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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.
One debate in the philosophy of science is whether or not a scientific hypothesis should make testable predictions or merely explain only what it purports to explain. Should a scientific hypothesis H predict previously unknown facts of the matter or only explain an observation? Take, for example, evolutionary psychology (EP). Any EP hypothesis H can speculate on the so-called causes that led a trait to fixate in a biological population of organisms, but the claim that they can do more than that—that is, that they can generate successful predictions of previously unknown facts not used in the construction of the hypothesis—but that’s all they can do. The claim, therefore, that EP hypotheses are anything but just-so stories, is false.
Prediction and novel facts
For example, Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicted the bending of light, which was a novel prediction for the hypothesis (see pg 177-180 for predictions generated from Einstein’s theory). Fresnel’s wave theory of light predicted different infraction fringes to the prediction of the white spot—a spot which appears in a circular object’s shadow due to Fresnel diffraction (see Worrall, 1989). So Fresnel’s theory explained the diffraction and the diffraction then generated testable—and successful—novel predictions (see Magnus and Douglas, 2013). There is an example of succeful novel prediction. Ad hoc hypotheses are produced “for this” explanation—so the only evidence for the hypothesis is, for example, the existence of trait T. EP hypotheses attempt to explain the fixation of any trait T in humans, but all EP hypotheses do is explain—they generate no testable, novel predictions of previously unknown facts.
A defining feature of science and what it purports to do is to predict facts-of-the-matter which are yet to be known. John Beerbower (2016) explains this well in his book Limits of Science? (emphasis mine):
At this point, it seems appropriate to address explicitly one debate in the philosophy of science—that is, whether science can, or should try to, do more than predict consequences. One view that held considerable influence during the first half of the twentieth venture is called the predictivist thesis: that the purpose of science is to enable accurate predictions and that, in fact, science cannot actually achieve more than that. The test of an explanatory theory, therefore, is its success at prediction, at forecasting. This view need not be limited to actual predictions of future, yet to happen events; it can accommodate theories that are able to generate results that have already been observed or, if not observed, have already occurred. Of course, in such cases, care must be taken that the theory has not simply been retrofitted to the observations that have already been made—it must have some reach beyond the data used to construct the theory.
That a theory or hypothesis explains observations isn’t enough—it must generate successful predictions of novel facts. If it does not generate any novel facts-of-the-matter, then of what use is the hypothesis if it only weakly justifies the phenomenon in question? So now, what is a novel fact?
A novel fact is a fact that’s generated by hypothesis H that’s not used in the construction of the hypothesis. For example, Musgrave (1988) writes:
All of this depends, of course, on our being able to make good the intuitive distinction between prediction and novel prediction. Several competing accounts of when a prediction is a novel prediction for a theory have been produced. The one I favour, due to Elie Zahar and John Worral says that a predicted fact is a novel fact for a theory if it was not used to construct that theory — where a fact is used to construct a theory if it figures in the premises from which that theory was deduced.
Mayo (1991: 524; her emphasis) writes that a “novel fact [is] a newly discovered fact—one not known before used in testing.” So a fact is novel when it predicts a fact of the matter not used in the construction of the hypothesis—i.e., a future event. About novel predictions, Musgrave also writes that “It is only novel predictive success that is surprising, where an observed fact is novel for a theory when it was not used to construct it.” So hypothesis H entails evidence E; evidence E is not used in the construction of hypothesis H, therefore E is novel evidence for hypothesis H.
To philosopher of science Imre Lakatos, a progressive research program is one that generates novel facts, whereas a degenerating research program either fails to generate novel facts or the predictions made that were novel continue to be falsified, according to Musgrave in his article on Lakatos. We can put EP in the “degenerating research program, as no EP hypothesis generates any type of novel prediction—the only evidence for the trait is the existence of the trait.
The term “just-so stories” comes from Rudyard Kipling Just-so Stories for Little Children. Then Gould and Lewontin used the term for evolutionary hypotheses that can only explain and not predict future as-of-yet-known events. Law (2016) notes that just-so stories offer “little in the way of independent evidence to suggest that it is actually true.” Sterelny and Griffiths (1999: 61) state that just-so stories are “… an adaptive scenario, a hypothesis about what a trait’s selective history might have been and hence what its function may be.” Examples of just-so stories covered on this blog include: beards, FOXP2, cartels and Mesoamerican ritual sacrifice, Christian storytelling, just-so storytellers and their pet just-so stories, the slavery hypertension hypothesis, fear of snakes and spiders, and cold winter theory. Smith (2016: 278) has a helpful table showing ten different definitions and descriptions of just-so stories:
So the defining criterion for just-so stories is that there must be independent evidence to believe the proposed explanation for the existence of the trait. There must be independent reasons to believe a certain hypothesis, as the defining feature of a scientific hypothesis or theory is whether or not it can predict yet-to-happen events. Though, as Beerbower notes, we have to be careful that we do not retrofit the observations.
One can make an observation. Then they can work backward (what Richardson (2007) elicits is “reverse engineering”) and posit (speculate about) a good-sounding story (just-so storytelling) to explain this observation. Reverse engineering is “a process of figuring out the design of a mechanism on the basis of an analysis of the tasks it performs” (Buller, 2005: 92). Of course, the just-so storyteller can then create a story to explain the fixation of the trait in question. But that’s only (purportedly) the explanation of why the trait came to fixation for us to observe it today. There are no testable predictions of previously unknown facts. So it’s all storytelling—speculation.
The theory of natural selection is then deployed to attempt the explain the fixation of trait T in any population. It is true that a hypothesis is weakly corroborated by the existence of trait T, but what makes it a just-so story is the fact that there are no successful predictions of previously unknown facts,
When it comes to EP, one can say that the hypothesis “makes sense” and it “explains” why trait T still exists and went to fixation. However, the story only “makes sense” because there is no other way for it to be—if the story didn’t “make sense”, then the just-so storyteller wouldn’t be telling the story because it wouldn’t satisfy their aims of “proving” that a trait is an adaptation.
