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Further reasons not to believe in evolutionary psychology

In this video, a rabbit somewhere in Texas chases a big snake up a tree.

Recently, a house cat also chased a bear up a tree. (You have to scroll way way down to see a vigilant ginger cat at the bottom of the tree.)

One of the many reasons I have little use for evo psycho is that animal behavior is often not at all predictable. It may be difficult to say what behavior enabled a given animal to become an ancestor, and therefore what may be encoded in genes. And genuine common ancestors may be rare.

Apparently, no one told that rabbit to encode and act on spinelessness and victimhood.

And no one told that cat to be a useless parasite.

One thing to realize about evolutionary psychology is that it requires a material mechanism rather than conscious awareness in order to explain behaviour, because consciousness is supposed to be an illlusion produced by brain states – and therefore cannot actually produce any effects of its own. While this creates significant deficits for understanding higher animal behaviour, it is catastrophic for understanding human behaviour.

I have put up several stories today at Mindful Hack on the neuroscience implications of a non-materialist universe, including one on sexual jealousy, which discusses that precise issue – evolutionary psychology vs. consciousness in understanding human behaviour.

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26 Responses to Further reasons not to believe in evolutionary psychology

  1. 1
    EndoplasmicMessenger

    I know that you have written before on “Darwinian Fairytales” by David Stove, which deals with this topic extensively. Let me say that I have just finished this book, and despite the fact that it was written 10 years ago, it is a very timely read in that it completely dismantles Dawkins’s Selfish Gene hypothesis.

  2. Why doesn’t someone write up an evolutionary psychological profile for ardent reductive materialists?

    Could be a lot of fun. Actually, that’s one thing the ID movement in general really needs a lot more of. Humor. Intelligent, witty, but most importantly funny humor.

  3. Evolutionary psychology is NOT based on Darwin’s theory of evolution, but on evolution theory in general.

    It’s perfectly obvious that individuals of each species inherit instincts from that species, which are related to the instincts of other similar species.

    Sure you can find a rabbit that does not act like a rabbit. But it’s an odd exception, not the norm. Most rabbits act like rabbits, within a certain normal range.

    When you question evolution in general, you make the ID movement seem irrational and unconcerned with evidence or common sense.

  4. I was under the impression that evolutionary psychology explains the origins of behaviour, yes? I don’t understand the relevance of a cat chasing a bare to this subject, nor why evolutionary psychology should Vs consciousness, one is an explanation, the other a state.

  5. I don’t think questioning evolution shows a lack of common sense. Any more than questioning how computers came from silicon goo natually shows a lack of common sense.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to label others as irrational and unconcerned with evidence if I were you.

    Any dogma that resists questioning is a false religion imo.

  6. From moderator Denyse,

    “When you question evolution in general, you make the ID movement seem irrational and unconcerned with evidence or common sense. ”

    This is your first warning from me, realPC.

    As those who read the post will realize, I did not question evolution, but evolutionary psychology, a speculative enterprise on a level with Freudianism, for which natural selection (Darwinism) is the alleged driver of all kinds of behaviour.

    Your reaction betrays you, I am afraid, realpc.

    One common characteristic of Darwinists, other materialist evolutionists, and their “theistic evolutionist”* fellow travellers is that – unlike most scientists in most fields – they cannot admit that there could ever be weaknesses in their theory. They lash out at anyone who points up defects.

    Not for realpc – who probably isn’t listening – but for anyone who is: If the number of common ancestors is small in relation to the whole population – as we are assured is a common situation – averages regarding behaviour cannot be used as a predictor of selective action – any more than you can call the next US election by finding out how your repair man plans to vote.

    Now, that might not be a problem with life forms where virtually all members of the group might be expected to do much the same things. But when you see wide ranges in behaviour, caution is advised. You don’t know what behaviour resulted in that individual life form becoming an ancestor. It could be typical or atypical. The behaviour could be passed on or not.

    I would put my money on that jack rabbit though. – Denyse

    *”theistic evolutionist” – I use scare quotes here because ID theorist Mike Behe is actually a theistic evolutionist (his approach to origins does not require physical creation events apart from the Big Bang). But Behe is constantly attacked and denounced by “theistic evolutionists” – meaning people who are comfortable about joining materialist atheists to attack Behe for saying that design is evident in nature.

    Maybe they hope to be eaten last, I don’t know. – d.

