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Problems with Evolutionary Psychology: 01

January 24, 2010 8 comments

This post is likely to rankle some readers, because they see that concept as gospel. But then again, I am the Devil’s Advocate. The methodology and concept behind many such “studies” will be attacked in later posts, but let us start with the most obvious problem. Even if we assume that the concept is true, it runs into major problems:

1. Throughout most of human history we lived in groups with sizes between 100 and 2,000. So how can behavior ‘optimized’ for that group size scale upto much larger groups. You may still behave that way, but the consequences will be very different.

2. Most people through most of history had very few personal possessions. How do you factor in the effect of material possessions and opportunities opened by such possessions on human behavior. Feedback loops.

3. Do we really have an accurate understanding of the social milieu, opportunities and constraints that supposedly shaped our behavior. We analyse history and other cultures through our viewpoint, but is that reasonable?

4. Were older societies and tribes as adversarial as ours? While they were just as stupid, vain, cruel and murderous as us, why did they not kill each other more? Lack of technology is not a good explanation, because the numbers involved were also much smaller. Why are primitive cultures generally more hospitable than ours? Why was assimilation more common than outright genocide?

5. Why is it so hard to find sexually deprived men or women in primitive cultures? Why are “losers” not shunned. They may not get the most attractive partners, but it actually takes effort to remain celibate in primitive cultures. Why?

6. Can you really be an arrogant guy in a tribe and not suffer an unfortunate “hunting accident”. Can you screw over others in small groups and not suffer consequences? So why were such men not selected out?

7. Do you actually believe that technologically lacking cultures are stupid or dumb? Could you survive and prosper if you were placed in a bountiful tropical paradise? Ever tried working it out, even mentally..

8. Do factors such as geographical mobility, communications, ability to have a non-subsistence level lifestyle alter the calculations. Is there any similarity between most of human history and the world we live in today?

Maybe the real issue is something else, namely:

People are just trying to use a made up “science” to justify their behavior. It is much easier to kill infidels if your respected priests can come up with a clever sounding justification.