Pitfalls of Evolutionary Psychology: Exaptation

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Pitfalls of Evolutionary Psychology: Exaptation

Post by jeremyo » Mon Aug 17, 2009 12:12 am

Hello there. My name is Jeremy. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology. I wrote the following essay and shared it with my facebook posse, although I doubt many there would understand or appreciate it. Hence, I thought it would be helpful to find the appropriate forum, and this looks like just the place!

I apologize in advance if in this essay I come off as harsh or abrasive. I think I'm just passionate about this particular topic.

Synopsis: We are commonly told that evolution has no direction in the philosophical sense. Nothing evolves into something "better" in the sense that we can look at a creature and say that it is particularly better than some other critter, just better suited to its environment. Among other things, I posit that if we were able to run experiments in evolution to determine the features of many different kinds of intelligent beings, I think we would find some universals and some "cultural" and behavioral differences. If we found a variety of universals, would we conclude that evolution does indeed have a direction, rather than an aimless path through the void? I might argue that the existence of intelligent life once it reaches a certain level allows for an "exaptation" phenomenon that combines the adaptations of multiple systems for new "exaptations" that are not directly related to survival. Intelligent being societies require stability in order to progress. The natural focus on stability may yield universals among all societies of intelligent beings in order to facilitate further technological progress and expansion of the intelligence. Transhumanism and artificial intelligence force us to ask questions about our humanity such as, "How would we change ourselves for the best if there were no limits?" What features would we preserve and which would we reject? What is the best? These questions transcend humanity and ask about universals for all intelligent beings.

I also conclude that experimentation with these ideas with technology is inevitable. We will experiment with nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and computer simulation in order to determine the best state of existence as an intelligent and conscious being. Diversity will be abundant. Immortality may be possible. How will this change us?

Finally, I argue that the resultant products of evolution in the form of intelligent life is NOT something entirely random. Using a metaphor, consider that the Golden Ratio (Phi) 1.618 is abundant throughout the universe and can be seen both in the math of the spiral formed by Nautilus mollusks and the spiral in galaxies seen by the Hubble space telescope. Rather than viewing our existence as some unique product of evolution, we might find that other intelligent beings share features with us, and that these universal features concerning intelligent life may be likened to the physical constants of the universe.

Here is the body of the essay:

Pitfalls of Evolutionary Psychology: Exaptation

Evolutionary psychology bothers me. In some respects, it makes me feel as though my humanity is threatened, and I feel some motivation to attack it based on that emotion. I know there is some bias in me. On the other hand, I want to think that this bias is not affecting my intuition, which is shouting at me that many of the claims of evolutionary psychology are wrong.

Scientists espousing an viewpoint on human behavior that is affected by evolutionary psychology will often claim that we do the things we do merely because evolution has selected for traits in our behavior that are conducive to survival.

You may not share my nausea when reading the accounts of evolutionary psychology. Let me explain. Although there are a number of features about our humanity that I think evolutionary psychology threatens, my primary issue is with love and human relationships. Evolutionary psychology might have us believe that the only reason why we display behavior entailing romantic love, platonic love for friends and family, compassion, or sex; all of these things can be reduced to direct byproducts of evolutionary processes. Romantic love and sex only exist in order for reproduction. Platonic love exists because it was necessary for survival of tribes to cooperate and live together in harmony.

Well, I just don’t buy it. There is something more to the features of our humanity that transcends direct evolutionary logic. I do not argue that religion or God have any role in this, rather, I feel that the existence of these features is natural.

I had written a long diatribe against evolutionary psychology that I was revising before I posted it, but then I came upon a term in evolutionary biology referred to as “EXAPTATION”. The term is coined by Stephen Jay Gould. “An exaptation is a feature that performs a function but that was not produced by natural selection for its current use. Perhaps the feature was produced by natural selection for a function other than the one it currently performs and was then co-opted for its current function. For example, feathers might have originally arisen in the context of selection for insulation, and only later were they co-opted for flight. In this case, the general form of feathers is an adaptation for insulation and an exaptation for flight.”

Several years ago, I stumbled upon a version of this phenomena while reading a book by Richard Dawkins. He explains that a moth spirals into a candle or fire at night because moths use the moonlight for navigation and when the flame distracts them, they fly off course. This is a way of describing a behavior that is encoded by an evolutionary adaptation, yet responds to another stimulus, thereby producing an alternate behavior. Unfortunately for the moth, this entails dire consequences.

The thesis of this post can be summed here: Many features of our humanity that philosophy and religion seek to explain are exaptations of human behavior that transcend DIRECT evolutionary processes. In other words, aspects of our behavior and psychology that have emerged over time may be based on adaptations that DID have a real evolutionary purpose, but NOW, those adaptations have been converted and used for entirely different purposes. Hence, to claim that love, compassion, or emotional intimacy amongst human beings can be reduced to direct evolutionary processes may be, and probably IS, wrong.

