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Evolutionary Psychology: Valid theory or bullshit?

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#1 TheFountain

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Posted 26 January 2015 - 10:18 AM


shutterstock_225931474-1440x564_c.jpg How Valid Is Evolutionary Psychology?
 

Why do we find natural scenes like green fields, trees and rivers beautiful? Why do people have an urge to gain wealth and power? Why do human beings fight wars? Why are human beings creative?
According to evolutionary psychology, the answers to these questions are linked to survival and reproduction. Evolutionary psychology explains present day human traits and characteristics in terms of the survival value they possessed for our ancestors. These traits have survived because the genes they are linked to were ‘selected’ and have remained part of our genetic heritage. So in terms of the above examples, we find natural scenes attractive because for our ancestors they represented survival – lush vegetation, trees laden with fruits and nuts, rivers. People have an urge to gain wealth and power because, in prehistoric times, they enhanced their chances of survival and increased their reproductive possibilities. The instinct to wage war is so strong because prehistoric tribes of genetically similar people were in constant competition for resources with other groups. The creative instinct can also be seen as a way of increasing our reproductive possibilities – successful creativity increases our status and so makes us more attractive to potential mates…

It’s clear from these explanations (all of which have been put forward by evolutionary psychologists) that evolutionary psychology has a great deal of explanatory power – seldom has such a simple idea been used to explain such a wide variety of human behavior. This is probably the reason why the theory has become very popular, especially in the media and amongst non-scientists. As human beings, we have a strong need for explanation, to make sense of our behaviour and of the world around us. (This is part of the reason why religions are appealing to many people too.) However, the negative side of this is that, when theories do have explanatory power, we tend to become over-enthusiastic about them, and to over-estimate their validity. And I think is the case with evolutionary psychology. Seldom has a theory gained such widespread support whilst being based on such shaky foundations.

Having said that, my problem with evolutionary psychology isn’t so much with the theory itself, but with how it has been used to justify a particular view of human nature. After all, it makes sense to assume that we have inherited some behavioural tendencies from our ancestors, that some of the instincts we carry originated millions of years ago. As I suggest later, it might be possible to formulate an alternative interpretation of evolutionary psychology which doesn’t make such grandiose claims, and is more in line with anthropological evidence.

Evolutionary Assumptions

As many observers have pointed out, evolutionary psychology is largely based on assumptions rather than evidence, and as such it is debatable whether it should be referred to as a ‘science’ (since its hypotheses are generally unfalsifiable). Its explanations of human behaviour are conjectures based on assumptions about what human life was like in prehistoric times. Evolutionary psychologists tend to pick certain aspects of what they believe is ‘human nature’ and create stories to justify their development, based on the supposed benefits these traits would have had in early human history. Tellingly, these stores usually employ many qualifying terms such as ‘could have’ or ‘may have’, or adverbs such as ‘probably’ or ‘possibly.’ For example, the ‘innate’ selfishness of human beings could have been selected because, in prehistoric times, life was extremely hard, and the people who were most ruthless and least compassionate were more likely to hold on to food and resources themselves, and therefore more likely to survive. Compassion and a desire to share would have probably decreased the individual’s chances of survival. In a similar way, racism could have been ‘selected’ as a trait because altruism towards another group would have decreased a group’s own chances of survival. It was beneficial to deprive other groups of resources and power in order to increase our own access to them.

One fallacy of this is that ‘human nature’ is extremely nebulous and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. It’s easy to cherry pick the characteristics which you think constitute human nature and invent your own ‘evolutionary psychology story’ to interpret them. Human beings are often collaborative rather than selfish and competitive; we are often benevolent rather than ruthless. There are many racist individuals, but there are also many people who feel empathy and inclusiveness towards other ethnic groups. Some evolutionary psychologists have even suggested that rape has an evolutionary basis: it can be seen as desperate attempt to replicate their genes by low status men who cannot attract willing sexual partners. However, what about the vast majority of low status single men who would find the idea of rape barbaric and unthinkable? (As I write this, I’m thinking in terms of an ‘evolutionary psychology’ board game, with picture cards showing different human traits and squares moving upwards to selection and survival, and downwards to the evolutionary scrapheap.)

The latter example highlights another problem with evolutionary psychology: its underlying assumption that any human traits which have survived must have had some survival value. (This is referred to as ‘panadaptionism’). If they hadn’t had any value, the genes related to them wouldn’t have been selected. This is why evolutionary psychologists feel obliged to make absurd and offensive justifications of behaviours such as rape and male domination. However, there are many prevalent human traits which don’t necessarily have survival value.

For example, perhaps the most striking aspect of human beings, in relation to other animals, is our consciousness. There have certainly been attempts to explain its development in adapationist terms. The British philosopher Nicholas Humphrey, for example, suggests that having our own consciousness may have been evolutionary advantageous because it makes us feel that we are significant. We feel that we are ‘special individuals’ and that our lives have meaning, and so must have encouraged our desire to survive. Also, according to Humphrey, having our own consciousness may have helped us in terms of survival by giving us insight into other people’s thought processes, helping us to guess what they might be thinking or feeling. This helped us to compete against them, to ‘second guess’ or ‘out-guess’ them.

However, there are serious problems with this interpretation. Why should the feeling of being a ‘special self’ be advantageous when most other species survive well enough without (apparently) possessing it? And as the German philosopher Thomas Metzinger has pointed out, consciousness can easily be seen as a disadvantage. Firstly, self-consciousness causes psychological suffering, makes us liable to suffer from anxiety, frustration and self-hatred. And on a wider scale, it can be seen as maladaptive, since we as human beings can’t seem to live in harmony with the earth, and are in danger of destroying the life-support of our planet, and hence killing ourselves.

In terms of one of the examples I chose at the beginning of this piece, it may make sense to suggest that we find lush natural landscapes beautiful because they are associated with abundant resources, and therefore represent survival. However, many people also find desert landscapes beautiful, when such a landscape would surely represent death. Many people find clear skies beautiful, and gray skies dreary, when in terms of survival gray skies would have been preferable (since they promised rain). Many people find the sea beautiful, which (although it obviously contains resources) is extremely treacherous.

Prehistoric Fallacies

Perhaps the most serious problem with these interpretations, however, is that they are based on erroneous assumptions about the human race’s past. The underlying assumption of most evolutionary psychologists is that the early period during which human traits developed was a hard and bleak struggle for survival. What is referred to as the ‘environment of evolutionary adaptedness’ was a time when human life was ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ It was – so they assume – a period of intense competition for survival, a kind of Roman gladiatorial battle in which only the traits which gave people a survival advantage were selected, and all others fell by the wayside.

But this is a crude caricature of prehistoric life. Until around 8000 BC, all human beings lived as hunter-gatherers. They survived by hunting wild animals (the man’s job) and foraging for wild plants, nuts, fruit and vegetables (the woman’s job). When anthropologists began to look at how contemporary hunter-gatherers use their time, they were surprised to find that they only spent 12 to 20 hours per week searching for food – between a third and a half of the average modern working week! Because of this, the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins called (in his famous paper of that name) hunter-gatherers the ‘original affluent society’.