Smith (2016:277-278) notes 7 just-so story triggers:
1) proposing a theory-driven rather than a problem-driven explanation, 2) presenting an explanation for a change without providing a contrast for that change, 3) overlooking the limitations of evidence for distinguishing between alternative explanations (underdetermination), 4) assuming that current utility is the same as historical role, 5) misusing reverse engineering, 6) repurposing just-so stories as hypotheses rather than explanations, and 7) attempting to explain unique events that lack comparative data.
EP is most guilty of (3), (4), (5), (6), and (7). It is guilty of (3) in that it hardly ever posits other explanations for trait T, it’s always “adaptation”, as EP is an adaptationist paradigm. It is guilty of (4) perhaps the most. That trait T still exists and is useful for this today is not evidence that trait T was selected-for its use as we see it today. This then leads to (5) which is the misuse of reverse engineering. Just-so stories are ad hoc (“for this”) explanations and these types of explanations are ad hoc if there is no independent data for the hypothesis. Of course, it is guilty of (7) in that it attempts to explain, of course, unique events in human evolution. Many problems exist for evolutionary psychology (see for example Samuels, 1998; Lloyd, 1999; Prinz, 2006;), but the biggest problem is the ability of any hypothesis to generate testable, novel predictions. Smith (2016: 279) further writes that:
An important weakness in the use of narratives for scientific purposes is that the ending is known before the narrative is constructed. Merton pointed out that a “disarming characteristic” of ex post facto explanations is that they are always consistent with the observations because they are selected to be so.
Bo Winegard, in his defense of just-so storytelling, writes “that inference to the best explanation most accurately describes how science is (and ought to be) practiced. According to this description, scientists forward theories and hypotheses that are coherent, parsimonious, and fruitful.” However, as Smith (2016: 280-281) notes, that a hypothesis is “coherent”, “parsimonious” and “fruitful” (along with 11 more explanatory virtues of IBE, including depth, precision, consilience, and simplicity) is not sufficient to accept IBE—IBE is not a solution to the problems proposed by the just-so story critics as the slew of explanatory virtues do not lend evidence that T was an adaptation and thusly do not lend evidence that hypothesis H is true.
Simon (2018: 5) concludes that “(1) there is much rampant speculation in evolutionary psychology as to the reasons and the origin for certain traits being present in human beings, (2) there is circular reasoning as to a particular trait’s supposed advantage in adaptability in that a trait is chosen and reasoning works backward to subjectively “prove” its adaptive advantage, (3) the original classical theory is untestable, and most importantly, (4) there are serious doubts as to Natural Selection, i.e., selection through adaptive advantage, being the principal engine for evolution.” (1) is true since that’s all EP is—speculation. (2) is true in evolutionary psychologists notice trait T and that, since it survived today, there must be a function it performs for why natural selection “selected” the trait to propagate in species (though selection cannot select-for certain traits). (3) it is untestable in that we have no time machine to go back and watch how trait T evolved (this is where the storytelling narrative comes in: if only we had a good story to tell about the evolution of trait T). And finally, (4) is also true since natural selection is not a mechanism (see Fodor, 2008; Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, 2010).
EP exists in an attempt to explain so-called psychological adaptations humans have to the EEA (environment of evolutionary adaptiveness). So one looks at the current phenotype and then looks to the past in an attempt to construct a “story” which shows how a trait came to fixation. There are, furthermore, no hallmarks of adaptation. When one attempts to use selection theory to explain the fixation of trait T, they must wrestle with spandrels. Spandrels are heritable, can increase fitness, and they are selected as well—as the whole organism is selected. This also, of course, falls right back to Fodor’s (2008) argument against natural selection. Fodor (2008: 1) writes that the central claim of EP “is that heritable properties of psychological phenotypes are typically adaptations; which is to say that they are typically explained by their histories of selection.” But if “psychological phenotypes” cannot be selected, then the whole EP paradigm crumbles.
This is why EP is not scientific. It cannot make successful predictions of previously unknown facts not used in the construction of the hypothesis, it can only explain what it purports to explain. The claim, therefore, that EP hypotheses are anything but just-so stories is false. One can create good-sounding narratives for any type of trait. But that they “sound good” to the ear, and are “plausible” are not reasons to believe that the story told is true.
Are all hypotheses just-so stories? No. Since a just-so story is an ad hoc hypothesis and a hypothesis is ad hoc if it cannot be independently verified, then a hypothesis that makes predictions which can be independently verified are not just-so stories. There are hypotheses that generate no predictions, ad hoc hypotheses (where the only evidence to believe H is the existence of trait T), and hypotheses that generate novel predictions. EP is the second of these—the only evidence we have to believe H is true is that trait T exists. Independent evidence is a necessary condition of science—that is, the ability of a hypothesis to predict novel evidence is a necessary condition for science. That no EP hypothesis can generate a successful novel prediction is evidence that all EP hypotheses are just-so stories. So for the criticism to be refuted, one would have to name an EP hypothesis that is not a just-so story—that is, (1) name an EP hypothesis, (2) state the prediction, and then (3) state how the prediction follows from the hypothesis.
To be justified in believing hypothesis H in explaining how trait T became fixated in a population there must be independent evidence for this belief. The hypothesis must generate a novel fact which was previously unknown before the hypothesis was constructed. If the hypothesis cannot generate any predictions, or the predictions it makes are continuously falsified, then the hypothesis is to be rejected. No EP hypothesis can generate successful predictions of novel facts and so, the whole EP enterprise is a degenerative research program. The EP paradigm explains and accommodates, but no EP hypothesis generates independently confirmable evidence for any of its hypotheses. Therefore EP is not a scientific program and just-so stories are not scientific.
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.
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.
