Is this the same Steven Pinker?

by John Quiggin on August 5, 2009

Over at my blog a couple of days ago, we were discussing Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, a book which I thought, when I reviewed it in 2002, was much below the standard of his earlier work, though no worse than the average book about the ‘nature-nurture’ controversy. In particular, I thought his discussion of war and violence was hopelessly confused, putting forward a Hobbesian view of violence as the product of rational self interest as if it was consistent with the genetic determinism that was the central theme of the rest of the book.

Now, via John Horgan at Slate, I’ve happened across this broadcast by Pinker at TED (which, by the way I’ve just discovered and is excellent). The broadcast has a transcript which is great for those of us who prefer reading to listening.

In this piece, Pinker appears to me to change sides almsot completely, from pessimist to optimist and from genetic determinist to social improver. Not only does he present evidence that war and violence are declining in relative importance, his explanation for this seems to be entirely consistent with the Standard Social Science Model he caricatured and debunked in The Blank Slate. He’s still got a sort of rational self-interest model in there, but now Hobbes is invoked, not for his ‘nasty, brutish and short’ state of nature, but for his argument that the Leviathan of social order will suppress violence to the benefit of all.

But even more striking is this:

[Co-operation] may also be powered by cosmopolitanism: by histories and journalism and memoirs and realistic fiction and travel and literacy, which allows you to project yourself into the lives of other people that formerly you may have treated as sub-human, and also to realize the accidental contingency of your own station in life; the sense that “there but for fortune go I.”

I agree entirely, but we seem to have come a long way from the African savannah here.

{ 103 comments }

1

Jack 08.05.09 at 3:38 am

Pinker:

[Co-operation] may also be powered by cosmopolitanism: by histories and journalism and memoirs and realistic fiction and travel and literacy, which allows you to project yourself into the lives of other people that formerly you may have treated as sub-human, and also to realize the accidental contingency of your own station in life; the sense that “there but for fortune go I.”

Looks like Scialabba isn’t the only one reading Rorty.

2

adamhenne 08.05.09 at 3:58 am

I think this is his defensive posture. That is, like most sociobiologists he’ll agree that of course society should do x y and z to improve the human condition – we’re not condemned to act like we’re on the veldt. But the essential violent self-interest remains there as the basis of human nature, the raw material with which society must always contend. That’s my take anyway.

3

rigel 08.05.09 at 4:38 am

sounds like biological existentialism*. leaving the blank spaces big enough that you can fill them in with your own personal optimism or pessimism, as necessary.

*my layman’s interpretation of existentialism, based on a couple of Camus books and a Teaching Company lecture series.

4

Delicious Pundit 08.05.09 at 4:51 am

The broadcast has a transcript which is great for those of us who prefer reading to listening.

The assumption that I would rather watch/listen than read also bugs me no end.

5

Kathleen Lowrey 08.05.09 at 4:54 am

It’s become inescapably clear that his previous position was wrong and he’s running away from his prior wrongness. It is the utterly predictable flight path of all sociobiologists, including their self-appellation (evo psych now; will certainly be something else to clamber away from precedent embarrassments 10 years from now). It’s field that occupies the space created by the absence of positive knowledge, and is continually crowded out by its advance.

6

Kathleen Lowrey 08.05.09 at 4:55 am

Last sentence should read: “It’s a field…”

7

Jordan DeLange 08.05.09 at 4:59 am

In this piece, Pinker appears to me to change sides [almost] completely, from pessimist to optimist and from genetic determinist to social improver.

In a pretty similar article here Pinker goes on to say:

“The other major challenge posed by the decline of violence is how to explain it. … [It could not] possibly be explained by evolution in the biologist’s sense: Even if the meek could inherit the earth, natural selection could not favor the genes for meekness quickly enough.

Not exactly what you’d expect to here from a purported evolutionary psychologist type!

8

Hidari 08.05.09 at 7:39 am

I had a much longer answer which I managed to delete, but Steven Pinker’s section here

http://www.edge.org/q2008/q08_8.html

might help to answer your question.

Despite his hopeful gloss on the findings, they clearly blow EP (at least in its ‘strong’, ‘Old Skool’ variety) out of the water.

9

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.05.09 at 7:41 am

Given that Pinker is a friend and collaborator of Alan Dershowitz, I can’t help but wonder if he is merely laying out a rationalization for the imminent “exterminate the brutes!” conclusion.

10

Hidari 08.05.09 at 7:44 am

just noticed this quote from john’s review of the Blank Slate:

‘Even more common in the debate is the tendency to put forward a strong version of a theory but, when it comes under attack, to retreat to a version so moderate and reasonable in its claims that no one can seriously object to it. ‘

This is the point i was making in my autodeleted post. Pinker does this all the time.

11

dsquared 08.05.09 at 8:04 am

#8: Hidari’s link does indeed look a bit ominous to me, in that apparently what has happened is that Pinker now believes that significant evolution of psychologically relevant characteristics has happened in historical time. This certainly does open the door for the conjecture that certain groups of people have simply missed the boat on democracy and compassion and evolved into a terrifying race of bigots who cannot possibly be negotiated with because all they know is hate . . .

12

Phil 08.05.09 at 8:11 am

Pinker appears to me to change sides almsot completely, from pessimist to optimist and from genetic determinist to social improver

Steven: pinker?

13

Phil 08.05.09 at 8:25 am

Hidari – interesting one. If we characterise the strong version of EP as “everything is determined by our genome, which is the outcome of millions of years of natural selection”, then there’s no obvious reason why it’s inconsistent with saying “everything is d. by our g. which has continued to be subject to selective pressures“. (On the contrary – the idea that natural selection stopped the moment homo sapiens appeared seems positively un-Darwinian.) The question is to what extent actual EPists have worked with an unspoken prior assumption of “everything is d. by our g., the savage untamed beasts that we are!“. If Pinker’s extricating himself from some of the more fantastical bits of EP, that suggests there is a rational (and consistently Darwinian) core to EP – although it’s clearly going to be a bugger to research. And if he’s flailing around a bit, that suggests that the me-Tarzan strain of EP runs quite deep.

14

Alex 08.05.09 at 8:29 am

Even more common in the debate is the tendency to put forward a strong version of a theory but, when it comes under attack, to retreat to a version so moderate and reasonable in its claims that no one can seriously object to it.

When the facts change, I change my ideas – what do you do?”

15

dsquared 08.05.09 at 9:39 am

“I change my thinly veiled rationalisation”

16

dsquared 08.05.09 at 9:43 am

Actually, this is a big one for Pinker to have swallowed:

[Co-operation] may also be powered by cosmopolitanism: by histories and journalism and memoirs and realistic fiction and travel and literacy, which allows you to project yourself into the lives of other people that formerly you may have treated as sub-human, and also to realize the accidental contingency of your own station in life; the sense that “there but for fortune go I.”

because it’s very close to the dreaded realtivissses! and the postmodernisssses! and also female circumcision! viewpoint that a lot of his mates have built quite a lot of their personalities and careers on being nasty about. If he’s genuinely changed his position this is very welcome, although as Hidari and John note, he’s got a lot of past form on retreating to a sensible position when challenged, and then returning to the old provocative one when he thinks nobody’s looking.

17

Kallan.G 08.05.09 at 10:03 am

I’m not quite following the complaints here because in my experience Pinker has always had a rather nuanced view on nature/nurture.

Let’s take Pinker’s example about language. Now the suggestion is that the ability to learn a languages is innate, but learning English as opposed to Japanese is cultural. It’s a brilliant example because note that it turns out both aspects of language there are strictly deterministic and yet you can’t get rid of either one if you want to examine the question of language. That seems to highlight rather well the point I read him as making that N/N isn’t a useful debate, it’s not one or the other rather that both are factors that need to be considered.

The only additional point then is to warn against the simplistic response of “its some of one and some of the other” because again as with language, specific questions can wholly determined by one or the other factor as in do I learn English as my first language.

18

John Quiggin 08.05.09 at 1:23 pm

Alex, there’s a general presumption that the facts don’t change in the course of a single article/book. If you follow the link, rather than reacting to a quoted sentence, you’ll get the point I think.

What I’m talking about here is, IIRC, what John H named a bit later as the Two-step of Terrific Triviality.

19

Hidari 08.05.09 at 2:13 pm

‘If Pinker’s extricating himself from some of the more fantastical bits of EP, that suggests there is a rational (and consistently Darwinian) core to EP – although it’s clearly going to be a bugger to research. ‘

Yes I think therein lies the rub. The ‘we have evolved to live in the African Savannah’ theory is probably wrong (and as you say, probably un-Darwinian) but relatively easy to test. The ‘we evolved to live in a wide variety of environments, including the ones we currently live in’ clearly makes any hard and fast ‘nature/nurture’ distinction far harder to make, or at least study scientifically. The ‘we are still evolving’ discovery will probably make EP far more scientific in the long run, but will, equally, lead to far fewer ‘research findings’ that can easily be turned into headlines in the Right-leaning media.

20

Hidari 08.05.09 at 2:25 pm

‘I’m not quite following the complaints here because in my experience Pinker has always had a rather nuanced view on nature/nurture.’

Oh really?

http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/papers/The_Blank_Slate_General_Psychologist.pdf

21

Chris 08.05.09 at 3:23 pm

@20: What’s un-nuanced about the linked article? Pinker attacks what I think may be a strawman view (I find this his most tedious trait), but he certainly doesn’t (seem to me to) hold the opposite “we’re all just baboons in business suits” strawman-EP view.