Strange though it may sound – the diet of hunter-gatherers was better than many modern peoples’. Apart from the small amount of meat they ate (10%-20% of their diet), their diet was practically identical to that of a modern day vegan – no dairy products and a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, roots and nuts, all eaten raw (which nutrition experts tell us is the healthiest way to eat.) This partly explains why skeletons of ancient hunter-gatherers are surprisingly large and robust, and show few signs of degenerative diseases and tooth decay. Hunter-gatherers were much less vulnerable to disease than later peoples. In fact, until the advances of modern medicine and hygiene of the 19th and 20th centuries, they may well have suffered less from disease than any other human beings in history. Many of the diseases which we’re now susceptible to (such as colds, the flu, measles and smallpox) only actually arrived when we domesticated animals and started living close to them. In view of this, it’s not surprising that with the coming of agriculture, people’s life spans became shorter.

Prehistoric life was also relatively easy in the sense that warfare was uncommon. Although some observers (such as Steven Pinker) claim that war was rife in prehistoric times, many anthropologists dispute this, believing that warfare only become endemic once human beings switched to farming and began to live a settled life, leading to the formation of villages and towns. Before then, there was little sense of territory to protect, and populations were so small that there was little need for competition over resources. (1) Even modern day hunter-gatherers are generally not territorial – they don’t think of a particular area of land as belonging to them and them alone, and don’t aggressively resist anybody who encroaches on it. (As the anthropologists Burch and Ellanna put it, “both social and spatial boundaries among hunter- gatherers are extremely flexible with regard to membership and geographic extent.”) It seems very unlikely that different groups were in continual conflict with another of resources. In fact, rather than being in conflict, contemporary foraging groups interact with each other a good deal. They regularly visit each other, make marriage alliances, and often switch membership. (For a longer discussion of this issues, see my book The Fall.)

Egalitarianism

There are many aspects of the typical ‘evolutionary psychology’ narrative which make no sense in terms of this anthropological evidence. The idea that human beings are naturally competitive and selfish makes little sense in view of the egalitarianism of hunter-gatherer groups. The anthropologist James Woodburn speaks of the “profound egalitarianism” of hunter-gatherer groups, while another anthropologist, Tim Ingold, speaks of their ‘moral obligation’ to share everything. Foraging peoples are also strikingly democratic, with no different classes or castes, which makes it difficult to imagine how an instinct to gain power and create hierarchy could have developed. Most societies do operate with a leader of some kind, but their power is usually very limited, and they can easily be deposed if the rest of the group aren’t satisfied with their leadership.

This egalitarianism extends to women too, which makes nonsense of the idea that male domination is somehow ‘natural.’ The fact that women provided the majority of a group’s food (as much as 90% according to some estimates) strongly suggests that they had equal status, since it’s difficult to see how they could have low status while performing such an important economic role. As Tim Ingold notes, in ‘immediate return hunter-gatherer societies’ (that is, societies which live by immediately using any food or other resources they collect, rather than storing them for later use), men have no authority over women. Women usually choose their own marriage partners, decide what work they want to do and work whenever they choose to, and if a marriage breaks down they have custody rights over their children.

An Alternative Evolutionary Psychology?

In fact, it’s easy to imagine an alternative interpretation of evolutionary psychology, based on a more evidence-based view of the human race’s past. This type of evolutionary psychology would explain why altruism, sharing and collaboration have become instinctive to human beings. The ‘story’ to explain this might be that the hunter-gatherer group’s ethos of egalitarianism was so strong that anyone who showed a strong desire for personal power or property would be ostracised from the group (which is actually the practice in some groups), and therefore be less likely to survive. Altruism was necessary as a way of demonstrating egalitarianism, to reduce one’s chances of being ejected from the group. Egalitarianism and altruism could therefore easily have been ‘selected’ as favourable traits. The difficulty with this kind of evolutionary psychology would be explaining why human beings are also prone to selfishness and status-seeking…But perhaps these could be explained away as forms of ‘disguised altruism.’

This sounds absurd of course – but only as absurd as evolutionary psychology as it is normally interpreted is.

As I hinted above, the reason for the popularity of evolutionary psychology is probably the same reason why religions have been so popular throughout human history – a psychological need to make sense of the world, to possess an ‘explanatory framework’ which tells us who we are, where we are, how we came to be here and why we behave as we do. I’m not seriously suggesting that evolutionary psychology is a kind of religion – at least it has its roots in evidence-based science, even if its interpretations stray too far into conjecture and erroneous assumptions. But due to its simplicity and reductionism, evolutionary psychology is very appealing as the basis for an ideology or belief system. It is also appealing because the narrative of competitiveness and individualism which has been derived from it fits with the values of our society. The picture of early human life as a struggle for genetic success, with individuals and groups competing for access to limited resources, is a good metaphor for competitive capitalist societies – and was no doubt created in their image. A more egalitarian culture might well have come up with a more collaborative and benevolent model of human behaviour – and would certainly have found evidence to justify this view.

http://corespirit.co...nary-psychology

 

 

So, valid theories or absolute bullshit? 


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#2 nowayout

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Posted 26 January 2015 - 05:33 PM

Much of it is bullshit.

 

Much of it doesn't count as science because it is not falsifiable.  For example, it is pretty much impossible to identify "universal" traits.  Most of the evo-psych hypotheses postulate so-calleduniversal traits based not even on the way things are in Western cultures but on the way things are during one specific culture at one specific time period.   I can recall reading many such hypothesized "universals" based on turn of the century North Amercian white upper middle class Anglo mores, which are simply not applicable in other sections of the U.S. population of which I have experience, never mind the rest of  the world.  It just goes downhill from there. 


Edited by nowayout, 26 January 2015 - 05:49 PM.

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#3 TheFountain

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 09:06 AM

I feel like half the shit people base evolutionary psychology on is stupid shit. Like how the dumbest fucking people act. 

 

That's weak bro!

 

I mean why not base it on how the smartest people act? Instead of the damn pack herd? 


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#4 pheanix997

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 07:36 PM

To be fair, I didn't read your entire post, and I've on read one book related to evolutionary psychology, and that was Angst. So this may be off topic, but I thought I'd share in case you were interested......

The book argued that Axis 1 psychiatric disorders are evolutionarily relevant... e.g. why are such large groups of people born with a socially anxious temperament? The author argues that social anxiety keeps members of the herd in line, and when they try to step up and climb the ladder or step into the spotlight and make themselves known, their brains have a way of signalling for them to get back into their place, before someone else shoots them down.

 

In the past, primitive cultures thrived on herd mentality, and there could only be a select number of alpha pack leaders - too many people vying for the alpha spot would spell chaos and so these tribes would kick out the people who were overly socially ambitious. If they were kicked out of the tribe, they'd die. Thus, the brains of some people slowly became hypersensitive to rejection because it literally meant life or death. Why does social anxiety affect so many of the so called working or "lower class" citizens? Because a large portion of it is genetic. Why genetic? Because at one point it benefited us. Why did it benefit us? Because overly-inhibited, humble worker bees who keep themselves in line and don't advertise their success was needed in society at one point in time. You can argue that it's still needed. That's evolutionary psychology for ya. 


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#5 pheanix997

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 07:49 PM

I realize that evolutionary psychology is a pseudo-science and based mostly on assumptions, but it seems logically inevitable that our brains would mould to circumstances that we faced long ago. In fact, forget evolutionary "psychology" - we've been evolving and changing and growing and adapting to environments since our single-celled bacteria ancestors floating around in the oceans. By extension it only makes sense that the human psyche would continue to grow and change itself. It just is what it is.... our evolutionarily-derived characteristics are neither good nor bad, they just are what they are, and it would make 0 sense for them to be there no reason. Positive characteristics like altruism also promoted survival... as we grew in intelligence we learned that one must balance cooperation with selfishness to thrive. 


