Skip to content

【Aeon】薛定谔、水形物语与利他主义

【Aeon】薛定谔、水形物语与利他主义

生物物理学旨在阐明生物在一定的空间、时间内有关物质、能量与信息的运动规律。我们可以把人看成分子,用全新的视角来看待人们之间的合作。


薛定谔、水形物语与利他主义


【Aeon】薛定谔、水形物语与利他主义

译者:何翔宇

校对:刘   璠

策划:刘   璠


To get a grip on altruism, see humans as molecules

用分子的眼光看合作


本文选自 Aeon | 取经号原创翻译

关注 取经号,回复关键词“外刊”

获取《经济学人》等原版外刊获得方法


‘What is life?’ In 1943, Erwin Schrödinger posed this question in a series of lectures at Trinity College, Dublin. Already famous as a hero of the quantum revolution, he charged scientists with a new mission: to begin to account for the activity of living creatures using tools and intuitions from physics. 

“生命是什么?”这是埃尔温·薛定谔1943年在都柏林圣三一学院发表一系列讲演时提出的问题。作为声名卓著的量子力学奠基人,他向科学界提出了新的任务——通过物理学的工具和思维来解释生物的行为活动。


Seventy-five years later, the biophysics revolution is ongoing. Schrödinger’s call to action inspired his colleagues to look at the building blocks of life at all scales, from the diminutive DNA molecule to schooling fish and the construction of anthills. My research group at Harvard University focuses on altruism, or why creatures sacrifice themselves for the common good. But rather than relying on psychology or moral philosophy, we approach this problem using thermodynamics – how the laws governing heat and the interaction of microscopic particles might translate into macroscopic behaviour. Can we explain altruism by casting humans as atoms and molecules, and societies or populations as solids, liquids or gases?

七十五年后,生物物理学正经历重大变革。薛定谔的号召激励着同行们从不同尺度探索生命的构造。他们研究小型DNA分子,分析鱼群活动,观察蚁冢的构造。我在哈佛大学的小组研究的是利他主义——为什么人类会为了共同的利益牺牲自己,但我们采用的是热力学知识,而不是依赖心理学和伦理道德。我们通过探究热学定律和微观粒子的相互作用在宏观行为上的影响来分析上述问题。那么我们是否可以通过把人类比作原子和分子,社会和人群比作固体液体和气体来解释利他主义呢?

altruism /’æltrʊɪz(ə)m/ n. unselfish concern for other people’s happiness and welfare 利他;利他主义


We model altruism as a simple interaction between two individuals – say, Ayla and Babak. Both must pick one of two options: cooperate or defect. If Ayla cooperates with Babak, she pays a small cost, say $1, to a central bank that immediately gives $5 to Babak. Defecting equates to doing absolutely nothing. Therefore, if both players defect, their personal balance is unchanged; if both players cooperate, they each gain $4; if one cooperates and the other defects, the former loses $1 and the latter gains $5.

我们把利他主义看成艾拉(Ayla)和巴巴克(Babak)两个人之间的简单互动。两个人必须在合作与独立间做出选择。如果艾拉选择和巴巴克合作,她需要付出一点小代价,比如向中央银行汇款1美元,但与此同时银行会向巴巴克汇款5美元。如果选择独立的话那就什么都不用做。所以,如果双方都不合作,那么每个人的账户都不发生变化;如果都选择合作,则每个人获益4美元;如果一方合作一方独立,前者亏损1美元,后者获益5美元。


The rules at work are fairly simple, and we can easily imagine some large-scale consequences. Economic prosperity will be highest, for example, when everyone cooperates. What’s good for the community as a whole also seems good for the individual. However, global cooperation is not so easy to attain, which is where things get interesting.

模型的规则十分简单,我们也可以得到一些宏观的结论:经济会在人们彼此合作时最为繁荣,对整体有利的事情同样对个人有益。但事实上,大范围的合作并没有那么容易实现,这就是事情变得耐人寻味的地方。


Imagine a large number of individuals, interacting according to this cooperate/defect model, but unable to see or speak to one another. Without any actual physical interaction, there’s no way to recognise an individual on the ‘other side’, so everyone picks either cooperate or defect, and sticks with it for many interactions. Next, imagine that individuals are allowed to compare their respective profits every now and again. If a cooperator and a defector compare pots, the cooperator will always be disappointed – a defector gets $5 per cooperator in the room, but a cooperator gets $4 per cooperator and loses $1 per defector. The disgruntled cooperator will switch to defect, increasing the financial load on cooperators, who are driven further and further into debt until everyone has switched to defect.