Did Pinker ever really have a strong genetic-determinist point of view (prior to the more nuanced views expressed in, e.g., _The Blank Slate_), or was he just attacked as if he did?

I wouldn’t find genetic determinism (in any sense sufficiently strong to justify the use of the word “determinism” as part of the term) to be _any_ theme of _The Blank Slate_, let alone a central one. He certainly spends a great deal of time arguing against the idea that genes have no importance whatsoever (which seemed a bit excessive to me given that I am not aware of any serious proponents of that idea), but to assume that the only other possible position (and therefore, the one Pinker adheres to) is that genes are the *only* thing with any importance whatsoever is a massive false dichotomy, and one that can only be arrived at by rejecting any possibility that nuance on that issue might exist or that Pinker might subscribe to it.

Height is partially heritable (genetic), but also strongly influenced by nutrition, certain diseases, and other environmental factors. I think the same may be true for a variety of mental capabilities that we lump together under the heading “intelligence”, and I expect Pinker would agree. Characterizing this view as “genetic determinism” is tendentious to the point of outright dishonesty.

22

Ellerton Williams 08.05.09 at 3:31 pm

I read your Blank Slate review and found it both unimpressive at a substantive level and overtly ideologically biased. The old nature-nurture war is over. The outcome? Our behavior is both explained AND constrained by our genes and our environment. Pinker and the other “sociobiologists” as you like to call them get this. As do most cognitive scientists, behavioral geneticists, neuroscientists, etc. Mocking them for adapting their views to the advancing science seems very odd. BTW – the Blank Slate is 7 years old. It’s a little late to be nitpicking it, given the speed with which the science behind it is advancing. Perhaps you should read something more recent. I also recommend Judith Harris’s No Two Alike and the reissue of The Nurture Assumption.

You conclude with, “Ultimately, whatever contribution our genes may or may not make to our nature, there is not much we can do about them. Unless we are prepared to embark on large-scale genetic re-engineering, our only hope is to focus on those aspects of our condition that are amenable to nurture.”
This is quite true, and serves as an excellent argument in support of figuring out what aspects of our nature are and are not amenable to modification by environment and experience, and at what point in our development they are so amendable. So it seems counter productive to mock and deride those whose work is focused on making these distinctions.

I’d be interested in what you think those aspects of our condition are, what revisions to them you would propose, and on the basis of what valid data you believe such revisions would work. I don’t think the resulting picture will be a very rosy one, mostly because I think the revisions that would work would be considered intolerable by many, for reasons of cost, intrusiveness, etc.

23

dsquared 08.05.09 at 3:37 pm

Did Pinker ever really have a strong genetic-determinist point of view

Yes, in “How the Mind Works” he was a big proponent of the “Swiss Army Knife” modular model of the brain. He also regularly claimed that Dawkinsian explanations of things like art were the “real” ones, and at one point seemed to believe that he had an evolutionary explanation for novel-writing. He was a very prominent participant in the Dawkins/Gould wars, on the side of panadaptationism. If the term has any meaning, he was one.

24

tom s. 08.05.09 at 3:46 pm

When the facts change, I change my ideas – what do you do?

When I change my ideas, I try to mention that they are changed, and also try to show a little more more modesty about my new ideas than I may have had about my old ones.

25

lemuel pitkin 08.05.09 at 3:50 pm

From the article linked by Hidari:

the empirical fact [is] that human races and ethnic groups are psychologically highly similar, if not identical. People everywhere use language, get jealous, are selective in choosing mates, find their children cute, are afraid of heights and the dark, experience anger and disgust, learn names for local species, and so on. If you adopt children from a technologically undeveloped part of the world, they will fit in to modern society just fine.

So the fears expressed at 9 and 11 appear a bit misplaced.

Count me in the “If Pinker has abandoned evolutionary psychology, so much the better for Pinker” camp. If we don’t think anyone can be convinced to abandon wrong-headed views, why do we bother arguing about this stuff?

26

Kallan G. 08.05.09 at 4:29 pm

It turns out that my Nature/Nurture hyperlink seems to have not, ahem, linked. I was trying to reference this paper which I guess is pretty explicit and where the language example comes from.

http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/papers/nature_nurture.pdf

27

soru 08.05.09 at 4:35 pm

Have to admit to not quite getting the nature of the disagreement here. The presentation and the article linked at @20 and articles not only make the same points, they even use the same Papuan tribes and 17C Englishmen to illustrate them.

And from the liked review, this seems particularly hard to place in the argument that seems to being made:

‘others such as ‘childcare’ which are obviously necessary to species survival’

It’s not just that lots of species (e.g. sharks) survive perfectly well without childcare, it’s that that is apparently being used to argue _against_ there being any significant evolutionary influences on human behaviour.

Can someone explain a bit better?

28

Hidari 08.05.09 at 4:58 pm

lemuel pitkin

I think Tom S has answered your question (#23).

soru

‘And from the liked review, this seems particularly hard to place in the argument that seems to being made:

‘others such as ‘childcare’ which are obviously necessary to species survival’

It’s not just that lots of species (e.g. sharks) survive perfectly well without childcare, it’s that that is apparently being used to argue against there being any significant evolutionary influences on human behaviour.’

I am not trying to put words in John’s mouth here, but I think what he is talking about is what Daniel Dennett refers to as the ‘pointy spear’ problem. What he means is that in every tribe that has ever existed since the dawn of time, warriors throw the ‘pointy’ end of the spear forwards, not the other end. It is, therefore, a universal. But just because something is a universal, it doesn’t follow that it’s a cognitive universal. The fact is that because of the basic laws of physics it just makes more aerodynamic sense to make and throw spears in this way.

In the same way, ‘childcare’, viewed in the absolute broadest sense, simply means that that animals take care of their children such that they don’t die. But, given the ‘selfish gene’ that’s just a statement of the bloody obvious. It doesn’t follow that there is a universal cognitive module, located in the human brain, that is programmed for ‘childcare’, which is what Pinker wants to prove. It’s like saying ‘the need to breathe oxygen’ is a cultural universal. It is, but so what?

29

lemuel pitkin 08.05.09 at 5:10 pm

When I change my ideas, I try to mention that they are changed, and also try to show a little more more modesty about my new ideas than I may have had about my old ones.

In an ideal world, sure. But ideas like EvPsych are really harmful, so maybe it’s better to adopt a policy of intellectual amnesty. Better incentives that way.

30

roac 08.05.09 at 5:35 pm

The fact is that because of the basic laws of physics it just makes more aerodynamic sense to make and throw spears in this way.
Isn’t it at least as important that the pointy end will stick in the mammoth, whereas the blunt end will bounce off?
/NITPICK

31

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.05.09 at 5:38 pm

I dunno. Why would he spend all this time lecturing at Harvard (together with Dershowitz) about the harmful effects of cultural taboos standing in the way of glorious torture warrants, and then suddenly switch to standard liberal claptrap he used to proclaim to despise just a few years ago. Did he travel to Damascus recently and see a ghost?

32

Phil 08.05.09 at 5:43 pm

The “pointy end” comments remind me (semi-relevantly) of a summing-up of Graham Hancock’s pop diffusionism by an archeologist called Tim Taylor – along the lines of “the astonishing fact that civilisations thousands of miles apart designed buildings that are narrower at the top than the bottom and boats that don’t sink”.

Cultural universals are hard.

33

lemuel pitkin 08.05.09 at 5:45 pm

Why would he spend all this time lecturing at Harvard (together with Dershowitz) about the harmful effects of cultural taboos standing in the way of glorious torture warrants

Link, please.

34

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.05.09 at 5:55 pm

35

lemuel pitkin 08.05.09 at 6:01 pm

OK, yeah, that is one creepy syllabus.

36

soru 08.05.09 at 6:09 pm

‘It’s like saying ‘the need to breathe oxygen’ is a cultural universal. It is, but so what?’

Still not getting it – how is the, presumably universal, panic reflex when being suffocated not a cognitive thing? If people didn’t need to breathe (perfectly biologically possible, given different biology ) then it would be strange if that was universal.

If human childcare is different from shark ‘childcare’, just like human breathing is different from shark breathing, then that’s a consequence of a specific human evolutionary history, not a general principle of biological physics.

In other words, are humans a spear that has one pointy end? And is the way we tend to get thrown to some degree a consequence of that?

And is that idea supposed to be false, logically incoherent, trivially obvious, or what?

37

Doctor Science 08.05.09 at 6:32 pm

soru:

how is the, presumably universal, panic reflex when being suffocated not a cognitive thing?

A reflex is by definition not cognitive — there is no chain of logic or other thought that generates it, that’s what makes it a true reflex.

What is cognitive is how a person or culture controls or reacts to the reflex. My husband, frex, is capable of deliberately holding his breath until he passes out — he can cognitively over-ride that reflex much longer than I would predicted was possible. I’m sure quite a few people could be trained to do the same thing; I’m pretty sure I am not one of them.

38

Doctor Science 08.05.09 at 6:39 pm

As an evolutionary biologist, I find reading Pinker an exhausting task I am not up to at the moment — I am just finishing up Gregory Clark’s “A Farewell to Alms”, and I’m currently inclined to insist that no-one gets to use the terms “genetic basis” or “selection” about human behavior without a license. Write us and see if you qualify (Dr. Clark, you don’t).