After the publishing of the article debunking r/K selection theory last week, I decided to go to a few places and provide the article to a few sites that talk about r/K selection theory and it’s (supposed) application to humans and psychometric qualities. I posted it on a site called ‘truthjustice.net‘, and the owner of the site responded to me:
Phillippe Rushton is not cited a single time in AC’s book. In no way, shape or form does the Theory depend on his opinions.
AC outlines a very coherent theoretical explanation for the differing psychological behavior patterns existing on a bell curve distribution in our population. Especially when it comes to the functioning of the Amygdala for which we have quite a lot of data by now.
Leftists are indeed in favor of early childhood sexualization to increase the quantity of offspring which will inevitably reduce the quality and competitive edge of children. They rank significantly lower on the moral foundations of “loyalty”, “authority” and “purity” as outlined by Jonathan Haidt’s research into moral psychology. Making them more accepting of all sorts of degeneracy, deviancy, and disloyalty to the ingroup.
They desire a redestribution of resources to the less well performing part of our population to reduce competitive stress and advantage while giving far less to charity and being significantly more narcissistic to increase their own reproductive advantage.
Their general mindset becomes more and more nihilistic, atheistic, anarchistic, anti-authority and overall r-selected the further left you go on the bell curve. A denial of these biological realities in our modern age is ridiculous when we can easily measure their psychology and brain functionality in all sorts of ways by now.
Does that now mean that AC is completely right in his opinions on r/K-Selection Theory? No, much more research is necessary to understand the psychological differences between leftists and rightists in full detail.
But the general framework outlined by r/K-Selection Theory very likely applies to the bell curve distribution in psychological behavior patterns we see in our population.
I did respond, however, he removed my comment and banned me after I published my response. My response is here:
“Phillippe Rushton is not cited a single time in AC’s book. In no way, shape or form does the Theory depend on his opinions.”
Meaningless. He uses the r/K continuum so the link in my previous comment is apt.
“AC outlines a very coherent theoretical explanation for the differing psychological behavior patterns existing on a bell curve distribution in our population. Especially when it comes to the functioning of the Amygdala for which we have quite a lot of data by now.”
No, he doesn’t.
2) even if r/K were a valid paradigm, it would not pertain to within species variation,
3) it’s just a ‘put these traits on one end that I don’t like and these traits at the other end that I like and that’s my team while the other team has all of the bad traits’ thing,
4) his theory literally rests on the r/K continuum proposed by Pianka. Furthermore, no experimental rationale “was ever given for the assignment of these traits [the r/K traits Pianka inserted into his continuum] to either category” (Graves, 2002: 135), and
5) the r/K paradigm was discredited in the late 70s (see Graves 2002 above for a review)
“Leftists are indeed in favor of early childhood sexualization to increase the quantity of offspring which will inevitably reduce the quality and competitive edge of children. They rank significantly lower on the moral foundations of “loyalty”, “authority” and “purity” as outlined by Jonathan Haidt’s research into moral psychology. Making them more accepting of all sorts of degeneracy, deviancy, and disloyalty to the ingroup.”
I love Haidt. I’ve read his book and all of his papers and articles. So you notice a few things. Then see the (discredited) r/K paradigm. Then you say “oh! liberals are bad and are on the r side while conservatives are K!!”
Let me ask you this: where does alpha-selection fall into this?
“They desire a redestribution of resources to the less well performing part of our population to reduce competitive stress and advantage while giving far less to charity and being significantly more narcissistic to increase their own reproductive advantage.”
Oh.. about that… liberals have fewer children than conservatives. Liberals are also more intelligent than conservatives. So going by Rushton’s r/K model, liberals are K while conservatives are r (conservatives are less intelligent and have more children). So the two cornerstones of the (discredited) r/K continuum show conservatives breeding more and also are less intelligent while it’s the reverse for liberals. So who is ‘r’ and ‘K’ again?
“Their general mindset becomes more and more nihilistic, atheistic, anarchistic, anti-authority and overall r-selected the further left you go on the bell curve. A denial of these biological realities in our modern age is ridiculous when we can easily measure their psychology and brain functionality in all sorts of ways by now.”
‘r’ and ‘K’ are not adjectives (Anderson, 1991: 57).
Why does no one understand r/K selection theory? You are aware that r/K selection theory is density-dependent selection, correct?
“Does that now mean that AC is completely right in his opinions on r/K-Selection Theory? No, much more research is necessary to understand the psychological differences between leftists and rightists in full detail.”
No, he’s horribly wrong with his ‘theory’. I don’t deny psych differences between libs and cons, but to put them on some (discredited) continuum makes no sense in reality.
“But the general framework outlined by r/K-Selection Theory very likely applies to the bell curve distribution in psychological behavior patterns we see in our population.”
No, it doesn’t. Psych traits are not normally distributed (see above). Just like Rushton, AC saw that some things ‘fit’ into this (discredited) continuum. What’s that mean? Absolutely nothing. He doesn’t even cite papers for his assertion; he called Pianka a leftist and said that he tried to sabotage the theory because he thought that it described libs (huh? this makes no sense). AC is a clear ideologue and is steeped in his own political biases as well as wanting to sell more copies of his book. So he will not admit that he is wrong.
Let me ask you a question: where did liberals and conservatives evolve? What selective pressures brought about these psych traits in these two ‘populations’? Are liberals and conservatives local populations?
I’ve also summarily discredited AC and I am waiting on a reply from him (I will be surprised if he replies).
However, unfortunately for AC et al, concerns have been raised “about the use of psychometric indicators of lifestyle and personality as proxies for life history strategy when they have not been validated against objective measures derived from contemporary life history theory and when their status as causes, mediators, or correlates has not been investigated” (Copping, Campbell, and Muncer, 2014). This ends it right here. People don’t understand density-dependent/independent selection since Rushton never talked about it. That, as has been brought up, is a huge flaw in Rushton’s application of r/K theory to the races of Man.
