I previously cited that extremely critical evaluation of evolutionary psychology by Jonathan Marks, but what I didn’t realize is that it was one part of a whole series of articles that were mostly favorable reviews of EP. Of course, the pro-EP articles were awful.
One of the worst was by Robert Kurzban — pure vacuous nonsense. It starts off well. He says that it’s not sufficient to simply describe and measure phenomena — science tries to find explanations, deeper causal descriptions of the mechanisms that generate the phenomena you’re measuring.
I can agree entirely with that.
But then he dives into condescension and assertion.
This short essay isn’t the place to get into the details of the explanatory power of the evolutionary approach to (human) behavior. In some sense, I’m happy to say that it’s possible to catalog, count, and codify human behavior, marvel in its wonder, and complacently settle for measuring, rather than understanding.
He’s not going to give us any details on the explanatory power of EP here — we’re just going to have to trust him on that. But isn’t it nice that some people are bean-counters rather than wise understanders like Kurzban?
But I, for one, am not inclined toward such complacency. Neither do I find satisfying explanations that are shallow, if they are explanations at all, such as frequently-repeated one-word proposals such as “learning,” “culture,” or “plasticity.”
The objection to evolutionary psychology is not that it is a high-minded discipline seeking deep explanations for human behavior. It’s that it generally does such a lousy job! (Kind of like Kurzban’s essay.) Just coming up with an explanation is not sufficient — there’s all this evidence-gathering and hypothesis testing that has to be done, and reasonably rigorous experimental design. If you’re just going to squawk “Evolution!” and poop a story out your ass, go to the BAHFest, which is at least entertaining.
You know what else invents just-so stories to explain how we came to be? Religion. They also like to claim that their stories provide explanations for why we are here, and that it’s far more profound than those shallow materialistic scientific explanations.
What I want as deep an explanation for our new data on sexual fantasies as possible and, ever since Darwin, we’ve known where to start to look for one.
That’s his conclusion. To understand it, we need to go back to his opening paragraph.
The other night, I was talking with a group of seven graduate students about sexual fantasies. No, not their sexual fantasies. We were talking about some data about sexual fantasies that I and two of the present students had gathered that showed a very strong and reliable sex difference that, as far as we know, no else had ever found.
Jesus. So many stereotypes of EP geeks on display…but of course they’re studying sex differences. If it weren’t sex, it would be race. And I’m going to guess: it was yet another study of college students, yet another collection of stories they tell each other, and yet again, their fascinations are a product of their ancestor’s survival strategies on the African savannah ten thousand years ago, rather than ubiquitous cultural conditioning.
I’m mystified. What was Emma Peel doing on the African savannah with that tight black leather outfit and the riding crop?