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Are humans selfish?

People often disagree with me when I say that most humans want to help others, and will help others, and it ends up being a debate about whether people are basically selfish or not.

There’s a difference between being selfish and self-interested: selfish means – for example – not helping another person when there is little or no cost for you (e.g. not giving one ringgit to someone who clearly needs it, and you can easily spare it); self-interested means not sacrificing yourself – it is not selfish to refuse to give your car to someone, when you need it to get to work and support yourself, for example.

One of the reasons I decided that most people are not selfish is that I used to travel quite a lot, and I used to hitchhike often too. I travelled thousands of kilometres in strangers’ cars, and often they would go out of their way to drop me somewhere convenient for me. In all the places I travelled to, I have always been able to count on someone helping me out if I’m lost, or for some other reason.

OK – you may say that it was only a minority that helped me, and that’s true. But think of this – if everyone was really so selfish, how would societies work at all? We all cooperate willingly with other people every day, and think nothing of it. The idea that if there were nobody to force us to cooperate, under pain of punishment, we would turn around and become crazy beasts just flies in the face of all evidence. Wherever people group together, the first thing they will do is try to find some common means of communication and common standards to operate on. The problem, in my opinion, is that so many people are trained to expect others to make decisions for them, so when they are faced with a situation where there are no clear and obvious rules, they turn to someone to lead them – depending on that individual leader, they may or may not end up acting in violent and unsocial ways.

Anyway, all of this is because I was pointed to this interesting experiment - tweenbots. It sounds like some marketing cartoon for kids, but in fact
Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal.

Check out tweenbots to see what happened when this was tried in Central Park, New York

And the winners are...

For the myBlogS 2009 survey, those who finished the survey could enter the prize draw for Platinum Movie Suite vouchers (two pairs) and cinema vouchers (five pairs).

There were 327 people who left their emails - I used RANDOM.ORG to select the winners... and they are...




For the two top prizes of Platinum Movie Suite vouchers - congratulations to:

Chong Wei Ling who blogs at Care For A Byte?


Jerral Khor who blogs at Museless

And the runners up for one pair of movie vouchers each are:

Gunaseelan David Muthuswamy
K1F aka 3POINT8 who blogs at 3POINT8
Feeling good guy who blogs at Open Heart, Mind & Soul
Ashley Tan
Nadia Syuhada binti Abdull Muain

Tahniah!! :-D

Congratulations to all of you, and THANK YOU! again to all of you who took part in the survey :-)

I know many of you want to see the results. I'll be working on them over the next month, and hope to post an 'executive summary' in about two weeks. If you left your email and said you wanted to see the results, I'll email you then - otherwise just keep an eye on this blog.