Re: You and Me, Baby, We Ain't Nothin' But Mammals

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In that vain, why is monotheism preferred over polytheism? More is better, peoples!


Posted by: tweedledopey | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 11:44 AM
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And furthermore, who says that the different religions aren't just polytheism in monotheism's clothing? I'm praying at the temple of Moses, but I celebrate Easter by hunting for eggs too!


Posted by: tweedledopey | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 11:45 AM
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Back on the veldt, individuals who could not come up with just so stories to rationalize the way things were survived at a lower rate than those who could. Thus was reproduced the gene for just so stories, which scientists have named the "ev-psych gene." This is not to say that some people do not have this gene and are thus predisposed to doubt the claims of evolutionary psychology, but a WHO study indicates that the last of them will be born sometime around March 1st, 2206, the 200th anniversary of "Slag Off on Evolutionary Psychology Day", a day which will no longer be celebrated.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 11:52 AM
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"Is it slagging off on evolutionary psychology day at Unfogged?"

Only as a minority usage.

"In that vain, why is monotheism preferred over polytheism? More is better, peoples!"

How vain are thy veins? And clearly you are on the side of the humans, not the Cylons.


Posted by: Gary Farber | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 11:56 AM
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You're so vain

You prob'ly think this comments thread is about you

You're so vain

I bet you think this comments thread is about you

Don't you

Don't you


Posted by: Jeremy Osner | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 11:59 AM
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These symbols -- "" -- are important.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 12:00 PM
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I raised my hand and asked the professor, "By that theory, shouldn't you be less upset if your brother sleeps with your wife than if a stranger does?"

Did he have an answer?


Posted by: ogmb | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 12:02 PM
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6: *flutters eyelashes* My heero.

You know, reading further in my own damn link I think I may see the answer to my question about why polygyny might be more likely to be adaptive for humans than tamarinds.

EV PSYCH RULZ

7: No. He ended the class.


Posted by: Tia | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 12:03 PM
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I'm generally on the 'load of horseshit' side of most ev-psych arguments, but I have seen one argument that humans evolved as a mildly polygynous species that seems reasonable -- based on sexual size dimorphism. As far as I remember the argument, species with a serious size difference between the sexes are generally species with an alpha-male/harem mating pattern (see, e.g., gorillas.) (Also note that recent studies of such species find that males other than the alpha do sire a large percentage of offspring -- the polygyny seems to be more of a social pattern than an exclusive sexual one.) Monogamous species tend to be equal in size. If I recall what I've read correctly, the average percentage difference in size between men and women suggests that we should be mildly, not terribly strongly, polygynous.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 12:08 PM
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I believe I've read the opposite, LB: the average size differential between men and women isn't very large. It's exaggerated, obviously, by the way we privilege tininess in women and height/musculature in men.

Though of course, that exaggeration and privileging is itself evidence that, though the difference isn't all that substantial, we naturally want it to be, because our genetic heritage is trying desperately to rationalize polygyny.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 12:12 PM
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*flutters eyelashes* My heero.

Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! *twirls moustache*


Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 12:17 PM
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it's pretty easy to find average height statistics for men and women. Not that I've got any, because I'm too busy caring for my harem.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 12:22 PM
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Interesting result.

(I posted something similar, but I don't think it went through before I navigated away from the page. One for the complaint board.)


Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 12:23 PM
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I believe I've read the opposite, LB: the average size differential between men and women isn't very large.

Is that the opposite? It looks to me like the same -- there is a distinct average difference in size between the sexes, although not as large a one as in strongly polygynous species.

I don't know how good the science is, but I can see being convinced by an argument of the form: (1) Men and women differ in average size by (I'm guessing) 5%? (2) If you look at various primate species, they fall into the following groups (a) monogamous species, in which males and females do not differ in size; (b) mildly polygynous species, in which males and females differ in average size by 3-10%; and (c) strongly polygynous species, in which males and females differ in average size by more than 10% so (3) we would expect humans to be mildly polygynous.

Now, I don't know that (2) is accurate -- that is, I don't know that the size dimorphism in humans would lead to that conclusion -- but the argument doesn't look like self-evident nonsense, and (2) sounds like the sort of thing that a primatologist would have a solid answer for.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 12:24 PM
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Here's what my link says about the matter:

"Monogamy evolves when either sex has the ability to monopolize multiple members of the opposite sex either because of ecological factors do not permit them to or because of the constraints imposed by parental care.

1. Monogamy evolves when male parental care is indispensable to female reproduction.

2. Monogamy evolves when aggression by mated females leads to their spatial separation and prevents males from acquiring additional mates."


Posted by: Tia | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 12:24 PM
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I think, in that quote, the neither is missing its n.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 12:32 PM
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This book critisizing evolutionary psycology has gotten some good reviews. But the critique of the "stone age mind" theory, by saying that human minds have been actively evolving since since the "stone age" has some potentially explosive consequences given human genetic history in the last 50,00o years.


Posted by: Joe O | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 1:12 PM
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No. He ended the class.

Dork.

Btw, a tamarind is a fruit. The monkey is a tamarin.


Posted by: ogmb | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 1:13 PM
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Aren't there examples of cultural traditions in history where the wife of a recently deceased man would become the wife of the man's brother, though? I'm not offering this as proof of an evolutionary mechanism at work.

