Evolutionary Psychology

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Evolutionary Psychology

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1Doug1943
jul. 15, 2007, 2:01pm

Okay, what do y'all think about EP?

As a non-religous conservative, I have some affinity for it; it seems to vindicate my view of human nature.

On the other hand, it seems a bit too neat, too reductionist.

Here are two critical looks at EP:

Skeptic magazine attack on EP .

New Yorker review of the The Blank Slate.

Does anyone have any comments? Or links to related articles?

2amorgo Primer missatge
Editat: jul. 16, 2007, 12:32pm

As David Buller notes in the Skeptic article that you link to, it is important to distinguish between 'evolutionary psychology', i.e. the general field of enquiry that explores mind and and behavior in the context of evolutionary theory, and 'Evolutionary Psychology', the name of a specific set of doctrines associated with a particular group of people working within evolutionary psychology (Pinker, Buss, Tooby, Cosmides, etc.).

I don't see how evolutionary psychology vindicates any particular political ideology, as it is characterized is by its general theoretical and methodological orientation rather than any specific doctrines or results. It's like saying that physics in general (rather than any particular results in physics) vindicates some political ideology or other.

So if anything vindicates conservatism, it's Evolutionary Psychology (EP). But I don't see why. I don't know of any particular results or doctrines in EP that vindicate any particular political ideology over another. As Pinker and others repeatedly emphasize, science reveals facts about the world, but doesn't tell us how we ought to act on the basis of those facts. One might think that EP shows that certain traits or behavioural dispositions are innate, hence immutable, and hence that certain social policies will not be effective. But (i) the notion of innateness is incredibly vague, and more importantly, (ii) the inference from innatenesss to immutability is not a good one (e.g. the disease phenylketonuria is innate if anything is, but its symptoms can be eliminated with the right diet). I don't know of any results from EP that specifically show that certain traits are immutable, and hence support conservative social policy. Do you?

3bingereader
jul. 16, 2007, 1:00pm

One also has to consider the issue of the naturalistic fallacy. Just because something is a particular way does not mean it ought to be.

Pinker's political commentary in his work is more of a reflection, imho, of the different philosophical dispositions that have guided the "old" social science model of human behavior (Standard Social Science Model). I would agree with Amorgo that EP does not necessarily support a conservative political position, particularly one that is espoused by the American conservative movement.

There are certainly parallels, but this does not amount to a "scientific vindication" of conservative political philosophy. The real issue appears to be a differentiation between a model that emphasises NATURE+nurture (EP), versus a model that focuses primarily on Nurture (SSSM). The parallel emerges because liberal political views tend to see human nature as dictated more by environmental factors (nurture) rather than inherent traits.

Take for example the view of differences between boys and girls. The SSSM view holds that the differences between boys and girls are primarily, if not solely, the result of socialization; in contrast, the EP model would argue that there are inherent psychological differences that are played upon by the environment.

4WalkerMedia
jul. 16, 2007, 3:55pm

I must second amorgo's comments on the importance of distinguishing between evolutionary psychology as a science and EP as a movement. True scientists use the information gained via study of evolutionary psychology as only one variable among many to understand human cognition and behavior. EP as a movement in many ways bears more similarity to dogma (specifically an atheist dogma) than to a scientific approach. Since evolutionary psychology (and in many ways even psychology as a whole) is a young science, there has been an emphasis on theory; the human organism in culture is such a complex system that generating properly controlled conditions for verifiable hypotheses is a challenge to say the least!

There seems to be an understandable focus in conservative circles on strictly genetic transmission. As the science improves, we can expect to see incorporation of findings on epigenetics (in which gene expression can be altered by the environment.) Though certainly not reaching the level of a science yet, the study of the evolution of cultural units called memes could show promise if only it were conducted with rigor. Evolutionary psychology could benefit from both these additions, to transcend the simplified genetic reductionism of some of its current proponents for a more integrated approach.