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#6 nowayout

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 10:15 PM

 our evolutionarily-derived characteristics are neither good nor bad, they just are what they are, and it would make 0 sense for them to be there no reason. Positive characteristics like altruism also promoted survival...

 

The problem with the argument that "if we have a property, it must have been good for survival" is that it is vacuous - someone can always invent a convoluted causality chain to assign survival value to any property humans might have.  It is often a form of the post hoc fallacy.  It fails to take into account that many properties humans have are simply accidental or neutral.  Take intelligence and human social instincts - these are often invoked as pro-survival - however, the most prolific species on this planet (e.g., bacteria and insects) don't have human-level intelligence - and human intelligence and social instincts together are extremely destructive of the environment and other humans and may well kill off most of us in the near future (as it has been killing off many of us in the past).  In other words, human-level intelligence is as likely to be harmful as beneficial. 

 

You might say the landscape has changed, and that these qualities were historical optimums.  The problem with this is that the landscape has most likely always been changing, so there are most likely no optima. 

 

Always remember that Homo sapiens almost went extinct - at one point there is thought to have been a bottleneck where there were less than 100 individuals left, and we could easily have gone the way of the dodo then.  We still could the way things are looking now.  So the question for the evo-psych people can as easily be:  Why are the characteristics of Homo sapiens so bad for survival of the species?   


Edited by nowayout, 28 January 2015 - 10:23 PM.

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#7 pheanix997

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Posted 28 January 2015 - 11:13 PM

 

 our evolutionarily-derived characteristics are neither good nor bad, they just are what they are, and it would make 0 sense for them to be there no reason. Positive characteristics like altruism also promoted survival...

 

The problem with the argument that "if we have a property, it must have been good for survival" is that it is vacuous - someone can always invent a convoluted causality chain to assign survival value to any property humans might have.  It is often a form of the post hoc fallacy.  It fails to take into account that many properties humans have are simply accidental or neutral.  Take intelligence and human social instincts - these are often invoked as pro-survival - however, the most prolific species on this planet (e.g., bacteria and insects) don't have human-level intelligence - and human intelligence and social instincts together are extremely destructive of the environment and other humans and may well kill off most of us in the near future (as it has been killing off many of us in the past).  In other words, human-level intelligence is as likely to be harmful as beneficial. 

 

You might say the landscape has changed, and that these qualities were historical optimums.  The problem with this is that the landscape has most likely always been changing, so there are most likely no optima. 

 

Always remember that Homo sapiens almost went extinct - at one point there is thought to have been a bottleneck where there were less than 100 individuals left, and we could easily have gone the way of the dodo then.  We still could the way things are looking now.  So the question for the evo-psych people can as easily be:  Why are the characteristics of Homo sapiens so bad for survival of the species?   

 

How can the characteristics that we keep developing/ re-shaping be bad when our lifespans, health, and safety have increased steadily since the beginning of homo sapiens? Obviously no species is perfect, and besides - characteristics that we developed years ago may be unsuitable to today's environment, but that doesn't disprove evolutionary psych. theory. You say we are extremely destructive of the environment and other humans. Sure, but hasn't our population steadily grown? So as a total organism, we're doing better than ever. Of course, though, we could cause our own destruction, but weren't we always close to destruction/ extinction? I mean, we're hurling through space on a rock with limited resources - it's a very insecure predicament we've found ourselves in. Our developed intelligence may mean we could re-direct an oncoming asteroid that would wipe out life on Earth. Wouldn't intelligence then be a sign of pro-survival? Besides, how are insects better at survival than humans? Aren't they more prone to being squashed, eaten by a larger organism, and living out a shorter life span?

That's why I say our evolution is neither bad nor god. How could it be either/ or? It just is what it is. Maybe we'll get wiped out one day by some unforeseen disaster, and all would be for naught. But the only thing to do is cope and keep trying to thrive, adjust, and survive. We don't know what they hell we're doing, and where we're going, but neither do the fucking birds or the bees, so I don't see how evolution has harmed us in any way (selected harmful psychogenic behaviours). 

 


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#8 TheFountain

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Posted 29 January 2015 - 03:58 AM

To be fair, I didn't read your entire post, and I've on read one book related to evolutionary psychology, and that was Angst. So this may be off topic, but I thought I'd share in case you were interested......

The book argued that Axis 1 psychiatric disorders are evolutionarily relevant... e.g. why are such large groups of people born with a socially anxious temperament? The author argues that social anxiety keeps members of the herd in line, and when they try to step up and climb the ladder or step into the spotlight and make themselves known, their brains have a way of signalling for them to get back into their place, before someone else shoots them down.

 

In the past, primitive cultures thrived on herd mentality, and there could only be a select number of alpha pack leaders - too many people vying for the alpha spot would spell chaos and so these tribes would kick out the people who were overly socially ambitious. If they were kicked out of the tribe, they'd die. Thus, the brains of some people slowly became hypersensitive to rejection because it literally meant life or death. Why does social anxiety affect so many of the so called working or "lower class" citizens? Because a large portion of it is genetic. Why genetic? Because at one point it benefited us. Why did it benefit us? Because overly-inhibited, humble worker bees who keep themselves in line and don't advertise their success was needed in society at one point in time. You can argue that it's still needed. That's evolutionary psychology for ya. 

 

First of all I wish there was an option that said 'complete bullshit' instead of just 'disagree'.

 

And secondly even IF the whole 'alpha' thing was true, most of the so called 'leaders' out there don't deserve that ALPHA spot because they didn't earn it as Alpha's. They inherited it as weak beta types. I guarantee you, 9 out of 10 times a so called leader isn't an alpha but a beta man supplanted into office by people who wanna puppet him! 


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#9 TheFountain

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Posted 29 January 2015 - 04:03 AM

 

 our evolutionarily-derived characteristics are neither good nor bad, they just are what they are, and it would make 0 sense for them to be there no reason. Positive characteristics like altruism also promoted survival...

 

The problem with the argument that "if we have a property, it must have been good for survival" is that it is vacuous - someone can always invent a convoluted causality chain to assign survival value to any property humans might have.  It is often a form of the post hoc fallacy.  It fails to take into account that many properties humans have are simply accidental or neutral.  Take intelligence and human social instincts - these are often invoked as pro-survival - however, the most prolific species on this planet (e.g., bacteria and insects) don't have human-level intelligence - and human intelligence and social instincts together are extremely destructive of the environment and other humans and may well kill off most of us in the near future (as it has been killing off many of us in the past).  In other words, human-level intelligence is as likely to be harmful as beneficial. 

 

You might say the landscape has changed, and that these qualities were historical optimums.  The problem with this is that the landscape has most likely always been changing, so there are most likely no optima. 

 

Always remember that Homo sapiens almost went extinct - at one point there is thought to have been a bottleneck where there were less than 100 individuals left, and we could easily have gone the way of the dodo then.  We still could the way things are looking now.  So the question for the evo-psych people can as easily be:  Why are the characteristics of Homo sapiens so bad for survival of the species?   

 

 

It's not as simple as saying that prolific species of bacteria are stupid. 

 

And then what?

 

What's the purpose of their existence? What's the meaningful discussion that can derive from it? 

