- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (October 10, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0609605135
- ISBN-13: 978-0609605134
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 31 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,167,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Alas, Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology 1st Edition
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Turf battles are always interesting and occasionally enlightening. Social scientists have been fairly slow in responding to the encroachment of biologically oriented evolutionary psychology, but they have come to mount a vigorous defense against what they perceive to be an oversimplified and dehumanizing theoretical scheme. Alas, Poor Darwin, edited by sociologist Hilary Rose and neuroscientist Steven P.R. Rose, collects essays from scientists and social critics united in their disdain for the extremes of such EP proponents as Richard Dawkins and Edward O. Wilson. Though many writers rely on arguments based on our seemingly innate revulsion for determinism, often enough they rise up out of their easy rhetoric to score more legitimate points. Evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould, for example, reprises his spandrel metaphor to show that not all biological features were forged in the fires of natural selection. Unfortunately, the reader has to wait until the book's end for the only critique of evolutionary psychology that is both thorough and scientific; Steven Rose's piece is engaging and challenging, pursuing the invaders back to their own territory using the only arguments they're likely to take seriously. Alas, Poor Darwin won't fully satisfy any reader, but it will provoke thought, discussion, and probably more argument among all who are interested in the nature of human nature. --Rob Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
Over the last two decades, certain famous scientists and science writersAamong them E.O. Wilson, Steven Pinker and Robert WrightAhave attempted to explain human behavior on a genetic basis, arguing that genes control, in more or less testable ways, specific human feelings, acts and propensities, from altruism to clarinet playing to rape; that these behaviors have been produced by natural selection; and that evolutionary theory might be both necessary and sufficient to explain much of human thought, action and culture. Together these propositions go under the name of evolutionary psychology. This polemical, often convincing anthology brings 16 prominent scientists and humanists together to say that evolutionary psychology's proponents are wrong, wrong, wrong. British sociologist Hilary Rose and neuroscientist Steven Rose orchestrate attacks on the theory from all angles. Some essays contend that it misunderstands the mechanisms of evolution, and that some of its "proofs" are really tautologies. Others contrast evolutionary psychology's simplistic models with empirical studies of child development and with the lessons of new research on the brain. Molecular biologist Gabriel Dover takes issue with Richard Dawkins's "selfish gene," while philosopher Mary Midgley dissects his popular concept of "memes." Steven Jay Gould distinguishes Darwin's admirable "pluralism" from the neo-"fundamentalism" of evolutionary psychology. Biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling arguest that its story about sex and gender might be no more than a folktale. And anthropologist Tim Ingold attacks factitious "divisions between body, mind and culture" in a fascinating piece on the art of walking. While it would be stimulating to watch the two sides duke it out in one volume, this book makes a number of powerful cases for the anti side. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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One essayist asserts, "[Richard] Dawkins's selfish genery propagates a nonsense that is genetically misconceived, operationally impossible and seductively dangerous. It is Dawkins's dangerous idea, not Darwin's... which is seriously misleading. Theorists from diverse disciplines seem, unfortunately, quite happy to accept that evidence for a genetic contribution to complex human behavioral or morphological traits inevitably means evolution of that trait by a natural selection of selfish genes." (Pg. 60) He adds, "Dawkins's hard line is that he has opened our eyes to a dramatic new way of thinking... his soft line is that he is saying nothing new of major importance... We should not be taken in by this edgy ambivalence; the perceived thrust of Dawkins's writing is only about only one thing: Everything of functional importance and complexity is an adaptation fashioned by natural selection working for the good of selfish replicators." (Pg. 65)
The late Stephen Jay Gould states, "selection cannot suffice as a full explanation for many aspects of evolution, for other types and styles become relevant, or even prevalent, in domains both far above and far below the traditional Darwinisn locus of the organism. These other causes... operate differently from Darwin's central mechanism." (Pg. 105-106) He adds, "Natural selection does not explain why many evolutionary transitions from one nucleotide to another are neutral, and therefore non-adaptive. Natural selection does not explain why a meteor crashed into the earth sixty-five million years ago, setting in motion the extinction of half the world's species." (Pg. 109)
Another essayist observes, "In the evolutionary psychologist's scenario, individual females who learned to recognize high-resource males survived and reproduced more frequently than those who did not. But what, precisely, were the recognition mechanisms that evolved?... Perhaps women who talked a lot with other women could gather information through social and cultural networks... The result might be the evolution of elaborate cultural mechanisms, not some built-in hard-wired unchangeable brain response." (Pg. 222)
Another points out, "On the one hand, it is claimed that the selective advantage conferred by brain development is the way it opens up the possibility of flexible and innovative responses to environmental challenges. On the other, it is also claimed that selective pressures would lead to a progressively 'hard-wired' set of learning dispositions and 'behavior-generators.' The unresolved tension between these different elements in the EP story is one major cause of their confused and contradictory zigzags between theoretical modesty and extreme biological determinism." (Pg. 263)
The brevity of the essays prevents them from constituting a "detailed," scholarly assault on evolutionary psychology. But this is an excellent "overview" of various objections to the theory.