5Jesse_wiedinmyer
jul. 17, 2007, 2:01am

>One might think that EP shows that certain traits or behavioural dispositions are innate, hence immutable, and hence that certain social policies will not be effective.

From most of what I've read, there seems to be quite a bit of belief within the scientific community that the nature vs. nurture debate is overstated. While quite a few characteristic are hereditable, they can be changed through nurture. I could be wrong. And I'm unsure as to what aspects of conservatism would be vindicated by EP. Maybe someone could spell that out for me?

6PeterKein
jul. 18, 2007, 9:35am

I have problems with EP on both scientific and political levels.

Most of the "science" done by "evolutionary psychologists" is rather embarrassing I would say. I would not call it "science" at all. (This is not to say that scientists do not use evolution as a explanatory device successfully, see below.)

On the scientific level- ev psych seems to put blinders on the possible explanations of a given behavior such that *only* evolutionary "explanations" (or 'just-so stories') are put forth. Granted this is a problem with the practitioners and not the practice itself. Nonetheless, every behavior is investigated from the a priori position that the most satisfying psychological explanation for that behavior will invoke a evolutionary "reason" for that behavior.

Not only will this explanation be evolutionary in nature, but it seems that 'evolution' is used synonymously (and exclusively) for 'natural selection (NS)' - as though NS is the only way evolution occurs. Which is not true- but of course, "explaining" a behavior as due to genetic drift is not as satisfying as invoking a (just-so) NS explanation.

(Ok I really need to get to work but for more read:

Frans de Waal (2002) 'Evolutionary Psychology: The Wheat and the Chaff' in Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11 (6) 187-191
and
Panksepp & Panksepp (2000) 'Seven Sins of Evolutionary Psychology' in Evolution & Cognition, 6 (2), 108-131 (or email me for pdf).

This is not to say that taking evolution into account is not important- evolution is an inescapable fact. However, the question becomes - how important is evolution to the level of analysis you are working at? Fundamentalist adaptationists would have you believe that it is the *only* thing of importance (the pendulum swings from the SSM?)

The political issues surrounding EP on the other hand can be more subtle. Grossly, the problem for me is similar to the issues raised by Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose and Leon Kamin in 'Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology and Human Nature'

When science becomes publicized it becomes political. For me, 'evolution' can be used as a way to maintain the status quo - absolving responsibility (for individuals and governments) and "blaming" nature. This is a very slippery slope.

7Jesse_wiedinmyer
jul. 18, 2007, 3:16pm

Wow, Peter. Thanks for the post.

8bingereader
jul. 18, 2007, 11:13pm

I would disagree with Peter that they are "just so" explanations, though he is accurate about the level of explanation to be gained.

Evolutionary psychology is directed toward more "ultimate" rather than proximiate causes, hence the nature of the explanations.

In addition, Evopsy tends to take a more neo-darwinian approach, ala Dawkins versus the traditional darwinian approach espoused by Gould, deWaal, and Panksepp. neodarwinists, and evopsych, tends to focus on natural selection. I would disagree that it does so exclusively.

The Evolutionists by Richard Morris does a nice job of explaining the neodarwin v. darwinist approaches.

9PeterKein
Editat: jul. 19, 2007, 9:58am

"Evolutionary psychology is directed toward more "ultimate" rather than proximiate causes, hence the nature of the explanations."

To my mind, this is in fact one of the problems with ev psych - the assumption that 1) there must be an 'ultimate' cause for a behavior (this smacks of a teleological fallacy- that everything is progressing toward some end. (And in the process we simply have replaced 'god' with 'evolution via natural selection' and make up a new mythology) and 2) that this 'ultimate cause' will be found to be an adaptation.

"In addition, Evopsy tends to take a more neo-darwinian approach, ala Dawkins versus the traditional darwinian approach espoused by Gould, deWaal, and Panksepp.
neodarwinists, and evopsych, tends to focus on natural selection. I would disagree that it does so exclusively."

