Evo-psych factoids

by Chris Bertram on June 6, 2005

Others here at CT have been more critical of the whole evolutionary psychology approach than I have, and I imagine their scepticism will be bolstered by a newish book by David J. Buller , a philosopher at Northern Illinois University: Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature . According to the reviews, Buller devotes some attention to the factoids that evolutionary psychologists deploy in support of their view. Many of these “well-known facts” seem to have little more support than the well-known fact that if you step on the cracks in the pavement, the bears will get you. From the Wall Street Journal review (pdf) :

This field claims to explain human behaviors that seem so widespread we must be wired for them: women preferring high-status men, and men falling for nubile babes; stepfathers abusing stepchildren. …. Take the stepfather claim. The evolutionary reasoning is this: A Stone Age man who focused his care and support on his biological children, rather than kids his mate had from an earlier liaison, would do better by evolution’s scorecard (how many descendants he left) than a man who cared for his stepchildren. With this mindset, a stepfather is far more likely to abuse his stepchildren. One textbook asserts that kids living with a parent and a stepparent are some 40 times as likely to be abused as those living with biological parents.
But that’s not what the data say, Prof. Buller finds. First, reports that a child living in a family with a stepfather was abused rarely say who the abuser was. Some children are abused by their biological mother, so blaming all stepchild abuse on the stepfather distorts reality. Also, a child’s bruises or broken bones are more likely to be called abuse when a stepfather is in the home, and more likely to be called accidental when a biological father is, so data showing a higher incidence of abuse in homes with a stepfather are again biased. “There is no substantial difference between the rates of severe violence committed by genetic parents and by stepparents,” Prof. Buller concludes.

{ 150 comments }

1

John Landon 06.06.05 at 6:44 am

Critiques of evolutionary psychology are overdue, but the critics, ever since the sociobiology days, have consistently lost ground because of their inability to go the full mile and critique the core doctrine of Darwinism, adaptational selectionism. Some of the nonsense here is amazing, e.g. Dennett’s claim that free will evolves from an adapataional scenario. The left especially, which should be screaming about the obvious ideological connection to neo-liberalism, is paralyzed by its own confusions stemming from Engels. Once your assume the basics of natural selection, the evo-psych confusions can’t be far behind. In fact no decent account of the descent of man has ever been offered, and the clumsy stupidities of standard theory are mostly speculative scenarios.
The idea of a fixed ‘human nature’ evolved in the Paleolithic is one of the more absurd dogmas here and produces belly laughs among Buddhists, and one wonders why noone considers that the influence of emerging civilizaton could have changed that behavior.
The attempt to invade history with sociobiology produce some of the dumbest fallacies and the plain fact is that standard evolutionary explanation can’t handle the evolution of ethics. Check out my http://eonix.8m.com/2nd/intro1_2_3.htm on “Botched Theories and the Coefficient of Murder”.
In the current Intelligent Desing scam environment all critical thinking seems to been sidelined to maintain the front lines, but the critique of evo-psych won’t really succeed in isolation and needs to break through the monumental denseness of the whole field of Darwinian preconceptions.

2

chris y 06.06.05 at 7:28 am

This looks very interesting, but it may be as well to handle with care. Chris Young at Explananda quotes the publisher’s blurb for this as saying:

“We must move beyond the reigning orthodoxy of evolutionary psychology to reach an accurate understanding of how human psychology is influenced by evolution. When we do, Buller claims, we will abandon not only the quest for human nature but the very idea of human nature itself.

Any EP sceptic would endorse the first sentence here, but the second, if it genuinely represents Buller’s argument, ought to sound all sorts of alarm bells.

Unless we reject the idea of human evolution altogether, then the human brain and nervous system, like any other parts of the body, will retain characteristics inherited from pre-human ancestors. And however plastic the “higher functions” of the brain may be, those inherited characteristics must form an irreducible “human nature”. To assert this says nothing about whether or not it is possible to overcome aspects of those characteristics which appear socially undesirable, and certainly doesn’t support the idea that you can invent a just so story to validate every aspect of Steven Pinker’s cultural prejudices. But to deny it altogether presupposes an evolutionary disjuncture between Homo sapiens and any other animal, extant or extinct, a position that has had no reputable support since the death of Alfred Russel Wallace.

Perhaps it’s significant that, unlike WSJ, Nature praises Buller with faint damns, accepting that he usefully restores the debate to the realm of evidence, from the shouting match it had become, but strongly criticising him on a number of points of fact.

3

James Wimberley 06.06.05 at 7:30 am

From the citation, it looks as if Professor Buller’s critique itself makes an elementary mistake. He says that the data that suggest greater violence by stepfathers is biased and should be ignored. But he then advances the contrary proposition that therefore the rates of viloence by biological and step-fathers are equal. Not so. All his argumant could show is that we don’t know.
Incidentally, the evo-psych explanation does not depend on whether the stepfather or the natural mother in the new relationship actually commits the abuse. The shift in affection to a new mate by the mother could weaken her attachment to the child of a previous one.
What happened to evil stepmothers? Folklore gives them just as bad a press as stepfathers.

4

Ginger Yellow 06.06.05 at 7:31 am

“The idea of a fixed ‘human nature’ evolved in the Paleolithic is one of the more absurd dogmas here and produces belly laughs among Buddhists, and one wonders why noone considers that the influence of emerging civilizaton could have changed that behavior.”

Straw man alert! Nobody really argues this, least of all Dennett, who emphasises the importance of cultural evolution through memes. Indeed, he makes the point that many memes are reproductively disadvantageous to their hosts (celibacy, suicide etc), so to suggest that he’s an adaptational fundamentalist is bizarre. The whole thrust of Freedom Evolves is that while our morals and free will derive from biological evolution, we have moved beyond that with cultural evolution. We are not trapped by our biological heritage.

5

Chris 06.06.05 at 8:08 am

#2 (Chris Y): given that the book is endorsed by Kim Sterelny and Elliott Sober, I’m guessing that Buller is making a very different claim in saying that the idea of human nature ought to be rejected than is involved when Foucauldians and others say that they reject the idea.

6

bi 06.06.05 at 8:23 am

I don’t know enough about the content of the original post, but John Landon’s book introduction made me go “what is this crap?”

7

nikolai 06.06.05 at 8:27 am

“What happened to evil stepmothers? Folklore gives them just as bad a press as stepfathers.”

The idea that tales of evil step-parents are all over folklore, and that this represents an important understanding of something about human nature, is just one example of the many problems with the sort of fact free just-so-stories spun by evolutionary psychologists.

Folklore isn’t full of tales of evil step-parents. It’s full of tales of evil parents. When these stories were collected by the Grimms (and others) as the first fairy tales, to make them more palatable the evil parents were taken out and the evil step-parents were put in. The reason for all the wicked stepmother stories is because of a 150 year old marketing decision.

8

Barry 06.06.05 at 8:38 am

“Incidentally, the evo-psych explanation does not depend on whether the stepfather or the natural mother in the new relationship actually commits the abuse. The shift in affection to a new mate by the mother could weaken her attachment to the child of a previous one.”

That seems far from likely or obvious. Born children are far more valuable as a ‘genetic investment’ than potential unborn children. A living child is closer being independently survivale, and to reproducing, than a future potential child. The same investment of time/effort/risk would pay off more. Given that the classical evo psych paleolithic woman would probably only bear a few children, any living child was critical to her reproductive success.

“What happended to evil stepmothers? Folklore gives them just as bad a press as stepfathers.”

And has been pointed out, the modernized fairy tales stuck in stepparents in place of biolgical parents.

Posted by James Wimberley · June 6th, 2005 at

9

Steve LaBonne 06.06.05 at 8:44 am

This whole “debate” frustrates the hell out me. Purveyors of untestable just-so stories on one side, people who make demonstrably stupid statements about there being “no such thing as human nature” on the other, and in the middle- science, having the life squeezed out of it. Ugh.

10

Barry 06.06.05 at 9:08 am

And cricisms of evo psych don’t need to deny Darwinism. The true question (not the strawman) is ‘how much do certain presumably evolutionarily driven cognitive functions affect behavior in modern society, compared to environmental factors?’

Consider child-bearing, in the industrialized countries. In the higher quintiles of income and wealth, most people delay child-bearing until their mid/late 20’s, to gain an edge in income and wealth. Now the evo psych response would be that increased resources aid reproduction by allowing more children to survive, and by giving the parents a longer reproductive life expectancy (i.e., dying at age 20 cuts one’s reproductive career quite a bit).

So what we should see is, going up the quintiles, is an increasing number of children (who survive to adulthood) for each potential parent. By the top quintile, where the amount of wealth required to enable a child to reach comfortable adulthood is abundant, we should see very large families.

Do we see this? No. Why? My theory is that people are reproducing social class.

11

Chris 06.06.05 at 9:10 am

For the details of Buller’s “denial of human nature” in an easily accessible electronic form, see

http://host.uniroma3.it/progetti/kant/field/ep.htm

section 6.

12

Steve LaBonne 06.06.05 at 9:20 am

Chris, a classic strawman argument. Nobody with sense (and yes, the extreme evo-psych devotees do often lack sense)imagines that humman nature is “uniform” or dictates behavior in fine detail. But there are many common patterns and institutions that can be found in some form or other in almost all human societies. It matters little whether they are the results of “completed adaptation” (a scientifically illiterate phrase that appears to be an invention of the author) or drift (no competent evolutionary biologist underestimates the importance of genetic drift in evolution, by the way). To ignore or minimize the importance of the biological substrate of human behavior is simply obscurantism, and in the long run can serve no useful purpose even politically.

13

Matt McGrattan 06.06.05 at 9:40 am

From a cursory reading Buller’s view seems fairly nuanced. There’s nothing anti-evolutionary in his view, nor is he, despite what Steve Labonne seems to be claiming, denying that biology can provide us with explanations for human behaviour.

He’s simply claiming that a very specific set of principles avowed by a particular group of scientists working on human pyschology and sociology don’t simply fall out of the relatively uncontroversial basic facts about evolution. The EP advocates need to back up their claims with evidence, evidence that may in fact be lacking.

14

Chris 06.06.05 at 9:47 am

“completed adaptation” (a scientifically illiterate phrase that appears to be an invention of the author)

Was that a phrase he supposedly used in the link I just gave, Steve? Because it isn’t there, although a direct quote from Tooby and Cosmides “completed rather than ongoing selection” is.

15

nikolai 06.06.05 at 9:56 am

“Nobody with sense … imagines that human nature is “uniform” or dictates behavior in fine detail.”

I’ve read Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” recently. And I never really got my head around what he meant by human nature. It seemed an enormously variable term that encompassed lots of different types of behaviour. If a trait isn’t universal and doesn’t occur absolutely everywhere, then surely it doesn’t have much of a claim to be part of human nature.

16

Josh 06.06.05 at 9:58 am

Studies have found higher rates of hospital visits by children with stepparents. That should get around bias in attribution of abuse. It may not be conscious abuse, just a failure to be as vigilant as you might be otherwise.

17

RS 06.06.05 at 10:08 am

“A Stone Age man who focused his care and support on his biological children, rather than kids his mate had from an earlier liaison, would do better by evolution’s scorecard (how many descendants he left) than a man who cared for his stepchildren. With this mindset, a stepfather is far more likely to abuse his stepchildren. One textbook asserts that kids living with a parent and a stepparent are some 40 times as likely to be abused as those living with biological parents.”

Surely the more telling question is, if killing stepchildren is adaptive, why is it so uncommon? The argument is not that this is one of a mix of evolutionary stable strategies, but that the behaviour is adaptive, yet we have very very many stepfathers nowadays, and not that many cases of infanticide. Why aren’t the other stepfathers killing their offspring?

It seems unwise to claim that families with stepfathers don’t have higher rates of abuse than families without, on his rather flimsy argument – you would think that stepparents, who are less likely to have bonded with a child, are more likely to elicit resentment from a child, who enter families probably with more problems on average (either parental break-up or single-parenthood), would be more likely to abuse children under any model, biological or social.

18

Steve LaBonne 06.06.05 at 10:22 am

_If a trait isn’t universal and doesn’t occur absolutely everywhere, then surely it doesn’t have much of a claim to be part of human nature._

Surely you don’t really intend the “absolute” and “universal” literally- you can’t be that naive, can you? Biology isn’t physics- things don’t work quite that neatly and predictably. (Look up a bit of genetics jargon: “penetrance”.)

As to the details of what “human nature” really is and its significance, that’s my point- we will never find out if calm, rational research on such questions is crowded out by polemics from _both_ sides (and I again want to emphazise that “both”) of a phony “debate”.

19

des von bladet 06.06.05 at 10:40 am

Well, I’m as Foucauldian as the next entry-level social scientiste, but it’s helpful not to attribute obviously stupid claims to Foucault, especially ones he didn’t make.

The introductory section of the Penguin Foucault reader makes it quite clear that his approach is not to “deny” the existence of human nature, but to sidestep the question (to put it, as the Penguin editor neglects to say, in phenomenological parentheses) to look at how various discourses around “human nature” operate, which is by no means the same thing.

I don’t know if Steve Labonne’s heroic quest for a strawman worthy of his +3 Lance of Indignation will ever succeed — although there may well be American “Foucauldians” dim enough to suit — but he isn’t going to unseat many literate Yoorpean windmills.

20

Doug Muir 06.06.05 at 11:07 am

So what we should see is, going up the quintiles, is an increasing number of children (who survive to adulthood) for each potential parent. By the top quintile, where the amount of wealth required to enable a child to reach comfortable adulthood is abundant, we should see very large families.

Do we see this? No.

