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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  November 2002

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE November 2002

Subject:

Re: social analysis of evolutionary psych

From:

Ian Pitchford <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 6 Nov 2002 23:57:26 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (94 lines)

Michael Goldhaber quoted Richard Levins:

> 1. The sociology and economics of evolutionary psychology: why is it
 > popular now?Not only the politics of our regressive time but also the
_________

REPLY: As a piece of socio-historical analysis I think this is particularly
weak and derivative. The left's ambivalence toward evolution by natural
selection can be traced back to Marx and Engels who were delighted by Darwin's
materialism. Engels even described Darwin's theory as "the basis in natural
history for our view", but in Dialectics of Nature Engels also wrote:

"The whole Darwinian theory of the struggle for existence is simply the
transference from society to organic nature of Hobbes' theory of bellum omnium
contra omnes and of the bourgeois economic theory of competition, as well as
the Malthusian theory of population. When once this feat has been accomplished
(the unconditional justification for which, especially as regards the
Malthusian theory, is still very questionable), it is very easy to transfer
these theories back again from natural history to the history of society, and
altogether too na´ve to maintain that thereby these assertions have been proved
as eternal natural laws of society."

I suspect that modern critics have added little or nothing to this analysis.

Goldhaber's reference to Lakatos idea of "protected cores" in research programs
is useful though. I have argued, for example, that the idea of "genetic
programs" is simply preformationism in appropriate metaphorical garb for the
Information Age, i.e. "genetic blueprints" are no different to "spermatazoon
homunculi" of the seventeenth century. One could argue that these ideas
regularly re-emerge because they help to sustain a biological fatalism that
favours the ruling class. I lectured on this to medical students here a few
weeks ago.

Genetics, psychiatry and evolutionary psychology are less likely to rely on
"pathological" definitions, analogies, and metaphors if researchers in these
fields engage in socio-historical analysis.

I've also argued that an evolutionary psychology grounded in developmental
systems theory is likely to generate more realistic theories and hypotheses
that can be subjected to diverse empirical tests. This was, in fact the subject
of my PhD thesis.

The rest of Goldhaber's analysis doesn't cite a single research paper in
evolutionary psychology. I would argue that all of the comments about macho
central metaphors and simple research programs fall into the categories of
affiliative behaviour and ideological self-advertisement. There are also some
simple misinterpretations of evolutionary biology. Selfish gene theory doesn't
argue that "selfishness is built in by evolution". This conflates two separate
levels of analysis. Selfish gene theory argues that we have to take a "gene's
eye view" to make sense of certain biological phenomena, e.g. sexual suicide in
which an organism's self-sacrifice promotes its reproductive success. This
doesn't make any sense if one takes Darwin's view that adaptations benefit
individual organisms.

Goldhaber's view that selfish gene theory implies that "solutions to personal
problems have to be medical, not social or psychotherapeutic" simply ignores
the vast amount of work on mismatch theory in evolutionary psychology. This
viewpoint holds that many medical and other problems are caused by the mismatch
between our ancestral and current environments. One could argue from this
perspective that the current social environment is "pathological". This kind of
analysis has been applied extensively in psychopathology, especially to
depression by Price, Gilbert and others, and to medicine generally by Nesse,
Ewald and Williams.

Perhaps the most surprising mistake Goldhaber makes is that he believes
reference to evolutionary ideas makes it easier to secure funding from the NSF
and other bodies. This is the exact opposite of the truth. When thinking about
US social policy it's always essential to take into account the fundamentalist
nature of politics here.

The idea that evolutionary psychology can rely on powerful allies  such as
"drug companies, the NSF, or the medical profession" ignores the research
program to which I have already referred.

Finally I haven't been able to identify any "thoughtful opponents" of
evolutionary psychology. Most don't read any of the relevant literature. Of
course, it's always easy to allude to "many powerful objections". One
convincing argument would be enough.

Regards

Ian Pitchford PhD CBiol MIBiol
The Human Nature Review
http://human-nature.com/

Department of Psychiatry
Creighton University School of Medicine
3528 Dodge Street
Omaha, NE 68131, USA

Tel: 402.345.8828
Fax: 402.345.8815
http://medicine.creighton.edu/psych/

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