The dreadful pseudo science of evolutionary psychology is founded upon concepts such as survival of the fittest, selfish genes, inherited instincts and mind modules. It has shot to prominence in science and societies' thinking, and found many a willing ear. But this little black beetle will have none of it, for the following reasons:
1. Inconsistency with the evolution of a cerebral cortex. If humans and other mammals are so predetermined by genetic codes for behaviour and inherited instincts, then why on earth did the cerebral cortex evolve? If the cortex was to become just another repository for programmed behavior, then why did evolution not take the far easier route of simply expanding or modifying the cerebellum or other more primitive parts of the brain? These parts of the brain are already set up to provide automatic behaviours and reflex actions, of the types claimed behind mammal behaviour. For example, Pinker (1997, How the Mind Works) considers that some 95% of the major human personality traits are coded in the genes or inherited instincts (page 448). They are even responsible to the level where identical twins (separated at birth) enter the water backwards and only to knee height! (page 20). But why develop an entirely different part of the brain stem to do essentially the same thing as pre-existing structures? The reason is simple of course. The cerebral cortex is the seat for learning (including the learning of instincts, more beetle). Therefore, it had to be different to the other more primitive brain structures. It grew and advanced through the species, allowing those animals to learn their instincts rather than inherit them. That consistent seats of programs and emotions later settle within the matrix of the cortex is to be expected, for an organ designed to learn the most parsimonious and interactive position within its blank slate. The progression of increasing size and ability of the cerebral cortex can be easily shown to correlate well with species that have to learn more, because of their increased social behaviour or complexity and diversity of niche. A monkey brain is larger than a shrew, because it is more social and wide ranging in explorations. A human cortex is larger than a monkey's because it is more social again, and is able to live on virtually every land on the globe. Such adaptability to do new things is aided by the ability to learn new instincts in those novel niches. If the mind was to remain genetically determined, why not just increase the size of the cerebellum and midbrain? 2. Failure to isolate a selfish gene. After some 30 years of being named selfish, no extra power or mind has been found in genes beyond their station of being dumb-ass chemicals. They have no emotion or hidden plan to spread themselves for their own benefit. They replicate according to the whim of higher level forces in nature. Calling genes selfish because they replicate is about as informative as saying that water is selfish because of how it gouges channels into a landscape when it falls as rain (more beetle). Genes have been identified for producing all sorts of structures and chemical reactions, from eye colour to enzymes to height. No gene has been found for selfishness. Also, no part of a gene has been found that says replicate 'me' ahead of another, beyond obvious biological functioning. However, evolutionary psychologists often shift ground on this argument. To the novice, they will speak and write as though selfishness is such a standout feature of genes. But apply a little questioning, and they will say ‘don’t take me literally’. And then, they soften their characterisation of selfish to a more esoteric form, where 'anything that replicates is selfish'. But this is an attitude to life rather than science. 3. Gene shortage is a problem for evolutionary psychology, as was neatly described by Paul Ehrlich. If there are only about 30,000 functional genes in humans (those that can be transcribed to produce their messengers, the proteins), then there are simply not enough genes to fulfil all the predestined tasks claimed by evolutionary psychology. If it takes some 2500 genes to make an eye, which is a complicated piece of machinery, then maybe some 1000 genes are needed for each other sense as well (say 4 x 1000 = 4000). A similar number may be needed for each emotion, which are often complicated and coordinate a range of physiological reactions such as a narrowed eye, frown, release of adrenalin, flush etc. At least 50 emotions have been described = 50,000 genes? And then there are all the supposed inherited fears, inherited disgusts, the 'genetic plan' to wife cheat, survive, propagate your genes, steal food, murder, feel gay, enter the water backwards to the knee, select mates, recognise kin etc (itemised behaviour is the evolutionary psychologist's oyster!). You simply run out of genes! Another way to conceptualise this problem is to realise that a fly uses 50% of a human's genes to do what they do. If you then add the additional skills and nuances found in humans, how can they do it with just another 15,000 genes? By proportionality, the numbers just don't add up. When the human genome project found such a limited number of additional genes in humans, many were surprised. Were humans expecting gene numbers an order of magnitude greater than for other species, as testament to their imagined superiority? The explanation is simple of course. The key to biology is parsimony (more beetle), not complication (more beetle). With such gene shortage, evolutionary psychologists now try to imagine a greater role for junk DNA. But this is DNA that cannot be read to produce proteins, so has no impact on the immediate life. Instead, junk DNA represents a historical record or library of evolution and human debt to previous species (stretching back as far as Dr Beetle's ancestors at least), and it has always provided a fertile reservoir for future mutation and physical evolution, that can be called forth as the environment (not the gene) sees fit. The counterclaim that there is no gene shortage, because of the trillions of combinations they could make, is false (more beetle). 