Actually, there’s some evidence that superrich males have significantly more offspring. IMS there’s at least one scholarly article to this effect; also IMS, they were looking at 20th century British and American billionaires; finally IMS, they found a skewed distribution, with a lot of childless males, but also a lot with quite large numbers of offspring, and the average well above contemporary social norms.

Unfortunately, casual googling isn’t finding the half-remembered paper. If anyone else can dig it up, I’d be grateful.

In any event they were talking about the top 0.001%, not the top quintile. Still interesting, though.

Doug M.

21

Alison 06.06.05 at 11:27 am

This is a slight digression but I remember a speech by Patricia Hewitt (I think?) in which she cited evidence that the rates of stepfather-abuse were skewed by a small number of highly abusive men who had a terrible effect on multiple chaotic step-families. I’m sorry I can’t point to the detail, I only remembered it because it seemed to have intuitive plausibility.

There could be two types of step-father: those who attempt a father-like long term role, and those who form unstable sexual relations with single mothers, and have incidental contact with the children of those mothers. I would imagine that the abuse rates of those two groups would be very different.

In terms of evolutionary biology I think we would have to show that the abuse rates of biological fathers and those in father-like roles were different, in order to show that biology is over-riding social role. I’m not sure that would be the case.

22

Barry 06.06.05 at 11:31 am

That’d be interesting, Doug, and I’d like to see it. But we should see a strong trend across the income spectrum. And we should see this for women, as well.

23

RS 06.06.05 at 12:08 pm

“So what we should see is, going up the quintiles, is an increasing number of children (who survive to adulthood) for each potential parent. By the top quintile, where the amount of wealth required to enable a child to reach comfortable adulthood is abundant, we should see very large families.

Do we see this? No. Why? My theory is that people are reproducing social class.”

I seem to remember, and this is from a lecture a long time ago so I could easily be just making it up, that, if you stratify rich countries by social class or somesuch, you then get an increase in offspring with wealth or income within each group – even though there is no overall trend. Or something like that.

24

Kimmitt 06.06.05 at 12:35 pm

Part of the problem with making Ev Psych predictions is that the social and physical environment really is rather different from what it was, say, 500 years ago. 500 years isn’t long enough to rewrite our brain structures, so we’re obviously making do with what we have. Given that, straightforward predictions (rich people should have more kids) get tangled up in less straightforward predictions (intermediate drives which might have lead to more kids if carefully balanced are now ascendant).

That said, Ev Psych was useful for me in trying to figure out why I tend to act “irrationally.”

25

Barry 06.06.05 at 1:13 pm

RS, that could well be true (sounds like ANCOVA). In which case the non-wealth between-country differences are swamping the wealth effect, which is not what would be expected under an ev psych view.

26

Chris 06.06.05 at 1:19 pm

First, a note on Buller. There are places, particularly in the chapter on social exchange and theory of mind (chapter 4), in which the book is terrible. He makes objections that have been discussed in the literature for 16 years (since the publishing of Cosmides’ 1989 paper on social exchange theory and Cheng and Holyoak’s 1989 reply), without even mentioning that discussion or Cosmides’ replies to the objections he makes (including the empirical work she has used to address the very objections he raises, some of which is contained in papers he cites!). He then discusses the theory of mind research by mentioning 1 (yes, 1) finding (the performance of autistic children on false belief tasks), ignoring 99.9999% of the theory-of-mind literature and the evidence for innate theory-of-mind capabilities.

However, as I’ve always predicted, most people aren’t really interested in social exchange. They’re interested in sex, and his chapters on sex (mating, marriage, and parenting) are pretty good. The discussion of a universal human nature, despite some of the objections to blurbs that mention it here, is pretty good as well. Most of his arguments concern neural placticity, and make a lot of sense empirically (they’re not absurdly extreme arguments which conclude that humans share no cognitive/perceptual/affective capacities).

Finally, nothing in or out of EP would have to predict that rich families will have more children. Reproductive fitness isn’t simply measured by how many offspring you produce. It’s also measured by how many offspring your offspring produce, and how many offspring your offspring’s offspring produce. It might very well be the case that you can have higher reproductive fitness by producing fewer offspring, taking better care of them, and thus increasing the likelihood that they will all survive and produce offspring, take good care of them, and so on.

27

Steve LaBonne 06.06.05 at 1:31 pm

_Finally, nothing in or out of EP would have to predict that rich families will have more children. Reproductive fitness isn’t simply measured by how many offspring you produce._

Quite so, both that and kimmit’s point (that cognitive modules which evolved to do one thing for hunter-gatherers may have effects in our very different environment that are difficult to unravel) are highly important points, non-obvious to many in the general educated public, which are too often lost in popularizations produced by both the pro- and anti-evo-psych camps.

28

abb1 06.06.05 at 1:31 pm

Isn’t this Buller guy basically trying to refute a claim that people love their biological children more than their step-children? Well, I am not an academic, I am just a simple caveman, but come on, couldn’t he find something a bit more controversial to pick a fight over? How stupid is this?

29

Chris 06.06.05 at 1:40 pm

By the way, I highly recommend not coming to conclusions about the arguments of a 500+ page book that covers a very wide range of topics and addresses a wealth of empirical research (save when it discusses theory-of-mind, of course) from one and two-paragraph blurbs about the book. Buller’s arguments about the stepparenting data are much more nuanced than any of the summaries would lead one to believe, as are his arguments against the other sex stuff.

I suppose this warning is unnecessary for most CT readers, but some have already begun to address Buller without having read him.

30

Dominic Murphy 06.06.05 at 1:46 pm

No, abb1. He’s trying to refute the claim that men have a computer in their heads that has 1)evolved to work out their degree of relatedness to the children they look after, and 2)compute the optimal degree of care that they should provide for children who are related to them to that degree.

31

Daniel 06.06.05 at 1:49 pm

The interesting thing to me is that the sensible, reserved and supportable points that some evolutionary psychologists want to make don’t really support any sociological conclusions at all, whereas the silly, unsupportable ones that other evolutionary psychologists make support very specific views in sociology and even support specific social policies. I think that this supports my original intuition that it was a bad idea to allow the term “evolutionary psychology” to develop; the sociobiologists ought to stand and fight (and lose) their ground, while the sensible type of “evolutionary psychology” ought to just be called “psychology”.

Btw, despite Steve Labonne’s points about, there is no very strong evidence to suggest any of the following

1) that interesting behaviour is controlled by modular structures in the brain
2) that these modular structures evolved during a particular period (the Pleistocene)
3) that they have not changed since.

32

Steve LaBonne 06.06.05 at 1:53 pm

To address Daniel’s points,
1) Where else does behavior come from, the arse?
2) Take a look at the timeline of modern humans and the conditions that prevailed during most of their existence i.e. prior to the agricultural revolution
3) Make an approximate estimate of the number of generations that have passed since the agricultural revolution- not enough time for major biological changes

33

Daniel 06.06.05 at 2:04 pm

1) From systems of the brain which are not modular or discrete structures.
2) Does not logicall follow at all; there have been numerous mass extinctions since the agricultural revolution, which itself more or less did for the hinter-gatherers
3) One single generation is enough time for major biological changes if, for example, malaria has just crossed the species boundary and only a few people have the sickle-cell gene.

34

Daniel 06.06.05 at 2:05 pm

(I also dispute that, even given behaviours driven by discrete modules in the brain, it has been proven that alterations to them which radically changed behaviour would be “major biological changes” in the sense Steve appears to mean).

This actually doesn’t really undercut any major claims of the EP program, but it interests me that their model of the evolution of the brain is based on assertion rather than evidence.

35

Keith M Ellis 06.06.05 at 2:11 pm

“1) that interesting behaviour is controlled by modular structures in the brain”

What about Cosmides and Tooby’s original Wason selection test experiments? My impression is that there’s fairly strong evidence for functional adaptation with regard to human behavior.

And it seems strange to me to claim that Steve Labonne’s critique of the anti-EP side is setting up a strawman when we have John Landon’s comment as the first one in this thread.

Labonne expresses my sentiments exactly: this debate is extremely tiresome to me because the partisans, particularly the anti-EP crowd, are motivated by ideology. They also assume an opposing ideology on the part of all pro-EP persons, when it’s the case that while this is certainly true for many, it’s not true for many others. You might say that I’m making the same mistake in generalizing about the anti-EP crowd; but even here among the CT bloggers, who try very hard to make their criticisms only against method and overreach, there’s a discernable ideological bias underneat. In my opinion.

I’m culturally very progressive and I have no interest in validating a reactionary cultural view via evolutionary psychology. If anything, I’d like to see the opposite. But I’m offended and deeply annoyed with the anthropocentric exceptionalism in the anti-EP crowd which, it seems to me ironically, is itself deeply conservative and in its own way reactionary. And, I think, this entrenched anthropocentric exceptionalism has in so many ways strongly contributed to the very worst, most harmful ideologies that exist and have existed. I always find it very odd to see the social progressives standing right there side-by-side with the Christian fundamentalists in viewing Man apart from nature. Or worse, above.

36

Steve LaBonne 06.06.05 at 2:12 pm

_From systems of the brain which are not modular or discrete structures._
I know of nothing in the contemporary cognitive science literature which would help me even make sense of this point, and would welcome pointers to such information.

_From systems of the brain which are not modular or discrete structures._
This makes even less sense to me, molecular evidence makes pretty clear that there has been no major human population bottleneck since modern humans left Africa. Again, clarification would be welcome.

_One single generation is enough time for major biological changes_
Only under the kind of very special circumstances- and questionable definition of “major”- posited by your example. Read up on “mean time to fixation”.

37

RS 06.06.05 at 2:12 pm

1) Plenty of interesting behaviours are controlled by modular structures in the brain. Just not necessarily sociologically interesting ones like rape or killing your kids off.

3) I doubt there has been substantial change in the hard wired aspects of human neural systems in recent times – but the interplay of the development of neural systems and their environment, mean that rapid changes in the environment of humans may have had great changes in the neural organisation of human brains (e.g. reading is modular to some extent, but didn’t evolve to be so).

38

Steve LaBonne 06.06.05 at 2:21 pm

Sorry, that second response was meant to be to the “mass extinctions” point.

39

Steve LaBonne 06.06.05 at 2:23 pm

_Plenty of interesting behaviours are controlled by modular structures in the brain. Just not necessarily sociologically interesting ones like rape or killing your kids off._
I think that’s a very fair statement. All I really ask is that people not assume a priori that “not necessarily” = “necessarily not”.

40

paul 06.06.05 at 2:52 pm

If the rest of Buller’s reasoning is anything like that excerpted, I fear for his readers. He appears to ignore both the obvious ev-psych explanation for the differential in reporting (the conflict between the interests of the different lineages under the same roof) and the obvious non-ev-psych explanations for differential abuse (“how is this family not like one still containing both original parents, and why?”) to come up with a pronouncement that seems to rest on a false invocation of the law of the excluded middle.

41

abb1 06.06.05 at 2:56 pm

I suppose this warning is unnecessary for most CT readers, but some have already begun to address Buller without having read him.

Sorry, Chris. I should’ve phrased it better. But I can’t, dammit: this is how modular structures in my brain evolved. It’s not my fault, really, I’ve always been like this.

42

Daniel 06.06.05 at 2:59 pm

I know of nothing in the contemporary cognitive science literature which would help me even make sense of this point, and would welcome pointers to such information.

“The Brain is Not A Swiss Army Knife” in “Alas Poor Darwin” is an (admittedly partisan) summary of the debate.

43

Steve LaBonne 06.06.05 at 3:06 pm

Not just an admittledly partisn source, but not even one worth taking seriously at all in a purely scholarly sense. Methinks you may want to do a little more reading before making confident, yet nebulous pronouncements. There are plenty of sound, nonideological books about cognitive sciecne written for the general educated public- Amazon is your friend.

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Steve LaBonne 06.06.05 at 3:25 pm

P.S. You also might want to Google Karmiloff-Smith and find out more about some of her other publications- she does not by any means seem to espouse the extreme form of non-modularity that you seem to argue for (not that any competent cognitive scientist at the preesent time _could_ do so). It’s hardly news that hard-wired brain modules are only the beginning of the development of the mind, not its endpoint. I suspect her willingness to contribute to the Rose and Rose book had more to do with politics than science…

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Dominic Murphy 06.06.05 at 3:37 pm

” ‘From systems of the brain which are not modular or discrete structures.’
I know of nothing in the contemporary cognitive science literature which would help me even make sense of this point, and would welcome pointers to such information.”

“Module” means a lot of different things these days, but as applied to evolutionary psychology it means that the mind is a set of computers that are each specialized for a particular task, and contain proprietary databases that supply the information to solve a unique adaptive problem. (The sociobiologist Don Symonds has the best version of the slogan: the mind could not be a general purpose problem-solver because there is no such thing as a general purpose problem.)

This is not the claim that the brain contains component structures that specialize in particular tasks. The relationship between psychological modularity and the functional anatomy of the brain is a theoretical battlefield. Many people take the profusion of connections in the brain (especially backward connections) to refute modularity. But EPers do not argue that the modules are identical to particular brain structures. Any given module could be, as Pinker puts it somewhere, spread around the brain like roadkill.

As far as the psychology goes, even some modularity theorists (like Fodor, who started the modularity craze but thinks EP is rubbish) insist that some non-modular structures are necessary to integrate information from different modules and combine information about the world with utilities. He restates the case in his book on Pinker, “The Mind Doesn’t Work that Way”.

Last, people who work on neural nets have traditionally argued that domain-general learning rules, rather than rules selected for particular problem, can model our psychology adequately, and so the mind might be a general purpose problem solver after all.