设想一个较大的群体根据上述合作模型行事,但是群体中的人们既看不到对方,又无法相互交流。在这种没有任何实际互动的情形下,我们无法知晓“对方”的情况,只能在合作与独立中选择其一,并且在较长的一段时间里都坚持这个选择。接下来,假设参与者可以将自己的收益与他人进行比较。若是一个合作者与一个独立者进行比较,失望的总会是选择合作的那一方。每个独立者可以从每个合作者处得到5美元,而每个合作者却只能得到4美元。另外,每个合作者面对每个独立者还得损失1美元。这个结果会让选择合作的人心生不满,并从合作阵营转移到独立阵营中去,从而增加了合作者的经济负担。长此以往,合作者的债务不断加重,最终所有人都放弃合作,选择独立。


But this can’t be right. Despite the apparently law-like tendency towards selfishness, we still see examples of cooperation and self-sacrifice all around us, even when individuals are ‘invisible’ to each other. Citizens can make sacrifices during blackouts and droughts for the sake of maintaining the flow of electricity and water, and people will occasionally risk their lives in order to help total strangers.

但上面的这种假设是错误的。尽管有向自私发展的倾向,但是我们仍然发现,在某些时候,即使不了解对方,依然也会有人选择合作与自我牺牲。市民会在停电和遭遇旱情时为了保障电力和水源的供应做出贡献。人们偶尔会冒着生命危险去援救一个陌生人。


It turns out that our thought experiment has two fatal flaws. The first is that we don’t behave the same way around everybody: we’re more likely to cooperate with friends and family than with strangers. Our ideas about the microscopic rules of interaction might be wrong. Secondly, we might be naive about which individuals interact. Even if we keep with our very simplified rules, it’s unrealistic to assume that everyone is equally likely to come into contact with one another, especially in bigger groups.

我们考虑的实验有两个致命缺陷。其一是我们在不同的人面前的表现是不一样的,我们更可能与朋友和家人合作,而不是陌生人。或许我们对微观相互作用定律的理解产生了偏差。其二是我们把哪些人会与他人交流想得简单了。即使遵循十分简单的规则,也不可能出现每个人与他人交流的意愿都是完全相同的情况,特别是在较大的群体中。


In fact, the fine details of the social network – who is connected to whom, and how many people are involved – have an incredibly strong impact on the behaviours that flourish or perish within it. Martin Nowak is the head of our lab; he says in his book SuperCooperators (2011), co-authored with Roger Highfield, that you can look at population structure as you would the phases of a physical substance. Think about H2O molecules bumping into one another. The population structure of ice (where molecules are unmoving and can ‘see’ only a few others nearby) will produce a different set of interactions to water (where molecules often ‘see’ the same close neighbours often, but also move around and explore other neighbourhoods) or steam(where there are no familiar neighbours, and molecules careen about wildly).

事实上,社会网络的具体细节——谁和谁有关联、有多少人参与,会对人的行为产生巨大影响:是彼此积极交流,还是归于沉寂。马丁诺瓦克(Martin Nowak)是我们实验室的负责人,他在与罗杰海菲尔德(Roger Highfield)合著的《超级合作者(SuperCooperators )》中写道,可以把人群结构看成物质的不同阶段。水分子通过氢键可以相互连接,“冰”的内部结构(分子是静止的且每个分子只能看到周围的一些分子),决定了它与“水”(在水中每个分子的周围环境基本不变,同时每个分子可以移动寻找新的邻居)或“蒸汽”(分子四处横行,周围环境不固定)不同的交互方式。

careen  /kə’riːn/n.pitching dangerously to one side//v.walk as if unable to control one’s movements, move sideways or in an unsteady way  倾侧,倾斜;使倾侧,使倾斜


Raising the temperature of a solid will eventually turn it into a liquid, and then a gas. Similarly, we can think of a kind of ‘social temperature’ that dictates the rate at which people interact, and how unfamiliar they are to us. In the thought experiment, we often encounter people we hardly know, much like a hot gas of molecules crashing into one another, or forcing our way through a crowd to board the subway. In this scenario (much like in real subways), it is hard to foster cooperation.

温度的升高会使固体变成液体,再变成气体。基于此,我们用“社会温度”来形容人们之间交流的频率以及熟识度。在思维实验中,我们经常遇到陌生人,就像热气体分子彼此碰撞,也像我们强行穿过拥挤的人群登上地铁。在这种情况下(和地铁中的真实情况相似),很难形成合作。


What happens at the other end of the spectrum – in ‘solids’? A solid population would be unchanging, just like the molecules in a brick or rock. You’d always see the same people, and know their reputation and behaviour. For most of us, this solid, crystalline phase represents the backbone of our social life. We have long-lasting connections to friends and family, and interact with them often, but don’t see as many friends-of-friends or family members several-times removed.

那么固体中情况又是怎样呢?一个“固体”人群是不流动的,就像砖块和石头中的分子一样。你了解这些人的声誉和习性。对大部分人来说,“固体结晶”的状态是我们生活的基础。我们与朋友家人有着持久的联系,会经常与他们交流。但我们很少会与朋友的朋友联系,也很少会与远亲联系。


The fact that these connections are rare can help to insulate you from defectors. If there is one defector on the subway platform, you might be susceptible to getting swindled – but if your cousin’s partner’s plumber, Donny, happens to be a defector, you are unlikely to be affected in any way. So if we start with connections between everyone, as in a gas, cooperation will fail – because everyone is susceptible to the few jerks. But if we begin to snip these social wires, we might produce connected cooperators who are well insulated, feeling the effects of defectors only through friends-of-friends-of-friends.

