Cracking the human psyche, or just cracked?

1 minute read

A recent article in Slate by Amanda Schaffer is a quick critical introduction to Evolutionary Psychology and the media, viewed through the prism of Buller's Adapting Minds. The article begins this way:

This spring, New York Times columnist John Tierney asserted that men must be innately more competitive than women since they monopolize the trophies in--hold onto your vowels--world Scrabble competitions. To bolster his case, Tierney turned to evolutionary psychology. In the distant past, he argued, a no-holds-barred desire to win would have been an adaptive advantage for many men, allowing them to get more girls, have more kids, and pass on their competitive genes to today's word-memorizing, vowel-hoarding Scrabble champs.
Tierney's peculiar, pseudo-scientific claim--not the first from him--reflects the extent to which evolutionary psychology has metastasized throughout public discourse.

And ends this way:

Ultimately, the biggest problem with EP may be that it underestimates the power of evolutionary forces--both to tinker continually with the human brain, and to have created ingenious and flexible problem-solving structures in the first place. There's a nice irony here, since for years EP-ers have ridiculed opponents for not appreciating evolutionary theory's core tenets. Buller goes so far as to note an eerie resemblance between EP and intelligent design, which also treats human nature as fixed and complete. The more persuasive claim is that there is no single human nature, and that we're works in progress.

The theme of the thing might be phrased as "some people want you to think that science says this stuff, but the science isn't all it's cracked up to be." To many it won't be news, but I'm reading some papers now that are making my toenails curl, so it's nice to have some perspective.