Hydra

Ahhh, we spoke too soon. Like the many headed Hydra, as the head of sociobiology fell to the ground, another rose in its place—the head of Evolutionary Psychology. From Darwin’s Pious Idea:

“Whatever happened to Sociobiology? The answer is that it went underground, where it has been eating away at the foundations of academic orthodoxy.” (Robert Wright, The Moral Animal)

Evolutionary Psychology (EP) has been described as “a matured version of 1970’s Sociobiology with a better sense of history.” (Marek Kohn) The thrust of EP is maintaining the distinction between adaptation and adaptiveness. Unlike sociobiology, EP noted the difference between adaptation and adaptiveness, striving to include the environment in which a trait had developed. One had to reverse engineer, as it were, to discover a trait’s original environment—the context of selection’s working.

EP held that, against Locke, the mind isn’t a blank slate, but rather the mind is modular. Each mode is “domain-specific” and dedicated to a specific task—and is hard wired for such from the beginning (whenever that is?). Jerry Fodor is probably the leading light in this area and he, strangely enough, is probably the best critic of modularity as well. The main feature of this idea of modularity is the insensitivity to information that might exist in other parts of the brain. We might picture the brain then as a large skyscraper containing individual offices spaces and each office (or module) is involved in completely different types of business having completely different types of information—and each office is not interested in what information the other office might contain.

One criticism Fodor makes of those who employ this concept is their tendency to go modular mad, where we begin to have modules for modules on top of modules! Cunningham notes:

“Lewis-Williams seems to be on to something when he argues that ‘We have no direct information of the possible modularity of ancient minds. As a result, evolutionary psychologists are free to invent historical trajectories that move repeatedly between modularity and access between modules for as much as 100 million years.’ It does seem that at times evolutionary psychologists have a dues ex machine in the form of natural selection, and this god bears the same qualities as an ultimate creator.”

I will post some more on EP, but will stop for now with these quotes from the book:

Underlying all the biological and social sciences, the reason for it all, is the “need” (how else to express it, perhaps “drive” would be better) for genes to perpetuate themselves. This is a metaphysical claim, and the reductionism that it entails is…best labeled as metaphysical reductionism. Because it is metaphysical it is neither right nor wrong nor empirically testable. It is simply a statement of belief that genes count above all else.—Henry Plotkin

Evolutionary Psychology in its present state is not a science but at best an emerging science and at worst a piece of science fiction.—Mario Bunge

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