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At Nautilus: Psychology needs evolutionary psychology

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As if psychology were not troubled enough. Psychologist Cristine Legare argues at Nautilus:

My high school biology teacher, Mr. Whittington, put a framed picture of a primate ancestor in the front of his classroom—a place of reverence. In a deeply religious and conservative community in rural America, this was a radical act. Evolution, among the most well-supported scientific theories in human history, was then, and still is, deliberately censored from biological science education. But Whittington taught evolution unapologetically, as “the single best idea anybody ever had,” as the philosopher Dan Dennett described it. Whittington saw me looking at the primate in wonder one day and said, “Cristine, look at its hands. Now look at your hands. This is what common descent looks like.”

Evolution has shaped the human body, but it also shaped the human brain, so evolutionary principles are indispensable for understanding our psychology. Yet many students, teachers, and even social scientists struggle to see how our evolutionary history significantly shapes our cognition and behavior today.

Her first example of what she feels she can explain?

Take the conformity bias. It is a universal proclivity of all human psychology—even very young children imitate the behavior of others and conform to group norms. Yet beliefs about conformity vary substantially between populations. Adults in some populations are more likely to associate conformity with children’s intelligence, whereas others view creative non-conformity as linked with intelligence. Psychological adaptations for social learning, such as conformity bias, develop in complex and diverse cultural ecologies that work in tandem to shape the human mind and generate cultural variation. More.

Yes, quite so. And values can change in a couple of generations, as people face new conditions. We evolved to change, sometimes in ways that can make us unrecognizable to ourselves in our own past.

Legare refers to her work as “evolutionary theory” but actual evolutionary theory is a discipline with subjects like the physical fossils of homo Naledi and Neanderthal man, real and frozen in time. We can only say what we can demonstrate.

Evolutionary psychology, by contrast, acts as shrink to long-departed minds, generating theories that are extraneous to the current situations they are meant to address. That’s what has kept it on the margins all this time. Moving it closer to the center will add to the intellectual meltdown currently underway but make little difference otherwise.

Her parting shot?:

If “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” as the evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky argued in 1973, then nothing in human psychology, behavior, and culture does either. Social scientific research should reflect this fact.

As Jonathan Wells has replied to many such claims, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evidence.”

Note: Daniel Dennett is the Darwinian philosopher who argues that consciousness is an illusion.

See also: Call for papers: How did atheism evolve? Evolutionary psychologists now want to study atheism

Larry Moran asks whether evolutionary psychology is a “deeply flawed” enterprise

A BS detector for the social sciences?

All sides agree: progressive politics is strangling social sciences

The illusion of consciousness sees through itself.

and

“The evolutionary psychologist knows why you vote — and shop, and tip at restaurants”

One Reply to “At Nautilus: Psychology needs evolutionary psychology

  1. 1
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Evolutionary psychology, by contrast, acts as shrink to long-departed minds, generating theories that are extraneous to the current situations they are meant to address. That’s what has kept it on the margins all this time. Moving it closer to the center will add to the intellectual meltdown currently underway but make little difference otherwise

    I’m reading and following Jordan Peterson – who I admire greatly – and he’s an evolutionary psychologist. I never paid any attention to EP’s but he’s a great example.

    1. The first chapter of his book is loaded with Evolutionary references. Supposedly we do this or that because our animal ancestors did. He analyzes behavior of lobsters, and thus this means human behavior.
    2. The rest of the book (so far) just drops all of that pretense. The rest is just good old-fashioned human psychology and wisdom, with ancient religious and philosophical roots. He only rarely talks about how our neurology causes this or that again.
    3. He proves clearly, that Evolutionary psychology has no meaning and simply doesn’t matter. In fact, his work would be incredibly boring if he tried to explain everything as an evolutionary outcome (although his belief in Darwin necessitates it).
    4. So, why even include references to Darwin and the supposed neurological evolution of behaviors? Peterson is trying to get a buy-in from society. It gives him immense credibility simply to say “our ancestors the shellfish, did this or that”. This causes people to think, wow – he must indeed be a genius. So, people will read on, not realizing that he never references any of it again.
    5. The great thing about evolutionary claims is that you never actually have to prove anything. “Our ancestors did this” (and others did the opposite but we’ll forget that). That’s all that is required.

    No – show us the neurological pathways that created these behaviors. Show the mutational paths.

    Nobody bothers to attempt this.

    Common descent is proven by assumption. We see a small change, extrapolate to big changes, and thus evolution is proven. So, whatever our ancestors bacteria, amoebae, fish, mammals, apes did – explains what we do today.

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