In any event, I wouldn't call evolutionary psychology a collection of just so stories, aside from the fairly large body of research into it, because our background knowledge of the explanatory mechanism renders this type of explanation more likely than other factual scenarios that just happen to fit the observed facts, all else being equal.

We should also be careful to distinguish the method and general framework from every particular explanation. Evolutionary psychology and biological determinism, to my mind, are not synonymous.


Posted by: Andrew | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 2:09 PM
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19: It was a tradition for Jews around the time of the book of Ruth, at least.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 2:12 PM
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background knowledge of the explanatory mechanism

I'm not sure what you're talking about here. Which explanatory mechanism?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 2:13 PM
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Natural selection?


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 2:14 PM
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SCMT -- not sure if it's relevant but Googling for "explanatory mechanism" brings back this.


Posted by: Jeremy Osner | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 2:16 PM
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19: Sure -- there's nothing innately implausible about the idea that behavioral tendencies might be both influenced by genetics, and have been selected for. The problem is that the specific explanations put forth in the name of evolutionary psychology tend to be very poorly supported by science, and also tend to rather obviously support current social norms. A field of evolutionary psychology may at some future time be very interesting -- the one we have now appears to largely be horseshit.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 2:22 PM
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aside from the fairly large body of research into it

Can I ask, ingenuously, what research you're referring to? In that Buss article, for example, there's lots of cited research, but it's all stuff that merely quantifies the fact that there's polygyny in human culture. It then claims that sexual selection would inevitably produce polygyny, when that doesn't necessarily follow--why is male investment in the child not adaptive? Does it not contribute to the child's odds of success? Why is promiscuity not adaptive for humans when it is for chimps? If it's conceivable that there's more than one adaptive strategy that could work for humans, then we don't really know whether human societies are the way we are because of a hardwiring towards weak polygyny. (Maybe it's not conceivable that more than one adaptive strategy could work. Also, maybe there's better, later, more evidence-based ev psych stuff--that's why I'm asking you about research.)

I don't understand why sexual size dimorphism would lead to polygyny, although the explanations in 15 for monagamy make sense to me.

Also, what do you mean by this?

our background knowledge of the explanatory mechanism renders this type of explanation more likely than other factual scenarios that just happen to fit the observed facts, all else being equal.


Posted by: Tia | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 2:24 PM
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Some of my old colleagues who did philosophy of biology (and are really knowledgeable about the science) weren't big on evolutionary psychology as it currently exists. This is leaving aside the stuff that gets into the pop press; many evolutionary psychologists, IIRC, find a lot of that kind of embarrassing; but apparently EP as a field depends on the belief that our mind is organized into relatively self-contained modules, and that selectional pressure operates on those modules. And there's a fair amount of doubt about that modularity assumption. But I'm not one of those people who knows much about the science here, so this is at best the result of a game of Operator.


Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 2:27 PM
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It was my understanding that the modularity of the brain has been established without much doubt--the extent and nature of the modularity beyond basic perceptual and motor tasks is what we know little about. I don't think anyone says that certain areas of the brain aren't specialized for vision, or hearing, for instance.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 2:33 PM
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Nurturing behavior by males is associated with high prolactin levels. Even in fish. More at my URL.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 2:38 PM
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True 'nuf. I think the issue is whether the mind is modular through and through vs. whether there are some specialized modules and a big central processing thingummy that doesn't break down easily into modules that can be selected on. Or something like that.

There being no serious dispute there about whether the mind has been shaped by evolution, but EP requires more than that.


Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 2:38 PM
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I don't understand why sexual size dimorphism would lead to polygyny, although the explanations in 15 for monagamy make sense to me.

Me neither, really, but a biologist saying "Damfino why, but if you look at these 30 species, it seems to fall out that way" (again, not that I know this is true, but it could be) could talk me into taking it as an assumption until something more convincing came along.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 2:43 PM
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My genes incline me toward polygyny, but screw my genes. Sometimes I think that my genes are trying to kill me. The sons of bitches.

Denis Sinor wrote a piece about polyandry among Hungarian immigrants. Flophouses were run by women, who normally had a husband on one shift and a boyfriend on the other shift. For a variety of reasons, mostly protection, she had to have a guy with her at all times. (The male-female imbalance was enormous).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 2:47 PM
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20: the word for that practice is levirate


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 3:21 PM
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Even better story about Prolactin (and pro-action) here. I can't, for reasons of respect for journals, post the whole article online, but do have a copy of it if anyone wants.


Posted by: tweedledopey | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 3:33 PM
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33: Perhaps prolactin pills should be made available for those of us who have trouble loving our inflatable dolls.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 3:38 PM
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34: Just face it, it's not that into you.


Posted by: tweedledopey | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 3:52 PM
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I simply mean that we know things about the development of species and the role that evolution plays which render evolutionary explanations for behavioral tendencies more plausible than a just-so story which has nothing more going for it than some consistency with the facts.

Matt, all I can really say is "I dunno." I'm no expert, or for that matter very well read in the field. I view evolutionary psychology as the consequence of three basic hypotheses:

1) The structure and general workings of the brain are heritable;

2) The structure and general workings of the brain determine behavior, information-processing, and reasoning;

3) Behavior, information-processing, and reasoning in any given environment often lead to greater or lesser reproductive success.

