Thursday, September 28, 2006

What's wrong with the core assumptions of Evolutionary Psychology

In writing this post, I am working with Imre Lakatos’ philosophy of science understanding of the development and refinement of scientific theories, rather than Popper’s falsification theory. (A great oversimplification of Lakatos is that rather than putting one theory up for falsification against a null set, a falsifiability-based potential counterexample, instead, multiple theories running on somewhat parallel explanatory tracks are thrown into the same “warm little pond” of a quasi-Darwinian intellectual evolutionary contest. The “fittest,” especially if clearly the fittest, emerges as the working theory until the scientific-evolutionary design space changes sufficiently enough (and perhaps suddenly enough, a la Kuhn) to put this working theory into a new intellectual evolution arms race.

Lakatos talks about “hard-core” portions of a theory without which it is, in essence, not the same theory. I just used “core” in my headline, but by it, I mean hard core.

It’s clear the hard core of Ev Psych is an strongly adaptationist understanding of evolutionary biology. I’ve made an initial statement here on what’s wrong with that, and made a first observation here on one item of fallout from adaptation being wrong, namely the idea that evolution is an algorithmic process.

More specifically than that, though, what’s wrong with adaptationism?

Optimality, just as I noted in my initial post on this subject.

More specifically than I mentioned there, what’s wrong with optimality? (I there said it was at least quasi-utopian, and hinted that it could be seen as quasi-idealistic, in the Platonic sense. In both ways, I called it “Leibnitzian,” as in it claims we are in essence living in the best, or at least nearly the best, of all evolutionarily possible worlds. I also said this smacked of Paley’s argument from design for the existence of God rather than drinking from the better waters of David Hume.

First, a series of rhetorical questions:
Who defines what “optimal” is? (Ev Psychers claim they can look at the EEA, but can they really define it that clearly?

For what length of time is a evolutionary change supposed to be optimal? Five minutes? (That can be a lifetime for a single-celled creature.) Five hours? Five days? Five years? Five centuries? Five millennia? Five eons? Even if optimality is true, a trait might be optimal today, non-optimal a century from now, but optimal again a century after that.

Now, I have no problem admitting that many evolutionary changes are adaptationistic — but not all of them.

However, that needs a further, and larger, caveat: a better definition of what it means for an evolutionary trait to be adaptationistic.

Just because a change is adaptationistic, this does NOT mean that it is optimal. Rather, it may simply be melioristic, that is, better than what was before but not the best. And it seems to me that hard-core adaptationists have totally blown by this distinction, or else tried to run it over and grind it into the dirt.

Now back to the critique that Ev Psych is some secular equivalent of the argument from design. To that degree, especially when a Dan Dennett in “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” can laud evolutionary nature as a quality creator, we are getting very close to a secular equivalent of Intelligent Design.

The teleological nature of trying to define what is “optimal” further parallels the teleological basis of intelligent design.

Beyond that, I have philosophical problems with an absolutist, or quasi-absolutist, theory, which a theory based on claims of optimality really is. Also, given that scientific understanding is normally understood to be provisional, and optimality is, in essence, a static state, it seems frozen in amber.

Another way of understanding this particular point is to see that the adaptationist program has a teleological view of progress, or, should we say Progress with a Platonic Idea capital P?

If we see adaptationism having this mindset to some degree, even if not entirely, it is then arguable that it is a metaphysical program. Especially taking φυσις in its original Greek meaning of “nature,” a program of Progress is arguably meta-physical, that is, going beyond nature.

Or, to put it another way, hard-core adaptationists are trying to promulgate a “secularist theology,” or, if you want to nail the hide to the wall with a two-dollar word, what they’re doing is … scientism.

So, on this count, I distrust the mindset of adaptationists for the same reason I have distrusted the quasi-metaphysical mindset of some cosmologists who have insisted that the universe had to be closed — usually to prevent the anti-Progress eternal entropy increase of an open universe.

The universe IS, simply is. It is neither good nor bad. Neither is evolutionary biology good or bad. Therefore, neither one can be said to be progressing toward anything, whether or not a teleological stance is the best to take. And likewise for human nature per se, and the Ev Psych that would try to study it from such a point of view.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

If ensoulment happens at conception, what about identical twins?

