Romantic love? Taking out the trash on evolutionary psychology
|February 14, 2014||Posted by News under Intelligent Design, Culture, Evolutionary psychology, News|
Sal Cordova quotes this summary of a pop news mag’s evo psych claims about romance:
Romantic love is the latest subject for evolutionary speculations. According to a recent review, love is nothing more than our ‘ancestors’, on the ‘plains of Africa 4 million years ago’ who are ‘whispering in our ears’.
We have allegedly inherited the predisposition for such love behaviour as gazing deeply into another’s eyes because such strategies helped our ancestors to survive. When humans first began walking upright, say evolutionists, it made the whole person visible ‘for the first time’ and so each person had ‘a unique allure’.
The ‘four-year itch’—the tendency for couples to divorce after the first flames die out—is blamed on the fact that primitive pairs stayed together ‘just long enough to rear one child through infancy’.
The same article blames adultery on inheritance from our ‘primitive ancestors’.
TIME, 15 February 1993.
The original article doesn’t pop out at me but the quoted part certainly sounds like the usual noise, and this source seems to have borrowed a fair chunk.
Evo psych is one of the most wretched outcomes of Darwinism: It is the belief, against all the odds, that we can recover what “primitive” (essentially, pre-human) ancestors were like by studying presumed survivals in the culture around us today. It’s the sort of nonsense against which reason makes no impact because those who believe it either want or need to believe it, or both, and can always summon up the plate armor of self-righteousness needed to defend themselves against the forces of “anti-science.” The only value in even discussing it lies in the opportunity to point to more plausible sources of insight into our submerged ancient past. Incidentally, many evolutionary biologists who are Darwinists think evo psych is a load of French-for-fertilizer, probably for at least some of the reasons set out below.
Clearing out the clutter first: A contradiction lies at the heart of evo psych. If what they say is true, then little evolution has taken place. Yet their thesis depends on evolution actually happening. For example, suppose it is true that there is a four-year itch because primitive pairs stayed together “just long enough to rear one child through infancy.” Obviously, for as long as we have been recognizably human, it takes far longer than four years (more like 16) to raise a child to the point that others can and will count and treat the person as an adult. So all the factors that are supposed to enable evolution to adapt us to our circumstances to enable survival didn’t work? We are then well advised to dismiss the supposed insights of evo psych.
That is an especially easy judgment when you consider that young children strain an adult relationship, no matter what is going on with evolution. Under the strain, either the relationship matures or it dies. If it matures, it continues to develop around long-term realities (= he’s no movie star but I can always trust him; she’s no pinup, but she’s been here for me through the worst times). Or the relationship dies as the partners look elsewhere for the old thrills. None of this needs an evolutionary explanation; it is a simple dynamic that is recreated every time a baby enters a two-parent household, however the baby or the household got started. Why the difference around four years old? Because by then the child is usually starting to make progress in noting and conforming his behaviour to others’ needs and expectations. He starts to be easier to live with.
A much bigger problem is the apparent assumption that through most of human history, people got to be with whoever they were attracted to. This simply wasn’t true and couldn’t have been true. For that, you need a wealthy society of rootless individuals with no fixed, inherited responsibilities—pretty much the society evo psych has taken root in around modern universities, but very few, if any, previous ones.
Traditional human societies had to restrict who married and had children with whom because the right mix of adults was needed just to keep the show going. Most early romantic literature involved escaping these restrictions, often with the help of supernatural beings or events, or one-in-a-million chances (which gives you a fair idea of the odds). The penalties for going outside the system, even with good intentions or motivated by true love, could be severe. Ask descendants of Shechem or Paris, but no wait, that’s why those people aren’t around. And that’s why the stuff evo psych papers talk about today, in terms of random human attraction, was in those days filed under Fairy Tales.
If you really want to know about how people thought many thousands of years ago, it is possible to reconstruct a large part of it through what we now call superstitions. But they used to be thought of as the way things actually worked, conventional wisdom.
The underlying theme of the work is Frazer’s theory of a general development of modes of thought from the magical to the religious and, finally, to the scientific. His distinction between magic and religion (magic as an attempt to control events by technical acts based upon faulty reasoning, religion as an appeal for help to spiritual beings) has been basically assumed in much anthropological writing since his time. Although the evolutionary sequence of magical, religious, and scientific thought is no longer accepted and Frazer’s broad general psychological theory has proved unsatisfactory, his work enabled him to synthesize and compare a wider range of information about religious and magical practices than has been achieved subsequently by any other single anthropologist.
The main reason that Frazer’s proposed ordered development came to seem unsatisfactory is that all these modes of thinking are usually going on at the same time at any given moment in history, rising and falling in popularity (alongside others) as they make the world seem credible (or don’t). But his account of modes of thinking that have largely vanished in our own time and place is illuminating, for example beliefs around hair and nails:
But even when the hair and nails have been safely cut, there remains the difficulty of disposing of them, for their owner believes himself liable to suffer from any harm that may befall them. The notion that a man may be bewitched by means of the clippings of his hair, the parings of his nails, or any other severed portion of his person is almost world-wide, and attested by evidence too ample, too familiar, and too tedious in its uniformity to be here analysed at length. The general idea on which the superstition rests is that of the sympathetic connexion supposed to persist between a person and everything that has once been part of his body or in any way closely related to him. A very few examples must suffice. They belong to that branch of sympathetic magic which may be called contagious.
Read sections of The Golden Bough as an antidote to floods of rubbish pouring out of the local evo psych department, about how some such practice evolved to spread one’s selfish genes. The fact is, people have accepted different accounts of reality from the ones we do for tens of thousands of years, whether or not they benefitted them or spread their selfish genes – or made any difference at all. And we accept the accounts we do in the same fashion. It’s just in the nature of being human to develop an account of reality. How that evolved is not known.
Now, it’s Valentine’s Day, so go be nice to someone who didn’t expect any consideration. This, by the way, was the original St. Valentine(s).
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