Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pop Ev Psych goes off the rails on depression

The idea that clinical depression was evolutionarily selected for is why many real evolutionary biologists laugh at something like this as a classical "Just So Story."

It's caveated, has little real explanatory power, doesn't allow for alternative explanations, doesn't well explain away counterexamples and is generally weak.

Beyond that, Andy Thomson and Paul Andrews undercut their own theory, and at a grade-school level.

In response to criticism, they admit that, in essence, "We don't know what depression is."

Well, if you don't know what a trait is, how can you even claim it's selected for, in the first place? You've just said you don't know what it is, so you don't know what is being selected for.


And, of course, given the present (but growing) state of cognitive science and neuroscience, this is the case about ev psych, or rather, Pop Ev Psych, claims about just about any mental or emotional state.

Meanwhile, on his blog, Jonah Lerner, the author of the NYT Mag story, actually defends the general line of thinking of Thomson/Andrews, though in the story, he was good enough to marshal plenty of opponents of their claims.

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