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Unless you’ve been living under a rock since the new year, you have heard of the “coup attempt” at the Capitol building on Wednesday, January 6th. Upset at the fact that the election was “stolen” from Trump, his supporters showed up at the building and rushed it, causing mass chaos. But, why did they do this? Why the violence when they did not get their way in a fair election? Well, Michael Ryan, author of The Genetics of Political Behavior: How Evolutionary Psychology Explains Ideology (2020) has the answer—what he terms “rightists” and “leftists” evolved at two different times in our evolutionary history which, then, explains the trait differences between the two political parties. This article will review part of the book—the evolutionary sections (chapters 1-3).
EP and ideology
Explaining why individuals who call themselves “rightists and leftists” behave and act differently than the other is Ryan’s goal. He argues, at length, that the two parties have two different personality profiles. This, he claims, is due to the fact that the ancestors of rightists and leftists evolved at two different times in human history. He calls this “Trump Island” and “Obama Island”—apt names, especially due to what occurred last week. Ryan claims that what makes Trump different from, say, Obama, is that his ancestors evolved at a different place in a different time compared to Obama’s ancestors. He further claims using the Stanford Prison Experiment that “we may not all be capable of becoming Nazis, after all. Just some, and conservatives especially so” (pg 12).
In the first chapter he begins with the usual adaptationism that Evolutionary Psychologists use. Reading between the lines in his implicit claims, he is arguing that “rightists and leftists” are natural kinds—that is, they are *two different kinds of people.* He explains some personality differences between rightists and leftists and then says that such trait differences are “rooted in biology and governed by genes” (pg 17). Ryan then makes a strong adaptationist claim—that traits are due to adaptation to the environment (pg 17). What makes you and I different from Trump, he claims, is that our ancestors and his ancestors evolved in different places at different times where different traits would be imperative to survival. So, over time, different traits got selected-for in these two populations leading to the trait differences we see today. So each environment led to the fixation of different adaptive traits which explains the differences we see today between the two parties, he claims.
Ryan then shifts from the evolution of personality differences to… The evolution of the beaks of Darwin’s finches and Tibetan adaptation to high-altitude living (pg 18), as if the evolution of physical traits is anything like the evolution of psychological traits. His folly is assuming that these physical traits can then be likened to personality/mental traits. The ancestors of rightists and leftists, like Darwin’s finches Ryan claims, evolved on different islands in different moments of evolutionary time. They evolved different brains and different adaptive behaviors on the basis of the evolution of those different brains. Trump’s ancestors were authoritarian, and this island occurred early in human history “which accounts for why Trump’s behavior seems so archaic at times” (pg 18).
The different traits that leftists show in comparison to rightists is due to the fact that their island came at a different point in evolutionary time—it was not recent in comparison to the so-called archaic dominance behavior portrayed by Trump and other rightists. Ryan says that Obama Island was more crowded than Trump Island where, instead of scowling, they smiled which “forges links with others and fosters reciprocity” (pg 19). So due to environmental adversity, they had a more densely populated “island”—in this novel situation, compared to the more “archaic” earlier time—the small bands needed to cooperate, rather than fight with each other, to survive. So this, according to Ryan, explains why studies show more smiling behavior in leftists compared to rightists.
Some of our ancestors evolved traits such as cooperativeness the aided the survival of all even though not everyone acquired the trait … Eventually a new genotype or subpopulation emerged. Leftist traits became a permanent feature of our genome—in some at least. (pg 19-20)
So the argument goes: Differences between rightists and leftists show us that the two did not evolve at the same points in time since they show different traits today. Different traits were adaptive at different points in time, some more archaic, some more modern. Since Trump Island came first in our evolutionary history, those whose ancestors evolved there show more archaic behavior. Since Obama Island came first, they show newer, more modern behaviors. Due to environmental uncertainty, those on Obama Island had to cooperate with each other. The trait differences between these two subpopulations were selected for in their environment that they evolved in, which is why they are different today. Now today, this led to the “arguing over the future direction of our species. This is the origin of human politics” (pg 20).
Models of evolution
Ryan then discusses four models of evolution: (1) the standard model, where “natural selection” is the main driver of evolutionary change; (2) epigenetic models like Jablonka’s and Lamb’s (2005) in Evolution in Four Dimensions; (3) where behavioral changes change genes; and (4) where organisms have phenotypic plasticity and is a way for the organism to respond to sudden environmental changes. “Leftists and rightists“, writes Ryan, “are distinguished by their own versions of phenotypic plasticity. They change behavior more readily than rightists in response to changing environmental signals” (pg 29-30).
In perhaps the most outlandish part of the book, Ryan articulates one of my now-favorite just-so stories. The passage is worth quoting in-full:
Our direct ancestor Homo erectus endured for two million years before going extinct 400,000 years ago when earth temperatures dropped far below the norm. Descendants of erectus survived till as recently as 14,000 years ago in Asia. The round head and shovel-shaped teeth of some Asians, including Vladimir Putin, are an erectile legacy. Archeologists believe erectus was a mix of Ted Bundy and Adolf Hitler. Surviving skulls point to a life of constant violence and routine killing. Erectile skulls are thick like a turtle’s, and the brow’s are ridged for protection from potentially fatal blows. Erectus’ life was precarious and violent. To survive, it had to evolve traits such as vigilant fearfulness, prejudice against outsiders, bonding with kin allies, callousness toward victims, and a penchant for inflexible habits of life that were known to guarantee safety. It had to be conservative. 34 Archeologists suggest that some of our most characteristic conservative emotions such as nationalism and xenophobia were forged at the time of Homo erectus. 35 (pg 33-34)
It is clear that Ryan is arguing that rightists have more erectus-like traits whereas leftists have more modern, Sapiens traits. “The contemporary coexistence of a population with more “modern” traits and a population with more “archaic” traits came into being” (pg 37). He is implicitly assuming that the two “populations” he discusses are natural kinds and with his “modern” “archaic” distinction (see Crisp and Cook 2005 who argue against a form of this distinction) he is also implying that there is a sort of “progress” to evolution.
Twin studies, it is claimed, show “one’s genetically informed psychological disposition” (Hatemi et al, 2014); they “suggest that leftists and rightists are born not made” while a so-called “consensus has emerged amongst scientists: political behavior is genetically controlled and heritable” (pg 43). But, Beckway and Morris (2008), Charney (2008), and Joseph (2009; 2013) argue that twin studies can do no such thing due to the violation of the equal environments assumption (Joseph, 2014; Joseph et al, 2015). Thus, Ryan’s claims of the “genetic origins” of political behavior rest on studies that cannot prove or disprove “genetic causation” (Shulitziner, 2017)—but since the EEA is false we must discount “genetic causation” for psychological traits, not least because it is impossible for genes to cause/influence psychological traits (see argument (iii)).
The arguments he provides are a form of inference to best explanation (IBE) (Smith, 2016). However, this is how just-so stories are created: the conclusion is already in mind, and then the story is crafted using “natural selection” to explain how a trait came to fixation and why it currently exists today. The whole book is full of such adaptive stories. Claiming that we have the current traits we do in the distributions they are in in the “populations” because they were, at a certain point in our evolutionary history, adaptive which then led to the individuals with those traits passing on more of their genes, eventually leading to trait fixation. (See Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, 2010).
Ryan makes such outlandish claims such as “Rightists are more likely than leftists to keep their desks neat. If in the distant past you knew exactly where the weapons were, you could find them quickly and react to danger more effectively. 26” (pg 45). He talks about how “time-consuming and effort-demanding accuracy of perception [were] more characteristic of leftist cognition … leftist cognition is more reflective” while “rightist cognition is intuitive rather than reflective” (pg 47). Rightists being more likely to endorse the status quo, he claims, is “an adaptive trait when scarce resources made energy management essential to getting by” (pg 48) Rightist language, he argues, uses more nouns since they are “more concrete, an anxious personalities prefer concrete to abstract language because it favors categorial rigidity and guarantees greater certainty” while leftists “use words that suggest anxiety, anger, threats, certainty, resistance to change, power, security, and conformity” (pg 49). There is “a connection between archaic physiology and rightist moral ideology” (pg 52). Certain traits that leftists have were “adaptive traits [that] were suited to later stage human evolution” (pg 53). Ryan just cites studies that show differences between rightists and leftists and then uses some great leaps and mental gymnastics to try to mold the findings as being due to evolution in the two different time periods he describes in chapter 1 (Trump and Obama Island).
I have not read one page in this book that does not have some kind of adaptive just-so story attempting to explain certain traits/behaviors between rightists and leftists in evolutionary terms. Ryan uses the same kind of “reasoning” that Evolutionary Psychologists use—have your conclusion in mind first and then craft an adaptive story to explain why the traits you see today are there. Ryan outright says that “[t]raits are the result of adaptation to the environment” (pg 17), which is a rare—strong adaptationist—claim to make.
His book ticks off all of the usual EP things: strong adaptationism, just-so storytelling, the claim that traits were selected-for due to their contribution in certain environments at different points in time. The strong adaptationist claims, for example, are where he says that erectus’ large brow “are rigid for protection from potentially fatal blows” (pg 34). Such strong adaptationist claims imply that Ryan believes that all traits are the result of adaptation and that they, as a result, are still here today because they all serve a function in our evolutionary past. His arguments are, for the most part, all evolutionary and follow the same kinds of patterns that the usual EP arguments do (see Smith, 2016 for an explication of just-so stories and what constitutes them). Due to the problems with evolutionary psychology, his adaptive claims should be ignored.
The arguments that Ryan provides are not scientific and, although they give off a veneer of being scientific by invoking “natural selection” and adaptationism, they are anything but. It is just a long-winded explanation for how and why rightists and leftists—liberals and conservatives—are different and why they cannot change, since these differences are “encoded” into our genome. The implicit claim of the book, then, that rightists and leftists are two different—natural—kinds, lies on the false bed of EP and, therefore, the arguments provided in the book fail to sway anyone that does not believe such fantastic storytelling masquerading as science. While he does discuss other evolutionary theories, such as epigenetic ones from Jablonka and Lamb (2005), the book is largely strongly adaptationist using “natural selection” to explain why we still have the traits we do in different “populations” today.
Mass shootings occur about every 12.5 days (Meindl and Ivy, 2017) and so, figuring out why this is the case is of utmost importance. There are, of course, complex and multi-factorial reasons why people turn to mass killing, with popular fixes being to change the environment and attempt to identify at-risk individuals before they carry out such heinous acts.