Generally speaking, I find Pinker both biologically and anthropologically stupid, and EvoPsycho as a “scientific field” is riddled with unexamined assumptions, logical leaps, perverse premises, wretched statistics, and a bottomless well of smug sexism.

39

lemuel pitkin 08.05.09 at 6:41 pm

Another data point:

Henry the V.’s syllabus includes this article (interestingly, title “Genes and Jews” on the syllabus but “Genes and Groups” on the TNR website) which explicitly affirms the ideas of biological races and genetically-determined differences in intelligence between them, and cautiously supports the idea that Ashkenazi Jews have evolved in historical times to be more intelligent than other ethnicities.

Straight up Bell Curve stuff, basically — a far cry from this other anodyne material. So maybe John Q.’s theory of strategic ambiguity fits the facts better than the Pinker having changed his views.

40

lemuel pitkin 08.05.09 at 6:53 pm

… and now that I’ve actually read the talk I’m even more puzzled. There’s literally not one word in it about genes or evolution. No biologically-determined human nature at all, let alone important differences between races in intelligence or other genetic determinants of behavior. In fact, by showing how radically social changes have reduced the place of violence in human life, it’s a very powerful refutation of evolutionary psychology.

Is it possible there’s a missing link somewhere — an article from the past couple years where he talks about how his ideas have changed?

41

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.05.09 at 7:16 pm

Well, maybe the second half of that talk is missing at this time. First half: we have this great peaceful and gentle civilization here; democracy, cosmopolitanism, nuance all over. Second half (to be delivered later): no effort should be spared to defend it against barbarian hordes trying to destroy it.

42

Bill Benzon 08.05.09 at 7:49 pm

Well, it’s not at though evolutionary psychology is or ever was a tightly structured body of observations and explanatory models, no more than cognitive science (or, for that matter, Theory). It’s a loose affiliation of intellectual themes and interests.

As for Pinker’s recent writing on violence, as far as I know it’s based mostly on observations of various sorts and is not something he deduced from theoretical propositions of some sort. On the contrary, Pinker’s trying to figure out just why we see this long-term drop in the frequency of death by violence. As I recall, he entertains four lines of thought on this issue, though I can’t name them off the top of my head (except for Robert
Wright’s Nonzero notion of the increasing prevalence of nonzero-sum social interactions). I believe Pinker’s working up a book on this material. Maybe that’ll say more about what he thinks is going on and how that is related to the biology of “human nature.”

Now, if you’re on the hunt for some sneaky subtext, well, the notion that we’ve all got this shared human nature is a venerable humanist idea and so is the idea of long-term historical progress. Well, the drop in violence sure looks like human progress.

43

Bill Benzon 08.05.09 at 7:52 pm

Second half (to be delivered later): no effort should be spared to defend it against barbarian hordes trying to destroy it.

Ahhhh, no, I think not. You’re imagining something that isn’t there.

44

John Quiggin 08.05.09 at 8:03 pm

@Doctor Science

I reviewed Clark’s Farewell to Alms a while back, but it’s paywalled and I haven’t reposted it, so I’ll extract the relevant section, though it’s a bit long for a comment

Clark begins with an explanation similar to Weber’s Protestant ethic, focusing on the decline in interest rates driven by higher savings rates, and allowing more long-term investment. However, instead of invoking religion Clark focuses on genes, arguing that England from the Middle Ages onward provided an environment where the accumulation of wealth was genetically adaptive. That is, that people whose genes led them to accumulate wealth had more surviving children than those who did not, leading to the spread of such genes through the population.
This kind of explanation of social behavior, discredited by the excesses of Social Darwinism in the 19th century, was revived in the 1970s under the banner of sociobiology, and more recently repackaged evolutionary psychology. All kinds of human behaviour have been explained as the product of largely hypothetical evolutionary advantages for almost entirely hypothetical genes.
Some of the usual problems with evolutionary psychology are apparent In Clark’s work. There’s no evidence that the behavior in question is genetically governed, and no modelling to show that the selective forces would be sufficient to spread the relevant gene. On the other hand, unlike the ‘Just-So’ stories that are commonplace in evolutionary psychology, the argument has evolution acting in a period about which we have some historical knowledge, rather than in a hypothetical Pleistocene savannah.
Given Clark’s numbers on relative numbers of surviving children, and assuming some initial correlation between wealth and genetic endowments, his argument seems plausible enough when applied to England. But that is not a very hard test Most theories look good when applied to the case that motivated them. The real difficulty is to see how the theory works when applied elsewhere.
The difficulties start right at the beginning. Clark refers exclusively to England, but the Industrial Revolution was equally successful in Scotland, which had nothing like the stable history of England. Only thirty years before Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, the armies of the Young Pretender and the Duke of Cumberland had ravaged much of the country.
The difficulties become even greater when the analysis is extended to more recent history. Clark gives a fairly convincing argument to the effect that the low productivity observed in factories in India and Japan in the early 20th century was due primarily to the low quality of labour input (since the factories used modern equipment, and many had European managers with plenty of experience). But, as he observes, Japan experienced rapid improvement in the first half of the 20th century. The apparent contradiction with earlier arguments is not resolved.

45

John Quiggin 08.05.09 at 8:13 pm

@Ellerton Williams “BTW – the Blank Slate is 7 years old. It’s a little late to be nitpicking it, given the speed with which the science behind it is advancing.”

Well, yes, which is why I wrote the review and blogpost in 2002, as you can easily check. I can see that the intro to this post might have confused you, but if you’re going to nitpick you should get this kind of thing right.

46

Hidari 08.05.09 at 8:25 pm

‘how is the, presumably universal, panic reflex when being suffocated not a cognitive thing?

A reflex is by definition not cognitive—there is no chain of logic or other thought that generates it, that’s what makes it a true reflex.’

This is absolutely the point. To prove the basic tenets of EP Pinker has not only to show that Behaviour ‘X’ is

1: Genuinely a Universal (i.e. manifests itself in all cultures, at all times, in all situations).

2: Is not just ‘one of those things’ (i.e not one of the ‘pointy spear’ or the ‘boats that don’t sink’ kinda things).

3: And most fundamentally, cognitive not behavioural.

Since the whole point is that Pinker wants to create a cognitive evolutionary psychology he has to create a chain of causation that goes:

Evolution (causes) cognitive feature (causes) behaviour.

Just

Evolution (causes) behaviour

won’t cut it because that’s something that Skinner or Watson or any of the other dreaded behaviourists could agree with.

47

Doctor Science 08.05.09 at 8:52 pm

John:

Actually, Clark is worse than you make out.

Given Clark’s numbers on relative numbers of surviving children, and assuming some initial correlation between wealth and genetic endowments, his argument seems plausible enough when applied to England

Nope, not at all. Part of it is that the “initial correlation between wealth and genetic endowments” would have to be proved, because it’s a pretty big supposition — unless by “genetic endowments” he means “Norman ancestry”. Even then, the absense of information on any inheritance in the female line is glaring.

I’m conflicted about Clark because he’s done great work with the archives, but the conclusions he draws are pure Chiroptera guano, scientifically speaking.

Clark has demonstrated that dominance in the English social hierarchy was a reproductive advantage, historically. This is important work, but it doesn’t say *anything* about selection, much less about population-level genetic change. We (=actual biologists) expect dominant animals to be at a selective advantage, because we expect them to be better-nourished — and Clark’s evidence definitely supports that hypothesis.

Both Jared Diamond and I are of the opinion that post-Neolithic pre-modern human populations were generally under strong and evolutionarily novel selection for resistance to infectious disease, and this should be the major force for genetic change in historic human populations. Clark mentions this possibility in a footnote, only to ignore it. Biology FAIL.

48

Chris 08.05.09 at 9:18 pm

@29, 32: ISTM that the syllabus does not come anywhere near supporting your claim. That course calls for a variety of controversial (taboo) subjects to be *examined*. Uncritically accepting any particular point of view discussed in the syllabus would be just as contrary to the apparent purpose of the course as uncritically rejecting it. Torture and infanticide are listed in the same list of taboo subjects, so why not accuse Pinker of supporting that too?

It’s quite possible to rationally examine the possibility of using torture and then reject it. That would be consistent with the apparent purpose of the course and therefore, your claim that Pinker intends the opposite result is speculative.

But isn’t this all a little ad hominem anyway? Pinker supports talking about whether or not torture is moral, therefore he supports torture, therefore he’s wrong about the role of genetic influences in human cognition? Surely I must be misunderstanding this?

I’m not Pinker and have no particular stake in defending him, but the quality of “criticism” being aimed at him here seems extremely poor.

 
#26: What [Dennett] means is that in every tribe that has ever existed since the dawn of time, warriors throw the ‘pointy’ end of the spear forwards, not the other end. It is, therefore, a universal. But just because something is a universal, it doesn’t follow that it’s a cognitive universal. The fact is that because of the basic laws of physics it just makes more aerodynamic sense to make and throw spears in this way.

This analysis seems incomplete. Why do we care whether the spear sticks in the mammoth or not? Because a spear that sticks in the mammoth is more likely to make it stop moving. Why do we want it to stop moving? So we can cut slices off it and eat them. Why do we want to eat slices of mammoth? Because we’re hungry.

Why are we hungry?