To establish what I mean by a direct evolutionary process, let me use some examples. Teeth would be caused by a direct evolutionary process because teeth are used for chewing and eating food. On the other hand, consider hair. Hair in humans was originally required for warmth and protection from the elements. Hair on the head now is of enormous aesthetic importance and may even be crucial in mate selection, HOWEVER, the obsession with having a stylish hairstyle probably has nothing at all to do with evolution.

Likewise, something like emotional intimacy between two people might not be entirely based on adaptation and direct evolutionary processes. When we feel a connection with someone, that connection often inspires strong emotions, creative energy for art or music, and it essentially “transcends” evolution. I truly believe that there is something “more” to that intimacy than evolution or reproduction or stable society.

Contrast this with Robin Hanson’s writings: “But you also seem to care about love, humor, talk, story, art, music, fashion, sports, charity, religion, and abstract ideas. In fact, you are often passionately obsessed with these things. You believe that they can help with more basic goals, such as health, sex, and children. And you care about these things far more than seems directly useful in pursuing more basic goals.”

But I think Robin is wrong.

I believe that these goals and features of human existence have emerged because we have significantly intelligent enough brains that are capable of “higher” functions. The original, direct adaptation was based on the fact that intelligence and opposable thumbs helps with survival. Specifically, the structure of our brains allows for learning and problem solving, and the structure of our bodies allows for use of tools and implementation of ideas in such a way that we are able to cope with our environment better, and we are able to acquire food and water better. The marvelous evolution of the brain has yielded something extremely versatile in its function.

I tend to think of music, art, science, and literature as things that were discovered by our minds rather than actively created for the service of evolution. You do not play or listen to music because it is going to boost your chances to reproduce. The joy from hearing music or playing music is intrinsic to itself and not tied to reproduction.

I’m going to label the hypothesis that many features of human behavior are based on the versatility of the brain and NOT individually based on behaviors conducive to reproduction or survival as the “Complex Behavior Exaptation Hypothesis”. CBE Hypothesis for short.

I also want to flirt with four other ideas in considering this topic: artificial intelligence, alien intelligence, the use of computer-simulated worlds for experimentation, and genetic engineering. I don’t bring this up as science fiction entertainment, but rather ideas that have serious implications for the debate on evolutionary psychology.

At some point in human existence, it is reasonable to conclude that we will create artificially intelligent beings. You must also be aware that once artificially intelligent beings have the ability to alter their own programming and make themselves better, these beings WILL make changes that will make them profoundly different from humans. This poses philosophical questions. What traits might artificially intelligent beings preserve that are common with humans? Would artificially intelligent beings enjoy music and art?

If they do, then I argue strongly that Hanson’s view and the views of many evolutionary psychologists are patently simplistic and outright wrong. I think if artificially intelligent beings preserve any human traits, we must conclude that the CBE Hypothesis is true.

Secondly, let’s consider that someday in the future we may be able to write complex computer programs that simulate evolution of humans and OTHER ORGANIC intelligent beings. With this, we could simulate a variety of other conditions on different planets that might give rise to organic beings much different from us. When these beings become intelligent, would we expect them to discover music or art? I THINK YES. This would be a good reason for simulating such worlds, as we would be able to reap the benefits of computerized beings creating music and art for our enjoyment. Once again, I think that the CBE Hypothesis prevails and stamping out evolutionary psychology.

Thirdly, we could consider that there are intelligent alien species in the universe with similar features as humans in some ways. We would need to conclude that there are some things about intelligent beings that are universal… Evolution gets you to the same destination regardless of the initial conditions and parameters. Just as mathematics is universal in all places in the universe, so to would be the behaviors of intelligent beings.

Finally, I ask you to consider genetic modification to humans that would affect behavior. Let's forget genetic modification for health or athletics for a moment. Let's forget about cybernetics and fusing computers with human beings. If a large amount of our behavior is based on genetics, as evolutionary psychologists might claim, we would expect that modification of genes could result in alternative behaviors. I question what we would change and if it would cause more harm than good. I do not buy into the idea that there are fatal flaws in humanity that will lead to our destruction. I might argue that there is much less that we would change if we could. Anger, agression, and hostility exist for a reason so that we may interact with the world in a means conducive to survival. Make us more placid, and it could render us vulnerable. And for this reason, I say that neither evolution nor God are responsible for making us the way we act. Nature may have a way of making all intelligent beings similar in a lot of ways.

