Why do women shop and men hunt?

Or, when the hunting season is closed, watch teh game (the guys), or when there are no sales, admire each other’s shoes (the gals)?

This is, of course, a parody of the sociobiological, or in modern parlance, the “evolutionary psychology” argument linking behaviors that evolved in our species during the long slog known as The Pleistocene with today’s behavior in the modern predator-free food-rich world. And, it is a very sound argument. If, by “sound” you mean “sounds good unless you listen really hard.”

I list this argument among the falsehoods, but really, this is a category of argument with numerous little sub-arguments, and one about which I could write as many blog posts as I have fingers and toes, which means, at least twenty. (Apparently there was some pentaldactylsim in my ancestry, and I must admit that I’ll never really know what they cut off when I was born, if anything.)

Before going into this discussion I think it is wise, if against my nature, to tell you what the outcome will be: There is not a good argument to be found in the realm of behavioral biology for why American Women shop while their husbands sit on the bench in the mall outside the women’s fashion store fantasizing about a larger TV on which to watch the game. At the same time, there is a good argument to be made that men and women should have different hard wired behavioral proclivities, if there are any hard wired behavioral proclivities in our species. And, I’m afraid, the validity from an individual’s perspective of the various arguments that men and women are genetically programmed to be different (in ways that make biological sense) is normally determined by the background and politics of the observer and not the science. I am trained in behavioral biology, I was taught by the leading sociobiologists, I’ve carried out research in this area, and I was even present, somewhat admiringly, at the very birth of Evolutionary Psychology, in Room 14A in the Peabody Museum at Harvard, in the 1980s. So, if anyone is going to be a supporter of evolutionary psychology, it’s me.

But I’m not. Let me ‘splain….

I want to first provide the argument from bottom up. Over the next few paragraphs I’ll outline why evolving during the Pleistocene made us what we are today, and what some evolved features of our species may be. Later, I’ll deconstruct the argument.

Organisms have genes that vary (the variants are called alleles). Sometimes a variant arises that, when interacting with the environment, confers a negative or positive effect. Those that confer a positive effect with respect to the process of passing on genes to future generations are over-represented (on average) in the next generation while those that confer a negative effect are under-represented. If the strength of this selection is sufficient and random effects do not overpower it, there may be a shift in allele frequencies over time.

That’s evolution.

Some behaviors vary because of underlying genes. The pattern of foraging by fruit fly larva, for example, varies in a way that has been mapped directly to specific base pair differences between alleles for a gene. There are a handful of other gene-behavior links (a handful relative to the total amount of behavior out there to study) but in most cases, the link between the underlying genetics and the resulting behavior is not directly documented, but assumed. This is reasonable. The link between phenotypic variation and the underlying genetic variation is almost always assumed and hardly ever documented directly.

Humans are mammals and thus have internal fertilization, internal gestation, and lactation. Each of these three important features of mammalian reproduction means a striking difference between males and females in the risks and benefits of behavioral practices, and in the very nature of reproductive strategies. Consider the very act of mating. A single copulation may have consequences that are extraordinarily different between a female and a male. A pregnancy followed by nursing and so on is a huge investment for a female, but virtually zero investment for a male. Copulating with the “wrong” mate (i.e., one that is somehow genetically not the best choice) has almost zero consequences for a male, who can simply copulate with some other female. A bad choice in mate for a female, however, may blow a huge percentage of her total reproductive career.

(Pause: In the above paragraph, I was writing about mammals. Voles, for instance. Or aardvarks. You may have been putting humans in there as your mammal of choice, but since the vast majority of mammals are rodents or bats, that may have been a bad idea. Please consider re-reading the paragraph and placing a wild, non-domestic ‘typical’ mammal in there as the fill-in organism, just in case your assumption that I was talking specifically about you was influencing your thinking on this.)

It is not at all unreasonable to expect that any mammal, including humans, would evolve such that there are male-female differences in things like risk-taking behavior, mate-preference, child-care proclivities, etc.

In particular, and this is very important, humans are the result of evolution over two million years or so of the Pleistocene, during which time our ancestors lived in a social setting that is represented today by the likes of the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen of southern Africa, who were intensively studied during the 1960s in part to learn about what the lifeways of our ancestors may have been like.

Furthermore, it has been proposed that the behavioral tendencies of humans are often fairly specifically hard wired protocols. We have the ability to do certain things because our brains are really a set of many different organs, including a set of cognitive structures called “modules” which were shaped by natural selection over these millions of Pleistocene years, a time that was pretty much similar from generation to generation, among people living in Ju/’hoansi Bushman like groups in the tropics and subtropics of Africa.

These modules provide the ability to be very good at certain things. When these modules are tested or challenged in modern-day humans living in the West, we see that we are still good at doing some of the things that we did back in the Pleistocene but no longer need to do today, and we often show poor performance when it comes to modern, western, industrialized, non hunter-gatherer or non-Pleistocene problems or contexts. Just as our hand eye coordination evolved to facilitate the use of tools, our brainy bits evolved to detect certain kinds of cheaters but not others, have a taste for rare but not common nutrients, and so on. Most importantly relative to the current discussion, males have a module that facilitates promiscuous sexual behavior and females have a module (probably the female version of the same module, according to the theory) that makes them relatively prudish and careful about sexual relationships. Males have abilities to orient things in time and space in order to better shoot the antelope with the spear, while women have the ability to remember details of things in space in order to better find and select the proper plant foods. And so on. Thus, males show off, fight other males, and practice hunting by playing hockey, baseball, and football, or at least, watching the games and knowing every detail of the statistics, while females … shop and stuff.

