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Evolutionary psychology

Altruism as Darwinian natural selection: How rats help natural selection

Carrying some groceries home from the plaza today, I came across an interesting sight: Note: More altruism vs. Darwinism stories here. A rat in broad daylight. We see this sometimes here, in good years for rats. The rat rushed into traffic and got its right hind foot run over. I wasn’t about to rush out to rescue it. I knew it would bite very deep, and might have rabies. (Rats are nocturnal, generally. A common feature of rabid nocturnes is diurnal restlessness and weird behaviour. Indeed, a biologist friend commented that about half of skunks seen in broad daylight have or are carrying rabies. So why not rats?) The anti-rabies series of injections is not quite as much fun as Read More ›

None of the Above: All the Modern Explanations for Religion Except the Most Obvious

Did you know that: Religion is good for you; also, Religion is bad for you; also, Religion makes no difference; also, Religion can be explained by a God gene, or a meme, or part of the brain . . . or whatever the editor of your local paper’s “Relationships” section will buy for this weekend’s edition? You didn’t know any of those things? Aw, no surprise. But never fear: One outreach of the new atheist movement, currently making its way around the lecture rooms of the nation, is the academic attempt to account for religious belief, and to do so on any basis whatsoever, except one. We will get to that forbidden one in a moment. First, let’s look at Read More ›

Wisdom from your local zoo: Introducing the “Evolutionary Agony Aunt”

When Britain’s Guardian newspaper first introduced its “evolutionary agony aunt”, this writer thought – a spoof for sure. But where evolutionary psychology is concerned, it can be genuinely hard to tell. No spoof. The Guardian burbled proudly, “A mere 150 years after Darwin published On the Origin of Species, we are proud to introduce our very own Evolutionary Agony Aunt” in the person of Carole Jahme, author of Beauty and the Beasts: Woman, Ape and Evolution and star of comedy Carole Jahme is Sexually Selected, described as a combination of Charles Darwin and Charlie Chaplin. We were told that her column will shine the “cold light” of evolutionary psychology on readers’ problems, in sharp contrast to the glossy magazines. Carole Read More ›

Evolutionary psychology: Lots of thoughtful folk are getting leery of it

Here is my post at Examiner on why. I thought it would never happen, actually. But I should have remembered – all psychology fads are inherently ridiculous because they are attempts to evade the depth of the human condition with some silly new idea. They collapse under the weight  of their own folly.

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 17: Why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion? Winner announced

Here, we asked, as per the title, why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion?

That’s always been a puzzle for me because … why indeed? Only if one is a slave to basically stupid ideas like “the selfish gene,” would debunking compassion, which is widely noted in my local society – and most working societies – seem a worthwhile project. Yet that project generates many useless research papers and other goofy projects.

You’d think more people would be interested in sponsoring compassion than debunking it. But hey.

Anyway, the winner here is Aidan at 6 for this entry (and Aidan needs to get in touch with me at oleary@sympatico.ca with an address to which I can mail the prize):

Proponents of neo-Darwinian orthodoxy are instinctively aware of certain awkward anomalies they need to undermine and contradictions they must cover up if their Big Picture View is to appear to trump all others. In the case of compassion, they are required to show that, whatever else it may be, it isn’t *really* compassion. Compassion as it is – in its raw, undebunked state – is particularly threatening to the materialist worldview because it is a universally accessible and entirely tangible demonstration of the reality of higher orders of being.

True selflessness lies not in the exclusion of oneself but in seeing another person *as* oneself. This is essentially ennobling not only because it rises above self-interest but because, in spirit (and in action), it lifts the other to the precisely same degree as ourselves, to the point where their interests and ours are seen as united within a much greater context. The existentially elevated ground upon which both are then able to stand – ground upon which neither could have stood alone – transcends both the material arrangements of the situation and the confines of each one’s personal mentality. Compassion has the power to free us from ourselves and thereby set us upon a very different road.