 

How can we apply that to humanity?

 

And lastly, how do we know bacteria aren't intelligent? 



#10 TheFountain

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Posted 29 January 2015 - 04:07 AM

 

 

 our evolutionarily-derived characteristics are neither good nor bad, they just are what they are, and it would make 0 sense for them to be there no reason. Positive characteristics like altruism also promoted survival...

 

The problem with the argument that "if we have a property, it must have been good for survival" is that it is vacuous - someone can always invent a convoluted causality chain to assign survival value to any property humans might have.  It is often a form of the post hoc fallacy.  It fails to take into account that many properties humans have are simply accidental or neutral.  Take intelligence and human social instincts - these are often invoked as pro-survival - however, the most prolific species on this planet (e.g., bacteria and insects) don't have human-level intelligence - and human intelligence and social instincts together are extremely destructive of the environment and other humans and may well kill off most of us in the near future (as it has been killing off many of us in the past).  In other words, human-level intelligence is as likely to be harmful as beneficial. 

 

You might say the landscape has changed, and that these qualities were historical optimums.  The problem with this is that the landscape has most likely always been changing, so there are most likely no optima. 

 

Always remember that Homo sapiens almost went extinct - at one point there is thought to have been a bottleneck where there were less than 100 individuals left, and we could easily have gone the way of the dodo then.  We still could the way things are looking now.  So the question for the evo-psych people can as easily be:  Why are the characteristics of Homo sapiens so bad for survival of the species?   

 

How can the characteristics that we keep developing/ re-shaping be bad when our lifespans, health, and safety have increased steadily since the beginning of homo sapiens? Obviously no species is perfect, and besides - characteristics that we developed years ago may be unsuitable to today's environment, but that doesn't disprove evolutionary psych. theory. You say we are extremely destructive of the environment and other humans. Sure, but hasn't our population steadily grown? So as a total organism, we're doing better than ever. Of course, though, we could cause our own destruction, but weren't we always close to destruction/ extinction? I mean, we're hurling through space on a rock with limited resources - it's a very insecure predicament we've found ourselves in. Our developed intelligence may mean we could re-direct an oncoming asteroid that would wipe out life on Earth. Wouldn't intelligence then be a sign of pro-survival? Besides, how are insects better at survival than humans? Aren't they more prone to being squashed, eaten by a larger organism, and living out a shorter life span?

That's why I say our evolution is neither bad nor god. How could it be either/ or? It just is what it is. Maybe we'll get wiped out one day by some unforeseen disaster, and all would be for naught. But the only thing to do is cope and keep trying to thrive, adjust, and survive. We don't know what they hell we're doing, and where we're going, but neither do the fucking birds or the bees, so I don't see how evolution has harmed us in any way (selected harmful psychogenic behaviours). 

 

 

 

Yo, I think you're confusing cause and effect here.

 

Who said, let alone proven, that the traits which led to our continued post agricultural survival are traits from the friggin paleo epoch???

 

Plus...

 

It's nobodies burden to 'disprove' evolutionary psychology, because it's non falsifiable. 

 

Therefor the burden is on the exponents to prove it valid. 

 

 

 


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#11 TheFountain

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Posted 29 January 2015 - 04:11 AM

Furthermore, is it just me or do these "evolutionary psychology" proponents seem to think humanity evolved on the wings of the most NEGATIVE FUCKING HUMAN TRAITS???

 

Where is the positivity in this?

 

I tell you, these people are assholes. 



#12 pheanix997

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Posted 29 January 2015 - 03:02 PM

 

To be fair, I didn't read your entire post, and I've on read one book related to evolutionary psychology, and that was Angst. So this may be off topic, but I thought I'd share in case you were interested......

The book argued that Axis 1 psychiatric disorders are evolutionarily relevant... e.g. why are such large groups of people born with a socially anxious temperament? The author argues that social anxiety keeps members of the herd in line, and when they try to step up and climb the ladder or step into the spotlight and make themselves known, their brains have a way of signalling for them to get back into their place, before someone else shoots them down.

 

In the past, primitive cultures thrived on herd mentality, and there could only be a select number of alpha pack leaders - too many people vying for the alpha spot would spell chaos and so these tribes would kick out the people who were overly socially ambitious. If they were kicked out of the tribe, they'd die. Thus, the brains of some people slowly became hypersensitive to rejection because it literally meant life or death. Why does social anxiety affect so many of the so called working or "lower class" citizens? Because a large portion of it is genetic. Why genetic? Because at one point it benefited us. Why did it benefit us? Because overly-inhibited, humble worker bees who keep themselves in line and don't advertise their success was needed in society at one point in time. You can argue that it's still needed. That's evolutionary psychology for ya. 

 

First of all I wish there was an option that said 'complete bullshit' instead of just 'disagree'.

 

And secondly even IF the whole 'alpha' thing was true, most of the so called 'leaders' out there don't deserve that ALPHA spot because they didn't earn it as Alpha's. They inherited it as weak beta types. I guarantee you, 9 out of 10 times a so called leader isn't an alpha but a beta man supplanted into office by people who wanna puppet him! 

 

Of course the alpha thing is true. When I say alpha I mean leader, ruler, etc. I'm not talking about their personal characteristics, like PUA's do. It doesn't matter how they got into that leadership role - maybe they were born into it - that's not the point. I'm just saying, for a human tribe to have functioned in the past, there needed to be a leader(s), and a vast majority followers. Too many people vying for a leadership role would spell chaos. Our brains adapted to this fact. We have social instincts that keep us in line, AKA social anxiety. I know it can't be scientifically proven - it's just conjecture. But bring it down to a small social group: don't you notice that a group of guys or people at work will get confused when another person starts showing alpha characteristics around the original alpha? It's because with generally one alpha, the social group functions smoothly. People know their place. When someone else starts rising, this makes everyone uncomfortable, whether they realize it or not. These are social instincts people are feeling 


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#13 nowayout

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Posted 29 January 2015 - 03:25 PM

 

 

 our evolutionarily-derived characteristics are neither good nor bad, they just are what they are, and it would make 0 sense for them to be there no reason. Positive characteristics like altruism also promoted survival...

 

The problem with the argument that "if we have a property, it must have been good for survival" is that it is vacuous - someone can always invent a convoluted causality chain to assign survival value to any property humans might have.  It is often a form of the post hoc fallacy.  It fails to take into account that many properties humans have are simply accidental or neutral.  Take intelligence and human social instincts - these are often invoked as pro-survival - however, the most prolific species on this planet (e.g., bacteria and insects) don't have human-level intelligence - and human intelligence and social instincts together are extremely destructive of the environment and other humans and may well kill off most of us in the near future (as it has been killing off many of us in the past).  In other words, human-level intelligence is as likely to be harmful as beneficial. 

 

You might say the landscape has changed, and that these qualities were historical optimums.  The problem with this is that the landscape has most likely always been changing, so there are most likely no optima. 

 

Always remember that Homo sapiens almost went extinct - at one point there is thought to have been a bottleneck where there were less than 100 individuals left, and we could easily have gone the way of the dodo then.  We still could the way things are looking now.  So the question for the evo-psych people can as easily be:  Why are the characteristics of Homo sapiens so bad for survival of the species?   

 

How can the characteristics that we keep developing/ re-shaping be bad when our lifespans, health, and safety have increased steadily since the beginning of homo sapiens?
 