The arguments still seem to be motivated by the fear that a rigid biological view of human nature will leap the great divide and dominate social sciences. And the responses to these critiques seem to verify that indeed the central issues are how mutable we view culture, how we characterize cultural evolution, and what it means for social and political policy. The verification of specific scientific theories gets surprisingly little attention.
I was expecting more detailed essays on the legitimate technical issues such as the problem of confirmation of evolutionary adaptations, the problem of psychological types, the problem of psychological modules, the definition of adaptation, the developmental systems theory challenge to so-called genetic determinism, the theory of inclusive fitness, and the theory of reciprocal altruism as an explanation of human kindness.
Unless I missed it, I couldn't find any mention of the use of evolutionary game theory in EP in this book, a particularly sad omission because it is one of the most reasonable bridges between biological and social science thinking, and so its status is critical what seems to be the agenda of the critics here.
What little of the essays addresses these pretty much assumes the battle is won and argues from there. I found it unconvincing. For example, geneticist Gabriel Dover's ("Dear Mr. Darwin") critique of selfish gene selectionism is very interesting but odd in relying so heavily on his molecular drive theory and inexplicably avoiding raising many of the excellent points that others like Sober and Eldredge have made about selection dynamics at different levels. Not that I found much wrong with it, it would stand alone well by itself. But it illustrates the general problem with this book, that it makes some good specific points but never quite ties them together as a constructive (or even coherent) critique of EP.
Compared to Paul Ehrlich's "Human Natures" for example, this book is very poorly researched in my opinion, though both will likely be about as equally despised by many evolutionary psychologists, for different reasons. "Alas" because it mainly just opens up old wounds without contributing much to the dialog, and "Human Natures" because while more scholarly than "Alas," and more educational about evolution generally, it still argues largely orthogonally to EP rather than constructively about it.
Surprisingly, both books largely avoid much of the useful critique of evolutionary psychology that comes from within that very field. Understandable, I suppose critics don't trust scientists to be competent at critiquing their own field. But in this case of "Alas," especially, it would have strengthened the book tremendously.
In spite of the disappointment, there are some very good essays here, even where they may miss their mark on current evolutionary psychology. In one of the best essays, Patrick Bateson argues persuasively that the word 'instinct' has become scientifically ambiguous and even meaningless. Mary Midgley points out some of the now fairly well known weaknesses in the concept of selfish memes as a theory of cultural transmission.
Countering what many of the contributers here characterize as the conservative bias of EP, Anne Fausto-Sterling argues for a feminist perspective on science and Barbara Herrnstein Smith gives a fairly generic critique against aspects of the cognitive model of the mind. Both make good points, though a bit unfocused and neither points out that the same critiques have been made from within the field as well, such as by Geoffrey Miller. Nor do they explain why they characterize the entire field as politically conservative older white males, when that image seems to me to better characterize its populists than its researchers. There is little evidence that any of the authors went even as far as journalist John Horgan ("The Undiscovered Mind") went in interviewing or debating any of the researchers directly on any specific points for this book.
I appreciate the underlying theme of many of these authors that human nature (or as Ehrlich puts it, "natures") is complex and often oversimplified, but they authors give the impression of throwing up their hands rather than giving it a try. That seems to be the point of EP research programs, however their current status is perceived, to try to find real, testable patterns in our lives that we can use to understand and improve ourselves. It is in the specifics of testing and testability that I expected to see criticism, and found little to feed my hunger here. The reader with little time can skip the chapters if they are looking for a critique of EP and simply read a summary of Steve Rose's good final chapter arguing against ultra-Darwinism, and go from there to the technical work that supports it and to the EP work itself that deals with it. Here are Steve's main arguments against "ultra-Darwinism":
1. naked replicators are empty abstractions
2. There is a non-linear relationship between genes and phenotypes
3. Individual genes are an important level of selection but not the only one
4. Natural selection is not the only mode of evolutionary change
5. Not all phenotypic characters are adaptive
There are reasonable arguments for and against each of the above points in other literature. Unfortunately, this book lists these points without discussing them very far or how they apply to actual current EP research programs.
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Gould's chapter attempts a coup de grace on the EP gang.Read more