It’s a nice theory and there have been a lot of studies supporting the basic idea as well as a number of specifics. However, there are some problems.

Let’s start with the Pleistocene. The Pleistocene is, among recent geological time periods, considered to be the most variable in terms of climate change, and thus, overall ecology, habitat distributions, etc. There is no expectation that any given population making up part of a species like humans or their close relatives would have had any long term consistency in natural environment. Indeed, the post-Pleistocene life of the horticulturalist, buffering their food supply by growing crops, is probably more consistent over time than any period in the Pleistocene, with respect to basic ecology. Furthermore, when we look at foragers across Africa today, and at the archaeology which tells us something about their past, we see a huge amount of variation in habitats and adaptations to habitats. Humans have lived in very arid environments and very wet environments, coastal and inland, riverine and woodland, grassland and forest. Post-Pleistocene food producing human groups tended to avoid several of these habitats and have lived in a much narrower range of contexts.

One might argue (and this is the usual argument) that it is really the social setting in which humans lived, not the habitat, that was consistent over two million years, thus the Pleistocene as a variable time period argument goes out the window. But I should point something out about that counterargument: It wasn’t ever made until people like me (mainly me, in fact) started arguing, mainly at conferences, that the Pleistocene varied too much to be thought of as a stable habitat in which certain behaviors would evolve and get “stuck.” You see, part of the Pleistocene argument is that it was a long time compared to the subsequent Holocene (two million vs. 10,000 year) so we are essentially Pleistocene creatures. But when it was pointed out to evolutionary psychologists that the Pleistocene varied tremendously compared to the Holocene, the “oh, it’s the social argument” was raised to salvage the idea.

But that doesn’t work. We know that habitat determines social structure in humans, with technology as a major factor. Foragers vary a tremendous amount in their behaviors, depending in large part on the ecology in which they live. Forager group size, often considered to be an important intermediate variable between ecology and social structure, varies tremendously with habitat. There are even foragers with stratified societies and slavery, and there are foragers who live in such small isolated groups that they need special cultural conventions to get together now and then in order to socialize, find mates, and so on.

There is also variation in important social norms beyond that which can be explained easily by ecology. For instance, it is probably fairly rare for an Efe Pygmy woman’s offspring to have been fathered by anyone other than that woman’s husband at the time of birth (though with serial monogamy a woman may have different children fathered by different men). In contrast, the Ache and other foragers of the Amazon seem to pay little attention to who is the father of whom, and it is common for a woman to have children fathered by several different men other than her long-term husband. These are very, fundamentally, even dramatically different social systems, found in tropical rain forest foragers. Efe Pygmy men compared to Baka Pygme men spend dramatically different amounts of time caring for their own children. Add to these examples the diversity that must arise in groups living across a range of different habitats, and we pretty much have destroyed the argument of one social environment in which we evolved for two million years. If the basis of the modern evolutionary psychology argument is falsified, the rest of the argument may be … well, weak at best.

When this argument … that the social Pleistocene was a weak idea … was proposed, the counter argument was this: Sure, the social environment changed, but there are still some basic things that are always the same: Predators and the need to mate being key.

Fine. So now, the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptiveness (EEA), which this thing … this time period … is called is “Predators and mating.” How do we distinguish, then, between evolution in humans vs. evolution in mammals, or even tetrapods, or for that matter, organisms, in general?

We don’t.

Then, consider the foragers used as exemplars in the studies done today in evolutionary psychology. A disturbing trend has emerged over the last five or ten years: The use of groups that are not foragers as though they were foragers. For some reason, it is very common today to see evolutionary psychologists claim that the homicide rate and level of violence among Pleistocene foragers was very high. There is, however no evidence whatsoever to support this. When we look at the evidence that is being adduced, we find that several groups of food growers, horticulturalists such as the Yanomamo of the Amazon, have somehow been included in the sample of “foragers.” I can’t decide if this is ignorance (the researchers have no clue what they are doing), intellectual dishonesty (the researchers need violent ancestor so they cook the data) or merely a tradition of indifference (the researchers use some data they got somewhere that someone else used, so they use it uncritically).

The Yanomamo and other groups like them do indeed have high rates of violence and homicide. It has been effectively argued that this violence arises because thy have horticulture. The thing that makes them different from foragers in terms of habitat and ecology also makes them different from other groups in terms of behavior.

Then there is the argument about the modules. Let’s assume that the research that shows how modules seem to work and what they seem to “look like” functionally is good. The fact that humans are running around with modules today does not mean that these modules are genetically programmed. It is very possible that module-like structures in our neocortex arise during development, de novo, in each of us, and that these modules are similar across groups (but perhaps different sometimes by gender) because of overall similar developmental trajectories. The cases of modules failing, say, to detect cheating if the cheating is modern (non-Pleistocene, if you will) in context is unimpressive. In one famous study, people were shown to be very good at detecting cheaters when the cheater was someone possibly lying about their age to get a drink in a bar, but very poor at detecting cheaters when the cheater was a file folder in an esoteric filing system that may or may not have been filed correctly. In other words, when comparing actual social cheating to a glitch in a filing system, humans were pretty good at the social cheating part but not so good at the arbitrary artificial strange filings system. We are not impressed.

There are dozens of reported gender differences, with piles of research demonstrating them. But when we look more closely, we often see that the either a) the methodology of the research sucks or b) the gender difference, while likely real, changes, goes away, or even reverses as times change, suggesting that the difference is (was) cultural.