 

No, our lifespans, health, and safety haven't increased steadily since the beginning of homo sapiens.  Homo sapiens has existed for about 200,000 years, yet is thought to have undergone a near extinction event (less than 10,000  individuals) between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago.  In other words, after more than three quarters of our existence we nearly went extinct, despite intelligence levels at (or possibly higher, according to estimates of brain size) than modern humans (whose brains have shrunk in the last few thousand years as has happened with other domesticated species). 

 

If you include our ancestors who made fire a million years ago in our history, we basically hung on by a thread for much of 98% of our history and almost went extinct at the end of 980,000 years.  The population explosion of the last 20,000 years is just 2% of that history, and the last bit of population explosion over the past couple of centuries is in fact threatening our survival.  It is a mark of failure, not success.  The nuclear weapons targeting all our major cities can easily still kill us all quickly, and human-driven climate change and habitat destruction can kill us off as well.  These threats cannot be called what you call an "increase in safety."  They constitue a drastic decrease in safety. 

 

In addition to our own sorry survival performance over the majority of our existence as a species, a number of similar homonid species have existed and gone extinct, despite what were probably very similar psychological makeup to ours.  So no, the majority of paleontological evidence can as easily be interpreted as showing that our psychology is pro-extinction. 

 


Edited by nowayout, 29 January 2015 - 03:36 PM.

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#14 pheanix997

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Posted 29 January 2015 - 11:35 PM

 

 

 

 our evolutionarily-derived characteristics are neither good nor bad, they just are what they are, and it would make 0 sense for them to be there no reason. Positive characteristics like altruism also promoted survival...

 

The problem with the argument that "if we have a property, it must have been good for survival" is that it is vacuous - someone can always invent a convoluted causality chain to assign survival value to any property humans might have.  It is often a form of the post hoc fallacy.  It fails to take into account that many properties humans have are simply accidental or neutral.  Take intelligence and human social instincts - these are often invoked as pro-survival - however, the most prolific species on this planet (e.g., bacteria and insects) don't have human-level intelligence - and human intelligence and social instincts together are extremely destructive of the environment and other humans and may well kill off most of us in the near future (as it has been killing off many of us in the past).  In other words, human-level intelligence is as likely to be harmful as beneficial. 

 

You might say the landscape has changed, and that these qualities were historical optimums.  The problem with this is that the landscape has most likely always been changing, so there are most likely no optima. 

 

Always remember that Homo sapiens almost went extinct - at one point there is thought to have been a bottleneck where there were less than 100 individuals left, and we could easily have gone the way of the dodo then.  We still could the way things are looking now.  So the question for the evo-psych people can as easily be:  Why are the characteristics of Homo sapiens so bad for survival of the species?   

 

How can the characteristics that we keep developing/ re-shaping be bad when our lifespans, health, and safety have increased steadily since the beginning of homo sapiens?
 

 

No, our lifespans, health, and safety haven't increased steadily since the beginning of homo sapiens.  Homo sapiens has existed for about 200,000 years, yet is thought to have undergone a near extinction event (less than 10,000  individuals) between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago.  In other words, after more than three quarters of our existence we nearly went extinct, despite intelligence levels at (or possibly higher, according to estimates of brain size) than modern humans (whose brains have shrunk in the last few thousand years as has happened with other domesticated species). 

 

If you include our ancestors who made fire a million years ago in our history, we basically hung on by a thread for much of 98% of our history and almost went extinct at the end of 980,000 years.  The population explosion of the last 20,000 years is just 2% of that history, and the last bit of population explosion over the past couple of centuries is in fact threatening our survival.  It is a mark of failure, not success.  The nuclear weapons targeting all our major cities can easily still kill us all quickly, and human-driven climate change and habitat destruction can kill us off as well.  These threats cannot be called what you call an "increase in safety."  They constitue a drastic decrease in safety. 

 

In addition to our own sorry survival performance over the majority of our existence as a species, a number of similar homonid species have existed and gone extinct, despite what were probably very similar psychological makeup to ours.  So no, the majority of paleontological evidence can as easily be interpreted as showing that our psychology is pro-extinction. 

 

 

So if there is no positive survival advantage in a single cell bacteria evolving into a diverse array of species, like life on earth, what do you suggest is the drive behind evolution? Are you saying it's all just random evolving that generates no positive purpose for existence? That is, that human characteristics exist not because they are pro-survival, but because they are just random mutations? 


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#15 nowayout

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 01:53 AM

 

...what do you suggest is the drive behind evolution? Are you saying it's all just random evolving that generates no positive purpose for existence?

 

Yes, exactly.  That has been the scientific understanding of evolution since Darwin. 
 


Edited by nowayout, 30 January 2015 - 01:54 AM.

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#16 TheFountain

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 10:16 AM

But even Darwinism allows for philanthropy to be a 'positive' characteristic of human evolution. 



#17 pheanix997

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 02:28 PM

 

 

...what do you suggest is the drive behind evolution? Are you saying it's all just random evolving that generates no positive purpose for existence?

 

Yes, exactly.  That has been the scientific understanding of evolution since Darwin. 
 

 

So you would rather be a bacteria cell floating around in a giant ocean? With no consciousness? No eyesight? No senses? No emotional sensitivity? If you think evolution is such a randomly pointless endeavour... 

And even then, it's hypothesized that the first bacteria cells that were able to detect sunlight would swim deeper in the ocean to avoid it because it was harmful, and these bacteria cells with these random genetic mutations of a kind of first model of the "eye" as we know it today started replicating with other cells and producing offspring who also had this genetic mutation, or "advantage," and eventually these new cells who could "see" eventually overpopulated the primitive cells who would float aimlessly into the sunlight and damage itself. That was the first sign of pro-survival evolution. 


Edited by pheanix997, 30 January 2015 - 02:36 PM.

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#18 pheanix997

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 02:43 PM

But even Darwinism allows for philanthropy to be a 'positive' characteristic of human evolution. 

Yeah so you're basically arguing, to a large extent, against the idea of darwinian evolution's survival of the fittest concept. 



#19 nowayout

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 02:45 PM

 

 

 

...what do you suggest is the drive behind evolution? Are you saying it's all just random evolving that generates no positive purpose for existence?

 

Yes, exactly.  That has been the scientific understanding of evolution since Darwin. 
 

 

So you would rather be a bacteria cell floating around in a giant ocean? With no consciousness? No eyesight? No senses? No emotional sensitivity? If you think evolution is such a randomly pointless endeavour... 
 

 

 

Evolution doesn't care what you would "rather be."  It is indeed random and pointless.  Darwinian evolution has no purpose.  It is all accidental.   That is the point of Darwin - it is not my opinion; it is the modern scientific understanding of evolution - if you don't understand that you are not "getting" how evolution works and should study more about it.   


Edited by nowayout, 30 January 2015 - 02:48 PM.


#20 pheanix997

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Posted 30 January 2015 - 02:48 PM

A good way to test if some characteristic is pro-survival is to do the corresponding behaviour and see the result. If you're altruistic and cooperative with your friends, will they like and support you more? If you show your ambitious and competitive side with a female (if you're male), do they not get turned on?Can you deny this? Why do some girls find intelligence such a turn on? Why does it get them horny? Well.... it's certainly a quality that SOMEBODY wants, and you and your kids will benefit from you displaying this trait. There must be a reason why women find a loner, anti-social guy repulsive, unless of course he is rich, which is again another pro-survival quality and miraculously puts his "odd" appearance and manner in a positive light. 