It would also just seem ODD if the brain were not subject to the same specializing selective pressures that explain the emergence of all our other organs.


Posted by: Andrew | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 3:54 PM
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I'm no expert either, but I think the dispute isn't over any of those three; it's over, maybe, the fineness of the grain at which this works. Like, if little modules are selected on, you'd expect to find a bunch of behaviors pretty much hard-wired. If not, you might expect to find flexible mental processes that were more susceptible to environmental influence -- it might turn out that the selective pressures led us to have minds that pick up on environmental influence easily. Or you might expect a mix of these.


Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 3:59 PM
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26-7,9: I think there's a lot of arguement about the level of specificity in the modules as well. In that Pri/nz class I was talking about a little bit back we were looking at a lot of articles on very young children's purportedly innate understanding of different domains of knowledge. For instance (the only one I can recall, because I still have a paper I wrote about it) there is the article Giyoo Hatano & Kayoko Inagaki, Young Children's Naïve Theory of Biology, 50 Cognition 171 (1994).


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 4:04 PM
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re: 31

It's my understanding that polygyngy drives competition for mates -- since some males have more than one -- and inter-male competition drives increased body size. Bigger and stronger males can hold larger harems.

However, the dimorphism claim only points towards a degree of inter-male competition of this type and there are counter pressures that mitigate against extreme size differences.

The dimorphism claim supports a mild degree of polygny.

Also, testicular size is correlated with polygny - males of species that feature a degree of polygny tend to have larger testes as a percentage of body mass. I gather human testicle size also supports a small degree of polygyny. The two measures -- dimorphism and testicle size -- apparently point to a similar degree of polygny i.e. some but not much.

At last that's been the import of reading I've done on the subject however my reading is far from comprehensive so there may be a counter-literature that disagrees.


Posted by: Matt McGrattan | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 4:08 PM
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render evolutionary explanations for behavioral tendencies more plausible

But only at that level. I can tell a number of more or less complicated Just So Stories that all rely on natural selection. In fact, we made some pretty good efforts at it, with some pretty awful results, in the 20th Century.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 4:08 PM
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35: She, not "it". You're so fucking unromantic.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 4:09 PM
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"so this is at best the result of a game of Operator."

Don't you mean a game of Operation? In that case, I'd like to know why it was advantageous for Ancient Man's funny bone to be so difficult to remove. And I'm completely baffled by the existence of butterflies in the stomach.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 4:09 PM
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Of course selection is complex. It's entirely possible that selection pressures resulting from polygny in earlier primate ancestors of humans initially drove selection for larger males but that larger body size has been 'exapted' and now selction for some entirely different trait sustains dimorphism.

EP type stories tend to fairly simplistic on this level. Past selection via polygny for dimorphism needn't mean that present day dimorphism is maintained for reasons of polygny.

Also, causal-historical questions surrounding the origin of some trait or another are entirely separate from normative questions about how we ought to behave or what we ought to count as 'normal' for humans. This explanatory versus normative distinction is often obfuscated in some of the cruder pop-EP literature.


Posted by: Matt McGrattan | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 4:18 PM
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Matt, That makes sense to me.

SCMT, well, I disagree about the stories of the 20th century that I think you're alluding to. Do you really find them just as plausible as the more grounded, and ethics-neutral, explanations today?


Posted by: Andrew | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 4:33 PM
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causal-historical questions surrounding the origin of some trait or another are entirely separate from normative questions about how we ought to behave or what we ought to count as 'normal' for humans.

Yes and no. Yes, one does not necessarily depend on the other. No, culturally (for some US groups) they are tied together.

There's a widespread belief that natural=good (e.g., natural foods). There's a corresponding belief that civilized = unnatural = bad (weak, neurasthenic, consumptive, postmodern, etc.).

These add up to a belief that one should behave naturally, in accordance with one's nature. I think this may go back to Freud and his theories of repression, but I'm way past the edge of my knowledge here. Rousseau is involved here, too, I think.

In other words, it's entirely proper that Britain the US should rule the world begause God evolution has made us naturally fit to be in charge.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 4:42 PM
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Andrew:

I don't have any real knowledge of EP beyond the occassional lay article in a general interest magazine. So maybe there's a lot more to it than what I've seen. But what "grounded"? We have a bunch of cultural facts that we notice. (It's an open question, I think, how mutable these facts are.) We have some biological facts we notice. We choose a theory that connects the two. I just don't think we understand the underlying science anywhere near well-enough to be doing much more than throwing out interesting ideas. (Are they testable?) And I suspect something like science-envy is doing the work of making the ideas seem compelling. Which is roughly the function natural selection had for social darwinian theories in the past.

Again, maybe there's much more there. If you have a decent lay person's book to recommend, I'd appreciate it.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 4:57 PM
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I mean, seriously?

"One convincing example is the fact that although cars kill over 40,000 people in US annually, whereas spiders and snakes kill only a handful, people nonetheless much more readily learn fear of spiders and snakes than they do fear of cars, guns, electric outlets, and other novel dangers. "

(Wiki.)


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 5:01 PM
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People are more afraid of flying than driving, therefore flying was invented first.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 5:04 PM
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re: 46

With putative causal-historical explanations for behavioural traits in humans the historical evidence is almost entirely absent.

