Saturday, March 17, 2018

What's wrong (and right) about evolutionary psychology?

Special issue of This View of Life, The Evolution Institute (2016). 15 contributors informing various perspectives and topics on the issue. From Wilson's introduction:

"What's worth keeping:

I have had a love-hate relationship with the school of thought associated with EP from its inception, which enables me to argue either side depending upon the audience (I became a booster at the symposium). You know that something’s wrong with the field of psychology when the average intro textbook says almost nothing about the major adaptive problems confronted by any species, such as mating, feeding, and kinship. B.F. Skinner and other behaviorists tried to explain too much in terms of operant conditioning. The central metaphor of the so-called cognitive revolution, which largely displaced behaviorism in academic psychology, is that the mind is like a general-purpose computer. That’s not quite right either. Behavioral ecologists interpret the behavior of animals as fitness maximizing, which is inappropriate when the animals are living in a novel environment. Instead, we should be studying the psychological mechanisms that evolved in ancestral environments and how they are manifested in current environments. There is plenty to love about these and other positions associated with the school of thought associated with EP. Let’s keep these babies, even if there is also some bathwater.

What’s worth throwing out:

You know that something is wrong when the average textbook with “evolutionary psychology” in its title has little to say about learning, development, culture, or morality. Granted that the mind is not like a single domain-general computer, but the idea that it is like hundreds of special-purpose computers (the thesis of massive modularity) isn’t quite right either. It’s true that the mind is not a complete blank slate, but somehow we must reconcile the fact of elaborate genetic innateness with the fact of elaborate open-ended flexibility on the part of both individuals and groups. The fact that some differences among human groups can be understood in terms of individual phenotypic plasticity triggered by different environmental circumstances (invoked culture) is a good point, but need not detract from the importance of transmitted culture as well. The idea of symbolic thought as an inheritance system with combinatorial possibilities as rich as the genetic inheritance system falls within the purview of evolutionary psychology. There is plenty that the school of thought associated with EP needs to grow into."

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