 

I know your response to this could be "Yeah but the girl's attraction to said male is pro-extinction because mating with a greedy, ambitious man just produces more similar offspring which eventually harms the planet, not to mention this overpopulation thing." But if you argue for that, you're arguing for Freud's death instinct concept - that every cell in our body is vying for destruction. But that has long ago thought to be nonsenseEvery cell in our body, in fact, is pro-survival. Why do wounds heal themselves? We're a pro-survival species, IMO. 

 

 


Edited by pheanix997, 30 January 2015 - 02:52 PM.

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#21 TheFountain

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Posted 31 January 2015 - 01:32 AM

A good way to test if some characteristic is pro-survival is to do the corresponding behaviour and see the result. If you're altruistic and cooperative with your friends, will they like and support you more? If you show your ambitious and competitive side with a female (if you're male), do they not get turned on?Can you deny this? Why do some girls find intelligence such a turn on? Why does it get them horny? Well.... it's certainly a quality that SOMEBODY wants, and you and your kids will benefit from you displaying this trait. There must be a reason why women find a loner, anti-social guy repulsive, unless of course he is rich, which is again another pro-survival quality and miraculously puts his "odd" appearance and manner in a positive light. 

 

I know your response to this could be "Yeah but the girl's attraction to said male is pro-extinction because mating with a greedy, ambitious man just produces more similar offspring which eventually harms the planet, not to mention this overpopulation thing." But if you argue for that, you're arguing for Freud's death instinct concept - that every cell in our body is vying for destruction. But that has long ago thought to be nonsenseEvery cell in our body, in fact, is pro-survival. Why do wounds heal themselves? We're a pro-survival species, IMO. 

 

Plus I do think we share some collective instincts with each other as a species.

 

And the instinct to propagate vs the instinct to preserve the health we do have as a species by learning to curb our numbers a little more is one of these things. I notice people are becoming more and more divided on this every year, and more people are gaining an awareness for how dangerous it can be for the population to potentially double. 



#22 TheFountain

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Posted 03 February 2015 - 11:16 AM

 

But even Darwinism allows for philanthropy to be a 'positive' characteristic of human evolution. 

Yeah so you're basically arguing, to a large extent, against the idea of darwinian evolution's survival of the fittest concept. 

 

 

Nah I am saying 'fit' might be a misnomer for another survival trait, like cooperation or something. 



#23 serp777

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Posted 06 February 2015 - 10:45 AM

Definitely a good theory. Its almost as good a theory as evolution itself. I hate always having to use the word theory though. When we talk about gravity we don't preface it with "the theory of". Since everything is a theory its always a little redundant.

 

If you accept evolution, then a natural consequence of that is that humans have evolved with traits because of natural selection. psychological traits are no different from any other kind of trait in terms of having genetic predispositions

 

Clearly certain traits like aggression, introvertedness, extrovertedness, racism, etc all depend on the evolutionary course of humans. In fact the defects in our personalities reflect that evolution is in the process of shaping and adapting psychological traits. We expect to see a range of people who are extroverted, introverted, and in between as natural selection picks the traits that eventually lead to passing on genes. I fail to understand why you think evolutionary psychology is questionable--by questioning evolutionary psychology you're inadvertently questioning evolution itself.


Edited by serp777, 06 February 2015 - 10:46 AM.

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#24 nowayout

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Posted 06 February 2015 - 02:39 PM

Definitely a good theory. Its almost as good a theory as evolution itself. I hate always having to use the word theory though. When we talk about gravity we don't preface it with "the theory of". Since everything is a theory its always a little redundant.

 

If you accept evolution, then a natural consequence of that is that humans have evolved with traits because of natural selection. psychological traits are no different from any other kind of trait in terms of having genetic predispositions

 

Clearly certain traits like aggression, introvertedness, extrovertedness, racism, etc all depend on the evolutionary course of humans. In fact the defects in our personalities reflect that evolution is in the process of shaping and adapting psychological traits. We expect to see a range of people who are extroverted, introverted, and in between as natural selection picks the traits that eventually lead to passing on genes. I fail to understand why you think evolutionary psychology is questionable--by questioning evolutionary psychology you're inadvertently questioning evolution itself.

 

We are not questioning evolution, but rather the habit of evo-psych adherents of assuming that "if we have a trait, it must have had evolutionary benefit."

 

Part of the way evolution works is that many traits are just random and neutral, neither beneficial or harmful.  Even expressly harmful traits (e.g. sickle cell anemia) can persist in a population if they are associated with some separate benefit.  Or they may be slightly harmful but just too difficult for evolution to change (such as the vertebrate retina having the blood vessels on the wrong side or the recurrent laryngeal nerve that takes a detour around the aorta that makes it many times longer than it needs to be - these suboptimal traits persist because it would be almost impossible for random mutations to change the entire topology of whole organ systems). 

 

So we cannot really say, for example, that because altruism occurs in humans, it must have had some evolutionary benefit.  That is a totally invalid way of arguing.   For example, for all we know altruism might be like sickle cell anemia, a harmful trait that only survives because it is (quite accidentally) associated with some other beneficial trait like superior hunting skills.  Or like the laryngeal nerve, altruism may simply be an accidental harmful consequence of the wiring topology of the human brain that cannot easily be optimized by random mutations. 

 

Then there is the irritating propensity of evo-psych disciples to try to base morality on evolution.  The subtext of many of their writings is that characteristics like "altruism is (morally) a good thing because it is supposedly evolutionary beneficial."  Well, so is, for argument's sake, killing your rival's children.


Edited by nowayout, 06 February 2015 - 02:56 PM.

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#25 pheanix997

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Posted 06 February 2015 - 05:14 PM

 

Definitely a good theory. Its almost as good a theory as evolution itself. I hate always having to use the word theory though. When we talk about gravity we don't preface it with "the theory of". Since everything is a theory its always a little redundant.

 

If you accept evolution, then a natural consequence of that is that humans have evolved with traits because of natural selection. psychological traits are no different from any other kind of trait in terms of having genetic predispositions

 

Clearly certain traits like aggression, introvertedness, extrovertedness, racism, etc all depend on the evolutionary course of humans. In fact the defects in our personalities reflect that evolution is in the process of shaping and adapting psychological traits. We expect to see a range of people who are extroverted, introverted, and in between as natural selection picks the traits that eventually lead to passing on genes. I fail to understand why you think evolutionary psychology is questionable--by questioning evolutionary psychology you're inadvertently questioning evolution itself.

 

We are not questioning evolution, but rather the habit of evo-psych adherents of assuming that "if we have a trait, it must have had evolutionary benefit."

 

Part of the way evolution works is that many traits are just random and neutral, neither beneficial or harmful.  Even expressly harmful traits (e.g. sickle cell anemia) can persist in a population if they are associated with some separate benefit.  Or they may be slightly harmful but just too difficult for evolution to change (such as the vertebrate retina having the blood vessels on the wrong side or the recurrent laryngeal nerve that takes a detour around the aorta that makes it many times longer than it needs to be - these suboptimal traits persist because it would be almost impossible for random mutations to change the entire topology of whole organ systems). 

