First Things on Evolutionary Psychology

I was happy that Mark of ZenPundit linked to the first section of this series of notes. The material is fascinating, though each author has his own temperament

  • Matt Ridley – enthralled
  • Steven Pinker – philippic
  • David Buller – “scholarly

Still, the multiple perspectives of the different authors is valuable, and I think the professor for this reading list.

I had intended a number of charts, but time pressure gets to me. Buller especially is slow going (he is an author that can definitely use visual aids, or just better writing ability), and I meant to have this page up yesterday. As it is, only one good one:

human evolution timeline_md


Topic: Timeline
“Genealogically, we all descent from a very recent common ancestor who lived just 150,000 years ago, whereas our last common ancestor with a chimpanzee lived at least 5 million years ago.” (Ridley 10)
“At around 1.9 million years ago the teeth of human ancestors shrank at the same time as the body size of females grew. This indicates a better diet, more easily digested, which in turn sounds like cooking…. These increasingly monogamous males would then not be competing with each other so fiercely for every mating opportunity, which would result in their becoming smaller relative to females — and the sex difference in size began to shrink 1.9 million years ago.” (Ridley 21)
“The bonobos that live to the south of the Congo River may look rather like chimpanzees, but they have been evolved apart for 2 million years, ever since the river split their ancestral range in two.” (Ridley 21- 22)
“Yuki Takahata has been able to estimate that the change [in sugar allergy] happened about 2.5 or 3 million years ago…” (Ridley 28)
“Perhaps, muses Marki, the expansion of the human brain, which accelerated about 2 million years ago, was made possible by going on further and switching off the gene altogether throughout the body.” (Ridley 29)
“…the basic body plan of all animals had been worked out in the genome of a long-extinct ancestor that lived more than 600 million years ago…” (Ridley 31)
“Surprisingly, the fossil record suggests that there has been a rather steep decline in the size of the human brain during the past 15,000 years, partly but not wholly reflecting a shrinking body that seems to have accompanied the arrival of dense and “civilized” human settlements.” (Ridley 35)

Topic: Nature and Nurture
“… the development of an organism is not simply a matter of gene action, but a matter of causal interaction between genes and their environment.” (Buller 24).
(compare to previous)

Topic: Politics
(compare to last post)
“If the metaphors in everyday speech are a clue, then all of us, like Rousseau, associate blankness with virtue rather than with nothingness. Think of the moral connotations of the adjectives clean, fair, immaculate, lily-white, pure, spotless, unmarred, and unsullied, and of the nouns blemish, blot, mark, stain, and taint.” (Pinker 11) (associate with speech in CS Lewis “That Hideous Strength,” the moon as hygienic, etc.)
“Though psychology is not as politicized as some of the other social sciences, it too is sometimes driven by a utopian vision in which changes in child rearing and education will ameliorate social pathologies and improve human welfare.” (Pinker 27)

Topic: A Human-Animal Continuum.
“Jean-Jacques Roussea was only one of several Enlightenment philosophers who wondered if apes were not continuous with “savages.”” (Ridley 9)
“[Jane] Goodall’s anthropomorphism had driven a stake through the heart of human exceptionalism.” (Ridley 13)
“Aristotle said man was a political animal… Saint Augustine said we were the only creature to have sex for pleasure… the only species to make and use tools… we alone had culture [see memetics below]… the only animal to wage war and will our fellows… [perhaps we are only unique in that we have] a “theory of mind”” (Ridley 14-15).
“Darwin drew up a list of human peculiarities that had been claimed to form an impassable barrier between man and animal. He then demolished each particularity one by one.” (Ridley 16)
“In the mid-1990s, however, the first genetically unique feature universal to all people an d absent from all apes was discovered… a unique form of human allergy: an allergy to a kind of sugar (a certain “sialic acid”) found attached to proteins in animal serum.” (Ridley 27)
“Darwin’s theory of evolution was commonly misinterpreted as an explanation of intellectual and moral progress rather than an explanation of how living things adapt to an ecological niche. The nonwhite races, it was easy to think, were rungs on an evolutionary ladder between the apes and the Europeans.” (Pinker 15).