46

Chris 06.06.05 at 3:42 pm

Just to note that the Chris of comments #26 and #29 isn’t CT Chris, the original poster and author of comments #5, #11 and 14 (and this one).

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Dominic Murphy 06.06.05 at 3:44 pm

Also, EP is strongly innatist. So Karmiloff-Smith, for instance, thinks that modularization occurs during development via “representational redescription”. EPers generally insist that the modules are hard-wired in the sense that information about theory of mind (say) is innate. In that sense, Karmiloff-Smith does not believe that modules are hard-wired.

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Daniel 06.06.05 at 4:03 pm

Steve, was your claim to “know nothing” about modularity sincere or not? If it was, then I don’t understand why you’re presuming to lecture me about an issue upon which I apparently know more than you do (and I’d add that your saying a book is worthless doesn’t make it worthless). If it wasn’t, then please indicate to me whether or not you’re prepared to discuss this matter honestly in future.

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Daniel 06.06.05 at 4:11 pm

And also, Steve, if you are going to have an argument about evolutionary psychology with me, please could you do so on the basis of claims I actually make, and forswear the phrase “you seem to be arguing”. You have just said:

the extreme form of non-modularity that you seem to argue for

on the basis of my actual words:

there is no very strong evidence to suggest […] that interesting behaviour is controlled by modular structures in the brain

I’m clearly, here, making the claim that it is an open question whether interesting behaviour (meaning, in context, interesting from the point of view of sociology, sorry if this wasn’t clear) is determined by discrete modular structures (I think that Pinker is making a non-point in his “roadkill comment, btw; a structure is no less discrete because it has a complicated shape). I really don’t see how this could be interpreted as “extreme non-modularity”. I am not attempting to portray you as an extremist of some kind or other and would appreciate it if the courtesy was returned.

On a sociological note, I’d mention that every single time I have discussed sociobiology on the internet, my interlocutor has a) tried to pretend I am defending a position which I clearly did not hold and b) claimed that I am entirely motivated by ideological concerns. I don’t know what’s behind this stylised fact, but I suspect it is not a structure in the brain coded by DNA sequence.

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Daniel 06.06.05 at 4:17 pm

Dominic: To expand on my parenthetical remark above on “roadkill”, I do think that anyone claiming that the brain is a collection of computers, if they are also going to claim that those computers are (in some way) genetically coded, is committed by logical implication to the proposition that each of those “computers” has some (set of) neurophysical object(s) within the brain which is identical with it, and that, properly defined, each of these “computers” is identical with a different such neurophysical object. I don’t really see any other way in which the claim that there are modules could be given meaning at all.

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Barry 06.06.05 at 4:23 pm

“Finally, nothing in or out of EP would have to predict that rich families will have more children. Reproductive fitness isn’t simply measured by how many offspring you produce. It’s also measured by how many offspring your offspring produce, and how many offspring your offspring’s offspring produce. It might very well be the case that you can have higher reproductive fitness by producing fewer offspring, taking better care of them, and thus increasing the likelihood that they will all survive and produce offspring, take good care of them, and so on.”

Posted by Chris

Old news, Chris – the r vs k reproductive strategy. Except is there any proof that the multi-millionaire with two children will have any more (insert ‘great-‘ as needed)grand-children than the poorer person who has several children?

If one is short of resources it might well make reproductive sense to have fewer offspring, making up for numbers with greater probabilit of survival. However, in the industrialized world today, and for several generations back, the probability of survival with greater resources doesn’t seem to be that much greater than the probability of survival with somewhat fewer resources, for a larger range of family sizes than we see in the upper and middle classes.

How large a family have to be before the addition of one more child does not increase the expected number of suriving offspring?

This can be taken on to further generations, as well. 2 children * 2 children of theirs = 4 grandchildren. 3 children*2 children of theirs = 6 grand-children, a 50% increase. (and 3 by 3 gives 9 grand-children; if family size culturally transmits, that’d be critical).

Is there any sociological[1] analysis which would indicate (again, for modern middle/upper-class people in the industrialized world) that people are having the optimal number of children which would maximize the number of surviving offspring (and great-offspring)?

Anecdotally, and subject to the ecological fallacy, note that the USA and Western Europe are only kept from shrinking populations by fresh immigrants, due to their numbers, and the higher fertility rates for first-generation immigrants.

[1] Or any other field of science, outside of evolutionary psych?

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Dominic Murphy 06.06.05 at 4:33 pm

Daniel, I think Pinker’s “roadkill” line is just designed to block the conclusion that putative modules don’t exist because the taxonomy of modules can’t be mapped neatly on to an existing taxonomy of brain regions. Of course, if modules do exist they are gonna have to be identified with some set of brain pathways sooner or later.
But probably what’ll happen is that we’ll discover that some type of information reaches a brain component via a complicated pathway that runs through intermediate processing centres that also connect to other structures, and then there’ll be a big fight about whether that’s really a proper module or just a functional component.

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engels 06.06.05 at 4:44 pm

Reproductive fitness isn’t simply measured by how many offspring you produce. It’s also measured by how many offspring your offspring produce […]

This seems crucially important to me. How is reproductive fitness defined? You seem to be saying here that what’s important is the “limit as g becomes infinite” of O(F,g), the offspring F has in generation g. I’m not convinced there is a meaningful way of estimating this: the future course of human history may be too much of an unknown.

But it seems reasonable to suppose that O(F,g+5) say would be relevant. And it’s hard to see why this wouldn’t be increased by F’s having more immediate offspring. Finding the relationship between O(F,g) and O(F,g+5) for past values of g is an empirical question and I wonder what the answer is. It seems to me likely that it would confirm that O(F,g+5) has been correlated with O(F,g+1) for reasonably small values of O(F,g+1).

I’ve a suspicion that some advocates of EP are not using this definition, but as a proxy for reproductive fitness are tacitly using something like number of offspring * average wealth of offspring, thus ladening the theory with the assumption that wealth matters.

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Daniel 06.06.05 at 4:53 pm

This seems crucially important to me. How is reproductive fitness defined?

This is a very interesting question indeed. I suspect that “reproductive fitness” is a well-defined concept over the past but not without qualification over the future.

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Steve LaBonne 06.06.05 at 5:02 pm

Daniel, since your sources of “information” evidently are heavy on politicized polemics like Rose and Rose, your presumption merely amuses me.

By the way I did not say I knew nothing about modules, I said I know nothing about your line that behavior is influenced by “systems of the brain which are not modular or discrete structures.” Since you force me to be less polite, your form of words is either a truism to which nobody could object (if “not discrete” is interpreted in a non-extreme way- I hope you realize that nobody imagines that some modern equivalent of phrenology is true nor, as Dominic Murphy mentioned above, that integrative structures are not also required) or else is false, if interpreted in such a way that it really makes any substantive claims. Either way it’s uninteresting.

_On a sociological note, I’d mention that every single time I have discussed sociobiology on the internet, my interlocutor has a) tried to pretend I am defending a position which I clearly did not hold and b) claimed that I am entirely motivated by ideological concerns._
And, oddly enough, this is _exactly_ the same thing- as has been more than amply documented!- that people like the Roses indulge in from the other sideline. This unproductive polarization is exactly what I object to.

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neil 06.06.05 at 5:12 pm

There does appear to be some sort of underlying ideolgical conflict between the two sides. I’m not quiet sure what is. It sometimes expresses it self along the lines of “EP leads to reactionary politics” or similar.

Having read V S Ramachandran and others on how strange, and indeed interesting, things happen to cognitive function when particlur areas of the brain are damaged it seems that evidence for modularity is strong.

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RS 06.06.05 at 5:19 pm

“I do think that anyone claiming that the brain is a collection of computers, if they are also going to claim that those computers are (in some way) genetically coded, is committed by logical implication to the proposition that each of those “computers” has some (set of) neurophysical object(s) within the brain which is identical with it, and that, properly defined, each of these “computers” is identical with a different such neurophysical object. I don’t really see any other way in which the claim that there are modules could be given meaning at all.”

I also tend toward this view. Unfortunately, EP’s use of the term ‘module’ derives from its use in cognitive psychology, and ultimately what has been termed ultra-cognitive neuropsychology. Because cognitive psychology is a phenomenological, rather than explanatory, science, many advocates have claimed that it not only makes sense, but is actually the case, that the cognitive domain is separable from the neurological, and that cognitive modules are somehow real, yet unconnected to neurological modules. This is basically psychology as metaphor, and is untenable in my opinion. It was used as justification of the box-and-arrow style of cognitive psychology. But I don’t think it means anything scientific to claim that, because two things are -conceptually- separable, this tells us anything about whether things are separate ‘modules’ (just as Descartes didn’t prove that mind and matter are different, just because he thought so).

What is interesting is how advances in neuroscience have lead advocates of the modularity view to try and use these findings to boost their modularity thesis, when it is antipathetic to neuroscientific modularity.

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RS 06.06.05 at 5:20 pm

Re: Rose & Rose – the book is mostly utter rubbish, but, if I recall, the Karmiloff-Smith chapter is ok.

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Daniel 06.06.05 at 5:25 pm

Daniel, since your sources of “information” evidently are heavy on politicized polemics like Rose and Rose

Combining an unsupported and unjustified assertion with an ad hominem smear.

I said I know nothing about your line that behavior is influenced by “systems of the brain which are not modular or discrete structures.

So in other words, you weren’t being honest.

Since you force me to be less polite,

I certainly do not; quite the opposite, I *insist* that you start being more polite.

Either way it’s uninteresting

Dominic seemed to understand me perfectly, and since his ratio of actual comments on science to content-free insults is, to say the least, somewhat higher than yours, I take it that my point was not, in fact, uninteresting and was actually neither a truism nor obviously false.

[…] people like the Roses indulge in from the other sideline. This unproductive polarization is exactly what I object to.

Well, could I please remind you that you are not atually having an argument with “people like the Roses” on the subject of their debating tactics, then? You are on the website “Crooked Timber”, discussing, with me, the subject of whether there is any particular reason to believe in the underlying model of the brain that is presupposed by many kinds of EP. In this discussion, you have so far engaged in every single one of the tactics that you claim to object to, while not having actually made any arguments about the scientific points you claimed to care about. Please could you buck up your ideas, as as far as I can see, you are currently quite chronically embarrassing yourself?

Neil: Strange things do happen to cognitive functions in brain injury cases, but they’re usually to do with the kind of cognitive functions I’ve sweepingly dismissed as “not interesting” (ie, not the sort of thing upon which you could base a theory of social behaviour). I don’t agree that the brain damage cases show the kind of systematic variation in social-type behaviour which would support a kind of modularity which would support sociobiology. In any case, brain injury cases would only prove matters if the “modules” involved were exactly the kind of big contiguous brain-structures that Pinker says they’re unlikely to be.

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Dominic Murphy 06.06.05 at 5:27 pm

It’s more complicated than that, Neil. Lesions alone “do not authorize cerebral localization of function, that is, they do not mean that a function disturbed by the lesion was somehow inscribed in the tissue destroyed by the lesion” (Damasio & Damasio, “Lesion Analysis in Neuropsychology”).

That is, you can infer that the damaged area was involved in the performance of the lost capacity. But that doesn’t show that it was responsible for the whole task, nor which part of the task it was responsible for, nor whether it did something quite ancillary that nonetheless had an effect. The lesion could interrupt a pathway that projects from the cognitive part that’s really responsible and thereby block its output, or it could damage some other part that provides a resource for the responsible part, but in a way that still lets other parts function, since they need less of the resource.
Richard Gregory used the following analogy: if you remove a transistor from a radio you’ll cause the radio to hum, but that doesn’t show that the function of the transistor was hum suppression.

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Daniel 06.06.05 at 5:29 pm

There are some broadly psychological functions that are clearly (in a loose sense) modular and clearly developed through inheritance; colour vision is located in a specific place and colour-blindness is inherited, and sex drives and violent behaviour are related to testosterone levels in a way which is well understood at least at a broad level. What I’m denying is that there is any good evidence to believe in modules for things like “an unlearned preference for large breasts” or “an unlearned ability to detect cheaters” or “a preference for representative art”. These look to me like (in some not very well defined sense) very much more complicated kinds of behaviour, and kinds of behaviour for which a much simpler explanation (that they are learned) is available.

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RS 06.06.05 at 5:34 pm

“That is, you can infer that the damaged area was involved in the performance of the lost capacity. But that doesn’t show that it was responsible for the whole task, nor which part of the task it was responsible for, nor whether it did something quite ancillary that nonetheless had an effect.”

Although, to be fair, further investigation of associated structures upstream and downstream, other kinds of correlational studies (e.g. recording), and other equally tedious day-to-day neuroscience investigation can allow us to localise functions much better than a single lesion alone (e.g. studies in the hippocampus).

You know whose fault all this modularity crap is (other than Fodor)? Bloody Marr, jumped up compsci screwed up the field for decades with his dodgy arguments.

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Steve LaBonne 06.06.05 at 5:35 pm

In response to rs, here is a good brief essay on a well-studied test case- face recognition. Conclusion: “It is a plastic expertise-specific module.” It is well to lose sight of neither the partial domain-specificity, _nor_ the plasticity, of modules. Such, of course, are the subtleties that get bleached out of politicized debates.

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RS 06.06.05 at 5:38 pm

Steve, in response to what?

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Steve LaBonne 06.06.05 at 5:41 pm

“Response” was really not the right word, “more info on the general subject raised by rs” is closer what I meant.