I’m sure there are gender differences. Part of the reason I think that is an inappropriate argument: I think there are gender differences in behavior because there must be. Such an argument is not evidential and does not lead us to a legitimate conclusion. Rather, it leads us to a set of valid hypotheses, if done right. However, I am utterly unconvinced that most gender differences are hard wired. There are probably some. Testosterone poising of neural tissue (indirectly) during development probably accounts for the fact that there are almost no male simultaneous translators. The neural ability to do this difficult thing is retains in some females but lost in almost all males during puberty. That is not genes coding for neural connections, but it is genes coding for different endocrine systems which then, through a series of negative and positive feedback systems, cause hormonally mediated changes in the body (including the brain).

Perhaps hormones make men like sports and women like shoes. But if so, it is not very consistent. My wife has three pairs of shoes and one purse. I have two pairs of shoes and four laptop bags. My brother-in-law knows more about sports than anyone in my wife’s sports-oriented family. But his new wife knows twice as much as he does, even though no one in Andrew’s family has quite admitted this out loud yet. I can track my own interest in both baseball and football as a function of a female mate or friend who had such an interest, with my involvement being a way to socialize and get along. I find sports interesting enough to pay attention and to enjoy it, but if I want to know what is going on, I have to ask the female I’m watching the sport with (often, but not always, my wife). Yes, I guess I’m following my true genetic nature: I’m somewhat promiscuous as to whom I watch the game with.

Sex differences are probably real and probably important, but they may not be hard wired as often as people think they are, or hard wired in the manner people think. We would expect a species like humans, born with this big blank brain and subjected to many extra years of learning as children, to develop these differences as a function of culture rather than genes. That, to me, is the most likely null model. I’m not sure I would attribute a priori much likelihood to a genes-up model of human behavior. How the heck would that work, anyway?

If you enjoyed this, or even, if it made you mad, you might want to check out these two posts:

This post is part of the Falsehoods II series, which are also explored on “Everything you know is sort of wrong” on Skeptically Speaking, with Desiree Schell.

And, please do feel free to tweet, digg, redit, stumble, etc. this post by using the buttons below!!!!

Comments

  1. #1 Koray
    October 12, 2010

    Thanks for this nice post.
    I didn’t know about the bit on simultaneous translation.

  2. #2 Alex
    October 12, 2010

    If there is not a differene between genetic men and women then why are there genes to start with?

  3. #3 Donna
    October 12, 2010

    You see the way children are shaped into (some kind of) man or woman by culture, but if so much of gender is cultural how is gender orientation so definitively not cultural but rather hard wired?

  4. #4 Henk Paladin
    October 12, 2010

    Is this going to be discussed on the radio show? If so, I’ll make every effort to listen in! A little more than interesting.

  5. #5 Markella
    October 12, 2010

    This blog post could make Stephen Pinker’s hair droop. Or is he not a fully formed evolutionary psychologist?

    Certainly there must be effects of having all those different hormones, and the neural systems to support that, but I agree that the kind of detailed difference people attribute to genetic gender is crazy.

    I just finished reading “Brain Storm” by Jordan Young. Very interesting and not far from what you are saying here.

  6. #6 caveman mike
    October 12, 2010

    Bah Humbug! Men hunt to impress the ladies and ladies shop to get away from the men, just like in the old days!

  7. #7 Lynn
    October 12, 2010

    Caveman mike: I think I may have dated you in high school.

  8. #8 Blake Stacey
    October 12, 2010

    “Modularity” in a system composed of many interacting parts turns out to be a very hard thing to define, let alone measure. Even for something so idealized as a network of nodes connected with links, finding the optimal division of that network into modules is an NP-complete problem, and in general, it’s not so clear whether that “optimum” you found is substantially better than other partitions which could look very different. Then you face the challenge that “modules” in the gene-interaction network of a developing organism do not necessarily map to functional modules in the spatiotemporal interactions of the grown brain. It’s really a remarkably thorny problem.

  9. #9 khan
    October 12, 2010

    Thank you.

    I am physically female and am het, but I turn up male on most polls.

    I hate shopping. I only own enough shoes to be legal & comfortable. I never wanted or had children.

    So much of this crap is assumed to be genetic.

  10. #10 theshortearedowl
    October 12, 2010

    I have so many pairs of shoes! I have my summer hiking boots and my winter hiking boots (yak leather! Birthday present from my husband), and the most awesome pair of trail sandals… And then my trainers that I wear every day and another pair that I use for sports… And my bike shoes, and climbing shoes… Oh, and a black pair for when I have to be smart.

  11. #11 Brian G.
    October 12, 2010

    Donna, there may be a large difference between what gender one is reproductively and what cultural gender one acts as. The gender differences (shopping v sports etc) are very superficial, while producing sperm and eggs is not so much so.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    October 12, 2010

    Blake, just to be clear: The Evol Psych concept of a “module” is a functional complex that has a relatively well circumscribed structure and is not an emerging system of nodules nudged along by the developmental process. Like an arm: An arm does army things and is different from a leg. The speech center of the brain is located in a certain spot and does a certain set of things and is different from the cheating recognition module, each coded for by a fairly independent set of genes.

    Don’t be surprised to find evol psychs backing off from this position once they are confronted with the absurdity of it, but that’s their position.

  13. #13 sailor
    October 12, 2010

    I always thought “honor killings” were a pretty big stumbling block to EP.

  14. #14 CherrBomb
    October 12, 2010

    One of my beefs with Evolutionary Psychology is that will assume that any behavior (like the urge to go shopping) is a “trait” that has evolved in response to environmental pressures. Then they go looking for anything in ancestral humans’ environment that could provide the push. In fact, behavior is some function of a combination of traits which actually HAVE evolved because of environmental pressures. This function is non-linear, and really tough to analyze.