Topic: Creationism
“Alfred Russel Wallace, for example, the co-discoverer of the principle of natural selection, argued that the human mind was too complex to be the product of natural selection.” (Ridley 10)
“Just as religions contain a theory of human nature, so theories of human nature take on some of the functions of religion, and the Blank Slate has become the secular religion of modern intellectual life.” (Pinker 2-3).
“…Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), the co-discoverer with Darwin of natural selection … parted company from Darwin by claiming that the human mind could not be explained by evolution and must have been designed by a superior intelligence.” (Pinker 28)

Topic: Memetics
“When apes were first brought to zoos… their keepers seemed to evince more interest in their ability to “ape” human customs…” (Ridley 11)
“There is one way in which behavior seems to evolve differently form anatomy. In the case of anatomy, most similarities are the result of common descent, or what evolutionists call phylogenetic inertia.” (Ridley 17)

Topic: Recentness and Limitations of Knowledge
“By 1960, human beings still knew more about chimps’ ability to learn tea-table manners than about how the animals behaved in the wild.” (Ridley 12)
“The difference in social behavior [between chimpanzees and gorillas], stemming from a difference in diet, was wholly unsuspected until the 1960s. And it was only in the 1980s that a remarkable consequence became clear. The difference has left its mark on the anatomy of the two ape species.” (Ridley 19)
“… until scientists know how to find gene promoters in the vast text of the genome, they will not learn how the recipe of a chimpanzee differs from that of a person.” (Ridley 33)

Topic: Behaviorism
“The radical behaviorists who brushed aside the mentalists… asserted brusquely that animals did not think reflect, or reason… under Burrhus Skinner, the behaviorists would apply the same logic to human beings.” (Ridley 12)
“The associationism of Locke and Mill has become recognizable in psychology ever since. It became the core of most models of learning, especially in the approach called behaviorism, which dominated psychology from the 1920s to the 1960s… Locke’ s”ideas” had been replaced by “stimuli” and “responses,” but his laws of association survived as laws of conditionism” (Pinker 18-19).
“Among the casualties of behaviorist minimalism was the rich psychology of William James (1842-1910). James had been inspired by Darwin’s argument that perception, cognition, and emotion, like physical organs, had evolved as biological adaptions.” (compare to yesterday) (Pinker 19)
“B.F. Skinner (1904-1990), the most famous psychologist in the middle decades of the twentieth century, wrote a book called The Behavior of Organisms in which the only organisms were rats and pigeons and the only behavior was level pressing and key pecking… In an article called “The Misbehavior of Organisms,” Skinner’s students Keller and Marian Breland reported that when they tried to use his techniques to train animals to insert poker chips into vending machines, the chickens pecked the chips, the raccoons washed them, and the pigs tried to root them with their snouts.” (Pinker 20)

Topic: Alternatives to Genetics or Behaviorism
(mention Piaget?)
“The doctrine of the Blank Slate became entrenched in intellectual life in a form that has been called the Standard Social Science Model or social constructivism.” (Pinker 17) (relate to HCI)
“On of the major documents of late twentieth-century psychology was the two-volume Parrellel Distributed Processing by David Rumelhart, James McCellland, and their collaborators, which presentd a style of neural network modeling called connectionism. Rumelhart and McClelland argued that generic associationist networks, subjected to massive amounts of training, could explain all of cognition.” (Pinker 21) (mention thesis)
“Idealism allowed [Franz] Boas to lay a new intellectual foundation for egalitarianism. The differences among human races and ethnic groups, he proposed, come not from their physical constitution but from their culture, a system of ideas and values spread by language and other forms of social behavior.” (Pinker 22) (compare with last time?)
“… the denial of human nature, and the autonomy of culture from individual names [was] articulated by the founder of sociology, Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), who had foreshadowed Kroever’s doctrine of the superorganic mind.” (Pinker 23 (compare to last time and also NICE)