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Peter 06.06.05 at 5:41 pm

Daniel, what besides ideological concerns would make someone living in 2005 believe – or pretend to believe – in Margaret Mead’s Samoan hoax?

And I think your part (b) is very revealing in another way. You miss a crucially important point in saying merely that you are accused in terms of motivations. The fact that many objectors have political motivations is less important than the fact that they actually seem incapable of appreciating that science is above politics – so if the scientific facts say one thing and political correctness says another, it’s science that wins.

It’s not so much a problem if a radical feminist is motivated to reject a scientific theory for ideological reasons if she finds scentific grounds to do so. Then she’s simply doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. The problem is radical feminists are motivated by ideology to reject science for ideological reasons, claiming it is sexist or whatever as if that means it cannot be true. Frankly, as soon as that sort of politicised language enters a criticism, you know you’re dealing with someone who is refusing to think in scientific terms, in which the facts trump any ideological or politically correct commitments.

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Keith M Ellis 06.06.05 at 5:44 pm

Daniel, you have a bad habit of provoking people with condescension, then calling them uncivil when they express their annoyance. I’ve been reading you for a long time. I no longer think you argue in good faith. You argue to win.

“Because cognitive psychology is a phenomenological, rather than explanatory, science, many advocates have claimed that it not only makes sense, but is actually the case, that the cognitive domain is separable from the neurological, and that cognitive modules are somehow real, yet unconnected to neurological modules.”

This somewhat mirrors the word “gene” with regard to ecology and molecular biology.

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Matt McGrattan 06.06.05 at 6:17 pm

Peter:

I’m as antithetical to crude ‘social constructionist’ analyses of science as the next person and have no particular axe to grind in favour of feminist accounts of science as whole but you are being unfair to some feminist critiques of science when you say that:

“Frankly, as soon as that sort of politicised language enters a criticism, you know you’re dealing with someone who is refusing to think in scientific terms, in which the facts trump any ideological or politically correct commitments.”

The point is that (some) feminist critics of science are arguing NOT that:

ideological ‘pure’ and value-neutral science ought to be rejected because it conflicts with some set of prior ideological principles they espouse

but rather that:

much of science is in fact not value-neutral, perhaps inherently so, and that once the hidden but real ideological biases inherent in much scientific research are brought to the fore we can engage in a more productive assessment of what’s going on

If one argues that some types of scientific methodology, standards for evidence, criteria for theoretical success, constituve criteria for scientific facthood itself, etc. are intrinsically value-laden and not ideologically neutral there’s nothing intrinsically unscientific about that argument in the sense you want to claim.

You’re already begging the quesiton by assuming that scientific research is value-free in that sense.

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Peter 06.06.05 at 6:46 pm

Anyone who is pretty well informed about evolution who is still giving this book the benefit of the doubt should read the full review linked at the top. It lists howlers from the book so bad I honestly wonder how the author possibly managed to research the claims of evolutionary psychology without correcting them.

For example:

“On a lighter note, evolutionary psychology claims that men prefer fertile, nubile young women because men wired for this preference came out ahead in the contest for survival of the fittest. The key study here asked 10,047 people in 33 countries what age mate they would prefer. The men’s answer: a 25-year-old.

“But the men were, on average, in their late 20s.”

“The empirical basis is no better. On average, 25-year-old women say they prefer 28-year-old men, even though 50-year-old men have much more of the high status and resources that evo psych says they are wired to lust after.”

One of the most common figures I have read in books on evolutionary psychology is that young men are attracted to women an average three years younger than themselves (and women, in turn, to men an average three years older). That men in their late twenties prefer women aged 25 is perfect testament to that, and that women aged 25 prefer 28-year old men is perfect testament to that. These studies, far from being sticks with which to beat sociobiology, appear to be supporting what evolutionary psychology has long suggested. To use it as the former does not suggest honest scholarship.

There is even a hint at what else evolutionary psychology has demonstrated in its support: that as men get older, the age difference between themselves and their preferred partner increases. “If you scrutinize the data, you find that 50-ish men prefer 40-something women, not 25-year-olds, undermining a core claim of evo psych.” No, it shows a desired age difference of three years has increased to a full decade – exactly what evolutionary psychology has long maintained.

Read the whole thing. Unless the reviewer has appallingly misrepresented this book, it’s on a par with Steven Rose’s Not In Our Genes.

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Peter 06.06.05 at 6:47 pm

Sorry, italics messed up…

Anyone who is pretty well informed about evolution who is still giving this book the benefit of the doubt should read the full review linked at the top. It lists howlers from the book so bad I honestly wonder how the author possibly managed to research the claims of evolutionary psychology without correcting them.

For example:

“On a lighter note, evolutionary psychology claims that men prefer fertile, nubile young women because men wired for this preference came out ahead in the contest for survival of the fittest. The key study here asked 10,047 people in 33 countries what age mate they would prefer. The men’s answer: a 25-year-old.

“But the men were, on average, in their late 20s.”

“The empirical basis is no better. On average, 25-year-old women say they prefer 28-year-old men, even though 50-year-old men have much more of the high status and resources that evo psych says they are wired to lust after.”

One of the most common figures I have read in books on evolutionary psychology is that young men are attracted to women an average three years younger than themselves (and women, in turn, to men an average three years older). That men in their late twenties prefer women aged 25 is perfect testament to that, and that women aged 25 prefer 28-year old men is perfect testament to that. These studies, far from being sticks with which to beat sociobiology, appear to be supporting what evolutionary psychology has long suggested. To use it as the former does not suggest honest scholarship.

There is even a hint at what else evolutionary psychology has demonstrated in its support: that as men get older, the age difference between themselves and their preferred partner increases. “If you scrutinize the data, you find that 50-ish men prefer 40-something women, not 25-year-olds, undermining a core claim of evo psych.” No, it shows a desired age difference of three years has increased to a full decade – exactly what evolutionary psychology has long maintained.

Read the whole thing. Unless the reviewer has appallingly misrepresented this book, it’s on a par with Steven Rose’s Not In Our Genes.

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Dominic Murphy 06.06.05 at 7:13 pm

” No, it shows a desired age difference of three years has increased to a full decade – exactly what evolutionary psychology has long maintained.”

I don’t think this is at all what ev psych has long maintained. Buller cites numerous EP theorists who argue that men should seek, as long-term mates, women who are of peak reproductive age, and have evolved a mate choice system to detect features that correlate with reproductive potential. These include (to quote David Buss) “full lips, clear skin, smooth skin,clear eyes, lustrous hair, good muscle tone and body fat distribution.” The argument concludes that these are most likely to be present in younger women, which is why men (of all ages) prefer them. If 50 yr old men prefer partners who are 40 rather than twentysomething then this really is bad news for people like Buss. Women of 40 are not visibly in their reproductive prime – and were even less likely to have been so on the savannah.

If the claim is just that as men age they prefer women who are progressively a bit younger, then wouldn’t you predict that 70 year old men prefer post-menopausal women? If so, what happens to the fundamental position that male mate choice is driven by a search for optimally fertile women?

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Peter 06.06.05 at 7:34 pm

Here’s Buss himself in Evolutionary Psychology, p.139:

“As men get older, they prefer as mates women who are increasingly younger. Men in their thirties prefer women who are roughy five years younger, whereas men in their fifties prefer women who are ten to twenty years younger.”

It’s not that optimal fertility isn’t a guiding star, isn’t the basis of attraction. It’s that other factors are going to impinge. What are the chances of fifty year olds seducing or marrying girls just out of their teens? Unless they are millionaires or rock stars, effectively none. It wouldn’t make evolutionary sense to hang around waiting for a 19 year old when you still have a serious prospect of winning over a forty year old. People are very good at finding their place in the attraction stakes, and ending up with someone roughly as attractive as they are – and with as much apparent value as a mate as they have.

For those men who do have a high status or income, preferences continue to adapt to reality. The higher a man’s income, the lower the age range he will seek in partners when he places personals advertisements.

It’s worth noting that the attraction to the sort of women you quote Buss as describing doesn’t merely suggest that men will prefer increasingly younger women as partners as they get older. It also suggests that young men in their early teenage years will actually be more attracted to girls in their late teens than to girls their age or younger than them – because they’re distant from reproductive fitness in the other direction. Surveys of teenage boys have indeed confirmed this: they’re much more likely to want to date teenage girls a few years older than them than girls their own age.

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engels 06.06.05 at 10:55 pm

The above post is exactly the sort of thing which gives Evolutionary Psychology a bad name. I’m sure you can (and Steven Pinker probably has) come up with post hoc rationalisations like this to fit almost any set of facts. Statements like

It’s not that optimal fertility isn’t a guiding star, isn’t the basis of attraction. It’s that other factors are going to impinge.

are great for holding a Maginot Line defence in debates but have the drawback of making the theory so vague as to be completely untestable.

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Daniel 06.07.05 at 12:40 am

Daniel, you have a bad habit of provoking people with condescension, then calling them uncivil when they express their annoyance. I’ve been reading you for a long time. I no longer think you argue in good faith. You argue to win.

Is it not perhaps a little strange that in so many years of my following this disgusting and dishonest debating tactic, not one single online advocate of EP has decided, just for the hell of it, to humiliate me by remaining calm, leaving out the personal insults, and debating the science? For what it’s worth, Keith, I’ve noticed you making exactly this pissy little sermon for a long time too, and it never appears to have motivated you to get off your bum and learn some science.

Steve: Margaret Mead? For shame! Could you perhaps explain to me what possible train of thought it was that made you think that the best response to a civil request to address the issue of modularity in the brain, was to start talking about controversies in social anthropology twenty years ago? Although I disagree with you too on the question of whether Margaret Mead committed or was the victim of a “hoax”, I’m not going to be drawn on this one. The subject at issue was modularity in the brain and it can’t possibly be helpful to draw the dividing line between people’s ideas on this subject based on your perception of their ideological commitments to Margaret Mead.

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RS 06.07.05 at 1:47 am

“The above post is exactly the sort of thing which gives Evolutionary Psychology a bad name. I’m sure you can (and Steven Pinker probably has) come up with post hoc rationalisations like this to fit almost any set of facts.”

That is exactly what I was thinking. While it is conceivable that the post hoc rationalisation could be right, we have no particular reason to believe it. That is indeed one of the core flaws of much EP reasoning, appeals to poorly defined ‘social’ factors to rationalise why things aren’t the way you’d predict them to be. If the data suggest that men of all ages don’t actually prefer women of prime reproductive age (another weakness, of course, is the flimsiness of their research methodology – questionnaires indeed!) then the prime bit of evidence for your theory goes begging, you can’t use it both as evidence for your theory and post hoc rationalise why it doesn’t actually fit it.

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Chris 06.07.05 at 1:57 am

The existence of a facial recognition module is still pretty controversial. There’s some evidence that it is more general than faces. Studies of the right middle fusiform gyrus are still inconclusive. Still, few have doubted that there may be some fairly high-level innate visual modules (that there are low-level visual modules is pretty much undeniable).

I can’t remember who said it (keith m ellis, maybe), but the original Wason selection task does not conclusively demonstrate the existence of an adapted model for cheater detection. In fact, no Wason selection task does. As Sperber and his colleagues have shown, you can manipulate the results by varying the relevance of the information. There’s a decade and a half worth of experiments showing that the Wason task, which is the only task used to demonstrate the existence of a cheater detection module, simply doesn’t provide evidence for such a module.

On a more general note, I think this may be the longest discussion I have ever seen of a book that no one discussing it seems to have read. Steve, for instance, might benefit from its discussion of the party-line EEA argument — the one in which we know a lot about the conditions of the EEA, and know that the brain hasn’t had time to evolve since the “agricultural revolution,” or the end of the Pleistocene. The argument, as simple and intuitive as it is, holds no water (the short version of why it doesn’t hold any water is that we don’t know a lot about the psychologically-relevant conditions of human groups in the Pleistocene, other than that they were too dynamic to produce the sorts of adaptations that EPers want to theorize, and in all likelihood, the brain has and continues to adapt after the end of the Pleistocene era).

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RS 06.07.05 at 2:01 am

“This somewhat mirrors the word “gene” with regard to ecology and molecular biology.”

Yes it does. With one crucial difference. Whereas in ecology they believe that although there is not a tidy one-to-one mapping of their units of selection onto molecular biologists’ genes (and to be fair, molecular biologists don’t think that genes are the only units of selection because they know that there is more to genetics than simply protein conformation), they still believe that their genes are embodied in, and explained by the DNA. [We have to remember that the molecular biology use of the word gene is actually different to the ecologist use].

On the other hand, modularity means pretty much the same thing in cognitive psychology and neuroscience. However, modularity in cognitive psychology is often asserted to be totally independent of brain modularity, the metaphor is that of software and hardware (people like Pinker were into this before EP came along), to them the brain is very much to be thought of as a microcomputer style machine running our cognitive software. So modularity at the cognitive level is logically independent of modularity at the hardware level. Of course brains don’t work like this, but it was a convenient assumption for the psychologists to work under, and claim their autonomy and independence from the brain scientists.

With modern cognitive neuroscience the disicplinary walls have broken down somewhat, but it is a good idea to bear in mind the origins of these modularity ideas, especially when people start asserting the autonomy of the cognitive level.

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RS 06.07.05 at 2:14 am

“in all likelihood, the brain has and continues to adapt after the end of the Pleistocene era”

So are you proposing the even more amusing possibility that humans are adapted to the historical era?

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RS 06.07.05 at 2:23 am

“in all likelihood, the brain has and continues to adapt after the end of the Pleistocene era”

And does that commit you to a belief in the very real possibility of racial differences in the cognitive domain?

