that I deliberately want to see an old post but I am always keen to read more. I don't always comment though because there is only so many times I can say "what an awesome post".

Monday, 21 February 2011

On War part 2

Last post I discussed the nature of war and how technology and strategy form an intimate relationship.

 In ancient times there was the greek phalanx and then the roman testudo, both formations based on the technology of sword and shield at the time. For a long time the basic strategy of advancing infantry in formation with archers behind them and with cavalry to flank (and to prevent being flanked) was the default.
Eventually horses were trained and bred to such a state that cavalry charges became increasingly effective, instead of only useful for flanking and chasing down routing armies. When it came to sieges though, it still came down to archers, infantry and of course siege equipment (both for sieging and the besieged). Archery developed too, english longbows could outrange everything save for siege equipment (eg ballistae, catapults, trebuchets) and up close, the bolts fired by a genoese crossbow could cut through armor.

And of course the strategies changed with the technology. As cavalry got better, more and more generals favoured cavalry charges and cavalry compositions within their army. With the advent of english longbows, english strategy evolved around getting the high ground advantage for the longbowmen. When it came to infantry battles, the genoese and venetians favoured having a line of pikemen protecting their crossbows, which would shred enemy infantry units.

 When muskets and cannons developed, the strategies changed, but what is most interesting is how they changed WITH the muskets. For instance, the italians simply replaced their crossbowmen from their pikemen-crossbowmen unit with muskets but as reload times grew shorter and range increased, having infantry to protect musketmen was no longer necessary save for dealing with cavalry charges. With the advent of the bayonet, musketman could form squares and equip bayonets and were impermeable to cavalry.
Of course such a close up formation was vulnerable to artillery and a classic tactic in the napoleanic wars was to use cavalry to cause enemy infantry (musketmen) to form squares and then blast them with cannon slavos.

Rifling technology lead to cavalry being largely useless though, with the exception of scouting. And finally in the first world war the classic style of fighting where two sides would stand and shoot each other was forever broken. Machine guns were too quick to kill the standing.

At the outbreak of world war two, the Allies were comfortable knowing that the germans would be halted at the maginot line, because trench warfare was so effective. Little did they know that they had modernized their army and strategy so that trenches were as futile as cavalry. By using tanks and aircraft in synchronized attacks, they could tear a whole through any defense (although in the case of the maginot line, they just marched around it). The german blitzkreig was unstoppable, that is until both the US and Soviet Russia zerg rushed Germany with similar tactics. The American and British tanks weren't very good but the Russian T-34 was a direct counter to the Panzer, with armor thick enough to resist panzer armaments and guns powerful enough to penetrate panzer armor.

 But then came the atomic bomb. And since then no first world nation has faced total war (where a nation's entire economy and all of its resources is geared towards the war effort. War does seem to involve less and less human interaction, just like all of you good posters suggested last blog but just how inhuman will it get?

The MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) stalemate will eventually break down and what then?
Maybe nukes will dissapear as a viable strategy if each nation develops its own ICBM interception system, or perhaps that will rule out only ICBMs and nukes will just have to be carried by bombers.
 Both the US and China are developing ICBM interception systems. The US's should be up sooner but I hear China's will be much better...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

On War part 1

Hello again my fellow bloggers. Thanks for all your support in getting this blog up and running,  love the comments.

So far I have covered religion and politics (sort of) so let's discuss war. War in itself, that is, I don't wish to cover the morality or politics of war.

We humans have become  very efficient at killing each other, but while technology certainly aides our endeavours (like blowing each other to smithereens), it can also muddy the waters. Consider the first world war, there was lots of killing but not much ground taken by either side. Why? Because of the technological advances in rifling and the excellent defensive capabilities of trench warfare. When the forces involved are primarily infantry then trenches can stop all but the most overwhelming offensives, hence both the allies and central powers were constantly locked in a stalemate. The best military minds at the time just could not develop a strategy to combat the trench (unless it involved throwing millions of soldiers's lives away).

So strategy and technology share quite a dynamic relationship. What is even more interesting is how in major conflicts some smart bloke always comes out with a genius strategy (sometimes employing new technology) to beat the current winning strategy. And then of course that strategy becomes mainstream and part of the standard rules of war. Anyway, speaking of killing, I hve some zombie killing to do, but i'll be back to finish this post in detail later this afternoon.

In the meantime... What do you think is the standard strategy these days when it comes to modern warfare (not the game :P)

Friday, 18 February 2011

Definitely not another boring read...

Thanks to everyone who is following my blog. It doesn't cover the nicest topics and it's a very young blog as it is.
 So here I present you a bit of a lighter and more enlightening read which I prepared earlier: A poem I wrote about a year ago about humanity and our impact on nature and nature's impact on us.

 Technically it comes under the "Politics" categoory of the blog. So here goes...

