Evolutionary psychology

Rob Sheldon on the prof who challenges evo psych: Covering her tracks carefully…

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From yesterday, readers may remember Subrena Smith, the prof who is challenging evolutionary psychology.

To my mind, evolutionary psychologists have not shown that there are specific psychological programs that are written in our bio-historical document. In my recent paper “Is Evolutionary Psychology Possible?”, published in the journal Biological Theory, I argue that it is not possible to give true evolutionary explanations of contemporary human behavior.1 The focus of my argument is that there is a matching problem at the core of evolutionary psychology that is irresolvable and thus renders the project impossible to execute.

Subrena E. Smith, “Why Evolutionary Psychology (Probably) Isn’t Possible” at The Evolution Institute

Evo psych is cheaper than therapy for Darwinists but hey, every form of refuge has its…

Anyway, Rob Sheldon took a break from the usual physics stuff to offer some thoughts:

Did you notice how Smith trashes Evolutionary Psychology because it uses “circular” reasoning? Then she realizes it sounds like an ID criticism, so she rushes to defend the remaining Evolutionary sciences with this paragraph:

“Some readers might think that I am holding evolutionary psychology to a much higher epistemic standard than is normal in evolutionary biological sciences. But this is not the case. Evolutionary psychological inferences commonly fail to satisfy reasonable epistemic criteria. When making evolutionary inferences about paradigmatically biological traits, biologists use experimental manipulations, comparative methods, the fossil record, and optimality models to determine that selection has taken place and that the items under consideration have retained their selected-for functions.”

In her defense of evolution, she gives away the farm. Here’s the 4 ways you can test evolution: 1) experimental manipulation 2) comparative methods 3) fossils 4) models that can be optimized.

(1) we have never seen evolution in the lab, so whatever we are manipulating, it wasn’t evolution. (2) if it is true, as many evolutionists say, that there is no other model, then what are we comparing with? Another evolutionary model? So isn’t that, like, circular? (3) Fossils are impressive. But they don’t seem to know about evolution. Many, many papers have been written about the inability to get evolution out of the fossil testimony. (4) Models that can be optimized. Well, if it didn’t have any adjustable parameters, it wouldn’t be a model, would it? And optimizing models is what they were meant for. I really don’t understand people who think models can teach us something we didn’t already put into the model. So how is this a test for anything outside of computer science class?

So there you have it. It all comes down to the uncooperative fossils.

Hey, she’s brave anyway, for someone who probably doesn’t have tenure.

See also: Philosopher challenges evolutionary psychology. But that’s not the amazing part. The amazing part is the admission of skepticism at a popular scitech mag. Hey, we can provide lots of examples of flapdoodle. But we took for granted that all these science writers actually believed in it. And not wanting to just pick a stupid useless fight with true believers, we mostly talked (well, okay, hooted, really) among ourselves…

2 Replies to “Rob Sheldon on the prof who challenges evo psych: Covering her tracks carefully…

  1. 1
    doubter says:

    Junk science. Believe it or not, P. Z. Myers (a well-known Darwinist zealot) actually said:

    “I don’t think psychology should just accept the dominion of evolutionary psychology, because EP is wrong — it’s a purely adaptationist paradigm built on flawed preconceptions and lazy methodology. EP can’t possibly test assumptions about the evolution of the human mind over the last 100,000 years by facile observations of Western middle-class college students. Especially not when it’s defenders don’t understand evolution at all, and reduce everything to blind adaptationism.”

    In my opinion Michael Egnor, though hardly an expert on Darwinism, nailed it:

    “All Darwinian fairy tales are the same — puerile adaptationist paradigms built on flawed preconceptions and lazy methodology. It’s just that the idiocy of Darwinian biology is opaque to most of us, whereas the idiocy of Darwinian psychology is out front, for all to see.

    Evolutionary psychology is a catastrophe for Darwinism because it lays bare the junk science at the heart of Darwinian science. Darwinian evolution is as hilarious as Darwinian psychology, but most of us don’t know as much about biochemistry as we do about psychology, and we don’t get the joke. Myers rightly detests Darwinian psychology, not merely because it’s atrocious science, but because, very likely, on some level he understands that it gives away the Darwinian game — that Darwinism as a whole is “a purely adaptationist paradigm built on flawed preconceptions and lazy methodology… just plain bad science.”

  2. 2
    chuckdarwin says:

    “Ancestral and present-day psychological structures have to match in the way that is needed for evolutionary psychological inferences to succeed. For this, three conditions must be met. First, determine that the function of some contemporary mechanism is the one that an ancestral mechanism was selected for performing. Next, determine that the contemporary mechanism has the same function as the ancestral one because of its being descended from the ancestral mechanism. Finally, determine which ancestral mechanisms are related to which contemporary ones in this way.” This suggested research program is a dead end because there is a fundamental misunderstanding of psychology that runs through this article, one that even some psychologists do not get. I first realized that philosophers have a basic misunderstanding of psychology as a scientific discipline when encountering Alvin Plantinga’s wrong-headed notion of the interrelationship between evolution and naturalism. Philosophers are always looking for “structures,” or “faculties,” or some other “thing” constructed by the mind to explain behavior. The epitome of this notion was Freud and it explains why Freudian psychology failed to generate any meaningful empirical explanations of behavior.
    Psychology, at bottom, is about behavior, not “structures.” The only “structural” components of psychology are the central and peripheral nervous systems which have clearly evolved. Take for example one of the most studied behavioral repertoires, intelligence, which has evolved hand in hand with the CNS (particularly brain size). Intelligence is measured by sampling a number of behaviors, both verbal and non-verbal, that have a high degree of inter-correlation that, in turn, predict success interacting with the subject’s environment. The basic components of intelligence, memory, information processing speed, pattern recognition, learning capacity (e.g. operant learning), modeling of successful behaviors (social learning) to name a few, ALL have all evolved along with the brain and have direct adaptive benefit to ANY environment, be it the African savanna or a traffic jam in the busiest city. And it is not a mere coincidence that we can directly measure each one of these components of intelligence. And it is not mere coincidence that fMRI is beginning to allow us to “localize” many of these behaviors in the brain. Neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuropsychologists and psychometrists have understood this for decades.
    My doctoral advisor viewed intelligence and adaptability as synonymous. From an evolutionary standpoint there is a direct correlation between brain size and intelligence/adaptability.
    The focus of “evolutionary psychology” should not be chasing psychological “structures” that existed intact from “primitive” to the present, but rather how behavior has evolved as the nervous system has become more and more sophisticated… Maybe this generation of philosophers of mind that have a misguidedpropensity to re-brand themselves as “neuroscientists” will get this notion sooner rather than later.

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