  7. “theistic evolutionists” – meaning people who are comfortable about joining materialist atheists to attack Behe for saying that design is evident in nature. . .Maybe they hope to be eaten last, I don’t know. – d.

    I don’t think they expect to be eaten. I think they expect to be well-compensated here and now for what they say. I think they are akin to certain leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church in the days of the Soviet Union.

  8. I have a question and if it is not appropriate for this thread then maybe it can be discussed some other time. If thought appropriate, maybe some here could comment on this and maybe Denyse has come across this in non-humans in the investigation of animal behavior.

    There are various classifications of behavior for interactions between species and members of the same species.

    One of them, which is classified as “perverse”, is when a species will inflict harm on another organism and at the same time causes harm to itself with no apparent reproductive benefit to itself. From what I understand, humans are the only species that engages in this behavior.

    This doesn’t seem like something that would be inheritable since the behavior has negative implications for reproduction. So is it only in humans which I am sure we all agree it exists or is it in other animal behavior.

  9. jerry wrote:

    One of them, which is classified as “perverse”, is when a species will inflict harm on another organism and at the same time causes harm to itself with no apparent reproductive benefit to itself. From what I understand, humans are the only species that engages in this behavior.

    From what I understand, worker bees engage in this behavior by stinging, since the stinger is attached to the bee in such a way as to make it fatal to the bee when the stinger is used.

    But then again, worker bees are sterile.

    As far as evolutionary psychology (nee sociobiology) goes, if Darwinists can consider ID to be creationism in a cheap suit, then I can consider EP to be aristocratic bloodline elitism in a cheap suit.

  10. angryoldfatman,

    There are various behaviors of sacrifice for the good of the species and the worker bees are I believe an instance of this. So there is reproductive benefit.

    Denyse,

    I sent the link of the rabbit to my son who has a pet rabbit and he thought the rabbit was trying to be playful. He said the characteristic jump the rabbit did is mostly associated with playful behavior but is sometimes associated with avoidance of a predator. Whatever, the reason it was a funny video.

    I think I will see if this rabbit’s offspring can be sent to my back yard.

  11. I’m sorry, jerry, I thought your definition was:

    when a species will inflict harm on another organism and at the same time causes harm to itself with no apparent reproductive benefit to itself.

    I responded with the worker bee, which fits the definition you gave, since the worker bee inflicts harm on another organism (indeed, it has a special body feature to do this) and simultaneously causes harm to itself (which is, unfortunately for the bee, an effect of the feature’s structure).

    Perhaps your definition is incomplete. I apologize if I misunderstood.


  12. One thing to realize about evolutionary psychology is that it requires a material mechanism rather than conscious awareness in order to explain behaviour, because consciousness is supposed to be an illlusion produced by brain states – and therefore cannot actually produce any effects of its own.

    You can believe that all behaviour has a material explanation without believing consciousness is an illusion. Consciousness is how certain brain states are experienced by the owner of the brain. Just as your experience of moving your arm is completely different in its nature from anyone else’s experience of you moving your arm. Unless you have lost voluntary control you don’t discover where you arm is going by observing it – but everyone else does. But I don’t think anyone has a dualist view of arm movements – the non-materialist and the materialist. So it seems to evolutionary pscyhology can quite reasonably accept that conscious awareness explains (some) behaviour.

    A question for Denyse. I am not clear – do you rule out the possibility of psychology evolving or is it more a pragmatic thing – that evolutionary psychology just doesn’t have enough to say?

  13. Apologies once again for not addressing the “reproductive benefit” portion of your definition.

    Worker bees have no reproductive capabilities, so their entire existence has no reproductive benefit except in the peripheral sense of species preservation.

    The death of a worker bee would thus have the same sort of impact on species preservation, wouldn’t it? Would it not make more sense for the bee to have a non-fatal stinger from an evolutionary standpoint?

  14. You can believe that all behaviour has a material explanation without believing consciousness is an illusion. Consciousness is how certain brain states are experienced by the owner of the brain.

    I can’t agree. Such a position seem, at best, to be mostly tautological, and at worst, to be inconsistent with evolutionary explanation: you can’t claim that consciousness is simply how brain states are experienced if you don’t first define what experience is and come up with a framework as to how it arises in evolutionary processes.