This is partly what licenses some of the more otiose EP explanations of human behaviour.

There are very few well-attested cases of explanations that appeal to past selection to explain present body morphology. Kingsolver and Koehl's work on insect wing size and thermoregulation, for example.

EP cases are largely unlike these cases.


Posted by: Matt McGrattan | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 5:07 PM
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SCMT, You and I probably have an equivalent amount of exposure to this, if I don't have less, so take the recommendation for what it's worth. I've heard mixed but generally good things about Pinker's The Blank Slate and How the Mind Works. Others probably have better suggestions.

Social darwinism is distinct from today's theories in a few ways. First, social darwinism was explicitly normative in ways that today's theories are not. Second---and I don't have any footnotes to go with this---social darwinism relied on self-serving generalizations and naive research to a far greater extent than today's theories. Third, maybe most importantly, social darwinism's hypotheses are discredited by evidence.


Posted by: Andrew | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 5:12 PM
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I'm not trained in philosophy, psychology, or biology, so I might be way off-the-mark here. But can anyone tell me how evolutionary psychology is not, almost entirely, a glaring instance of inductive reasoning?


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 5:30 PM
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Andrew, I think re-reading LB's excellent 24 might be worthwhile.

also, i've heard that although the brain is modular to some degree, different modules of it can both perform some functions (there's duplication), and also in the case of injury it's not infrequent that other related brain modules will take over the function of the damaged module. also (and very interestingly) the modules develop over time depending on how you use them -- so the areas you use a lot can grow more active. this means that even though the brain is modular (in ways we don't fully understand yet), its also flexible and adaptive and the modules must be very difficult to select for evolutionarily.

all of that learned secondhand ...from a neuroscience grad housemate i had a year ago.


Posted by: mmf! | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 5:40 PM
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Stanley, I'm not sure I understand the question. Pretty much all science count as inductive reasoning broadly construed, since the conclusions can't be logically deduced from the premises. Ev psych doesn't seem to me any more or less inductive than other branches of science.


Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 5:46 PM
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True, Matt. Not a scientist, this Stanley. But it just seems so much more...sinister with the discussion at-hand.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 5:54 PM
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To clarify my comments, I guess LB has already put it the best:

The problem is that the specific explanations put forth in the name of evolutionary psychology tend to be very poorly supported by science, and also tend to rather obviously support current social norms.

Sooooo I didn't actually contribute anything, but rather repeated previously (and more adeptly) said things, thus violating the super secret commenter's protocol.

Sorry, duder.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 6:17 PM
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No problem, we just all get to say that you're pre-pwned now.

Interesting link. Some of the rules don't apply here; "nobody likes a know-it-all" *sob*, and "Don't comment drunk" no way.


Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 6:21 PM
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Also "own your comment"; pseudonymity rulez!


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 6:23 PM
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mmf, I think LB in 24 and I simply disagree, though my disagreement is based on nothing more than impressions of the field. Do you think that competing psychological theories have more in the way of hypothesis-testing going for them?

I think I can say with some confidence though that EP hypotheses do not themselves provide normative support for any prevailing social norms, nor do they seem to be motivated by a desire to support prevailing social norms, unlike the social darwinism of 100+ years ago.


Posted by: Andrew | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 8:58 PM
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I don't know how this guy from the University of Louisiana at Monroe ranks among evolutionary psychologists, but he's been kind enough to put some of his writing on the web:

http://www.ulm.edu/~palmer/JealousyandMate.htm

His site came up #27 in a google search for "evolutionary psychology".

If I understand him correctly, he's saying that evolution has given us male/female pair bonding, jealousy (with males particularly concerned about female sexual infidelity) and groups in which the females stay close to home while males go away to get food.

That might could possibly appear to be supportive of prevailing social norms.

I like his statement about "A cross-cultural comparison of the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States..." That's not a particularly broad or diverse selection of cultures.

I think LB is right again.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 03- 1-06 11:20 PM
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re: 58

Andrew, it's my impression that LizardBreath's take on EP: that many of the more dramatic claims are poorly attested to by evidence and appear to support a particular set of modern social norms, *is* a widely held view among biologists and philosoher's of biology. I've heard it joked that it's interesting how much Pleistocene society looked like 1950s middle-class America.

Their arguments against EP may be directed at some of the modularity claims and other questionable elements of the EP theoretical apparatus but a lot of hostility to EP does seem motivated by the unfalsifiable Just-So story aspect of many EP 'tales' and their apparent easy cooption in support of a particular moral and political position.

This is not to say that people working within the EP tradition are reasoning in bad faith or out of support for a particular political view. Some of the 'just-so' stories may even be elegant and compelling but there is a substantial problem with finding hard evidence to back them up.

The things you say with 'confidence' aren't things I'd say with confidence and I don't think you've given any reason other than simple assertion to think that you're right in asserting those things with 'confidence'.


Posted by: Matt McGrattan | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 12:41 AM
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Forgive self-linking in what follows.

Pinker's crap. I wrote a book about all this, back in the paleolithic, when the research was easier. If you want good, grown up evopsuch, look at the work of Robin Dunbar in Liverpool, though he calls it behavioural ecology or something.