It is not sympathy, where you suffer along with the person in the hope that this will make them feel better; neither is it pity, where you look down on the person and feel sorry for them from the position of your own safety. As a form of understanding – of oneself, other people and life generally – true compassion is astonishingly rich in content. It is intellectual and spiritual rather than emotional in nature, possessing a power to transform the character beyond recognition. On such a foundation, there is a sense of resonance and alignment with far higher orders, the contours of which we can hardly begin to discern, along with intimations of universal laws profoundly unlike those proposed by materialist observers yet plainly in harmonious accord with laws long since codified by spiritual tradition.

For ideological reasons, materialists and Darwinians cannot allow anything to be in this world that is not of it. If they can show that every instance of compassion fits the grim calculations of one survival strategy or another, they can dismiss every spiritual teaching without further examination. Then they win!

What I liked best about Aidan’s entry is that Aidan helpfully distinguishes compassion from mere sentiment – you know what I mean: Blubbing all over someone’s sofa about the awful time they are having.

Chances are, the afflicted person secretly wishes that “Blubber” would just go away. Almost any problem is easier to deal with than useless blubbing. Compassion transforms people; blubbing means that the upholsterer must be called in, for advice re the sofa.

Readers in general, in my view, “evolutionary” psychologists are generally poseurs. I respect the paleontologist who toils in the Badlands or Death Valley. But “evolutionary” psychologists are tax-funded intellectual parasites on a once Big Idea.

Other comments: Read More ›

More coffee!! Your doctor needs to know what would have worked for someone’s hypothetical reconstruction of Stone Age man before she can treat you effectively …

Apparently, evolutionary biologists/psychologists (if there is any difference, I would be glad to know*) are trying to get jobs adding to the cost burden of medical schools, fronting their speculations to doctors in training, a friend advises. See this story by Daniel Cressey (“Groups say med school training must evolve,” Nature Medicine 15, 1338 (2009) doi:10.1038/nm1209-1338a, paywall, of course):

Medical training must adapt to include coursework covering evolutionary biology, according to a group of leading researchers.Momentum for such change seems to be building.

I bet. In an age of skepticism about all the nonsense evolutionary biologists front, they need to attach themselves to a system that people are still willing to fund.

“The case for ensuring that physicians and medical researchers are able to use evolutionary biology just as fully as other basic sciences is compelling,” says Randolph Nesse, of the University of Michigan, lead author of the paper. “The constraints that inhibit change are severe, however. Most medical schools do not have a single evolutionary biologist on the faculty.”

Nesse’s paper cites examples of where evolutionary knowledge can benefit those working in medicine. An awareness of why humans have evolved the fever response, for example, could help doctors understand when it is safe to use drugs to block fever.

Rubbish. Pharmaceutical studies on living patients in real time do that. No one proposes to give the drugs to Old Stone Age Man, but rather to a toddler, an overworked near-retirement executive, or a frail older senior. The latter two would not even have been alive in the Old Stone Age.

As I have written to friends, Read More ›

MercatorNet: Can evolution explain religion?

Here’s my MercatorNet column (10 December 2009), Evolutionary psychologists offer two contradictory explanations for the existence of religion. They can’t both be right, but they can both be wrong. In a recent issue of the leading journal Science , Elizabeth Culotta offers a variety of speculations in an article titled “On the Origin of Religion.” Explaining religion without God is quite the growth industry these days among evolutionary psychologists. Some argue that religion exists because it increases evolutionary fitness (survival of the fittest). Others argue that it makes no difference to fitness. It is merely a glitch in our thinking that doesn’t kill us off. They can’t both be right, but they could both be wrong. Let’s see. For the Read More ›

Evolutionary psychology: If they are going to chase their tails anyway, why don’t they stick to origin of life?

British physicist David Tyler discusses recent evolutionary psychology speculations about the origin of religion: … the “potential answers” Culotta mentions at the outset have the word potential in bold and the rest is in the imagination. What is strikingly lacking in these studies is any questioning of the materialist mindset of the researchers. The most significant way they follow Darwin is in excluding any thought that intelligent design issues need to be addressed before we can properly understand humanity. Indeed, the researchers set up a culture that portrays teleology as anti-science. Culotta reports on the findings of cognitive psychologists working with some undergraduate students: “When the undergrads had to respond under time pressure, they were likely to agree with nonscientific Read More ›