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Chapter 3. Altruism is Life's Law

When we research Nature, we discover the phenomenon of altruism. The word, “altruism,” comes from the Latin word, alter, which means “other.” The 19th century French philosopher, Auguste Comte, defined altruism as “the opposite of egoism.” Other common definitions of altruism are “love of others,” “devotion of self to love of others,” “excessive generosity,” “a predilection to work for the good of others,” and “non-egoistic care for others.”

Like egoism, altruism is a term that fits no other creature besides man. This is because concepts such as “intention” and “free will” relate only to the human species. Other creatures have no freedom of choice. Acts of giving and receiving, intake and emission, as well as prowling and self-sacrifice are rooted in other animals’ genetic codes [13]. However, we will “borrow” these terms and use them with respect to animals so we can explain the laws of Nature more easily, and draw conclusions for humans.

At first glance, Nature seemed like a ring of egoists where only the fittest survive. This led researchers to cultivate various theories explaining the direct or indirect motives of animals to act altruistically [14]. However, more intense scrutiny and a broader perspective reveal that every struggle and confrontation actually increases the balance in Nature, and the reciprocal support of sustenance. These struggles yield better health and an overall improved evolution of Nature’s creatures.

Another example of the balance in Nature can be found in the early 1990s, when the North Korean government decided to get rid of street cats that had become a nuisance. Several weeks after the eradication of most of the cats, there was a major increase in the number of mice, rats, and snakes. In fact, the North Korean government had to import cats from neighboring countries to correct this imbalance.

Wolves are another classic example. We are accustomed to treating wolves as ruthless and dangerous animals. However, when the wolves’ population diminished, their contribution to balancing the deer, wild boar, and rodent populations became evident. As it turned out, unlike people, who prefer to hunt the healthy animals, wolves hunt primarily the sick and the weak, and in so doing contribute to the health of the animals in the area.

Thus, the more scientific research progresses, the more it reveals that all parts of Nature are interconnected parts of a single, comprehensive system. Indeed, when we project our own emotions on natural phenomena, we often feel that Nature can be cruel. But in truth, the eating of one creature by another guarantees the harmony and health of the collective system. In fact, in our own bodies, billions of cells die each minute and billions others are born. This is precisely what the continuation of life depends on!


Within each multi-cellular organism is an intriguing phenomenon. If we examine each cell as a separate unit, we will see that it functions egoistically, thinking only of itself. However, when we examine it as a part of a system, the cell seems to take only the minimum required for its own sustenance, aiming the bulk of its activity toward the body. It behaves like an altruist, “thinks” only of the body’s wellbeing, and acts accordingly.

There must be complete harmony among all the cells in a body. The nucleus of each cell contains the genetic code that encompasses all the body’s information. Theoretically, this is all the information needed to recreate the whole body.

Each cell in the body must be aware of the whole body. It must know what the body needs and what it can do for it. Were this not so, the body would not persist. A cell in a body exists in a state of “consideration” for the body as a whole. All the cell’s actions, the beginning and the end of its division, specification of cells, and movement toward a certain location in the body, unfold in congruence with the body’s needs.


Even though all the cells in our bodies contain identical genetic information, each cell puts a different part of that information into action, depending on its place and functionality in the body. When the embryo is just beginning to evolve, all its cells are identical. But as the embryo evolves, the cells differentiate, and each cell acquires qualities of a specific kind.

Thus, each cell has its own “mind” or “awareness,” but the altruistic connectedness among cells enables them to create a new being, a complete body whose mind and awareness belong to a higher degree and are not present within this or that cell, but rather in the bonding between them.


Healthy cells are restricted by a wide variety of rules and limitations. However, cancerous cells have no regard at all for restrictions. Cancer is a state where the body is consumed by its own cells, which have embarked on uninhibited proliferation. While multiplying, a cancer cell divides relentlessly, regardless of the needs of its environment and irresponsive to the body’s commands.

Cancer cells destroy their environment, thus creating open spaces for them to grow. They impel the neighboring blood vessels to grow into the resulting tumor to nourish it, and thus subjugate the whole body to themselves.

In simple terms, cancer cells induce the death of the body through acts of egoism. They operate in this manner even though it does not bring them any benefit. Actually, the truth is to the contrary, as the death of the body means the death of its assassins, too. The manner in which cancerous cells take over the host body leads them to their own demise. Thus, when egoism nurtures itself, it leads everything to death, including itself. Egoistic behavior and general inattentiveness to the needs of the whole body lead them straight to doom.


In a healthy body, cells “relinquish” their own lives in favor of that of the body, when necessary. When genetic errors occur in cells, which may turn them into cancerous cells, the cell activates a mechanism that ends its life. The fear that it might become cancerous and jeopardize the entire body makes the cell give up its own life for the life of the body.

We can find a similar altruistic action, though under different circumstances, in the way the cellular slime mold (Dictyostelium mucoroides) lives. Under ideal conditions, the mold lives in the form of separate cells that provide for their own food and multiply independently. But when there is shortage of food, the cells unite and

create a multi-cellular body. While building this body, some of the cells give up their own lives to promote the survival of the other cells.


The primate researcher, Frans de Waal, introduces many more examples of altruism in Nature in his book, Good Natured [15]. In one of the experiments he describes, two primates were separated from each other by a transparent partition that allowed them to see one another. Each of them was given food at different times, and the monkeys tried to hand over the food across the see-through partition.