Just-so stories take many forms—why men have beards, human fear of snakes and spiders, why men have bald heads, why humans have big brains, why certain genes are in different populations in different frequencies, etc. The trait/genes that influence the trait are said to be fitness-enhancing and therefore selected-for—they become “naturally selected” (see Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, 2010, 2011) and fixated in that species. Mass shootings are becoming more frequent and deadlier in America; is there any evolutionary rationale behind this? Don’t worry, the just-so storytellers are here to tell us why these sorts of actions are and have been prevalent in society.
The end result is a highly provocative interpretation of combining theories of human nature and evolutionary psychology. Additionally, community development and connectedness are described as evolved behaviors that help provide opportunities for individuals to engage and support each other in a conflicted society. In sum, this manuscript helps piece together centuries old [sic] theories describing human nature with current views addressing natural selection and adaptive behaviors that helped shape the good that we know in each person as well as the potential destruction that we seem to tragically be witnessing with increasing frequency. At the time of this manuscript publication yet another mass campus shooting had occurred at Umpqua Community College (near Roseburg, Orgeon). (Hoffman, 2015: 3-4, Philosophical Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology)
It seems that Hoffman (a psychology professor at Metropolitan State University) is implying that such actions like “mass campus shootings” are a part of “the potential destruction that we seem to tragically be witnessing with increasing frequency.” Hoffman (2015: 175) speaks of “genetic skills” and that just “because an individual has the genetic skills to be an athlete, artist, or auto-mechanic does not mean that ipso facto it will happen—what actually defines the outcomes of a specific human behavior is a very complex social and environmental process.” So, at least, Hoffman seems to understand (and endorse) the GxE/DST view.
There are more formal presentations that such actions are “based on an evolutionary compulsion to take action against a perceived threat to their status as males, which may pose a serious threat to their viability as mates and to their ultimate survival” (Muscoreil, 2015). (Let’s hope they stayed an undergrad.)
Muscoreil (2015) claims that such are due to status-seeking—to take action against other males that they perceive to be a threat to their social status and reproductive success. Of course, killing off the competition would have that individual’s genes spread through the population more, therefore increasing the frequency of those traits in the population if they happen to have more children (so the just-so story goes). Though, the storytellers are hopeful: Muscoreil (2015) proposes to be ready to work toward “peace and healing” whereas Hoffman (2015: 176) proposes that we should work on cooperation, which was evolutionarily adaptive, and so “communities not only have the capacity but also more importantly an obligation to create specific environments that stimulates and nurture cooperative relationships, such as the development of community service activities and civic engagement opportunities.” So it seems that these authors aren’t so doom-and-gloom—through community outreach, we can come together and attempt to decrease these kinds of crimes that have been on the rise since 1999.
There is a paraphilia called “hybristophilia” in which a woman gets sexually aroused at the thought of being cheated on, or even the thought of her partner committing heinous crimes such as rape and murder. Some women are even attracted to serial killers, and they tend to be in their 40s and 50s—through the killer, it is said, the woman gains a sense of status in her head. Two kinds of women who fall for serial killers exist: those who think they can “change” the killer and those who are attracted through news headlines on the killer’s actions. While others say lonely women who want attention will write serial killers since they are more likely to write back. This is, clearly, pointing to an innate evolutionary drive for women to be attracted to the killer, so they can feel more protected—even if they are not physically with them.
Of course, if there were no guns there would still (theoretically) be mass killings, as anything and everything can be used as a weapon to cause harm to another (which is why this is about mass killings and not mass murders). So, evolutionary psychologists note that a certain action is still prevalent (the fact that autogenic massacre exists) and attempt to explain it in a way only they can—through the tried and tested just-so story method.
Klinesmith et al (2006) showed that men who interacted with a gun showed subsequent increases in testosterone levels compared to those who tinkered with the board game Mouse Trap. Those who had access to the gun showed greater increases in testosterone and thus added more hot sauce to the water. They conclude that “exposure to guns may increase later interpersonal aggression, but further demonstrates that, at least for males, it does so in part by increasing testosterone levels” (Klinesmith et al, 2006: 570). And so, due to this, guns may increase aggressive behavior due to an increase in testosterone. This study has the usual pitfalls—small sample (n=30), college-age (younger means more aggressive, on average) and so cannot be generalized. But the idea is out there: Holding a gun has a man feel more powerful and dominant, and so, their testosterone levels increase BUT! the testosterone increase would not be driving the cause. It has even been said that mass shooters are “low dominance losers”. Lack of attention would lead to decreased social status which means fewer women would be willing to talk with the guy which makes the guy think that his access to women is decreasing due to his lack of social status and, when he gets access to a weapon, his testosterone increases as he can then give in to his evolutionary compulsions and therefore increase his virality and access to mates.
Elliot Rodger is one of these types. Killing six people because he was shunned and had no social life—he wanted to punish the women who rejected him and the men who he envied. Being inter-racial himself, he described his hatred for inter-racial couples and couples in general (he himself was half white and half Asian), the fact that he could never get a girlfriend, and the conflicts that occurred in his family. Of course, all of his life experiences coalesced into the actions he decided to undertake that day—and to the evolutionary psychologist, it is all understandable through an evolutionary lens. He could not get women and was jealous of the men who could get women, so why not attempt to take some of them out and get his “retributive justice” he so yearned for? Evolutionary psychology explains his and similar actions. (VanGeem, 2009 espouses similar ideas.)
These ideas on evolutionary psychology and mass killings can even be extended to terrorism and mass killings—as I myself (stupidly) have written on (see Rushton, 2005). He uses his (refuted) genetic similarity theory (GST; an extension of kin selection and Dawkins’ selfish gene theory) to show why suicide bombers are motivated to kill.
These political factors play an indispensable role but from an evolutionary perspective aspiring to universality, people have evolved a ‘cognitive module’ for altruistic self-sacrifice that benefits their gene pool. In an ultimate rather than proximate sense, suicide bombing can be viewed as a strategy to increase inclusive fitness. (Rushton, 2005: 502)
“Genes … typically only whisper their wishes rather than shout” (Rushton, 2005: 502). Note the Dawkins-like wording. Rushton, wisely, cautions in his conclusion that his genetic similarity theory is only one of many reasons why things like this occur and that causation is complex and multi-factorial—right, nice cover. To Rushton, the suicide bomber is taking an action in order to ensure that those more closely relate to them (their family and their ethnic group as a whole) survive and propagate more of their genes, increasing the selfishness and ethnocentrism of that ethnic group. Note how Rushton, despite his protestations to the contrary, is trying to ‘rationalize’ racism and ethnocentric behavior as being ‘in the genes’ with the selfish genes having the ‘vehicle’ behave more selfishly in order to increase the frequencies of the copies of itself that are found in co-ethnics. (See Noble, 2011 for a refutation of Dawkins’ theory.) Ethnic nationalism, genocide, and genocide are the “dark side to altruism”, states Rushton (2005: 504), and this altruistic behavior, in principle, could show why Arabs commit their suicide bombings and similar attacks.
Jetter and Walker (2018) show that “news coverage is suggested to cause approximately three mass shootings in the following week, which would explain 58 percent of all mass shootings in our sample” looking at ABC News Tonight coverage between the time period of Januray 1, 2013 to June 23, 2016. Others have also suggested that such a “media contagion” effect exists in regard to mass shootings (Towers et al, 2015; Johnston and Joy, 2016; Meindl and Ivy, 2017; Lee, 2018; Pescara-Kovach et al, 2019). The idea of such a “media contagion” makes sense: If one is already harboring ideas of attempting a mass killing, seeing them occur in their own country by people around their own ages may have them think “I can do that, too.” And so, this could be one of the reasons for the increase in such attacks—the sensationalist media constantly covering the events and blasting the name of the perpetrator all over the airwaves.
Though, contrary to popular belief, the race of a mass shooter is not more likely to be white—he is more likely to be Asian. Between 1982 and 2013, out of the last 20 mass killings of the time period, 45 percent (9) were comitted by non-whites. Asians, being 6 percent of the US population, were 15 percent of the killers within the last 31 years. So, regarding population size, Asians commit the most mass shootings, not whites. (See also Mass Shootings by Race; they have up-to-date numbers.) Chen et al (2015) showed that:
being exposed to a Korean American rampage shooter in the media and perceiving race as a cause for this violence was positively associated with negative beliefs and social distance toward Korean American men. Whereas prompting White-respondents to subtype the Korean-exemplar helped White-respondents adjust their negative beliefs about Korean American men according to their attribution of the shooting to mental illness, it did not eliminate the effect of racial attribution on negative beliefs and social distance
Mass shooters who were Asian or another non-white minority got a lot more attention and receieved longer stories than those of white shooters. “While the two most covered shootings are perpetrated by whites (Sandy Hook and the 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona), both an Asian and Middle Eastern shooter garnered considerable attention in The Times” (Schildkraut, Elsass, and Meredith, 2016).
Although Hoffman (2015) and Muscoreil (2015) state that we should look to the community to ensure that individuals are not socially isolated so that these kinds of things may be prevented, there is still no way to predict who a mass shooter would be. Others propose that, due to the high increase of school shootings, steps should be taken to evaluate the mental health of at-risk students (Paoloni, 2015; see alsoKnoll and Annas, 2016.) and attempt to stop these kinds of things before they happen. Mental illness cannot predict mass shootings (Leshner, 2019), but “evolutionary psychologists” cannot either. We did not need the just-so storytelling of Rushton, Hoffman, and Muscoreil to explain why mass killers still exist—the solutions to such killings put forth by Hoffman and Muscoreil are fine, but we did not need just-so story ‘reasoning’ to come to that conclusion.
The story of Adam and Eve is critical to Christian thought. For many Christians, the story tells us how and why we fell from God’s grace and moved away from Him. Some Christians are Biblical literalists—they believe that the events in the Bible truly happened as described. Other Christians attempt to combine Christianity with ‘science’ in an attempt to explain the natural world. In the book Doing Without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin, Williams (2000) argues that Adam and Eve are symbolic figures and that they did not exist.
But suppose, as many Christians now do, that Adam and Eve are simply symbolic figures in an imaginary garden rather than the cause of all our woe. Suppose further that the idea od “the fall” from grace is not in Scripture? Does this destroy Christian theology? This book says no. This book says that doing without Adam and Eve while drawing on sociobiology improves Christian theology and helps us understand the origin and persistance of our own sinfulness. (Williams, 2000: 10)
How ironic is it for just-so storytellers to combine their doctrine with another doctrine of just-so stories? The Christian Bible is chock-full of just-so stories purporting to show the origin of how and why we do certain things. Stories such as those in the Christian Bible do serve a purpose—which explain why they are still told and why there are still so many believers today. In any case, Williams (2000) is replacing one way of storytelling with another: the combination of the doctrine of Christianity along with Sociobiology (SB), attempting to use ‘science’ to lend an air of respectability to Christian thought.