4. Failure under falsifiability. A cornerstone of science is the ability to produce theories that are contestable and can be proven one way or another. If you cannot do this, then there is the risk that the symptoms you see and the reasons you gather are all imagined. An example is phrenology, where a whole science was built upon the perceived need to explain low intelligence in 'savages', and seemingly entrenched criminal behaviour. Scientific studies 'showed' that the cause was related to the bumps and shapes of the skull. Obviously, any deviation from the average Anglo-Saxon skull was aberrant. Evolutionary psychology is latter-day phrenology. It assumes that humans are the pinnacle example of nature and evolution, and therefore must explain human behaviour as the natural state of evolution at its finest. There are surveys of human opinions, fears and emotions, as though these require direct substantiation out of the bowls of nature. But what if humans are the dunce species of nature and evolution, and these are atypical symptoms representing mental confusion within one pompous species? What if humans are fundamentally and spiritually lost and empty? What if humans are unfulfilled and struggle because they try to live far short of their potential? What if humans are most unlike any wild animal but have settled for failure and now try to justify that failure as the 'natural state'. For example, a survey of university students found that most were more fearful of spiders than cars because cars are recent and so evolution has not imprinted a fear of them into the genes! Such pathetic reasoning (more beetle) is used by evolutionary psychologists many times. But they fail to show the mechanisms (the inherited instinct) required to actually prove the claims, and talk over it as though it must be just so. They assume it is their duty to shift the blame for such fears from artificial phobia to biology. From a derailed understanding of biology, evolutionary psychology teaches that any animal that eats or gets up in the morning is selfish, because these actions propagate the genes. But when no alternative can exist, it should become clear that the real request is for people to change their attitude of how to view the world. Even though I am a beetle, I appear to have more backbone than these, as I do not feel to my exoskeleton that the world is a struggle to survive, and that selfishness, aggression and ugliness is all about me so that I must explain it just so. They say that the brain is full of instincts. Let them show one. Put them to the falsifyablity test. Show one in a foetus or baby. Point at it, and don't just deduce that it must be there, because your concepts are so limited that you cannot explain the world in any other way. At least with my view of humans, I can give the nuts and bolts of the mechanisms and point at real structures. The cortex is the blank slate (which is why babies say goo goo gah gah, and not much else), which then gets filled with learnt instincts. I can point to the mechanism by which this occurs - selective stabilisation (more beetle), and point to the motivation that drives an animal towards parsimony and attunement and therefore non-selfishness (more beetle). Evolutionary psychology is bad science, and bad biology. 5. Failure to pass Occam's razor. Evolutionary psychology ignores this basic rule of science. One of the most important drivers in evolution is to produce ever more parsimonious species (more beetle). Animals that can do more with less will win. Rabbits introduced into Australia sometimes reach plague proportions due to efficiencies in adaptations not found in the native bibly or wallaby. Archaeopteryx was able to fly and glide, but lacked the efficiencies of lighter bone structure found in modern birds. A fly can do a multitude of things more simply than the most sophisticated and expensive human-made computer or robot. Animals have amazingly compact abilities, demonstrating compliance with parsimony. This rule permeates all of their parts, from body to brain and mind. Yet, evolutionary psychology presumes that this rule becomes suspended when it comes to the brain and mind. Complication, division and mind modules replace the quest for simple starting blocks and adaptability. But why inherit all of the mind's modules and instincts, when they can just as easily be learnt and with greater relevance through attunement to a niche (the normal relationship found in nature, more beetle)? If the same behaviour can be learnt, along with a multitude of other behaviours according to need, then why would a species that must invest in mind modules for each little instinct and behaviour have greater fitness within evolution? If you doubt the importance of parsimony in evolution, just look for the rules used to create cladograms. Animals able to learn a long list of attuned behaviours using one flexible method (selective stabilisation of uncommitted neurones, more beetle) will win out over a complex creature burdened with a list of do's and don'ts.
