A review of the methods of evolutionary psychology, published last summer in a biology journal, underlined a point so simple that its implications are easily missed. To confirm any story about how the mind has been shaped, you need (among other things) to determine how people today actually think and behave, and to test rival accounts of how these traits function. Once you have done that, you will, in effect, have finished the job of explaining how the mind works. What life was really like in the Stone Age no longer matters. It doesn’t make any practical difference exactly how our traits became established. All that matters is that they are there.
Friday, September 28, 2012
Just so stories about the evolution of our minds.
I want to point to a very nicely done review in The New Yorker by Anthony Gottlieb, who notes a number of recent books dealing with evolutionary psychology, but mainly comments on “Homo Mysterious: Evolutionary Puzzles of Human Nature” (Oxford), a new book by David Barash, a professor of psychology and biology at the University of Washington, Seattle. The main point of critics is that most evolutionary theories purporting to explain our sexual or other behaviors as evolved adaptations to conditions faced by our paleolithic ancestors have no more validity than Rudyard Kipling's "just so" stories about how the camel got his hump or the rhinoceros his wrinkly folds of skin. One clip from the review: