Sunday, March 18, 2012

Michael Taft - Why Evolutionary Psychology Pisses You Off (And Why Maybe It Shouldn't)

Michael Taft argues that evolutionary psychology probably shouldn't piss off us as much as it does. I'm no so sure - so much of it is reductive and speculative at best.
By Michael W. Taft | March 2nd 2012 
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If you want to irritate a lot of people at once, write an article about evolutionary psychology. Publishing such an article will invariably provoke a firestorm of denunciations and criticisms. Given the vehemence of these attacks, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that the scientific basis for evolutionary psychology (or “evpsy” as it is sometimes abbreviated) was akin to tarot cards or bloodletting. Yet the basic premise of evpsy—that some aspects of the human brain and behavior were subject to evolutionary pressures—seems to be scientifically sound.

So what is it about this subject that makes it a napalm bomb for the inciting of flame wars? Below, I offer five things about evolutionary psychology that piss off scientists, feminists, policy wonks, and the rest of us, and explain why maybe they shouldn't.

Here are some of the "whys" that it pisses us off - No's 1, 2, and 4 get on my nerves.
1. It's obsessed with sex.
2. It's bleak and deterministic.
3. It's just-so stories.
4. It justifies bad behavior.
5. It's stuck.

He goes into a bit of detail on each of those points, but here is the real issue:
Combined with recent advances in neuroscience, evolutionary psychology leaves us feeling almost as if we're nothing more than glorified monkeys, programmed by evolution. This threatens our ego big-time, since the ego wants to be in charge. However, research continually challenges some of the long-held ideas of evolutionary psychology, demonstrating that many adaptations are quite recent, and that our minds are still changing. We might be hardwired monkeys, but we are still in motion.

Evolution isn't just in the past. It's happening right now, as you read this in the modern environment. Instead of a harsh natural environment selecting for the most robust fighters or the sexiest mates, it’s our society that is putting on the pressure.    
He concludes that an "updated, more rigorous, less sensational form evolutionary psychology" may be able to offer better answers about who we are how we arrived at this point in our evolution, and that it might offer insight into where we are heading.

Read the whole article.

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