Evolutionary psychology

02 May 2016 14:40

Someday we'll live on Venus
And men will walk on Mars
But we will still be monkeys
Down deep inside

The study of how our minds have evolved, and the traces left by that evolution. The most important seems to be that we don't have a general, content-neutral intelligence, but a gang or collection of specialized intelligences bent and stretched into unnatural poses for things like math. Logically, all this is quite separate from the question of whether or not we use evolutionary processes in our thinking, whether the mind is a Darwin machine, but I think all the advocates of the latter support evolutionary psychology as well.

It should be obvious that, if we have inherited a tendency or bias towards Q from our ancestors, this doesn't mean we should Q, and everyone accepts this without question when it comes to logic and reasoning. Certain popularizers (e.g. Gazzaniga, and especially Wright) forget this when it comes to things like the relations between the sexes: predictable, but depressing nonetheless. (Finding an evolutionary explanation for this bias is left as an exercise for the student.) Fortunately Blaffer Hrdy is an excellent corrective to this.

Methodological issues/problems: Conflating observed range of variation in human behavior with range of possible behavior. Restricted cultural background of most experimental psychology subjects. Lack of knowledge of ancestral environments and their range of variability. Degree to which contemporary foraging societies can serve as proxies for ancestral ones is unclear. (Modern foragers tend to live in environments which agrarian or industrial societies didn't want; also, many foragers are more or less economically, i.e., ecologically, integrated with nearby settled communities.) Difficulties of distinguishing between direct adaptations and by-products of adaptations. (Real, but often exaggerated, I think.) — All of these seem like reasons for caution, but not for abandoning the project, and many of them are of a piece with the difficulties of any kind of social science.

See also: Adaptation; Archaeology; Noam Chomsky; Cognitive Science; Developmental Biology; Ethics, Game Theory and Biology; Evolution; Human Evolution; Judgment and Decision-Making; Memes and Related Ideas about the Evolution of Culture; Methodology for the Social Sciences; Neuroscience; Social Neuroscience; Sociology; Universal Images and Cultural Universals