 

So we cannot really say, for example, that because altruism occurs in humans, it must have had some evolutionary benefit.  That is a totally invalid way of arguing.   For example, for all we know altruism might be like sickle cell anemia, a harmful trait that only survives because it is (quite accidentally) associated with some other beneficial trait like superior hunting skills.  Or like the laryngeal nerve, altruism may simply be an accidental harmful consequence of the wiring topology of the human brain that cannot easily be optimized by random mutations. 

 

Then there is the irritating propensity of evo-psych disciples to try to base morality on evolution.  The subtext of many of their writings is that characteristics like "altruism is (morally) a good thing because it is supposedly evolutionary beneficial."  Well, so is, for argument's sake, killing your rival's children.

 

You make some really good points and I'm trying to let them influence my opinion, but I just can't get around the idea of how a random mutation that was of 0 benefit would become widespread. If height wasn't important, then why do women insist on choosing taller men, and why does our average height as a species always increase over time? A random mutation happened long ago, and if it wasn't of any benefit to anybody or was in fact harmful to the tribe, why would that tall person have mated and passed along his genes? It doesn't make sense, to me at least - I'm no expert on this. A random mutation ceases to be random if it then becomes widespread - then it turns into something more than random, something that propels and necessitates it's existence. It's then necessary to ask why has this trait become so prevalent and pronounced? 

You also can't expect evolution to work perfectly - and when there's flaws to then point it out and say, "see, evolution isn't pro-survival!" The human eye has tons of flaws and maybe it could be more efficient, and maybe evolution will have to work on top of its flawed design going forward, but that doesn't negate the idea that the eye started its development for a positive, pro-survival purpose. 

IMO altruism may not be - or have ever been - directly or clearly attributable to pro-survival for our species. But, like the peakcock's ridiculously lavish tail that shows its mates it is so "fit" that t can expend energy walking around with such a big tail and still survive and flourish - perhaps when a human shows altruism it shows others that he is so secure, so well off, so wealthy in well-being, so abundant in resources, that he can afford to be altruistic. So maybe it's not altruism that is directly attractive, but the act of altruism that signals the probable presence of other attractive traits. It's very rare that you see an insecure, financially burdened, emotionally downtrodden person be altruistic in daily life - and it's probably because they don't have the overall security to perform a action, i.e. altruism, that is not directly related to their survival and personal enhancement. Thus, when people see said person's self-absorption, it becomes a turn off because we qualify that trait as a symptom of the presence of other negative traits, which you already mentioned.

But you're right, for all we know altruism could be a harmful trait that signals other positive traits. But that;s where our intelligence and common sense (also derived from evolution) and we say, well, is giving a homeless man $200 a  negative trait for our species? I don't know I don't have time to think more deeply about this lol, I'll leave it right here. 


Edited by pheanix997, 06 February 2015 - 05:20 PM.


#26 TheFountain

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Posted 06 February 2015 - 06:35 PM

 

Definitely a good theory. Its almost as good a theory as evolution itself. I hate always having to use the word theory though. When we talk about gravity we don't preface it with "the theory of". Since everything is a theory its always a little redundant.

 

If you accept evolution, then a natural consequence of that is that humans have evolved with traits because of natural selection. psychological traits are no different from any other kind of trait in terms of having genetic predispositions

 

Clearly certain traits like aggression, introvertedness, extrovertedness, racism, etc all depend on the evolutionary course of humans. In fact the defects in our personalities reflect that evolution is in the process of shaping and adapting psychological traits. We expect to see a range of people who are extroverted, introverted, and in between as natural selection picks the traits that eventually lead to passing on genes. I fail to understand why you think evolutionary psychology is questionable--by questioning evolutionary psychology you're inadvertently questioning evolution itself.

 

We are not questioning evolution, but rather the habit of evo-psych adherents of assuming that "if we have a trait, it must have had evolutionary benefit."

 

Part of the way evolution works is that many traits are just random and neutral, neither beneficial or harmful.  Even expressly harmful traits (e.g. sickle cell anemia) can persist in a population if they are associated with some separate benefit.  Or they may be slightly harmful but just too difficult for evolution to change (such as the vertebrate retina having the blood vessels on the wrong side or the recurrent laryngeal nerve that takes a detour around the aorta that makes it many times longer than it needs to be - these suboptimal traits persist because it would be almost impossible for random mutations to change the entire topology of whole organ systems). 

 

So we cannot really say, for example, that because altruism occurs in humans, it must have had some evolutionary benefit.  That is a totally invalid way of arguing.   For example, for all we know altruism might be like sickle cell anemia, a harmful trait that only survives because it is (quite accidentally) associated with some other beneficial trait like superior hunting skills.  Or like the laryngeal nerve, altruism may simply be an accidental harmful consequence of the wiring topology of the human brain that cannot easily be optimized by random mutations. 

 

Then there is the irritating propensity of evo-psych disciples to try to base morality on evolution.  The subtext of many of their writings is that characteristics like "altruism is (morally) a good thing because it is supposedly evolutionary beneficial."  Well, so is, for argument's sake, killing your rival's children.

 

 

 

I don't see evolutionary psychology proponents saying altruism and generosity are good things that are based on evolutionary selection. I see them pointing to the most negative and phased out attributes of our species, and saying that these are the primary survival traits that got us here. 

 

How often does someone who pushes this kind of psychology say that cooperation is a survival trait? I usually hear the bullshit that fighting for dominance is the main survival trait that got us here, like there wasn't ANY cooperation in our loin cloth clad ancestors. 

 

I say bullshit. I say it was a nice balance of beating the shit out of each other AND cooperating. And at the point we're at smart people cooperate, dumb asses war and die. 


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#27 serp777

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Posted 06 February 2015 - 09:27 PM

 

Definitely a good theory. Its almost as good a theory as evolution itself. I hate always having to use the word theory though. When we talk about gravity we don't preface it with "the theory of". Since everything is a theory its always a little redundant.

 

If you accept evolution, then a natural consequence of that is that humans have evolved with traits because of natural selection. psychological traits are no different from any other kind of trait in terms of having genetic predispositions

 

Clearly certain traits like aggression, introvertedness, extrovertedness, racism, etc all depend on the evolutionary course of humans. In fact the defects in our personalities reflect that evolution is in the process of shaping and adapting psychological traits. We expect to see a range of people who are extroverted, introverted, and in between as natural selection picks the traits that eventually lead to passing on genes. I fail to understand why you think evolutionary psychology is questionable--by questioning evolutionary psychology you're inadvertently questioning evolution itself.

 

We are not questioning evolution, but rather the habit of evo-psych adherents of assuming that "if we have a trait, it must have had evolutionary benefit."

 

Part of the way evolution works is that many traits are just random and neutral, neither beneficial or harmful.  Even expressly harmful traits (e.g. sickle cell anemia) can persist in a population if they are associated with some separate benefit.  Or they may be slightly harmful but just too difficult for evolution to change (such as the vertebrate retina having the blood vessels on the wrong side or the recurrent laryngeal nerve that takes a detour around the aorta that makes it many times longer than it needs to be - these suboptimal traits persist because it would be almost impossible for random mutations to change the entire topology of whole organ systems). 

 

So we cannot really say, for example, that because altruism occurs in humans, it must have had some evolutionary benefit.  That is a totally invalid way of arguing.   For example, for all we know altruism might be like sickle cell anemia, a harmful trait that only survives because it is (quite accidentally) associated with some other beneficial trait like superior hunting skills.  Or like the laryngeal nerve, altruism may simply be an accidental harmful consequence of the wiring topology of the human brain that cannot easily be optimized by random mutations. 