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dsquared 06.07.05 at 2:45 am

I wouldn’t necessarily rule out the possibility of adaptation to the historical era in humans; if the social arrangements of American Indians and Australian Aborigines in 1066 were underpinned by different brain structures (not that we have any reason to believe that they were), then the fact that the last three hundred years have seen the extinction of any of them who were not able to function in a capitalist economy run by white people might be considered a kind of adaptation. I would hope that this is exactly the sort of thing that “evolutionary psychologists” would be looking for, and am constantly disappointed that so many of them instead appear to be committed to the project of saying nasty things about sociologists.

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RS 06.07.05 at 2:49 am

“then the fact that the last three hundred years have seen the extinction of any of them who were not able to function in a capitalist economy run by white people might be considered a kind of adaptation”

I presume you’re taking the piss.

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chris y 06.07.05 at 3:32 am

I don’t see why d^2 is taking the piss. If you could show that there were genetically determined psychological reasons why population A could only survive in a forested environment, while population B could also flourish in the slums of Brasilia, you could make the beginnings of a case for the difference representing an adaptive change.

I don’t actually see how you could ever show anything of the kind, but that doesn’t affect the principle.

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dsquared 06.07.05 at 3:35 am

Well, sort of; I think that any intellectually consistent EP more or less has to accept that it can be used as a scientific basis for racism, and I don’t want to commit the fallacy of arguing against it for that reason. But you are entirely right that if a certain kind of EP type wants to be taken seriously then they should admit that this is the game they are in, rather than throwing their toys out the pram and screaming about the PC police. So a certain amount of rough mockery is entirely appropriate.

I don’t think that there’s any evidence at all that anything of the sort has happened or that the biological substrates exist in the right kind of way. But my point was that there have been mass extinctions of human populations in the historical era, and that mass extinctions are the sorts of things that alter the composition of populations in favour of traits posessed by the survivors. And the Aborigines and American Indians were, basically, offered the ultimatum of fitting into white society or dying, so I would not rule it out a priori that there was some difference between those who found themselves able to take the first option and those who didn’t which could be explained genetically. Another thing that I’d like EP to get away from is the implicit metaphor of “good genes” winning out through gradual improvement in a fair competition, like small businesses in the software industry.

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RS 06.07.05 at 3:41 am

“And the Aborigines and American Indians were, basically, offered the ultimatum of fitting into white society or dying, so I would not rule it out a priori that there was some difference between those who found themselves able to take the first option and those who didn’t which could be explained genetically”

Do you really think this is what happened to australian aborigines and native americans? Surely many of them died from european diseases (a form of selection, but not for psychological traits), were enslaved, killed, or enclosed in reservations. I don’t think the historical record shows that the europeans attempted to assimilate these indiginous groups, so psychology has nothing to do with it.

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RS 06.07.05 at 3:45 am

“And the Aborigines and American Indians were, basically, offered the ultimatum of fitting into white society or dying”

I don’t think the Tasmanians were even given the choice.

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Keith M Ellis 06.07.05 at 3:48 am

“…and it never appears to have motivated you to get off your bum and learn some science.”

Please don’t take that tone. You haven’t earned it. As far as I know, you have no credentialed expertise in this subject. You, like all laypeople on this topic (including myself), are opining on a topic on which you, at best, are familiar only second-hand and superficially. That point of view, furthermore, is one particularly vulnerable to being led astray by authoritative-seeming sources who are not actually authoritative, and by one’s own biases. Do not pretend to have a facility with the science of EP.

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dsquared 06.07.05 at 4:12 am

Do you really think this is what happened to australian aborigines and native americans?

Not so strongly that I would be prepared to argue the point with a historian who knew his stuff but likewise I wouldn’t want to make anything important hang on its contrary.

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Peter 06.07.05 at 4:20 am

engels, it only seems like a post-hoc rationalisation because you aren’t at all familiar with evolutionary psychology (no offence meant – I’m not at all familiar with electronics, for example). Those who have read into the subject will know that what Fuller is presenting as studies disproving the science are in fact an integral part of its findings.

Daniel, it’s not a matter of disagreeing about the Samon hoax, though. Everyone now knows that the place puts such a premium on female chastity that weddings include a bloody ritual where the bride is publicly deflowered, that desperate men often successfully use rape as a way to get wives by threatening to expose the woman’s lack of virginity – which he has just ensured. This is nothing like the Samoa that a young Margaret Mead wrote about when she faithfully recorded the anecdotes of teenage Samoans all those years ago. For someone to go on believing in her account is about as powerful a testament to an inability to get past your ideological preferences as can be imagined.

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RS 06.07.05 at 4:38 am

“Those who have read into the subject will know that what Fuller is presenting as studies disproving the science are in fact an integral part of its findings.”

But sholdn’t that make you just a teensy bit worried that the studies you regard as ‘an integral part of its findings’ are not quite so persuasive if someone else can use them to argue against it.

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Peter 06.07.05 at 4:52 am

No. My point is that at least in this case he is arguing against claims EP has never made (to my knowledge) using claims EP has made.

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Nick 06.07.05 at 4:53 am

“But my point was that there have been mass extinctions of human populations in the historical era, and that mass extinctions are the sorts of things that alter the composition of populations in favour of traits posessed by the survivors.”

Mass extinctions are important in evolution, defined sensu stricto as change in gene frequencies, because they do in fact change the frequencies of alleles by changing the species composition. However, they tend to be neutral within species. That said, Homo sapiens has never experienced a mass extinction in the paleontology sense of the word.

But you appear to mean bottleneck, of which a few have certainly occurred. (Bubonic plague in Europe for instance – this is not an extinction because no species went extinct because of it, as far as anyone knows). This can also change gene frequencies, this time within a population, so Homo sapiens has in fact evolved in the historical era, and incontrovertibly so. However, all this sort of evolution does is eliminate certain phenotypes in favor of other already existing phenotypes. It rarely creates new phenotypes (the probability of a new allele arising during the brief duration of these bottlenecks, which are often shorter than a generation in a long lived species like humans, is astronomically small). Culling some alleles in favor of others does not change the fact that both those alleles already existed before the bottleneck.

Now, one could certainly make the claim that recessive alleles, formerly rare, were brought to fixation by these bottlenecks. Thus there was a fundamental change in the nature of expressed traits meaning ‘new’ phenotypes were seen. AFAIK, there is no evidence of this sort, and the genetic architecture necessary is relatively rare, and thus unlikely to be true often enough to have had a profound impact on human phenotype. Therefore, almost any phenotypes expressed post-bottleneck was expressed pre-bottleneck.

So we’re left in the situation that modern phenotypes evolved before the bottlenecks, and were perhaps selected for by the bottlenecks. But it doesnt change that they already existed, and thus evolved during the pleistocene, or whenever earlier time you wish to invoke.

That said, sexual selection is a powerful selective force, so rapid evolution is in principle possible, especially as it relates to mate choice. Unfortunately, humans are constrained by Fisher’s Law, that response to selection is limited by the genetic variance of a trait. Homo sapiens has notoriously low genetic variance, implying that there isn’t much ability to respond to selection, even if strong selection is present.

As to EP or not? I’m mostly agnostic, my own expertise being invertebrate evolution and ecology, but i can’t help feeling that at some level how we think must be governed by the box we think in (the brain), which is necessarily built by gene-coded proteins and gene signalling during development. This implies that there are constraints dictated by biology on the way we think, though how those constraints manifest is something that is likely to be an open question for the foreseeable future.

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RS 06.07.05 at 5:11 am

“No. My point is that at least in this case he is arguing against claims EP has never made (to my knowledge) using claims EP has made.”

So are you saying that EP does not claim that men will favour women of peak reproductive potential? If so, then what does it claim?

And the evidence he is using is not a claim by EP, it is data used by EP.

Personally I think the whole debate is flawed. The question is what age group a man will choose to have sex with, a somewhat different question to what age group he will choose as a life partner – and I imagine the data would be more supportive of the EP view if you took that stance.

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Nick 06.07.05 at 5:17 am

(assuming my previous comment survives moderation)…

I should probably note that by ‘experienced a mass extinction’ i mean were in danger of going extinct. So while humans have caused at least one, and are possibly causing another right now, we certainly weren’t in danger of going extinct (and are unlikely to be now). Hence we havent experienced the risk of extinction during a mass extinction.

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dsquared 06.07.05 at 5:30 am

Peter, I am absolutely refusing to be drawn on this issue. I’ve read quite a lot about the Mead/Freeman controversy and talked to a couple of anthropologists with no axe to grind about it. As a result I am 100% sure that the subject is irrelevant to the question of modularity in the brain. It is only tangentially relevant to the whole question of “evolutionary psychology” and I would ask you to be clearer about what particular aspect of EP you are trying to illuminate here. Or, if you are just trying to establish a ritual condemnation of Margaret Mead as a shibboleth for anyone wishing to have opinions about EP, I would ask you to turn it in.

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Peter 06.07.05 at 6:01 am

Daniel, you seem to be confusing me with Steve. I didn’t raise modularity of the brain myself at all. And there’s nothing to be drawn on. My point on Margaret Mead’s Samoan hoax was simply that the reason that, as you claim, you are accused of being motivated by ideology is that it is plainly true. There aren’t respectable, serious scholars any more who still believe Samoa is some island equivalent of Star Trek’s planet Risa where hedonism is everything and promiscuity blessed.

rs, you’re absolutely right to distinguish between short-term and long-term partners, but either way, Fuller emphatically does not damage any claim EP has actually made. I suspect one thing not yet appreciated in this thread about the questions is that in the surveys I have seen they tend to ask for an age range rather than a preferred age. So even assuming the preference for youth lasts, as long as people your own age are also attractive, then someone aged 30 will likely list women aged 20 to 30, while someone aged 40 will list women aged 20 to 40. A preferred average age of 25 becomes an average age of 30, without that preference for young women changing at all.

And to answer you directly, no, I’ve never seen a claim in EP as strong as the one Fuller ‘refutes’. What I’ve seen countless times is that men prefer women an average of three years younger, that women prefer men an average three years older, and that men’s preferred age gap increases with his age while women’s does not.

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dsquared 06.07.05 at 6:05 am

There aren’t respectable, serious scholars any more who still believe Samoa is some island equivalent of Star Trek’s planet Risa where hedonism is everything and promiscuity blessed.

Where does this claim appear in “Coming of Age in Samoa”, Peter? I feel that we are moving onto the subject of a book that I’ve read and you haven’t …

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dsquared 06.07.05 at 6:07 am

What I’ve seen countless times is that men prefer women an average of three years younger, that women prefer men an average three years older, and that men’s preferred age gap increases with his age while women’s does not

This is data, not a prediction of EP. It is, as rs correctly points out, actually very difficult to reconcile it with the typical pop-EP claim that preferences in sexual partners are shaped by what was an optimal reproductive strategy on those mythical African plains.

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Peter 06.07.05 at 6:29 am

The Risa comparison was a bit of a joke, so people who aren’t familiar with the controversy can see what the debate is about. I’d already related what we know now about Samoa, so it seemed prudent to give a rough description of what Mead said about it. If you’ve read more of her than I have, feel free to point out exactly how Mead’s Samoa differs from Roddenberry’s Risa.

And it is not difficult to reconcile with EP. EP’s claims on male mate preferences are based on two essential findings: the first was that men start out wanting women marginally younger than themselves, and prefer younger and younger women the older they get. Some have tried to explain that away by saying men are simply patriarchal and always looking for some young girl to dominate and control. But this sort of feminist desperation falls apart with the second finding: that boys in their early teenage years actually prefer girls a few years older than themselves. These findings – males look for women older than themselves before they reach the age when women are approaching their reproductive peak, and younger and younger than themselves the further and further they age from women’s reproductive peak – are both consistent with the idea that men are looking for reproductive fitness.

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RS 06.07.05 at 6:36 am

“These findings – males look for women older than themselves before they reach the age when women are approaching their reproductive peak, and younger and younger than themselves the further and further they age from women’s reproductive peak – are both consistent with the idea that men are looking for reproductive fitness.”

But, women are at their reproductive peak 20-25. So if men are looking for reproductive fitness they are not doing a very good job outside of the 18-28 range. Now there may be other factors serving to attenuate the desire for 20-25 year old females. But, the problem for the EPer, is that the data do not even establish that men are going for 20-25 yr old females in the first place – you are having to explain away, by post hoc rationalisation, why the evidence you are claming supports your hypothesis, doesn’t actually concur with your hypothesis!

“…are both consistent with the idea that men are looking for reproductive fitness.”

CONSISTENT, but not particularly good evidence that it is in fact the case.

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dsquared 06.07.05 at 6:51 am

If you’ve read more of her than I have, feel free to point out exactly how Mead’s Samoa differs from Roddenberry’s Risa.

I suspect that I have indeed read more of Margaret Mead than you have, though you have the advantage of me in Star Trek episodes. I am afraid that Roddenberry was not a compulsory reading at the time when I was being educated, and I foolishly wrote my undergraduate thesis on “The Fall Guy” instead, an error I have of course since bitterly regretted.

Margaret Mead simply did not describe Samoa as a free-love society. She mentions the status of ritual virgins, the social disapproval of promiscuity and numerous social taboos relating to sex. She does claim that the girls she surveyed had premarital assignations and enjoyed them, but Freeman’s “hoax” theory is unlikely, as this conclusion is based on all 24 interviewees, not just the two that Freeman claims it is based on.

James Cote’s assessment appears to me to be the right one; some of Mead’s claims were made in sensational terms that would not have passed an academic peer review (“Coming of Age” was not an academic work), but Freeman’s theories about the source of the sexual claims were almost certainly wrong and in any case the parts of the book which are about female sexuality are nowhere near as important to the overall argument (which is about adolescence, not sexuality) as Freeman claims.

