Michael Flannery, author of World of Life and Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life, writes in response to “Darwinist neuroscience in trouble?: Even facial expressions are not that informative, never mind brain scans”:
Fact of the matter is Darwin’s neuroscience was “in trouble” from the beginning. It seems to me the real question is how did things like evolutionary psychology and Darwinian neuro “science” even gain a foothold in the first place.
When Darwin published The expression of the emotions in man and animals in 1872, Wallace reviewed the book in The quarterly journal of science. While Wallace (as always) gave Darwin a few deferential compliments, it was overall a pretty damning review.
Wallace began by saying, “An insatiable longing to discover the causes of the varied and complex phenomena presented by living things seems to be the prominent characteristic of Mr. Darwin’s mind. Nothing is so insignificant as to escape his notice or so common as not to demand of him an explanation.” He continued, “It is rather curious that an author who is not usually satisfied with anything less than a real and intelligible explanation, should yet be so ready, in some cases, to admit innate ideas or feelings. Among the numerous, and often most interesting, observations on his own children, Mr. Darwin tells us that a child six months old was distressed at seeing its nurse pretend to cry. He thinks, in this case, that ‘an innate feeling must have told him that the pretended crying of his nurse expressed grief; and this, through the instinct of sympathy, excited grief in him.’
Now, although I imagined myself much more disposed to believe in innate ideas than Mr. Darwin, I cannot see the necessity for them here. A child at that age often cries or is distressed at any strange face, or even at the sight of a friend in a strange dress. The nurse’s attitude and expression were strange; they made her look unlike herself, and the child got afraid, and was about to cry. That seems to me a better explanation than that the child had an innate knowledge that the nurse was grieved.” Wallace ended his review by noting that the book had some “admirable” illustrations and was suited to “general readers.” Not exactly a rousing endorsement . . .
Like I said before: You know it’s not really a science when common sense assessments would do just as well.
Denyse O’Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.