A Brief History of Humanity

born at the brink,
and brought from the brink,
from the verge of extinction,
to our own valediction

it started in an age long past,
our numbers were few and our enemy vast

Our foe, she threw,
beasts anew
onto our few
to eat and chew

some of us died, but we didn't dwindle
for though, we cried, we had a swindle

those beasts would no longer be a burden
they would feed our bellies that would burgeon with new babes

and we set them as slaves to toil
to plant out seed and till our soil

and to the land that gave,
we gave no wage

we may have begged for its mercy before,
but all we had in our hearts was loathing abhor

so land deprived our crops of nutrient
and nature sent out her swarms
so our grain would rot and our fruit fester
t'would take another 6 thousand years,
before we could best her

still our numbers grew as we used our heads,
yet nature had a plan to turn our living dead
there was not one plagued that we could save
she turned our bed into our grave

one thousand years more we struggled
but by that time we had her befuddled

the land, you see, held our fate
so it was the land we planned,
we planned to rape

we drank its veins of black blood bare,
we stripped its bones of minerals rare

this we digested, into our machines
our reapers to harvest brown from green

we bolstered our ranks, and bellies burgeoned with babes
but from natures relent there was few we could save
she had, once more, deployed her disease

but her troops would rend all living into the dead,
even her own minions, it could be said

so what saved her minions from themselves?
see like any general she had a contingency
but her fail safe plan would become her own delinquency

we made her fungi and yeast,

we took her virus prestige
and made a vaccine

and so we bolstered our ranks and our bellies burgeoned with babes

but ours is an empire built with bricks of blood
mortar of steel and corpses locked in mud

ten thousand years of endless war
in our hearts and on our shores

and we never win, we never thrive
we do not live, we just survive

Gaia! old friend... and old foe
we have you pinned down
locked down for the final blow
you brought this on yourself, you tried to kill us!

clearly, destruction is your powerful nexus
but at destruction you could not best us

and if you try once more to put us to rest,
to put us to bed in the cold earth's caress,
we shall have to insist that we end our tryst,
and you and i, the earth and sky
shall live in the bliss of our atomic abyss

Thursday, 17 February 2011


Before I descend into this topic, I must warn you, this blog is strictly opinion. There are facts in this post, but I will make no attempt to give references and hence, the scientifically minded of you will just have to look up supporting/condradicting evidence yourself. As for everyone else though, feel free to shamelessly believe my unsubstatiated opinion.

So once upon a time in Ancient Greece some smart bloke (a "philosopher", I believe) came up with an awesome proof of the nonexistence of a benevolent monotheistic god. I'm not sure how much of a prooof it is.
In my opinion the only real proofs out there are mathematical proofs, everything else is just hypothesies with overwhelming supporting evidence, but i digress. But it goes a little something like this (please correct me if i am wrong):
If God is benevolent (good), omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (can see everything that is happening) then why is there evil? Does he allow evil to exist despite being able to stop it? Well then he must not be benevolent. If he is unable to to stop evil  then he is not omnipotent. etc.
Of course this does not logically disprove the existence of a god, let alone an abrahamic god.

And don't give my that "God had to let evil exist in order to let free will exist" bullshit. If god is omnipotent then he can make a world where evil does not exist but free will does exist. When you are all powerful you can do these things.

 Let's examine the christian god for one. There are many occasions in the bible where God boasts of being benevolent and omnipotent, but maybe he was exaggerating or outright lying. Hell, I would if I had godlike powers. If anything, God was quite malevolent in the old testament, he happily smote believers and non-believers alike if they weren't doing what he wanted. Just read the book of Judges if you don't believe me. It was only when he decided to visit earth in human form (Jesus) that God finally understood why his minions weren't constantly doing his bidding,and decided to bring out the benevolent doggie bone and toss it to humanity. He may have died for our sins but we all now the real reason he masterminded his own crucifixion was because he realised just how shit it was being a human.

Well that makes sense. Now if only I could convince a christian to believe their god is not morally infallible...

The other big option is that maybe god is not omnipotent. Sure he may be uber powerful but he doesn't quite have enough power to quash evil and banish it to oblivion. Not whenever he wanted to anyway.
That raises the question of just who or what is stopping god from doing so.
Thankfully, Christian mythology has the answer: Satan.
Only instead of Satan existing because God is letting him exist, Satan exists because God just can't get rid of him.

And this is the concept of dualism. Two eternal beings in a balance/fight for contol of the universe. Sounds a bit like the plot to Constantine. In fact, Dualism is a reccuring theme in pop culture. And each time a movie or book comes out describing the eternal battle between good and evil with God and Lucifer as the respective champions, christians just seem to lap it up. Despite the fact that it inherently goes against their religion. Because in Christian mythology, God is omnipotent so the fight for good would have been won long ago.

Now I do not consider myself a dualist or a monotheist but dualism seems a hell of a lot more feasible than monotheism.