Monday, 3 October 2011

Evolutionary psychology defended

Memetics was created as a kind of antidote to thinking such as that found in Wilson's "Sociobiology".

Today, sociobiology lives on in a new guise: evolutionary psychology. This more-or-less attempts to trace commonalities of human behaviour back to the influence of DNA genes. This remains a primitive and largely misguided approach to explaining human behaviour, since behaviour is influenced by genes, memes and other environmental influences. Since memetic influences are so strong, only paying attention to genes misses so much as to render the effort of explaining human behaviour in these terms near to hopeless.

Even an extremely restricted study of human behavioural universals is best explained by genetic and memetic inheritance - not by DNA alone! Once you study all forms of inheritance, there is no good reason to restrict behaviour to human universals - since at that stage you have a much more powerful theory at hand, one that can cope with all inherited behaviour. Since you can't realistically study study human universals without embracing memetic evolution, you might as well just do that - and then you have a theory that can cover all human inherited behaviour. By comparison, human universals which are explained only by shared DNA is just not a particularly interesting or even clearly-delimited area of study.

This issue has been patiently pointed out in these papers:

Does this recent defense of evolutionary psychology address these issues? No, it doesn't.

Evolutionary psychology could some day become a useful discipline. However, so far it has persistently missed the second wave of the Darwinian revolution - and so risks being left behind. Step one for evolutionary psychology looks as though it involves acknowledging how flawed and misguided its research programme has been up to this point.

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