I do find it a bit rich to be accused of believing things out of “ideological commitment” when I’ve actually made an effort to check them up, by someone who happily admits he hasn’t. I blame the postmodernists.

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RS 06.07.05 at 7:16 am

Peter, let me try and put this another way.

Let us say we take a very naive measure of how accurate the theories are by comparing their accuracy in prediction, judged very crudely in years different.

So, our two theories, men want women of optimum reproductive age, or they want women of the same age as them.

16yr old. Let us say they fancy 18yr olds. That is 2yrs out for the same age theory (SAT), and 4yrs out for the optimum reproductive age theory (ORAT).

20yr old. I guess we’d call this one a draw.

30yr old. So they fancy 27yr olds say. ORAT is out by 2, SAT by 3.

40yr old. Say 35yr olds. ORAT is out by 10yrs, SAT by 5yrs.

50yrs old. Say 40yrs. ORAT is out by 15yrs, SAT by 10yrs.

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

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Steve LaBonne 06.07.05 at 7:25 am

D^2 protests too much, and is in no position to do so given that he touts _Alas, Poor Darwin_, a book riddled with exactly the kind of tactics- for
example blatant, easily documented attributions to opponents of views which they do not in fact hold- which he complains of in the proponents of EP. He also seems to some difficulty with reading comprehension, since he appears still not to have noticed that I clearly stated several times in this discussion that I am neither a propenent nor an opponent, but merely one who would like to see research proceed without interference from ideological public pissing matches. I guess that’s his real beef though, since the latter appear to be his main stock in trade (and not only in this discussion). Whatever floats your boat, my friend.

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dsquared 06.07.05 at 7:53 am

D^2 protests too much,

Perhaps so, but I also contribute original material

and is in no position to do

Sitting on arse in front of computer; the perfect position.

so given that he touts Alas, Poor Darwin,

A quick review of the thread will reveal that I actually recommended one chapter of the book, as a summary of the state of play on modularity for someone who (dishonestly, it turned out) claimed to be totally ignorant of it. And I described it as “admittedly partisan”. It never ceases to amaze me why someone would bother to make a claim that could be falsified so easily.

a book riddled with exactly the kind of tactics- for example blatant, easily documented attributions to opponents of views which they do not in fact hold which he complains of in the proponents of EP.

I have not, in fact, complained of this.

He also seems to some difficulty with reading comprehension

An aside; the phrase “problems with reading comprehension” is an absolutely infallible indicator of someone who is floundering and has decided to get nasty about it. Please stop.

since he appears still not to have noticed that I clearly stated several times in this discussion that I am neither a propenent nor an opponent

Steve, whether you were a proponent, opponent, exponent, component or pleniponent, I would still ask you to concentrate on the issue at hand, address points made rather than strawmen and not randomly draw in unrelated people in order to abuse them. I haven’t, in fact, asserted even once that you were a proponent of EP and nor have I made any point which would depend on your being one.

, but merely one who would like to see research proceed without interference from ideological public pissing matches.

How do you think that this wish of yours would better be pursued by slagging me off for citing the Roses? How was it helped by bringing up Margaret Mead?

Steve, look back. I made three points disagreeing with you about modularity and the Pleistocene development of the brain. I said:

Btw, despite Steve Labonne’s points above (corrected), there is no very strong evidence to suggest any of the following

1) that interesting behaviour is controlled by modular structures in the brain
2) that these modular structures evolved during a particular period (the Pleistocene)
3) that they have not changed since.

This just isn’t an “ideological pissing match”. Even when you responded with “where else do they come from? The arse?” I remained polite and answered your question. I only got annoyed when you did something which appeared to me to be dishonest – pretending to have no knowledge of what I was talking about. Then I mentioned the Roses’ book. That was where the ideological pissing match began, because you claimed that the Karmiloff-Smith chapter was worthless because it was contained in a book by the Roses (who you have continued to insult) and told me to read some “nonideological” sources.

I guess that’s his real beef though, since the latter appear to be his main stock in trade (and not only in this discussion).

See above. I honestly believe that an impartial reader would look at this thread and see 1) polite discussion between me and nearly everyone else I discussed with 2) insults between me and you (and Keith Ellis) and 3) insults between you (and Keith Ellis) and nearly everyone else you discussed with. And draw conclusions.

Like I say, I really don’t know why these things get so damnably nasty. I’m certainly open to the possibility that I’m causing it all by being condescending and passive-aggressive, but I am presumably equally condescending and passive-aggressive on other topics, and it’s only ever evolutionary psychology that seems to stir people to this kind of anger.

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RS 06.07.05 at 8:07 am

No, I don’t know what I was on about for the 16yr old example either. Obviously both are 2 yrs out.

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Alex Fradera 06.07.05 at 9:33 am

Peter, searching through the thread I found that the intrusion of Mead and Samoa into a thread on EP was made by you. Now, I know you’re a real big fan of the Blank Slate, and if Pinker devotes time to it, and Pinker likes EP, it must consequently be relevant to EP. But it ain’t. There may be a discussion in which the two come up together, but you haven’t started it – hell, you’re not even working in that direction.

Alongside my Dennett and Pinker (the harder stuff is at the office along with the Scotch) sits my remaindered copy of the Rosesquared book; flicking to the Karmiloff-Smith chapter I find nothing particularly ideological and much sensible. But as I’m based in the same uni perhaps that’s just the partisan talking. Anyway, I fear we are retreading very similar ground over and over: Crooked Timber » » The Garbage Gene September 21st, 2004 Crooked Timber » » Moral Relativism October 18th, 2004 Crooked Timber » » Pursuing the Truth February 14th, 2005 and on and on. I feel no real need to repeat myself; rather, I will self-plagiarise:

First, some critics of EP that I would hope no-one is prepared to render ‘ideologically suspect’ (honestly, this is Brass-Eye ‘Bad Science’ level):

Heyes – (2003, in psychological review, 110(4), 713-727 – I seem to be hawking this around the internet in a campaign of putting EP in its place….)
Abstract and possible full text here (you will need to have a password for full text) here

Or equally a Panksepp paper, which is a bit older so some of the crit may be obsolete. But its worth checking out.
here

You will find no sensible scientist grumbling about research into the evolutionary basis for colour vision. Quibbles, sure.Yet a fair few will deride work on the evolutionary basis for standing in queues, or a phenomena as complex, wide-ranging and ephemeral as religion. I think it should be fairly self-evident as to why. And the key point is that EP is all the stuff about queues and religion, sulking and modern art, and NOT the other stuff. I’m not playing a definition game here: EP is a fairly specific research program, and those researching visual area V4, the role of the hippocampus in spatial memory or failures motor coordination are overwhelmingly not part of it.[I’ll now add that therefore the argument that I’ve heard Peter make previously that this shows how the Left is as bankrupt as the Creationists is mind-blowingly wrong: evolution underpins many aspects of mind and brain research, but only one school – the Nativist strong-modulist savannah crowd – is trying to oftentimes run before it can walk, into areas that cannot help but to have public policy implications, with a reckless and disreputable past behind it – and not too far behind either; read Kitcher’s Vaulting Ambition.]

I agree…that in the future Evolutionary Psychology may BE psychology, or at least one strata of explanation, and if it was really delivering we would all be evolutionary psychologists now. It’s not, in the main, so we don’t. Not to say there isn’t good work coming out of it -as in many areas of psychology, a young science of a hugely complex subject; just that we should apply our skepticism, especially when people are making big claims about immutability, or being designed for anything.

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Fergal 06.07.05 at 9:54 am

For those of you who are interested (read masochistic), Daniel went a round with EP in an earlier thread, this time defending Val Dusek instead of the Roses (note that the “Peter” of the previous thread is not the Peter in current one, though they both appear to have incurred Daniel’s wrath for similar reasons):

Yes, Vik, “Dsquared” is “Dan” is “Daniel”. This is his stomping ground, and the adjective is well earned.

http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002594.html

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James Wimberley 06.07.05 at 10:08 am

Can I go back to the stepfathers a second – it is after all an issue where testable predictions can be made.

barry writes (on my tentative speculation that mothers might become detached from the children of an earlier mate): “That seems far from likely or obvious. Born children are far more valuable as a ‘genetic investment’ than potential unborn children.” Point taken.

rs writes: “Surely the more telling question is, if killing stepchildren is adaptive, why is it so uncommon?” Male lions taking over a pride will kill the cubs sired by the previous males, to bring the females back into estrus quickly. But do any primates follow this pattern? For most of human history, children have been a valuable economic resource to their parents (as well as a genetic investment). The most indifferent parent would still value children at least as much as slaves or livestock. Killing human children is on any account pathological and rare (leaving aside abandonment of newborns, which has been common, vide Boswell, The Kindness of Strangers). It has to be read as (inevitable) aggravation overcoming quite strong inhibitions against violence. All ev-psych is saying is that these inhibitions are constitutionally somewhat stronger in natural parents. Ditto for time-consuming care and its obverse neglect. Is this really controversial?

nikolai writes: “Folklore isn’t full of tales of evil step-parents. It’s full of tales of evil parents. When these stories were collected by the Grimms (and others) as the first fairy tales, to make them more palatable the evil parents were taken out and the evil step-parents were put in.”

Source please for the generalisation and the attribution of motive. The shift is certainly there between the 1812 and 1857 versions of Hansel and Gretel by the Grimms. But is this really a general pattern? And could not the Grimms have been responding to an ambiguity in the source material, rather than to prudish criticism of their first version? After all (vide Laslett) typical pre-modern households were as broken and recomposed as those of today, mainly because of high rates of death of women in childbirth. Perrault left Tom Thumb abandoned by straight parents, and was very successful, so I have difficulty accepting the marketing story without evidence.

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dsquared 06.07.05 at 10:40 am

The interesting thing is that adoptive parents tend to have much lower incidence of adverse events, which would suggest that the order of protection given to natural children by evolutionary psychology is about the same as that given by, say, Camden Social Services.

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Steve LaBonne 06.07.05 at 10:42 am

The conclusion of the Panskepps’ paper is worth highlighting for those who haven’t troubled to click Alex Fradera’s link. I think one could hardly ask for a fairer summary of the state of play than this:

“Evolutionary psychology and sociobiology are
such attractive scientific views (e.g., FREEDMAN 1979;SCOTT 1989; SEGAL et al. 1997) that they need to be carefully cultivated and constructed as accurately as possible, continually constrained by genetic and cross-species brain evidence from our fellow animals rather than by the sea-swell of imaginary neuropsychological possibilities in humans. If we continue to proceed without considering all the available evidence, we will only produce more of the polarized views that have been endemic to this troubled corner of evolutionary thought. Now that we have a real chance of bringing serious evolutionary views to the study human mind and behavior, we should proceed in as disciplined a manner as possible. If we do not pursue such reasonable courses of action, we may become mired in myth making rather than remaining on the shores of sound scientific inquiry.”

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RS 06.07.05 at 10:56 am

“All ev-psych is saying is that these inhibitions are constitutionally somewhat stronger in natural parents. Ditto for time-consuming care and its obverse neglect. Is this really controversial?”

It is not a controversial claim per se. But the evidence presented seems very poor. It might also be that fathers in the past would never know whether a child was theirs or not, so would always care for a child their partner gives birth to. Is there any evidence that simple knowledge of non-paternity leads to increased neglect (when everything else is controlled for?)

If we’re talking about a situation more like the lion example, a father moving into another extant family, there are a whole load of additional complications that have nothing to do with paternity and genetics.

I’d also like to point out that when I was an undergraduate many (or at least a fair few) moons ago, I had a lecture where lion infanticide was directly related to the increased homicide rates of adopted children in humans. So at least some EPers -are- claiming something more than just that parents are more liely to care for their own offspring (which on one level is obviously true since men don’t go around looking after other people’s children willy-nilly).

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RS 06.07.05 at 11:18 am

Ah, looks like it was the ubiquitous Daly & Wilson that wrote about this stuff, and they do mention lions – haven’t read it myself. And I think at least Emlen suggests that fathers have a conflict of interests (the extra-children are a drain on resources that could be concentrated on their biological offspring) implying an adaptationist argument.

“All ev-psych is saying is that these inhibitions are constitutionally somewhat stronger in natural parents. Ditto for time-consuming care and its obverse neglect. Is this really controversial?”

That is a very interesting thing to say. It seems that Daly & Wilson think they are saying something original and interesting. Something over and above that truism. But somehow I can’t see exactly what, unless they are really making the point that there is something -adaptive- about the abuse (hence the lion reference).

Once we get past the truism, the evidence appears a little thin.

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Alex Fradera 06.07.05 at 11:18 am

I think for the step-child/biological child issue to carry any force for EP, it wouldn’t be sufficient to demonstrate that, say, biological children are more loved/less harmed. Given that we do now live in a culture that has perpetuated the notion of continuation through the blood line, and now deals in EP and genetics; given that blood-children are more physically similar, and given that some traits are certainly hereditable, there are all sorts of bottom-up, cultural/psychological reasons why there might be a greater attachment to children you produce yourself (oh, I forgot that bearing children involves risk and time which is uniquely invested into that child; religious notions that a child is a gift from god; personal validation that you are a fecund being).

There’d have to be – I don’t know what you’d need to support an EP claim on this. That there was a circuit of the brain that showed greater activation only to biological children, and that this was independent of intensity of love/identification/personalvalidation etc etc.
AND
that was accompanied by a unique phenomenological experience which drove people to a greater level of protection than for adopted kids (again independent of the other stuff – although perhaps love is a confound we can’t shake).

