I wrote about evolutionary psychology earlier. Very much alike a scholar whose work I admire—and whose name shall not be mentioned here—evolutionary psychologists make me nervous. There is something determinist about their work and theories that makes me want to yell NO! seven times in a row. But here is some recent reasoning regarding the question of why evolutionary psychology could do good.1
First, the popular press.
As Johanna Ahola-Launonen tells us in her great overview of some of the core frameworks of and debates on evolutionary psychology, the popular press celebrates the field as a tool for preventing misunderstandings between the (two) sexes. This is because evolutionary psychology gives easily understandable explanations for why male and female brains are the way they are—i.e., different from each other—and why, hence, women and men are different. I am of two minds in view of this use of evolutionary psychology. On the one hand, it saves heterosexual couples a lot of resources (energy, money, negotiation time) to just accept their congenital differences as explainable and sensible. On the other hand, however, I am worried that these simple truths of evolutionary innateness may cause many marriage counsellors’ losing their jobs.
Another thought as reported by JAL, and this is one I haven’t come across thus far: evolutionary psychology is also regarded a useful concept to combat self-destructive assumptions about what desirable male and female bodies should look like. Not the media but evolutionary success stories should tell adolescents what a real man or woman has to look like. My concerns are similar on this one. Not only Heidi Klum but also many behavioral and analytical psychologists specializing in body schema problems may have trouble to get patients to pay for many expensive sessions once the challenged realize that their challenges can easily be overcome by just reading some evolutionary psychology—in the popular press, for instance.
Second, my own brain as stimulated by the ONION.
Apparently, renown brain scientists are starting to doubt that human minds will ever be able to gain knowledge about human minds. The analogy used here is: no book can read its own pages. Thus, no brain can study the brain. What the ONION doesn’t tell us, but what I will tell you happily, is the evolutionary solution to the problem. Just think about it: if we trust the concepts and methods of evolutionary psychology, then we also believe that evolving brains can be studied with this approach, i.e., the brains of yesterday and the millions of years before that. Consequently, using evolutionary psychology, today’s brain, which is the most advanced of all that have been on the planet so far, can study earlier brains—and the vicious circle comes to a halt. Not the book is trying to read its own pages any more; much rather, it’s the book reviewer who’s assessing what has been written already. Thus, the mind doesn’t study itself if we believe in evolutionary explanations of the psyche. It’s the uber-mind studying the evolutionary precursor, i.e., yesterday’s brain.
Am I serious about all this?—Not really. But they are.
- Yes, and I really mean “do good,” and not “do well.” As a non-native English speaker, I find it particularly amusing to quote Tracy Morgan on his Superman line. [↩]