6. Uncomfortable with sex and mutation. Sex and mutation is the norm in nature. Genes disintegrate, recombine and mutate. Most become mute as junk DNA. Why do genes allow themselves to deconstruct, if they are selfish. Does this not go against their grain? To Dawkins (Selfish Gene, page 274) 'The problem of what sex is good for is still as tantalizing as ever.' The best answer they appear to come up with is that sex is a defensive mechanism against parasites and predators. It's a biological arms race out there! But this is a very narrow and jaundiced way to understand self sacrifice in genes. I agree that the purpose of mutation and sex is to provide ever new possibility and choice for the environment to play with. Genes have no care for how they will end up, whereas the environment plays 'dare and try' with its new gene combinations to see which ones can most parsimoniously fill the spaces in its expanding horizon of variety. Therefore, the new templates created by sex and mutation will help nature find its new combinations that might allow a previously blank or under-utilized space or niche to be filled. That new niche might be as a newly disease resistant creature, but it can also be to fly, fit snugly under the bark of a tree, or live beside hot vents thousands of metres below the ocean's surface. To think that the aim of gene disassembly is mainly to avoid disease shows a puritanical and sterile mind that must be surrounded by unclean things. The germs are out to get you! Perhaps you should wear white gloves when going outside incase you have to shake someone's hand. But the natural progression of disease and parasitism is symbiosis, commensalism, and finding a way to live together with minimal harm. Millions of species, such as the lichen, have achieved this feat. It is a very foolish and uninitiated parasite that actually kills or harms its host. Islander cultures had few diseases. In Africa, the trypanosome protozoan is fatal to most livestock animals, and some varieties cause sleeping sickness in humans, while native animals such as the antelope are little affected. Medical disasters caused by disease and parasites are largely a modern day affliction caused by human activities that changed natures rules. Most serious sicknesses facing man were caught when they domesticated other animals (smallpox, flu, tuberculosis, malaria, plague, measles and cholera) or were exacerbated when they began living in large stationary populations. More natives were wiped out by European diseases than their guns. Devastating disease is the sign of unsettled nature, and is not its norm. Of course, some level of disruption will naturally occur in the evolving balance of accommodations. New templates found through sex or mutation will then make it easier for some to adapt a new resistance to the new disease when it does appear. But that is just one benefit of new templates. New templates are needed for many other adaptations, not related to disease prevention, when adapting to the environments. Being able to eat a new material, or find a home in a new space, are important areas for adaptation as well. The difficulty evolutionary psychology has in explaining sex and mutation in nature is stunning, and yet they still cling to selfish gene concepts. Quite simply, when the survival of a gene is not important, there is no obstacle to sex and the mixing of genes. That is why sex and mutation is so widespread.
7. Failure to account for spirituality, religion and art. To evolutionary psychology, the selfish and nasty side of human nature is real, while spirituality and the pursuit of higher ideals goes against the grain and has no roots or place in biology. Therefore, you will have to work hard at defying and destroying nature if you want to grow above its slime. For example, Pinker (1997, pages 521-2) when referring to art, religion, philosophy and wit states 'People everywhere spend as much time as they can afford on activities that, in the struggle to survive and reproduce, seem pointless.' And, 'The function of the arts is almost defiantly obscure'. The best explanation an evolutionary psychologist can come up with is that they are for status, or to show off that you have the time and resources to do such useless things (like peacock feathers). Another is that they are side issues that slip under the radar of evolution - as not everything is adaptive. (but I think it is!). Page 525: '.. some of the activities we consider most profound are nonadaptive by-products.' Other explanations are that they are futile attempts when all else fails. Page 556: 'Religion is a desperate measure that people resort to when the stakes are high and they have exhausted the usual techniques'. Page 560: 'Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.' I find it incredible that the philosophy of evolutionary psychology still breaths after such failures. Humans, what are you on about!! The explanation for religion, art and noble pursuits is, and should be, simple. Rather than being seen as contrary to biology, the pursuit of a complete explanation or higher meaning is the natural progression of the biological norm of seeking attunement with a niche. Animals have evolved to expect a link with the higher meanings found in wildness. Sure, humans get it wrong, make mistakes, now fear wildness, and don't know how to fulfil themselves in their artificial world. They have to settle for second rate explanations such as those found in the various religions. But the constant devotion that humans place in such pursuits is not a by-product of biology, but a demonstration of just how important it is to get it right - and that is a right that targets and expects non-selfish explanations. I think that the common factor behind evolutionary psychologists was revealed by Pinker on page 560 'And most perplexing of all, if the world unfolds according to a wise and merciful plan, why does it contain so much suffering?'. They have given up, and think this is it, so humans are at their limit from which all must now be explained. But, there is another explanation, which it seems will require the wit of a beetle, not a human, to find.
