Sunday, 15 July 2012

Pinker on human cooperation

Another claim of Pinker's that is outrageouly inaccurate is:

Within gene-selectionist theories of human evolution, the mechanism of reciprocal altruism, augmented by reputation and commitment, provides a psychologically realistic and well-supported explanation of human social and moral life (see the summaries by Baumard, Krasnow & Delton, and Price).

These mechanisms are hoplelessly incomplete - and take no account of the role of culture in explaining human human social and moral life. Culture makes the difference in levels of cooperation between cave men and civilised western humans. If you want to explain why modern humans cooperate on the scales that they do, you have to look to cultural evolution, or you miss a lot of the picture.

Evolutionary psychology focusses on human universals and ignores cultural differences. This is a badly-distorted research program, and this type of mistaken claim illustrates the magnitude of the errors it leads to.

Studying cultural evolution is step 1 in understanding why modern humans cooperate. Kin selection acting on memes and the forces associated with symbiogenesis both require this understanding as an essential prerequisite.

Pinker's claim is just so backwards. We now know so much more than that.

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