Evolutionary Psychology Posts

Three posts about evo-psych. You probably noticed that I don’t care about those ridiculous numbers anymore.)

Informers and Persuaders

Writing abstract and using polysyllabic words is a good way to signal authority, severity and intelligence. It’s also easy. Writing colorful, passionate and concrete is hard.

The style of most science papers is therefore pretty horrible.

Cynicism in Ev-Psych (and Econ?)

Yudkowsky thinks some economist (like Hanson) are too cynical in their explanations of human behavior. They misunderstand Occam’s Razor and postulate only a few motives that suffice to explain every human behavior like e.g. self-interest.

But the human brain and human motives don’t have to be simple and he quotes Cosmides and Tooby:

“The science of understanding living organization is very different from physics or chemistry, where parsimony makes sense as a theoretical criterion.  The study of organisms is more like reverse engineering, where one may be dealing with a large array of very different components whose heterogeneous organization is explained by the way in which they interact to produce a functional outcome.  Evolution, the constructor of living organisms, has no privileged tendency to build into designs principles of operation that are simple and general.”

Yudkowsky adds:

One consequence of this is that it’s more parsimonious – under the evolutionary prior – to postulate many smaller simpler adaptations than one big clever complicated adaptation.

One simple way to signal quality X is by having quality X.

The conclusion:

By and large, evolutionary psychologists don’t expect people to be clever, just evolution.  It’s a foundational assumption that there’s no explicit cognitive desire to increase inclusive genetic fitness, and no reason to think that anyone… would explicitly know in advance which behaviors increased fitness in the ancestral environment.  The organism, rather than being programmed with machiavellian subconscious long-term knowledge, is programmed with (genuine) emotions that activate under the right circumstances to steer them the right way (in the ancestral environment).

Of course, most people are nevertheless quite evil.

…from an ev-psych standpoint, we can expect a lot of cynicism to be, in general, justified.

The Evolutionary-Cognitive Boundary

We have to distinguish between two levels of evo-psychological explanations.

Most parents love their children (let’s say the majority. Once, I underestimated the rate of sexual abuse and I want to play it safe). They really do. Of course, the emotion of parental love did arise because it was adaptive. We only have it for evolutionary reasons. That doesn’t mean that people somehow unconsciously don’t love their children, or only love their children if they reproduce, etc. (Obviously, there are evo-psych. reasons for why step-parents are more likely to abuse their “children”, etc. ) These are all evolutionary-historical reasons.

But there are also evo-psych. explanations on the cognitive or subconscious level. When people suck up to high status folks for example they’re usually aware of what they are doing, lest they totally suck at introspection.

An Especially Elegant Evpsych Experiment

Post about a nice experiment that illustrates the distinction between the evolutionary-historical and the cognitive level.

Hilarious passage:

Parents do not care about children for the sake of their reproductive contribution.  Parents care about children for their own sake; and the non-cognitive, evolutionary-historical reason why such minds exist in the universe in the first place, is that children carry their parents’ genes.

Indeed, evolution is the reason why there are any minds in the universe at all.  So you can see why I’d want to draw a sharp line through my cynicism about ulterior motives at the evolutionary-cognitive boundary; otherwise, I might as well stand up in a supermarket checkout line and say, “Hey!  You’re only correctly processing visual information while bagging my groceries in order to maximize your inclusive genetic fitness!”


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