Well, in my professional experience reading primary journal articles- I have yet to find an Ev Psych explanation for any behavior that is not an adaptationist account (i.e. natural selection).

10bingereader
jul. 21, 2007, 1:28pm

I am not clear on how "an ultimate cause for a behavior" means that everything is progressing toward something. Neither Evopsycho, nor other evolutionary theorists say that there is a forward progress toward some great end. Ultimate cause, in my understanding, is simply a way of saying "why" something happened, versus "how" something happens (the proximate explanation).

11bingereader
jul. 21, 2007, 1:30pm

Also, I agree that all the material in EvoPsych is adaptationist; Imho, that is primarily because they focus on topics that are addressed from an adaptationist perspective, not that there are not other explanations.

And with the notion that Evopsych is not "scientific," it would appear that the definition of "science" that you are using would preclude a great swathe of social science research.

12PeterKein
jul. 30, 2007, 9:36am

This will probably be my last reply but I cant resist.

First, we seem to differ in using certain terms- which is understandable. You seem to use 'proximate' and 'ultimate' to differentiate levels of *explanation* whereas I would say you are really talking about different levels of description not explanation. There is no good answer (or at least none that I am aware of) that adequately answers how to determine the "why" of something, perhaps you know of some?

And with the notion that Evopsych is not "scientific," it would appear that the definition of "science" that you are using would preclude a great swathe of social science research.

Yes my definition does, and and in my opinion, it should. I do not have the time to discuss what the proper subject of a science should be, but on this view, "social science" is an oxymoron in that it relies upon 1st person subjective experience which by definition is not the proper matter of a science.

Also, I agree that all the material in EvoPsych is adaptationist; Imho, that is primarily because they focus on topics that are addressed from an adaptationist perspective, not that there are not other explanations.

Im not sure that I follow this, but seems awfully circular to me. I would respond that "truth" cares little for the perspective of the individuals who study a phenomenon, the question is whether the explanation is true or not.

13Noisy
ag. 18, 2007, 2:06pm

An interesting topic, since I am just coming to the end of The Blank Slate. I hadn't appreciated a distinction between EP and ep before seeing it made here.

It's interesting that there is an attempt to tie-in EP with politics. I'm not too clear on the US meanings of 'conservative' and 'liberal', but I feel they may differ somewhat from the UK view. In reading Pinker's book, he certainly seems have it in for the 'wooly liberals' as we'd call them in Britain, but then he seems to espouse a liberal outlook himself: I'm pretty confused. I also find his style quite strange: sometimes he tries to sit back and be dispassionate and other times he wades in with fists flailing. In contrasting him with Matt Ridley, he comes a poor second.

From the little popular science that I've read, it doesn't seem strange that people would look for adaptationist explanations. A non-adaptive explanation seems meaningless to me: the only alternative that I could see would be a by-product of some other function.

14maimonedes Primer missatge
oct. 23, 2007, 2:53pm

My understanding is that the "blank slate" hypothesis - or Standard Social Science Model, as it is referred to by evolutionary psychologists - makes social liberals more comfortable. The more that genes determine behavior, the less room is left for the influence of environmental factors, and hence the possibility of modifying (undesirable/antisocial) behaviors. Thus it was that Steven J. Gould - a noted liberal - poured a glass of water over the head of E.O Wilson, when the latter first expounded his ideas about Sociobiology - afore-runner of evolutionary psychology.

15JNagarya
Editat: maig 23, 2008, 10:34am

#1 --

This sort of thing never ceases to astonish --

"Okay, what do y'all think about EP?

"As a non-religous conservative, I have some affinity for it; it seems to vindicate my view of human nature."