Liberals are, on average, more intelligent than conservatives (Kanazawa, 2010; Kanazawa, 2014) Lower cognitive ability has been linked to greater prejudice through right-wing ideology and low intergroup contact (Hodson and Busseri, 2012), with social conservatives (probably) having lower IQs. There are also three ‘psychological continents’—Europe, Australia, and, Canada and are the liberal countries whereas Southeast Asia, South Asia, South America and Africa contain more conservative countries with all other countries including Russia, the US and Asia in the middle and “In addition, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, cognitive test performance, and governance indicators were found to be low in the most conservative group and high in the most liberal group” (Stankov and Lee, 2016). Further, economic liberals—as a group—tend to be better educated than Republicans—so intelligence is positively correlated with socially and economically liberal views (Carl, 2014).
There is also a ‘conservative baby boom‘ in the US—which, to the Rushtonites, is ‘r-selected behavior’. Furthermore, women who reported that religion was ‘very important to them’ reported having higher fertility than women who said that it was ‘somewhat important’ or ‘not important’ (Hayford and Morgan, 2008). Liberals are more likely to be atheist (Kanazawa, 2010), while, of course, conservatives are more likely to be religious (Morrison, Duncan, and Parton, 2015; McAdams et al, 2015).
All in all, even if we were to allow the use of liberals and conservatives as local populations, like Rushton’s erroneous use of r/K theory for human races, the use of r/K theory to explain the conservative/liberal divide makes no sense. People don’t know anything about ecology, evolution, or neuroscience. People should really educate themselves on the matters they speak about—I mean a full-on reading into whatever it is you believe. Because people like TIJ and AC are clearly idealogues, pushing a discredited ecological theory and applying it to liberals and conservatives, when the theory was never used that way in the first place.
For anyone who would like a look into the psychological differences between liberals and conservatives, Jonathan Haidt has an outstanding book outlining the differences between the two ideologies called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. I actually just gave it a second read and I highly, highly recommend it. If you want to understand the true differences between the two ideologies then read that book. Try to always remember and look out for your own biases when it comes to your political beliefs and any other matter.
For instance, if you see yourself frantically attempting to gather support for a contention in a debate, then that’s the backfire effect in action (Nyhan and Reifler, 2012), and if you have a knowledge of the cognitive bias, you can better take steps to avoid such a heavy-handed bias. This, obviously, occurred with TIJ. The response above is airtight. If this ‘continuum’ did exist, then it’s completely reversed with liberals having fewer children and generally being more intelligent with the reverse for conservatives. So liberals would be K and conservatives would be r (following Rushton’s interpretation of the theory which is where the use of the continuum comes from).
One of the many oft-repeated statements from feminists is “Who commits over 80 percent of all violent crime?! MEN!!!!” This is true. No one denies this. Is this stark disparity due to biology or culture? Anyone who reads this blog knows the answer to that question, however, a lot of people (mostly feminists and other radical leftists) disagree and, of course, believe that all differences within and between people are explainable by environmental factors.
Men commit 80 percent of all crimes. Feminists may point to this stat and say that men are more dangerous than men, and, for instance, use the crime argument for separation from men the way some people use the black crime argument as a point to argue for separation. It’s clear that people who say these things don’t understand biology, because things such as this are easily explainable.
Men average 270-1,070 ng/dl on average compared to women’s 15-70 ng/dl.This large variation in testosterone between men and women is an indication that the testosterone ‘gap’ (which should be there, biologically speaking) is the main factor in explaining the crime disparities between males and females (Dabbs et al, 1995; Batrinos, 2012).
Testosterone regulates morphological traits which are then sexually selected for (Hillgarth, Ramenofsky and Wingfield, 1997). So, in a way, testosterone itself was being selected for, as it is the mediator of all of the morphological characteristics that make Men men.
These same differences in testosterone between men and women also explain the huge variation in muscle mass and strength between men and women. Muscle mass was, potentially, a way to attract mates. Though muscle mass itself is a sexually selected trait, in terms of natural selection it is a negative. This is because the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you need to consume. Men have 61 percent more upper body strength than women and 75 percent more arm mass, which translates to 90 percent greater upper body strength in men. 99.9 percent of females fall below the male mean here, which is to be expected with what we know about anatomy and physiology in regards to the human sexes. The effect was almost as large when it came to lower body mass, with men having 50 percent more muscle mass while being 65 percent stronger than women (Lassek and Gaulin, 2009). Muscle mass is also a feature in men that gets sexually selected for (Puts, 2016)
When women are ovulating, they “show a weakness” for men with “good genes” when they are at their most fertile. This shows a causal mechanism through sexual selection for high levels of testosterone to be selected for in men, which then causes the differences in fat-free mass and aggression rates, among other variables. Indeed, we do know that, on average, women want a mate that is successful, good looking, has money, has a desire for home and children, and being a loving partner. Women, obviously, secure a man’s genes when she bears his child. So a woman would always attempt to secure the best combination of these traits in the same man (Buss and Shackelford, 2008). Sexual selection explains sex differences in aggression (Archer, 2009). So, as you can see (evolutionarily speaking), it’s women that are the cause for the so-called aggression that feminists complain about—they sexually selected us for higher levels of aggression and testosterone, then complain about it in the modern world.
Sexual and natural selection are the causes for increased aggression/testosterone rates in men when compared to women. These traits were clearly advantageous during in our ancestral habitat, as a more aggressive mate would provide better protection and food acquisition. When organisms compete for scarce, nutritious food, mates, and space, competition increases between organisms. This can lead to injury or death (the less-able being naturally selected out of the gene pool); chronically elevated levels of testosterone associated with aggressive competition may suppress the immune system and have negative effects for health and fitness (elevated cortisol levels, which triggers fight or flight is also a negative); it may increase risk of predation since a high testosterone organism won’t notice predators around them; aggressive contests tend to be physically demanding, sapping energy; and it may damage social relationships, for instance if a male is aggressive to a female that male won’t mate and thus get selected out of the gene pool (Georgiev et al, 2013).