It’s tempting to say “We’re hungry because we need nutrition to live.” But how do you get from our needs to our motivations? *Through the programming of our brains.* We both feel hunger, and react to it by trying to eat or acquire food, because… why? If our genes don’t predispose us to that behavior, what does? We get hungry and eat to relieve our hunger because genes for brains that drive that sort of behavior are more likely to be propagated than genes for brains that don’t. Were there once a variety of cultures that reacted to hunger in other ways or not at all, up until they starved to death in perfect apathy? The idea seems absurd (especially in light of the similar hunger->eating connection in pre-cultural species).

You could argue that eating when we’re hungry is just another case of throwing the spear pointy end first – we eat when we’re hungry because we’ve noticed that it relieves our hunger – but that doesn’t really answer the question. Why do we perceive hunger as something we want to be relieved of? Why is the sensation of hunger accompanied by the desire to be less hungry?

Also: why can we engage in the chain of reasoning and goal-seeking behavior in my first paragraph at all? How do we have the capacity to notice that the blunt-end-first approach isn’t working? We don’t have entire cultures of blunt-endians, because effectiveness is noticed and applied sooner, preventing an obviously ineffective method from being adopted as a cultural trait in the first place. (Subtly ineffective methods are another matter, of course. We have lots of those.) But what gives us the capacity to recognize the ineffectiveness of our methods and revise them? Is there a culture of people who don’t care whether or not their plans achieve their goals, or try to find more effective methods for doing so? (Or maybe there was one, but they all died because their plans were ineffective and they didn’t care?) Surely this is just as absurd as the culture that doesn’t care about hunger.

ISTM that these are the kinds of things Pinker argues are not blank on our slates.

 
#38: In fact, by showing how radically social changes have reduced the place of violence in human life, it’s a very powerful refutation of evolutionary psychology.

This seems to me like it can only make sense using a ridiculously strawmannish caricature of “evolutionary psychology” that requires it to make claims like “social environments have no influence whatsoever on human behavior” (when all Pinker is claiming, ISTM, is the far weaker thesis that social environments are not the *only possible* influence on human behavior). Is it that hard to believe that there could be more than one influence on the same observed outcome? We can fast for cultural reasons, but does that really mean we have no inherent predisposition toward eating when we’re hungry, or that the fact that we have that predisposition rather than the opposite one or no predisposition at all doesn’t have anything to do with our evolution?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.05.09 at 9:24 pm

Chris, It’s quite possible to rationally examine the possibility of using torture and then reject it. … a little ad hominem anyway

It would’ve been true if he wasn’t teaching this class together with Dershowitz.

50

lamont cranston 08.05.09 at 9:37 pm

Re: the syllabus.

Racism, torture, and disbelieving rape victims are all taboo? I guess I’m not smart enough to get into Harvard, because I really can’t figure that one out.

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Hidari 08.05.09 at 9:46 pm

‘But how do you get from our needs to our motivations? Through the programming of our brains.’

Jelly fish eat. They don’t have brains.

‘ If our genes don’t predispose us to that behavior, what does?’

That’s not the point. As I said, any behaviourist (or ‘blank slater’) could agree that genes predispose us to behaviour. The point is that that Pinker believes that there is an intermediate (‘cognitive’) stage between the gene and the behaviour. If he can’t prove this then the alleged ‘blank slate’ theory is unrefuted.*

*Actually, hardly anyone in the history of human thought has actually and genuinely believed that the human brain at birth is absolutely and completely, literally, a ‘blank slate’. Pinker’s constant hinting, not only that some people did, but that this was the dominant theory before he came along, is the non plus ultra of the straw man fallacy.

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soru 08.05.09 at 10:10 pm

‘A reflex is by definition not cognitive—there is no chain of logic or other thought that generates it, that’s what makes it a true reflex.’’

‘Evolution (causes) cognitive feature (causes) behaviour.’

That looks to me to be circular logic: you are implicitly defining the word ‘cognitive’ to exclude types of information processing that happen to be universal (or near-so, defaults that can only sometimes be overcome by martial-arts style training, or perhaps freak brain injuries).

That seems a pretty idiosyncratic definition: wikipedia doesn’t share it:

The term “cognitive” in “cognitive science” is “used for any kind of mental operation or structure that can be studied in precise terms”

There are a lot of cognitive tasks that most people can’t do at anything like the speed at which they can catch a ball, react to a smile, or get a joke. It would be pretty surprising if the set of such natural competencies/incompetencies was nothing to do with human evolutionary history.

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John Quiggin 08.05.09 at 10:18 pm

@Hidari #48 I’d want to add “distinctively human”. It’s true that not all animals engage in childcare, but all mammals do, so it seems unlikely that this fact is going to tell us anything about human psychology.

And this is true in spades of “being hungry”. Any behavior that has an explanation along the lines “hungry animals, including humans, want to eat, and act to satisfy that want”, is obviously unlikely to get us far in terms of genetic explanations of human behavior.

In my review, I suggested that the only plausible example of a proper cultural universal in Pinker’s list is tickling. Has anyone done an EV just-so story for this? Training to lie in wait for prey on grassy plains perhaps?

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Bill Benzon 08.05.09 at 11:29 pm

On tickling, I know that Jaak Panksepp, a physiological psychologist, has argued that rats laugh. & he discovered this by tickling rats, recording their ultra high frequency vocalization, and then electronically altering those vocalizations so that we humans can hear them. I know there are videos on YouTube where Pansepp demonstrates this, though I don’t have URLs at hand.

In this casel, of course, humans are tickling the rats, which is entirely different from rats tickling rats.

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Matthias Wasser 08.06.09 at 2:41 am

Yes, yes, yes, humans experience hunger because it’s adaptive to want to eat. There’s no theory that contests this, to my mind. The debate is over how much parsimony in these drives there are.

How much behavior can be explained by reference to a few simple rules like “avoid death,” “follow the habits of people around you,” and “use your Reason?” If you’re an ev psychic you think behaviors that emerges in lots of different societies each need their own particular explanation, that there’s “massive modularity”: thus there’s a specific “module” for detecting whether your mate is cheating on you; whatever. If you’re more of a materialist bent you think this is nonsense. So to apply the metaphor ep doesn’t just want to say that we have an adaptation to feel hunger and to reason but an adaptation to throw the sharp end of the spear. (N.B. that there’s plenty of evidence, by ep standards, that this is an adaptation: those who throw the pointy end forward will have access to more nutrients, &c. &c.) The minimal modularists just say, well, duh, it’s an emergent property of hunger, arms, reason, which are all qualities we know have a biological basis, rather than those we merely speculate to.

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Hidari 08.06.09 at 8:56 am

‘That looks to me to be circular logic: you are implicitly defining the word ‘cognitive’ to exclude types of information processing that happen to be universal (or near-so, defaults that can only sometimes be overcome by martial-arts style training, or perhaps freak brain injuries).’

Actually, reading back over what I wrote, I realise that I greatly under-rated how difficult the (self-imposed) task that Pinker had set himself. Again, John’s original review article is worth reading because it makes the point that even if Pinker managed to prove that behaviour ‘X’ was Universal, and that it was cognitive (not a reflex or a learned response) he also has to prove that it wasn’t a ‘rational’ response to a specific situation based on General Intelligence.

For example: everyone, looking back at human history, can see that there has been a lot of war in the past, a lot of violence. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that violence is a Universal. But that doesn’t prove Pinker’s case, because one could argue that violence is a Universal because people have worked out that it is in their interests to be violent in specific situations. And that, therefore, if you changed the situation, people wouldn’t be violent any more.

To quote John:

‘In fact, the most interesting parts of Pinker’s book do not relate to human nature at all, but to his restatement of a pessimistic view of the human condition. In the process of this restatement, Pinker abandons his evolutionary psychology model without realising that he is doing so.

Take, for instance, his observation, following an approving citation of Hobbes, that ‘violence is not a primitive, irrational urge, nor is it a “pathology”, except in the metaphorical sense of a condition that everyone would like to eliminate. Instead, it is a near-inevitable outcome of the dynamics of self-interested, rational social organisms’. This is backed up by the work of political scientiist who claim that war has generally benefited the aggressors.

Pinker may well be right, but his argument is inconsistent with the claim that violence is the product of genetic predispositions acquired by our distant ancestors, that is, of primitive, irrational urges specific to males. If the Hobbesian view is right, violence will arise as a rational response to this environment in the absence of any predisposition to violence or even in the presence of an instinctive aversion to violence, such as that which evolutionary psychologists impute to women.

On the other hand, an environmentalist theory of violence such as that of Pinker in his Hobbesian mode has optimistic corollaries which he partly recognises. If the environment is such that violence is costly, a rational organism will choose the path of peace. Whatever political scientists may argue about the broad sweep of history, aggressive war has not been a profitable policy from World War I onwards. The aggressors lost both wars, and the victors reaped nothing but grief in their attempts to extract benefits from their victories. More recently, Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic have ruined their countries and, in all probability, themselves by playing the politics of war. The real threat today is neither the rational use of force in the manner of Clausewitz nor aggressive genes inherited from the Pleistocene past but the culturally-generated craziness of Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh. ‘

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.06.09 at 9:31 am

Pinker may well be right, but his argument is inconsistent with the claim that violence is the product of genetic predispositions acquired by our distant ancestors, that is, of primitive, irrational urges specific to males.

I don’t think the two claims are outright contradictory, unless you understand the EP claim as that all violence always is generated by genetic predisposition. Which, I think, would be a bit of a caricature. It is possible that there is a rational component and a genetic component. It could even be a very strong environmental component and very weak genetic component – and EP still survives.