8. Failure to understand wildness. Selfish gene theory has no explanation or understanding of wildness. Yet wildness occurs throughout nature, for a reason. Surely, anyone claiming to know nature should have some link or knowledge of wildness. (more beetle).
9. Failure to account for suicide. Unfortunately, suicide is a widespread phenomenon amongst humans, especially in their modern empty cultures. Surely this is a demonstration that survival is not the main issue. Finding attunement and true connections with others and with life is more important.
10. Failure to understand evolution. Evolutionary psychology speaks of evolution as though genes want self preservation and selfishness. As though the aim of evolution is genes wanting to spread themselves and become replicated. As though evolution is self serving rather than environment serving. However, animals and genes have no say or concern about whether they will be selected. The environment selects, and animals serve the environment, and although some of the behaviours that the environment selects may appear selfish to some, from the animal perspective they do not behave to be selfish, but to serve the environment. Perhaps the easiest way to understand evolution is to see how it works when producing animals with camouflage. The animal has no input into the development of its appearance or colour or shape, yet camouflage is widespread in nature and has produced some extraordinary creatures. To be selected, all the animal can do is sit available, and the environment will decide which pebbles it picks up from the beach, and which ones it leaves behind. Evolution is natural selection, not personal decision. Animals simply don't have the power over nature, or the inclination, to turn the table to their design. The environment chooses how animals are, so where is the selfishness in that? It is not even a useful rule of thumb to think that animals became selfish, even if they didn't know about it. Because then, you will suffer the mistakes already noted in points 1 to 9. Evolution is survival of the wildest, not the fittest (more beetle). The other strategies found in evolution, such as defensive behaviour, hunting ability, sexual selection, whatever, undergo the same mechanism of selection as occurs for camouflage. Any greater animal or gene involvement is imagined. Depending on how you judge things, some behaviours in nature can seem nasty indeed. Yet from the shoes of those creatures involved, they are still doing their right thing, not a selfish thing, because they are serving the environment. They act for good reason (a reason that others including the environment could recognise, i.e., it spreads diversity and makes the surrounding nature more resilient). Their little hearts are still true. To the new human species with its alternative capacity to realise other possibilities, some actions seem selfish, but that is a pompous decision that shares no heart with the animals involved. You need to bring your own species to the standard of a true wild heart, before you will know how to judge the others. Sure, other animal behaviours are not appropriate for a human and so seem incorrect, but that is because you are a different species, not because you got it right and they got it selfish.
So there you have it. Evolutionary psychology is riddled with fundamental flaws, and is exploring a tangent of delusion. As humans, the question you need to ask is how such a ludicrous pseudoscience could have gained such status and popularity amongst your ranks. What are you frightened of in the real world, that you have to find ways to keep it at bay? The other reason I dislike evolutionary psychology and its ilk is that they offer a 'scientific' excuse for tolerating the continued destruction of nature and its species. It turns humans away from nature, by telling you to shun its teachings and wisdom. Nature is not for humans, because it is so horrible. Under such misconception, nature will continue to die, and humans will fail to develop towards their greatest potential. More reasons?
