November 29, 2006

Dr Pangloss

The Evolution of Desire by David Buss talks about sex a lot. It comes from the group of writers and academics espousing Evolutionary Psychology. It's a sexy discipline.

This from Wikipedia and the man often mentioned in the same breath as evolutionary psychology: "Evolutionary Psychology is, to quote Steven Pinker, 'not a single theory but a large set of hypotheses' and a term which 'has also come to refer to a particular way of applying evolutionary theory to the mind, with an emphasis on adaptation, gene-level selection, and modularity.'" O boy. If it is a set of hypotheses that can't be tested, is it science? Is it truly informative? The short answer is no? I'll leave the argument against adaptationist thinking to Gould and Lewontin.

I heard about the Spandrels of San Marco in undergrad. It was not until tonight that I read the full article. The Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Biology are kind enough to offer the article here. You may only be able to access it by starting through google. Search The Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Biology. The full citation is at the bottom.

Like a choice philosophic passage or engrossing novel, this paper engages and excites. It underlines the idea that adaptionist thinking cannot be applied to the varied expressions of human behavior. Humans are the undetermined animal, as well as the exploitative animal, the opportunist, the conniver, the schemer.

In his book, Buss catalogues a variety of behaviors that in large, he considers selected adaptations. In my mind they are no more than expressions of underlying drives, their manifestation different in males and females. Human behavior is contextual. The variety is a response to different contexts. The fact that humans can display such different behaviors is testament to our freedom from biologic behavioral constraints.

1. Gould, S. J. And Lewontin, R. C., "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique Of The Adaptationist Programme," Proceedings Of The Royal Society of London, Series B, Vol. 205, No. 1161 (1979), Pp. 581-598.
2. Buss, David. "The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating," 2nd Edition. NY: Basic Books, 2003.

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