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Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature (Bradford Books) Hardcover – April 1, 2005


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Product Details

  • Series: Bradford Books
  • Hardcover: 564 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; First Edition edition (April 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262025795
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262025799
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,219,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"The author’s restraint and generous stance ensure that evolutionary psychologists have to take Adapting Minds seriously.... I highly commend [Buller] for having written an outstanding book. It sets the standard for the continuing debates on evolutionary psychology."
Science

"His book, Adapting Minds from MIT Press, is the most persuasive critique of evo psych I have encountered... After Adapting Minds it is impossible to ever again think that human behavior is the Stone Age artifact that evolutionary psychology claims."
Sharon Begley, Wall Street Journal

"Buller hopes that Adapting Minds can clear the way for some actual science about how evolution equips us to have psychologies. Anyone with a serious interest in evolution, psychology, or humanity should read it to free their mind for that task."
The New Scientist

"Adapting Minds is destined to become required reading among evolutionary psychology’s detractors. But, despite its flaws, it will be read with interest by evolutionary psychologists too. Buller provides a useful overview of the filed and of the current debates... Buller enables evolutionary psychologist to get back to arguing about the science."
Nature

"David Buller's searching critique of evolutionary psychology is intended to make the field stronger. He shows how much philosophy can contribute to an intense and ongoing scientific debate."
—David Sloan Wilson, Binghamton University, author of Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society

"Buller's critique of evolutionary psychology is measured, logical, and clearly developed. It is also devastating. Buller does not seek to refute the entirety of evolutionary psychology by finding a single magic bullet. Rather, he attends to the details, finding a variety of serious problems in the different arguments that evolutionary psychologists deploy. This is philosophy of science in the trenches, and it is excellent."
—Elliott Sober, Hans Reichenbach Professor and William Vilas Research Professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"How do you tell the difference between evolutionary psychology as popular culture and as science? Buller solves the problem. He disentangles convictions born of everyday intuition from the thinking and evidence that are necessary for a scientific understanding of human cognition and behavior in an evolutionary perspective. In clear and accessible prose, he delivers a much-needed analysis of current theory and research claiming to unlock human nature. This book is essential for evolutionary psychologists, their critics, and hungry audiences."
—Linnda R. Caporael, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

"This is a superb book, wonderfully clear in thought and expression. The evolutionary psychology program represented by Pinker, Cosmides, and their allies has already been the target of impressive theoretical discussion, but this has focused mostly on the assumptions they make about evolutionary theory and human paleobiology. Buller covers this material with exemplary clarity, but the real strength of his work lies in his searching critique of the experimental case for evolutionary psychology. His is by far the best treatment of these issues I have ever read. In case after case, Buller shows that the experimental case for the existence of Darwinian algorithms is much weaker than even skeptics like me have supposed."
—Kim Sterelny, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and Australian National University

From the Inside Flap

"David Buller's searching critique of evolutionary psychology is intended to make the field stronger. He shows how much philosophy can contribute to an intense and ongoing scientific debate."
--David Sloan Wilson, Binghamton University, author of Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society

"Buller's critique of evolutionary psychology is measured, logical, and clearly developed. It is also devastating. Buller does not seek to refute the entirety of evolutionary psychology by finding a single magic bullet. Rather, he attends to the details, finding a variety of serious problems in the different arguments that evolutionary psychologists deploy. This is philosophy of science in the trenches, and it is excellent."
--Elliott Sober, Hans Reichenbach Professor and William Vilas Research Professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"How do you tell the difference between evolutionary psychology as popular culture and as science? Buller solves the problem. He disentangles convictions born of everyday intuition from the thinking and evidence that are necessary for a scientific understanding of human cognition and behavior in an evolutionary perspective. In clear and accessible prose, he delivers a much-needed analysis of current theory and research claiming to unlock human nature. This book is essential for evolutionary psychologists, their critics, and hungry audiences."
--Linnda R. Caporael, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

"This is a superb book, wonderfully clear in thought and expression. The evolutionary psychology program represented by Pinker, Cosmides, and their allies has already been the target of impressive theoretical discussion, but this has focused mostly on the assumptions they make about evolutionary theory and human paleobiology. Buller covers this material with exemplary clarity, but the real strength of his work lies in his searching critique of the experimental case for evolutionary psychology. His is by far the best treatment of these issues I have ever read. In case after case, Buller shows that the experimental case for the existence of Darwinian algorithms is much weaker than even skeptics like me have supposed."
--Kim Sterelny, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and Australian National University


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If that were true, it is an accusation that should be taken seriously.
Amazon Customer
Buller's fair-minded and generally gentle critique of evolutionary psychology is well considered and strong.
Thor Simon
The book is well written and designed for the lay public and interested undergraduates.
James Daniels

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 129 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on August 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Buller, a philosopher, has written a book critiquing the scientific work of a subgroup of evolutionary psychologists who adhere to a doctrine first clearly articulated in a series of brilliant articles and books by D. Symons, L. Cosmides and J. Tooby. Their work was immeasurably enhanced by its uptake by popular science writers R. Wright and S. Pinker.

