23 may. 2011

Bullshit Fields

One bullshit field is so-called "evolutionary psychology." What this field does is to take a given human trait and explain how it was an adaptive trait in the primeval human habitat where humans first evolved, through speculative "just so" stories. Now I believe that human evolved, and that, generally speaking, all the traits we have are (tautologically speaking) adaptive. So the stories are largely pointless. We gossip, say, and we evolved to gossip, because we needed during some earlier stage of prehistory, to figure out what was going on in our small group of hunter-gatherers, so someone wouldn't clobber us on the head with a rock. (I actually heard someone make this argument on NPR a few days ago. I kid you not.)

When it is not merely tautological, evopsych is ideologically obnoxious, since it is always some negative trait that is supposed to adaptive. But if we evolved to do everything we do, why do they only make arguments for the evolutionary advantages of certain traits and not others? Sociobiology is always obnoxious in exactly this way, making the specious argument that you cannot fight against human nature.

2 comentarios:

Thomas dijo...

I never tire of ridiculing E.O. Wilson's reading of "Nabokov's pedophilic novel", whose opening he cites and then explains: "Thus with anatomical accuracy, alliterative t-sounds, and poetic meter Nabokov drenches the name, the book title, and the plot in sensuality" (Consilience, p. 247) Somehow this is supposed to be taken as evidence that "even the greatest works of art might be understood fundamentally with knowledge of the biologically evolved epigenetic rules that guided them" (237). Which is a literary theory that's pretty much on par with the psychological sophistication of an Arthur C. Clarke novel.

Clarissa dijo...

I couldn't agree more! Evolutionary psychology is offensive to everybody with even half a brain.

My blood pressure goes up even when I just hear it mentioned. Brrr.

More often than not, it keeps getting used to confirm gender stereotypes.