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Evolutionary psychology: Goodbye cruel US — prof claims EP’s future is Asia

Recently, someone from Europe (who says he is “very sceptical of intelligent design theory”) drew my attention to a “horrible” article he found in the Google cache.*

In it, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, an assistant prof at the University of New Mexico, outlines plans for “The Asian Future of Evolutionary Psychology.” in Evolutionary Psychology 2006.4: 107-119 From Miller we learn the reasons why evolutionary psychology (the attempt to derive human behavior from the factors that either (1) helped human ancestors survive or (2) were accidental traits that may or may not have helped them survive) is not thriving. (The infidelity gene, the violence gene, the God module, the altruism spot, and other such assured results of modern science.).

Briefly, Miller senses that evolutionary psychology is not nearly as popular as it ought to be in the West, but not to worry, Asia is overtaking the West. His paper suggests ways to market it to the East.

Here are some excerpts from his analysis:

Altogether, if we exclude the likely anti-Darwinian cultures of Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, the current and emerging Asian powers include a total of 2.9 billion people – half the world’s population, and about four times as many people as in the U.S. and E.U. combined. These Asians already have high literacy rates, high average IQs, fast- growing economies, and a relative freedom from memetic infection by the Abrahamic religions. Psychology is already becoming hugely more popular at Asian universities (Zhang and Xu, 2006). That is the current state of play, as of 2006.

Noting that if current trends continue, there will be six to eight times as many Asian behavioural scientists as EuroAmerican ones, he explains that the children of newly affluent Asians will

… grow up materially spoiled but emotionally neglected. They will take prosperity for granted. They will rebel against conspicuous consumption, seek alternative paths to status, and adopt the ancien-régime norms of conspicuous leisure and self-actualization. They will start college in economics or genetics, but then they will fall in love, take drugs, read Chuck Palahniuk novels, have existential crises, and end up majoring in psychology. (So it goes.) Their moneyobsessed parents will be appalled at first, but gradually realize there’s a certain cachet in being able to brag about a kid with a Ph.D. The second and third generation of Asian middle-class youth – not the first generation – will drive the Asian dominance in behavioral sciences by mid-century.

Well that’s some prospect, all right.

Miller believes that Euro-America is doomed to become a scientific backwater by 2050,  so even if evolutionary psychology could hop off the breathless pages of the pop science press, it would be wasted on the lands of its birth. He suggests just forgetting Euro-America, noting,

the U.S. is morphing into a fascist-fundamentalist plutocracy that will never seriously support Darwinian research.

Europe is so-so in his view, but the real future is Asia. If his colleagues work “hard, fast, and smart”:

We could gain the first-mover advantage in shaping their intellectual outlook for decades to come. We nurture the emotional bonds of collaboration and mentorship. They appreciate our attention and respect. No one else from the Western behavioral sciences is bothering with poor old Asia. Evolutionary psychology becomes the dominant paradigm in all the key psychology departments … Evolutionary psychology is still misunderstood, mocked, rejected, and reviled in the U.S. and Europe. But we don’t care. We’re playing the science version of the board-game Risk: whoever wins Asia probably wins the game.

He lists the factors that he thinks will help, including such claims as

Buddhist-influenced cultures understand adaptive self-deception; they view human cognitions, emotions, and preferences as self-interested illusory constructs that may serve biological goals, but that do not reflect objective reality

and

in contrast to sex-negative European monotheism, many Asian cultures are more sex-positive, more urbane, and more sophisticated (consider the Kama Sutra, Tantric Buddhism, Hindu temple carvings, Thai sex tourism, geisha culture, etc.)

Indeed, Miller, imagining himself and his colleagues as intelligent aliens, enthuses,

The U.S. is anti-intellectual and deeply religious, frenzied by consumerist self-indulgence and belligerent nationalism, veers between puritanical hypocrisy and pornographic narcissism, and has no serious national media or science journalism. China, by contrast, has a five-thousand-year tradition of intellectual progress, values education and ideas, is strongly secular, and will soon be the world’s most populous, prosperous, and progressive country. I would land my flying saucer in Zhejiang Province, not New Mexico.

Well, Geoffrey, don’t let anyone deter you.

It’s significant that the subtext of Miller’s paper is that, despite strenuous promotion in the science media, evolutionary psychology has – at least to judge from his account – failed to catch on in the lands of its birth.

