Home » Biology, Intelligent Design » Uncommon Descent Contest winner 5: Why middle-aged men have shiny scalps

Uncommon Descent Contest winner 5: Why middle-aged men have shiny scalps

 Before I announce the winner, I should note that Harper One San Francisco has announced that 5 hardback copies of both Steve Meyer’s Signature of the Cell, ( 2009) and Beauregard and O’Leary’s The Spiritual Brain (2007 ) are available free to contest winners. Like, win and add them to your library for free.

Okay, now to Question 5:

Winner VJ Torley writes, What is the down side for serious Darwinists to just cutting the “evolutionary psychology” psychodrama loose, and focusing on what real science can say about evolution?

The down side to cutting “evolutionary psychology” loose is that Darwinism would then no longer be a comprehensive theory of all features of organisms, in the same way that atomic theory is a comprehensive theory of all substances and all states of matter in chemistry. A Darwinism which placed psychology outside its explanatory ambit might still be able to account for the entire gamut of organisms’ biological characteristics, but it would no longer be a satisfactory theory of their behavior.

This should not be a problem to science as such. However, contemporary science is profoundly reductionistic in its outlook. In the current intellectual milieu, irreducible higher-level properties (such as mental states) are likely to be just as annoying to scientists as surds were to the Greeks, who threw into the sea the man who first proved that the square root of two was irrational.

There is one way in which today’s scientists might be persuaded to cut “evolutionary psychology” loose, and that would be if psychology itself came to be regarded as a pseudo-science. A few philosophers and scientists, such as Paul and Patricia Churchland, deny the existence of mental states altogether and regard talk of mental states as a “folk theory,” which will eventually be superseded by a theory that explains human behavior in terms of brain states. If these views ever gained scientific acceptance, then evolutionary psychology would vanish as a discipline.

What is the down side for serious Darwinists to just cutting the “evolutionary psychology” psychodrama loose, and focusing on what real science can say about evolution?

The down side to cutting “evolutionary psychology” loose is that Darwinism would then no longer be a comprehensive theory of all features of organisms, in the same way that atomic theory is a comprehensive theory of all substances and all states of matter in chemistry. A Darwinism which placed psychology outside its explanatory ambit might still be able to account for the entire gamut of organisms’ biological characteristics, but it would no longer be a satisfactory theory of their behavior.

This should not be a problem to science as such. However, contemporary science is profoundly reductionistic in its outlook. In the current intellectual milieu, irreducible higher-level properties (such as mental states) are likely to be just as annoying to scientists as surds were to the Greeks, who threw into the sea the man who first proved that the square root of two was irrational.

There is one way in which today’s scientists might be persuaded to cut “evolutionary psychology” loose, and that would be if psychology itself came to be regarded as a pseudo-science. A few philosophers and scientists, such as Paul and Patricia Churchland, deny the existence of mental states altogether and regard talk of mental states as a “folk theory,” which will eventually be superseded by a theory that explains human behavior in terms of brain states. If these views ever gained scientific acceptance, then evolutionary psychology would vanish as a discipline.

VJ Torley needs to be in touch with [email protected] to provide a current postal address, to collect his prize, a year’s free subscription to Salvo (decidedly not yer granny’s explanation of why younger Christians are getting tired of all this materialist rubbish, but a more plausible one) plus free, fun back issues.

Here is how this contest got started: At Robert Murphy’s “Free Advice” blog, a post called – advisedly – Just-So Darwinism:

“Art and hairlessness co-evolved because they fed off each other. The girl whose skin was least hairy could paint it, tattoo it, decorate it and clothe it more adventurously than could her furry sisters. So she got more and better men. And in consequence her children – even the males, though to a lesser degree – lost their hair too. We had become the naked ape.”

OK, you got that? Remember, the whole point of this story is to explain why older men with thinning hair are implausibly attractive to young women (despite the myths that Rogaine and others would have you believe, and despite all those male models with full heads of hair). So to do that, the story starts out with why evolution made women lose their (body) hair, which then caused their male offspring to lose their (body and scalp?) hair, even though the original motivation (sexual selection a la the peacock) never caused female baldness to become prevalent.

Hat tip: Darwinian Tales (by “Vox Day”), who kindly wrote to say, “Knowing of your intense interest in the “big bazooms” theory [of evolution], I think you’ll enjoy this.”

Yes,Vox said that. I collect stupid theories (like the sexy baldy and the “big bazooms”) theory of evolution, the way some people collect ceramic busts of Elvis Presley, not because they admire them but because they are intrigued by the fact that anyone, anywhere would actually admire them.

Terence Kealey is vice-chancellor of Buckingham University

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5 Responses to Uncommon Descent Contest winner 5: Why middle-aged men have shiny scalps

  1. Hi Denyse,

    Thanks very much. I’m glad you liked my post. If you have a look at my Web page, http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/index.html and click on the Resume link, you’ll find the information you need.

    Best wishes,

    Vincent

  2. Vincent – congratulations on your win.

    However, I would strongly advise you not to allow your personal information to be so easily accessible on the Internet!

  3. Re vjtorley, my worry is that someone could steal his identity, raise a whack of cash, and stick him with a legal problem.

    I know of two competing theories about personal information on the Internet:

    1. Tell ‘em everything (if it is anyone’s business). Generally, public records are public business. But there is a LOT that that doesn’t include.

    2. Tell ‘em nothing. Be an avatar.

    As a traditional journalist, I tend to respect avatars less.

    But my view dates back to the days when news hounds covered local controversies. We wanted to make clear that we were normal local people who live in the community and pay taxes and pull weeds and give to charity, and so forth.

    We didn’t give ourselves names like “Lucifer’s Pit Bull” or “Everyone But Me Is A Complete Idiot.”

    We didn’t even think that way.

    Sometimes, we reported news people didn’t like to hear, other times news that they did. Can’t help that.

    Personally, I put on the ‘Net what anyone can find out about me by a minimal search effort.

  4. “As a traditional journalist, I tend to respect avatars less.”

    As somebody who works in IT I have some awareness of the potential dangers of revealing personal information on the Internet, and am therefore doubly cautious. Remember that information on the Internet is often indelible and what is once loose cannot be put back in the bottle.

    My personal take is that Vincent has revealed far too much; but perhaps because he lives outside the USA he will be less at risk, I’m not sure.

    In your case as a professional journalist writing on this blog is part of your trade – for many of here though this is only a sideline interest; and for that reason many of us do wish to remain anonymous and keep our professional and amateur lives apart. ANd it is a common practice for many nowadays to blog on their companies time and indeed using company computers, so another reason to be cautious. computers and time). Sorry you don’t respect that, but there are some very solid reasons for using avatars.

  5. Denyse and JTaylor

    Thanks for your expressions of concern. I put that stuff in my resume because it means I can print it off anywhere, anytime – which is handy if, like me, you have six or seven part-time jobs. And I wasn’t worried about identity theft, because I don’t have a credit card. Anyone wanting to sue me for wads of cash would soon find that they had picked the wrong person, I can assure you. Finally, I’m not employed in any capacity that would be jeopardised if my Internet postings were to become known.

    Still, your posts have given me food for thought, and I might review some of the information I have put up on the Net, over the next couple of days. Thanks again.

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