How ironic that Christian storytelling would be combined with another form of storytelling—one masquerading as science? SB was the precursor to what is now known as ‘Evolutionary Psychology’ (EP) (see Buller, 2005; Wallace, 2010). There, we see that what amounts to just-so stories today has its beginnings in E. O. Wilson’s (1975) book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Sociobiology is premised on the claim that both social and individual behaviors can become objects of selection which then become fixated as species-typical behaviors. SB, then, was crafted to explain human nature and how and why we behave the way we do today. If certain genes cause or influence certain behaviors and these behaviors increase group fitness, then the behavior in question will persist since it increases group fitness.
I have no qualms with the group selection claim (I think it is underappreciated, see Sterelny and Griffiths, 1999). But note that SB, like its cousin EP, attempts to explain the evolution of human behavior through Darwinian natural selection. But the problems with the assumption that traits persist because they are selected-for their contribution to fitness has already been shown to be highly flawed and wanting by Fodor (2008) and Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini (2010; 2011). In a nutshell, if a behavior is correlated (coextensive) with another behavior (or a gene that causes/influences a behavior is coextensive with another that causes/influences a different behavior) that is not fitness-enhancing then selection has no way of knowing which of the correlated traits influences fitness and so, since both traits are selected, there is no fact of the matter (when it comes to evolution) about why a trait was selected-for. There can be to us humans, as we can attempt to find out which trait is fitness-enhancing and which takes a free-ride—but for our conception of ‘natural selection’, it cannot distinguish between the cause and the correlate since there is no mind doing the selecting nor laws of selection for trait fixation which hold in all ecologies.
In any case, even if we assume that natural selection is an explanatory mechanism, the Sociobiologist/Evolutionary Psychologist would still have a hard time explaining how and why humans behave the way they do (note that behavior is distinct from action in that behavior is dispositional and actions are intentional) as Hull (1986) notes. In fact, Hull has a very simple argument showing that if one believes in evolution, then they should not believe in a ‘human nature’:
If species are the things that evolve at least in large part through the action of natural selection, then both genetic and phenotypic variability are essential to biological species. If all species are variable, then Homo sapiens must be variable. Hence, it is very unlikely that the human species as a biological species can be characterized by a set of invariable traits.
This does not stop Sociobiologists/Evolutionary Psychologists, though, from attempting to carry out their framework premised under untenable assumptions (that traits can be ‘selected-for’ and that natural selection can explain trait fixation). This shows, though, that even accepting the Darwinian claims, they do not lead to the conclusion that Darwinists would like.
To explain human nature through scientific principles is the aim of SB/EP. Indeed, it was what E. O. Wilson wanted to do when he attempted his new synthesis. Though, Dorothy Nelkin—in the book Alas, Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (Rose and Rose, 2001)—has pointed out that Wilson was a religious man in his early years. This may have influenced his views on everything, from genetics to evolution.
When Harvard University entomologist Edward O. Wilson first learned about evolution, he experienced, in his words, an ‘epiphany’. He describes the experience: ‘Suddenly — that is not too strong a word — I saw the world in a wholly new way … A tumbler fell somewhere in my mind, and a door opened to a new world. I was enthralled, couldn’t stop thinking about the implications evolution has … for just about everything.’
Wilson, who was raised as a southern Baptist, believes in the power of revelation. Though he drifted away from the church, he maintained his religious feeling. ‘Perhaps science is a continuation on new and better tested ground to attain the same end. If so, then, in that sense science is religion liberated and writ large.’ (Nelkin, 2001)
The Sociobiological enterprise, though, was further kicked-off by Richard Dawkins’ publication of The Selfish Gene just one year after Wilson published Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. This is when such storytelling truly got its start—and it has plagued us ever since. How ironic that the start of what I would call ‘the disciplines of storytelling’ would be started by a religious man and an atheist? The just-so storytellers are no better than any other just-so storytellers—Christians included. They have a ‘religious bent’ to their thinking, though the may vehemently deny it (in the case of Dawkins). Nelkin claims that, though Dawkins rejects a religious kind of purpose in life, “Dawkins does [find] ultimate purpose in human existence — the propagation of genes.”
Nelkin goes on to argue that Dawkins is “an extreme reductionist” and that our bodies don’t matter but what really matters is our DNA sequences—what supposedly makes us who we are. Nelkin puts Dawkins’ view simply: our bodies don’t matter (the material doesn’t matter), but our genes are immortal and what explains behavior is our selfish genes attempting to propagate by causing/influencing certain behaviors. These kinds of metaphors are pushed by geneticists, too, with their claims that DNA is ‘the book of life’. Nelkin also quotes Wilson stating that “‘you get a sense of immortality’ as genes move on to future generations. Like the sacred texts of revealed religion, the ‘evolutionary epic’ explains our place in the world, our relationships, behaviour, morality and fate. It is indeed of truly epic proportions.”
Nelkin then claims that Evolutionary Psychologists are like missionaries attempting to proselytize people from one ‘religion’ to another. They have the answer to the meaning of life—and the meaning is in your genes and to propagate your genes.
[Evolutionary Psychologists] are convinced they have insights into the human condition that must be accepted as truth. And their insights often come through revelations. Describing his conversion experience, Wilson notes that his biggest ideas happened ‘within minutes … Those moments don’t happen very often in a career, but they’re climactic and exhilarating.’ He believes he is privy to ‘new revelations of great moral importance’, that from science ‘new intimations of immortality can be drawn and a new mythos evolved’. Convinced that evolutionary explanations should prevail over all other beliefs, he seeks conversions. (Nelkin, 2001)
It is ironic that Williams (2000) is attempting to reconcile Christian theology with Sociobiology. The parallels between the two are strikingly evident. Christian theology is based on faith just like SB/EP just-so stories are (since there can be no independent verification for the hypothesis). Christians have missionaries who attempt to proselytize new converts and so do those who push the doctrine of SB/EP. Anyone who agrees with my doctrine is wrong; I am right. ‘Natural selection’ cannot explain the propagation of behavior today. The attempt to explain human nature through evolution and by extension natural selection was inevitable ever since Darwin formulated the theory of natural selection in the 19th century. However, if one believes in evolution then it is illogical to believe that there IS a human nature; if one is a good evolutionist then they believe that human nature is fairy tale and that our species cannot be characterized by a set of invariable traits (Hull, 1986).
How ironic it is for theists and scientists to have similar kinds of beliefs and convictions about the beliefs they hold near and dear to their hearts. The attempted synthesis of Christian theology and Sociobiology (an attempted synthesis itself) is very telling: it shows that the two groups who propagate such explanations are, in actuality, cut from the same cloth with the same kinds of beliefs—though they use different language than the other.
Adapting Minds, Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology, and Getting Darwin Wrong—Books Against Evolutionary Psychology
Years ago I wanted to be an Evolutionary Psychologist. After I discovered the work of Lynn, Rushton, Jensen, Kanazawa et al, I was fascinated by the subject of Evolutionary Psychology (EP). Thankfully, I did not go down that route (I went into health sciences). I was enthralled by the work of those that claimed that our psychology reflects adaptations to the Pleistocene EEA (environment of evolutionary adaptedness; or OEE, original evolutionary environment). However, little did I know, these types of hypotheses were just-so stories—ad hoc explanations. They are ad hoc since they are made “for this” reason—i.e., noticing the existence of trait T.
Three books shaped my views on EP: Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature (Buller, 2006), Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology (Richardson, 2007), and Getting Darwin Wrong: Why Evolutionary Psychology Won’t Work (Wallace, 2010). These three books are solid. Each one is different, but they all have the same theme: They are against the Santa Barbara School of EP, started by Tooby, Cosmides, and Barkow.
This is one of my favorite books by the philosopher of science David Buller. In the book, Buller distinguishes between “evolutionary psychology” and “Evolutionary Psychology”, the latter being the school of thought pushed by Pinker, Tooby and Cosmides, and Buss. On pages 3-4, Buller (2006) writes:
Initially, I was completely captivated by evolutionary psychology, and I was certain that it was providing a deep and accurate understanding of human mentality and behavior. But after six months’ research, it was unclear to me how everything that went by the name “evolutionary psychology” fit together, and I began having serious doubts about many of the confident claims made by evolutionary psychologists (such as Mooris’s claim that “research has proved” that the majority of sperm in an ejaculate function as sperm warriors). A year’s research later, it was clear to me that there were distinctly different lines of research being conducted under the “evolutionary psychology” label, and I became convinced that the line of research had garnered the most attention, both within academia and throughout the popular media, was wrong in almost every detail. This book emerged as my effort to sort the promising from the wrongheaded lines of research. Accordingly, I originally intended to write a book about the “strong” and the “weak” evolutionary psychology. As the project evolved, however, I found that there was too much to be said about the problems with the “weak” evolutionary psychology, and the project consequently became a critique of evolutionary psychology.
But at many junctures, I felt that I didn’t want to go public with a critique of evolutionary psychology. For, as my research progressed, I became disheartened over the scarcity of reasoned intellectual exchange regarding evolutionary psychology. I found that published criticism of evolutionary psychology typically contained more vitriol than serious analysis of the claims made by evolutionary psychologists, and I didn’t want to be associated with that.
I can see how he was captivated by EP. Initially, I was too, since I believed that it actually had something to say about the evolution of our psychology.
Buller then makes a solid point on page 6:
Accordingly, the rhetoric sets up the following dichotomy: Either you accept biology, in which case you must accept the claim of evolutionary psychologists, or you don’t. Critics have thus been portrayed as necessarily committed to scientifically empty theories from the social sciences, to some form of postmodernist relativism, or to creationism [which is ironic, since EP and creatonism are nothing but just-so stories]. No one who truly accepts evolution, the rhetoric goes, can seriosuly question any of the specific claims of evolutionary psychology.
Each chapter of the book focuses on specific programmes that EPists push: Chapter 1 is about Evolution; Chapter 2 is about Mind; Chapter 3 is about Adaptation; Chapter 4 is about Modularity; Chapter 5 is about Mating; Chapter 6 is about Marriage; Chapter 7 is about Parenthood; and Chapter 8 is about “Human Nature.”