As Mario Beauregard and I detail in The Spiritual Brain, there are very good reasons for that. The general uselessness and irrelevance of Darwinian fairy tales is the main one. Granted, if people believe in a Darwinian fairy tale of caves long ago, it may influence them, for good or ill. But the same may be said of stories like The Ugly Duckling or The Lord of the Rings, whose authors never claimed that they were writing science.

All that said, I am puzzled about how to respond to my European correspondent. “Very sceptical” of the intelligent design of the universe, is he? Well, then, the sort of “horrible” enterprise he drew to my attention IS the alternative. He’d better either get used to it or rethink his opposition to ID.

But wait a minute – aren’t the evolutionary psychologists being urged to pack themselves off to points East? Perhaps his best plan would be to see them off at the airport, cheering wildly.

EP, don’t phone home.

(*Also here as a .pdf, also the citation on his site.)

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16 Responses to Evolutionary psychology: Goodbye cruel US — prof claims EP’s future is Asia

  1. Miller seems not to realize that missionaries have been active in the Far East and that many people there are already infected by the Abrahamic Covenant meme.

  2. Off topic: NY Times did an article yesterday on the new Creation Museum metioned in a previous article by Denyse. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06.....ref=slogin

  3. Did it not occur to him that perhaps the reason Asia was “blindsiding” us was its limited exposure to evo psycho? The discipline has only been around for a limited amount of time and despite his obvious enthusiasm no one really knows the long term cultural effects. (Though if Darwinism itself is any indication it couldn’t be good.)
    Ahh! To have the zeal of the zealot.

  4. China, by contrast, has a five-thousand-year tradition of intellectual progress, values education and ideas, is strongly secular, and will soon be the world’s most populous, prosperous, and progressive country.

    Didn’t millions perish in China during the anti-intellectual crusade which was the Cultural Revolution? Nothing remotely like that has occured in the USA, yet China is praised for its intellectual progress and the USA is criticized for its backwardness.

  5. “memetic infection”

    I can’t help but laughing and shaking my head every time I see the “meme” word used by some Darwinian snollygoster.

    It is ubiquitously used of anything Darwinists don’t like! How convenient n’est-ce pas?

    Of course atheism and Darwinism must also be memes but they’ll never admit it.

    The government should “fund” Miller a one way ticket to China.

  6. The problem with Darwinian evolutionary psychology, and Darwinian evolutionary theory in general, is that it only asks one question: What is the survival value of a particular trait? Of course, any answer will do, as long as the imagination of the theorist is sufficiently creative.

    The hard questions are never asked or addressed: How were these traits engineered through random and mechanistic processes? And what are the probabilities that these traits could come about, given the resources of time, individuals and generations, and limitations imposed by informational complexity?

    The answer to the hard questions is a question: Are you serious, or is this some strange attempt at humor?

  7. “China, by contrast, has a five-thousand-year tradition of intellectual progress, values education and ideas, is strongly secular, and will soon be the world’s most populous, prosperous, and progressive country.”

    Modern (beginning with Copernicus)did not arise in China. It arose in a Christian based culture which valued nature as being worthy and capable of study because a rational God created it. This did not happen in China for a reason.

  8. I meant to say “modern science …”

  9. Don’t these people study history ? Or reality for that matter ?

    As even the atheist Jared Diamond notes, science was still born the world over except for Christian Europe. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the influence of christian conceptions of the world was a big one.

    Worse yet for this clown, as noted, Christianity is on the rise big time in China and Asia in general, and this is inspite of it being persecuted by the state in many of these places.

  10. 10

    Islam IS an Abrahamic religion and all the countries listed, except the Philippines which is mostly Christian, are majority Muslim countries. Furthermore, the term “Abrahamic religion” is of Islamic origin. I’ve never heard of Geoffrey Miller but he sounds like a moron who doesn’t know the definitions of the words he uses. I would place no authority in what he has to say and consider any opinions he might have as laughable.

  11. Hi Denise, thank you very much for having posted about this subject.

    Like Buller, I make the difference between evolutionary psychology ( the research of the origin of the human comportement, whatever may be the causes) and Evolutionary psychology ( the dogma that natural selection has put into place a massive modularity in our brain during the evolutionary times).

    I think that the alleged evidences supporting the usual claims of EP ( like the gene of infidelity, the cheat detector, the matin’s preference etc…) are either weak or tautologic, and could be explaind by other way that massive modularity.

    But I must confess that I don’t appreciate the methodology of intelligent design and the political ground on which it lies.

    Denise, I think tat you should avoid personal attack against people like Miller even if you strongly disagree with him.
    If you claim to be christian, you should respect everybody, like Jesus said: “Love your foes, pray for your foes”.
    I know it can be very difficult and I have a lot of difficulties with that, but that is God’s will.

