Evolutionary psychology is at its worst (but most entertaining) when they create these imaginative after-the-fact "just so stories," making unfalsifiable claims that are not based on the data collected. For instance, one EP paper said women's brains developed to prefer pink because their brains specialized with trichromacy for gathering fruits:
... these underpin the female preference for objects 'redder' than the background. As a gatherer, the female would also need to be more aware of color information than the hunter. This requirement would emerge as greater certainty and more stability in female color preference, which we find. An alternative explanation for the evolution of trichromacy is the need to discriminate subtle changes in skin color due to emotional states and social-sexual signals; again, females may have honed these adaptations for their roles as care-givers and 'empathizers.'* This kind of stuff appeals to people because it reaffirms what they already believe to be true: women are passive, nurturing care-givers who stayed at home or gathered berries. Never mind that pink didn't get canonized as a girl's color until recently (Answers to Inquiries, Our Continent 1882). That's why this is such a good example of the problem with EP. Some often-believed tenets of evolutionary psychologists:
- Computational mind (the brain is more like a computer than a biological organ)
- Determinism (biology is destiny)
- Fatalism (free will/choice is an illusion)
- Consciousness (subjective awareness deludes us into thinking we have free will)
- Reductionism or essentialism (race and gender are concrete, not socially constructed, can be reduced to their genetic essence, and are quantifiable)
- Intelligence is definable and measurable
- Sexual selection should focus on benefits for the individual organism
- The "function" or "purpose" of life is to make more life
- The __ gene: The gay gene, the god gene, etc.
Occasionally the argument is made that because EP is a concern to people on both the political right and left, EP must be right. This kind of fallacious thinking is at the heart of the problem with EP. What if both sets of critics are correct?
The Unfit: A History of a Bad Idea (Elof Axel Carlson)
Previously on BB:
- Love of Shopping is Not a Gene
- Steven Pinker on the History of Violence
- Smart Bombs: Mark Dery, Steven Pinker on the Nature-Nurture Wars and the Politics of IQ
Andrea James is a writer, director, producer and activist based in Los Angeles. Her work often focuses on consumer activism, the free culture movement, exogenous mysticism, humor, and LGBT rights.