A study in Sweden looked at the frequency and how often men committed acts of violent crime compared to women (Trägårdh et al, 2016). They discovered that in the two decades from 1990 to 2010, there were 1,570 cases of deadly violence with men accounting for 1,420 of the cases (90.4 percent) while 150 women committed violent crime (9.6 percent). Women accounted for one-third of crimes committed against children, however, which has its basis in evolutionary psychology as well.
The risk of being killed is highest in your first year of life (Friedman and Resnick, 2007). Why? Infanticide. The mean age that mothers commit filicide at is 29.5 while the mean age of the babe is 3.5 years (Rouge-Maillart et al, 2005). The evolutionary explanation for this is that the mother still has time to conceive more children, so the fitness hit is not too large. Further, women are more likely to commit filicide if they have a second child under the age of 20 (Bourget, Grace, and Whitehurts, 2007). So obviously, the older a woman is the less of a chance there is that filicide will be committed since it would be a fitness hit since older women have less of a chance to conceive children, along with a higher chance for the child to have birth defects (Stein and Susser, 2000; Lampinen, Vehviläinen-Julkunen and Kankkunen, 2009; Jolly et al, 2000). So from an evolutionary perspective, it doesn’t make sense for a woman to kill her child if she’s about to hit the age-40 wall (Reproductive Endocrinology Infertility Committee et al, 2011; O’Reilly-Green and Cohen, 1993; van Katwjk and Peeters, 1998; Yaniv et al, 2010).
Male infanticide is associated with social monogamy in primates; male infanticide may be what causes females to stay and mate with one male (Opie et al, 2013). This is caused by females choosing to stay faithful to mates, which then drives monogamous relationships. Serial and social monogamy is the norm for humans (Brandon, 2016). This, then, goes back to what a woman looks for in a man, and has her want to stay with that one man who has all of the qualities necessary to be a good mate and father.
In sum, when feminists complain about male aggression and crime, there are substantial evolutionary underpinnings behind them. They do not even realize that even when they are fighting for ‘equality’ between the sexes, that they are directly helping our arguments that there are inherent biological, physiological and morphological differences between the sexes—driven by sexual selection—which is then a cause for a large amount of the variation in crime (and other variables) between men and women. These intrinsic differences between men and women are why we are so different from each other.The sexes also differ in the brain. There are numerous biological explanations between differences in aggression between men and women, and they come down to sexual selection and what propagated our species in during our ancestral evolution. A large cause for these differences is mate selection—which would, technically, make women the culprits, as they selected us for these traits. The fact that these differences are still so profound in modern-day society is not at all surprising.
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Batrinos, M. L. (2012). Testosterone and aggressive behavior in man. International Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism, 10(3), 563-568. doi:10.5812/ijem.3661
Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (2008). Attractive Women Want it All: Good Genes, Economic Investment, Parenting Proclivities, and Emotional Commitment. Evolutionary Psychology,6(1), 147470490800600. doi:10.1177/147470490800600116
Dabbs, J. M., Carr, T. S., Frady, R. L., & Riad, J. K. (1995). Testosterone, crime, and misbehavior among 692 male prison inmates. Personality and Individual Differences, 18(5), 627-633. doi:10.1016/0191-8869(94)00177-t
Friedman SH, Resnick PJ. Child murder by mothers: patterns and prevention. World Psychiatry 2007;6:137-41.
Georgiev, A. V., Klimczuk, A. C., Traficonte, D. M., & Maestripieri, D. (2013). When Violence Pays: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Aggressive Behavior in Animals and Humans. Evolutionary Psychology,11(3), 147470491301100. doi:10.1177/147470491301100313
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Opie, C., Atkinson, Q. D., Dunbar, R. I., & Shultz, S. (2013). Male infanticide leads to social monogamy in primates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,110(33), 13328-13332. doi:10.1073/pnas.1307903110
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Stein, Z., & Susser, M. (2000). The risks of having children in later life. Western Journal of Medicine,173(5), 295-296. doi:10.1136/ewjm.173.5.295
Trägårdh, K., Nilsson, T., Granath, S., & Sturup, J. (2016). A Time Trend Study of Swedish Male and Female Homicide Offenders from 1990 to 2010. International Journal of Forensic Mental Health,15(2), 125-135. doi:10.1080/14999013.2016.1152615
van Katwijk, C., & Peeters, LLH. (1998). Clinical aspects of pregnancy after the age of 35 years: a review of the literature. Human Reproduction Update 4(2):185–94.
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The denial of human nature is extremely prevalent, most noticeably in our institutions of higher learning. To most academics, the fact that there could be population differences that are genetic in nature is troubling for many people. However, denying genetic/biological causes for racial differences is 1) intellectually dishonest; 2) will lead to negative health outcomes for populations due to the assumption that all human populations are the same; and 3) the ‘lie of equality’ will not allow all human populations to reach their ‘potential’ to be as good as they can be due to the fact that implicit assumption that all human populations are the same. Anti-hereditarians fully deny any and all genetic explanations for human differences, believing that human brain evolution somehow halted around 50-100 kya. Numerous studies show that race is a biological reality; it doesn’t matter what we call the clusters as those are the social constructs. The contention is that ‘all brains are the same color’ (Nisbett, 2007; for comment see my article Refuting Richard Nisbett), and that evolution in differing parts of the world for the past 50,000 years was not enough for any meaningful population differences between people. But to accept that means you must accept the fact that the brain is the only organ that is immune to natural selection. Does that make any sense? I will show that these differences do exist and should be studied, as free of any bias as possible, with every possible hypothesis being looked at and not discarded.