    And I must stress on a point where I BOTH DISAGREE WITH DARWINIST AND ID SUPPORTERS:

    I think that the existence of a possible evolutionary path which could explain certain features of the living world doesn’t rule out the action of God.

    For example, if we could explain conclusively the evolution of our brain through natural selection, it would still be possible that God made them evolve without using this awful process.

    The features that are identified by darwinists as evidences of design by natural selection could also be viewed as evidences of design by God.

    But the overwhelming examples of bad design in nature are much more difficult to deal with for theist like myself.

    All the best for you,

    Marc from France.

  12. Note to Gil: One of the difficulties with evolutionary psychology is that the traits identified need NOT have survival value, but only be associated with traits that do.

    That’s part of the general incoherence. To see what this means, consider the following:

    If producing fertile offspring confers survival value (a logical idea), then homosexuality should be counterproductive. However, in the era of gay rights, the evolutionary psychologist cannot quite make that argument, so he pulls the ever-obliging rabbit out of the hat: The homosexual confers survival value by helping siblings raise children. So, it turns out that both having children and not having them confer survival value.

    Notice that we have gone from something obvious (if you are not a successful parent, your line will come to an end) to something speculative (how homosexuals – assumed for the purposes of our discussion to be non-parents* – might help parents).

    The only thing we can really be sure of is that we have a current population of over six billion humans who come from a very small number of common ancestors.

    Were those common ancestors doing something unusually correct? Given the small numbers, it is hard to know what, in particular, without speicific historical information.**

    That’s why I think Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear, admittedly fiction, makes way more sense than evolutionary psychology, which is actually fiction but not admittedly so.

    *The whole evo psycho enterprise is riddled with mere “assumptions du jour”. In traditional cultures, people attracted to persons of their own sex married and had children simply because the culture required them to. Whatever else they did was a different matter, judged according to the culture. Thus people who were homosexually inclined did pass on their genes in large numbers – and probably needed about the same amount of help from their sibs as they gave, overall.

    **If there were a large number of ancestors, you might be able to make some reasonable guesses as to the relationship between behavior choices and survival of offspring. But not necessarily so for a small number of ancestors. For example, if you knew that 400 men out of 500 had survived a battle, you might assume that their group contained a larger number of capable warriors than the fallen, treated as a group. But if only one single man survived the engagement, that may be because he is a great hero, or because he hid or ran away, made a deal with the enemy, or was too drunk to get up on the morning of the battle, or was in the stockade for stealing from his fellows. In other words, even assuming that his behaviour is passed on in his genes, what behavior is passed on? And what inferences can we make about its relation to his survival generally?

    By the way, apologies for some messiness in the post, which I fixed. I posted rather late last night.

  13. Anytime I get the urge to believe that evolutionary psychology is some sort of science, I seek out any historical text that justifies oppression and/or genocide and substitute the word “gene” anywhere I see a word for bloodline. It chillingly echoes nearly everything put forward in EP papers.

  14. I’m afraid Mr. Miller is woefully misinformed. China contains one of the fastest-growing Christian church movements today (which means in world history). The underground church there is so huge and growing so fast that it’s likely the dominant Chinese government and culture will look radically different in another few decades. In terms of sheer numbers, there are more Christians in China than in the U.S already.

    In addition, nations like India and Vietnam are being heavily impacted by this “Abrahamic meme”. In particular, the lower castes in India are feeling liberated by the message of equality in the Christian faith and are making their voices heard. The oppressiveness of Hinduism is being challenged. And in Vietnam, the slow fall of communism is being accompanied by a huge groundswell of Christianity. In fact, church leaders in Vietnam are traveling TO China to try to stem the persecution of the underground church there.

    You might not hear about this stuff in the secular press or the ivory towers on university campuses, but this is what’s happening. Mr. Miller will soon be in for a rude awakening.

  15. Denyse:

    Note to Gil: One of the difficulties with evolutionary psychology is that the traits identified need NOT have survival value, but only be associated with traits that do.

    You are correct. Evo Psycho is more plastic and disconnected from reality than I suggested, which makes it even more ridiculous and irrelevant.

  16. Evolutionary psychology undermines the basis for civilization in my opinion. EP’s espouse determinism which is counter to notions of law, marriage, and promote racism.

    As a psychologist, I find EP to be one of the most fallacious and purely speculative branches of psychology. They have an explanation for everything, and an underlying political motivation.

    http://thecountryshrink.com

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