Topic: Sex Differences
“Among all hunter-gatherers, men are usually more interested in and better at hunting; women are more interested in and better at gathering. The result is an ecological niche that combines the best of both worlds — the protein of meat and the reliability of plant food.” (Ridley 21)
(See also Panzer und Soldat)

Topic: Philosophies
“The Blank Slate is often accompanies by two other doctrines, which have also attained a sacred status in modern intellectual life… The Ghost in the Machine [mind-body dualism], like the Noble Savage, arose in part as a reaction to Hobbes.” (Pinker 6-9).

Topic: Definitions
Modification refers to a change across generations in the distribution of characteristics, or traits, in a lineage.” (Buller 18)
phenotypes – the anatomical structures, physiological states, or behavioral forms – that organisms exhibit.” (Buller 19)
evolution is change in gene or genotype frequencies (at a particular locus) across generations in a lineage.” (Buller 20)
“.. even if two individuals possess the same genotype, they can differ in phenotype…” (Buller 24)
microevolution, evolution change within species. Macroevolution concerns the birth and extinction of species…” (Buller 20)
“[alleles] are alternative sequences of A,G,C, or T at a particular locus [or] the different forms of a gene that can occupy a locus” (Buller 20)
“the pair of alleles an organism has at a locus is called its genotype” (Buller 20)
“If an organism has the same allele in each opposing slot, if it has the AA or aa genotype, it is homozygote; and if it has different alleles in the opposing slots, if it has the Aa genotype, it is a heterozygote.” (Buller 21)
Reproduction is thus a process whereby each of two parents contributes a gamete [a haploid, “half a diploid,” 23 single, unpaired chromosomes; a gamete is formed in meisos], which contain half of the parent’s genes, to the formation of a diploid cell that will develop into an organism of the next generation.” (Buller 21)
“… it is possible for there to be a change in genotype frequencies across generations without a corresponding change in gene frequencies [as genotypes are combinations of genes — see previous].” (Buller 23)
“When a gene influences a particular phenotype… it is a gene for that phenotype.” (Buller 24)
“Thus, in order for patterns of phenotypic change across generations to parallel patterns of evolution at the genetic level, the developmentally relevant properties of the environment must remain relatively stable across those generations.” (Buller 25)
“There are two main processes that cause evolution by introducing new variants into a population, one of which is mutation [and the other is] recombination… The difference … is that mutation introduces new variants by creating new genes, while recombination does so by creating new combinations of genes on a chromosome.” (Buller 26-27)
“… natural selection, which is a process that occurs when three conditions obtain in a population. First, there must be preexisting phenotypic variation in the population. Second, the variant phenotypes must be hereditary — that is, there must be genes for each of the variant phenotypes, which parents transmit to their offspring. Third, these hereditary phenotypic differences must be responsible for differences in fitness.” (Buller 28)
“… “fitness” as a measure of an organism’s expected genetic contribution to future generations…. organisms with a fitness-enhancing trait will, on average, out reproduce the other organisms.” (Buller 29)
“… some biologists apply the term natural selection only to selection for traits that affect survival, while applying the term sexual selection to selection for traits that affect the ability to attract and mate with members of the opposite sex.” (Buller 30)
[Genetic] Drift is a causal force in evolution in every generation, since random survival and random sampling of gametes occurs in every generation. But frequently the effects of drift are offset by selection. In order for drift to be the cause of a long-term evolutionary trend, the rival alleles at a locus must be selectively neutral (that is, no one of the alleles can confer a selective advantage to its bearers).” (Buller 31)
“A trait is adaptive, then, if it has current utility; it is an adaption if it had past utility…” (Buller 35-36)
“[A] trait will [sometimes] go ti fixation (become possessed by every organism) in a population, thereby wiping out all rival traits.” (Buller 37)
“Indeed, there are several reasons why selection doesn’t always eliminate phenotypic variation. First, mutation and recombination introduce new variation into a population in every generation… Second, some phenotypic variation is selectively neutral…. Third… the fact that the same genotype can produce different phenotypes under different development conditions means that the phenotype it’s for won’t necessarily go to fixation also.” (Buller 37-38) (chart)
“[Frequency-Independent fitness is an] activity with fitness costs and benefits that are independent of how other population members behave [but] in general the fitness costs and benefits associated with any activity that involve competition with some other population members will be a function of how one’s competitors behave. Such an activity has frequency-dependent fitness…” (Buller 39-40)
“[Stable polymorphism is when] a mixed population is evolutionary stable… genetic polymorphism — a locus at which different genotypes occur — is essentially to each stable polymorphism. When a population consists of individuals playing a mixed strategy, on the other hand, the individuals in the population are genetically monomorphic — share the same genome — for that strategy.” (Buller 42)
“A second way in which selection can maintan phenotypic variation is through adaptive plasticity (sometimes called a conditional strategy). Adaptive plasticity is the capacity of a single genotype to produce more than one phenotype — more than one anatomical form, physiological state, or behavior — in response to environmental conditions… there are two distinct forms of adaptive plasticity, developmental plasticity and phenotypic plasticity.” (Buller 43-44).
“For developmental plasticity to eolve by selection, several conditions must be met. First, there must be variation in a population’s environment… Second, this enviromental variation must be predicable… Third, a mix of alternative phenotypes, each occuring in its own environmental conditions, has to have a figher average fitness than any single phenotype… Finally, there must be “cues” in each of the different development conditions that are reliable predictors of the selection pressure to be encountered.” (Buller 45-46)
“In order for [phenotypic plasticity] to evolve by selection, there must be variation in some aspect of a population’s environment that is relevent to fitness.. the environmental variations must occur relatively rapidly and unpredictably… In short, there must be fluctuation in some aspect of a populations that is relevent to fitness.” (Buller 47) (see also CGW on flux)