I’m just now reading through the book again, and it’s damn good. It gives a nice critical eye to the claims made by Buss, Pinker, Tooby and Cosmides et al.. Of course, there are critics of EP who decry the claim that we are evolved animals, so that critique isn’t without (some) merit. However, EPists make similarly idiotic claims:
All too often I found evolutionary psychologists dismissing their critics as “antiscientific,” “politically correct postmodernists,” or closeted creationists. Any skepticism about the claims of evolutionary psychology was typically portrayed as a product of dogmatic indoctrination in the social sciences, and the attendant belief that all of human psychology is the product of “socialization,” or else as evidence of a commitment to the “superstitious” belief that humans somehow managed to “transcend” the evolutionary process. Indeed, many critics have been dismissed as simply not wanting to accept the implications of the fact that humans evolved just like beasts in the field. (Buller, 2006: 5)
These types of claims are, though, ridiculous. Critiquing an abortive research programme does not make one “antiscientific” in any way.
Buller’s book is solid and really attacks the EP orthodoxy along with popular accounts of EP. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read a well-reasoned critique of all of the popular concepts of EP, which EPists push as “the truth.”
Getting Darwin Wrong
Getting Darwin Wrong is written by psychologist Brendan Wallace. He explicitly states that the book is not about the nature-nurture debate; it is not about whether we should use Darwinian thinking to help understand the human mind; nor is it about other recent attempts—such as sociobiology—to apply Darwinian thinking to human psychology. Though, what the book is about, of course, is EP. It is, specifically, like Buller’s and Richardson’s books, about the books written by Pinker, Tooby and Cosmides et al..
So: why another book discussing EP? To begin with, it might well be thought wise to write a book after the initial storm [of controversy] has died down. Far too much of the initial discussion created mich heat but threw little light on the basic claims of EP, but led instead to a situation where various terms of abuse (‘relativist’, ‘determinist’, ‘reductionist’) were thrown about, without much thought being given to defining these terms, or deciding whether or not EP (or its opponents) were guilty of the myriad intellectual ‘sins’ of which they were accused. Moreover, there was a (to my mind) reprehensible tendency to inder political tendencies from the various scientific theories proposed. EP has political connotations of course: all scientific theories (including those of theoretical physics) have political implications. But it’s grossly unfair to argue that just because a theory might lead to ‘right wing’ (or ‘left wing’) conclusions that therefore it must be rejected. As an old philosophy lecturer once told us as fresh eyed undergraduates in our first years at University: if something has been proven to be true, you just have to accept it, whether you like its implications or not. ‘It makes me feel bad, therefore it is false’ is not an argument.
I, of course, agree with this. Though, funnily enough, people I have debated EP with have accused me of having political motivations for denying EP just-so stories. What is most funny about those accusations, though, is that if I DID have political motivations regarding EP, I WOULD accept EP just-so stories, as a lot of them line-up with political beliefs that I hold. It seems that people cannot fathom that one can be on the right and reject the storytelling of EPists.
Wallace attacks three views of EP: the “information processing”—“… the idea that human cognition consists mainly (or exlclusively) of the processing of information” (Wallace, 2010: 7), the theory of cognitivism—“… the belief that cognition is the manipulation of symbols by rules or algorithms” (Wallace, 2010: 7), and computationalism, “… the belief that the human brain is (or can be usefully compared to) a digital computer” (Wallace, 2010: 7).
So the argument of this book is (I think) novel and quite simple. It is this. Evolutionary Psychology is NOT (as it is normally taken to be) an unproblematic adaption of Darwinian theory to the science of psychology. Instead, EP is an adaption of a specific ‘school’ of psychology: that of cognitivism (or the ‘information processing view of human cognition’ or ‘computationalism’). Essentially EP is an attempt to reinterpret and restate the basic precepts of cognitivism within a Darwinian framework.
This seems like a controversial argument but actually, a careful reading of the seminal works of Cosmides, Tooby, Pinker and other associated with EP shows that they have always been fairly clear about what EP really is, and what they are trying to do. I will also attempt to show that Cosmides et al. were forced to adopt their cognitivist position because of certain assumptions they began with about what psychology is and should be, and that these assumptions themselves are by no means unproblematic. (Wallace, 2010: 8-9)
In one of the major themes of the book, Wallace attacks the massive modularity hypothesis (MMH) that EPists push. According to EP, the mind is made up of different modules which evolved for specific tasks in our OEE. However, as I have noted before, the arguments erected in favor of this view fail.
Getting Darwin Wrong is the most different of the three books discussed today, and I like it as a solid history into the underpinnings of EP and its assumptions.
Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology
The final book I will discuss is Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology by the philosopher of science Robert Richardson. It is most similar to Buller’s book, in that it specifically attacks EP theories, whereas Wallace’s book shows the history of EP and how and why the assumptions underpinning them are false. Richardson, like Buller, attacks the just-so stories of Pinker, Tooby and Cosmides, and Buss. He shows, for instance, that so-called “evolved fears” of snakes and spiders are baseless. (Indeed, there is good evidence that these are learned fears.)
Richardson discusses the aims of EP, reverse engineering, adaptation, massive modularity and Tooby and Cosmides’ integrated causal model (ICM) vs their version of what social ‘scientists’ believe—the standard social science model (SSSM). He notes how they have erected a false dichotomy between an untenable view and their own, so that others would accept their own view.
The structure of his book is as follows (Richardson, 2007: 51):
The heart of this book is organized around three different approaches toward empirically evaluating evolutionary explanations. These include what is called “reverse engineering” (chap. 2); another alternative is to infer the effect from the relevant causes, an approach that reflects the dynamic perspective of much of evolutionary biology (chap. 3); finally I will turn to analyses designed to disentangle history from structurem which depends on disentangling historical ancestry (chap. 4). I believe that the later analyses are the most powerful.
One of the strengths of his book is the forcefulness of his analyses of EP claims. For example, his discussion of so-called evolved fears of snakes and spiders is particularly strong:
On this view, at least some human fears (but not all) are given explanations in evolutionary terms. So a fear of snakes or spiders, like our fear of strangers and heights, serves to protect us from dangers. Having observed that snakes and spiders are always scary, and not only to humans, but other primates, Steven Pinker (1997: 386) says “The common thread is obvious. These are the situations that put our evolutionary ancestors in danger. Spiders and snakes are often venomous, especially in Africa…. Fear is the emotion that motivated our ancestors to cope with the dangers they were likely to face” (cf. Nesse 1990). This is a curious view, actually. Spiders offer very little risk to humans, aside from annoyance. Most are not even venomous. There are perhaps eight species of black widow, one of the Sydney funnel web, six cases of brown recluses in North and South America, and one of the red banana spider in Latin America. These do present varying amounts of risk to humans. They are not ancestrally in Africa, our continent of origin. Given that there are over 37,000 known species of spiders, that’s a small percentage. The risk from spiders is exaggerated. The “fact” that they are “always scary” and the explanation of this fact in terms of the threat they posed to our ancestors is nonetheless one piece of lore of evolutionary psychology. Likeways, snakes have a reputation among evolutionary psychologists that is hardly deserved. In Africa, some are truly dangerous, but by no means most. About one quarter of species in Uganda pose a threat to humans, though there is geographic variability. It’s only in Australia—hardly our point of origin—that the majority of snakes are venomous. Any case for an evolved fear of snakes would need to be based on the threat from a minority. In this case too, the threat seems exaggerated. There is a good deal of mythology in the anecdotes we are offered. It is not altogether clear how the mythology gets established, but it is often repeated, with scant evidence. (Richardson, 2007: 28)
It is important to note that, for example in chimps, fear of snakes is learned (socially), since captive chimps show no fear to snakes (Anderson, 2018). See also Ehrlich (2003: 89) who notes that this fear of snakes is not found in New Guinea natives, where one would assume that it would be found if the claims from Pinker hold.
Richardson attacks the false dichotomy pushed by Tooby and Cosmides (1992), writing:
Tooby and Cosmides’ portrayal [of the SSSM] is very effective. It is also a piece of sophistry, offering a false dichotomy between a manifestly untenable view and their own. The alternative is one that sees no differences between individuals and no biological contribution to individual or social development. I think no serious figure embraces that view, since, perhaps, John Watson in the early twentieth century.
Tooby and Cosmides also say that “There is no small irony in the fact that [the] Standard Social Science MOdel’s hostility to adaptationist approaches is often justified through the accusation that adaptationist approaches purportedly attribute important differences between individuals, races and classes to genetic differences. In actuality, adaptationist approaches offer the explanation for why the psychic unity of humankind is genuine and not just an ideological fiction” (1992, 79).
Of course, if one puts for an untenable view with their own, theirs will then be accepted.
Lastly, Richardson (2007: 73) attacks one of Buss’s hypotheses:
We begin by assessing differences between men and women in terms of their sexual attitudes. Let’s suppose, contrary to fact, that we actually have reasonable gauges of these differences. Buss uses the evidence to conclude that there are sexual differences, notes the consistency of this with some evolutionary models, and infers that our ancestors not only actually behaved in a way that reflects the differences in our attitudes, but that there were selective pressures to behave. These differences in attitude are supposed to reflect some deeper underlying differences in mating strategies. The mating strategies are taken in turn to reflect some fundamental biological imperative. This argument is put forth without citing evidence concerning, say, group structure, which would certainly be relevant. It is put forth without so much as information concerning group size. It is put forth without information concerning similarities between ancestral and current group structures, mating structures, or group sizes. It is, of course, put forth without evidence concerning actual mating behavior, or the differences supposed to exist in ancestral groups. From all this, and less, we infer that there is an evolutionary and adaptive explanation of the differences between the sexes. That conclusion, in turn, allows Buss to interpret the evidence in a way that he thinks somehow makes evolutionary sense. If this is the way the argument works, then it is a case of reverse engineering. But it is not a very compelling case of reverse engineering.
EP, since its inception in the early 90s, has been the subject of numerous debates. I, personally, reject EP on the grounds that no EP hypothesis can be independently verified. However, contrary to my views, Richardson, Buller, and Wallace are hopeful in the EP paradigm, though they strongly criticize it. For example, Richardson (2007: 25) writes that he “views evolutionary psychology as more speculation than science” and that “It does not warrant our acceptance“, so “Evolutionary psychology as currently practiced is often speculation disguised as results. We should regard it as such.” I agree with this—speculation is not science. Just-so stories are not science.
In any case, all three of these books, if read with an open mind, will have one become extremely skeptical of EP, and, hopefully, reject the abortive research programme since it cannot do what it purports to.
Steve Stewart-Williams wrote an article for Nautilus yesterday titled Nurture Alone Can’t Explain Male Aggression. He begins the article by describing a bank robber who shoots and kills a bank teller and then takes police on a high-speed chase where he finally gets killed. Then it is revealed that the bank robber had an extensive criminal history. Oh, it was a male. “you weren’t being sexist“, he writes, “you were playing the odds.” Most men aren’t violent, but most violent individuals are men. Stewart-Williams then discusses a recent article published by The New York Times titled It’s Dangerous to Be a Boy, with the headline (emphasis mine) “They smoke more, fight more and are far more likely to die young than girls. But their tendency to violence isn’t innate.” I will discuss the use of the term “innate” further down.
