I have been fascinated by the theories and posts at this guy’s blog. I didn’t know much at all about evolutionary psychology before this week, though I was not surprised that such a field existed. Here is the definition of evolutionary psychology we get from the wiki:
Evolutionary psychology (EP) is a pseudoscience that attempts to explain mental and psychological traitsâ€”such as memory, perception, or languageâ€”as adaptations, that is, as the functional products of natural selection or sexual selection. Adaptationist thinking about physiological mechanisms, such as the heart, lungs, and immune system, is common in evolutionary biology. Evolutionary psychology applies the same thinking to psychology.
Evolutionary psychologists argue that much of human behavior is generated by psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments. They hypothesize, for example, that humans have inherited special mental capacities for acquiring language, making it nearly automatic, while inheriting no capacity specifically for reading and writing. Other adaptations, according to EP, might include the abilities to infer others’ emotions, to discern kin from non-kin, to identify and prefer healthier mates, to cooperate with others, and so on. Consistent with the theory of natural selection, evolutionary psychology sees organisms as often in conflict with others of their species, including mates and relatives. For example, mother mammals and their young offspring sometimes struggle over weaning, which benefits the mother more than the child. Humans, however, have a marked capacity for cooperation as well.
Evolutionary psychologists see those behaviors and emotions that are nearly universal, such as fear of spiders and snakes, as more likely to reflect evolved adaptations. Evolved psychological adaptations (such as the ability to learn a language) interact with cultural inputs to produce specific behaviors (e.g., the specific language learned). This view is contrary to the idea that human mental faculties are general-purpose learning mechanisms.
Now if you are a person who rejects the notion of biological evolution entirely, or perhaps just rejects human evolution, this field will seem like utter poppycock to you. But there are lots of Mormons who are sympathetic to the idea of human evolution and I am one of them. (See the wiki on Theistic Evolution here.) For theists who find arguments for human evolution persuasive the basic idea that some human psychological tendencies have evolved universally within the species is probably worth considering. Of course as the wiki notes, EP is a pseudoscience. But since many of our readers here at the Thang like discussing unprovable metaphysical and theological theories, discussing EP theories shouldn’t be all that different right?
Not surprisingly EP tries to explain all sorts of things that religions also try to explain. For instance, certain universalities in human cultures are hard to deny. I have heard people point to such cultural universalities as arguments in favor of the existence of Adam and Eve as the literal first human couple from which all other humans sprang. Their basic argument is that commonalities among all humans result from our common parental couple teaching their children true religion and all the religious variation we see is the result of apostasy and corruption of that true beginning. The problem with that Adam/Eve-as-exclusive-progenitors-and-teachers theory is that the biological evidence reportedly obliterates it. There are lots of discussions on that elsewhere so I don’t necessarily want to start from scratch on the Mormon evolution debate in this discussion. Rather, I thought as another in this series of EP posts I’d point to a post over at Mr Kanazawa’s blog about there being, in many fundamental ways, just one human culture. Here is a quote:
Biologically, human beings are very weak and fragile; we do not have fangs to fight predators and catch prey or fur to protect us from extreme cold. Culture is the defense mechanism with which evolution equipped us to protect ourselves, so that we can inherit and then pass on our knowledge of manufacturing weapons (to fight predators and catch prey) or clothing and shelter (to protect us from extreme cold). We donâ€™t need fangs or fur, because we have culture. And just like — despite some minor individual differences — all tigers have more or less the same fangs and all polar bears have more or less the same fur, all human societies have more or less the same culture. Fangs are a universal trait of all tigers; fur is a universal trait of all polar bears. So culture is a universal trait of all human societies. Yes, culture is a cultural universal.
These theories, while as yet unprovable, at least sound reasonably plausible.
In follow up posts I’ll touch on Kanazawa’s EP explanations for a basically universal worship of animate entities, widespread polygamy in human cultures, and his EP beef with modern feminism.