Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Evolutionary psychology and its "truths"   posted by Razib @ 7/10/2007 08:46:00 PM

Over the years I've become more skeptical of evolutionary psychology, or, more precisely the school of thought which follows in the wake of Leda Cosmides and John Tooby's collaborations with a host of researchers in the 1980s. Look over the Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature. Lots of interesting hypotheses and conjectures, but some of the assertions they present as if they are established fact. There is unfortunately a reality to the "Just So" criticism of evolutionary psychology. The problem is, I think, a superficial comprehension of evolutionary biology. As an analogy: imagine that engineering was based upon conceptual physics as opposed to calculus based physics. You would have a "general sense" of the arc of a parabola, but you wouldn't have a mathematically precise picture so where the shot lands is still vague conjecture and intuition. Cosmides & Tooby made evolutionary psychology respectable again (after the sociobiology wars of the 1970s) by focusing as a matter of doctrine on human universals, but alas I fear that the ideological straight-jackets which the field started with (which one of the authors of the above piece, Satoshi Kanazawa, does not seem impacted by at least) resulted in a certain intellectual laziness. For a generation the criticisms of evolutionary psychology were directed from the corner of screaming ideologues; a natural response is to assume that most criticisms can be rejected as partisan and specious. But criticism and skepticism are essential parts of normal science.