Today is my final day of school in the Life Sciences Building at UT Arlington! I have spent the last six years as a graduate researcher and instructor in the quantitative biology program.
As I look back on the time I’ve spent here I am filled with a buffet of feelings and thoughts. I want to briefly write about a single topic that was the subject of an interesting debate in an evolution discussion group I participated in a few years ago: altruism.
Wikipedia provides a good definition and discussion:
Pure altruism consists of sacrificing something for someone other than the self (e.g. sacrificing time, energy or possessions) with no expectation of any compensation or benefits, either direct, or indirect (e.g., receiving recognition for the act of giving).
Much debate exists as to whether “true” altruism is possible. The theory of psychological egoism suggests that no act of sharing, helping or sacrificing can be described as truly altruistic, as the actor may receive an intrinsic reward in the form of personal gratification. The validity of this argument depends on whether intrinsic rewards qualify as “benefits.”
While it is true that personal gratification can be an outcome of altruism, I reject the notion that pure altruism is impossible. I think that pure altruism exists for two reasons:
- Acts of altruism do not always result in personal gratification.
- Even if personal gratification is often an outcome of altruistic behavior, what matters is the incentive or motivation for performing the act. In my personal experience, and from observing others, I have learned that many acts of altruism are indeed pure because the motivation entirely excludes consideration for intrinsic or extrinsic benefits.
I am grateful for the pure altruism that has been shown to me and my family while we have lived in Arlington, particularly those who came to our aid emotionally and financially when our son unexpectedly passed away in October.
It have been fun, it has been real. Goodbye Arlington, hello Austin.