Test your understanding of evolutionary psychology with this rigorous quiz

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/05/08/cherry-pickers-r-us.html


I am genetically predisposed to agree that “evolutionary psychology” is bunk.


Culture isn’t an “innate” driver of human behavior (unlike the market, which is a naturally occurring force, much like plate tectonics).

Shots fired! :face_with_hand_over_mouth:


Any “theory” like this that tries to explain the complexity of human society or human behaviour with an untestable, unfalsifiable hypothesis like this should immediately set off your bull detectors


Also any theory that very conveniently proves that their way of life is the right one.


Good luck fighting evolutionary biology. What drives humanity is not facts, but narrative. Our brains our wired to find a narrative, and then discard or reshape facts to fit that narrative.

And evolutionary biology is almost completely narrative, and even better, a narrative that fits our conceptions and culture, along with an added veneer of science.

It’s a fool’s quest to try and tilt against the dragon of narrative using a flag pole (looks impressive, but ultimately isn’t actually a useful weapon) of facts. But then, in this case, we need all the fools we can get.



Perhaps you are immune, but I and a great many others are not immune to the siren call of a comforting narrative that ‘scientifically’ confirms behaviour that I believe is vital to the survival of humanity.


Homo sapiens evolved in a vicious, winner-take-all state of nature, and therefore the deepest, realest elements of human psychology are hardwired, brutal, and individualistic. The false trappings of “civilization” came later, and overlaid our natural psychology with everything about us that’s gentle, feminine, decadent, shallow, cosmopolitan, unnatural, and legalistic

This dichotomy of “natural” vs IMPOSED (by girls and effeminate men, of course) rules and truths is a powerful descriptive thread that ties together conservatism, religious fundamentalism and red-pill, PUA toxic masculinity. From the religious obsession with what is “natural” (i.e. not homosexuality!) based solely on an individual’s gut level revulsion (I mean scripture! scripture!), to the red pill refrain that there is real knowledge that is obvious (because of the really great handful of really relatable anecdotes) vs new-fangled social sciences that obviously have an unnatural and dishonest agenda backed up by FAKE statistics and ethnographic findings.

The discussion about skepticism in the alt-right 13 yo thread, and the idea that red-pillers think of themselves as “skeptics” reminded me of this as well. Listening to early episodes of The Skeptics Guide to the Universe there was a moment where an evolutionary biologist dismantled the “Professional Skeptic” hosts’ love of evo-psych. You could hear the sadness in their voices as they realized what they thought was a belief in a “harder” social science was just so many convenient stories artificially tying biology to psychology.

The difference, of course, between real skepticism and colloquial skepticism is that the latter falls back on previously established “obvious” truths (based on scripture, gut, “natural laws,” historical power imbalances and history-written-by-victors anecdotes, etc…) and are skeptical of anything that requires data to prove, or more than a bumper sticker to explain. The former is skeptical of claims resting only on tradition, and tests them against data.


Is this berry? :pig:


There is a strange juxtaposition of this takedown and https://boingboing.net/2019/05/07/why-birds-fly-in-a-v-formation-2.html

The critique of evolutionary psychology fine, I think, but as a scientist it needs also to apply to biology, because “evolution” as an explanatory construct is as weak as “DNA” or “the brain”. In the migration story, an accurate explanation for why birds fly south in a V is “Evolution”. Had someone found a part of the bird brain that when resected would selectively prevent flying in Vs, they might then claim “They fly that way because it is in their brain”. Or if someone could isolate a gene they could claim “they fly that way because it is in their DNA”. None of these are technically wrong, as is the case for most of evolutionary psychology. In each case, it is about the type of explanation we are satisfied with. For the bird migration, the video produces a candidate one about mechanics, which is plausible, but it is probably not true that birds fly that way because of the forces, but rather because evolution created genes that expressed brain networks that produced the behavior. Actually, my favorite explanation for why birds fly south in the V pattern is because it is too far to walk.


I’m looking at this as a different experiment: if a certain name is mentioned only in a BB article’s tags rather than in the main article’s body or headline, will that person’s fanatical but intellectually lazy followers still show up to sealion the comments?


But it MUST be TRUE; Jordan Peterson told me so!


That is Pork Berry.


There’s a distinction to be made between fighting and mocking. The latter is more effective at blunting bias-confirming BS narratives, and is a lot more entertaining.

There’s also a distinction to be made between countering a BS narrative with facts and exposing its foundations in ridiculously obvious logical fallacies and just-so stories.

This is what it comes down to. The fools and jesters are traditionally the only people allowed to speak truth to power in oppressive societies (until they inevitably cross the line). And self-serious authoritarians like Jordaddy and his acolytes can put up with a lot of things, but they can’t countenance being laughed at.


Nah- those people were weeded out of the gene pool in infancy - childhood at the latest.


As a biologist with training in evolutionary biology and genetics, I’m torn by critiques like this. At one level, evolutionary psychology (especially at the pop sci level that non scientists like Jordan Peterson like to dabble in) is an easy target; there is a lot of hypothesis forming and not much hypothesis testing. On the other hand, behavioral genetics is a real field which in a lot of laypeople’s minds gets confused with evolutionary psychology. We know a lot of genes that can effect behavior experimentally in laboratory animals and from the human genome we know that we have versions of most of them. We can’t ignore the influence of genetics and evolution on human behavior; we just have to do good science on them and not handwavy “just-so” stories.


Are there any evolutionary psychologists that aren’t white men? I mean I’m sure that just like there has to be a couple black gay female Trump supporters but all I hear about are the white guys promoting theories that seem to promote white male agendas.


Arguably the founder of the field, Leda Cosmides, is a woman, so yes. Although her work is a bit more rigorous that the cliched versions and includes real genetics and anthropology.



They use the phrenology metaphor, although I think comparing pop-science dilettantes like Peterson to someone actively studying genetics and behavior is more like comparing astrology to astronomy.

Insane screed

Evolutionary psychology drives me nuts. The premise that psychology is the result of evolution strikes me as obviously true, but the idea that the vehicle for that evolution is the human genome is utterly absurd. The genome contains about 300 billion base pairs that have 4 possible values. A human brain easily contains over 100 trilliion synapses, and those synapses can connect between many different possible neurons, plus there are neurotransmitters. Thoughts are massively more complex than genetic instructions.

You only need two things for evolution to take place: 1) things that can replicate themselves with error; 2) those things die. Ideas have been evolving independent of the human genome for a long time now. Their evolution is dramatically faster.

The idea that a complex organism with a big brain like a human is the result of just one set of evolved instructions is obviously wrong. What about mitochondrial DNA, idiots? Clearly we are a synthesis of multiple different sets of instructions: nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA, ideas that shape our brains, viruses or other organisms that have evolved to interact with these other sets. That’s just brainstorming, there may be other things. And all of those exist within an environment that controls how they manifest.

Ideas have been creating the environment that controls how genes manifest more and more over human history. Just like humans bred dogs and cattle, we bred ourselves by creating an environment where certain things would thrive and others would not. That is, ideas bred genes.

I don’t drink milk because my ancestors were told to do so by their MCM6 gene. I drink milk because my ancestral ideas about drinking milk bred me to have the MCM6 gene that allows me to do so.

The whole idea of evoluationary psychology is that somehow genes are in charge. Genes aren’t our masters. A human being is the synthesis of an idea and an organism, but the idea is in the drivers’ seat (though in this analogy the driver can never get out of the car so the relationship is a little more interconnected). And one day we may have ideas that are able to replicate without needing human organisms around to do house them. Those ideas will regard genes as scaffolding.