Stewart-Williams then states, going off the headline quoted above, that the statement means that “sex differences in aggression come entirely from the environment: from culture rather than biology, nurture rather than nature.” Nevermind the false dichotomy here, let’s finish up discussing the gist of the article before getting onto what’s wrong with it. He then states that biology matters as well, and that the claim that male violence isn’t “innate” is the “Nurture Only” position, while we know that “Biology matters as well.” This seems to be the strawman that all evolutionary psychologists battle with: Anyone who disagrees with EP claim C is a “blank slatist” (this phrase taken care of by Robert Richardson in Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology); but due to the interaction of nature and nurture, genes and environment, you can’t partition them into percentages—as is done with heritability estimates (see Moore and Shenk, 2016).
So these sex differences in aggression are noticed in all cultures. What could explain this? Stewart-Williams then discusses the Eagly and Woods’ (2016) social role theory of sex differences. They agree—of course—that there are sex differences in aggression and crime found throughout all cultures on earth, but the cause of domination is due to the effect of evolved differences in body size—men being bigger, stronger, and faster than women while women are smaller, weaker, and slower than men. So this proposed hypothesis states that the psychological differences found throughout all cultures is due to physical sex differences.
“Why wouldn’t natural selection create psychological sex differences as well as physical ones?“, Stewart-Williams writes. Well the answer to this question is that there are no psychophysical laws so psychological traits/mental abilities can’t be selected. Then there is the fact that natural selection is not an explanatory mechanism since it cannot explain trait fixation because there are no laws of selection for trait fixation (Fodor, 2008; Fodor and Piatteli-Palmarini, 2010).
Stewart-Williams writes “Some argue that, even if culture doesn’t create the aggression sex difference out of nothing, it does still amplify a relatively trivial inborn difference.” This is ridiculous: “culture doesn’t create the sex difference out of nothing”, however, small differences between males and females can be magnified by culture (Eliot, 2009). Note that this is a developmental perspective, and that developmental systems theory (DST) is completely at-ends with Evolutionary Psychology.
Is it just a coincidence that this alleged surge in socialization comes at the same time as the massive surge in circulating testosterone that accompanies puberty in males?
I see he is implying that circulating testosterone levels explain differences in aggression between males and females and that this also explains aggression as well. Though, as I have documented, the claim is false.
Stewart-Williams than writes:
The socialization hypothesis offers no particular reason to expect this. But the decline in violence coincides almost perfectly with the decline in testosterone found in men throughout the adult years, and mirrors the decline found in males of other species. Once again, this is much easier to explain in evolutionary than in sociocultural terms.
How interesting to bring this up. I’m sure most have heard the claim that testosterone levels begin to decrease at around age 25-30 (a decrease in total T of 1-2 percent per year after age 30). Though, note that age-range. What major life events occur during that time for most men? Marriage, children (some bouts of depression). Smoking, too, explains some of it. Shi et al (2013) write:
The annual decline in T (−0.8% per year) is similar to that reported from longitudinal cohort studies in the United States (17), Denmark (36), and Australia (16). The current study strongly suggests that the decline in T is not an inevitable part of aging, which is consistent with a recent cross-sectional study of 325 men 40 years and older self-reporting very good or excellent health (37). Our data show that variability in the change in T is largely explained by smoking behavior and intercurrent changes in health status, particularly obesity, depression, the overall burden of chronic disease, and marital status.
Though, predominantly, the biggest culprit to decreasing testosterone is obesity. Further, smokers have higher levels of testosterone than non-smokers (Wang et al, 2013). This is because smoking cessation causes fat mass to accumulate, and higher fat mass is associated with lower testosterone levels.
In any case, Stewart-Williams continues to talk about the “Nurture Only” (“blank slate”) position. He discusses how human males commit around 95 percent of crime while being 79 percent of homicide victims. He then states that male chimpanzees commit 92 percent of “chimpicides” while male chimps are 72 percent of those who are killed. So if he will use chimps as an example for an “innate” tendency, then I’ll use something on chimps to prove the point that it’s not testosterone that causes aggression, as Stewart-Williams is implying.
In The Trouble with Testosterone, Sapolsky (1997) discusses five chimpanzees. The chimpanzees were then allowed to form a hierarchy, 1-5. Number 3 pushed his weight around on numbers 4 and 5 but was subservient to numbers 1 and 2. Number three was taken and then injected with testosterone. He then began engaging in more aggressive behavior, which would confirm the hypothesis that testosterone causes aggression, right? Wrong. Sapolsky (1997) writes:
So even though small fluctuations in the levels of the hormone don’t seem to matter much, testosterone still causes aggression. But that would be wrong. Check out number 3 more closely. Is he now raining aggression and terror on any and all in the group, frothing in an androgenic glaze of indiscriminate violence. Not at all. He’s still judiciously kowtowing to numbers 1 and 2 but has simply become a total bastard to number 4 and 5. This is critical: testosterone isn’t causing aggression, it’s exaggerating the aggression that’s already there.
Now let’s get to the problem with the term “innate”: It’s an empty term. It’s a term that people use when they don’t want to think about the development of the trait in question. For example, the term “innate” is thought by numerous researchers today to be driven “by” genes. It is assumed that “innate traits” are “non-malleable.” Maybe the assumption is that only genes are needed for the culmination of trait X. Or maybe the assumption is that a trait is “innate” iff it is fully genetically influenced. Though, there is a problem there, too. What does it mean for something to be “genetically influenced”? What a priori justification exists to privilege genes over any other developmental variables? There is none. Noble’s (2012; 2017) argument rears its head whenever the discussion of “genetic traits” comes up: it’s nonsensical to talk about, since, in a multi-level complex biological system, pinpointing one level is useless since they all interact.
However, Bateson and Mameli (2007) dispense with the term “innate”. They write that “Over-used metaphors from engineering such as ‘‘hardwiring’’ and ‘‘pre-programming’’ applied globally to the outcome of development fail to capture the character of the processes and once again invite the mistaken view that they can be contrasted with their opposites. We believe that a thorough investigation of developmental processes has been hindered by indiscriminate use of the labels ‘‘innate’’ and ‘‘acquired.’’”
So the next time you see a marvelous and complex behavior—such as a border collie herding sheep or birds flying south for the winter—try to resist the temptation to label it as instinctive, hardwired, genetic, or innate. By foregoing a label and digging deeper, you will open yourself to consideration of the myriad of factors that shape who we are and why we behave the way we do.
In sum, Stewart-Williams does not understand endocrinology (positing evolutionary explanations for T decreases at around the mid-20s in comparison to socio-cultural ones); he does not understand that socialization in male and female babies makes small gaps wider (Eliot, 2009); he does not understand (though he only implied this and did not outright claim it) that testosterone does not cause violence/aggression/crime. Evolutionary Psychologists really need to get a clue. Positing evolutionary explanations (i.e., just-so stories when they cannot be independently verified of the data they purport to explain) does not lend itself to any kind of explanation for why a certain trait persists in the modern world. Lastly (though he did not make the claim here), the terms “innate” and “genetic” are baseless and empty and do not give us any new information about the trait in question.
Evolutionary Psychology (EP) is a discipline which purports to explain mental and psychological traits as adaptations—functional products of “natural selection”—which are genetically inherited/transmitted. Its main premises is that the human mind can be explained by evolution through natural selection; that the mind is “modular”—called the “massive modularity hypothesis” (see Pinker, 1997). EP purports that the mind is “a cluster of evolved information-processing mechanisms” with its main goal being “to characterize these Darwinian algorithms” (Sterelny and Griffiths, 1999: 336). The problem with EP, though, is that many of the “theories/hypotheses” are just speculation—what is termed “just-so stories” (Gould and Lewontin, 1979; Richardson, 2007; Nielsen, 2009; Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, 2010). In this article, I will discuss the massive modularity hypothesis, adaptationism, and the promises that EP makes as a whole.
The massive modularity hypothesis (MMH) proposes that the modules “for” mental processing evolved in response to “natural selection” (Samuels, 1998). To evolutionary psychologists, the mind is made up of different modules that were “selected for” different mental abilities. So, to evolutionary psychologists like Tooby and Cosmides, Pinker et al, much of human psychology is rooted in the Pleistocene (i.e., Tooby and Cosmides’ 5th Principle that “our modern skulls house a stone age mind“) . Evolutionary psychologists propose that the mind is made up of different, genetically influenced, modules that which were specifically selected as to help our ancestors solve domain-specific problems.
Two principle arguments exist for the MMH. Argument (1)—called the optimality argument—is:
- There are adaptive problems in every environment; different adaptive problems in different environments require different solutions, and different solutions can be implemented by functionally distinct modules.
- Adaptive problems are selective pressures; for each unique pressure faced in the original evolutionary environment (OEE), there is a unique module which was selected to solve those—and only those—specific adaptive problems.
- Selective mechanisms can produce highly specialized cognitive modules.
- Therefore, since different adaptive problems require different solutions and different solutions can be implemented by functionally distinct modules, then there must exist differing modules in the human mind which were selected for in virtue of their contribution to fitness.
Or the argument could be:
- Domain-specific processes exist
- These processes arose due to evolution
- Therefore these domain-specific processes that arose due to evolution have a genetic basis
Tooby and Cosmides claim that, distinct modules for certain adaptive problems in distinct environments are superior at solving different problems, rather than a general-purpose cognitive module. They argue that selection can produce different modules in the mind “for” different adaptive problems. Tooby and Cosmides put their argument in their own words as:
(1) As a rule, when two adaptive problems have solutions that are incompatible or simply different, a single solution will be inferior to two specialized solutions
(2) .. . domain-specific cognitive mechanisms . . . can be expected to systematically outperform (and hence preclude or replace) more general mechanisms
(3) Simply to survive and reproduce, our Pleistocene ancestors had to be good at solving an enormously broad array of adaptive problems—problems that would defeat any modern artificial intelligence system. A small sampling include foraging for food, navigating, selecting a mate, parenting, engaging in social exchange, dealing with aggressive threat, avoiding predators, avoiding pathogenic contamination, avoiding naturally occurring plant toxins, avoiding incest and so on
(4) [Therefore] The human mind can be expected to include a large number of distinct, domain-specific mechanisms (quoted from Samuels, 1998: 585-586)
Clearly, the assumption from Tooby and Cosmides is that specific modules for certain adaptive problems in the OEE are superior to general-purpose modules. Samuels (1998: 586) writes:
In the case of psychological traits, in order to use optimality considerations with any confidence one needs to know (a) what features were being optimized by the evolutionary process and (b) what range of phenotypes were available to natural selection. As a matter of fact, however, we have little knowledge about either of these matters.
