Underestimating evolutionary psychology

From: Gordon Worley (redbird@mac.com)
Date: Wed Jun 16 2004 - 04:48:20 MDT

was Re: ESSAY: 'Debunking Hippy-Dippy moral philosophy'

On Jun 16, 2004, at 4:52 AM, Marc Geddes wrote:

> Keith, evolutionary psychology is all very
> interesting, but I think you give far too much weight
> to it. It can be useful for understanding some of the
> underlying motivations as to why people behave they
> do, but it is of little use as a guide to moral

Conversely, I think you underestimate it. You cannot talk about human
psychology without talking about the evolutionary process that created
it (well, you can, but you can also be wrong). The human mind is a
huge mystery until you look at it from an evolutionary perspective, but
evolution lets you tear it apart and understand why the human mind
works the way it does. We don't understand everything and sometimes
theories are revised (this is science, after all), but the important
insight remains that humans and their brains are products of an
evolutionary process and are shaped by that process.

> behaviour. What is natural is not neccesserily good!

Of course not, but this misses the point. When we talk about moral
behavior in humans, we talk about behavior that the human believes is
good or bad. It makes no difference whether there is external morality
or not; the human decides based on an internal sense of morality, which
is, incidentally, a product of human evolution. It should be
unsurprising that behaviors humans believe to be good benefitted the
reproduction of genes carrying the genotype leading to such beliefs and
that behaviors humans believe to be bad hurt reproduction of genes
carrying the genotype leading to such beliefs, because good and bad
are, inside the human mind, just another way of talking about desirable
and undesirable. The confusion comes when trying to prescribe external
morality to humans or prescribe one human's morality onto another human
(thus we get the idea of an evil scientist).

> Further, what evolutionary psychology fails to
> consider is the power of memes and the feed-back loop
> between the conscious and unconscious mind. Sure I'm
> prepared to believe that our immediate conscious
> experience is largely just a reflection of our
> sub-conscious impluses aka Libet , but what shaped
> those sub-conscious impluses in the first place?
> Answer: Conscious belief putting feed-back into the
> unconscious mind. In fact conscious belief might well
> be the most important factor. So even as a guide to
> explaining behaviour, evolutionary psychology fails.

Human brains are information processing mechanisms, so why do you
suppose that memes and feedback are evidence against evolutionary
psychology? Memes and feedback are both products of evolution of the
human brain, so just because there may not currently be any
explanations of these topics in evolutionary psychology (and I doubt
either of us are well enough read in the literature to be sure of
that), that does not mean they are evidence against evolutionary
psychology. For something to be evidence against evolutionary
psychology, it must either be evidence against evolution or evidence
against evolution being the process that created the human brain (like
proof that aliens visited earth and arbitrarily changed all of humanity
by design). A lack of current explanation of how a particular
psychological phenotype evolved does not a case against evolutionary
psychology make; only a further research question does it create.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
                Gordon Worley
             Phone: 352-875-5808
e-mail: redbird@mac.com PGP: 0xBBD3B003
   Web: http://homepage.mac.com/redbird/

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