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Agreement and Disagreement in Evolutionary Psychology
Over the years, evolutionary psychology has faced significant criticism, some of which are justified, and some appear to be the consequence of common misconceptions. This part will address some of the most popular objections to dispel some myths.
Everything is an Adaptation
First, a few comments about the nature of adaptation are in order. Many evolutionary scientists agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky (1970) that adaptation is a process rather than a thing, and they use the term adaptable characteristic to describe a physical or behavioral trait. So adaptation is the process through which characteristic changes due to natural selection to perform more efficiently in the current environment.
Thus, a fish's tail fins are designed for swimming, a bird's wings for flying, and so on. Some of these situations are clear-cut, such as those mentioned. However, in many cases, it is unclear if a particular characteristic is an adaptation or not, and if it is an adaptation, what is its purpose? Because there is no creator to whom we can appeal, the final arbitrator of what something is for is whether it causes the creature to leave more copies of its genes behind.
Childcare is viewed as an adaptation (or adapted characteristic) for ensuring that copies of genes in another person (the kid) are preserved and survive. Many additional qualities, however, are not adapted but are side effects of how the body was put together (often referred to as spandrels after Gould and Lewontin).
A famous example is the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which travels from the brain to the neck muscles across a few millimeters in most animals. Instead, it descends from the brain to the heart, coils around the aorta, and then returns up a distance of around half a meter in humans and five meters in giraffes. It is evident that choosing the scenic path serves no practical function; it is not an adaptation but a side consequence (a spandrel) of how bodies developed over time. It is sometimes stated that evolutionary psychologists see all behavior as adaptations (the concept of Panglossianism).
Considering the adaptive consequences of heritable traits and behaviors is an essential aspect of evolutionary psychology. On the other side, evolutionary psychologists feel that many actions and traits are not adaptations. One thing that opponents sometimes ignore is that not all evolutionary psychologists talk in the same tone.
Evolutionary Psychology Espouses Genetic Determinism
Many opponents have accused evolutionary psychology (and sociobiology) of genetic determinism, claiming that our genes determine everything about us, including our intellect, personalities, and sexual preferences. This is not true. Evolutionists make a point of emphasizing the relevance of environment and culture in shaping who we are. When evolutionary psychologists debate the role of genes in psychology, they consider predispositions rather than causes.
Genes do not drive men to do violent actions; instead, they incline men to such acts; whether men carry them out depends on their life histories, cultural circumstances, and other genetic predispositions (such as conscience). This is a crucial point to make. Critics often focus on the negative aspects of evolutionary psychology, such as rape, violence, and infanticide, and seldom consider the reality that evolutionists also offer predispositions for cooperation, conflict resolution, morality, and altruism.
Evolutionary Psychology is Reductionist
Reductionism is a lousy term in many places, yet it is one of the most critical inventions in scientific history. Reductionism explains some trait or action in terms of more straightforward, fundamental principles. Its application led humans to discover that matter is formed of atoms or that complex life evolved via natural selection. Daniel Dennett, a philosopher, contrasts 'good' (also known as 'hierarchical') and 'greedy' reductionism in his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea.
In excellent reductionism, phenomena are explained at lower levels but not at the expense of higher levels; scholars from all disciplines collaborate to understand phenomena at all levels. Greedy reductionism rejects higher levels in favor of explaining everything in terms of the lowest level feasible. For example, we know that depression manifests as aberrant brain functioning, and examining the brains of persons with depression has yielded many helpful insights into the nature of this condition.
However, it does not reveal the entire tale. We also know that life circumstances such as bereavement or unemployment can set off periods of depression, which cannot be diagnosed only by examining brains. Good reductionism seeks lower levels of explanation without ignoring higher levels' contributions. So researchers should collaborate, with psychologists looking into the environmental components of depression and neuroscientists looking into brain functioning, with the findings of all studies being merged to build the "big picture" of depression.
While there are obstacles to this utopian view, which E. O. Wilson refers to as consilience, such as the lack of a common scientific language that allows researchers from various fields to communicate, interdisciplinary research groups are becoming more common in the world's universities.
Evolutionary Psychology is Politically Incorrect
Many people have challenged evolutionary psychology for promoting conservative, ethnocentric, or sexist explanations for human conduct. Because of disparities in the cost of sex to men and females (females can get pregnant, males cannot; males may sire many more children than females, and so on), females are pickier about whom they have sex with. To begin, it is crucial noting that most evolutionary psychology criticisms focus on the research on mate choice. Indeed, many individuals consider the research on sex differences in partner choice evolutionary psychology.
This is primarily because this type of information appears in newspapers. Second, even within the mate choice literature, this is only one explanation, although the most prevalent. The success of a single hypothesis in a single issue area should not measure the success of evolutionary psychology. Second, evolutionary psychology is still in its early stages; researchers provide theories supported by some data, not the last word. There is plenty of evidence to suggest genetically determined sex differences, but it does not explain all of the data, and culture also plays a role.
Third, even if we understood everything about our evolutionary proclivities, which we do not, building a society around them would be nearly tricky (or at the very least unpleasant). To use rape as an example, it may be in the evolutionary interests of certain men to rape, but it is scarcely in the evolutionary interests of the woman. It is also not in her partner's, her parents, or her children's best interests.
Evolutionary psychology has faced significant criticism, some of which are justified and some appear to be the consequence of common misconceptions. This part will address some of the most popular objections to dispel some myths. Adaptation is a process through which characteristic changes due to natural selection to perform more efficiently in the current environment.
Reductionism is a lousy term in many places, yet it is one of the most critical inventions in scientific history. Evolutionary psychology is politically incorrect, as it promotes conservative, ethnocentric, or sexist explanations for human conduct.
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