10 thoughts on “First Things on Evolutionary Psychology”

  1. Curtis, Purpleslog,

    Thank you for your kind words! I've been delighted by your joint work on 5GW, so I'm also picking up a certificate in purleslogia 😉

    The class will end with a final paper, and right now my idea is steering towards how a SysAdmin force could use evolutionary psychology to its advantage. Being able to find a “gene for” insurgency would allow a rapid pacification of a country, allowing it to cycle quickly through the A-Z Ruleset for Processing Politically Bankrupt States.

  2. “The class will end with a final paper, and right now my idea is steering towards how a SysAdmin force could use evolutionary psychology to its advantage. Being able to find a “gene for” insurgency would allow a rapid pacification of a country, allowing it to cycle quickly through the A-Z Ruleset for Processing Politically Bankrupt States.”

    Erm, how many generations of controlled breeding were you thinking of, exactly?

  3. Phil,

    I develop this a bit more in the next post of the series [1]

    As far as genes, a SysAdmin force should be like water: flowing to where it is easy (using genetic knowledge and psychology to our advantage), not attempting to change the nature of man.

    Some quotes:

    “Worse still, if our minds were truly malleable they would be easily manipulated by our rivals, who could mold or condition us into serving their needs rather than our own. A malleable mind would quickly be selected out.” (Pinker 54-55)

    “All attempts to design society by reference to one narrow conception of human nature, whether on paper or in the streets, end in producing something much worse.” (Ridley 67)

    I'm still developing how it would work — preemptive confinement of a population that is genetically prone to insurgency is the obvious way forward, but I'm assuming you could do wonders if you could limit your target population to 100,000 or so…


  4. Hmm. If you're serious, I'm pretty concerned where this is going to take you.

    The evidence is always going to be statistical. This is true even for uncontroversially biological processes like inherited diseases. Not everyone who has a gene for Huntington's Chorea expresses it.

