Identifying the “Grand Challenge” in a Specialty Grand Challenge Article, Peter K. Jonason, School of Social Sciences and Psychology, Western Sydney University, explains:
If one assumes, like evolutionary psychologists do, that psychological systems are biological and physical (i.e., no ethereal concept of mind) in nature, evolutionary models must apply to the brain and its sequalae. However, since at least Descartes and, perhaps as far back as Plato, a mind-body dualism has existed whereby the mind (i.e., psyche) has been treated as distinct from the body and there is a tendency to treat humans as distinct from “animals” in some form of implicit anthropocentrism which has led to psychological theories generally being developed in parallel deafness to biological theories (Jonason and Dane, 2014). However, such dualism is problematic as it is (1) less parsimonious than monism and (2) creates untestable hypotheses. Evolutionary psychology is a field that tries to reconcile this problem to integrate the study of human behavior and mental mechanisms with the larger biological literature through interdisciplinary means. It tries to treat humans as just another species and assumes that the models researchers use to understand species from tardigrades to blue whales can be used to explain human variability and outcomes.
Humans are not just another species and no one even knows what consciousness is, yet these people burble along unaware…
As a result, the “biological theories” noted above are mostly the nonsense that finds its way into consumer mags:
For example, why we are sexually jealous (not fear of abandonment, but “sperm competition”); why we don’t stick to our goals (evolution gave us a kludge brain); why music exists (to “spot the savannah with little Pavarottis”); why art exists (to recapture that lost savannah); why many women don’t know when they are ovulating (if they knew, they’d never have kids); why some people rape, kill, and sleep around (our Stone Age ancestors passed on their genes via these traits), and why big banks sometimes get away with fraud (we haven’t evolved so as to understand what is happening).
Evo psych also accounts for anger over trivial matters (it was once key to our survival), dreams (they increase reproductive fitness), false memories, (there might be a tiger in that tall grass…), menopause (men pursuing younger women), monogamy (control of females or else infanticide prevention — of one’s own children only), music (to ward off danger), premenstrual syndrome (breaks up infertile relationships), romantic love (not an emotion, rather a hardwired drive to reproduce), rumination on hurt feelings (our brains evolved to learn quickly from bad experiences but slowly from the good ones), smiling (earlier, a cringe reaction), and wonder at the universe (explained by how early man lived).
It feels like emptying Darwin’s wastebasket. More.
Evo psych is a discipline without a subject (the not-quite-human being) and if its speculations about behaviour in the Pleistocene era ( 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago) were ever supported by data, the most reasonable inference to draw is that evolution doesn’t happen to human beings very much. But that probably isn’t what evolutionary psychologists want us to think.
Jonason claims his discipline is “incredibly fruitful“ and then proceeds to provide just another series of speculations about why people behave as they do, based on taking Darwin seriously instead of Freud, Marx or Camilla Paglia.
Even he concedes that all is not well:
Despite this rather simple premise and extensive/impressive research, the field is mired in controversy (e.g., Satoshi Kanazawa’s redacted Psychology Today blog of racial differences in attractiveness), misunderstandings (Buss and Schmitt, 2011), criticisms (Jonason and Schmitt, 2016), and even accusations of sexism (Schmitt, 2015). There is a constant need to justify the place and utility of evolutionary models of human behavior at the proverbial table of psychological research and defend itself against questions of its scientific legitimacy (e.g., evolutionary psychology is composed of “just so stories”) and evidentiary power (Schmitt, 2008; Li and Meltzer, 2015). … Second, replications of “big” papers in evolutionary psychology are especially warranted. As researchers and lay-people have observed in the last five years, the field of psychology has gone through a crisis of faith. Many of the most famous findings in psychology at large have been cast into doubt or even downright refuted (e.g., facial feedback hypothesis; Buck, 1980; Protzko and Schooler, 2017). As far as I can tell, no concerted effort has been expended to determine if key papers in evolutionary psychology can be replicated. For instance, papers on the card selection task (Cosmides, 1989) or fears of snakes and spiders (Öhman, 2009) could be directly replicated to test the “replicability” of evolutionary psychology. Such projects are probably a good avenue for honors students and student projects and can written up in a rather efficient manner. – The Grand Challenges for Evolutionary Psychology: Survival Challenges for a Discipline, Front. Psychol., 27 September 2017 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01727. More.
Jonason worries about the “existential threats” to his discipline created by unbelievers. No, the existential threat isn’t us. It’s the fact that Og and Ooga! drew a bit of cave art but never wrote anything down. And never showed up except as fossils.
In fairness, no one could make a discipline out of what evolutionary psychologists have to work with.
Evolutionary medicine will meet the same fate but it could be much more dangerous. More is at stake, after all, than filler for salon mags.
See also: “The evolutionary psychologist knows why you vote — and shop, and tip at restaurants”