The key point of the MMH is that, according to Tooby and Cosmides, we would expect that the mind consists of different modules which are “designed” to solve domain-specific problems. If we know what type of adaptive situations happened to our ancestors then we should be able to construct the evolution of a trait by knowing its current functional use and “working backwards”—what is termed “reverse engineering”—inferring “function” from “cause” (see Richardson, 2007: chapter 2); inferring effect from relevant causes (see Richardson, 2007: chapter 3) and disentangling historical ancestry from history and structure (see Richardson, 2007: chapter 4).
As for their second argument:
- It is impossible for human psychology—that contains nothing but general-purpose mechanisms—to have evolved since such a system cannot be adaptive.
- Such a system cannot possibly have solved the adaptive problems faced by our ancestors in the evolutionary past.
- Therefore, the mind cannot possibly have evolved general-purpose mechanisms and had to have evolved different mental modules in order to carry out different tasks.
They defend the argument by stating that the domain-dependence of different errors is a cause of the evolution of different modules of the mind; that information for crucial adaptive behavior cannot be learned by using only domain-specific systems; and that many adaptive problems are highly complex and unlikely to have been solved by general-purpose modules. Therefore, the mind must be modular since this can account for domain-specific problems—while, according to Tooby and Cosmides, general-purposed modules cannot. The argument, though, fails to provide us with any reason to accept the claim that the mind is made up of mostly—or is all made up of—Darwinian modules which were kept around since they were targets of selection.
Clearly, evidence for the modularity of mind is lacking—as is the evidence that reverse engineering “works” for the purpose intended.
Lloyd (1999: 224) writes that:
Given these difficulties – well-known especially since Konrad Lorenz and Nico Tinbergen’s pioneering experiments on animal behavior – it is not scientifically acceptable within evolutionary biology to conclude that, because a given pattern of responses contributes to evolutionary success, then there is some ‘organ’ (or part of the brain) producing such a pattern, that is therefore an adaptation (see Williams 1966). This is because the ‘organ’ or ‘module’ may not actually exist as a biologically real trait, and even if it does, its current function may or may not be the same as the past function(s).
Sterelny and Griffiths (1999: 342) write that “… evolutionary psychology has bought into an oversimplified view of the relationship between an evolving population and its environment, and has prematurely accepted a modular conception of the mind.”
Tooby and Cosmides (1992) coined the phrase “Standard Social Science Model” (SSSM) in order to differentiate their EP model (the “integrated causal model”; ICM) from the SSSM. According to Tooby and Cosmides (1992), the basis of the SSSM is to employ complete general-purpose cognitive modules and to deny any type of nativist modules whatsoever. Therefore, according to Tooby and Cosmides’ characterization of their so-called “opposition”, interesting differences between groups—and, of course, individuals—are due completely to cultural conditioning with absolutely no nativist elements since there are only general-purpose modules. Differences between individuals, according to the SSSM, are cultural products—differences in socialization cause individual differences.
Richardson (2007:179) writes:
Tooby and Cosmides’ portrayal [of the SSSM] is very effective. It is also a piece of sophistry, offering a false dichotomy between a manifestly untenable view and their own. The alternative is one that sees no differences between individuals and no biological contribution to individual or social development. I think no serious figure embraces that view, since, perhaps, John Watson in the early twentieth century.
Tooby and Cosmides also say that “There is no small irony in the fact that [the[ Standard Social Science MOdel’s hostility to adaptationist approaches is often justified through the accusation that adaptationist approaches purportedly attribute important differences between individuals, races and classes to genetic differences. In actuality, adaptationist approaches offer the explanation for why the psychic unity of humankind is genuine and not just an ideological fiction” (1992, 79).
Furthermore, David Buss claims that “Natural selection is the only prospect for explaining human nature” (Richardson, 2007: 182). (Whatever “human nature” is. See Nagel’s 2012 Mind and Cosmos for arguments that the mind cannot possibly have been naturally selected since evolutionary biology is a physical theory and Fodor and Pitatelli-Palmarini’s 2010 book What Darwin Got Wrong for the argument against natural selection as an explanatory mechanism in regard to trait fixation.)
Problems with the adaptationist paradigm
Adaptationism is a research programme in which, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ““adaptationists” view natural selection among individuals within a population as the only important cause of the evolution of a trait; they also typically believe that the construction of explanations based solely on natural selection to be the most fruitful way of making progress in evolutionary biology and that this endeavor addresses the most important goal of evolutionary biology, which is to understand the evolution of adaptations.”
Though numerous problems exist with this programme, not least the claim that most—or all—important phenotypic traits are the product of evolution by natural selection. In their book Sex and Death: An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology, Sterelny and Griffiths (1999: 351) write:
Adaptive explanation is an inference from the current phenotype of an organism to the problems that organism faced in its evolutionary past. Obviously, that inference will be problematic if we do not have an accurate description of the current phenotype and its adaptive significance—of the solution that evolution actually produced. The inference from current adaptive importance to adaptation is problematic enough even when the adaptive and phenotypic claims on which it is based are uncontroversial (13.1). The inference is still more problematic when the nature of the phenotype and its adaptive importance are yet to be established.
This is not the main problem with the paradigm, though. The main problem is that all of these theories/hypotheses are “just-so stories”—“… an adaptive scenario, a hypothesis about what a trait’s selective history might have been and hence what its function may be” (Sterelny and Griffiths, 1999: 61). I’d also add that just-so stories are stories that cannot be independently verified of the data that they purport to explain—that is, there is no observation that can disconfirm the adaptationist “hypothesis”, and the only data that “proves” the hypothesis is the data it purports to explain. EP hypotheses are not testable. Therefore EP hypotheses are just-so stories.
Sterelny and Griffiths (1999: 338) “… agree with the central idea of evolutionary psychology, namely, that we should look for the effects of natural selection on the psychological mechanisms that explain our behaviors, rather than on those behaviors themselves.” I disagree, since it is not possible that “psychological mechanisms” can be selected.
What is the relationship between environment and adaptation? First, we need to think of some “problems” that exist in the environment. One example is mate choice: Should one be faithful to their partner? When should one abandon their old partner? When should they help their kin find partners? When and how should one punish infidelity? This problem, pretty obviously, is evidence against the idea that adaptations are explained by the problem to which the adapted trait is the solution (see David Buller’s 2005 book Adapting Minds for strong critiques against “reverse engineering”). If—and only if—a single cognitive device exists that guides a creature’s behavior with respect to the issues of mate choice, the issue is then a single-domain, not multi-domain, problem, while there are different aspects of the same problem (see the questions above). The existence of said module explains why we think of mate choice as a single problem.
Sterelny and Griffiths (1999: 342) are hopeful in EP’s quest to discover our shared “human nature”, “But both the objective and subjective obstacles to carrying out this program remain serious.” The adaptationist programme, however, is unfalsifiable. “Particular adaptive stories can be tested, as we discuss below, but Gould and Lewontin argue that this does not test the idea of adaptationism itself. Whenever a particular adaptive story is discredited, the adaptationist makes up a new story, or just promises to look for one. The possibility that the trait is not an adaptation is never considered” (Sterelny and Griffiths, 1999: 237).
Adaptationist explanations (EP is—mostly—nothing but adaptationist explanation) are not scientific since they cannot be falsified—EP hypotheses are not falsifiable, nor do they generate testable predictions. They only explain the data it purports to explain—meaning that all EP adaptationist explanations are just-so stories. (Also see Kaplan, 2002 for arguments against the adaptationist paradigm.)
Even those who are sympathetic to the EP research programme, rightly, point out the glaring flaws in the programme. These flaws—in my opinion—cannot be overcome. EP will always be “plausible and speculatuve ” just-so stories that purport to explain the evolution of what, supposedly, are traits that were “selected for” in virtue of their contribution to fitness in the OEE. However, we do not (and cannot) know what the OEE was like—we would need a time machine. It is not possible for us to know the selective pressures that occurred on our ancestors in the OEE. We do know that increased reproductive efficiency in the current-day is not evidence that said trait was adaptive and selected in the OEE.
The mind is not modular; Tooby and Cosmides proposed a false dichotomy (their ICM vs SSSM) which is not valid (no one is a “blank slatist”, whatever that is); and the adaptationist paradigm is nothing but speculative just-so stories.
- For EP to be a valid research programme, EP hypotheses must generate testable, falsifiable predictions.
- EP cannot generate testable, falsifiable predictions (the hypotheses are inherently ad hoc).
- Therefore, EP is not a valid research programme.
There is no reason at all to accept any just-so story since these adaptive explanations cannot produce evidence that the trait was not a byproduct, due to genetic drift etc. Therefore EP is not a scientific enterprise; it only tells “plausible”, speculative stories just-so stories “… I view evolutionary psychology as more speculation than science. The conclusion I urge is, accordingly, skeptical. Speculation is just that: speculation. We should regard it as such. Evolutionary psychology as currently practiced is often speculation disguised as results. We should regard it as such” (Richardson, 2007: 25). This is the view that should be accepted in the mainstream, since there can be no evidence for the speculative stories of EP.
Evolutionary psychology (EP) purports to explain how and why humans act the way they do today. It is a framework that assumes that certain mental/psychological traits were useful in the EEA (Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness) and thusly were selected for over time. It assumes that traits are adaptations then “works backward” by reverse engineering. Reverse engineering is the process of figuring out the design of the mechanism based on its function. (Many problems exist there which will be covered in the future; see also Evolutionary Psychology: The Burdens of Proof by Lloyd, 1999). But let’s discuss snakes and other animals that we have fears of today; is there an evolutionary basis for said behavior and can we really know if there was?
Fear of snakes and spiders
Ohman (2009: 543) writes that “Snakes … have a history measured in many millions of years of shaping mammalian and primate evolution in important respects” and that “snakes … are promising tools for probing the emotional ramifications of deep evolutionary heritages and their interaction with the current environment.” Are they promising tools, though? Were there that many snakes in our EEA that made it possible for us to ‘evolve’ these types of ‘fear modules’ (Ohman and Mineka, 2001)? No, it is impossible for our responses to snakes—along with some other animals—to be an evolved response to what occurred in our EEA because the number of venomous, dangerous snakes to humans and our ancestors was, in reality, not all that high.
