Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
Felix

Evolutionary Psychology

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

I read in another post that Evolutionary Psychology is bogus.

I wondered. A lot of its statements make a lot of sense. Like: Why we feel jealousy, why we like our family even though they are getting on our nerves all the time, even why one hesitates when trying to talk to a girl for the first time.

The problem with evolutionary explaination is the monkey-coconut problem:

Monkeys have brown hair so they can hide behind the coconuts.

You can invent stuff and sound smart.

Maybe that's the thing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think it's bogus at all, and it explains a lot.

For instance, Evolutionary psychology would hold thatl:

-Men like to sleep around because it lets them spread their seed and, according to Evolutionary theory, the more descendants an organism has, the more successful it is.

-Women tend to prefer monogamy because they want a stable male to help protect their young.

-We fear death because a species that does not fear death will not last very long.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No Evolutionary theory can be validated, because Evolution occurs much too slowly and it cannot be tested. If, however, you accept the Darwinian premisis that survival and reproduction are the driving forces of all organisms' behavior then the things that I listed, and a multitude of others, are the logical conclusions.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think so, for the reasons described above. It can't be proven, because proof would require time travel. But if you believe in Evolution (as an atheist, I'm sure you do), I don't see how you can honestly believe that our Evolutionary past hasn't had any effect on the way we behave.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
No Evolutionary theory can be validated, because Evolution occurs much too slowly and it cannot be tested.

Actually, there are many species with a reproductive cycle short enough to test evolutionary patterns. Fruit flies are the most common example I believe, but all domesticated animals are too, since domesticated means “evolved to meet man’s needs.”

Also, you have an incorrect concept of scientific validation – theories can be validated by both controlled and uncontrolled experiments. The latter only requires that we observe current or past phenomena, not shape it. For example, recent research shows that the human brain has evolved substantially in the last 60,000 years.

Aside from that, evolutionary psychology is complete bullshit, but that is a complicated tangle to unravel, so I may comment on it later.

Edited by GreedyCapitalist

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
How do the proponents of evolutionary psychology validate their theories?
Theoretically speaking, the same way that ordinary evolutionary biology is validated. The problem is that it can't be validated for humans, both because we're too impatient to wait the million years necessary for the tests to be performed, and because it would be of dubious ethicality to do such experiments on humans. But when we learn more about psychology and its concrete basis, we would start by validating simpler statements about the mind. Since humans are not the only animals that can see, we can learn a lot about vision by studying other animals. Certain things are not going to change when applied to humans, so volition does not change the basic biochemistry of turning light wavelength into something that the brain can process (i.e. we can chose to deny that such and such is green but you can't chose not to experience the green sensation). However, I don't see any hope for lunatic and false higher-order statements about personality tendencies.

I actually suspect that because of volition, ordinary evolutionary mechanisms are much less relevant to humans. We may choose to partner with a person who will not result in the largest passle of most-fit offspring. Physical weakness is not the death sentence it used to be in the monkey days.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know enough about either Evolution or psychology (even though I have a degree in it) to have a real debate on the subject. All I know is that, from what I know, it makes perfect sense to me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Making sense" is not the criterion for whether a theory holds any validity or not. The idea that the sun revolves around the Earth "makes sense" . . . it's obvious, after all.

Falling into the habit of drawing conclusions about human psychology based on evolution is an easy trap . . . I've done it myself. But now that I've had it explained to me why E. P. is wrong, I won't do so again.

E.P. essentially boils down to the idea that psychology is determined BY genes and that certain psychologies assist in the propogation of certain genes. Volition alone contradicts this idea: one has actual control over one's psychology. And even serious defects (such as the ones that cause brain disfunctions like Bipolar disorder and Schizophrenia) don't necessarily prevent you from passing your genes on. In fact, they may make it easier for you to do so by removing the inhibitions that might cause you to exercise good judgement.

Plus, an interesting thing that I read here (hat tip, Diana Hsieh at Noodlefood) indicates that the best, in fact, ONLY survival characteristic humans have, psychology/brain-wise, is the ability to adapt to just about anything. If our psychologies were set even to the extent that our behavior could be predicted by reference to snippits of evolution, we'd probably all be dead. There are so many climates and situations on this planet that no psychological method would suffice for all of them, or even MOST of them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

External forces (by external, I mean things other than free will) can influence behavior without negating free will. For instance, if you grow up in the Mafia, you're probably gonna wind up being a mobster, whereas you wouldn't have if you had been separated from your parents at birth and been raised in a middle-class suburban family.

Likewise, experiments have been conducted that show that genetic descendants of criminals are more likely to become criminals, themselves, than descendants of non-criminal parents. This holds true even when they were not raised by criminals. There are four groups:

1.) Descendants of criminals who were raised by criminals.

2.) Descendants of criminals who were rased by non-criminals.

3.) Descendants of non-criminals who were raised by criminals.

4.) Descendants of non-criminals who were raised by noncriminals.