    The argument seems more an instance of sleight of hand–evolutionary explanation can’t explain how consciousness arises, but that’s okay because consciousness is just a form of experience. Except that evolutionary theory can’t really explain experience either.

    At issue is how best to order our conception of the universe. Cartesian dualism breaks the universe down into realms of mind and matter. Naturalistic materialism (of which modern evolutionary theory is but one manifestation) says that matter comes first and that mind is but an epiphenomenom of it.

    But there is a third way: monistic idealism, which holds that mind comes first and matter second.

    At any rate, evolutionary psychology is mere guesswork, based upon a theory that is mostly assumed to be correct but which, upon closer inspection, doesn’t really fulfill the promises it makes. So, EP is guesswork based on more guesswork.

  15. Terryl – you say:


    I can’t agree. Such a position seem, at best, to be mostly tautological, and at worst, to be inconsistent with evolutionary explanation: you can’t claim that consciousness is simply how brain states are experienced if you don’t first define what experience is and come up with a framework as to how it arises in evolutionary processes.

    I don’t see the logic of this argument. Where’s the tautology? Tautology means true by definition. I am asserting that a certain experience, consciousness, is the body owner’s way of experiencing a certain state of his or her nervous system. This might not be true (it might turn out to that we are all part of an alien computer game and consciousness is our experience of taking part) so it can’t be a tautology – but it is possible and there is good evidence for it – for example when people are unconscious their brain waves change. We are all used to the idea that the same event or object can represent totally different types of experience to different people. Your experience of putting your hand in a fire is quite different from my experience of you putting your hand in a fire. For that matter your experience of the colour red may be completely different from mine – we suppose it to be similar because our bodies are similar. If you were colour blind then it would almost certainly be significantly different. So this isn’t a particularly radical idea.

    You say I have to define experience. Why? “Experience” is rather a difficult word to define. And I don’t see why I am under any more obligation to define it then a dualist. If pushed I guess I could say something like “consciousness is how those particular brain states appear or feel to the owner of the brain” – but it doesn’t take us much further. Presumably I can talk about how you experience putting your hand on a red hot surface without defining “experience”.

    You also say I have to come up with a framework as how it arises in evolutionary processes. Again I don’t see why. That is something for scientists to discover. I only assert that it is quite possible to believe that all behaviour has a material explanation and believe that consciousness is a not an illusion. How that arose is something that needs to be discovered.

  16. The word “evolution” has lots of meanings. I’m talking about Dawkins-style, fully blind, naturalistic evolution. Most posters to this site call it NDE.

    If NDE is true, then EVERYTHING is a result of natural selection operating in tandem with random genetic mutation. That includes consciousness. NDE is formulated on a philosophy of naturalistic materialism, which means it assumes that matter came first, mind second. And that mind is therefore an epiphenomenom of matter.

    A tautology is a way of saying the same thing twice, such as when NDE theorists define fitness as the ability to leave behind offspring and then cite an instance of an organism leaving behind a lot of offspring as an example of fitness. As Phillip Johnson noted in his book Darwin on Trial, if I want to know how a one-celled organism can eventually turn into a bat, it does not help me to answer that the organisms leaving behind the most offspring are the ones leaving behind the most offspring.

    I think your argument is tautological because it seems to assume as a given the very point in question; namely, if it’s even possible for consciousness to arise from matter in the way that NDE theorists claim it is.

    You say “Consciousness is how certain brain states are experienced by the owner of the brain.” By that definition, consciousness is then synonymous with experience, neither of which can be readily explained if the only tools at your disposal are natural selection and random genetic mutation. If NDE fails to explain A, and A=B, then NDE fails to explain B as well.

    As one who accepts the evolutionary hypothesis but rejects evolutionary theory, I think you’re trying to have your cake and eat it, too. NDE fails to explain adequately the origin of mind, yet you don’t want to reject NDE altogether because your philosophy says that if mind arose from matter, there must be some materialistic explanation available — even if such an explanation is not readily apparent, or even if one is never uncovered.

    True, there’s no requirement that you abandon naturalistic materialism and adhere to Cartesian dualism. But this is precisely because of the third option I mentioned previously, the notion of monistic idealism. Have a read of Dr. Amit Goswami’s The Self-Aware Universe. Good stuff!

