Monday, July 06, 2009

The Caveman Cometh . . . and Goeth

Evolutionary Psychology is SO last year. Behavioral Ecology is where it's at now.


The discovery of genes as young as agriculture and city-states, rather than as old as cavemen, means "we have to rethink to foundational assumptions" of evo psych, says [evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey] Miller, starting with the claim that there are human universals and that they are the result of a Stone Age brain. Evolution indeed sculpted the human brain. But it worked in malleable plastic, not stone, bequeathing us flexible minds that can take stock of the world and adapt to it.


Anonymous said...

Hi John
Interesting article. I don't recognise the 'evolutionary psychology' the article attacks. I've read some of the books/authors it mentions, and the 'evolutionary psychology' put forward there is something quite different, and something that totally failed to make this 'Marxist' in the slightest bit angry or worried about the future or about what our response to bad behaviour should be.

I suspect that there's an interesting and valid scientific argument going on somewhere, and this journalist, ignorant of the field, has written it up into a bad story about warring tribes.

She claims, for example, that behavioural ecology is a new and emergent discipline that is threatening to supplant EP. What balls. BE has been around longer than EP. Prominent behavioural ecologist Robin Dunbar even called one of his most recent books "Evolutionary Psychology" to flag up the fact that the two fields are entirely complimentary -- indeed, potentially the same thing, an evolutionary science of human behaviour/psychology.

Not followed the debates for some time though, so am interested that there has been some scientific criticism of the claims and methods of EP. Not that this is especially new either though: see Dunbar's book.

John said...

Hi Stuart--

I concur with your scepticism. Hence my "apparently." Not so much a straw man argument as shooting a mutant fish in a barrel. Her version of evolutionary psychology that she so handily refutes appears to be the most extreme version of sociobiology combined with the mental module model of the mind, neither of which were ever taken seriously by practicing sociologists or psychologists, as far as I know.

Some of the comments beneath the article make valid observations about the need to revise theories in the light of evidence. Others are completely bonkers.

Nice "warring tribes" metaphor. ;-)