The consistently sublime RadioLab has a wonderful programme on the psychology of altruism which manages to capture the psychology of supporting others in gripping stories of human interaction.
The standard view of evolution is that living things are shaped by cold-hearted competition. And there is no doubt that today’s plants and animals carry the genetic legacy of ancestors who fought fiercely to survive and reproduce. But in this hour, we wonder whether there might also be a logic behind sharing, niceness, kindness … or even, self-sacrifice.
Is altruism an aberration, or just an elaborate guise for sneaky self-interest? Do we really live in a selfish, dog-eat-dog world? Or has evolution carved out a hidden code that rewards genuine cooperation?
The programme touches on everything from the mathematics of nuclear war to the motivation for heroism and, as always, is really better experienced than described.
But even given the usual exceptional quality of RadioLab, this episode is definitely not one to miss. Fantastic stuff.
Link to RadioLab on altruism.