    To illustrate how silly this is, one might argue that a propensity to write blogs is a “trait”, and go looking for reasons that it evolved as a response to evolutionary pressures. Obviously not, since blogging has been around for less than a generation.

  15. #15 CherryBomb
    October 12, 2010

    Take Greg;s example of simultaneous translation. True, there are clear differences between men in women in the ability to do this, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the evolutionary fitness of having this ability.

  16. #16 theshortearedowl
    October 12, 2010

    To illustrate how silly this is, one might argue that a propensity to write blogs is a “trait”, and go looking for reasons that it evolved as a response to evolutionary pressures. Obviously not, since blogging has been around for less than a generation.

    Ah, but you see blogging is merely the modern expression of what men used to do in the wild. Which was hunt and have sex. That’s why most blogging is about hunting and having sex.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    October 12, 2010

    “I was drunk, angry, stupid and blogging”

  18. #18 Russell
    October 12, 2010

    I have the shoe thing licked: I found one style of moccasins that are particularly comfortable. I wear them for everything, keep three pair in use — dress, every day, and field use — and order a couple of new pair when the oldest falls to pieces and my stock is low.

  19. #19 Mr Z
    October 13, 2010

    Some time back I got interested in hobby robotics which lead to artificial intelligence, which led to ….. so I’m reading your blog post and thinking “wow, this makes sense” but then I’m no expert on early evolutionary forces for human mammals.

    What I like about your ideas is that they give credence to those males who are not overtly competitive or sports oriented in a way that does not required that they be feminine in nature. I certainly am not feminine, but have no interest in sports or shopping. I have privately theorized that what makes me good at the things I’m good at affects what activities I’d be interested in. In terms of Pleistocene eating habits, I’m more of an opportunistic scavenger, though I can raise crops and hunt… and yes shop and cook. I’m rather happy to just eat what is available. Likewise I am thus socially oriented, preferring neither best friends nor solitude. I’m happy with what is available at the time in terms of social interactions. Feeling that I’m different from most I meet, I have looked for something which ‘as a theory’ helps to explain how this is natural and not abnormal. For a theory of evolutionary psychology to be acceptable it must needs explain all the variation of human psychology today in an acceptable manner. Thus it is for artificial intelligence. There are many definitions, but none which explain all the variation of intelligence that we know of today. As physicists search for the theory of everything, so should each field of scientific endeavor search for the theory that adequately explains all variants and outliers without harsh criticism of those outliers.

    I have been interested in finding a link between evolutionary psychological profiles to what we today call sociopaths. To myself sociopaths seem to be capable of over-riding some general brain functions to accomplish tasks which are difficult to others. This is important for artificial intelligence groups to understand. If you will, in an artificial intelligence, genetics and cultural pressures still exist, but as firmware, software, and data. Using this analogy sociopathic traits must then be programmed, but not hardwired… or are they? I’ve been looking for ideas that explain all these interrelated ideas, and just wanted to say thanks for your work and ideas. In my search for the perspective that makes sense of these problems your post has made much sense. We humans and mammals generally are wired for adaptive behaviors, while having some genetic traits hardwired. It is the adaptive abilities which matter most, leaving hardwiring functions to care for basic reproduction elements.

    Reproduction can be assumed to be irrelevant for robotics and artificial intelligence but I think you have put the right perspective on behavior origins, or rather where they did not arise from and why. I personally think this gives deference to adaptive behaviors and that explains why I am normal though I fit none of the typical male or female behavior patterns we see in modern cultures. At least, I fit none of them well, but am normal on the far edge of the curve.

    The trick is now to translate this understanding to thoughts on artificial intelligence.

    Thanks

    Z

  20. #20 Raskolnikov
    October 13, 2010

    Brilliant article! I will pass it on!

  21. #21 toto
    October 13, 2010

    Do you have any sources on the testosterone / translation thingy?

  22. #22 Catherine
    October 13, 2010

    Yes. Yes.
    I am female, love football, don’t care much about shoes, love science, wear makeup sometimes, almost always have earrings on, didn’t have kids, at one time was very promiscuous, now monogamous! WTF does this make me? It is culture that made me feel out of the loop, not genes. Read “Reviving Ophelia”–I raised my hand too much in class to be socially accepted. The more tolerance and acceptance there is for different behaviors, the more the true variability in human behavior is revealed. Acculturation is a STRONG trimmer of the bell curve.

  23. #23 Dunc
    October 13, 2010

    There is not a good argument to be found in the realm of behavioral biology for why American Women shop while their husbands sit on the bench in the mall outside the women’s fashion store fantasizing about a larger TV on which to watch the game.

    Oh, I beg to differ: There definitely is. It just happens to be about enhanced group cohesion through adherence to (essentially arbitrary) cultural norms. ;)

  24. #24 Ellen
    October 13, 2010

    I can’t wait to hear the show this will be discussed on.

    I was under the impression that Margaret Mead crashed the idea of gender roles and genes decades ago, and I always did wonder why we still have this fixation.

  25. #25 Andrew
    October 13, 2010

    @Greg – Starting off with… “[support of evolutionary psychology] is normally determined by the background and politics of the observer and not the science.”

    then segueing into…

    “I am trained in behavioral biology, I was taught by the leading sociobiologists, I’ve carried out research in this area, and [establish authority by association, yada yada] So, if anyone is going to be a supporter of evolutionary psychology, it’s me.”

