[FRIAM] the pseudoscience of evolutionary psychology?

Nick Thompson nickthompson at earthlink.net
Wed Feb 14 13:48:29 EST 2018

Dear Glen and Peter, 


I started out my career calling myself an Ethologist and studying communication in monkeys and then crows. I ended my career as an Evolutionary Psychologist studying human infant’s cries.  So I feel some obligation to stand up to your critique, while acknowledging that much of it is fair. 


Lots going on right now so I will have to go at this slowly.  But for starters could we just agree to avoid saying anything stupid.  The two most obvious stupidities to avoid are: 


Human Evolutionary history has nothing to do with contemporary human behavior


Human Evolutionary history has everything to do with contemporary human behavior.  


Once the two extreme positions have been set aside, we are left in the messy middle.  


Under what circumstances and in which domains does knowledge of human evolutionary history have anything to contribute to our understanding of contemporary human behavior?  


I would love to have a sustained, thoughtful discussion of this question on this list.  It is very close to my heart.   Because I don’t have time, right now,  to write a screed, or even a rant, I shall fall back on that practice favored by all academic scoundrels:  I shall cite one of my own papers. <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/302220782_My_Descent_from_the_Monkey>   (If this link doesn’t work, could somebody let me know, please?)


I hope we can carry this on for some time, but SLOWLY, please, so I can keep up. 





Nicholas S. Thompson

Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Biology

Clark University

 <http://home.earthlink.net/~nickthompson/naturaldesigns/> http://home.earthlink.net/~nickthompson/naturaldesigns/


From: Friam [mailto:friam-bounces at redfish.com] On Behalf Of Pieter Steenekamp
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 9:20 AM
To: The Friday Morning Applied Complexity Coffee Group <friam at redfish.com>
Subject: Re: [FRIAM] the pseudoscience of evolutionary psychology?


It may be difficult to quantify evolutionary psychology, but that does not mean it is pseudoscience. Like string theory that's also difficult to quantify, the scientific method is also applicable to evolutionary psychology. 


I support the view as expressed in https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology:

"Just as Darwin's theory of natural selection was almost immediately perverted to justify cruel bigotry (Social Darwinism, eugenics), so evolutionary psychology is readily twisted to buttress prejudice. This does not make evolutionary psychology wrong, any more than the brutality of Social Darwinism made evolutionary theory wrong, but it does suggest that claims rooted in it should be assessed very carefully, both by those reading them and those writing them."


On 13 February 2018 at 23:07, uǝlƃ ☣ <gepropella at gmail.com <mailto:gepropella at gmail.com> > wrote:

I remain fascinated by the neoreactionaries (most of whom have ceded their soap boxes to their alt-right offspring).  And Google's tendency to promote fringe garbage (https://www.wired.com/story/google-autocomplete-vile-suggestions/) landed Jordan Peterson in my Youtube recommendations awhile back.  Based on the videos Youtube recommended, he sounded like a typical right-wing pseudo-intellectual.  But when I noticed Sam Harris taking him seriously, I thought I'd look a little closer.  Sure enough, the majority of his online lectures spout fairly reasonable (albeit justificationist) rhetoric ... a lot like Harris and fellow right-wing flirt Jonathan Haidt, both of whom appeal to our xenophobic friends for differing reasons.

I'm reminded of the argument I made on this list some time ago that, although I believe open source is necessary for pretty much all things, it *facilitates* nefarious action by obscurity.  Because your library (e.g. RSA backdoors or JavaScript cryptocurrency miners) has so much code in it, and is just one library in a gamut of libraries you invoke, there's absolutely no way you can *trust* that stack ... even if it's FOSS and gets lots of eyeballs.

Peterson, Harris, and Haidt, rely on the overt reasonability of 90% of what they say in order to Trojan Horse the racist or otherwise questionable content of the other 10%.  Sure, they make a *technical* effort to weight their assertions.  And that's laudable.  (Slate Star Codex and Alexander's ilk do this well with their "epistemic status" rating, displayed fairly prominently most of the time.)  But this raises the reason I'm posting this to FriAM.  The quote from the Alternet article is (should be) provocative:

"Devotees of the pseudoscience of evolutionary psychology are fond of this particular maneuver: locate some behavior in the more ancient branches of the tree of life and project it forward across eons to explain little Johnny pulling little Susie’s pigtails, or the collapse of Lehman Brothers, or the Holocaust, or whatever. In any case, I like to imagine the diaphanous, energy-based extraterrestrials in their invisible starships, so unutterably alien that they gaze upon man and lobster and can’t tell them apart."

In particular re: Peterson, I've actually *used* (although mostly jokingly) the alpha- beta-male (false) dichotomy at cocktail parties ... to justify why I, as a proud beta male, am a wallflower.  But now, I'm worried that (like the many memes I learned from my libertarian friends) it's not merely a useful fiction, but complete garbage: https://youtu.be/YTyQgwVvYyc

☣ uǝlƃ

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