But then, of course, we are back to the point about the difficulty of proving it.

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Hidari 08.06.09 at 10:46 am

‘But then, of course, we are back to the point about the difficulty of proving it.’

This, of course, has always been the Achilles’ Heel of EP.

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soru 08.06.09 at 11:17 am

I don’t see how that follows at all. The proportion of violence that happens to come, in any particular set of circumstances, from causes that are respectively universal, biological, mammalian, primate, human, cultural, institutional, pathological or personal just doesn’t have any logical connection to the consequences you seem to be claiming for it. It’s as if you were claiming more people speak Mandarin than any other language, therefore it’s grammar rules are hardwired in the human brain, or the Sun is smaller than the Earth, therefore God exists, or you can’t know the position and velocity of an electron, therefor you can’t know somebodies name and address.

Give a nutter a nuke and the numbers could change, without any consequent change in human biology.

A pretty plausible theory is that there is a somewhat hardwired social conflict module in typical human brains, one that does the processing necessary to feel a certain emotion in certain circumstances faster than you could diagram out the game-theoretical consequences. It is just that, in military terms, it is crap, like a 1980s 3D graphics card in a quad-core CPU. So effective militaries spend time training and acculturating recruits to override that, to shoot rather than punch, post watches rather than stay awake from worry, and so on.

Which may or may not be true: it seems within the plausible capabilities of science to find out. But either way, in political terms, it only has tactical, not foundational, consequences.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.06.09 at 11:34 am

You think it’s pretty plausible that there are pre-built modules for social interactions?

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soru 08.06.09 at 12:41 pm

@60 yes, for suitable values of ‘pre-build’ and ‘modules’. Some animals do social behaviour, some don’t.

What are Asperger’s/high functioning autism if they are not disorders of those social interaction processors?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.06.09 at 12:59 pm

What are Asperger’s/high functioning autism if they are not disorders of those social interaction processors?

True, but that doesn’t mean that software for these processors is pre-built, genetic. But hey – what do I know.

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Barry 08.06.09 at 1:10 pm

soru 08.06.09 at 12:41 pm

“What are Asperger’s/high functioning autism if they are not disorders of those social interaction processors?”

All sorts of things – for example, difficulty in general processing which manifests most strongly in certain categories of behaviors – categories which *we* decide on.

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lemuel pitkin 08.06.09 at 2:52 pm

all Pinker is claiming, ISTM, is the far weaker thesis that social environments are not the only possible influence on human behavior

When social environment is responsible for the reduction in violent death rates from over 100 per 100,000 annually to less than 1 per 100,000, then social environment is, indeed, the only influence on that important category of human behavior. There isn’t any variation left for non-social factors to explain.

Also, I don’t think it’s “ridiculously strawmannish” to think that evolutionary psychology involves claims about, well, evolution, and about specific biological determinants of human behavior — things which are nowhere present in the TED talk. Now, you can say that’s ok, the talk isn’t evolutionary psychology — but that’s exactly what prompts the “is this the same Steven Pinker?” bafflement in the first place.

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lemuel pitkin 08.06.09 at 3:04 pm

It could even be a very strong environmental component and very weak genetic component – and EP still survives.

Well, sure, but that’s just John’s “two-step of terrific triviality.” If the argument of The Blank Slate had been that yes, human nature is almost a blank slate, but not quite, no one would have bought the book.

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Chris 08.06.09 at 3:22 pm

How much behavior can be explained by reference to a few simple rules like “avoid death,” “follow the habits of people around you,” and “use your Reason?”

About as much as the origin of the universe can be explained by divine creation. It’s not much of an explanation when you’ve hidden all the interesting bits behind the curtain. Why do you have any reason to use? Why do you prefer to avoid death? Why do you follow the habits of people around you? (Which ones? The successful ones. Why them? Because they’re succeeding. OK, now how do you judge success?)

If you’re an ev psychic you think behaviors that emerges in lots of different societies each need their own particular explanation, that there’s “massive modularity”: thus there’s a specific “module” for detecting whether your mate is cheating on you; whatever.

This is a nonsensical strawman. You find out whether your mate is cheating on you the same way you find out any other question; by looking at the evidence, by consulting a diviner, by meditation and prayer, or whatever other methods you have picked up by experience and/or imitation.

Why do you care? *There’s* your modularity. Means are left up to using your reason; it’s the ends that are genetically programmed.

It’s the same for the mammoth hunter; he wants to eat because he has a hunger instinct, he makes spears and throws them pointy end first because those methods have proved effective (for him and others in his social environment) for obtaining meat. I have the same hunger instinct, but my methods of satisfying it involve microwaves, refrigerators, grocery stores, and restaurants, rather than spear-throwing. Clearly my ability to microwave a TV dinner isn’t genetically programmed. But my motivation for doing so is.

But that doesn’t prove Pinker’s case, because one could argue that violence is a Universal because people have worked out that it is in their interests to be violent in specific situations. And that, therefore, if you changed the situation, people wouldn’t be violent any more.

Aside from the people who are violent when it *isn’t* in their interests, which might require another explanation (or are they just mistaken)…

The fact that changing the circumstances changes behavior *is* (part of) Pinker’s case, as has been pointed out elsewhere on this thread. What you say Pinker’s case is seems to be quite different from what Pinker says Pinker’s case is.

Pinker may well be right, but his argument [that rational analysis shows that violence often benefits the violent] is inconsistent with the claim that violence is the product of genetic predispositions acquired by our distant ancestors, that is, of primitive, irrational urges specific to males.

No, it isn’t. In a stable environment, irrationally reaching the right answer is just as good as reasoning it out, and probably faster. Bees don’t study engineering to decide that hexagons are a good shape for honeycombs; but their success is dependent on the fact that hexagons *are* a good shape for honeycombs. Bees have primitive, irrational urges – that just happen to lead to effective, functional honeycomb shapes, not because they reasoned them out, but because they evolved. (There is some ambiguity in the word “irrational” – “proceeding by methods other than reason” vs. “reaching a result contrary to reason”. Irrational(1) urges are rarely irrational(2) in the common environment of the organism that possesses them, because a frequently-irrational(2) urge is maladaptive and usually selected out.)

Similarly, if in a certain situation aggression is beneficial, the organism who studies it rationally and then acts aggressively may not be any better off, and may even be slightly worse off, than the one who acts aggressively out of instinct. (This holds even for creatures who are already bothering to grow a large, metabolically expensive brain – but AFAIK, Pinker would not reject the idea that some human instincts are preserved from prehuman species who might not even have been capable of reasoning out some of the problems for which their instincts short-cutted to the solutions.) So even rational beings may benefit from having some instinctive shortcuts.

It’s when the environment changes that the rational conclusion (which can be redrawn in each generation based on its circumstances) and the instinctive urge (which can’t) come into conflict.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.06.09 at 4:31 pm

Chris, but hunger and the hexagon thing belong to (unless I’m missing something) evolutionary biology. Evolutionary psychology has gotta be about something more complicated, something a bit more psychology-like.

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Hidari 08.06.09 at 4:37 pm

‘What you say Pinker’s case is seems to be quite different from what Pinker says Pinker’s case is.’

Actually, as has been pointed out, what Pinker says Pinker’s case is changes quite frequently between books, and sometimes within books as well. Indeed, I believe that that was the point of the original post.

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roac 08.06.09 at 4:49 pm

Bees don’t study engineering to decide that hexagons are a good shape for honeycombs; but their success is dependent on the fact that hexagons are a good shape for honeycombs.

It’s a long time since I read D’Arcy Thompson’s On Growth and Form — one of a very few books about biology (parts of which are) still important after a century — but I believe he argues convincingly that hexagons are what you get when you stack tubes of wax. No knowledge of mathematics whatever is to be imputed to the bees.

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lemuel pitkin 08.06.09 at 4:56 pm

Evolutionary psychology has gotta be about something more complicated, something a bit more psychology-like.

Hm, that’s a distinct and somewhat familiar style. You didn’t use to comment here under another name, did you, Henri?

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dsquared 08.06.09 at 5:27 pm

further to Henri’s #67, I would note that the fact that there is a hunger drive and a sex drive, and that the reasons for the existence of these drives are to do with evolutionary natural selection, are there, in so many words in the work of Sigmund Freud. If “evolutionary psychology” is going to have any specific content, then surely to God it has to be the case that Freudians aren’t part of EP.

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soru 08.06.09 at 6:21 pm

Actually, as has been pointed out, what Pinker says Pinker’s case is changes quite frequently between books, and sometimes within books as well. Indeed, I believe that that was the point of the original post.

Except that when examples of such are provided, they actually say literally the same thing, down to using the same anecdotes and supporting data.

It’s almost as if some people have a hard-coded _disagree with Pinker_ module that produces a certain ‘good enough’ result very quickly without all the bother of working through the detailed reasoning….

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Hidari 08.06.09 at 6:38 pm

‘Except that when examples of such are provided, they actually say literally the same thing, down to using the same anecdotes and supporting data.’

That may be true or it may not be, but in any case, take it up with John, whose original post stated, and I quote:

‘In this piece, Pinker appears to me to change sides almsot completely…. his explanation for [war] seems to be entirely consistent with the Standard Social Science Model he caricatured and debunked in The Blank Slate.’

So: to repeat, you may be right or you may not but whether or not Pinker changes his mind or not (without admitting it) was, in fact, the point of the original post. It’s not just something I invented as a kind of Deus ex Machina to end the argument.