    So is it OK to lock people up or put people in detention camps because their genes increase the probability that they'll be insurgents? What about putting people in prison because they have a gene which is correlated with “criminality” although they are not yet criminals? Today, I'm still more likely to be killed in a road accident than by a terrorist. So should we not be isolating the gene for “bad-driving” and preventing such people getting a license?

    What about other factors that are statistically correlated with badness? Men are more likely to be rapists than women, but does this justify pre-emptive constraint on men?

    It's the same argument in as your example of “denormalizing homosexualism”. Arguing that gays are more likely to be vectors of HIV you say we should discourage gay sex on this utilitarian calculation. But in somewhere like Africa, heterosexual sex is the higher probability carrier so if the utilitarian calculation is at the root of the sanction you should now switch to discouraging that.

    Of course, instead of that, you zoom into the fractal folds of complexity, where naturally you find that only certain kinds of heterosexual sex increase the risk. But, of course, we could say the same thing with American gay males and argue that only certain kinds of gay male sex increase the probability of HIV transmission.

    I'm not trying to make a point about homosexuality here but about statistical generalizations (of which evolutionary theories are just one kind). They always throw away information. And if you look more closely, you'll always find that some people or sub-groups of your condemned group are innocent. Reality is fractal.

    That's why one of the advantages of the (small l) liberal tradition is that policies and laws address the *individual*, rather than the statistical type. Individuals are considered innocent until proven guilty. The law is applied evenly on the egalitarian grounds that we shouldn't be infering what we can't know for certain based on generalizations about types.

    To rearrange policy around statistical propensities is a fast-track to the kind of totalitarianism which I suspect you'd disavow.

  5. Phil,

    I agree, and the important part of your comment that shows the agreement is:

    “That's why one of the advantages of the (small l) liberal tradition is that policies and laws address the *individual*, rather than the statistical type.”

    The sort of paper I am thinking of is for a profoundly illiberal time — that early period of Systems Administration immediately following (and sometimes overlapping) with Leviathan operation. Say from the first 3 weeks or 3 years after regime change or so.

    During that sort of Heavy Systems Administration, statistical information is routinely used in life-and-death decisions (cars closer than X feet to barriers are shot at, etc.). Likewise possible uses for enemy combatants who are neither soldiers nor criminals (if you can quickly estimate intelligence without need of communication with the detainee by a brainscan, you know who to immediately put in solitary and especially away form other intelligent inmates).

    So the basic agreement: this plan isn't liberal. It's not for liberal situations. It's for situations that help build liberal situations.

  6. Hmm. Presumably you're talking about genetic screening for a disposition towards “insurgency” in Iraq? And I assume that you wouldn't dream of imposing genetic screening to identify bad-drivers in the US. (Even if the loss of life due to them is higher than the loss of US lives due to insurgents.)?

    But you do seem to be willing to apply such statistical utility calculations to a civilian population in the US in the case of “denormalizing homosexualism”. Are “illiberal times” the cause of that too?

  7. Health (and driving) insurance in its current form cannot survive accurate and inexpensive genetic screening.

    I do not see the common theme between the three examples you give. The Iraq War, driving regulations, and the homosexual orientation are three qualitatively different cases. In war, the state is expected to use violence to achieve state interests. Driving on public roadways involves use of public property, and so is subject to (legally binding) voluntary licensing requirements. Culture denormalization is even more voluntary than that, since there is no formal licensing requirement at all.

    (However, this is not to say the state always uses its power wisely. For instance, the state occasionally forces citizens to sit through propaganda — which I entirely oppose [1])

    Statistical utility calculations do not determine if something is right or wrong. They are a tool. Violence is a better guide. A state must only initiate violence in war. States that follow this more are freer than those which follow this less.


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