    …is a non sequitur. I’m not a scientist, but I know enough about marketing and logic to call shenanigans on this smoke screen. It doesn’t at all follow that your training in the subject would implore you to be a supporter of EP. Backlash against one’s training is so common that religious cults have their own savory word(s) for it (apostates, infidels, etc.). And hey, there’s hay to be made in nearly any contrarian stance. I don’t begrudge anyone for that, but setting yourself as the unbiased oracle of behavioral biology is going to make us skeptics hold you to the same standards to which you hold others. The “culture as science ~ science as culture” tagline tells us what we really need to know to accomplish this… Your coming at this with a nurture bias. And hey, that’s fine. Social scientists have breathlessly clung to that bias since Darwin’s second masterpiece, “The Descent of Man” threatened to do to the careers of social scientists what “Origin of Species” did to the careers of creationist clergy.

    This is already getting longer than I intended, so I’ll just try to argue one quick point. The root of your critique is the variable ecological pressures that would have been encountered during the Pleistocene. Fair enough. The problem I have with your subsequent arguments is that you discount the recent out-of-Africa event the current population was (not insignificantly) funneled through while ignoring that multiple strategies, therefore multiple alleles (and more importantly, groups of alleles) could/would have been successful and passed on. The DRD4 7R being a salient example which dates to that event.

    Many of the outlier anecdotes in the comments make this same mistake. If evolutionary psychology does provide accurate insight, we wouldn’t expect to find Homo homogeneous with the only variable being reproductive organs.

    Since you attack EP in its entirety, and not any of the specific hypotheses which attempt to address explanations for shopping and sports, I found your arguments as unconvincing as you find those you critique.

    I promise, this is totally coincidental, but I wrote a post yesterday hypothesizing a link between Deaner, Khera, & Platt’s 2005 paper Monkeys pay per view: adaptive valuation of social images by rhesus macaques from Current biology and the stereotypical male sports fan. In brief, the low-status monkeys who pay to gaze at high-status monkeys demonstrate quite similar behavior to ardent fans (low-status) in relation to the players (high-status), and vise versa. Sure, I also dragged Andrews, Bhat, & Rosenblum’s 1995 work on the willingness of macaques to forgo food to watch videos of other macaques, but hey… I went to art school. ;)

    @Ellen – The methodology of the research with which Margaret Mead graced us frankly “sucks”. This is amply documented, but many in the nurture camp have bestowed sainthood upon her and conveniently ignore this.

  26. #26 Greg Laden
    October 14, 2010

    It doesn’t at all follow that your training in the subject would implore you to be a supporter of EP.

    You are absolutely correct. I stated it poorly. My expertise and experience leads me to NOT be a supporter in a way that I can document and demonstrate. I’m suggesting here that I may know what I’m talking about. More importantly, I’m suggesting here that not everyone in the field of behavioral biology is an evolutionary psychologist.

    Calling what I said a smoke screen is inaccurate and a bit obnoxious.

    You declaring that I have a bias does not make me have a bias. Rather, you are clearly “coming at this” with some preconceived notions and feel hurt that you were wrong, and thus you have started out a weak counter argument with an ad hominem remark followed by the accusation that whatever I say must be recalibrate to be more like what you say.

    The rest of your comment strangely states that my post is wrong because I did not address the specific subject matter you were thinking I should address. That does not make a whole heck of a lot of sense.

    EP modules would require thousands of alleles distributed among hundreds of genes. Name ten. Gene, protein or other product, neural structure shaped by the gene, details of how the neural structure differs, and a description of the neural structure’s variation and the behavior’s corresponding variation.

    Twenty five years after the proposal of genetically coded modules with allelic variation across groups, in a world full of the equipment necessary to describe them, has not produced a result.

    There is reason for that, other than the fact that they don’t exist. I wonder if you know the lit. well enough to enlighten us on that?

    Oh, by the way, everyone should go look at Andrew’s site. I’d not seen it before. A wonderful parody!

    (It is a parody, yes?)

    Not bad for an art major, though. (Oh, and I’m not really a “social scientist” so much as I’m a “biological anthropologist” …. which can be hard to classify. Please don’t imply that I’m a cultural anthropologist or sociologist. That would be getting yet another thing wrong.)

  27. #27 Andrew
    October 14, 2010

    I doubt that it’s valuable for us to debate whether my claim of your bias is any different from your charge that those in the other camp are merely beholden to politics and training. So… back to the topic…

    The bit about you not really discussing what I “wanted” was in reference to your italicized assertion that there are no good arguments explaining shopping habits. You didn’t mention a single argument specifically pertaining to this assertion. Arguments abound (Geoffrey Miller, Gad Saad, etc.), so you could have at least set up the weakest one as a straw man and knocked it down. How are we to know that you didn’t just overlook the “good argument”. Rather, you launched into a “deconstruction” of perceived flaws in the methodological foundations of evolutionary psychology as a monolith. Interesting approach, as I (not coincidentally) find Derrida’s post-modernist insistence on a lack of referents to be a virtual mirror to the general discounting of the philosophy of evolved morality hypothesized by Darwin and elucidated others.

    Nobody said evolutionary psychology and its ilk are easy. Yeah, everyone from the Pleistocene is dead. That makes it harder, not stillborn. Further, the genetic science required (and that you requested of me) is in its own infancy. Science on the former may improve marginally, but the latter will improve by orders of magnitude. After a few years of maturation I’ll likely be able to oblige your request. You know there are no living Pleistocene chaps so it’s easy to point out that this path is limited and declare the line of inquiry “wrong”. You know that genetics is the limiting factor so it’s easy to make that request, then suggest throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But, is that what an unbiased person would do? This simply isn’t the solved science you make it out to be. And… what fun would it be if it was easy?

