Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Evolutionary Psychology

Seems like a very doubtful enterprise to me. Make up an explanation, one that doesn't have any meaningful way of being tested; because if it could be tested it would be a hypothesis. Broadcast that idea as science. You know, science, where ideas are turned into hypotheses, tested, revised, tested, and when, finally, they can correctly predict the result of the test, they are raised to the level of theory. Or not:

Fun sendup and straight talk about evolutionary psychology - why does anyone take it seriously?: "Columnist Mike Adams, whose spoofs regularly outrage odd, tax-funded people at universities, was last seen fronting the 'Journal of Genetic Rationalization', whose research projects include the following:

The Tardy Gene. Attention seeking has been a common explanation for chronic lateness. Television star and psychologist Dr. Phil has advised – to Brittany Spears and others he is unqualified to counsel – that such strategies often backfire. A person will often make late appearances at social gatherings in order to draw attention without realizing that the attention she draws is significantly more negative than she had expected. Since it is assumed that people are not likely to make choices that bring about adverse consequences – even when those adverse consequences were unforeseen – the existence of a tardiness gene is assumed. Researchers are encouraged to begin the search for evidence of a tardiness gene before it is too late.

Seriously, the basic problem with evolutionary (= gene-driven) psychology (EP), as I explained in a recent piece in Salvo 4, is that EP must locate the causes of human behaviour in genes inherited from prehuman ancestors - genes that want to replicate themselves - rather than in decisions made by conscious minds today. So what you do is driven by your genes, not by your current perceptions of your environment.

That entails an amazing number of silly ideas. For example,
A recent article in Psychology Today (July/August 2007) avers that men prefer women with big breasts because the man can see whether the woman’s breasts sag, which indicates reduced fertility.

Really? Isn't the general human preference for the anticipated pleasure of abundance over scarcity a better explanation - and a wee bit simpler too? But to think that way is to be out of step with the whole point of evolutionary psychology, which derives from a materialist view of human nature. To say that men prefer abundance to scarcity is to say that they have minds and that - to their minds - abundance seems better than scarcity.

But to an evolutionary psychologist, framing the preference that way is simply not acceptable. Evolutionary psychology looks for a program in the genes that governs what men like. Its practitioners are entirely convinced that such a program exists. The program must exist because the mind does not cause anything to happen. Men do not know what they like until their selfish genes act on their neurons, creating the appropriate buzz. The man himself has no preferences, but his genes do.

Believe it or not, the central dogma of neuroscience today is that the mind is an illusion, but Mario Beauregard and I dispatch that doctrine handily in The Spiritual Brain.

Actually, evolutionary psychology contains within itself the seed of its own downfall. Taken seriously, it means that precisely nothing has changed since the days of our prehuman ancestors. In that case, no evolution occurred. That is strange, considering the wonders Darwinists attribute to natural selection. And if nothing has changed between our prehuman ancestors and ourselves, has anything changed between the amoeba and ourselves?

Either Darwinian evolution can induce real change (in which case, the evolutionary psychologists' pursuit is highly doubtful) or it can't, in which case it is futile because evolution did not happen by Darwinian means.

Essentially, evolutionary psychology, in an effort to prop up Darwinism, is stabbing it through the heart by trying to show that no evolution in human behaviour has actually occurred. In all that time, no evolution occurred ... Well, then, ... you shouldn't have even asked."

(Via Post-Darwinist.)

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