Ohman and Mineka (2003: 5-6) also write that “the human dislike of snakes and the common appearances of reptiles as the embodiment of evil in myths and art might reflect an evolutionary heritage” and “fear and respect for reptiles is a likely core mammalian heritage. From this perspective, snakes and other reptiles may continue to have a special psychological significance even for humans, and considerable evidence suggests this is indeed true. Furthermore, the pattern of findings appears consistent with the evolutionary premise.”
Even the APA says that an evolutionary predisposition to fear snakes—but not spiders—exists in primates (citing research from Kawai and Koda, 2016). Conclusions such as this—and there are many others—arise from the ‘fact’ that, in our EEA, these animals were harmful to us and, over time, we evolved to fear snakes (and spiders), but there are some pretty big problems with this view.
Jankowitsch (2009) writes that “Fear of snakes and spiders, which are both considered to be common threats to survival in early human history, are not thought to be innate characteristics in human and nonhuman primates, learned.” For this to be the case, however, there would need to be many spiders and snakes in our EEA.
Philosopher of science Robert C. Richardson, in his book Evolutionary Psychology and Maladapted Psychology (Richardson, 2007) concludes that EP explanations are speculation disguised as results. He says that the stories that state that we evolved to evolved to fear snakes and spiders lack evidence. Most spiders aren’t venomous and pose no risk to humans. In the case of snakes, one quarter are poisonous to humans and we’d have to expect this ‘module’ to evolved on the basis of a minority of snakes that are poisonous to humans:
On this view, at least some human fears (but not all) are given explanations in evolutionary terms. So a fear of snakes or spiders, like our fear of strangers and heights, serves to protect us from dangers. Having observed that snakes and spiders are always scary, and not only to humans, but other primates, Steven Pinker (1997: 386) says “The common thread is obvious. These are the situations that put our evolutionary ancestors in danger. Spiders and snakes are often venomous, especially in Africa…. Fear is the emotion that motivated our ancestors to cope with the dangers they were likely to face” (cf. Nesse 1990). This is a curious view, actually. Spiders offer very little risk to humans, aside from annoyance. Most are not even venomous. There are perhaps eight species of black widow, one of the Sydney funnel web, six cases of brown recluses in North and South America, and one of the red banana spider in Latin America. These do present varying amounts of risk to humans. They are not ancestrally in Africa, our continent of origin. Given that there are over 37,000 known species of spiders, that’s a small percentage. The risk from spiders is exaggerated. The “fact” that they are “always scary” and the explanation of this fact in terms of the threat they posed to our ancestors is nonetheless one piece of lore of evolutionary psychology. Likeways, snakes have a reputation among evolutionary psychologists that is hardly deserved. In Africa, some are truly dangerous, but by no means most. About one quarter of species in Uganda pose a threat to humans, though there is geographic variability. It’s only in Australia—hardly our point of origin—that the majority of snakes are venomous. Any case for an evolved fear of snakes would need to be based on the threat from a minority. In this case too, the threat seems exaggerated. There is a good deal of mythology in the anecdotes we are offered. It is not altogether clear how the mythology gets established, but it is often repeated, with scant evidence. (pg. 28)
The important point to note here, of course, is the assumption that we have an evolved response to fear snakes (and spiders) based on a minority of actually dangerous species to humans.
The EP enterprise is built on what Gould (1978) termed “just-so stories”, borrowed from Rudyard Kipling’s (1902) book of stories called “Just So Stories” (which he told to his daughter) where he imagined ways that in which certain animals look the way they do today. These stories needed to be told “just so” or she would complain.
And the Camel said ‘Humph!’ again; but no sooner had he said it than he saw his back, that he was so proud of, puffing up and puffing up into a great big lolloping humph.
‘Do you see that?’ said the Djinn. ‘That’s your very own humph that you’ve brought upon your very own self by not working. To-day is Thursday, and you’ve done no work since Monday, when the work began. Now you are going to work.’
‘How can I,’ said the Camel, ‘with this humph on my back?’
‘That’s made a-purpose,’ said the Djinn, ‘all because you missed those three days. You will be able to work now for three days without eating, because you can live on your humph; and don’t you ever say I never did anything for you. Come out of the Desert and go to the Three, and behave. Humph yourself!’ (How the Camel got His Hump)
These stories “sound good” but is there any way to verify these nice-sounding stories? One can then make the same argument for EP hypotheses: can they be independently verified? The thing about functional verification is that we cannot possibly know the EEA of humans—or other animals—and thusly any explanation for the functionality of a certain trait are nothing but just-so stories.
Kaplan (2002: S302) argues that:
Evolutionary psychology has not yet developed the tools necessary to uncover our “shared human nature” (if such there is—see Dupre 1998) any more than physical anthropology has been able to uncover the specifics even of such clear human adaptations as our bipedalism. It is obvious that our brains were subject to selective pressures during our evolutionary history; it is not at all obvious what those pressures were.
I don’t deny that we are the products (partly, natural selection isn’t the only mode of evolution) of evolution; I do deny that these fantasy stories can tell us anything about how and why we evolved though. I don’t see how EP can develop such tools to uncover our “shared human nature”—or any other “nature” for that matter—unless time machines are developed and we can directly observe the evolution of trait X that is being discussed.
A simple argument to show that EP hypotheses are just-so stories:
P1) A just-so story is an ad-hoc hypothesis
P2) A hypothesis is ad-hoc if it’s not independently verified (verified independently of the data the hypothesis purports to explain)
P3) EP hypotheses cannot be independently verified
C) Therefore EP hypotheses are just-so stories
This simple argument shows that all EP hypotheses are just-so stories since they cannot be independently verified of the data they attempt to explain. Stories can “sound good”, they can “sound logical”, they can even be “parsimonious” and they can even be the “inference to the best explanation“, (how do you but just because these stories are “parsimonious”, “sound logical” and are the “inference to best explanation” doesn’t make the stories true. The above argument holds for one of HBD’s pet theories, too, the cold winter theory (CWT). It cannot be independently verified either, and it was formulated after national IQ differences were known; therefore CWT is a just-so story.
(I will cover this more in the future.)
Stories about snakes and spiders in our evolutionary history are likely wrong—especially if they derive from what supposedly occurred in our EEA, an environment we know almost nothing about. The fact of the matter is, regarding snakes and spiders, there is no evidence that our fear of them is an adaptive response to what occurred in our EEA. That is a just-so story. Just-so stories are ad-hoc hypotheses that cannot be independently verified, therefore EP hypotheses are just-so stories.
by Scott Jameson
Stockholm Syndrome is when you identify with people who capture and, in some cases, abuse you. I’ve heard two pretty good explanations for this phenomenon. One is that female mammals like powerful male mammals. Makes sense. The other is that abducted people are attempting to maximize their own chances of survival, and perhaps those of any children they already have. Also makes sense. Let me present a third.
Intra-female competition. Imagine that a woman from tribe B is forcibly inducted into tribe A. The women from tribe A know all of the customs of tribe A, speak the language and so on, and they have known the men from tribe A since childhood. All else equal, what does the woman from tribe B have going for her- novelty, perhaps? That’ll wear off pretty quick, likely faster than it takes for her to get familiarized with her new culture. How can she possibly compensate? How can she compete with the women from tribe A for quantity and social status of offspring?
Lots and lots of asabiyah. If she were that much more devoted to her captors, to their religion, and so on, the men may admire her, or perhaps begin to consider her truly one of “their own,” thereby reducing the disadvantage by comparison to the women from tribe A.
All of these line up with the common belief- which I cannot seem to find strong evidence for or against, but here’s a study that mentions a sample of 21 Stockholm cases wherein 18 were women– that women tend to “suffer” from Stockholm Syndrome more often than men.
It’s not a disease in the Darwinian sense, it’s a behavioral response mechanism. The more accurate term is Capture Bonding.
Any one of these three hypotheses may explain it, or perhaps any combination of the three, or maybe something else. You would have to determine selective pressures operating on women currently in a situation wherein capture bonding is common, for example determining which behaviors enabled one war bride to have more children than another. Anybody up for some field work with Boko Haram?
Is the human brain ‘special’? Not according to Herculano-Houzel; our brains are just linearly scaled-up primate brains. We have the number of neurons predicted for a primate of our body size. But what does this have to do with general intelligence? Evolutionary psychologists also contend that the human brain is not ‘special’; that it is an evolved organ just like the rest of our body. Satoshi Kanazawa (2003) proposed the ‘Savanna Hypothesis‘ which states that more intelligent people are better able to deal with ‘evolutionary novel’ situations (situations that we didn’t have to deal with in our ancestral African environment, for example) whereas he purports that general intelligence does not affect an individuals’ ability to deal with evolutionarily familiar entities and situations. I don’t really have a stance on it yet, though I do find it extremely interesting, with it making (intuitive) sense.
Kanazawa (2010) suggests that general intelligence may both be an evolved adaptation and an ‘individual-difference variable’. Evolutionary psychologists contend that evolved psychological adaptations are for the ancestral environment which was evolved in, not in any modern-day environment. Kanazawa (2010) writes:
The human brain has difficulty comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment. Burnham and Johnson (2005, pp. 130–131) referred to the same observation as the evolutionary legacy hypothesis, whereas Hagen and Hammerstein (2006, pp. 341–343) called it the mismatch hypothesis.
From an evolutionary perspective, this does make sense. A perfect example is Eurasian societies vs. African ones. you can see the evolutionary novelty in Eurasian civilizations, while African societies are much closer (though obviously not fully) to our ancestral environment. Thusly, since the situations found in Africa are not evolutionarily novel, it does not take high levels of g to survive in, while Eurasian societies (which are evolutionarily novel) take much higher levels of g to live and survive in.
Kanazawa rightly states that most evolutionary psychologists and biologists contend that there have been no changes to the human brain in the last 10,000 years, in line with his Savanna Hypothesis. However, as I’m sure all readers of my blog know, there were sweeping changes in the last 10,000 years in the human genome due to the advent of agriculture, and, obviously, new alleles have appeared in our genome, however “it is not clear whether these new alleles have led to the emergence of new evolved psychological mechanisms in the last 10,000 years.”
General intelligence poses a problem for evo psych since evolutionary psychologists contend that “the human brain consists of domain-specific evolved psychological mechanisms” which evolved specifically to solve adaptive problems such as survival and fitness. Thusly, Kanazawa proposes in contrast to other evolutionary psychologists that general intelligence evolved as a domain-specific adaptation to deal with evolutionary novel problems. So, Kanazawa says, our ancestors didn’t really need to think inorder to solve recurring problems. However, he talks about three major evolutionarily novel situations that needed reasoning and higher intelligence to solve:
1. Lightning has struck a tree near the camp and set it on fire. The fire is now spreading to the dry underbrush. What should I do? How can I stop the spread of the fire? How can I and my family escape it? (Since lightning never strikes the same place twice, this is guaranteed to be a nonrecurrent problem.)