Evolution is true. It’s not ‘only a theory’ (as some anti-evolutionists contend). Anti-evolutionists do not understand the definition of the word ‘theory’. Richard Dawkins (2009) wrote that a theory is a scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena. This is in stark contrast to the layperson’s definition of the word theory, which means ‘just a guess’. Evolution is a fact. What biologists argue with each other about is the mechanisms behind evolution, for any quote-mining Creationists out there.
We know that evolution is a fact and it is the only game in town (Dawkins, 2009) to explain the wide diversity and variation we see on our planet. However, numerous scholars deny the effect of evolution on human behavior (most residing in the social sciences, but other prominent biologists have denied (or implied there were no differences between us and our ancestors) the effect of human evolution on behavior and cognition; Gould 1981, 1996, for a review of Gould 1996, see my article Complexity, Walls, 0.400 Hitting and Evolutionary “Progress” and Stephen Jay Gould and Anti-Hereditarianism; Mayr 1963; see Cochran and Harpending 2009). A prominent neuroscientist, who I have written about here, Herculano-Houzel, implied that Neanderthals and Antecessor may have been just as intelligent as we are due to a neuronal count in a similar range to ours (Herculano-Houzel 2013). This raises an interesting question (which I have tackled here and will return to in the future): did our recent hominin ancestors at least have the capacity for similar intellect to ours (Villa and Roebroeks, 2014; Herculano-Houzel and Kaas, 2011)? It is interesting that neuronal scaling rules hold for our extinct ancestors, and this question is most definitely worth looking into.
Whatever the case may be in regards to recent human evolution and our extinct hominin ancestors, human evolution has increased in the past 10,000 years (Cochran and Harpending, 2009; Wade, 2014). This is due to the dispersal of Anatomical Modern Humans (AMH) OoA around 70 kya; and with this geographical isolation, populations began to diverge with no interbreeding with each other. However, this is noticed most in ‘Native’ Americans, who show no gene flow with other populations due to being genetically isolated (Villena et al, 2000). Who’s to say that evolution stops at the neck, and no further evolution occurs on the brain? Is the brain itself exempt from the laws of natural selection? We know that there is no/hardly any gene flow between populations before the advent of modern-day technology and vehicles; we know that humans differ on morphological and anatomical traits, why are genetic differences out of the question, especially when genetic differences may explain, in part, some of the variation between populations?
We know that evolution is true, without a reasonable doubt. So why, do some researchers contend, is the human brain exempt from such selective pressures?
A theoretical article by Winegard, Winegard, and Boutwell (2017) was just released on January 17th. In the article, they argue that social scientists should integrate HBD into their models. Social scientists do not integrate genetics into their models, and the longer one studies social sciences, the more likely it is they will deny human nature, regardless of political leaning (Perry and Mace, 2010). This poses a problem. By completely ignoring a huge variable (possible genetic differences), this has the potential to harm people’s health, as race is a very informative marker when discussing diseases acquisition as well as whether certain drugs will work on two individuals of different races (Risch et al, 2002; Tang et al, 2005; Wade, 2014). People who deny the usefulness of race, even in a medical context, endanger the lives of individuals from different races/ethnies since they assume that all humans are the same inside, despite ‘superficial differences’ between populations.
The notion that all human populations—genetic isolation and evolution in differing ecosystems/climates/geographic locales be damned—is preposterous to anyone who has a true understanding of evolution. Why should man’s brain be the only organ on earth exempt from the forces of natural selection? Why do egalitarians assume that all humans are the same and have the same psychological faculties compared to other humans, despite the fact that rapid evolution has occurred within the human species within the last 10,000 years?
To see some of the most obvious ways to see natural selection in action in human populations, one should look to the Inuits (Fumagalli, 2015; Daanen and Lichtenbelt, 2016; NIH, 2015; Cardona et al, 2014; Tishkoff, 2015; Ford, McDowell, and Pierce, 2015; Galloway, Young, and Bjerregaard, 2012; Harper, 2015). Global warming is troubling to some researchers, with many researchers suggesting that global warming will have negative effects on the health and food security of the Inuit (Ford et al, 2014, 2016; Ford, 2012, 2009; Wesche, 2010; Furgal and Seguin, 2006; McClymont and Myers, 2012; Petrasek et al, 2015; Rosol, Powell-Hellyer, and Chan, 2016; Petrasek, 2014; WHO, 2003). I could go on and on citing journal articles for both claims, but you get the point already. The main point is this: we know the Inuit have evolved for their climate, and a (possible) climate change would then have a negative effect on their quality of life due to their adaptations to the cold weather climate. However, egalitarians still contend, with these examples and numerous others I could cite, that any and all differences within and between human populations can be explained by socio-cultural factors and not any genetic ones.
One of the best examples of genetic isolation in a geographic locale that is the complete opposite from the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA; Kanazawa, 2004), the African savanna in which we evolved in. I did entertain the idea of the Savanna hypothesis, and while I do believe that it could explain a lot of the variance in IQ between countries (Kanazawa, 2007), his hypothesis doesn’t make sense with what we know about human evolution over the past 10,000 years.
The most obvious differences we can see between populations is differences in skin color. Skin color does not signify race, per se, but it is a good indicator. Skin color is an adaptation to UV radiation (Jablonski and Chaplin, 2010, 2000; Juzenienne et al, 2009; Jeong and Rienzo, 2015; Hancock, et al, 2010; Kita and Fraser, 2016; Scheinfeldt and Tishkoff, 2013), and is therefor and adaptation based on climate. Dark skin is a protectant from skin cancer (Brenner and Hearing, 2008; D’Orazio et al, 2010; Bradford, 2009). Skin cancer is a possible selective force in black pigmentation of the skin in early hominin evolution (Greaves, 2014). With these adaptations in skin color between genetically and geographically isolated populations, are changes in the brain, however small, really out of the question?