In order to continue my assault on evolutionary psychology, I’m going to divert to some other topics. My next argument is that the logic of evolutionary psychologists is often flawed because it assumes the origin of a behavior is based on ADAPTATION and not EXAPTATION. It essentially starts with the premise that all human behavior can be explained by some evolutionary benefit to human survival… and when we start from this premise, we are capable of creating many divergent and often opposing evolutionary accounts to describe behavior. In sum, the evolutionary psychologist’s attempts to describe behavior amount to total pseudoscientific nonsense with no support. The evolutionary psychologist essentially becomes a creative writer who uses his imagination to concoct any kind of wild fantastical explanation for behavior that seems reasonable (a priori) but lacks ANY real empirical proof.

I was listening to a radio broadcaster citing a evolutionary psychology research on flirting and human sexuality. The broadcaster claimed, among other things, that women extend their necks when they are flirting with men on the basis that it is a submissive position. They note wolves as another mammal in which this behavior is observable. Men, they say, are likely to puff out their chests as a sign of dominance and reproductive virility.

I say both of these statements are completely bogus. Recently, I read an article in Time magazine on evolutionary psychology regarding human mating. Previously, conventional wisdom suggested that men are evolutionarily predisposed to adultery and cheating because it would ensure the greatest number of offspring. In addition, one might argue that men would be less likely to care for the child of a mother whose spouse had died because he did not share the genetic material of the offspring. More recently, the thinking has reversed. First, the thought about adultery was overturned because it seems more logical that a man would want to have an active role in the development and upbringing of his children to ensure their survival. It seems as though it's not just about impregnation, but also about development. In addition, it is thought that a man would be apt to care for step-children to demonstrate to a woman his ability to provide and take care of children, thereby improving his chances of mating with her to bear his own children.

So the problem I have with evolutionary psychology is that it relies almost entirely on interpretations and logical reasoning, and has very little to do with experimentation or real scientific data. It is pseudoscientific speculation and likely to be biased by the whims of whichever crackpot evolutionary theorist is spewing his nonsense. How are we to argue that one theory on human behavior is more rational and more likely than another? I think the explanation for adultery was pretty convincing either way. Both make sense. How do you choose? And how do you respond to someone who claims that we have a genetic propensity to be adulterous? I might argue the hypothesis that evolution cannot coherently account for adulterous behavior.

I would claim that there are many byproducts of evolution that result in human behavior that has absolutely nothing to do with survival of the fittest or genetic propensities that are directly linked to a behavior.

With respect to adultery I might argue that a primary genetic code for behavior is the sensation that sex feels good. There are also neurochemicals and hormones that facilitate feelings of attachment during and after sex. The behavior of non-monogamy is probably much more related to the feeling of sex feeling good than the unconscious need to spread one's seed. If you listen to the thoughts of evolutionary psychologists, almost always they claim that there are unconscious instinctual urges that relate to fertility and reproduction.

I think the fundamental flaw in the evolutionary psychology of sex is that it fails to account for conscious brain processes and assumes that everyone behaves based on unconscious evolutionary vestiges. We can pawn off unconscious automaton behavior on animals, but humans are not the same. Even if we are influenced by certain evolutionary vestiges, our ability to consciously think about our behavior, I think, rescues us from the evolutionary psychology net. In fact, I was reading one book recently that stated that our ability to go on a hunger strike and avoid eating food is significant in separating us from other animals. No other animals are known to be able to exhibit such behavior. Likewise, humans can choose to disobey our urge to have sex and either stick to one partner or abstain altogether. (Read Montague: Your Brain is Almost Perfect.) The fact that humans are conscious of our decisions makes us accountable for them. Because we can create the idea of monogamy and the idea of commitment, our ethics can dictate that it is wrong for someone to break a commitment. One is free to be with as many partners as he or she pleases so long as they are not in a relationship or they are in a relationship where such behavior is mutually accepted and both parties are aware. Although breaking such commitments is not unlawful, it is certainly considered to be unethical.

Thus, evolution does NOT dictate every aspect of human life or human ethics. We create some rules of behavior based on choices that are not guided by unconscious preferences and desires that are dominated by evolution.

I do not believe that we can reduce all human behavior to evolution. In fact, I might argue that for many human behaviors, the link to evolution is distant and not direct.

In essence, I argue that evolution did select for a human brain that was highly intelligent and capable of complex thinking, and that once we reached this cognitive capacity, the link between evolution and human behavior dissolved and became less important.

You do not do things becuase your genes force you to do them.

One very simple way to illustrate this point is with cultural differences. This is my final argument against evolutionary psychology. A tribe in Papua New Guinea is documented to have cannibalized their dead family members because they believed that this would somehow allow their family members to live on inside them spiritually. I personally find it difficult to objectively justify that this behavior is wrong besides it being irrational, yet when a prion disease called kuru was found to be causing serious illness in the tribes due to the consumption of human brain, one could effectively argue that the practice was "bad" on the basis that it is unhealthy.

