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Switzerland

Using Robots To Understand The Genetics Of Selflessness

Swiss scientists searching for the "altruism gene" use robots to show why creatures, human and otherwise, sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.

(Ed Yourdon)
(Ed Yourdon)
Lucia Sillig

LAUSANNE - "I would give my life for two brothers or eight cousins' is how a British evolutionist once described the kin selection theory. In nature, examples abound of social animals willing to sacrifice themselves for the wider good of their group, provided that the genetic closeness (how many genes they share) between them is high enough. By contributing to the survival of their genetic relatives, these altruistic individuals will propogate, passing on their genes within the species.

Still, quantitative tests on this theory have been difficult to perform in nature. But thanks to the use of robots, a team of Swiss scientists has been able to overcome the problem, in a study whose conclusions have been published in the PLoS Biology magazine this week.

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Geopolitics

Our 'Emotional' Divide: How The Ukraine War Reveals A World Broken In Two

Russia's invasion has created a stark global divide: them and us. On one side are the countries refusing to condemn Moscow, with the West on the other. It's a dangerous split that could have repercussions far into the future.

Protesters against the war in Ukraine demonstrate in front of the Russian embassy in London

Dominique Moïsi

-Analysis-

PARIS — "The West and the Rest of Us." That's the title of a 1975 essay written by Nigerian essayist and critic Chinweizu Ibekwe. I've been thinking about his words as the war in Ukraine both reveals and accelerates divisions of the world that I believe are ultimately "emotional" in nature.

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With war returning to Europe and the risk of escalation, there is a gap between the Western view and that of the "others," a distinct "us and them." This gap cannot be explained in strictly geographical, political, and economic terms.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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