Not surprisingly, individuals in group 1 have the highest probability of being criminals. People in group 3 have the second highest probability. People in group 2 have the third highest and people in group 4 have the lowest. This shows that, no matter who raised you, you are more likely to be a criminal if your genetic parents were also criminals.

I could probably find this study if asked, but it would probably take me a while and I'd rather that you just take my word on it, because I used it on a research paper. But I assure you that I am not making this up.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm sure you're NOT making it up. But before you can accept such data as valid and indicative, you need to answer questions like:

1. How were "criminal" and "non-criminal" classified?

2. How was this data gathered? What was the selection sample?

3. What method(s) of statistical analysis was(were) used?

4. How MUCH "more likely"? Sixty percent? One tenth of one percent? Makes a difference.

My experience with statistics (and I have a bit, see, MY parents both have degrees in psychology) is that you can make them say almost anything. The statistics themselves are just interesting, they are not necessarily indicative. With statistics, you need so much context that it's almost better not to have them sometimes.

Plus, I question the "descendants of criminals raised by non-criminals". Are we talking children that never knew their original parents, never had any contact with them, and don't even know that their parents are not their genetic parents? Rather a small sample size there. IIRC foster children have a higher rate of "anti-social" behavior anyway . . . because they're foster children, and not because they're genetically related to bad people. Even quite well-meaning people can treat adoptive children a little bit different and drive them off in odd ways, and children are certainly independant-minded enough to attach some bizarre significance to the fact that these aren't their "real" parents.

Let us not forget that women's skirt length and men's beard length are caused by sunspot activity.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Criminal was defined based on whether or not they had been arrested. I don't know the answer to the other questions, but I know that the difference between groups was statistically significant.

I'm aware that statistics can be distorted, but just because they can be misused is no reason to throw them out entirely.

Okay, so here's a simple question. Do you believe that genetics can exert an influence on behavior? I'm not asking if genes determine behavior...just if they exert an influence.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Okay, so here's a simple question. Do you believe that genetics can exert an influence on behavior? I'm not asking if genes determine behavior...just if they exert an influence.

It doesn't matter whether I believe it or not. And "exerting an influence" is still "determining". You can't have MOSTLY free will. Either it is, or it isn't.

What behavior are we talking about, here? If I'm six foot five and a hundred and sixty pounds (like my brother Gareth) I'm unlikely to become an Olympic Gymnast, simply because I'd be competing with people who have a physical "edge". Doesn't mean that I can't BE a gymnast, just that I'm not likely to be the BEST at it. Likewise if I'm incredibly nearsighted, I'm not likely to be a great marksman.

Genetic factors may present you with different opportunities/limitations; THAT is what they influence, NOT your behavior. They DON'T force you to take up those opportunities or succumb to those limitations. Women in my family "tend" to be Rubenesque. But if you ask "why" am I fat, the answer is: I eat too much, and don't exercise enough. Why? I choose to. End of story.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Volition alone contradicts this idea: one has actual control over one's psychology.

In addition to the above, one of the more obvious problems with PE is that there is no evidence for it. Since we cannot read minds yet, we cannot tell where a thought originates. So how can anyone claim to know that certain motivations originate in biological instinct rather than social mores? Given the alternative between some facility for biological urgings and social trends, which seems more likely?

At the root of this is the false dichotomy between the intrincisism and subjectivism: either human action is caused by some hidden mystical forces (whether god, society, quantum flux, racial drives, or evolution) or it's uncaused, and therefore totally random.

The notion that volition caused by the acting man himself is beyond the ability of the mystics/subjectivists grasp because it requires an understanding of the conceptual process (reason) – something they implicitly or explicitly deny.

Edited by GreedyCapitalist

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Genetic factors may present you with different opportunities/limitations; THAT is what they influence, NOT your behavior.

This is an excellent distinction, one that I had not thought of before. While pondering your post, I realized that the notion of "influence" in the statement "genetics exert an influence on behavior" is a package-deal. In one sense, genetics does influence behavior, in that the behavior of someone with, say, Lou Gehrig's disease includes the use of a wheelchair, or the behavior of Shaquille O'Neal involves ducking under doorways. Obviously if their physical nature were different their behavior would be too.

As you point out, this sort of "influence" in no way involves determinism; it involves accepting one's nature and acting accordingly. But the package deal of "influencing behavior" can easily be used to destroy free will by lumping determinism in with the metaphysically given.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
jrs    0
And "exerting an influence" is still "determining". You can't have MOSTLY free will. Either it is, or it isn't.

I thought that the Objectivist concept of free will was:

You have volition about whether to focus (pay attention and think at the conceptual level) or not. But the content of your thought and the resulting actions is otherwise determined by circumstances.

That is, you have a free choice between two otherwise deterministic alternatives: (1) the consequences of focusing; or (2) the consequences of evasion.

Is this not correct?

Man's basic freedom of choice, according to Objectivism, is: to exercise his distinctively human cognitive machinery or not; i.e. to set his conceptual faculty in motion or not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The choice to focus or not is the fundamental one, but it does not make all OTHER choices determined. It is simply the choice that cannot be reduced any further. One cannot ask WHY a man chose to focus or not, only whether or not he DID, because for a man to weigh reasons he must have thrown his mind into focus.

