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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Is Altruism a programmed response?

By Rabbi Yonason Goldson





New research raises the question of human nobility and free will

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | A study by Swiss researchers earlier this year revealed what, at first glance, appears to be an astounding phenomenon: Altruistic robots.

Without attempting to explain the scientific research involved, let it suffice to say that roboticists at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne devised an experiment whereby virtual robots programmed to "reproduce" demonstrated a willingness to "share" with other robots in proportion to the amount of simulated genetic coding they had in common. By doing so, they provided compelling evidence to support what is known as Hamilton's rule of kin selection — the theory that animals will take risks and make sacrifices for other animals if they feel sufficiently "connected."

Selflessness, it would seem, resides not only in humans but also in animals. What's more, even artificial life, and even virtual life, may possess the divine quality of altruism.

On the other hand, there are those who insist that altruism is neither selfless nor divine; indeed, some assert vehemently that there is no such thing as altruism whatsoever. Almost exclusively, these are the same skeptics and cynics who dismiss belief in an Almighty Creator as no more rational than belief in the Tooth Fairy.

For all their skepticism, however, cynics such as these worship at the altar of evolutionary hypothesis with perfect faith, despite the many unresolved problems that evolutionists fervently wish would go away. Consistent with their naturalistic vision of the universe, they offer four explanations for inherently selfishness behavior that, in their minds, masquerades as altruism:

The first is neurochemical reward, a hard-wired physiological response that produces a good feeling in reaction to a good deed the way chocolate ice cream produces pleasure the moment it hits the tongue. Similar to this is the psychological reward that comes from any action that confirms one's belief that he is a "good person" for having acted in conformity to society's established values of good behavior.

Then there is the social reward of being seen as a person of quality, thereby gaining favor and recognition in the eyes of one's fellows. Finally, there is the sense of power over others that comes either from acquiring an implied debt of reciprocity or simply from the feeling that one has been needed.

If the cynics are right, there is no such thing as human nobility. Indeed, there is no such thing as free will, since all choices are governed by an individual's singular biochemical composition. Essentially, we are all organic robots. Any belief in the Godly nature of man is simple self-delusion.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS
However, it is not merely the worshippers of biochemical atheism who have adopted this view. If American folklore can be trusted, none other than Abraham Lincoln himself saw the world in this way.


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The story goes that Mr. Lincoln once glanced through the window of his carriage to catch sight of a piglet wallowing helplessly in the mire. He called to the driver to stop, then waded out into the mud to extricate the unfortunate animal. When asked why he had put himself to such inconvenience for a pig, Mr. Lincoln answered that, had he not acted, he "should have had no peace of mind all day."

In other words, all appearances to the contrary, altruism may be nothing more than convoluted selfishness.

Ironically, it is the community of secular philosophers who argue to the contrary. In 1726, Joseph Butler presented an argument in defense of altruism that remains perhaps the most compelling in modern philosophy. Although a vicar (and, subsequently, a bishop) of the Anglican Church, Butler's reasoning gained the acceptance of the larger community of secular ethicists. He argues as follows:

No one is motivated solely by self-interest. Most decisions, whether great or small, involve a complex array of competing wants and needs. A soldier may go to war because he recognizes the need to defend his country or the obligation to fight for a cause; he may seek revenge against injustice, the adrenaline rush of the battlefield, or the sense of power that comes from shedding blood; he might go to war in spite of a deep-seated conviction that violence is immoral or despite conflicting loyalties between his home and his homeland. More often than not, a soldier may be motivated by any number of these in any conceivable combination.

But whatever spirits move him, the soldier may well make his choice based neither upon personal desire nor upon personal self-interest. Rather, after evaluating all his reasons and motivations, he chooses what he believes to be right.

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF HEROES
Even though the pedestrian choices we make in daily life may superficially appear to derive from some kind of self-interest, exceptional examples prove that a more profound element must be involved. When Pastor Martin Niemoller spoke out against the atrocities of the Nazi party, it was hardly self-interest that motivated him to subject himself to the tortures of Sachenhausen and Dachau. When Senator John McCain refused to make any deal with the Viet Cong to attain early release, it was hardly because his self-interest compelled him to remain in the Hanoi Hilton. And Abraham Lincoln sold himself short when he disavowed his romp in the muck as a refined form of selfishness.

The fallacy of the cynics and skeptics (and of Mr. Lincoln, who deserves no such appellation), comes from their failure to question why the human brain is designed to take pleasure in being "good" even when such intangible benefit comes at disproportionate cost. Granted that communal animals (and, seemingly, even robots) enjoy some evolutionary benefit from cooperation, the range of human decision-making extends to such a variegated assortment of circumstances that simple self-interest cannot possibly apply to all of them.

The difference is simple. It is what makes human beings different from animals, what stirs us to engage in abstract thought, to contemplate the purpose of our existence, and to devote our efforts and energies toward impractical ideals. It is what allows us to aspire to lofty goals at the expense of personal advantage.

It is the part of us that is divine; it is the part we call the soul. Is it possible that any given act of apparent altruism is, in fact, motivated by selfishness? Of course, it's possible. And it may be often true. But it is undeniable that we within each of us resides the potential to make choices that bring us acute disadvantage, not out of greed or vengeance or lust, but because of duty, honor, and justice. And even when we act against personal self-interest to benefit those close to us, we do so not necessarily because of some evolutionary survival instinct, but from a deep-rooted connection that convinces us that our well-being depends upon the well-being of others.

Human nobility comes not from genetic programming but from our awareness that each of us is inseparable from every one of the myriad souls with whom we share our world. This the ultimate source of all genuine altruism; this is what we call love. And who knows? Despite what the cynics say, maybe this is something even a robot can understand.


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JWR contributor Rabbi Yonason Goldson teaches at Block Yeshiva High School in St. Louis, MO, where he also writes and lectures. He is author of Dawn to Destiny: Exploring Jewish History and its Hidden Wisdom, an overview of Jewish philosophy and history from Creation through the compilation of the Talmud, now available from Judaica Press. Visit him at http://torahideals.com .






© 2011, Rabbi Yonason Goldson