Philosophy begins with the question, "What is reality?" Philosophy is the "mother of all science," the purpose of science being to test in the material world the validity of answers to that question

Putting ideology before everything else, in this instance science, or "science," thus selecting that which appears to validate it, and rejecting everything else, is not science; it is exclusively ideology. It is anti-scientific. It is the "method" by means of which we were lied into the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

It is how we get revisions of science into "science" in order to "validate" or at least not "obstruct" rapacious "free market" economics. How's your breathing of lead and mercury in the air going for ya? Does the cyanide in your water give it a pleasing "tang"?

16JNagarya
maig 23, 2008, 9:59am

#2 --

". . . evolutionary psychology . . . is characterized is by its general theoretical and methodological orientation rather than any specific doctrines or results."

Evolutionary psychology is "sophisticated" speculation based upon a combination of speculation (psychology) and speculation (speculation).

17JNagarya
Editat: maig 23, 2008, 10:41am

#3 --

". . . . The SSSM view holds that the differences between boys and girls are primarily, if not solely, the result of socialization; in contrast, the EP model would argue that there are inherent psychological differences that are played upon by the environment."

That being, of course, an oversimplification -- which, alas, even Science often fails to transcend: every ten years we get a "final proof" that something is entirely "genetic"; ten years later we get the Scientific "final proof" that it is solely the result of "nurturance".

As there are elements from each "camp" which are simultaneously fact, simultaneously true, the "mature" view is to seek the accurate balance between the two, the actual distributions in/by each. Thus "genes" are something of a paradaox, at least in some respects: they limit or circumscribe the range of a certain trait, but within that range are "plastic," not "dictatorial". There isn't, as example, a "gene" which "causes" homosexuality; but there also isn't a "gene" which "prevents" or "prohibits" it.

A more stark example: I don't know if it still does, but during the 1970s Alcoholics Anonymous was pushing the view that alcoholism is "genetic" (which effectively removes personal responsibility, and hands the alcoholic an additional "I can't help it" rationalization). Actually, there isn't a "gene" which "causes" alcoholism; but there also isn't a "gene" which "prevents" or "prohibits" it.

18JNagarya
Editat: maig 23, 2008, 10:47am

#4 --

"Since . . . psychology as a whole . . . is a young science, . . . ."

Yeah: a "science" -- the original name for which was "moral philosophy," which is telling, especially as concerns the "practice" of it -- with innumerable irreconcilable "schools," which (aside from aspects of its "practice") defeats its claim to be a science. Academe has yet to determine whether it belongs in "science" or "social science".

And the latter is pock-marked by an ever-lenghtening list of pseudo-sciences -- personal whims, and ideologies, labeled "science" in effort to impute to them a pseudo-credibility; and, ironically, the villains tend to be "liberals," and thus they open the door to those making the pseudo-scientific claims of "creationists" and "creation science".

And at the rate it's going, if ever it breaks out of its self-validating circularity, Western psychology will take forever to catch up to where Buddhism (which -- note -- is at core a "combination" of "psychology" and "values") is as a systematic psychology.

19JNagarya
Editat: maig 23, 2008, 10:58am

#11 --

"And with the notion that Evopsych is not "scientific," it would appear that the definition of "science" that you are using would preclude a great swathe of social science research."

Bingo!

The "social sciences" are "soft" "sciences" -- which means that they are vulnerable to ideological interlopers who can bend the results to whatever their ends. There's a book, published circa 1966, as example (perhaps I'll look it up and provide the citation), written on a gov't grant, which rails against the "dangerous" "feminization" of males.

It's underlying, implicit thesis is essentially that this "dangerous" "feminization" of males is caused by none other than their being required to go to school, instead of being out and about and acting out their "natural" obstreperousness. And the ineluctable conclusion is that the cure for this "dangerous" "feminization" is to stop formally educating males.

Only girls -- who are always demure and well-behaved -- should be required to learn readin' and writin' 'cause they keep the books neat and clean and write clearly and are ultimately destined to be perfect secretaries.