I think the philosophy of science is quite important, but I cannot think of a case where philosophers, qua philosophers, have added anything substantive to the critique of a scientific theory. I read this book only because of the extravagant praise afforded it by prominent behavioral scientists, including David Sloan Wilson, Linnda Caporeal, and Kim Sterelny. While I think this book does have a lot to offer the interested lay reader, it certainly does not violate my generalization about the worthlessness of philosophers criticizing scientific theories.

The author is clear in stating that his contribution is not a critique of evolutionary psychology in general, but only of this particular subgroup, which he distinguishes by capitalizing the name. For a general description of evolutionary psychology and Evolutionary Psychology (which I call EvPsych), please see my review of Scher and Rauscher, Evolutionary Psychology.

Much of Buller's effort goes to criticizing a few prominent examples of the empirical research of EvPsychers, including D. Buss's analysis of mate preference, M. Daly and M. Wilson's analysis of parenting vs. step-parenting, and C. Cosmides and J. Tooby's analysis of cheater detection modules. I think this was an unfortunate choice because the general EvPsych approach does not stand or fall on these examples in any way.
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46 of 55 people found the following review helpful By J.P. Franks on April 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is not a book attempting to debunk evolutionary psychology, broadly speaking. It is a book that attempts to debunk a number of ev psych's specific theses about human psychology, for example, the existence of a cheater-detection module. Buller's critique of the latter is quite good, though the chapter on mate preferences I didn't find as convincing. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the philosopher Buller relys more on empirical studies than airy philosophical argument to create doubts about the veracity of ev psych's claims. He is best when building cases for alternate explanations of the experimental results prominant evolutionary psychologists claim support theirs.

Buller does not deny that the evolutionary perspective is the correct one through which to view human psychology. He simply argues that the conclusions drawn by many prominent evolutionary psychologists have reached too far and are without sufficient evidentiary support. Those who, from a visceral feeling of repulsion at the thought that humans are evolved animals whose minds are products of natural processes, simply loathe the evolutionary perspective of human psychology, will not find this book comforting.
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56 of 71 people found the following review helpful By James Daniels on May 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Author David Buller was initially attracted to evolutionary psychology. The field attempts to explain the basic mechanisms of the human mind by extrapolating from the kinds of problems that our human ancestors faced. Unfortunately, the field is riven with conceptual and empirical problems, and Buller was ultimately forced to write this book as a critique.

Unlike most attacks on the field, this book is based on an examination of the theoretical principles and empirical data used to bolster the theory. He does not reject the idea that one might use evolutionary theory to understand human psychology, or worry at all about the possible ethical, moral, or political implications that such a theory would generate. Rather, he asks what evidence there is for the currently accepted hypotheses in the field. On this score, Buller finds numerous faults with the approach.

Evolutionarly psychologists use three lines of evidence: present adaptations, data on past environments, and data from other, related primates.

Present adaptations, however, are a product of recent selection, past selection, and individual differences in experience, and thus do not reliably tell us anything about our ancient past, even if we can find them.

With regard to past environments, Buller makes what is perhaps his strongest argument: there was no stable environment in human evolution to which the human organism could become progressively adapted. At every stage, the problems faced by animals changed. This was true when primitive hominids began to construct tools, use language, farm, and so on. For example, Buller shows that hunter man must kill or scavenge an animal to find food, but the specifics of this problem change when he makes tools like spears, and again when he domesticates animals.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on December 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I read Robert Wright's celebrated "Moral Animal" some 10 years ago, and was thoroughly impressed. Finally I had found a theory of human nature and psychology I could wholeheartedly believe in. Now along comes David Buller and says it's not so? Well, not so fast. This book is not so much a dismantling of the theory of evolutionary psychology as it is an assertion that the original evidence used in forming evo/psych (EP) - may have been overinterpreted.

Disclaimer: For those who were offended by the very suggestion that our behavior is just a more sophisticated version of similar behavior by our primate ancestors - you won't like this book, either.

Buller's complaints about EP:

EP theory is off-base in considering the brain to consist of thousands of evolved "modules." Instead, in his version, the mind is "adapted to adapt" to highly variable and rapidly changing environments.

He differs from EP thought, also, in that he thinks we are not psychological relics of our stone age ancestors - we have continued to evolve. Buller cites studies suggesting that N/S can overhaul species adaptations in 18 generations (450 years for humans) - concentrating on "cortical plasticity," thus his title "Adapting Minds."

He questions (among other things) the evidence for EP's conclusions about the human sexual behaviors of infidelity and jealousy, and the different (male vs female) manifestations of these traits.

He questions statistics that suggest step-children are frequently and almost predictably mistreated (compared to genetic children) by step-parents. EP absorbed completely the step-parent/step-children studies of Daly and Wilson, and Buller is particularly critical here.
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