11. Failure to explain music. Music is a major preoccupation for humans. They listen to it driving to work, pay good money to be entertained by it, and some adolescents seem hooked up to it constantly. Yet, to evolutionary psychology, 'Music is an enigma.'! It appears to have no biological end, but is pure pleasure technology. It is auditory cheesecake (Pinker, page 534). One meagre explanation is that it resembles emotions, because it can evoke some emotions, but is of little use. Most unsatisfactory. The simple reason why music is so stirring and widely appreciated is that it is a close representation of the prime biological need facing all animals (more beetle). Animals need to find the 'music' in life if they are to live to their full potential. It is not an enigma or side issue. Music hits a central nerve in biology. Feel it in yourself! The key to music is that it is a series of events (notes) that can all return so easily to a central theme (a parsimony). Good music is tightly played. It explores and loops and dares, but returns and speeds along a simple yet wide reaching theme. If only life could be organised so simply! If only humans realised how far behind the 8-ball they really are! Music is a manifestation of the deepest soul-seeking desire in animals - the interaction desire. (more beetle)
12. For all the selfishness that humans are supposed to have inherited, I would like to know the selfish gene explanation for blushing. Blushing can defy the embarrassed or hidden person and reveal that they have a secret. It sees greater priority in becoming honest and direct with a group, than in aiding a selfish or personal agenda. It is a rudimentary lie detector. It recognises the value of attunement, and shuns pretence. It can reveal that you have been untruthful, unfaithful, or not quite right with the group. It is a sign of vulnerability, which may elicit ridicule, divorce or aid and comfort. Under natural conditions, it is an expression designed to improve the level of wild interaction and honesty possible between people. The priority was to have a cohesive social group that could interact with ease, directly and honestly. Any embarrassment was to be signalled and rectified within a group, as this would enhance happiness, cohesion and survival. It is hardly a weapon suited to the selfish and deceitful way of life.
13. Assumption that nature is a struggle to survive. If nature is a struggle, and humans have found a better way, then I would expect that animals should suffer greater stress than humans. However, I propose that the force that is a struggle to survive in this world is humans, not nature. Under nature, species flourish, diversity spreads, and niche builds upon niche so that in a rainforest (nature at its most uninterrupted), there are more species in one square metre than in one square kilometre of human city. Sure, there is lots of death in nature. But I think that these creatures largely die 'unstressed'. What I mean is that if you were to compare stress levels over a lifetime, it would be much less in wild animals than in humans. Most animals live freely and without stress for most of their life, and then they die or get killed, usually quite suddenly from ambush or tranquillising venom. Death is unavoidable, but not really something for an attuned creature to fear. If people have near death experiences or health warnings, they usually decide to live life to the full during the time they have left. Then they feel less stressed, feel they are back on the right track, and become less fearful of defeat by death. Shorter life span in wild nature does not equate to greater stress. While a wild animal lives, it can be more fulfilled and less stressed than a human faced with years of rules and compliance. Humans often suffer from restless sleep, mental disorders, high blood pressure, eating disorders, lethargy etc. Hunter gatherer cultures spent much more time laughing and communing with each other in their less stressful environments, than can be experienced by the isolated nuclear families of today that sit frozen in front of TV monitors for relief. Humans, don't fool yourselves. When you destroy nature, you are destroying paradise.
14. Racists agree. Without going too far down this line, evolutionary psychology is the latest in a series of 'genes rule' philosophies that eventually get discredited as abhorrent. They can start off seeming to answer all, but eventually their implications and assumptions are seen as wrong. Of course, as the latest version in this line, evolutionary psychology discredits its earlier versions of social Darwinism and eugenics as not getting it quite right or of being over exuberant. But the mud should still stick.
15. Limited sense of beauty. A clear sign of failure to understand occurs when more and more of your surroundings appears complicated and ugly. These are the exact symptoms faced by evolutionary psychologists. Many see beauty only in terms of health and fitness. Only the fit, or those available for reproduction, are beautiful. Unfit specimens should be selected against. Ugliness should also be seen in anything that is even of minor threat to survival (such as spiders, more beetle). The value of art, music, beauty, spirituality is seen as overrated. Nature is full of selfish and deceitful creatures. However, a good rule of thumb for wisdom is that with more genuine understanding comes a greater impression of beauty in all things, not just the fit ones. This trend is recognised in religion, where people imagine that everything is good and right in the god's eye. But can you find an understanding where everything seems beautiful, without any need to fill the gaps with beliefs? Now there's a worthwhile challenge for you!
(Article posted November 2004).