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Hidari 08.06.09 at 7:06 pm

‘further to Henri’s #67, I would note that the fact that there is a hunger drive and a sex drive, and that the reasons for the existence of these drives are to do with evolutionary natural selection, are there, in so many words in the work of Sigmund Freud. If “evolutionary psychology” is going to have any specific content, then surely to God it has to be the case that Freudians aren’t part of EP.’

Precisely. Pinker often hints (without explicitly stating it) that before he, Cosmides and Tooby came along, no one realised that human beings have to eat, breathe oxygen or reproduce*, or that if they did, ‘mostpeople’ were under the impression that humans had to be laboriously taught this.
But of course, to admit the contrary would be to admit that the extreme form of the Blank Slate theory which Pinker spends much of his book of the same title arguing against, never really existed except in his imagination.

Incidentally I am no Locke scholar, but I laboriously just went and looked up the first chapter of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in Google Books. As I thought, Locke was primarily arguing against the idea that ideas (and he does mean ideas, not ‘cognitive modules’…i.e. what we would term ‘beliefs’) were placed in the human brain by God before birth…most of the discussion is about moral precepts or principles. And, again, as I thought, Locke does explicitly state that ‘hunger and thirst and warmth’ (i.e. ‘drives’) are probably innate and not at all what he is talking about.

It’s incredibly important not to force Enlightenment era thought into early 21st century categories: Locke, of course neither believed or disbelieved in genetic determinism because he knew nothing of genes, DNA, natural selection, cognitive psychology, or any of the other things you would need to know before the arguments made any sense.

http://books.google.com/books?id=YxwGAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=An+Essay+Concerning+Human+Understanding&ei=nyZ7SqLVB5KgygS4uYjEDA#v=onepage&q=&f=false (page 37).

* I mean as a species.

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lemuel pitkin 08.06.09 at 7:30 pm

Soru, I’m really curious how you think an account of violence that (a) emphasises the enormous variation in rates of violence in historical cultures and (b) explains this variation entirely in terms of social factors, without so much as mentioning genes, or brain modules or other biological bases of behavior, is compatible with The Blank Slate or Pinker’s other EvPsych stuff.

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Chris 08.06.09 at 8:12 pm

#67: Chris, but hunger and the hexagon thing belong to (unless I’m missing something) evolutionary biology. Evolutionary psychology has gotta be about something more complicated, something a bit more psychology-like.

It seems to me that this is drawing an unjustifiably bright line between human behavior and nonhuman behavior (and even human behavior that is shared with nonhumans). The study of human behavior has a lot to do with the study of animal behavior because *humans are animals*. And the fact that evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology have 50% of their names in common ought to suggest that some overlap in subject matter is not unthinkable.

@68: That has been claimed. My standard for “pointed out” is a bit higher, involving evidence and stuff.

In particular, AFAIK Pinker was never a genetic determinist in the “human behavior is really just as rigidly fixed by genes as insect behavior” sense (I’m not sure there are any such, actually), so the idea that human behavior could change in response to changing conditions isn’t actually inconsistent with his earlier-expressed beliefs.

Indeed, complex conditional strategies are what big complex brains are *for* — the whole feedback loop of “this isn’t working, what else can I try?” is something you don’t see in small-brained organisms in general — so it’s hardly surprising that a species with a complex brain changes its behavior in response to changes in its surroundings.

It’s possible that at some time Pinker actually did subscribe to the massively simplistic, obviously crashingly stupid views that are being ascribed to him (and EP in general) in this thread (and that would be necessary to be inconsistent with “Changes in the environments humans live in have produced changes in human behavior over time, specifically in the direction of reducing the frequency of deadly violence”). But I haven’t seen any evidence of that, including from reading _The Blank Slate_. I think the real inconsistency here is between Pinker and straw-Pinker.

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Chris 08.06.09 at 8:23 pm

@74: I’m curious how you think it could possibly be inconsistent. The genetic bases of the human brain can’t explain differences in behavior *between two groups of humans* because *they have them in common*. You can’t explain a difference by reference to a common similarity.

EP seems to me to be primarily about explaining what makes different groups of humans *similar*, not about what makes different groups of humans different. The un-blankness of the slate limits the influence of culture, but it obviously does not destroy it, otherwise different cultures of humans would be as indistinguishable as different hives of the same species of bee.

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lemuel pitkin 08.06.09 at 8:33 pm

Yeah but, Chris, Pinker gave a long talk explaining rates of violence in human society *without talking about evolution at all*. How can that be EP?

Seriously, read (or listen to) the talk and then tell me what in it depends on claims specific to EP.

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soru 08.06.09 at 9:36 pm

@77 nothing (except perhaps the sentence starting ‘there’s a cognitive illusion’, which is on the secondary topic of the _perception_ of violence).

If you talk to a climatologist about the weather forecast for tomorrow, your take-away point can’t really be ‘he said nothing about global warming, he must have changed his mind’. Certain data sets demonstrate certain causal relations, other data sets collected over different time scales demonstrate others.

Neither in any way contradicts the other.

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lemuel pitkin 08.07.09 at 3:02 am

f you talk to a climatologist about the weather forecast for tomorrow, your take-away point can’t really be ‘he said nothing about global warming, he must have changed his mind’.

Sure, but if you talk to him about the next 50 years and he or she says nothing about greenhouse gases or anthropogenic climate change then, yeah, actually, it can be.

If evolutionary psychology is not relevant to basic questions about human behavior like the prevalence of violnce, then that’s an argument against EP.

But let me put the question to you, Soru, and you, Chris: what are the specific, concrete claims about psychology or society that are distinct to EP? What do we know about human behavior thanks to EP, that we didn’t already know from non-evolutionary social sciences?

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John Quiggin 08.07.09 at 4:39 am

I’m following along, pretty much in agreement with LP at all points (not always the case!). So don’t take my silence as lack of interest.

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soru 08.07.09 at 7:51 am


Sure, but if you talk to him about the next 50 years and he or she says nothing about greenhouse gases or anthropogenic climate change then, yeah, actually, it can be

Yes, but that’s clearly not the case here: what is being talked about can’t plausibly manifest on that scale. Global warming can’t plausibly make tomorrow ten degrees warmer than today. Gravity can be ignored in a discussion of whether two people will stay together.

By what mechanism do you propose it to would make a big difference to aggregate statistics about human societies if parent-child psychological-characteristic transmission was:

1. genetic
2. in-womb environmental
3. pre-age 6 educational/cultural?

(There might well be an issue where child soldiers forcibly recruited into cult-like groups like the LRA behave differently than those who grow up within a more normal society then join the army at 16+. But I don’t think even they recruit that young).

If you want to look at the areas where an answer to that would make a difference, you have to focus appropriately, as in:
http://www.guilford.com/cgi-bin/cartscript.cgi?page=pr/ellis.htm&sec=reviews&dir=pp/dp&cart_id=208191.21056

Results doesn’t have to be positive and completely novel to be scientifically interesting: Darwin speculated about much of this stuff.

The trick is proving, or disproving, it. Which is something that gets done as a result of a scientific program, not as a pre-requisite for it.

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Chris 08.07.09 at 3:41 pm

If evolutionary psychology is not relevant to basic questions about human behavior like the prevalence of violnce, then that’s an argument against EP.

If global warming is not relevant to basic questions about weather like whether or not it will rain tomorrow, then that’s an argument against global warming?

No. It is a misunderstanding of the scope of the theory.

The gene pool of modern Swedes and the gene pool of Swedes 1000 years ago are, to a considerable extent, identical. That’s why non-genetic explanations are preferred to explain differences in behavior between these genetically practically identical groups.

Evolution can’t explain the difference between Vikings and modern Swedes any more than global climate change can explain the difference between today’s weather and tomorrow’s weather. Just like short-term changes in weather demand a non-climatological explanation, short-term changes in behavior demand a non-evolutionary explanation. But offering such an explanation doesn’t constitute renunciation of the theory about long-term change, even though its mechanics are different.

On the other hand, EP might conceivably have something to say about the *similarities* between those cultures (since it’s based on one thing they have in common despite their very different cultural norms, artifacts, and ways of life). Why, even though modern culture so strongly frowns on violence, is the murder rate still nonzero? All the influence culture can bring to bear has already been brought to bear and… failed, or at least not completely succeeded. Why is that? The Vikings had *more* blood feuds, and it’s reasonable to suppose that this is because they approved of them; but the modern Swedes don’t approve of them and have some vengeance killings anyway. What’s going on here?

We take it for granted that all societies are going to have some murders because all societies *do* have some murders. But that, right there, proves that the slate is not blank. Culture – any culture – is not a sufficiently powerful influence to eliminate murder. That means we must have *non*-cultural propensities that sometimes lead to murder, which cultures cannot completely suppress.

So, given that fact, where did those propensities come from? We have them without having to learn them, so they must be hardwired into our brains. But the wiring of our brains is a consequence of the genes that direct our brain development, so the chain of causation traces back to the genes. Why do we have these genes and not some other genes? Because we evolved that way.

If you accept that humans have *any nonlearned instincts at all* that influence our behavior, even hunger, then evolution *must* act on them, because an influence on behavior is an influence on survival rates. That’s what makes it so baffling to me when people say they’re opposed to EP – either they’re creationists, or they don’t understand it, or they believe in (what I thought was) the strawman version of the blank slate that there are *no* unlearned human behaviors *whatsoever*. Because if we have instincts, and evolved, then our instincts evolved, just like if we have hands and evolved, then our hands evolved. (This does not imply Panglossian ultra-functionalism; some things may have evolved as side effects, or local maxima, or something like that.)

