9 March 2011

Evolutionary Psychology

In June 2005 I had the opportunity to attend the Social Change Workshop for Graduate Students at the University of Virginia, a summer seminar organized by the Institute for Humane Studies (George Mason University). In that occasion, I could be introduced to Evolutionary Psychology (EP) and its applications to Social Sciences by Leda Cosmides and Todd Zywicki´s lectures.  
Despite the fact that there are certain controversial points, I think that EP point of view could be interesting and worthy of consideration. I am posting here the basic principles of this theory, so as to start discussing it. These points are extracted from “Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer” by Leda Cosmides & John Tooby, published by the Center for Evolutionary Psychology of the University of California Santa Barbara.
In this paper Cosmides & Tooby state that the “goal of research in evolutionary psychology is to discover and understand the design of the human mind”. From their viewpoint, the mind is “a set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors.”
The EP confronts what they called the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM) For Cosmides and Tooby the SSSM proposes a vision of the mind as a blind slate. For SSSM: “The social world organizes and injects meaning into individual minds, but our universal human psychological architecture has no distinctive structure and organizes the social world or imbues it with characteristic meanings.”
On the other hand, EP tries to understand what are the brains, how brains process information and how the brain’s information-processing programs generate behavior. So they states five principles, derived from biology:
Principle 1: The brain is a physical system. It functions as a computer. Its circuits are designed to generate behavior that is appropriate to your environmental circumstances.
Principle 2: Our neural circuits were designed by natural selection to solve problems that our ancestors faced during our species´ evolutionary history.
Principle 3: Consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg: most of what goes on in your mind is hidden from you. As a result, your conscious experience can mislead you into thinking that our circuitry is simpler that it really is. Most problems that you experience as easy to solve are very difficult to solve – they require very complicated neural circuitry.
Principle 4: Different neural circuits are specialized for solving different adaptive problems.
Principle 5: Our modern Skulls house a stone age mind.
Of course, each of these principles requires more explanation and discussion, but I leave this post here, looking forward your first impressions: Do you think that EP could be an interesting research program? It is compatible with what we called Classic Evolutionism (please see the first post)? We will continue posting about EP and its critics…

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