I think that the best piece of evopsych reasoning around is also one of the oldest -- Wilson and Daly on homicide, which is overwhelmingly a crime committed by young men. This holds across all known societies, even though the absolute rate varies wildly. [It is almost always higher i hunter-gatherer societies than even the best-armed and most anarchic urban ones, like Colombia].

The argument, put at its crudest, is that high status men get most descendants, because of mild polygyny and all that -- so status is of vital importance to the genes. I think this is reasonable, makes predictions, and accords with the known facts.

But the calculations are enomrously complicated, and culture complicates them still more. It might seem obvious that warfere, for example, selects for warlike qualities. But when you look at what actually killed soldiers, and so exerted selection pressures, for most of history, it was disease. Epidemics killed armies far more often that enemies did. I believe that the Boer War was the last on ethe British Army fought where more of its soldiers died from disease or enemy action.

It's incredibly easy to do evopsych badly, and very hard to do it well.


Posted by: Andrew Brown | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 4:06 AM
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Forgive self-linking in what follows.

Pinker's crap. I wrote a book about all this, back in the paleolithic, when the research was easier. If you want good, grown up evopsuch, look at the work of Robin Dunbar in Liverpool, though he calls it behavioural ecology or something.

I think that the best piece of evopsych reasoning around is also one of the oldest -- Wilson and Daly on homicide, which is overwhelmingly a crime committed by young men. This holds across all known societies, even though the absolute rate varies wildly. [It is almost always higher i hunter-gatherer societies than even the best-armed and most anarchic urban ones, like Colombia].

The argument, put at its crudest, is that high status men get most descendants, because of mild polygyny and all that -- so status is of vital importance to the genes. I think this is reasonable, makes predictions, and accords with the known facts.

But the calculations are enomrously complicated, and culture complicates them still more. It might seem obvious that warfere, for example, selects for warlike qualities. But when you look at what actually killed soldiers, and so exerted selection pressures, for most of history, it was disease. Epidemics killed armies far more often that enemies did. I believe that the Boer War was the last on ethe British Army fought where more of its soldiers died from disease or enemy action.

It's incredibly easy to do evopsych badly, and very hard to do it well.


Posted by: Andrew Brown | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 4:06 AM
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sorry. 500 error three times. It looks as if one of them posted anyway.


Posted by: Andrew Brown | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 4:08 AM
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Andrew (non-Brown), the results always seem to be used to advance some sort of social norm that the author likes. Now, granted, science can't be held to blame if it's results are misused, but when the science is really shoddy, one really has to wonder whether it's being propped up in order to support some other agenda.

Ev psych usually goes like this:

1) Take some controversial normative statement: "Blacks are dumber than whites", "Women are less rational than men and therefore suited poorly for high office". Chop off the expressly normative part and frame it in terms of simple biology.

-Bonus point if you're supporting a traditional view that has fallen out of fashion ("Women are designed to stay at home and clean.")

-Second bonus point if it's a cultural preference that occurred within the past fifty years.

2) Do a study with an eighth-grade science fair level of research. The simpler the better. (Add up test scores. Show women and men pictures of dead babies and judge their brain waves.) We're not actually after rigor here.

3) Ignore all cultural explanations and develop a Just-So Story about how biology designed us that way.

-Bonus point if you use "Our ancestors must have..."

-Emerson-pwintage if you use "Back in the veldt.."

-Ignore any other Just-So Stories, even if they're more plausible. IMPORTANT: Do not read The Selfish Gene. It might get in the way of the theorizing.

4) Conclude solemnly that we must accept whatever 'nature' has 'designed' based on this Just-So Story. I can't pick up after myself. I'm just not designed that way. Suzie wasn't meant to do well at math. Blacks aren't speedskating because there's no ice in Africa.

5) Insist that anyone who questions your methodology is a loon who refuses to believe in "neck-up" evolution because it questions their normative goals.

-Bonus point if you're a lawyer wrapping yourself in the idea of academic freedom.

-Bonus points if you can blame the feminists.

Yeah, um. That's why I can't take ev psych seriously. In the possible world where it's rigorous and careful, sure, la LB in 24. Now, not so much.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 5:49 AM
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Re modularity, Fodor's book, "The Mind Doesn't Work That Way," is one reasonably recent attack on some of the more popular ideas out there regarding modularity. It's partly a response to Pinker's "The Way the Mind Works." Pinker has responded since, I think, though to my bitter disappointment the rebuttal wasn't titled, "Yes it does, Jerry."

Re evolutionary psychology, I never get tired of recommending these two papers:

Boyd, Richard. "Reference, (In)commensurability and Meanings: Some (Perhaps) Unanticipated Complexities", in P. Hoyningen-Huene and H. Sankey (eds.). Incommensurability and Related Matters, 1-63. (c) 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

Sober, Elliott. "Evolutionary Altruism, Psychological Egoism, and Morality: Disentangling the Phenotypes." In M. Nitecki and D. Nitecki (eds.), Evolutionary Ethics, SUNY Press, 1993, pp. 199-216.

The first is especially amazing, but it's really hard to get a hold of. If you're dying of curiosity to read it, let me know.


Posted by: Chris | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 6:58 AM
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"It might seem obvious that warfere, for example, selects for warlike qualities. But when you look at what actually killed soldiers, and so exerted selection pressures, for most of history, it was disease."