In most human cultures, cannibalism is taboo. We tend to think of cannibalism as eating for nourishment while this particular tribe ate only their family members due to religious significance. I use this particular example because it is the most graphic. Can anyone possibly argue that cannibalism is a human behavior that is based on evolution? Only indirectly. One might argue that religion in general is an evolutionary adaptation that led to social cohesiveness and that it has some mental health benefits. The idea of cannibalism as an extension of religion would mean that cannibalism is not directly related to evolution. Thus, we may exhibit certain behaviors that are culturally-based and not universal throughout all humans.

Thus, there are some cultural differences in humanity that are indirectly based on evolution. There are some universal human behaviors that are present in all human cultures. Furthermore, I question whether or not we would expect there to be some differences and some universals amongst all forms of intelligent life. My mission throughout this essay is to warn you against believing any of the claims of evolutionary psychologists that are spouted off in pop science, because they neglect to consider that exaptations exist in human behavior, and they fail to consider that there may be some universals in intelligent life that evolution moves toward. Hence, we should not feel an emptiness over the idea that the features of our existence are ARBITRARY, SUBJECTIVE, or RANDOM. It may just be that random evolutionary processes progress toward a goal. We do not need God or supernaturalism for this.

Your humanity is more sacred and amazing than evolutionary psychologists imply, yet we do not need religion to justify it.

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Post by mith » Mon Aug 17, 2009 10:37 pm

this isn't really biology....
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

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Re: Pitfalls of Evolutionary Psychology: Exaptation

Post by jeremyo » Tue Aug 18, 2009 5:39 am

If evolution is a subset of biology and psychology is considered a separate category, one must at least concede that evolutionary psychology contains a component of biology. Edward O Wilson's book Consilience explains how disciplines often overlap in order to create new fields that can make significant contributions to knowledge that affect the constituent disciplines. I disagree with you, and find this topic to necessarily include a discussion of biological concepts in order for it to exist. So I suppose my question is, even if it wasn't specifically 100% on biology, why would that matter? I think moderators of forums like these get so obsessed with moderation and rules that sometimes they interfere with meaningful dialogue. Do what you have to do.

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Post by Darby » Wed Aug 19, 2009 1:53 am

The basic thesis seems to be: "I don't like the implications of evolutionary psychology, so it's wrong." But the rest is pure rationalization. As the saying goes, there's no there there.

It's not that you're necessarily wrong, but your logic is tortured, your data cherry-picked, and the evidence pretty non-existent, which puts it squarely in the realm of evolutionary psychology.

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Re: Pitfalls of Evolutionary Psychology: Exaptation

Post by david23 » Sat Sep 12, 2009 3:23 am

jeremyo wrote:If evolution is a subset of biology and psychology is considered a separate category, one must at least concede that evolutionary psychology contains a component of biology. Edward O Wilson's book Consilience explains how disciplines often overlap in order to create new fields that can make significant contributions to knowledge that affect the constituent disciplines. I disagree with you, and find this topic to necessarily include a discussion of biological concepts in order for it to exist. So I suppose my question is, even if it wasn't specifically 100% on biology, why would that matter? I think moderators of forums like these get so obsessed with moderation and rules that sometimes they interfere with meaningful dialogue. Do what you have to do.

so while we are on the subject of bio and psycho's connection, what would happen if there was a way to eat dead human bodies cleanly, eliminating the health issue completely, would people start to eat dead bodies, even under conditions of starvation? Or wouldnt they because that would be gross in their minds.

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Post by LeoPol » Mon Sep 14, 2009 7:12 pm

Georg Forster has somehow noticed in its book that european dogs flatly refuse from cannibalism, but polynesian - a cannibals. Moreover, these their characteristic innate. So, psychology of such sort - relative.
But prospect of the further development beside mankind while else under воросом under question:

"after achievement World harmony and creation Society of the general prosperity creative reason becomes unnecessary, is subjected to the negative pressure of the selection and proceeds with regress.

Through 30-50 thousand years hypothetical lucky Amicable agreement Empire (or Democracy ) becomes the world ant with narrow boilerplate storehouse of the wits, where return to creative stage already nearly impossible.

But after 200-300 thousand years change are bolted genetic and given biological type in general loses the creative reason, but expedient activity in this society already nothing does not differ same public insect from cooperative activity. This already not reason, but its remainder - a relic. Relic reasonable paleo-civilizations"

http://translate.google.ru/translate?pr ... ry_state0=

excuse me for my bad english

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