Now I’m curious what EP-hostile schools of thought in sociology have to say about the limits of cultural influence. Why do they exist at all? Why *these* limits and not some other limits? Or are those questions just considered outside the scope of sociology (and if so, why be so hostile to another field that does attempt to answer them)?

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matthias wasser 08.07.09 at 4:59 pm

If you accept that humans have any nonlearned instincts at all that influence our behavior, even hunger, then evolution must act on them, because an influence on behavior is an influence on survival rates. That’s what makes it so baffling to me when people say they’re opposed to EP – either they’re creationists, or they don’t understand it, or they believe in (what I thought was) the strawman version of the blank slate that there are no unlearned human behaviors whatsoever. Because if we have instincts, and evolved, then our instincts evolved, just like if we have hands and evolved, then our hands evolved.

Yes. But that’s ridiculously trivial. EP is not the claim that psychology is a product of evolution, although of course it requires us to accept that claim (which no one except Creationists etcetera disputes.) To be meaningful EP requires that contemplation of the likely etiologies of our behavior allow us to make conclusions about our psychology. It’s a specific research program with a lot of assumptions and practices, and we don’t fit all of those things into the name of that bundle of assumptions and practices because, well, that’s the whole point of naming things.

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Hidari 08.07.09 at 5:13 pm

‘We take it for granted that all societies are going to have some murders because all societies do have some murders. But that, right there, proves that the slate is not blank.’

No it doesn’t.

All it proves is that in all societies, some people have worked out ,or learned, or both, that in some situations their aims can be achieved by violence (as long as they don’t get caught).

This was, yet again, the point of John’s original review, and again I quote:

‘Pinker may well be right, but his argument is totally inconsistent with the claim that violence is the product of genetic predispositions acquired by our distant ancestors, that is, of primitive, irrational urges. If the Hobbesian view is right, then violence will arise as a rational response to this environment in the absence of any predisposition to violence or even in the presence of an instinctive aversion to violence.’

Yet again, you assume that because something is a universal it must be ‘genetically programmed’. That’s simply not true (something I tried to show by quoting Dennett’s ‘pointy spear’ argument).

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soru 08.07.09 at 6:16 pm

All it proves is that in all societies, some people have worked out ,or learned, or both, that in some situations their aims can be achieved by violence (as long as they don’t get caught).

I think you are in danger of backing yourself into the position that, for those people who _haven’t_ committed violence, that’s only because they are too stupid to realise it is a smart idea…

The universal, or near-universal, that needs explanation is that some do violence, some, in similar circumstances, don’t. This is not true of eating, or running (but is of sex, given homosexuality).

The conventional explanation for that is that there are psychological-level variations in humans (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathy). (Disagreeing with this would be a straw man, no?).

If EP is applicable, those variations are at least somewhat subject to evolutionary pressures, which may (or may not) put interesting constraints on what their ranges and distributions can be.

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matthias wasser 08.07.09 at 6:35 pm

I think you are in danger of backing yourself into the position that, for those people who haven’t committed violence, that’s only because they are too stupid to realise it is a smart idea…

How does that follow? If violence is the most effective means to an end in one situation must it be the most effective means to an end in some other?

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Bill Benzon 08.07.09 at 6:45 pm

1) One might wonder just what’s so evolutionary about evolutionary psych. FWIW, as far as I’m concerned, not a whole heck of a lot. I’m inclined to think that there’s a smidgeon of intellectual substance that’s been rhetorically inflated to cast a shadow over the whole field mostly as a of intellectual branding.

To be meaningful EP requires that contemplation of the likely etiologies of our behavior allow us to make conclusions about our psychology.

Something like that.

Early in How the Mind Works Pinker asks you to imagine that you’re rummaging around in an antique shop and you find a strange little contraption, which Pinker then describes. After he’s got puzzled he tells you what it is; it’s an olive pitter. Now that we know what it’s supposed to do, the physical design of this contraption makes sense. Pinker’s point: A mechanism may be deeply mysterious until you know what it’s for.

What’s that have to do with psychology? Well, perhaps the reason the mental mechanisms (the brain?) are so mysterious is because we don’t know what they’re for. How do we figure out what they’re for? Evolutionary biology. How did the mechanism in question serve the genes back in the Pleistocene? It’s not at all obvious to me that asking this question has led to marvelous new insights that we didn’t have before and couldn’t have gotten any other way.

In any event, biologically based psychology of one sort of another predates both evolutionary psychology and sociobiology by decades.

# # # # # #

2) I’ve read quite a bit by Pinker, but not The Blank Slate, so I don’t know what he says about violence there. Given that ignorance, this puzzles me a bit:

“Pinker may well be right, but his argument is totally inconsistent with the claim that violence is the product of genetic predispositions acquired by our distant ancestors, that is, of primitive, irrational urges. If the Hobbesian view is right, then violence will arise as a rational response to this environment in the absence of any predisposition to violence or even in the presence of an instinctive aversion to violence.”

Is Pinker asking us to judge rationality from the point of view of the acting individual, or from the point of view of the genes? Is Pinker switching between the two levels of explanation without so indicating?

Hobbes would have been judging rationality from the POV of the thinking and acting individual. But an evolutionary psychologist might well be judging rationality from the POV of the genes, which is very different. Violence might well be genetically rational while being experienced as irrational by the acting individual.

# # # # # #

3) Finally, with respect to the long-term diminution of deadly violence, it would be one thing to assert that the biologically-based psychological disposition to violence has become less prevalent in the population. It would be rather different to attribute that diminution to the creation of social mechanisms* that curtail the expression of that disposition. It seems to me that the former would cause considerably more difficulty for EP than the latter. The former could be taken to imply a substantial change in human biology during historical time while the latter could be taken as the construction of clever social mechanisms from dispositions inherent in human nature.

*E.g. The institutions of the Weberian state with its monopoly over legitimate violence.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.07.09 at 7:19 pm

@83 Now I’m curious what EP-hostile schools of thought in sociology have to say about the limits of cultural influence.

According to wikipedia

…When completely brought up by animals, the feral child exhibits behaviors (within physical limits) almost entirely like those of the particular care-animal, such as its fear of or indifference to humans. The term Mowgli Syndrome has been applied. These cases have been investigated by researchers and scientists in the fields of psychology and sociology.

See, if it’s possible for a human child to develop into a wolf, it seems that there must be enough plasticity inside that brain to adapt and develop into pretty anything; from Tibetan monk who won’t hurt a fly to mass-murderer. Whatever it is that might be initially on that slate (if anything) – it doesn’t look like it has any deterministic powers. It’s quite possible, and even seems likely, that the forces of evolution would favor more adaptive brain over pre-programmed one.

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Chris 08.07.09 at 7:43 pm

All it proves is that in all societies, some people have worked out ,or learned, or both, that in some situations their aims can be achieved by violence (as long as they don’t get caught).

Wait… are you saying that in all societies, murderers benefit from their murders?

Actually I think your argument requires even more than that – that personal benefit is the *only* reason for murder (because even a few irrational murderers would require an alternate explanation for murder that *isn’t* functional).

Murder is not just throwing the spear pointy end first – in a large number of societies it is predictably highly counterproductive for the murderer, *and people do it anyway*. Making murder counterproductive for the murderer has proven a quite successful social method for reducing its frequency. But not eliminating it. The irrational nondeterrability of the remaining murderers is a clear sign that their behavior isn’t resulting from reasoned analysis of their environment. They have managed not only to throw their spears blunt end first, but then to fall on the pointy ends themselves.

More generally, “Pinker may well be right, but his argument [that changing social institutions have reduced the rate of violence over time] is totally inconsistent with the claim that violence is the product of genetic predispositions acquired by our distant ancestors, that is, of primitive, irrational urges.” only makes sense if you assume that no phenomenon (even an aggregate one like the murder rate) can have more than one cause (or if you insert a spurious “all” into the claim attributed to Pinker, strawmanning him in the process). Total inconsistency only emerges if you interpret Pinker’s previous beliefs to predict that the murder rate can’t change *at all* in different circumstances.

Murder could be caused by genetic predispositions to primitive, irrational urges *and* circumstances. Opportunistically self-interested murderers are easy to deter by changing the conditions so that they won’t benefit from murder anymore. Primitive irrational urge murderers aren’t, which is why we still have them. (Since those urges are themselves conditional behaviors, we might try to eliminate the conditions that trigger them; unfortunately the evidence seems to indicate that some of the conditions are things like “Person A sleeps with person B, and then with person C. This may provoke jealous rage in B, even if A and B have no stable relationship or it had already terminated.”, which seem a little difficult to eliminate, given the primitive irrational urges that probably influence A’s behavior in the same scenario.) This is a pretty basic level of nuance and assuming Pinker wouldn’t or couldn’t engage in it seems unjustified.

Of course, we don’t have another species with different predispositions to plug into the same social structures and observe the result. But we can observe the same species in very different conditions, and EP gives one possible way to explain results that seem both unresponsive to conditions, and not amenable to the pointy-spear explanation because they aren’t actually (or even plausibly) functioning.