这些稀有的联系可以让我们远离独立者。如果在地铁站遇到一个独立者,你可能比较容易受骗。可如果独立者是你表弟的朋友的水管工唐尼(Donny),你就不大会受到影响。如果我们像气体分子一样和每个人都能联系在一起,那么合作是难以形成的。因为每个人都可能会受到那些少数的独立者的影响。如果我们把这些不稳定的社会联系斩断,那么我们就可能找到靠谱的合作者。独立者就不大可能对我们产生影响。


Solid semiconductors – bits of metal that are the backbone of every gadget in the modern world – open up another perspective on the physics of altruism. In semiconductors, changes in the microscopic structure of a metal can affect how much electricity must be applied to ‘activate’ it, such that the amount of current passing through jumps from zero to a particular number. Similarly, a recent paper in Nature written by my colleagues predicted how large a financial reward (the electricity) is required for altruism to ‘turn on’ and spread through a group (the semiconductor). Some networks require a reward of $1.05, for example, and are pretty great conductors of altruism; some demand $100 or more, and are very difficult to activate.

含有金属的固体半导体是现代社会很多器件的重要组成部分,它为我们用物理研究利他主义提供了新的角度。在半导体中,金属微观结构的变化可以改变激活该半导体所需的电量,半导体导通后流过器件的电流会从零跳转到一个特定的数值。同事最近在《自然》上发表的一篇论文预测了激活一个群体(半导体)中的利他主义并让其得以传播所需要的经济奖励(导通电压)。文章称有的环境是很好的导体,只需要1.05美元来激活利他主义,而有的则需要100美元甚至更多,非常难以激活。


What about ‘liquid’ populations? In an earlier paper, we examined how cooperation conducts in supple social materials such as clubs, workplaces, coffee shops and artistic movements. Here individuals belong to one or more groups and can change their memberships as they like. If it’s easy to switch, then a liquid almost effortlessly sustains cooperation – at the sign of the first defector, all the cooperators simply leave and restart the organisation elsewhere. But when there are barriers to migration, rules-of-thumb start to appear. If moving is costly, cope with defectors for as long as you can before leaving; otherwise, bail and take as many cooperators with you as possible.

“液体”群体又是何种情况?在早前的文章中,我们研究了人们在俱乐部、工厂、咖啡馆和艺术运动这些具有流动性的集体中的合作情况。每个个体属于一个或多个团体且可以自由改变身份。如果可以随意加入/退出团体,那么一个“液体”群体就可以轻松维持合作。因为一旦发现有独立者,所有合作者都可以离开并形成新的团体。但如果离开时有阻碍,就需要依靠经验了。如果退出代价很高,就以尽可能长的时间应付独立者;否则的话,就迅速退出并带上尽可能多的合作者一起离开。

supple /’sʌp(ə)l/ adj. moving and bending with ease,readily adaptable,(used of persons’ bodies) capable of moving or bending freely 柔软的;顺从的;易弯曲的;灵活的;逢迎的


Of course, the real social fabric is a complex mix of populations in many phases. We have strong ties that we occasionally form and break; we join and leave organisations quite freely; we have hundreds of micro-interactions with a gaseous mix of strangers in trains and airports. However, by studying each of these phases as physicists, we come away approaching a recipe for altruism – rules for certain structures that might foster cooperation. What we’ve observed so far is that strong local connections enhance altruism everywhere. Mobility and flexibility put a brake on defection, but we can’t have so much as to create a gaseous regime where cooperation is stifled. Scientists still have a long way to travel to understand the physics of biological systems – but I like to think Schrödinger might be pleased by how far we have come.

现实社会的构造混杂了各种状态的人群。我们会在偶然的情况下建立或打破一些稳定的联系;我们自由地加入并退出各种组织;我们无数次地在火车和机场撞见陌生人,并产生一些微小的互动,犹如气体状态下的分子一样。作为物理学家,我们通过对物质不同状态的研究,得到了利他主义的秘诀——可以促进合作的特定结构的规律。目前我们发现,密切的局部联系可以促进利他主义的发生。流动性和灵活性可以抑制独立思想的蔓延,但倘若流动性过强,形成气体状态,则会扼杀合作。科学家们距离理解生物系统的物理性还有很长的路要走,不过薛定谔应该会对目前所取得的成绩感到满意。


#访问取经号官网#

网站域名qujinghao.com,即“取经号”的全拼

#读译交流#

后台回复 读译会,参与取经号Q群交流

#外刊资源#

后台回复 外刊,获取《经济学人》等原版外刊获得方法

#关注取经号#

扫描 二维码,关注跑得快的取经号(id: JTWest

【Aeon】薛定谔、水形物语与利他主义

<原文链接:https://aeon.co/ideas/to-get-a-grip-on-altruism-see-humans-as-molecules>


Be First to Comment

发表评论

电子邮件地址不会被公开。 必填项已用*标注