Observations revealed that the monkeys tended to increase their alertness and care for another when one of them was hurt or handicapped. A crippled female monkey managed to survive for two decades in a rough climate, and even raise five offspring, thanks to the assistance given to her by the other monkeys.

Another female monkey, mentally and physically retarded, survived with the support of her older sister, who dragged her on her back for a very long time and protected her. A female monkey that had lost her sight was granted special guard by the males. A male baboon whose brother had an epileptic episode stood beside his ailing brother, rested his hand on his brother’s chest and firmly prevented the caretakers who wanted to examine him from approaching.

Other animals act very similarly. Dolphins support their wounded companions and keep them close to the water level to keep them from drowning. Elephants have joined to help one of their own that was dying on the sand. They tried their hardest to pick him up by pushing their trunks and their tusks under his body. Some even broke their tusks in the process. Lastly, friends of a female elephant that had been hit by a poacher’s bullet to her lungs, bent under her to prevent her from falling.


The animal world presents some spectacular examples of communal societies where each element works to benefit the whole. Such societies include ants, mammals, and birds.

Biologists Avishag and Amotz Zahavi researched the communal life of the Arabian Babbler, a songbird found in large numbers in the arid lands of the Middle East. They described many altruistic phenomena. The Arabian Babblers live in groups, cooperate in defending their territory, and collectively tend to the single nest within it. While the other birds are eating, one remains to guard the group despite its own hunger. Babblers that find food offer it to their friends before they themselves are full. They feed the young of the other members in the group and tend to their every need. When a predator approaches, the Babblers squeak in alarm to warn their group members, even at the risk of exposing themselves to danger. They also risk themselves to save a member that’s been captured by a predator.


Scientific research has found numerous examples of interdependency. One such example is the yucca plant, which has a symbiotic (interdependent) relationship with the yucca butterfly. The female butterfly helps fertilize the flower by transmitting powder from the stamens of one flower and placing them precisely on the style of another flower. Subsequently, the female butterfly lays her eggs in the place where the flower seeds will develop. When the larva hatch, they feed off the growing buds of the yucca plant. However, they leave enough buds on the plant to allow the continuation of the plant. By sustaining this kind of relationship, both plant and butterfly ensure the continuation of their species.


In an essay written in 2002, Prof. Theodore C. Bergstrom explains that in a human-free environment, animals live by what is beneficial to the environment, not by the law of “survival of the fittest,” as is usually believed.16 In such a society, animals maintain a balanced existence, and the population density is always adapted to current living conditions. There is never any shortage or deprivation in any part of the population unless there is an “accident,” which the animal society corrects as quickly as possible. Society persists in a manner that places each of its elements in the ideal conditions for survival and for optimal use of the environment’s resources.


Nature’s evolution proves that the process of turning the world into a global village is not coincidental. Rather, it is a natural stage, as civilization evolves toward comprehensive harmony.

According to evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris, at the end of the process there will be one system whose parts will be interconnected in reciprocity and collaboration. In a lecture given at a conference in Tokyo in 2005, Sahtouris explained that evolution is comprised of phases of individualization, conflict, and competition. At the end of these stages the elements unite into a single, harmonious system.

She used as an example the evolutionary process of life on Earth. Billions of years ago, Earth was inhabited by bacteria. The bacteria proliferated and thus began to compete for Nature’s resources, such as food and territories. Consequently, a new entity—a bacterial colony—was formed, which was better suited to the environmental conditions.

A bacteria is actually a community of bacteria that functions as a single organism. By these very rules, unicellular creatures began to evolve and became multi-cellular creatures, ultimately comprising complex bodies of plants, animals, and people.

Each distinct element has a personal, egoistic interest. However, the essence of evolution is that elements with personal interest unite into a single body and work for the collective interest of that body. Sahtouris regards the process that humanity is presently undergoing as a necessary step to forming a single human family—a community that will provide for the interest of us all, provided we function as healthy parts within it.

Thus, if we thoroughly examine Nature’s elements, we will see that altruism is the basis for life. Every living organism and every system consist of an assemblage of cells or parts that cooperate, complement one another, and help one another. They share and survive by the altruistic law, “One for all.” As we look deeper into Nature, we will find more and more examples of Nature’s reciprocal connectedness, and that Nature’s general law is “altruistic bonding among egoistic elements.”

Nature designed life in such a way that each cell must become altruistic toward others in order to build a living body. Nature created a regularity by which the adhesive that joins the cells and the organs as a living body is the altruistic relationship among them. Thus, it follows that the force that creates and sustains life is altruistic, a force of giving and sharing. Its objective is to create a life based on altruistic existence, harmonious, and balanced among all its elements.

[13] For more on this, see Nedelcu’s and Michod’s essay, The Evolutionary Origin of an Altruistic Gene, published May 2006 in the Journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution.

[14] From the biological point of view, it is customary to define altruism as behavior that is beneficial to others, ostensibly at the expense of the creature’s own ability to survive and multiply. Several theories have been constructed to explain why animals behave in this manner, and we shall briefly review the leading ones. The theory of “Group Selection” asserts that altruism serves the good of the group to which an animal belongs, hence the specific animal is rewarded by it, too. The theory of “Kin Selection” explains that if altruism is turned toward the kin, which carry similar genes, it indirectly contributes to the survival of its own genes. The “Symbiosis” theory argues that altruistic behavior is based upon the particular animal being somehow rewarded for the act. The “Handicap” principle relates to altruism as the way in which a particular element expresses its uniqueness and qualities.

[15] Frans B. M. de Waal, Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals, 1996, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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