Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I’d used part of this article in one of the pieces critical of the behavioral sciences but should have read it through to the end. If I did it would have shown me that even someone who is favorably disposed towards Evolutionary Psychology (EP) doesn’t dismiss the possible political dangers of it out of hand.

Whether or not EP is correct, I hope this Handbook will convince you that it is not scientific window dressing for a political ideology, but rather a compelling scientific approach to human nature. This does not mean that EP is harmless. Critics, fearing EP to be a Trojan horse of the right, have raised countless objections to EP, objections that, as this chapter has shown, would border on the absurd were they raised against one of historys most successful scientific paradigms: the functional, mechanistic approach to organism anatomy. What the surprisingly myopic critics have failed to perceive is that the power of EP will be, not to prevent change, but to cause it.

Fully realized, EP would constitute a functional understanding of the neural circuits underlying our every thought, emotion, and action. With that understanding would come the power to mold our humanity to a disquieting degree. Perhaps it is naïve to believe that EP can keep up with the manipulative expertise of Hollywood and Madison Avenue, but serious critics of EP would do well to re-read their Huxley and Orwell. The dangers of EP lie as close to Brave New World and 1984 as they do to Mein Kampf.

More worrisome, EP challenges the foundations of crucial enlightenment values, values we undermine at our peril. Perhaps the mix of secular and religious values upon which the priceless institutions of democracy rest are like a tablecloth that can be quickly yanked out, leaving everything standing upon some solid, though as yet unknown base. But I wouldnt bet on it. We are at a cross-roads. A vibrant science of human thought and behavior must always be able to question its own premises, and is thus utterly unsuited to be that solid base. Yet if we discard the secular, quasi-scientific notion of the blank slate, or even subject it to genuine scientific scrutiny, we may threaten institutions far more valuable than a science of human nature.

The vital question is not, as most critics seem to think, whether EP is correct, but whether any real science of the brain is prudent.

Having no professional or ideological stake in protecting Evolutionary Psychology but as a student of the history of the past hundred and twenty years I go a lot farther than that.

Evolution happened over a period of 3+ billion years. The studies in behavior and cognition are just beginning to find facts, they haven't escaped their own history of what would charitably be called "speculation". In fact EP indulges in quite a bit of that itself. To believe that the relatively small number of scientists attempting to apply evolutionary knowledge various theories of their own (themselves even more recent) and claiming to have a relatively complete picture of these most unknowable aspects of human experience calls for deep skepticism. To assert that their ideas are applicable to politics or society now is absurd. It is professional wishful thinking of the type that has proven to be dangerous when earlier attempts at “real science of the brain” made outsized claims which damaged and destroyed all too real people. The damaged stemmed from loony theories of sexuality, phony intelligence testing and other methods of labeling people into categories up to and including those put into the line designated as worthy of death.

History has facts that are more tangible than the theories and fables of these sciences. History has run these experiments already and the results are in. Nothing that these infant sciences has produced negates those truths.

hey I like your blog and think you make good points. I sent you an email but I don't know if it got through b/c some emails have been coming back lately. I post on friendlyatheist's website as Maria. Maybe we could chat some time. My email is
Maria, your e-mail didn't get through and when I attempted to send you one informing you that it hadn't mine came back undelivered. I've enjoyed reading your comments over at H.H's blog.
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