1) Most of history is about 5,000 years. Not long compared to the existence of modern humans. I doubt that small-scale tribal raiding saw much death from disease - that's a product of sitting in insanitary conditions eating bad food and water for months at a time, not running over to the next valley and stealing some cattle.

2) Life selects for disease resistance anyway. Civilians get sick too. No need to bring war into it.

3) Even if only 5% of deaths in war could be avoided by possessors of 'warlike qualities', that would still be a significant advantage.

4) The claim is not that 'warlike qualities' help someone avoid death in combat; the claim is that aggression improves status and thus reproductive success.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 7:17 AM
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Thanks for the recommendations Andrew and Chris.

Matt, I think that strict falsifiability is a very tough standard by which to judge evolutionary psychological theories. The number of variables is so large and the variable themselves so difficult to control that I'm not sure we'll ever have a falsifiable theory of interest. Nonetheless, I think EP has more going for it in this respect than other theories. A theory is predictive not only if it can predict future events, but if it would lead us to expect past events, or current events, as well. If we encounter certain psychological similarities across cultures, EP provides a powerful way of explaining those similarities that fits well with what we know about the development of species generally.

I agree that I'm simply asserting my view, without citing studies, and I've been careful to say that I'm no expert and this is just my impression. But then, so have most others.

Cala, I simply disagree. Your take seems to be that EP researchers all rely on shoddy research, and all support prescriptions such as "women should remain in the domestic sphere" and so forth. I haven't read or retained enough in the field to easily cite studies to the contrary, and certainly any statistical study will be susceptible to alternative explanations to EP----but that's just the nature of social science.

The discussion certainly makes me want to learn more about the field, though.


Posted by: Andrew | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 7:26 AM
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A theory is predictive not only if it can predict future events, but if it would lead us to expect past events, or current events, as well.

This is, to me, a remarkably broad conception of "predictive," and presumably makes, for example, history, or any social science, from economics to anthropology to psychology, every bit as sciency as EP.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 7:34 AM
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Andrew, I didn't mention strict falsifiability anywhere. Nor did I intend to imply that strict falsifiability provides a suitable criterion for demarcating science from non-science or good science from bad.

Not least because I don't actually *believe* that falsifiability provides any such criterion.

However, one doesn't have to be a falsificationist to expect that scientific theories appeal to some kind of evidence above and beyond the mere possibility that a plausible historical narrative can be constructed. This evidential requirement seems desirable whatever model of theory confirmation one favours.


Posted by: Matt McGrattan | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 7:41 AM
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SCMT, as I understand that's not a crazy thing to say about "predictive." Definitely if your theory of the extinction of the dinosaurs predicts that you'll find a layer of fossilized whipped cream at the K-T boundary, and then wow, you do find a layer of fossilized whipped cream at the K-T boundary, you win even though the existence of the whipped cream was past or present.

But, you might say, the discovery was in the future; fair enough. Still, suppose you already know that there is a goofy pattern of dispersal of element X. You have a theory that wasn't cooked up just to explain that pattern. But when you work out the consequences of that theory it in fact turns out that it does predict that pattern. Most people would say that that's a point for your theory. (There's a problem in philosophy of science as to how to account for this.)

There's a danger of too much retrofitting your theory; if you've designed your theory to take account of just this evidence, then it isn't much of a point in its favor that it does take account of it. D-squared has written some interesting stuff about this, with specific reference to the social sciences.


Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 7:54 AM
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Weiner:

I agree with your point, but I wonder how much cherry picking there is. I say John Doris is hidebound and timid, on the basis of one mp3. Doris notes that this is certainly likely to be true for some moments in his life, as it is for everyone's. I go into his life and find other instances. How "predictive" is my statement?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 8:14 AM
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It didn't predict the data any better than Doris's competing hypothesis, so it gains no advantage. That's what I think people would say.

Coming up with good definitions is hard here, btw, and I'm not a specialist. How do you tell cherry-picking from smart selection of test cases? Beats the hell out of me.


Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 8:20 AM
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62: No worries about the self-linking; in fact, you just sold me a copy of your book.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 8:25 AM
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I think that's my problem with EP (again, about which I know virtual nothing): Does it predict (or explain) the data better than competing explanations in different fields? Or does it just feel like a better explanation because evolutionary arguments are cool and can perhaps make use of neat math? I don't know. But I'm suspicious.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 8:26 AM
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Tim, your suspicion is merely an adaptation, developed over millenia, to a dangerous and unforgiving world. You couldn't suspend it if you tried.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 8:34 AM
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Matt M., sorry if I misread you. These comments, but a lot of hostility to EP does seem motivated by the unfalsifiable Just-So story aspect of many EP 'tales' and Some of the 'just-so' stories may even be elegant and compelling but there is a substantial problem with finding hard evidence to back them up. led me to believe that you were criticizing EP for not being falsifiable.

SCMT, I can't add much to Matt W's point about predictiveness. Your Doris example strikes me as a little inapt, because it does not seem to involve any theory, or valid selection procedure for past events against which to test the theory. Suppose instead we were to say that countries who trade with one another are less likely to go to war against each other. We then compile a database of every recorded war, and include trading data. Perhaps we include scores for geographic proximity, and other variables we think might have an influence. We discover that there is a significant correlation between trade and peace, and one not accounted for by other variables. Our hypothesis will have "predicted" past events.