The boys? Though not expressly said, keeping them stupid, and encouraging them to "roughhouse" and be "typical" "unoppressed-by-women" males just happens coincidentally to make them the perfect disposable draftees.

Statistics aside -- drop-out rates, how better girls do at schoolwork until they hit puberty, at which point they work to be stupid in order to be attractive to the boys -- it is based upon the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), which is used to "prove" and thus justify "enforcing" traditional male-female sexual roles, as if they are hardwired and immutable characteristics of the two sexes.

It is pseudo-science; circular sociology: that I want to be the reality I read into the reality and then -- see!? I "proved" it! -- I declare is the reality.

20zentimental
maig 23, 2008, 12:04pm

Aquest missatge ha estat suprimit pel seu autor.

21WalkerMedia
maig 23, 2008, 4:20pm

#18

I understand your distrust of a field growing out of "moral philosophy," but please keep in mind that science itself was nothing but an offshoot of "natural philosophy." It's not a matter of strict qualitative difference, only of development on a spectrum. Witness the early natural philosophy "schools" of the Greeks. Discussion of the four elements and alchemy were horribly misguided attempts at blending telos with experiment, but nonetheless real discoveries were made which eventually became the modern science of chemistry. Much of what has been learned in the area of "cognitive psychology" started with philosophers who were also experimenters, but as that field developed evidence it has been commandeered by other sciences, primarily neurology but including others. Such is the nature of science, growing out of opinion. A mass of empirical data will teach you nothing unless you look for answers to specific questions, collecting certain types of data guided by a theoretical bias. Unless you are the Buddha, "just sitting" will teach you little without some structure/bias to focus your experiences. A LOT of what gets branded EP is a bunch of "just so" stories, but that doesn't mean the entire concept of the field is hogwash. Any evolutionary science requires finesse to develop solid research methods, but just as methods have been developed for evolutionary biology and for aspects of psychology now integrated into other fields, they will eventually be developed for EP as well, and the chaff theories will begin to be sorted out.

22PeterKein
juny 26, 2008, 3:30pm

>19 JNagarya:

while I agree that it is much easier to politicize the 'soft sciences' - I hope you arent trying to draw a distinction between 'hard' and 'soft' in terms of whether the fields can be politicized? Fields are politicized by practitioners not the field per se. The only knowledge that would seem immune to politicization would be useless knowledge (i.e. irrelevant to humanity).

To say that the pseudo-sciences are 'soft sciences' is somewhat revisionary- Go back and see who were the practioners of 'pseudo-sciences' like phrenology were and you will see as many practioners who received degrees in the 'hard' sciences as the humanities, if not more.

You seem to be particularly harsh on "western psychology" without showing any evidence of understanding it. For instance, you assume that there is a system under which 'psychology' can be neatly categoried as if it really is a unified field. IF you look at the various sets of assumptions and methodology used in psychology - I think you would be hard pressed to defend this. There are no more systems for a good reason.

23nlaurent
des. 27, 2008, 2:26am

I will give you that some of evolutionary psychology can seem much too simplistic. But if you delve deeply into it you can see that this group of study has really some amazingly large numbers supporting some of their conclusions. Much of what they base theories on are behaviors or human conditions that are experienced globally regardless of human location or cultural influences. Do think all of their theories are correct? No. But I think they povide an absolutely necessary balance in the world of psychology because they require those who are social sciences who wish to put human life and developments up on some pedestal in comparison to other animals on the planet, to put their data where their mouths are. In other words, they have to "prove" it. And so far, much of the assertions of th evolutionary psychologists have the analysis of data on their side.

There is a good book whch I think the title is "Why beautiful people have more daughters..." or something like that. I will have to search my book shelf and get back to you if you are interestd. But it is a good and strong beginners book to Evolutionary Psycholoy theories and gives a bit of the data supporting wth citations so you can evaluate the quality of the studies yourself.

Thanks for asking about such an interesting topic!