    I’ll just echo my unchallenged positive defense: If the predominant theory – placing all modern humans in the same lineage subsequent to a singular out of Africa event 40K-50K years ago – is true, then the variability of global Pleistocene ecology is drastically reduced as an important variable, and thus concentrates the adaptive pressure within the smaller range. If the predominant theory holds, you’ve dramatically overstated the ecological variability in the Pleistocene as a factor precluding further inquiry. No accounting for the evolved behavior of evolutionary dead ends is required. Even in that case, the dead ends may actually inform evolutionary psychology, rather than the contrary. Work on Neanderthals may illuminate strategies that don’t work in certain ecological frameworks.

    Further, evolutionary psychology isn’t restricted to the 2.5ish million years of the Pleistocene as you imply. Just like all of the other sciences based on evolutionary biology, EP gets to synthesize from everything from fruit flies to primates. The game theory aspect of EP in particular has made predictions that have held up quite well in such instances.

    Frankly, there is so much non-evolutionary-psychology specific work debunking the blank slate theory that it almost pains me to refrain from continuing.

    I first heard the term “evolutionary psychology” 391 days ago. Rather than feeling hurt and wrong, I’m elated that I can read the arguments of someone who’s been at it a couple decades longer, understand it, and perceive flaws.

    And yes, I can do parody. Careful what you wish… :)

  28. #28 Stephanie Z
    October 14, 2010

    Andrew, your argument that the science just isn’t there yet but we’ll find it completely ignores (as most of these arguments about inherent differences do) the null hypothesis. We have a good preliminary understanding of the social forces shaping gender differences. We have nothing from the genetics camp, despite the fact that they have been trying.

    The appropriate response to that is not “Wait for it, and prepare to be called arrogant if you argue the other side in the meantime.” The appropriate response is “While it might change in the future if we get different results than we have to date, our current understanding is that these differences are created socially.” That is what the evidence says, and that’s what Greg has said, generally.

  29. #29 Greg Laden
    October 14, 2010

    If the predominant theory – placing all modern humans in the same lineage subsequent to a singular out of Africa event 40K-50K years ago – is true, then the variability of global Pleistocene ecology is drastically reduced as an important variable, and thus concentrates the adaptive pressure within the smaller range.

    That is true and very well stated, I think. Henry Harpending would disagree with you. This has little to do with the lack of a mechanism for genes coding for modules, and it does not speak to the criticism that the Ju/’hoansi bushmen ala Lee and DeVore of the Kalahari are the modal humans of the EEA.

  30. #30 perpsectoff
    October 14, 2010

    The Kalahari humans are merely a backwater of migration and the assertions that those tribes being the origination of humanity is old inaccurate science and not currently held to be accurate.

    The Bushmen tribes apparently represent an ancient migration out of East Africa towards Southern Africa and their relatively isolated and unmixed DNA has been preserved as a relic population. Although some studies years ago suggested that they held a lowest common denominator Y-chromosome(hypothesizing their place in the origin of humanity), this is no longer widely held. While they do represent a very old civilization, one of the oldest (along with the Ituri forest Efe pygmies), they cannot be held as the prototypical human civilization. They are merely adapted to their environment (which has been the area of Southern Africa for thousands of years), which is likely much different, however, than the original human environment of Ethiopia.

    Recent DNA studies all map the lowest-common denominator DNA to the area around Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where there are no surviving relic populations (the original DNA having been admixed with successive waves of migration through Ethiopia).

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    October 14, 2010

    I just want everyone to know, for the record, that the comment by perpsectoff is riddled with factual errors that I do not have time at this moment to repair. One might ask how one maps a “lowest common denominator” (a novel use of this term) to a place where there is no remaining evidence. And so on.

    (I’ll also quickly ad that the ESA-MSA transition in east and northeast africa is firmly dated to 250K, while the same transition in southern Africa looks more like 400K, so the “origin of modern humans” is not likely to be Ethiopia).

  32. #32 Andrew
    October 14, 2010

    Stephanie, I agree with you. However, critics of evolutionary psychology too often use the reverse of your argument to dismiss the line of inquiry out of hand. Both tactics are equally unscientific.

    The following quote is from a scientist with a blank slate lean, but offers a view that, to my mind, is more scientifically sustainable than Greg’s criticisms afford:

    “I have presented arguments for the conclusion that the SSSM is closer to the truth than EP… I do not suggest, [however], that EP is an intellectually bankrupt research program. It has already produced important and informative hypotheses concerning human behavior and history, and there is reason to expect it to continue to do so.” (Levy 2004)

    Since there was never any attempt above to directly support the stated hypothesis regarding shopping, I’ll spare everyone from the research addressing it directly. To the actual argument being made, I’ve included a reference that touches on the histrionic question of evolutionary psychology as a bankrupt monolith (Confer et al. 2010). Additionally, I’ve included a reference that touches on the question of the political bias of evolutionary psychologists (Tybur et al. 2007).

    Confer, Jaime C, Judith A Easton, Diana S Fleischman, Cari D Goetz, David M G Lewis, Carin Perilloux, and David M Buss. “Evolutionary psychology: Controversies, questions, prospects, and limitations.” The American psychologist 65, no. 2 (2010): 110-26.

    Levy, Neil. “Evolutionary Psychology, Human Universals, and the Standard Social Science Model.” Biology and Philosophy 19, no. 3 (2004): 459-472.

    Tybur, Joshua M, Geoffrey F Miller, and Steven W Gangestad. “Testing the Controversy: An Empirical Examination of Adaptationist Attitudes Toward Politics and Science.” Human Nature 18, no. 4 (October 2007): 313-328.