Matt W also raises a different question of, if one opts to use case studies as opposed to large-n studies, how to select appropriate case studies. Using past events is consistent with either method, and of course the problems with choosing a good case study are not unique to the use of past events.


Posted by: Andrew | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 8:38 AM
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My war&trade example is extremely incomplete, btw, as a description of the study.


Posted by: Andrew | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 8:43 AM
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Andrew:

1. I don't want to get lost in a semantic forest, here, but why would we say it "predicted" rather than "explained" the data? Maybe there's no difference between the two words, but that's not my general intuition. (And, to the extent I'm right, I wonder why we would use the word "predict" other than to confer on our theory a stronger sense of Science.)

2. Again, my concern is that we don't understand the underlying material well enough to make the distinctions we need to make. For what value of "war," for example. Congressional declarations of war? We haven't been to war since (IIRC) WWII. Troops in the field? Bet we've had more wars than I know about. What about proxy wars - do we only count the acknowledged participants, or do we count the guy behind the guy? Afghanistan was something of a proxy war in the 80s, for example.

These things can be addressed with precisely the sort of caveats you normally see in papers. I'm just not sure if they are in EP papers, or how interesting we'd find the results if we were given those caveats - again, I say this with no specific knowledge.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 8:52 AM
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77: Sorry, cross-posted.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 8:54 AM
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Tim, I agree that it's a non-intuitive use of the word "predict", but it's pretty standard in social sciences.

The reason it's acceptable is something like this: from a dataset you extrapolate a model of behavior; using the model, you predict as-yet unknown findings.

This can be a strictly mathematical prediction. From the data you extrapolate a linear relationship between two variables; let's say, rainfall each year in Dubuque. Now, you don't today have a figure for the rainfall in Dubuque in 1893, but if your equation is a good explanation of the data, you can predict from the comfort of your armchair that the rainfall in 1893 ought to have been x. Someone goes and finds data, let's say from a few diaries of rainwatchers in and around Dubuque with their own rain gauges in 1893, and estimates annual rainfall at a figure very close to x. Your prediction has now turned out to be true.

If you happen to be a researcher in a field like this, and you choose a certain mathematically predictive model, and further empirical research confirms the predictions of your model, it's actually kind of exciting.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 8:59 AM
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Slol:

Thanks. I don't see a problem with the methodology that you or Andrew are describing. I wonder how cleanly it gets applied in cases where the event being predicted is something amorphous.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 9:08 AM
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Well, quite: if you're predicting a number, or even a number with a reasonable range of error around it, you're being very sciency indeed. If, as was famously the case with J. P. Morgan when he was asked what would happen to the market, you say, "it will fluctuate," not so sciency.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 9:15 AM
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Slolerner's explanation of "predicting the past" makes sense. The other, bad sense of "predicting the past" is called "drawing a target where the arrow lands". That's the Just So Story kind.

Slolerner's "predicition" probably should be called "reconstruction", which is what crime-scene investigators do. You take a given set of facts and put together a narrative. Then you reaxamine your original data (take new measurements, record new parameters) and look for new information confirming or disconfirming your narrative.

In detective stories it always come out dramatically -- "Watson, check and see if the victim was a stamp-collector." Up till then stamp-collection hadn't been part of the story.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 9:16 AM
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To pick another example, I have a model in my head of many past posts of certain blogs. In that model, I know where to find certain comments containing certain witticisms.

It used to be that I could confirm the predictions of that model using Google -- it was like science. Now, it's like hypnotizing chickens.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 9:20 AM
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Andrew, fair enough, I did actual use the term falsification :-) however I'd want the weight of the criticism to rest upon the "substantial problem with finding hard evidence to back them up".

For what it's worth I think EP has problems with falsification that are more serious than the general methodological doubts i have about falsfication in general. I share the usual Quinean-holism/theory-ladeness-of-observation doubts about falsification as a criteria of demarcation so I wouldn't advance a falsificationist position. But EP doctrines aren't even weakly falsifiable (leaving aside these Quinean doubts).


Posted by: Matt McGrattan | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 9:20 AM
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83: Yes, exactly.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 9:21 AM
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The problem with a lot of EP hypotheses whether we cast them as making predictions or as providing explanations is that the evidence that would be required to settle them one way or another is largely absent.

The kind of data that IS available -- date about present day behaviour, body morphology, etc. -- can tell us a lot and there's nothing wrong with seeking biological explanations for human behaviour it's just that specific features of EP -- modularity and the absence of substantive change in humans since the Pleistocene -- are far from being proven.


Posted by: Matt McGrattan | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 9:27 AM
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Applying too strict a falsificationist or predictive standard to EP would be unfair, because there are few or no human sciences which can meet a strict standard. For example, economics seems to have been moving away from predictive claims.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 9:35 AM
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This discussion won't be complete in true Unfogged style until someone brings it back to evolutionary factors in male genitalia size.


Posted by: Chris | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 9:49 AM
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Now, it's like hypnotizing chickens.

You can do this with lobsters, too.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 11:45 AM
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Nick, or should I say Adrian? If that's you, I'm going to be very surprised.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 11:52 AM
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Enough outing!


