The Good, The Bad, And The Extreme Altruists

Is there an inherent difference within us that deems us either good or evil from birth? Or are we introduced to this idea throughout our lives and make our own decisions based upon how we’re treated by others?  Yudhijit Bhattacharjee’s article “What Science Tells us About Good and Evil”  takes on the question of whether or not we as humans are inherently evil or good based upon the age old nurture vs. nature argument.  Bhattacharjee uses both ends of the spectrum, extreme altruism and psychopathy to try to explore the answer to this question.  Bhattacharjee also explores the different levels of empathy that we as humans have and what it is that we do in our daily lives to increase our level of empathy toward one another.  Bhattacharjee lays out this conflict in the introduction by illustrating an incident in which a woman risked her own life trying to get a man in a wheelchair unstuck from train tracks.  This woman exemplifies extreme altruistism, as she is willing to put herself in an extremely dangerous situation to help this man when no one else would. From there, Bhattacharjee goes on to share multiple other stories about people and incidences, both examples of extreme altruism and psychopathy.  Bhattacharjee draws on examples like Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, mass shootings such as Las Vegas and the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting, the Stanley Milgram experiment, as well as a man risking his life to save a woman from being stuck in the middle of traffic with a car that wouldn’t start.  Bhattacharjee also uses examples from scientific findings that illustrate our capacity as humans to empathize, and what types of people are more likely to feel more empathy and why this may be so.  Bhattacharjee consults not only personal sources from people that were directly interviewed but also from research done based around an event or experiment.  He draws upon scientific studies as well as personal stories, which allows readers to feel more of a personal connection to the facts that are being laid out before them. Overall, this article does a good job at keeping the reader compelled and interested to learn more about the topic.  I found it extremely fascinating and it got me thinking a lot about how we as humans treat each other on a day to day basis and where we as a species might be headed when it comes to our collective level of empathy we have toward one another.