This is the level I’d need to see it before I would accept it to the imaginary journal in my head (for which I’m Co-Editor), to make these kind of claims…having said that, I’m all too happy that sub-components of such a task get put together and published. Go Evolutionary Psychology! Piece by piece, perhaps they’ll make the case.

I just wish everyone would more or less ignore it til it does. Instead, too many people seem to think it’s the second coming (‘at last! a scientific perspective through which any science that emerges is going to be pro-biological families/show lenient sentencing is untenable’ etc etc).

And Steve, it is a nice conclusion. He and prof heyes are both totally into evolutionary explanations for mind, but luke warm on Evolutionary Psychology as it stands because it has positioned itself as THE evolutionary explanation (Savannah, hard-wired, modules) when it’s not. I really recommend the Psychological Review paper if you can get through the gateway.

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RS 06.07.05 at 11:29 am

“I think for the step-child/biological child issue to carry any force for EP, it wouldn’t be sufficient to demonstrate that, say, biological children are more loved/less harmed.”

But it’d be nice if they could at least show that, rather than just pointing to higher rates of abuse in families with a step-parent versus families without a step-parent – as if somehow the only difference between the two situations is genetic relatedness.

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Alex Fradera 06.07.05 at 12:13 pm

Yes, quite. The commentator aboveways suggesting there might be two populations of step-parents – Joe Normal and Caspian Abnormal – where the latter is shady business from the start, might be one way to look at it. Equally, looking a little harder at the biological (single) parent in the situation might shed some light. Maybe this has been done?

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razor 06.07.05 at 12:40 pm

I didn’t know the EP fun was here. These threads are great. Those who oppose EP consistently reveal they are ideologically biased while proving they aren’t. Captian Queeg stuff.

How can anyone who believes in culture whatever, in whatever iteration, complain about Just So stories? Who is zooming who? Who tells the biggest Just So whoppers of all?

EP has the upper hand because it insists on starting with the organism. All of EP’s threatened political opponents start with their contingent history. EP, in contrast,is trying to do science.

One example from above:
105 “…is trying to oftentimes run before it can walk, into areas that cannot help but to have public policy implications, with a reckless and disreputable past behind it – and not too far behind either;”

So, the people that worry over what bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas do (yeah, some kill the young uns of others), and when and whether homo sapien became homo sapien sapien, and how things had changed from homo erectus, and, why that period of stasis for hundreds of thousands of years before the shit hits the fan, and what happened to our Neadertal brothers and sisters, and whether and how social altruism exists along with the rational capacity to reject social altruism, and how brain size scales to group size, these people are guilty by association with a “reckless and disreputable past”? The people concerned with a 6 million year back past, who include all creatures as part of one story?

In terms of a fraudulent but recently eminent school of thought, that is projection.

EP has no good theory – which makes critising it easy, but at least it is following the evidence and trying to come up with a theory that fits the evidence by doing science. Then, there are the others.

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Matt McGrattan 06.07.05 at 1:00 pm

Razor, many opponents of EP are just as much engaged in:

“what bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas do (yeah, some kill the young uns of others), and when and whether homo sapien became homo sapien sapien, and how things had changed from homo erectus, and, why that period of stasis for hundreds of thousands of years before the shit hits the fan, and what happened to our Neadertal brothers and sisters, and whether and how social altruism exists along with the rational capacity to reject social altruism, and how brain size scales to group size”

You’ve just listed a whole range of questions in the biological sciences regarding humans. None of them are the sole or unique purview of EP and there are any number of scientists working on thise problems who’d dispute some or all of the EP program and yet who don’t do so for spurious political reasons.

Some scientists just don’t think the EP program, taken as whole, is particularly good science and setting up a strawman opposition between principled EP scientists and mouth-foaming politicised anti-scientists is just absurd.

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Steve LaBonne 06.07.05 at 1:01 pm

razor, the whole point is that taking seriously the neurophysiological basis of behavior- even “sociologially interesting” behavior, _pace_ d^2- and taking seriously the need to understand the evolutionary history of that basis, does not at all entail being happy about people who blithely weave just-so stories and retail them to the popular press without worrying about whether they’re testable even in principle. More intellectual responsibility and humility, and less chasing after publicity, could do nothing but improve the reputation of “EP” (though probably that name has been permanently spoiled and a new one is needed.)

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Chris 06.07.05 at 1:08 pm

rs, It wouldn’t be surprising if there were brain differences between isolated populations of humans, though the differences are likely to be small relative to the commonalities. However, the data thusfar doesn’t really support brain differences related to things like intelligence (the within-race variance in intelligence is as large or larger than the between-race variance).

Of course, the fact that brains continue to adapt doesn’t imply that brains adapt to their historical era. Brains don’t evolve that fast, and no one who notes that evolution is ongoing is committed to the position that they do.

On another note, I really don’t understand the criticism that EP’s critics are all ideologically-biased, or that the criticisms are ideologically-based. Sure, some of the vocal critics from outside of psychology (like Gould) have expressed ideologically-based criticisms, but those criticisms have generally come along side scientific criticisms (interestingly, Buller shoots down Gould’s scientific criticisms of EP). But within psychology, and within cognitive science in particular, the criticisms of EP have largely been methodological and theoretical, and made no reference to politics. Most EP is simply bad science, and the EP that isn’t bad science (which is pretty much restricted to Cosmides and Tooby) isn’t good science. You don’t have to be a liberal to see that.

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RS 06.07.05 at 1:16 pm

“Of course, the fact that brains continue to adapt doesn’t imply that brains adapt to their historical era. Brains don’t evolve that fast, and no one who notes that evolution is ongoing is committed to the position that they do.”

But if they’re adapting, what are they adapting to?

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RS 06.07.05 at 1:26 pm

“All ev-psych is saying is that these inhibitions are constitutionally somewhat stronger in natural parents. Ditto for time-consuming care and its obverse neglect. Is this really controversial?”

Perhaps another way to look at my objection is to ask what happens to partners of women who are there from the birth of the (unrelated) child, do they have increased rates of abuse? What about biological fathers who return to the family a long time after the birth having been previously separated (e.g. in prison/the forces)? Let us say that the rates of abuse for partners there from the beginning are the same as biological fathers there from the beginning, and returning fathers have rates of abuse as high as step-fathers. Then we could say that there might be some kind of bonding process with infants necessary for fathers to feel ‘paternal’. Now it is probable that the ultimate cause of this would be due to EP type reasons. But the proximal cause is not down to genetic relatedness, and thus predicts different policy decisions to the Daly & Wilson/Emlen line that men are more likely to abuse unrelated children. The Daly & Wilson/Emlen story must be, in order to be anything but a truism, that the men somehow ‘know’ that they aren’t related, and thus have less reason to care about these kids from a genetic standpoint (this can obviously be unconscious, but contrasts with being due to some proximate cause like time-exposure bonding).

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Barry 06.07.05 at 1:34 pm

“…of “EP” (though probably that name has been permanently spoiled and a new one is needed.)”

Posted by Steve LaBonne

That’d only buy some time. After all, what was the previous name – sociobiology? EP was, IMHO chosen to avoid well-based suspicions.

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Daniel 06.07.05 at 1:52 pm

“Sociobiology” was itself an alias, adopted after “Social Darwinism” ran out of friends.

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razor 06.07.05 at 2:02 pm

116. “You’ve just listed a whole range of questions in the biological sciences regarding humans. None of them are the sole or unique purview of EP and there are any number of scientists working on thise problems who’d dispute some or all of the EP program and yet who don’t do so for spurious political reasons.”

Matt please let me know which of the things I listed are not necessarily about evolutionary psychology. And, what is the justification of your creation of a catagory, and the characterization of those you associate with it? Before the term emerged I told a barfly that I was interested in psychological anthropolgy, and he asked me if I counseled dead people. The fight isn’t over the label, or those who give the label a bad name, the fight is over power and authority.

“…does not at all entail being happy about people who blithely weave just-so stories and retail them to the popular press without worrying about whether they’re testable even in principle.”

Steve. This is a problem. But what does it have to do with what it is that some serious people are trying to do that has become labeled EP? I think my attempt at brevity has caused confusion.

There is an academic turf war going on. Always is. This one is between those attempting to do the real science, associated with what is being called Evolutionary Psychology, and, the threatened social science disciplines, and the believers in exactly the theory of gradual evolution, recently proven false, of human evolution over the last million years, a false theory that dovetails with a certain view of cultural relativism and evolution. Entire departments are going to lose power. They ain’t going quietly.

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Daniel 06.07.05 at 2:08 pm

Razor, do the following facts not disturb you:

1) We know that human beings can acquire social behaviours by learning them.
2) We do not know that human beings can acquire social behaviours (apart from some very simple ones, and even then only arguably) without learning them
3) The theory of psychology which you characterise as the only “scientific” one is entirely dependent on a very specific theory of the acquisition of complicated social behaviours without learning them.

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Steve LaBonne 06.07.05 at 2:19 pm

_those attempting to do the real science, associated with what is being called Evolutionary Psychology_

Are there really very many apart from Tooby and Cosmides themselves who can, even charitably, be described that way? (I don’t even include Pinker- I don’t feel that he writes as a professional at all when he ventures beyind linguistics.) And how successful is _their_ attempt, really- isn’t there a heck of a lot of question-begging in their publications and a paucity of real empirical support for their nice stories? And how about all the people doing serious work on the biological bases of behavior, and the evolution of those bases, who would run as fast as possible from the “EP” label? haven’t you just dissed those scientists pretty badly? This is not, or at any rate shouldn’t be, about some holy war between the enlightened and the Luddites. That sort of thing does nothing to advance knowledge.

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fifi 06.07.05 at 2:41 pm

Why does everyone assume the brain generates consciousness like some kind of perpetual energy device without relation to anything else? I think evolutionary psychology is the wrong way to contemplate the conscious universe, myself, but then again I have the advantage of knowing nothing about it.

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engels 06.07.05 at 2:52 pm

engels… you aren’t at all familiar with evolutionary psychology… Those who have read into the subject will know that what Fuller is presenting …

Perhaps they will also know that the name of the author of the book you claim to have read is Buller, not Fuller.

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razor 06.07.05 at 3:18 pm

Daniel:
I do not know what you are talking about. I do not know anyone who takes the position you describe. Has anyone actually read Tooby and Cosmides? In the Adapted Mind they have the best description of the issues, which is completely inconsistent with the characterizations of EP I see here.

As to whether there is a “theory of psychology” that is adequate to the task, no, there is not one. Evolutionary psychology does not does not have a theory adequate to explain the human experience. So what. None of the critics have theories that come any closer. Mote in the eye troubles.

Steve:
Well, here and elsewhere the label Evolutionary Psychology sure is being thrown around as meaning something. I am label neutral. If there is some alternative congenial term for the converging effort to understand homo sapien sapien in light of their biological engineering, great, let’s hear it.

Here is my bet: any such term will immediately suffer the same mischaracterizations and ideological attacks as has Evolutionary Psychology. People are very threatened. The threat isn’t anything that Tooby and Cosmides did, like keying their cars or writing mean things on the bathroom wall, or calling for genetic engineering to create an ideal social constructionist. The threat is the same threat the fundamentalists feel, their identity is under siege by what the science is revealing.

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Alex Fradera 06.07.05 at 3:51 pm

Razor, they don’t generally proceed under special names. Evolutionary plausibility is thrown up all the time in the neurosciences – e.g. less costly memory representations are considered to be more plausible than highly costly ones – but that doesn’t require a discipline called ‘evolutionary neuroscience of memory’ or some such. And I’m sure that some people are modelling how visual systems evolve; again, that likely doesn’t need a special name. Most neuroscience and much cognitive/behavioural psychology takes evolution as one of its constraints, they just don’t feel the need to put a special hat on to do so. Again, just my neuroscientist 2 cents, well outside of any disciplinary wall.

And please, read one or more of the papers I cited upthread as they provide fine examples of people not just “understand homo sapien sapien in light of their biological engineering”, but taking an explicitly evolutionary route to do so, who do not endorse the EP program, in part because it is far more narrow than your characterisation suggests.

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Henry 06.07.05 at 4:08 pm

bq. I do not know what you are talking about. I do not know anyone who takes the position you describe. Has anyone actually read Tooby and Cosmides? In the Adapted Mind they have the best description of the issues, which is completely inconsistent with the characterizations of EP I see here. …
Here is my bet: any such term will immediately suffer the same mischaracterizations and ideological attacks as has Evolutionary Psychology.

A nice juxtaposition here. A defense of evolutionary psychology against those nasty people who want to mislabel it together with cheerleading for Cosmides and Tooby, purveyors of the celebrated “Standard Social Science Model” which was neither standard, nor a model, nor recognizably related to what social scientists actually do. If your starting point in the debates over science, social science and evolutionary psychology is the tendentious C&T misrepresentation of the issues at stake, and of what motivates people who disagree with evolutionary psychology, then it’s no wonder that you’re a bit at sea.

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RS 06.07.05 at 4:30 pm

““Sociobiology” was itself an alias, adopted after “Social Darwinism” ran out of friends.”

Really? Was social darwinism not a political ideology that rather liked committing the naturalistic fallacy? And sociobiology covered a whole range of scientific studies that included not only crude EP like reasoning in humans but the original highly succesful study of ‘social’ behaviour in animals that was used as the inspiration for it.

