Re: Underestimating evolutionary psychology

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Wed Jun 16 2004 - 18:23:56 MDT

At 06:48 AM 16/06/04 -0400, you wrote:
>was Re: ESSAY: 'Debunking Hippy-Dippy moral philosophy'
Gordon Worley

I am hard pressed to improved on Gordon Worley's comments to Marc
Geddes--but on the general principle of improving the flavor of the
soup by xxxxxx in it . . . .
>was Re: ESSAY: 'Debunking Hippy-Dippy moral philosophy'
>On Jun 16, 2004, at 4:52 AM, Marc Geddes wrote:
>>Keith, evolutionary psychology is all very
>>interesting, but I think you give far too much weight
>>to it. It can be useful for understanding some of the
>>underlying motivations as to why people behave they
>>do, but it is of little use as a guide to moral
>Conversely, I think you underestimate it. You cannot talk about human
>psychology without talking about the evolutionary process that created it
>(well, you can, but you can also be wrong). The human mind is a huge
>mystery until you look at it from an evolutionary perspective, but
>evolution lets you tear it apart and understand why the human mind works
>the way it does. We don't understand everything and sometimes theories
>are revised (this is science, after all), but the important insight
>remains that humans and their brains are products of an evolutionary
>process and are shaped by that process.
>>behaviour. What is natural is not neccesserily good!
>Of course not, but this misses the point. When we talk about moral
>behavior in humans, we talk about behavior that the human believes is good
>or bad. It makes no difference whether there is external morality or not;
>the human decides based on an internal sense of morality, which is,
>incidentally, a product of human evolution. It should be unsurprising
>that behaviors humans believe to be good benefitted the reproduction of
>genes carrying the genotype leading to such beliefs and that behaviors
>humans believe to be bad hurt reproduction of genes carrying the genotype
>leading to such beliefs, because good and bad are, inside the human mind,
>just another way of talking about desirable and undesirable.

Well put. The only thing I can add is that evolution of this kind
takes a very long time. Thus our behaviors and what we have been
shaped to consider desirable and undesirable are still adapted to the
Pleistocene social and physical environment of small tribes. This may
cause very serious problems in a high tech environment. (Nomadic
tribal responses by sedentary corn farmers wiped most of them out.)

>confusion comes when trying to prescribe external morality to humans or
>prescribe one human's morality onto another human (thus we get the idea of
>an evil scientist).
>>Further, what evolutionary psychology fails to
>>consider is the power of memes

Marc, you might want to look at the path I took from memetics to
evolutionary psychology. Long ago I made grandiose claims for an
improved model of the human social dynamics through understanding

After more than a decade of making very little progress I started
reading evolutionary psychology. About the same time I became involved
in a particularly vicious battle with the scientology cult. *That*
will motivate you! There were several pivotal events, observing an
amazingly similar emotional response to drugs and cults in early 1996
and making a connection to evolutionary psychology (with the help of
Kennita Watson) in late 1996. Much of my journey is summed up here:

>>and the feed-back loop
>>between the conscious and unconscious mind.

*What* someone does to gain status is learned, cultural, memetic.
*Why* people seek status (or act in other predictable ways) is because
we have built in, evolved psychological traits.

>>Sure I'm
>>prepared to believe that our immediate conscious
>>experience is largely just a reflection of our
>>sub-conscious impluses aka Libet , but what shaped
>>those sub-conscious impluses in the first place?
>>Answer: Conscious belief putting feed-back into the
>>unconscious mind. In fact conscious belief might well
>>be the most important factor. So even as a guide to
>>explaining behaviour, evolutionary psychology fails.

>Human brains are information processing mechanisms, so why do you suppose
>that memes and feedback are evidence against evolutionary
>psychology? Memes and feedback are both products of evolution of the
>human brain, so just because there may not currently be any explanations
>of these topics in evolutionary psychology (and I doubt either of us are
>well enough read in the literature to be sure of that), that does not mean
>they are evidence against evolutionary psychology. For something to be
>evidence against evolutionary psychology, it must either be evidence
>against evolution or evidence against evolution being the process that
>created the human brain (like proof that aliens visited earth and
>arbitrarily changed all of humanity by design). A lack of current
>explanation of how a particular psychological phenotype evolved does not a
>case against evolutionary psychology make; only a further research
>question does it create.

Well stated.

Keith Henson

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