2. We are in the middle of the severest drought in a hundred years. Nuts and berries at our normal places of gathering, which are usually plentiful, are not growing at all, and animals are scarce as well. We are running out of food because none of our normal sources of food are working. What else can we eat? What else is safe to eat? How else can we procure food?
3. A flash flood has caused the river to swell to several times its normal width, and I am trapped on one side of it while my entire band is on the other side. It is imperative that I rejoin them soon. How can I cross the rapid river? Should I walk across it? Or should I construct some sort of buoyant vehicle to use to get across it? If so, what kind of material should I use? Wood? Stones?
These are great examples of ‘novel’ situations that may have arisen, in which our ancestors needed to ‘think outside of the box’ in order to survive. Situations such as this may be why general intelligence evolved as a domain-specific adaptation for ‘evolutionarily novel’ situations. Clearly, when such situations arose, our ancestors who could reason better at the time these unfamiliar events happened would survive and pass on their genes while the ones who could not die and got selected out of the gene pool. So general intelligence may have evolved to solve these new and unfamiliar problems that plagued out ancestors. What this suggests is that intelligent people are better than less intelligent people at solving problems only if they are evolutionarily novel. On the other hand, situations that are evolutionarily familiar to us do not take higher levels of g to solve.
For example, more intelligent individuals are no better than less intelligent individuals in finding and keeping mates, but they may be better at using computer dating services. Three recent studies, employing widely varied methods, have all shown that the average intelligence of a population appears to be a strong function of the evolutionary novelty of its environment (Ash & Gallup, 2007; D. H. Bailey & Geary, 2009; Kanazawa, 2008).
Who is more successful, on average, over another in modern society? I don’t even need to say it, the more intelligent person. However, if there was an evolutionarily familiar problem there would be no difference in figuring out how to solve the problem, because evolution has already ‘outfitted’ a way to deal with them, without logical reasoning.
Kanazawa then talks about evolutionary adaptations such as bipedalism (we all walk, but some of us are better runners than others); vision (we can all see, but some have better vision than others); and language (we all speak, but some people are more proficient in their language and learn it earlier than others). These are all adaptations, but there is extensive individual variation between them. Furthermore, the first evolved psychological mechanism to be discovered was cheater detection, to know if you got cheated while in a ‘social contract’ with another individual. Another evolved adaptation is theory of mind. People with Asperger’s syndrome, for instance, differ in the capacity of their theory of mind. Kanazawa asks:
If so, can such individual differences in the evolved psychological mechanism of theory of mind be heritable, since we already know that autism and Asperger’s syndrome may be heritable (A. Bailey et al., 1995; Folstein & Rutter, 1988)?
A very interesting question. Of course, since it’s #2017, we have made great strides in these fields and we know these two conditions to be highly heritable. Can the same be said for theory of mind? That is a question that I will return to in the future.
Kanazawa’s hypothesis does make a lot of sense, and there is empirical evidence to back his assertions. His hypothesis proposes that evolutionarily familair situations do noot take any higher levels of general intelligence to solve, whereas novel situations do. Think about that. Society is the ultimate evolutionary novelty. Who succeeds the most, on average, in society? The more intelligent.
Go outside. Look around you. Can you tell me which things were in our ancestral environment? Trees? Grass? Not really, as they aren’t the same exact kinds as we know from the savanna. The only thing that is constant is: men, women, boys and girls.
This can, however, be said in another way. Our current environment is an evolutionary mismatch. We are evolved for our past environments, and as we all know, evolution is non-teleological—meaning there is no direction. So we are not selected for possible future environments, as there is no knowledge for what the future holds due to contingencies of ‘just history’. Anything can happen in the future, we don’t have any knowledge of any future occurences. These can be said to be mismatches, or novelties, and those who are more intelligent reason more logically due to the fact that they are more adept at surviving evolutionary novel situations. Kanazawa’s theory provides a wealth of information and evidence to back his assertion that general intelligence is domain-specific.
This is yet another piece of evidence that our brain is not special. Why continue believing that our brain is special, even when there is evidence mounting against it? Our brains evolved and were selected for just like any other organ in our body, just like it was for every single organism on earth. Race-realists like to say “How can egalitarians believe that we stopped evolving at the neck for 50,000 years?” Well to those race-realists who contend that our brains are ‘special’, I say to them: “How can our brain be ‘special’ when it’s an evolved organ just like any other in our body and was subject to the same (or similar) evolutionary selective pressures?”
In sum, the brain has problems dealing with things that were not in its ancestral environment. However, those who are more intelligent will have an easier time dealing with evolutionarily novel situations in comparison to people with lower intelligence. Look at places in Africa where development is still low. They clearly don’t need high levels of g to survive, as it’s pretty close to the ancestral environment. Conversely, Eurasian societies are much more complex and thus, evolutionarily novel. This may be one reason that explains societal differences between these populations. It is an interesting question to consider, which I will return to in the future.
With all of my recent articles on neurons and brain size, I’m now asking the following question: do neurons differ by race? The races of man differ on most all other variables, why not this one?
As we would have it, there are racial differences in total brain neurons.In 1970, an anti-hereditarian (Tobias) estimated the number of “excess neurons” available to different populations for processing bodily information, which Rushton (1988; 1997: 114) averaged to find: 8,550 for blacks, 8,660 for whites and 8,900 for Asians (in millions of excess neurons). A difference of 100-200 million neurons would be enough to explain away racial differences in achievement, for one. Two, these differences could also explain differences in intelligence. Rushton (1997: 133) writes:
This means that on this estimate, Mongoloids, who average 1,364 cm3 have 13.767 billion cortical neurons (13.767 x 109 ). Caucasoids who average 1,347 cm3 have 13.665 billion such neurons, 102 million less than Mongoloids. Negroids who average 1,267 cm3 , have 13.185 billion cerebral neurons, 582 million less than Mongoloids and 480 million less than Caucasoids.
Of course, Rushton’s citation of Jerison, I will leave alone now that we know that encephilazation quotient has problems. Rushton (1997: 133) writes:
The half-billion neuron difference between Mongoloids and Negroids are probably all “excess neurons” because, as mentioned, Mongoloids are often shorter in height and lighter in weight than Negroids. The Mongoloid-Negroid difference in brain size across so many estimation procedures is striking
Of course, small differences in brain size would translate to differences differences neuronal count (in the hundreds of millions), which would then affect intelligence.
The ability to plan for the future, a significant function of prefrontal regions of the cortex, may be key indeed. According to the best definition I have come across so far, put forward by MIT physicist Alex Wissner-Gross, intelligence is the ability to make decisions that maximize future freedom of action—that is, decisions that keep most doors open for the future. (Herculano-Houzel, 2016: 122-123)
You can see the difference in behavior and action in the races; how one race has the ability to make decisions to maximize future ability of action—and those peoples with a smaller prefrontal cortex won’t have this ability (or it will be greatly hampered due to its small size and amount of neurons it has).
With a smaller, less developed frontal lobe and less overall neurons in it than a brain belonging to a European or Asian, this may then account for overall racial differences in intelligence. The few hundred million difference in neurons may be the missing piece to the puzzle here.Neurons transmit information to other nerves and muscle cells. Neurons have cell bodies, axons and dendrites. The more neurons (that’s also packed into a smaller brain, neuron packing density) in the brain, the better connectivity you have between different areas of the brain, allowing for fast reaction times (Asians beat whites who beat blacks, Rushton and Jensen, 2005: 240).
Remember how I said that the brain uses a certain amount of watts; well I’d assume that the different races would use differing amount of power for their brain due to differing number of neurons in them. Their brain is not as metabolically expensive. Larger brains are more intelligent than smaller brains ONLY BECAUSE there is a higher chance for there to be more neurons in the larger brain than the smaller one. With the average cranial capacity (blacks: 1267 cc, 13,185 million neurons; whites: 1347 cc, 13,665 million neurons, and Asians: 1,364, 13,767 million neurons). (Rushton and Jensen, 2005: 265, table 3) So as you can see, these differences are enough to account for racial differences in achievement.
A bigger brain would mean, more likely, more neurons which would then be able to power the brain and the body more efficiently. The more neurons one has, the more likely it it that they are intelligent as they have more neuronal pathways. The average cranial capcities of the races show that there are neuronal differences between them, which these neuronal differences then are the cause for racial differences, with the brain size itself being only a proxy, not an actual indicator of intelligence. The brain size doesn’t matter as much as the amount of neurons in the brain.
A difference in the brain of 100 grams is enough to account for 550 million cortical neurons (!!) (Jensen, 1998b: 438). But that ignores sex differences and neuronal density. However, I’d assume that there will be at least small differences in neuron count, especially from Rushton’s data from Race, Evolution and Behavior. Jensen (1998) also writes on page 439:
I have not found any investigation of racial differences in neuron density that, as in the case of sex differences, would offset the racial difference in brain weight or volume.
So neuronal density by brain weight is a great proxy.
Racial differences in intelligence don’t come down to brain size; they come down to total neuron amount in the brain; differences in size in certain parts of the brain critical to intelligence and amount of neurons in those critical portions of the brain. I’ve yet to come across a source talking about the different number of neurons in the brain by race, but when I do I will update this article. From what we know, we can make the assumption that blacks have less packing density as well as a smaller number of neurons in their PFC and cerebral cortex. Psychopathy is associated with abnormalities in the PFC; maybe, along with less intelligence, blacks would be more likely to be psychopathic? This also echoes what Richard Lynn says about Race and Psychopathic Personality:
There is a difference between blacks and whites—analogous to the difference in intelligence—in psychopathic personality considered as a personality trait. Both psychopathic personality and intelligence are bell curves with different means and distributions among blacks and whites. For intelligence, the mean and distribution are both lower among blacks. For psychopathic personality, the mean and distribution are higher among blacks. The effect of this is that there are more black psychopaths and more psychopathic behavior among blacks.
Neuronal differences and size of the PFC more than account for differences in psychopathy rates as well as differences in intelligence and scholastic achievement. This could, in part, explain the black-white IQ gap. Since the total number of neurons in the brain dictates, theoretically speaking, how well an organism can process information, and blacks have a smaller PFC (related to future time preference); and since blacks have less cortical neurons than Whites or Asians, this is one large reason why black are less intelligent, on average, than the other races of Man.