In the wake of the financial meltdown a lot of economists are turning to the discipline of evolutionary psychology for answers. Evolutionary psychology basically attempts to explain human psychology in terms of adaptive evolutionary principles. So, a person does X because it is part of their desire to reproduce and thus partake in the evolutionary game and so forth.
I’ve long thought this paradigm to be a crock. Human psychology is not some crude reflection of some abstraction called “evolution” — which is today worshiped in the scientific community as a sort of deity. Human psychology is far more complex and nuanced than that.
The educated public at large, who these days like their deities sanctioned by a man in a lab-coat, have generally embraced the evolutionary paradigm with open arms. They can’t seem to get enough of the latest gimmicky explanation of some type of behavior. This is especially so when the explanation revolves around titillating details about sex and sexuality which it so often does.
Recently, however, I came across an hilarious story in which a very thorough evolutionary psychologist called Satoshi Kanazawa said that women with higher IQs tend to be less inclined to have children. From an evolutionary standpoint this seems absurd because presumably the human race will evolve quicker with more intelligent members. Kanazawa writes:
If any value is deeply evolutionarily familiar, it is reproductive success. If any value is truly unnatural, if there is one thing that humans (and all other species in nature) are decisively not designed for, it is voluntary childlessness. All living organisms in nature, including humans, are evolutionarily designed to reproduce. Reproductive success is the ultimate end of all biological existence.
Hence anyone that is not reproducing is therefore “wrong” or “stupid” at some basic, “natural” level.
Of course, within its own frame Kanazawa’s argument makes complete sense. But the people that usually lap this stuff up don’t like what he’s saying and so they get mad at him. The whole thing is ridiculous.
Wait a few weeks to see another evolutionary psychology study being released which the up-market, liberal press will then salivate over. But the second that the research program conflicts with their cultural values they get up in arms.
That said the media pundits, despite being completely inconsistent, are ultimately right about this particular case. The argument is ridiculous. It is also, however, entirely consistent and follows perfectly well from the underlying structure of the paradigm in question. That is why the argument should not simply be called into question, but should raise questions about the normative metaphysics underlying the evolutionary point-of-view in psychology.
I assume, however, that in the coming months some other evolutionary psychologist will come up with obtuse arguments “refuting” Kanazawa’s work. I can see now the form that the argument will take: the psychologist will bend the theory in pretzels to accommodate high IQ women not reproducing from an evolutionary perspective. The argument will then look correct to those within the paradigm and simultaneously placate the educated public.
“Oh, don’t worry,” they will say, “Kanazawa is just silly, he didn’t really think the whole thing through; look, we can accommodate your cultural values perfectly well. Please continue to talk about our studies when we release them.” And it is thus that psychological theory itself is made to reflect cultural norms at any given moment in history; showing clearly what status the discipline truly possesses.