I’ve written elsewhere on how the human conception and development process is so fragile that (not counting abortions), only about 50 percent of conceived embryos wind up developing into human babies, and how this ought to cast doubt on the metaphysical validity of the “conception at ensoulment” idea, officially held by the Roman Catholic Church, among others, that a human soul is created at the moment of fertilization of a female egg cell by a male sperm cell.

So, what about identical twins? There’s only one conception.

Do they share a soul? Is that why some people believe twins have (quasi)-telepathic communication with each other?

Or did the “original” soul split when the embryo did? If so, can each “half-soul” develop into a full soul, or do souls need to undergo only mitotic division? But, if a “half-soul” can become a full soul, what’s the smallest bit of soul division that can become a full soul?

What about conjoined (“Siamese”) twins? Does that original soul fully divide, or is it only a partial, incomplete division, like that of the embryo?

What if one conjoined twin is good and one is bad? If the soul doesn’t fully split, can a god send half to heaven and half to hell?

Those of you who regularly read my blogs know I’m a materialist, so I personally don’t think there’s anything to worry about. But maybe Pope Benedict needs to worry about this in between antagonizing Muslims (and don’t tell me he was clueless about what he was reading and what provocation it might seem to be).

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Evolutionary Psychology, Dan Dennett, and the supposedly algorithmic nature of evolution

In my previous post about the wrongness of Evolutionary Psychology, after connecting the dots that led to that conclusion, I then started thinking about Dan Dennett’s strong, even vociferous, support for the algorithmic nature of evolution.

Then, further dots connected, as I realized how connected this is to his being a strong adaptationist.

If adaptations cause traits that approach the optimal or even reach it, we can define “the optimal” as a specific point. This, then, gives us something analogous to convergent series in mathmatics, whether geometric or arithmetic series.

One formula for either type of series solves any convergent series.

I don’t know if Dennett — or other strong adaptationists who are also “algorithmists” — have consciously thought of this analogy, but I’m thinking it has had to be floating somewhere in their minds. Even if not, it’s one of the better arguments that I think could be mustered for the algorithmic reduction of evolution.

Well, first of all, I think this is a case of Dennett being hoist by his own petard, found guilty of not reductionism but greedy reductionism.

That, though, is a secondary point.

The main point is that, since adaptationism simply isn’t true, per my previous post, and not only isn’t true, but as quasi-utopian and arguably philosophically idealist isn’t good science, that an algorithmic understanding of evolution that is pinned to adaptationism also fails on both counts.

Evolutionary psychology — adaptationism defined sub specie Leibnitz

Adaptationism: “The Leibnitzian view of how gene-based evolutionary changes produce the optimal development of traits in individuals, therefore individuals as individuals, and secondarily, species composed of groups of such individuals.

Now, no confirmed Ev Psycher may like that definition, but if the shoe fits, that adaptationism claims this is the best of all evolutionarily possible worlds (or nearly so) …

How else can you describe a theory that says most or all traits are optimal adaptations? It’s too bad Gould was too mild-mannered, and neither Eldridge nor Lewontin among others has the pen of a Voltaire to have produced this definition already.

And that is why I am not an Evolutionary Psychologist, although I do certainly consider myself to be some sort of evolutionary psychologist (per Buller).

Another way to look at this, perhaps, is to see that adaptationism, whether specifically put in the service of Ev Psych or not, smacks of utopianism. Materialist utopianism, perhaps; less-than-all utopianism, when compared to religious utopias, dependent on the “omnis” of traditional theology. BUT, utopianism, nonetheless, and arguably a more dangerous utopianism precisely because it’s in the guise of a scientific theory.

Sure, the “optimal development” traits tend toward may be hedged, with “many” or “most.” OK, then I’ll hedge my previous paragraph and call adaptationism quasi-utopian.

Nonetheless, I am an ev psycher, in small letters. I’m a naturalist, it seems clear the brain is the mind (making allowance for neurotransmitter chemicals outside the brain), I believe in evolution, even as details of the neo-Darwinian synthesis get hammered out toward a neo-neo-Darwinian synthesis (influenced by developments in areas such as symbiosis). Anyhow, take a naturalist approach that brain=mind, combine that with an acceptance of evolutionary theory, and QED, the mind must evolve along with the rest of homo sapiens (and other critters).

Just not in the way that Ev Psychers claim, including not “optimally.”

Some critiques of Ev Psych are right; its proponents have sniffed too much Paley, not nearly enough Hume, else they’d be much more skeptical about “optimal” ANYTHING in evolutionary biology.