Monday, July 15, 2013

A defense of evolutionary psychology.

For those of you who follow the debate over the legitimacy of the evolutionary psychology perspective, I recommend a look at this contribution by Jerry Coyne, which features Steven Pinker responding to a critique originating from a panel at the Convergence 2013 conference (described here). whose main point was summarized by P.Z. Myers as:
Developmental plasticity is all. The fundamental premises of evo psych are false.
The response:
This paragraph disturbed me for two reasons. First, the notion that “the fundamental premises of evo psych are false” seems deeply misguided. After all, those premises boil down to this statement: some behaviors of modern humans reflect their evolutionary history. That is palpably uncontroversial, since many of our behaviors are clearly a product of evolution, including eating, avoiding dangers, and the pursuit of sex.  And since our bodies reflect their evolutionary history, often in nonadaptive ways (e.g., wisdom teeth, bad backs, the coat of hair we produce as a transitory feature in fetuses), why not our brains, which are, after all, just bits of morphology whose structure affects our behaviors?
Second, “developmental plasticity” does not stand as a dichotomous alternative to “evolved features.” Our developmental plasticity is to a large extent the product of evolution: our ability to learn language, our tendency to defer to authorities when we’re children, our learned socialization—those are all features almost certainly instilled into our brains by natural selection as a way to promote behavioral flexibility in that most flexible of mammals.
These points are followed by a list of rejoinders made by Pinker to points in the panel discussion

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