P.S. 84 seems a bit like goalpost-moving, but I don’t really care which ideas are *called* evolutionary psychology and which are called something else. In any case the idea that circumstances can change human behavior isn’t inconsistent with the idea that some human behaviors are resistant to circumstantial (including cultural) influence because of genetic biases, so IMO Pinker is not contradicting himself whether one of his ideas is called “EP” and another “non EP” or otherwise.

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soru 08.07.09 at 7:44 pm

If violence is the most effective means to an end in one situation must it be the most effective means to an end in some other?

Fair point in theory, but the range of situations between different societies is greater than the range of situations in any one society. So I think you could quite likely demonstrate statistically that individuals have to be non-identical to end up with violence-usage rates always above zero but less than 100%.

In any case, the existence of those variations is not particularly scientifically controversial – psychopathy is both a medical and (in the UK) legally recognised term, with clinical evidence that would require pretty radical scepticism to dismiss (unlike paranoia, which is of course a sinister plot by the Medical Establishment).

One quite plausible conclusion of an EP approach is that those variations _can’t possibly be genetically inherited_, because if they were, evolutionary pressures would apply, which would lead to extinction or speciation in low double-digit generations. In one of those societies where you have a 65% chance of a violent death, not killing one of your enemies would seem to the kind of impact on your chances of surviving to breed that evolution would be unable to ignore.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.07.09 at 7:52 pm

I think that when the murder rate get low enough, the remaining murders can be more convincingly explained by malfunction, pathology rather than “human nature”.

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Hidari 08.07.09 at 8:25 pm

‘Wait… are you saying that in all societies, murderers benefit from their murders?’

Wooooah…hold on there tiger. Im not trying to explain murder. I’m trying to explain why the fact that murder is a universal does not prove that ‘we’ are therefore genetically programmed to murder. To be more specific, you actually claimed that because murder is a universal that therefore proves that it is actually impossible that we are born a ‘tabula rasa’.

My point is merely that of course we may well be genetically programmed to murder. But you can’t infer it from that.

In any case, it’s not even necessary that murderers benefit from their murders for my argument to hold up. All that is necessary is for murderers to believe that they will benefit from their murders: for example, by believing that they won‘t get caught, or that if they do, their lawyer will get them off. Or (and this is an even more important point in a real world situation) believing that the ‘knock on the head’ won’t actually kill the person they are robbing. Incidentally, to really understand my point here, you have to have a pretty sophisticated understanding of ‘benefit’ and ‘rationality’.

‘Pure’ irrational murderers (the Fred Wests etc.) are so unusual, statistically speaking, it’s not clear what can be inferred from them.

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Salient 08.07.09 at 8:54 pm

-It would be nice if Bill Benzon would show up and- Scratch that, hi Bill! (Thanks for those reading suggestions a few months ago.)

See, if it’s possible for a human child to develop into a wolf, it seems that there must be enough plasticity inside that brain to adapt and develop into pretty much anything

I found Edelman’s book Wider Than the Sky (though not among the aforementioned recommendations) particularly worthwhile in helping me to construct a sensible understanding of brain activity and plasticity. The extended Theory of Neuronal Group Selection model accounts physiologically for the experience of consciousness as well as the higher-order mappings and reinforcement of physiological “value systems” (value-category memory) which together could reasonably account for a human being learning to imitate the behaviors of a wolf.

Anyhow, I would recommend slogging through that book to anyone who is enjoying slogging through this discussion of EP (the latter group does include me).

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Matthias Wasser 08.07.09 at 9:12 pm

Murder is not just throwing the spear pointy end first – in a large number of societies it is predictably highly counterproductive for the murderer, and people do it anyway. Making murder counterproductive for the murderer has proven a quite successful social method for reducing its frequency. But not eliminating it. The irrational nondeterrability of the remaining murderers is a clear sign that their behavior isn’t resulting from reasoned analysis of their environment. They have managed not only to throw their spears blunt end first, but then to fall on the pointy ends themselves.

You assume that the remaining murderers are all irrational. Why? They bet big and – if they were caught – lost, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad decision at the time, except in the sense that it’s a decision outside observers want to happen less often. Sometimes not murdering someone can be very risky, even in rich countries.

There are a small number of murderers who probably spilt the blood they did because of some organic disorder or another. Their behavior is so uncommon and so apparently bad for their genetic success that they seem like a very bad model for our evolutionary heritage blah blah blah, although of course you can, as with anything else, hypothesize an EEA in which they were indeed adaptive.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.07.09 at 9:51 pm

Sometimes not murdering someone can be very risky, even in rich countries.

That’s true, actually. In US states with the “3 strikes and you’re out” law, a rational individual who is robbing gas stations and liquor stores for a living probably should murder the witnesses.

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Peter Macy 08.08.09 at 2:28 pm

There are a lot of interesting points being raised here. My sense — and this fits with some of the other commenters — is that the evolutionary psychology arguments and the “decline of violence” proposals are logically independent, but they don’t contradict each other.

The one thing to add is that the TED talk is actually an extension and elaboration of some of what’s in the Blank Slate. For instance, on page 57, Pinker has a graph showing the decline of male death in warfare over time, and on page 168, he presents various theories for why we are getting nicer — including a discussion of cosmopolitanism that matches very closely with the quote that John gives from the TED talk. So, yes, it is the same Steven Pinker.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.08.09 at 4:37 pm

Psychopaths have faulty brain connections, scientists find

LONDON (Reuters) – Psychopaths who kill and rape have faulty connections between the part of the brain dealing with emotions and that which handles impulses and decision-making, scientists have found.

In a study of psychopaths who had committed murder, manslaughter, multiple rape, strangulation and false imprisonment, the British scientists found that roads linking the two crucial brain areas had “potholes,” while those of non-psychopaths were in good shape.

The study opens up the possibility of developing treatments for dangerous psychopaths in the future, said Dr Michael Craig of the Institute of Psychiatry at London’s King’s College Hospital, and may have profound implications for doctors, researchers and the criminal justice system.

“These were particular serious offenders with psychopathy and without any other mental illnesses,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“Essentially what we found is that the connections in the psychopaths were not as good as the connections in the non-psychopaths. I would describe them as roads between the two areas — and we found that in the psychopaths, the roads had potholes and weren’t very well maintained.”

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SusanC 08.08.09 at 9:16 pm

This thread keeps reminding me of the following paper:

Keller, Matthew C. and Miller, Geoffrey. Resolving the paradox of common, harmful, heritable mental disorders: Which evolutionary genetic models work best? Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2006) 29, 385–452.

(link)

In table 2 of the paper, people with many types of psychiatric conditions have fewer offspring relative to the general population. (Or at least, they do in the current environment. This says nothing about what its effect on fitness might have been in the past).

“For a few mental disorders such as psychopathy, frequency dependence may be a plausible model. Mealey(1995) argued, forcefully in our opinion, that psychopathy persists at low base rate as a socially parasitic strategy: it brings high fitness benefits when rare, but becomes less rewarding at higher frequencies because of increased anti-cheater vigilance in the population.”

Personally, I’m skeptical.

Still, I find it interesting that Pinker mostly sticks to an “evolution is very slow” model. Here, you have traits that reduce fitness by as much as 30 to 50%. If there were gene variants involved (and the effect isn’t due to mutation-selection balance), we might even be able to measure their disappearance over a few generations.

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Mala Morris 08.08.09 at 11:17 pm

Donald Knuth once said that premature optimization is the root of all evil, but I have wondered if what he should have said is that premature intellectual certainty is what is the real problem. That, as far as I can see, is Pinker’s crime. Not much has been discussed here about his previous works, such as The Language Instinct. Hasn’t that work been contributive to the field? Some of the ideas there seem solid enough. Pinker’s mistake might have been to stretch that argument well beyond where it should have been taken in later books.

I think it hardly deserves emphasis that just because someone has done excellent work in one area of one field, it doesn’t mean that they are privileged in any way to talk about the field as a whole. But this is something that is generally recognized in most academic institutions. That is why professors in a field talk to other professors. That way they are able to perceive their own views as a strand in a thread of views where multiple other views exist. For this reason alone, it must have been clear to many that some of the argumentation in evolutionary psychology must be flawed. After all, humans are prone to so many biases, and the biases described by Pinker and Dawkins – altruism, for instance – are not even the most significant ones. I wonder if it is true that Harvard disproportionately produces people with premature intellectual certainty. Besides Pinker, Niall Ferguson, David Horowitz and (yes!) Deepak Chopra come to mind. Does it have something to do with the culture at Harvard? In Berkeley, for instance, you can trash Niall Ferguson all day long, and somebody would probably buy you a cold drink. One thing you notice about Cambridge versus Berkeley is that people are likely to blank you (or in worst cases, give you cold hard stares) if you say something that they disagree with for personal or political reasons. Why is it that Berkeley, for instance, doesn’t seem to produce so many of these characters? This is not to suggest that professors at Harvard don’t talk to other professors, but perhaps those discussions are not long and penetrative enough to be meaningfully changing the subtance of their respective views.

And thank you for letting me be comment #100.

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Mala Morris 08.08.09 at 11:24 pm

That should not have been David Horowitz. I meant Alan Dershowitz, of course.

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Steve Sailer 08.09.09 at 3:21 am

You all want to fight 1990s intellectual battles. Pinker, however, has long been moving away from 1992-style “era of evolutionary adaptation” evolutionary psychology toward Gregory Cochran-style “continuing evolution.”

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Matthias Wasser 08.09.09 at 4:11 am

Yes, and you’re itching for a rematch of 1945. Piss off.

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