A better population to bring up in regards to geographic isolation having an effect on human evolution is the Tibetans. For instance, Tibetans have higher total lung capacities in comparison to the Han Chinese (Droma et al, 1991). There are even differences in lung capacity between Tibetans and Han Chinese who live at the same altitude (Yangzong et al, 2013), with the same thing noticed for peoples living in the Andean mountains (Beall, 2007). Tibetans evolved in a higher elevation than the Han Chinese who lived closer to sea level, so it makes sense that they would be selected for the ability to take deeper inhales They also have a larger chest circumference and greater capacity than the Han Chinese who live at lower altitudes (Gilbert-Kawai et al, 2014).
Admittedly, the acceptance of the usefulness of race in regards to human differences is a touchy subject. So much so, that social scientists do not take genetics into account in their models. However, researchers in the relevant fields accept the usefulness of race (Risch et al, 2002; Tang et al, 2005; Wade, 2014; Sesardic, 2010), so the fact that social scientists do not is to be ignored. Race is a social construct, yes. But no matter what we call these clusters, clines, demes, races, ethnies—whatever name you want to use to describe them—this does not change the fact that race is a useful category in biomedical research. Race is an issue when talking about bone marrow transplants, so by treating all populations as the same with no variation between them, people are pretty much saying that differences between people in a biomedical context do not exist, with there being other explanatory factors behind population differences, in this case, bone marrow transplants. Ignoring heritable human variation will lead to disparate health outcomes for all human populations with the assumption that all humans are the same. Is that what we want? Is that what race-deniers want?
So there are anatomical and physiological differences between human populations (Wagner and Hayward, 2000), with black Americans having a different morphology and lower fat-free body mass on average in comparison to white Americans. This, then, is one of the variables that dictates racial differences in sports, along with muscle fiber explaining a large portion of the variance, in my opinion. No one denies that blacks and whites differ at elite levels in baseball, football, swimming and jumping, and bodybuilding and strength sports. Though, accepting the fact that these morphological and anatomical differences between the races come down to evolution, one would then have to accept the fact that different races/ethnies differ in the brain, thusly destroying their egalitarian fantasy in their head of all genetically isolated human populations being the same in the brain. Wade (2014) writes on page 106:
“… brain genes do not lie in some special category exempt from natural selection. They are as much under evolutionary pressure as any other category of gene”
This is a hard pill to swallow for race-deniers, especially those who emphatically deny any type of selection pressure on the human brain within the past 10,000 to 100,000 years.
Winegard, Winegard, and Boutwell (2017) write:
Consider an analogy that might make this clear while simultaneously illuminating the explanatory importance of population differences. Most cars are designed from the same basic blueprint and consist of similar parts—an internal combustion engine, a gas tank, a chassis, tires, bearings, spark plugs, et cetera. Cars as distinct as a Honda Civic and a Subaru Outback are built from the same basic blueprint and comprised of the same parts; so, in this sense, there is a “universal car nature” (Newton 1999). However, precise, correlated changes in these parts can dramatically change the characteristics of a car.
Humans, like cars, are built from the same basic body plan. They all have livers, lungs, kidneys, brains, arms, and legs. And these structures are built from the same basic building blocks, tissues, which are built of proteins, which are built of amino acids, et cetera. However, small changes in the structures of these building blocks can lead to important and scientifically meaningful differences in function.
Put in this context, yes, there is a ‘universal human nature’, but the application of that human nature will differ depending on what a population has to do to survive in that climate/ecosystem. And, over time, populations will diverge away from each other, both physically and mentally. The authors also argue that societal differences between Eurasians (Europeans and East Asian) can be explained partly by genetic differences. Indeed, the races do differ on the Big Five Personality traits, with heritable components explaining 40 to 60 percent of the variation (Power and Pluess, 2015). So some of the cultural differences between European and East Asians must come down to some biological variation.
One of the easiest ways to see the effects of cultural/environmental selective pressures in humans is to look at Ashkenazi Jews (Cochran et al, 2006). Due to Ashkenazi Jews being barred from numerous occupations, they were confined to a few cognitively demanding occupations. Over time, only the Jews that could handle these occupations would prosper, further selecting for higher intelligence due to the cognitive demands of the jobs they were able to acquire. Thus, Ashkenazi Jews who could handle the few occupations they were allowed to do would breed more and pass on variants for higher intelligence to their offspring, whereas those Jews who couldn’t handle the cognitive demands of the occupation were selected out of the gene pool. This is one situation in which natural selection worked swiftly, and is why Ashkenazi Jews are so overrepresented in the fields of academia today—along with nepotism.
Winegard, Winegard, and Boutwell (2017) lay out six basic principles for a new Darwinian paradigm, as follows:
- Variation is the grist for the mill of natural selection and is ubiquitous within and among human populations.
- Evolution by natural selection has not stopped acting on human traits and has significantly shaped at least some human traits in the past 50,000 years.
- Current hunter-gatherer groups might be slightly different from other modern human populations because of culture and evolution by natural selection acting to influence the relative presence, or absence, of trait-relevant alleles in those groups. Therefore, using extant hunter-gatherers as a template for a panhuman nature is problematic.
- It is probably more accurate to say that, while much of human nature is universal, there may have been selective tuning on various aspects of human nature as our species left Africa and settled various regions of the planet (Frost 2011).
- The human brain is subject to selective forces in the same way that other organ systems are. Natural selection does not discriminate between genes for the body and genes for the brain (Wade 2014).
- The concept of a Pleistocene-based environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA) is likely unhelpful (Zuk 2013). Individual traits should be explored phylogenetically and historically. Some human traits were sculpted in the Pleistocene (or before) and have remained substantially unaltered; some, however, have been further shaped in the past 10,000 years, and some probably quite recently (Clark 2007). It remains imperative to describe what selection pressures might have been actively shaping human nature moving forward from the Pleistocene epoch, and how those ecological pressures might have differed for different human populations.
No stone should be left unturned when attempting to explain population differences between geographically isolated peoples, and these six principles are a great start, which all social scientists should introduce into their models.