  33. #33 Stephanie Z
    October 14, 2010

    Andrew, what theory do you think Greg is putting forth? He’s critiqued a number of specific lines of thought. I think you’re reading in more than exists in the post.

  34. #34 Andrew
    October 14, 2010

    This assertion is so grandiose that it’s verging on impossible to read more into it than it implies…

    “There is not a good argument to be found… I’m afraid, the validity from an individual’s perspective of the various arguments that men and women are genetically programmed to be different… is normally determined.. not [by] the science.”

    Greg has critiqued a number of specific lines of thought, indeed. However, after critiquing them, he finishes with an unjustified and fantastic leap to…

    “We would expect a species like humans, born with this big blank brain and subjected to many extra years of learning as children, to develop these differences as a function of culture rather than genes.”

    We would? No, “we” did. It’s been tested and the results say otherwise. The specific lines of argument Greg makes simply do not bear out his far-reaching absolutist conclusion. Buyer beware anytime someone takes a binary position on the nature vs. nurture question. The “big blank brain” hypothesis is the fringe position in 2010. It was convincingly refuted by Steven Pinker (despite @Markella’s quip that this trumps Pinker) in “The Blank Slate” (2002), a zillion other times, and I’d again refer everyone to (Confer et al. 2010 [full-text from author]) for a thorough overview, numerous clarifications, and empirical studies that render the “culture rather than genes” position absolutely untenable. It’s completely on point as it answers the following questions:

    1. Can evolutionary psychological hypotheses be empirically tested or falsified?

    2. Don’t people just solve problems using rationality?Wouldn’t one domain-general rationality mechanism be more
    parsimonious than postulating many domain-specific mechanisms?

    3. Aren’t human behaviors the result of learning and socialization, not evolution?

    4. How does evolutionary psychology take culture into account?

    5. How do recent novel environmental phenomena affect human evolutionary psychology?

    6. What role do genes play in the framework of evolutionary psychology?

    7. What is the practical value of evolutionary psychology?

    8. What are the limitations of evolutionary psychology?

    Judging by many of the comments preceding my first one, many would benefit from the more balanced treatment of evolutionary psychology found in the above paper. Bonus: it’s about 379 pages shorter than Pinker’s book.

  35. #35 Greg Laden
    October 14, 2010

    Andrew, you are being an arm waving dick, and I’m not entirely sure why. You really have set up a straw man here, and when I’ve replied to you, you haven’t listened or adjusted your argument one bit. I also wonder why you do that.

    If you were actually aware of my position on the evolution of the human mind and of hominid behavior, you would likely find that we are closer to each other than you claim. (Though still, not too close, I’m sure, as I’m not a genetic determinist and you are). What you have done instead is read one of my posts, misunderstood it, and thrown numerous references out to refute what you claim incorrectly that I’m saying. And, you’ve done little more than sidestepping the real questions at hand, such as how can you be so certain that there are genetically coded behavioral modules that we are born with when none can be demonstrated to exist other than saying that the genetics is still in it infancy (which is an absurd thing to say)?

    The references are great, I love it when people provide them and the actual PDF is a nice touch, I’m sure my readers will appreciate that. But you need to stay more focused and be less dogmatic.

    Interestingly, when I wrote this post (and did the recording for tomorrows show) I very purposefully narrowed my discussion to focus on the EEA and one or two other topics. I suppose that perhaps I should have covered everything about everything.

    Aside (not for Andrew) to other readers (Andrew, stop reading)….

    What you are seeing here folks is the reaction of someone who has a very closely held view of how life works and who does not want to see that view challenged. The ‘comebacks’ are canned, the reaction predictable, and I promise you that if a real discussion were to start the side stepping and back pedaling would be frantic. Shades of Brian Pesta, as you may recall. … will we have threats of law suits if I don’t succumb to Andrew’s demands as to what I say, and how I say it?

    OK, back to you, Andrew: You still have not answered my question: Given the way evolutionary psychology is actually treated in the literature, by actual evol. psychs, don’t you see a conflict between the concept that modules are coded for by genes that have a potential great range of allelic variation and the homogeneous nature of those modules? Can you tell us how evolutionary psychologists treat that problem?

  36. #36 Andrew
    October 14, 2010

    Greg, First… Point of fact: There is a gaping expanse between genetic determinism and the position evolutionary psychologists take. “Evolutionary psychology forcefully rejects a genetic determinism stance and instead is organized around a crisply formulated interactionist framework that invokes the role of the environment at every step of the causal process.” (Confer et al. 2010, page 11) Pejoratively using this label is a common “argument” made by blank slaters.

    Now, Sir… You assumed a certain amount of work by laying down a foundational assertion that there are “no good arguments”. Sorry, but if someone makes those claims, they should be expected to provide examples of the not good arguments. You simply didn’t do that. Instead of arguing your manageably narrow hypothesis, you argued broadly against evolutionary psychology as a monolith. You then concluded it’s “culture rather than genes”, which is wholly reliant upon an assumption of a “big blank brain”.

    As to your blank slate conclusion, Yes… I’m afraid you do have to just about “cover everything about everything” to make that case. You assumed the burden of proof by making the claim.

    What’s bracketed between your hypothesis and conclusion is interesting and debatable, but even if you were right on every point, your conclusion still wouldn’t follow without piles more support. Why is it put to me debate them point by point within the context of a standard they can’t hope to achieve? Simply put, if your hypothesis and conclusion were tighter, or if the 4th and last paragraphs had been omitted, this conversation would have gone completely differently.