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 11:59 AM
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Oh, I thought she meant the lobster. A lobster named Adrian, that would be surprising.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 12:00 PM
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Some of my best lobsters have been named Adrian.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 12:04 PM
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Of course I meant the lobster: what did you think?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 12:04 PM
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I feel like Proust eating a madeleine, only it's me reading unfooged and feeling confused.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 12:14 PM
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Some of my best lobsters have been named Adrian.

That is exactly what you would say, if you were prejudiced against lobsters named Adrian.

It kills me that we need a shorthand for "lobsters named Adrian".


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 12:17 PM
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Chopper -- what does it smell like?


Posted by: Jeremy Osner | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 12:17 PM
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Briefly (very briefly) dated a lobster-hypnotizer in college. Given the smallness of the world, I just thought I'd check.

I should have remembered that the Bridgeplate that can be identified is not the true Bridgeplate.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 12:17 PM
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LizardBreath -- "I Dated a Lobster-Hypnotizer" would make an awesome slasher pic.


Posted by: Jeremy Osner | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 12:20 PM
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a shorthand for "lobsters named Adrian"

a-lobsters


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 12:22 PM
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a-lobsters

Lobstras.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 3:32 PM
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I'd rather have a-lobsters in front of me, than have a frontal lobotomy.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 3:34 PM
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Eb is banned!


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 3:35 PM
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A banning! I'm touched--in the head, that is.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 3:40 PM
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64: 4) Conclude solemnly that we must accept whatever 'nature' has 'designed' based on this Just-So Story. I can't pick up after myself. I'm just not designed that way. Suzie wasn't meant to do well at math. Blacks aren't speedskating because there's no ice in Africa.

It's this sort of knee-jerk reaction against evolutionary psychology that drives me crazy. Firstly, you're conflating evolutionary psychology with social darwinist bullshit. Secondly, evolutionary psychology merely suggests that we may have certain behaviors because of evolutionary pressures. That does not and should not imply that we should accept things the way they are. After all, murder and rape can be effective evolutionary strategies, but we don't advocate them as public policy.

Maybe, just possibly, we could use whatever we learn from studying the evolutionary pressures on human behavior to design effective public policy to counteract the behaviors we regard as inappropriate or immoral. Just a thought.


Posted by: fiend | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 3:48 PM
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Wait, that isn't an reaction to ev-psych in general, it's a reaction to having actually particular evolutionary psychologists doing those thing. See the last sentence of the post you're quoting and 24.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 3:51 PM
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"actually" s/b "actual"


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 3:52 PM
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I have a sudden urge to visit Hofstra University.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 3:56 PM
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It used to be called A-hofster, you know.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 4:03 PM
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106:

As w/d says (and as I said, way back upthread), I don't have a problem with the idea of evolutionary psychology generally. It's just that pretty much every actual ev psych argument I've ever seen has struck me as horseshit (poorly supported, poorly reasoned, etc.) If there's something particular out there you think is interesting and stands up well, by all means link to it, or tell us about it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 4:10 PM
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111: i'll take you up on that


Posted by: fiend | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 4:15 PM
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Maybe, just possibly, we could use whatever we learn from studying the evolutionary pressures on human behavior to design effective public policy to counteract the behaviors we regard as inappropriate or immoral. Just a thought.

Didn't 19th century criminology do this to a certain extent? This doesn't discredit the method or goal, of course, but I still haven't seen the clear distinction between the idea of doing evolutionary thinking today and in the past. The conclusions certainly vary. Too bad there isn't a blogger, who occasionally comments here, working on a dissertation on evolutionary thinking in late 19th and early 20th century America. (I'm actually surprised the phrase "social darwinist" hasn't drawn him like a bat signal.)

Anyway, Emile Zola's Rougon-Macquart novels apparently have a lot of people struggling against their predispositions, and sometimes failing (e.g.).


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 03- 2-06 5:01 PM
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very belated reply to 66;

1) 5,000 years is a small figure, agreed, but it's still long enough to get some significant selection pressures going.

2) Plenty of diseases only appear when you have significant numbers of people crammed together. Armies do that better than anything except cities and f rmost of history will have drawn young men togethe rmuch more efficiently than cities did.

3) and (4) seem to contradict each other. In any case, I don't thnk that warfare (as opposed to prehistoric skirmishing) selects for any particular qualities. You'd have to show that survival rates were not more influenced by things like the quality of generalship or the numbers involved, which are completely random relative to the genes of the soldiers involved. You have to remember that soldiers can be forced to fight at odds which no self-respcting chimpanzee, or hunter-gatherer, would consider.

My basic point is that skill in pre-modern hundter-gatherer type homicide rewards and represents an almost entirely different set of qualities to those involved in organised warfare.


Posted by: Andrew Brown | Link to this comment | 03- 3-06 12:30 AM
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Warfare favors the victors and survivors -- e.g. Genghis Khan and his 800, count 'em, wives.

In what I've read, 800 is seems to be the upper limit for polygyny. The first Christian czar also had 800 wives who were granddaddied in, and I recently read of a Barbary Coast emir with 800. Apparently three a day is more than a man can take.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03- 3-06 4:10 AM
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Tell that to Wilt the Stilt.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-06 7:53 AM
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