From Joe Schwartz in London
I'd like to have a go on evolutionary psychology as per Michael's
There is of course an extensive Science for the People literature on
race/genetics and IQ as well as on sociobiology. Currently, Steven Rose here
in London and Dick Lewontin in Cambridge have been taking the issue on -
they call it firefighting because ev psych certainly seems to be gaining
ground. Numerous people who identify themselves as being on the left have
really embraced ev psych with the slogan it's too good an idea to be left to
the right wingers.
I'd like to raise two points for comment and consideration.
The first is something that has always bothered me about all evolutionary
arguments. Isn't there a difference between something being adaptive because
it survives and something surviving because it is adaptive? Lewontin and
Gould raised this point 25 years ago in their paper on the architectural
spandrels of San Marcos. And just last year Lewontin was having top point
out that It seems to me that the entire corpus of evo psych consists of the
fallacy (it is a fallacy isn't it?) that if something survives/exists it
must be adaptive. The game then, and it certainly seems to be a lot of fun
for the participants is to figure out how racism, anti-Semitism and rape are
adaptive. Years ago in the sociobiology debate this was called inventing
just-so stories: Give an evolutionary reason why adults love spinach and
children hate it. So is or is not the entire corpus of evo psych nothing
more than the just-so stories of sociobiology as pointed out be Lewontin,
Gould, Rose and others years ago? And if so, why has it been so difficult to
get this argument to stick?
The second point is an attempt to get us out of biology trap. If we begin
with agreeing that "sure humans have evolved" and "sure there is a genetic
component to the development of our brains"(say) I think we start out by
giving up too much. This is how I see it.
Through the years as I have worked on the genetics/race and IQ issue with
papers in Nature and part of my book The Creative Moment (HarperCollins) I
have wanted to ask the question\: What isn't genetic in origin? The answer
in what surely is a trivial sense is nothin. If we all start out as DNA
(aside from the other now almost completely neglected importance of the rest
of the components of our mother's egg, Rollin Hotchkiss raised this point in
1966 in Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology) then everything is
genetic in origin, subsequently "influenced" by the environment.
But the crux of most of the arguments that we are up against is that it is
not the genetic origin of something that is crucial but the genetic origin
of human differences. Thus men and women and differences in brain
lateralisation say, whites and blacks and differences in performance on IQ
tests and so forth. By asserting the evolutionary origin of things, their
genetic origin is thus established and then faster than the speed the light
we move from genetic origins of 'traits' to genetic origins of differences
in 'traits' as in differences in human aggression. So the question I then
wanted to ask was: are there any non-trivial human capacities without a
genetic component to their variation? And the answer is yes. The variation
in human languages is entirely without any genetic component whatsoever.
Not only that the anthropologists established a long time ago that there was
no such thing as a primitive language either. So with over 10,000 identified
human languages and numerous dialects and accent variations we have an
example of a non-trivial human capacity that is without a genetic component
to variation in its expression.
This argument has always suggested to me that we make a category error in
locating variations such as human aggression as being like, as-it-were, eye
colour. Rather, one could argue, aggression is like language - everyone has
the same capacity for aggression but its expression or rather variation in
its expression is like variation in the language we speak. Given the human
capacity for aggression, its precise expression is learned in the same way
that we learn language. The differences human aggression are like
differences in language, entirely environmental in origin where by
environmental we mean social.
This is what I mean when I say that we give away too much when we concede
the existence of evolution and the existence of DNA mat the beginning of the
argument. The variation in human language is not due to natural selection
nor does it have a genetic component. So if other human capacities are
like language, we make a category error in allowing them to be classified
as things like eye colour.
Approachin ev psych with a language model in m ind from the beginning may
giove us more scope than by approaching if first with a genetic model in
What does everybody(who may be interested in pursuing the issue of ev
And thanks to Michael for raising ev psych as an issue to pursue.
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