Archive for August 24, 2013

Thinking is Not a Part of Human Evolution

August 24, 2013 9 comments

People have a strong and unfortunate tendency to see correlations, patterns, agency or purpose in what is essentially background noise or random events. That is why humans throughout the ages have tried to find meaning in everything from the patterns of used tea leaves, yarrow stalks and animal entrails to the relative positions of stars and planets at a given movement in time. Curiously, the “smartest” morons in any given group or society are often the most likely to believe in such bullshit because they have the biggest emotional and material investment in such speculations.

Today we like to believe that humanity has somehow moved beyond the eras when the appearance of comets and other astronomical phenomena were harbingers of plagues, earthquakes, storms or even armageddon. We desperately want to believe that ‘we’ are somehow better than ‘those’ primitive people who used to believe in witches, vampires or trolls. But is that really the case? Sure.. we no longer burn older women for witchcraft and movies based on fictional vampires make lots of money at the box office. On the other hand, any guy who interacts with unattended children is automatically seen as a dangerous pedophile and man-made global warming is supposed to be the biggest problem of our era.

The sad truth is that we have replaced one set of magically derived insights into the universe with another set of similarly derived ones.

Which brings me to the subject of “evolutionary psychology“. As some of you might know, I have previously written about some of the problems inherent in this “science” in posts such as link 1 and link 2. The gist of my previous criticisms can be summed up as-

We cannot look at human behavior through the lens of deterministic evolutionary “science” without acknowledging that the structure and dynamics of human societies throughout most of history and pre-history was very different from today.

This post attacks the pseudoscience of “evolutionary psychology” from a different angle by concentrating on one of its fundamental (but rarely stated) belief, namely that people actions and behavior are largely rational. To put it another way- Can evolutionary psychology explain human behavior and attitudes if neither are based in rational or semi-rational thought processes?

Some of you might say- but does it have to be that way? What if evolutionary psychology only explains the instinctual parts of human behavior? Maybe it is not meant to explain conscious and non-instinctual behavior? My answer is.. OK, but then purveyors of evolutionary psychology should not claim that it can explain complex and premeditated behavior. So the idea that women might be a bit more flirtatious when they are ovulating because of their hormonal status is reasonable. However theorizing that one racial group is intrinsically superior to another because of their reproductive strategies is utter bullshit and not based in evidence- as I will explain in more detail later.

But there remains a still deeper, if even less obvious problem, with evolutionary psychology. It implies (but again, never states explicitly) that evolution is a path towards some increasing levels of perfection. In that respect, evolutionary psychology sounds a bit too much like classical religious dogma. Some of you might see that as surprising, but I do not. A lot of the so-called soft “sciences” and even popular interpretations of hard sciences are secular version of theology. Evolutionary psychology has far more in common with moralistic legends and myths than anything approaching science, not unlike eugenics – its real predecessor.

So what do I mean when I say that evolution has no defined path or direction. Let me explain with an example.

Consider the evolution of differentiated multi-cellular animals. All currently available fossil and molecular biology based evidence suggests that such creatures first evolved somewhere between 1 billion to 600 million years ago. Now that is a bit late considering that unicellular life evolved almost 4 billion years ago. Why did it take evolution over 3 billion years to evolve differentiated multi-cellularity? Why was it so hard to evolve something that is not that big of a leap- especially when you compare complex single cell eukaryotes with simple but differentiated multicellular organisms?

The explanation that best fits other geological evidence goes something like this- it was all about the level of atmospheric oxygen. Until fairly recently in the earths geological history, say less than a billion years ago, the levels of atmospheric oxygen were too low to allow organisms with an aerobic metabolism and circulatory system to exist. The presence or absence of genes that made differentiated multi-cellularity possible was therefore largely irrelevant. They took off only after the atmospheric and hence dissolved aqueous concentrations of oxygen went over a certain level, probably 1/4th or 1/5th of what we have today.

If we had reached that point a couple of billion years before we did, differentiated multi-cellular organisms would also have evolved a couple of billion years before they did. Evolution filled niches that opened up because of changes in the environment or possibility matrix. The evolution of multi-cellular organisms were not inevitable, destined or preordained. The same is true for every other product of evolution from antibiotic resistant bacteria, human-specific pathogens to dinosaurs, mammals, aquatic mammal, monkeys and even humans.

There is no grand designer, master plan or even vague directional guidelines for the process of evolution. It is all about what can evolve, survive and reproduce in a given environment at a particular moment in time. Nothing more, nothing less.

Coming back to the subject of human evolution, one of the principal claims of “evolutionary psychology” is that human beings are interested in maximizing the survival and dispersal of their genes. But is that really the case? Are human beings consciously making decisions to maximize the number of kids they leave behind? Are people having sex for the purpose of procreation as opposed to just enjoying it? Do people obsessively maintain a scoreboard of the number of kids they have and their fates? Do they constantly think up new strategies to have more kids or have more successful kids? Do women spend their time coming up with detailed strategies for getting the seed of the right ‘alpha’ fathers and then finding the right ‘beta’ schlubs to provide for them?

The sad reality is that almost nobody, other than male aspies, spend that much time thinking or obsessing about reproductive success. Ironically, most woman have no interest in having sex with them, let alone have their kids.

People are just not the obsessive-compulsive, single-minded and deterministic calculating machines that “evolutionary psychology” wants you to believe. Human beings are just not into deep thinking, extensive strategizing or complex reasoning because doing all that takes away from actually living and enjoying life. Moreover none of that extensive planning guarantees you anything other than disappointment when unforeseen externalities piss all over your carefully laid plans.

In summary, evolutionary psychology is a ‘clever’ but futile attempt by white male aspies to make eugenics respectable- once again. Sadly for them, almost everybody else has better and more fun things to do in their lives. The best part is that all these aspies will never get the feminine approval and company they so desperately crave.

What do you think? Comments?