Altruism and Smarter Societies: Ben Wright at TEDxChiangMai 2013

Altruism and Smarter Societies: Ben Wright at TEDxChiangMai 2013


Translator: Ciucu Ana-Maria
Reviewer: Angela Fato So today I’d like to talk about something that’s very personal to me. I love lemurs. (Laughter) Now, it’s not their big yellow eyes, or their bushy tails or even their kung-fu ninja stances that make me love them so much. But it’s a certain aspect of the behaviour of lemurs
that I really like. Did you know that lemurs of all ages and both sexes will take care of young lemurs completely unrelated to them, with no benefits to themselves. This kind of behavior
is known as altruism, or doing something without expecting any kind of reward
in return. Now, lemurs aren’t the only animals
to show altruism. Dolphins have actually been known to show
interspecies altruism, helping shipwrecked people and holding them up, above the water,
for hours at the time, while they wait for rescue. Monkeys have also been known
to show altruism through their social grooming habits. But altruism isn’t just
limited to animals. Now, as some of you can probably guess, through this thing here, my leg at the moment is not exactly
in tip-top condition. That is because,
during the summer holidays, when school was out and I was back in Koh Samui
with my family, I decided it might be a good idea
to go for a bike ride. That was my first mistake. So I was out cycling along the road, just minding my own bussiness, when suddenly
a motorbike comes out of nowhere on the wrong side of the road
and hits me. So my bike goes out from under me, I go flying and hit the side of the road. I broke my tibia and my fibula. Needless to say, it was not the most pleasant experience
ever. Fortunately, I was rushed
to the hospital quickly and thanks to the support from my parents
and doctors and nurses, I’m now making a steady recovery. But it’s not these people
I want to talk about today, but it’s two particular individuals,
specifically, and the funny thing is
I don’t even know their names. But these were two people that, once I’d had my accident and I was [laying]
in the middle of the road, feeling a bit dazed, two guys who had been [standing]
on the other side of the road, minding their own business,
having a conversation, saw the accident and ran over across a road of busy traffic
and helped me. These were the people who scooped me up out of the road, called the ambulance for me and helped me call my parents so I could tell them what had happened. And for that, I’m incredibly grateful. I think we can all agree that what they did
was an act of altruism. They were acting selflessly. Now I’d like to pose a question
to you guys: Why would you help someone, what would drive you
to do something that doesn’t benefit you personally, that helps someone else? Now, I’m a bit of a psychology buff, so I did a bit of research on this and there are a number of theories
which try and explain this and there’s a kin selection theory, the selfish gene theory, reciprocal altruism theory, the negative state relief model and the empathy altruism model. And what I really found,
after all of this, they do give good explanations, but what it really boils down to
is empathy or feeling what other people feel. Did you know that humans are actually evolutionarily predisposed to feel empathy towards others? In our heads we all have things
called neurons, these tiny nerve cells which fire whenever we perform an action. So, if I were to throw a ball
for instance, the neurons in my head
would fire for that action. But in our heads we also have
things called mirror neurons. Now, these work in the same way
as neurons, but for other people. So, if I were to throw this ball, Catch! Nice try, nice try. (Laughter) The neurons in my head
fire for that action, of throwing the ball. But at the same time, the mirror neurons in your head fire for that exact same action. And this is the basis for empathy, feeling what other people feel. Now, it doesn’t have to just be
simple actions, like throwing a ball, but it works on an emotional level
as well. And this is really what altruism and empathy is all about. But merely feeling what other people feel generally isn’t enough
to push us into actions. I mean most people, after seeing a war on television, wouldn’t pick up arms and start fighting. And most people after seeing an environmental campaign wouldn’t start going out and hosing down whale investors. However, there is something that can. And this is called your social identity or the groups that you belong to, that make you who you are. So this could be your nationality, the activities you like involved in or in my case, used to enjoy getting involved in, the country that you live in, or even just the school you go to. All of this helps fixate who you are as a person. And wouldn’t you all agree that you are more likely
to help someone else, whom you have this kind of
personal connection to, than someone whom you have
no connection to at all? I think yes. With the expansion of the internet
and technology nowadays. humanity and just people in general
are suddenly becoming more and more interconnected
with each other. We have things like Youtube, Twitter,
Tumblr, Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook and countless more
that I’m not even going to try and name. And all of these are helping us become more connected as a society. I mean I’m a member of groups
on Facebook now, that I wouldn’t have even known existed let alone have been a member of,
if it weren’t for the Internet. And maybe we can start pushing this
a bit further. Rather than just belonging to groups and performing acts of altruism, we can start doing things that are bigger than ourselves, Joining under and uniting under one banner of the groups that we belong to, to create something bigger than ourselves. This is the Large Hadron Collider in Cern, Switzerland. This is where physicists
from all around the world come together
and do what physicists do best. Which is they take tiny atomic particles, hadrons, they speed them up to intense velocities, and then smash them together, which creates stuff physics stuff. (Laughter) I’ll leave the rest of the explanation
up to the physicists. But this is a great example of how people working together can create something bigger
than themselves. These physicists from loads
of different cultures and many different countries have all come together to try
and answer the questions relating to our universe and are trying to better humanity. Projects don’t always need to be
like this though, with millions of dollars and government backing and years in the making. They can be small
community based ones as well, Such as when my class and I
went up into the mountains in northern Thailand
at the end of last year to help build a dam for a group of local hill tribe people. We got in contact with these people through the Internet based
Homestay program. And if they can do it,
why can’t we all? Every time we sit down at the computer with just a few clicks of a button we can instantly become connected to thousands, if not millions of people,
worldwide, who all share the same groups as us. And maybe, just maybe, we can work together with those groups to create something better than ourselves
and bigger than ourselves to further humanity. Which is why I’d like to leave you
with this final statement that altruistic evolution
is our future. We are all in this together. Thank you very much. (Applause)

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

4 thoughts on “Altruism and Smarter Societies: Ben Wright at TEDxChiangMai 2013

  1. so group of altruisitic people are smarter since they collaborate well..? I can't quite get how the title of this video is reflected throughout the speach

  2. Thank you Ben, hope your leg's better now. Bravo on the work at the Thai dam! Very well said straight from the heart! keep flourishing!

  3. Only one way for the world to save the Middle-East,
    refuse to buy anything produced by Israel, Saudi Arabia or UAE.

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