As I brought up earlier, Kanazawa’s (2004b) hypothesis doesn’t make sense in regards to what we know about the evolution of human psychology. Thus, any type of proposed evolutionary mismatch in regards to our societies do not make much sense. However, one mismatch that does need to be looked into is the negative mismatch we have with our modern-day Western diets. Agriculture was both a gift and a negative event in human history. Yes, without the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago we would not have the societies we have today. However, on the other hand, we have higher rates of disease compared to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This is one evolutionary mismatch that cannot and should not go ignored as it has devastating effects on our populations that consume a Western diet—which we did not evolve to eat.
Winegart, Winegart, and Boutwell (2017) then discuss how their new Darwinian paradigm could be used by researchers: 1) look for differences among human populations; 2) after population differences are found, causal analyses should be approached neutrally; 3) researchers should consider a broad range of data to consider whether or not the trait or traits in question are heritable; and 4) researchers should test the posited biological cause more indepth. Without understanding—and using—biological differences between human populations, the quality of life for some populations will be diminished, all for the false notion of ‘equality’ between human races.
There are huge barriers in place to studying human differences, however. Hayden (2013) documents differing taboos in genetics, with intelligence having a high taboo rating. Of course, we HBDers know that intelligence is a highly heritable trait, largely genetic in nature, and so studying these differences between human populations may lead to some uncomfortable truths for some people. On the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Ceci and Williams (2009) said that “the scientific truth must be pursued” and that researchers must study race and IQ, much to the chagrin of anti-hereditarians (Horgan, 2013). He does write something very troubling in regards to this research, and free speech in our country as a whole:
Some readers may wonder what I mean by “ban,” so let me spell it out. I envision a federal prohibition against speech or publications supporting racial theories of intelligence. All papers, books and other documents advocating such theories will be burned, deleted or otherwise destroyed. Those who continue espousing such theories either publicly or privately (as determined by monitoring of email, phone calls or other communications) will be detained indefinitely in Guantanamo until or unless a secret tribunal overseen by me says they have expressed sufficient remorse and can be released.
Whether he’s joking or not, that’s besides the point. The point is, is that these topics are extremely sensitive to the lay public, and with these articles being printed in popular publications, the reader will get an extremely biased look into the debate and their mind will already be made up for them. This is the definition of intellectual dishonesty, attempting to sway a lay-readers’ opinion on a subject they are ignorant of with an appeal to emotion. Shouldn’t all things be studied scientifically, without any ideological biases?
Speaking about the ethics of putting this information out to the general public, Winegard, Winegard, and Boutwell (2017) write:
If researchers do not responsibly study and discuss population differences, then they leave an abyss that is likely to be filled by the most extreme and hateful writings on population differences. So, although it is understandable to have concerns about the dangers of speaking and writing frankly about potential population differences, it is also important to understand the likely dangers of not doing so. It is not possible to hide the reality of human variation from the world, not possible to propagate a noble lie about human equality, and the attempt to do so leaves a vacancy for extremists to fill.
This is my favorite quote in the whole paper. It is NOT possible to hide the reality of HBD from the world; anyone with eyes can see that humans do differ. Attempting to continue the feel-good liberal lie of human equality will lead to devastating effects in all countries/populations due to the implicit assumption that all human groups are the same in their cognitive and mental faculties.
The denial of genetic human differences, could, as brought up earlier in this article, lead to negative effects in regards to health outcomes between populations. Black Americans have higher rates of hypertension than white Americans (Fuchs, 2011; Ferdinand, 2007; Ortega, Sedki, and Nayer, 2015; Nesbitt, 2009; Wright et al, 2005). To overlook possible genetic differences as a causal factor in regards to racial differences will mean the deaths of many people since people truly believe that people are the same and that all differences come down to the environment. This, however, is not true and believing so is extremely dangerous to the health of all populations in the world.
Epigenetic signatures of ethnicity may be biomarkers for shared cultural experiences. Seventy-six percent of the genetic alteration between Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in this study was due to DNA methylation—which is an epigenetic mechanism used by cells to control gene expression. Therefore, 24 percent of the effect is due to an unknown factor, probably regarding environmental, social, and cultural differences between the two ethnies (Galanter et al, 2017). This is but one of many effects that culture can have on the genome, leading to differences between two populations, and is good evidence for the contention that the different races/ethnies evolved different psychological mechanisms due to genetic isolation in different environments.
We must now ask the question: what if the hereditarian hypothesis is true (Gottfredson, 2005)? If the hereditarian hypothesis is true, Gottfredson argues, special consideration should be given to those found to have a lower IQ, with better training and schooling that specifically target those individuals at risk to be less able due to their lower intelligence. This is one way the hereditarian hypothesis can help race relations in the country: people will (hopefully) accept intrinsic differences between the races. What Gottfredson argues in her paper will hopefully then pacify anti-hereditarians, as less able people of all races/ethnicities will still get the extra help they need in regards to finding work and getting schooling/training/jobs that accommodate their intelligence.
People accept genetic causes for racial differences in sports, yet emphatically deny that human races/ethnies differ in the brain. The denial of human nature—racially and ethnically—is the next hurdle for us to jump over. Once we accept that these differences in populations can, in part, be explained by genetic factors, we can then look to other avenues to see how and why these differences exist between populations occur and if anything can be done to ameliorate them. However, ironically, anti-hereditarians do not realize that their policies and philosophy is actively hindering their goals, and by accepting biological causes—if only to see them researched and held against other explanations—will lead to further inequality, while they scratch their heads without realizing that the cause is the one variable that they have discarded: genetics. Still, however, I see this won’t happen in the future and the same non-answers will be given in response to findings on how the human races differ psychologically (Gottfredson, 2012). The races do differ in biologically meaningful ways, and denying or disregarding the truth will not make these differences disappear. Social scientists must take these differences into account in their models, and seriously entertain them like any other hypothesis, or else they will never fully understand human nature.
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.