But at each step following, a man can choose his method, his means, what specific facts he chooses to focus on, etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Evolutionary ethics and psychology are definitely guilty of not recognizing the single most important product of human evolution; we have brains that can reason. This point has been brought up several times but I think it is worth repeating.

In regards to free will, I would say it foolish to think that our evolution has not given us biological drives (eating, drinking, having sex) that can influence our behaivor. However, it is still a volitional process of the mind to acknowledge and act on those drives.

On another related topic, I find that much of psychology tends to invert the causality of brain physiology and brain function. I think our minds function to produce a particular pattern of physiological response in the brain. For example I disagree with those who say that there is something wrong with someone's "brain chemistry" and it is the cause of their depression. Its a bit of the chicken and the egg story, but i digress. My point is that our genetic heritige in regards to brain function is irrelevant in comparison with our ability to make conscious decisions.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
In regards to free will, I would say it foolish to think that our evolution has not given us biological drives (eating, drinking, having sex) that can influence our behavior. However, it is still a volitional process of the mind to acknowledge and act on those drives.

The truth/falsehood of this statement depends on how you define "biological drive". Fundamentally, the only thing we are supplied with by our biological mechanism is either a sensation of pain, or of pleasure. Certain things will automatically give you a sensation of pain or pleasure, it is true. Interpreting and learning to satisfy needs (i.e. learning to avoid pain and procure pleasure), however, is not innate.

When you experience an unpleasant sensation as an infant, you have no idea how to satisfy it (nor could you, even if you knew), but babies learn to associate things VERY quickly. A hungry baby will scream only until an adult approaches with a bottle: they have learned that the bottle means food, so they hush, knowing that the situation is being handled and excessive crying makes the adult irritated. Breast-fed babies want their mother instead. If you try to give them a bottle they will give you this horrible look. "What IS that? Are you qualified for this? I want to see your certification." It's really, really funny.

I, personally have a bizarre quirk: when I'm dehydrated, I crave sweets. I don't get thirsty (i.e. I don't properly associate the signals with something to drink), but if I drink water, I stop wanting sweets. It makes it difficult for me to accurately gauge my thirst. You can train higher animals to have weird associations such as this. (Pavlov's dogs, anyone?) I think my quirk is the result of years of drinking sweet stuff: juice, lemonade, soda . . . it's taking some work to retrain myself to drink water and unsweetened tea . . . tomato juice is rough for me. The taste is okay, it's just that my brain persists in considering it "soup" and thus not something I can just chug. The "bite" of an alcoholic beverage produces the same effect. No drunken binges for me, thanks.

Anyway, the point of all this is that the fact that we get pleasure/pain from the same sources doesn't mean that we have some sort of automatic program for "eat food" or "smooch mate".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
When you experience an unpleasant sensation as an infant, you have no idea how to satisfy it (nor could you, even if you knew), but babies learn to associate things VERY quickly. A hungry baby will scream only until an adult approaches with a bottle: they have learned that the bottle means food, so they hush, knowing that the situation is being handled and excessive crying makes the adult irritated. Breast-fed babies want their mother instead. If you try to give them a bottle they will give you this horrible look. "What IS that? Are you qualified for this? I want to see your certification." It's really, really funny.

It is hard to think of a time when a hunger pain was just an unnamed discomfort, but your point is well taken. We do have to learn even the most "obvious" associations. I like your story about tomato soup.

:P

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I read that the best way to make a point is to use inductive arguments; i.e. things that people can actually go and observe on their own, and thus grasp without a huge weight of background that they may not have. It saves you having to explain EVERYTHING.

In my case, this appears to become a sort of demonstration-via-long-rambling-self-centered-story. But, hey, we all know I'm the most interesting person around, right? :P

If you got the point, I count it as good, in any case.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I liked your point. We actually have to learn how to satisfy even our simplest needs.

But these needs are built-in. And this is done by evolution. We only feel certain needs for evolutionary reasons. We must identify what the feeling means and how to stop it, but the very need itself is beyond our control. That's how evolution controls our behavior.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I liked your point. We actually have to learn how to satisfy even our simplest needs.

But these needs are built-in. And this is done by evolution. We only feel certain needs for evolutionary reasons. We must identify what the feeling means and how to stop it, but the very need itself is beyond our control. That's how evolution controls our behavior.

Urges are built in by evolution, that's true, but the needs predate any sort of evolution; they are part of the metaphysical nature of life. Life is a process of goal-directed action, in order to act, you need fuel, you need to be able to process that fuel, to get rid of poisons, etc. This is true of any and every living organism, evolved or not.

Even the needs don't control our behavior; they simply provide the base condition that determines whether a specific behavior will be in our interest or not. People act against their interests all the time, which they would not be able to do if they were, in fact, controlled by said needs.

(As an aside, I wonder if this is why virii are not, quite, considered to be "life". They don't do anything on their own. If they encounter a cell, their makeup simply causes that cell to produce more viruses and kill itself.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×