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razor 06.07.05 at 4:50 pm

Henry
So, do you know anyone who takes the position I was responding to? Not to rain on your clever argument just because it proceeds from a false premise.

my starting point is the evidence, now flooding in. My startig point is more the theoritical biology problem of social altruism, which remarkably few opponents of EP seem familiar with, than with whether or not step fathers do more child abuse than fathers.

I do not see that evidence discussed in these attacks on Evolutionary Psychology, nor of Cosmides and Tooby. Instead, critics talk about what they want to talk about. Remarkably so. I can duplicate the same thing by bringing up Israeli settlements. Suddenly nothing is heard but everyone knows what was said. Methinks he doth protest to much and all that.

I bet dollars to donuts, we get down to it, you have a dog in the ideological fight. There is a good rough test of the divide: who went ballistic over Summers remarks about women, and who thought it was just silly, but true enough in its way, but so what?

As to ignored evidence that changes the rules. A nice example is the one I mentioned earlier, are homo sapien sapien roughly 100k years old, or, hundreds of thousands of years old, and, now carrying around Neandertal genes? This dispute marks a fight not over science, but over a dominant Just So story beloved in the social sciences. The cultural realtivist, constructinist people love the long story. The science was clear to me twenty years ago. Now even the hold outs are looking just like those who opposed continental drift in the 60s. Homo sapien sapien are new. My interest is in homo sapien sapienology. EP haters are indifferent to such stunning news.

If you have a non tendentious review of the issues, let me know where it is. If you know of any review that covers the range of evidence that Cosmides and Tooby do in discussing the SSSM, and insisting it must all cohere as a matter of science, let me know. That’s another bet I would like to make.

Alex
Of the strong opponents of EP, or of whatever label, I have missed the ones who are neuroscientests. As a matter of fact, neuroscientests are one of the major sources of evidence that are undermining most of the current social sciences.

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Nick 06.07.05 at 5:52 pm

rs (starts quoting someone else):”“Of course, the fact that brains continue to adapt doesn’t imply that brains adapt to their historical era. Brains don’t evolve that fast, and no one who notes that evolution is ongoing is committed to the position that they do.”

But if they’re adapting, what are they adapting to?”

You need to be a lot more anal about how you use the word adaptation and adapt. Its virtually impossible to prove something is an adaptation, or that something is ‘adapting’. Now, responding to selection is easier, since you should be able to point to the selection if you know something is responding. But most graduate students in biology get asked to delete the word adaptation from their thesis because of how controversial it is.

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Dominic Murphy 06.07.05 at 6:35 pm

Razor, in these debates, “evolutionary psychology” refers to the combination of two views. The first is the old sociobiological view that most human behavioral traits are adaptations. The second is MIT style psychology (the psychology of Chomsky and Fodor c.1985)which believes that the computational structures underlying our behavior are modular. EP puts these together by arguing that the modules, rather than the behaviors themselves, are adaptive.

Lots of people in many disciplines are hostile to this particular combination of views (and hence are foes of EP) while at the same time being proponents of an evolutionary approach to cognition and behavior (and hence are supporters of an evolutionary psychology, or human behavioral ecology, in a wider sense). So just because someone thinks EP is crap it does mean that they are advocating some completely unevolutionary approach to human affairs.

It might have been better if the EP label had not been attached to the “sociobiology meets modularity”, but it did, and as far as I can see we’re stuck with it.

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Henry 06.07.05 at 7:24 pm

razor – you clearly don’t know anything about the social sciences, and what stories are or are not beloved in them. Blustering that those who don’t agree with you on evolutionary psychology are clearly driven by ideology makes you look Very Silly Indeed.

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razor 06.07.05 at 8:55 pm

Dominic:
Fine by me. Modularity to me is no different than any of the theories that attempt to be comprehensive without the mechanisms described by the experimentalists at hand. It is premature, but that is life. Human behavioral ecology is a better term to me. But this still doesn’t address the Cosmides and Tooby take on the Standard Social Science Model, nor, does it t explain the dominant tone and arguments found here and elsewhere. See, Henry. Other forces are at work as well.

Henry
No cites, baby, no cites. All those social sciences out there, and, no cites. What is your view of homo sapien sapien? What is the mechanism that allows social altruism to exist? Why is pair bonding universal?

“you clearly don’t know anything about the social sciences” followed by “Blustering”

Intentional self parody, or, are you teaching me how to do social science?

137

engels 06.07.05 at 9:17 pm

Other forces are at work

Good point, Agent Mulder. Maybe they’re the same guys who shot JFK?

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Henry 06.07.05 at 9:46 pm

ummm no razor. Not me who needs to provide cites. As far as I can make out, it’s you who is claiming that there is a Standard Social Science Model that all of us social scientists subscribe to, and that we’re ducking the Way, the Truth and the Light because we don’t realize that we’ve been outcompeted. You see, I’ve got a little hypothesis here, which is that you don’t _know_ anything about social science, and that you’re just repeating regurgitated opinions that you’ve picked up elsewhere. I’m a political scientist – and I’m inviting you to disconfirm my hypothesis by, say, going through the last ten years or so of the dominant political science journals (American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, International Organization), and coming back and telling us how many articles conform to this supposedly standard model that all of us social scientists adhere to. Or shut up. Your choice.

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razor 06.07.05 at 10:22 pm

Henry

I believe you are a political scientist.

And that is why I am not surprised by your behavior.

You initially made a claim based on my response to a comment above that was flat out wrong. You ignored that error. Then, when I went to the issues that mattered, to try to get out of the jargon war, you had nothing to say about the issues. (What is your position on the fundamental problem of homo sapien sapien’s species specific approach to social altruism works, and, how has it effected your work and opinions, since, the problem is fundamental to every social science, and is of deadly relevanc to political science classics of Mencius, Mo Tzu, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel, Marx?) And, in contrast to, for example, dominic above, who pointed out that “Evolutionary Psychology” is a term of art I may misunderstand as used here (The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way is annotated on my shelf, not that I understood it), you did more of the same. Most tellingly for a poltical scientist, you are agitated that an attempt to describe a century of social science, in contradistinction to the needs to do science based on current information, summarized in about 35 or so pages, does not describe all social science and all social scientists. Ya think?

I will go to a journal and pick out an example of SSSM bullshit at sheer irritation at your boorish rudness. What’s in it for me?

For you, Mr. Put up or shut up, who has yet to say anything of substance despite repeated opportunities, give me one opinion you have that wasn’t picked up elsewhere.

An innate opinion I guess that would be.

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razor 06.07.05 at 10:26 pm

Engels

Well agent scully, I think that when the evidence consistently shows effects that aren’t being explained, that men of science focus their attention.

Wait. I am dead wrong. The paradigm shift tells us that men of science refuse to pay attention as along as possible. Then, they still refuse to pay attention.

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Walt Pohl 06.07.05 at 11:27 pm

Earlier today, when the thread was merely 90% heat and 10% light, I was in danger of learning something new about EP. But now, thanks to razor’s valiant (and successful) effort to turn this thread into 100% heat, that danger has past. Thanks, razor!

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Daniel 06.08.05 at 12:26 am

rs: I’m talking historically. If I remember correctly, “Sociobiology” was suggested by EO Wilson and meant to explicitly continue the program of research of Social Darwinism shorn of the political baggage that had become associated with it. Then “Evolutionary psychology” was suggested as a replacement for “sociobiology”, meant to continue the program of research shorn of the political baggage which had become associated with that. Now we’re looking round for a new name for EP …

Razor: you are wrong on this one. The term “Standard Social Sciences Model” has no referent.

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RS 06.08.05 at 1:00 am

“You need to be a lot more anal about how you use the word adaptation and adapt. Its virtually impossible to prove something is an adaptation, or that something is ‘adapting’. Now, responding to selection is easier, since you should be able to point to the selection if you know something is responding. But most graduate students in biology get asked to delete the word adaptation from their thesis because of how controversial it is.”

You may have noticed that the word ‘adapt’ was in the original quotation I was responding to. When talkin about EP, for good or ill, ‘adaptation’ is the word used because EP is a teleological science. In this case the word plays no controversial role as it simply stands for selection pressures within a historical epoch.

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Nick 06.08.05 at 2:50 am

rs: it was meant to be a general comment, but you were the most recent quote. blah. Stupid ‘you’ being both singular and plural in english.

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john c. halasz 06.08.05 at 3:46 am

Just to make a small “logical” point at the bookend of this thread, because we all agree that embodiment and neural processing are necessary conditions of experience, thought, cognition, behavior, etc., it does not follow that such *capacities* are causally determined by their biological substrate. Whereas it’s perfectly legitimate to inquire into biological constraints on so-called “human nature”, though as yet any results are sketchy, it doesn’t follow that such constraints “constitute” or explain the whole phenomenal field to which they would apply. (There is, of course, a discipline, cultural/social anthropology, ethnography, that has produced a wealth of phenomenal description,- no one would exactly claim that it’s a discipline that produces causal explanations,- which would not readily be reducible to an “universal” substrate, though one would think that careful examination of its data would be a criterion for identifying the adequacy of the phenomena to be explained, rather than regarding its pretentions as a target of strawman polemics. At any rate, the idea that complex social structures and processes can be explained as an emanation of a biological substrate is more than faintly absurd.) And, of course, there’s the issue that explaining, e.g., cognition, by recourse to “adaption” is entangled in the claim of knowledge to be veridical. The demand for a basically mechanistic/utilitarian account of cognition/behavior amounts to a petitio principii. To be sure, all phenomena are structured and therefore constrained, including, e.g., language and human agency. But that does not entail ignoring the differences and layerings of emergent levels of causal or quasi-causal constraints/explanations and their interactions. It does little good to appeal to “the myth of the given” to distinguish science from ideology. To be sure, there are precise technical criticisms that can be made of any hypothesis or proposal, but science is just as much, though no more so, a norm -driven enterprise as any other, in search of its own “proper” criteria, hence as susceptible to normative misrepresentation and the concealment of motives, i.e., ideology, as any other. But what interests me about the advocates of biological determination of human capacities, under the rubic of sociobiology, ev. psych. or whatever, is the refusal to entertain alternative hypotheses. If behavior, cognition and the like are products of biological evolution, why aren’t more flexible, learned, or sociable behaviors equally the more or less adventitious product of such natural history? Wouldn’t learned behavior and whatever degree of emergent mental function that it implies have co-evolved and inter-nested with instinctually fixed behaviors. A criterion would be the degree to which a species adapts in complicated ways to different ecosystems. Consider the case of African elephants. It would be hard to conceive of the course of paleo-anthropological evolution without an account of the costs and advantages of such divergent evolution and, in particular, it would be difficult to conceive of the emergence of language, the distinctive human feature, without a long prior development of animal sociality. So, by all means, choose your speculative anthropology as you please: don’t be my guest. But just don’t pretend that you’re riding the hard surfboard of science against the waves of history and don’t pretend that your choice absolves your existence.

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nikolai 06.08.05 at 4:38 am

James Wimberley;

Hope you’re still out there…

Re: References for the Grimms evil step-parents.

It’s well established in the literature: try the Annotated Brothers Grimm for an introduction. The parent/step-parent shift is general – besides Hansel and Gretel it also occurs in Snow White, for example. The reasons for the change is directly spelt out in the Brothers’ letters.

The Perrault comparison doesn’t work. Perrault was writing for adults, the Grimms went from writing for scholars to writing for children (or adapting their work so it could be read to children).

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RS 06.08.05 at 7:39 am

http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/science/story/0,12996,1501314,00.html

“The genetic control over how easily women experience an orgasm during sex shows it is subject to evolutionary pressure, which means it must confer a biological advantage.”

I found this line very amusing and thought I’d share it.

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dsquared 06.08.05 at 8:01 am

“The theory I prefer is the mate selection theory,” Prof Spector said. “If a man is considered powerful enough, strong enough, or thoughtful enough in bed or in the cave, then he’s likely to hang around as a long-term partner and be a better bet for bringing up children.”

Nevertheless, I maintain that St Thomas & Guy’s is a fine teaching hospital and a top-drawer research institution.

By the way, is it me, or does this explanation make no sense at all as an explanation of how women might have evolved different orgasmic responses? I suspect that the journalist is to blame rather than prof. Spector.

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RS 06.08.05 at 10:21 am

“By the way, is it me, or does this explanation make no sense at all as an explanation of how women might have evolved different orgasmic responses? I suspect that the journalist is to blame rather than prof. Spector.”

It also utterly fails as it implies selection pressure for men to be good at foreplay – and that clearly hasn’t happened!

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Henry 06.08.05 at 12:00 pm

razor – let me recapitulate the conversation. You made a claim that opponents of evolutionary psychology were misrepresenting what it was. In the same comment, you also made it clear that you bought into Cosmides and Tooby. I pointed out that Cosmides and Tooby had themselves engaged in tendentious misrepresentation of people who they disagreed with when they claimed that such a thing as the “Standard Social Science Model” existed. You then appeared to claim that Cosmides and Tooby were right in their claims about the Standard Social Science Model, and that people who disagreed with ev. psych were either ideologically biased, or trying to defend an exploded SSSM type account of human nature, or both. I suggested that you didn’t actually know anything about the social sciences. You disagreed without providing any evidence – and tried to change the subject. I repeated my hypothesis and challenged you to come up with some evidence to support the claim that the SSSM model actually characterized the things that social scientists believe. You added another few accusations to the heap, but also made it clear that you had no intentions of trying to back up your claims with any, like, evidence. Again, you tried to change the subject. I think I’m pretty safe in concluding at this point that you don’t have the slightest clue what you’re talking about, and are trying to bluster your way through. As stated – if you want to make big claims about the social sciences, you ought to actually find out what they are. Otherwise you’re liable to make a fool of yourself in public.

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