    At any rate, NO ONE is saying that consciousness is an illusion. Even Descarte recognized that. Cogito ergo sum, y’know. So consciousness is indeed real. The key question is: where does consciousness come from? If you examine the question with an open mind, I believe you’ll find modern evolutionary theory fails to explain it adequately; therefore, there’s something amiss with NDE. (And which is why I reject it.)

  17. 17

    Mark Frank,

    ‘Consciouness’ I belive is difficult to define and haven’t seen a definition that everyone seems to agree upon. To me, however, you seem to be describing ‘perception’(how your brain interpretes stimuli) rather than ‘consciousness’, which to me is a higher level of awareness above and beyond my experience of brain states caused by external or internal stimuli. Consciousness involves, but is not limited to, my ability to be aware of of these perceptions, think about my thoughts, and apply sophisticated meaning(philisophical, emotional, spiritual, etc)to perceptions and thoughts. This is in no way meant to be a definition of ‘consiouness’ but meant to illustrate the idea that your definition stops short of describing what consiouness involves.

  18. TerryL

    You write:

    At any rate, NO ONE is saying that consciousness is an illusion.

    Denyse wrote:

    One thing to realize about evolutionary psychology is that it requires a material mechanism rather than conscious awareness in order to explain behaviour, because consciousness is supposed to be an illlusion

    So Denyse believes that there is at least one group of people who think that consciousness is a delusion. I think you are right and Denyse is wrong. It would be absurd to suppose consciousness is an illusion because an illusion is a form of consciousness!

    More broadly – I think that you think I am claiming more than I am (if you can make sense of that convoluted sentence). I am not making any claims about evolution or evolutionary psychology. I am simply trying to explain the materialist view of consciousness. Denyse seems to think that if you are a materialist somehow you have to ignore the fact that we are conscious. I am saying that is not so. That’s all I want to argue.

  19. Mark Frank wrote:
    So Denyse believes that there is at least one group of people who think that consciousness is a delusion. I think you are right and Denyse is wrong. It would be absurd to suppose consciousness is an illusion because an illusion is a form of consciousness!

    I was pretty sure that Dennett held the (unrenounced) opinion that consciousness is basically an a illusion, but his work is too arcane for the likes of this layman. Maybe you can decipher it; the only way I could even begin to do so was to read Chalmers’ somewhat jocular rebuttals.

    Considering how tightly intertwined Dennett’s and Dawkins’ worldviews are, it’s probably a safe bet that Dawkins is in agreement with Dennett on this point.

    Chalmers has a wonderful compilation of philosophical papers on consciousness online that shows how prevalent the idea of illusory consciousness is.

  20. “an a illusion” s/b “an illusion”. Sorry.

  21. i don’t understand the point of this topic. Is it to cast question on the natural behaviors of animals as dictated by their genes?

  22. Fross,

    What is evolutionary psychology? If I understand the scientists involved in it correctly, it is trying to understand the workings of neurological systems in the context of NDE.

    It is problematic to link human neurology to NDE because of the unique ability of humans to change their behavior (and other creatures’ behavior) through conscious effort. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to look at non-sentient creatures to get a baseline on which human behaviors and feelings would be dictated by NDE versus what humans have developed via consciousness.

    Did that help?

  23. Mark writes:

    So Denyse believes that there is at least one group of people who think that consciousness is a delusion. I think you are right and Denyse is wrong. It would be absurd to suppose consciousness is an illusion because an illusion is a form of consciousness!

    I agree that it’s absurd (self-refuting, actually) to claim that consciousness is illusory, but the fact is that there are a minority of materialists who do, in fact, subscribe to this idea–unbelievable, though it is. They’re called eliminativists

  24. sorry, still confused. So a rabbit chasing a snake is evidence that genes don’t influence the behavior of animals?
    I’m not trying to be obtuse. This is just a new part of ID/creationism that I’ve never really come across before and for some reason I can’t make logical heads or tails out of this one.

  25. I’m not trying to be obtuse.

    Nah, I think you are.

    This is just a new part of ID/creationism…

    Equating ID with creationism helps prove your intentional obtuseness.

  26. Denyse…

    Don’t know if anybody has mentioned it anywhere but if you search Google News with “cat” and “piano” you will come across a cat playing a piano.

    Possibly a random dormant trait revived to participate in discussions that would nullify the possibility of that randomness? Or, due to natural selection, to accommodate the increasing preponderance of grand pianos?

    I once had a cat that tried to drive my car but, alas, I have no pictorial proof.

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