 

Then there is the irritating propensity of evo-psych disciples to try to base morality on evolution.  The subtext of many of their writings is that characteristics like "altruism is (morally) a good thing because it is supposedly evolutionary beneficial."  Well, so is, for argument's sake, killing your rival's children.

 

 

The problem with this argument is that evolutionary psychology reflects that there can be a range of traits--natural selection wouldn't work without significant variation. Sickle cell anemia developed because having one allele for sickle cell protects against malaria. The problem occurs with two sickle cell alleles which leads to anemia. It may have been the case that two sickle cell alleles could have protected against malaria even more, but it doesn't unfortunately. Similarly a variety of psychological traits exist for natural selection to occur. Because some psychological traits are equally beneficial, its likely both will stay around until the environment changes.

 

"So we cannot really say, for example, that because altruism occurs in humans, it must have had some evolutionary benefit.  That is a totally invalid way of arguing."

And that's not what evolutionary psychologists argue-- they argue that there's an evolutionary explanation for the prevalence of altruism. With evidence and reasoning an evolutionary psychologist could argue that there is a benefit for altriusm--species that cooperate and help each other tend to be more successful in the long run. Like any scientists they'll use evidence to justify a trait.

 

"Then there is the irritating propensity of evo-psych disciples to try to base morality on evolution.  The subtext of many of their writings is that characteristics like "altruism is (morally) a good thing because it is supposedly evolutionary beneficial."  Well, so is, for argument's sake, killing your rival's children."

Well i think there is good reasoning for morality to depend on evolution. Killing your rival's children is likely to create disorder in a society and prevent harmonious cooperation. Its not to say that mraolity is determined by genetics, but that individuals are genetically predisposed to helping others. Individuals with morality and traits like altruism were able to form societies and groups more efficiently.


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#28 nowayout

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Posted 06 February 2015 - 10:24 PM


 they argue that there's an evolutionary explanation for the prevalence of altruism. With evidence and reasoning an evolutionary psychologist could argue that there is a benefit for altriusm--species that cooperate and help each other tend to be more successful in the long run.

 

Well i think there is good reasoning for morality to depend on evolution. Killing your rival's children is likely to create disorder in a society and prevent harmonious cooperation. Its not to say that mraolity is determined by genetics, but that individuals are genetically predisposed to helping others. Individuals with morality and traits like altruism were able to form societies and groups more efficiently.

 

 

But those are exactly the kind of arguments that I argue to be vacuous, because they tend to be circular and ignore the evidence. 

 

The evidence is that species that are altruistic and have some form of morality (e.g., cetaceans, elephants, higher primates) are a tiny minority of all species and most of them are endangered.  All of the numerous species of the genus Homo besides sapiens have gone extinct.  Humans were so endangered that we almost went extinct after three quarters of our existence as a species.  Our current and probably temporary population explosion has taken so little time in evolutionary terms that no conclusions can be drawn from it.  People who try to do so conveniently sweep all these facts under the carpet. 

 

(By the way, not that it matters for evolutionary psychology but we are even currently an endangered species - a few nuclear buttons is all it will take to wipe us out completely in a day.) 

 


Edited by nowayout, 06 February 2015 - 10:33 PM.


#29 serp777

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Posted 06 February 2015 - 11:51 PM

 


 they argue that there's an evolutionary explanation for the prevalence of altruism. With evidence and reasoning an evolutionary psychologist could argue that there is a benefit for altriusm--species that cooperate and help each other tend to be more successful in the long run.

 

Well i think there is good reasoning for morality to depend on evolution. Killing your rival's children is likely to create disorder in a society and prevent harmonious cooperation. Its not to say that mraolity is determined by genetics, but that individuals are genetically predisposed to helping others. Individuals with morality and traits like altruism were able to form societies and groups more efficiently.

 

 

But those are exactly the kind of arguments that I argue to be vacuous, because they tend to be circular and ignore the evidence. 

 

The evidence is that species that are altruistic and have some form of morality (e.g., cetaceans, elephants, higher primates) are a tiny minority of all species and most of them are endangered.  All of the numerous species of the genus Homo besides sapiens have gone extinct.  Humans were so endangered that we almost went extinct after three quarters of our existence as a species.  Our current and probably temporary population explosion has taken so little time in evolutionary terms that no conclusions can be drawn from it.  People who try to do so conveniently sweep all these facts under the carpet. 

 

(By the way, not that it matters for evolutionary psychology but we are even currently an endangered species - a few nuclear buttons is all it will take to wipe us out completely in a day.) 

 

 

All that "evidence" showing is that 99% of species have gone extinct. You can show that every trait in existence has belonged to species which have gone extinct. Does that mean the particular trait is evolutionarily unfavorable?  Obviously not. That's fallacious reasoning. It has to do with combinations of genes which determine whether a species will survive. Altriusm by itself doesnt mean a species will survive. Maybe altruism gives a species a 5% increase in chance of survival.

 

Evolutionary psychologists look for evidence, for instance, that there is a correlation between survival and altruism--whether the total is greater than the sum of its parts which can assist with survival and reproduction.

 

Clearly altruism and cooperation are necessary for societies and cities to form which has made us so succesful today.

 

"Our current and probably temporary population explosion has taken so little time in evolutionary terms that no conclusions can be drawn from it."

This is somewhat of a simplification that isn't necessarily true. First of all epigenetics needs to be taken into account. Its possible that the expression of certain genes due to the environment can lead to more altruism. And a person's epigenetics can change in the womb depending on the conditions of the mother. Second genes can change in a relatively short time span. The black death was a good example--the population in Europe and asia developed a genetic variant that increased immunity when a large percentage of the population was killed. Another good example is bacteria. In the last 50 years bacteria have developed resistance to antibiotics through natural selection. So genes can change in a relatively short duration although other changes which have a more subtle impact on survival take longer. The black death resistance was a very important genotype for survival and so it emerged quickly. Its possible that altruism and cooperation were extremely important for survival.

 

Finally, its also likely that altruism, as a trait, already existed in the population. Those who weren't altruistic became outsiders while those who were altruistic and cooperative formed civilizations. The civilizations lead to more food and technology which caused certain genotypes to reproduce far more than anti social, unaltruistic genotypes. This would lead to a prevalence of genotypes that predisposed individuals to be more moral and altruistic.

 


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#30 nowayout

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Posted 07 February 2015 - 03:01 PM


Finally, its also likely that altruism, as a trait, already existed in the population. Those who weren't altruistic became outsiders while those who were altruistic and cooperative formed civilizations. The civilizations lead to more food and technology which caused certain genotypes to reproduce far more than anti social, unaltruistic genotypes. This would lead to a prevalence of genotypes that predisposed individuals to be more moral and altruistic.

 

 

I am dubious about your claim that our civilization is based on morality and altruism as we understand them.  I claim that history, even recent history, proves exactly the opposite - the killers and exploiters and psychopaths have been the "succesful" ones in human history, and this continues to be the case just as much today as in the past (see corporate capitalism).

 

I think you are confusing cooperation with morality/altruism.  Most of the history of civilization is a story of psychopaths cooperating to overpower the weaker and steal their resources.  This certainly continues to be the case in the U.S.

 


Edited by nowayout, 07 February 2015 - 03:08 PM.

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