    So… I’ve simply been arguing against your hypothesis and conclusion while you’ve been expecting me to debate the disconnected middle. How that’s nefarious is a mystery. Yet… I continue to be told you didn’t make the claims I’ve been copying and pasting from your post. And now that makes me a dick who’s going to side-step, back-pedal and sue people? I guess you could amend your original hypothesis and conclusion to something more fitting and test this new Brian Pesta hypothesis. I mean… unless the name calling and imaginative character speculation is your idea of a coup de grâce.

  37. #37 Greg Laden
    October 15, 2010

    Andrew, I take it back. There are good arguments, which I happen to not be terribly impressed by myself.

    I am not a blank slatist.

    I did not present a hypothesis and conclusion, though you seem to have produced one from my post. That’s rather more your problem to deal with than mine.

    You would have a more productive time arguing with people over interesting issues like this if you did not show up at the table both offensive and defensive the same time.

  38. #38 DuWayne
    October 15, 2010

    Mr Z –

    I just wanted to point out that sociopaths aren’t overcoming something in their brains, that something is simply missing. That is, to be clear, unlikely an absolute. Sociopathy is a discrete set of traits, given an arbitrary definition, so there is an extremely high likelihood that there are actually many possible causes of a given individual having those traits. But underlying those is generally a lack of something,* rather than overcoming something. Neuroplasticity, combined with any number of environmental conditions can foster the loss far more easily than someone being born that way.

    To be clear, this is the best understanding we currently have, based on the best evidence we currently have. I would also like to note that in aggregate, most sociopaths aren’t crazed murdering maniacs. They merely lack what is commonly known as a conscience and tend towards nearly pathological narcissism. But while they don’t have a clear sense of right and wrong, they are capable of discerning right and wrong in their cultural/social context. Being mostly concerned for their own wellbeing, they tend to keep themselves within those bounds.

    Andrew @ 34 –

    The arguments made in that article are commonsensical, as are most such arguments I have seen. They take what are very reasonable assumptions and try to imbue them with the veneer of science. This is the thing that really irritates me about evopsych – the notion that we can make rather broadbased assumptions about the evolution of human behaviour over the past two hundred thousand years (though I would argue we shouldn’t start with homo sapien), based on the behaviour of humans today. I’m sorry, but no matter how you want to slice it, claims made by evopsych simply aren’t falsifiable.

    That doesn’t mean it can’t be valuable. The more I continue with my education and explore my interests, the more I am inexorably nudged towards evolutionary psychopathology. I’m pursuing degrees in neuropsych and linguistics, with the intention of researching addiction and the various contributors to addiction across cultures. In short, I am going into evopsych and very excited to do so.

    But I don’t harbour the illusions that a lot of evopsychologists seem to hold dear, about the nature of that research. Even assuming that we keep up the current pace of increasing our understanding of neurobiology and genetics, it is unlikely we will ever clearly delineate genetics versus environment. Unless and until we are able to do so, all we have is supposition. Much of that supposition may be well educated and even foster useful results (evospychopathology has), but at this point it cannot be anything but supposition.

    The biggest problem I have with a lot of evopsych claims though, is that they can be just as reasonably explained by neuroplasticity and the environment. Take the example the Psychology Today mentioned, the one about survival words. It is just as likely that survival words are so important because they denote critically important ideas. While it is easy to sit here and assume that they could only carry that importance due to evolution, it is just as easy to say that base needs conditioned by the generational transmission of culture. That they are important ideas that are firmly embedded in childhood and which subsequently become hardwired.

    I’m not claiming that either is correct or incorrect, I am merely trying to point out that both assumptions have equal or nearly equal validity, given the evidence we currently have to work with. I do tend to assume rather more from the environment, because of how profoundly environment can and does shape our brain – before we’re even born. That doesn’t mean that I am a “blank slater” any more than Greg’s position implies that he is. Frankly, it’s inconceivable to me that genetics doesn’t play a role or even that evolutionary traits don’t.

    But making the sweeping claims that many evolutionary psychologists like to make is completely unjustified.

    * There are exceptions to this, but they are rare and arguably not manifestations of sociopathy. I would argue they are, because such people fit the definition. Anyhow – it is possible to torture/condition a person to exhibit all the characteristics of sociopathy, only to have said shaping completely break down. It is also extremely rare.

  39. #39 Andrew
    October 15, 2010

    DuWayne -

    “…claims made by evopsych simply aren’t falsifiable.”

    Based on the rest of your comment, it appears you read the article. Since it provides multiple references and brief analyses of specific hypotheses which were put forth by evolutionary psychologists, and were subsequently falsified, your claim seems to be falsifiable as well.

    In your biggest problem with EP, you make an assumptions that is similar to a point in Greg’s OP. Namely, an insistence upon a requisite reliance upon unknowable behaviors of our EEA/Pleistocene ancestors. Yet, in the next sentence, you use an example that is not reliant upon a video record of our ancestors to make a useful hypothesis which can be tested. The study used evolutionary theory to hypothesize about, then measured whether a memory bias exists in humans relating to survival-domain-specific words. Unless natural selection is falsified, we can reliably assume a general and powerful survival bias in the behavior of any and every species. Thus, we can test the hypothesis in any species that has both memory and language. If we assume (I think fairly) that all species with language must have memory, we can test the hypothesis in any species with language.

    “It is just as likely that survival words are so important because they denote critically important ideas.”

    It’s possible, but in light of the study, not “just as likely”. Nairne & Pandeirada (the study referenced therein) controls for this by the “updated” Battig and Montigue norms. The reliability of this methodology can be challenged and it’s certainly possible that other studies could be conceived to more accurately control for domain-specificity. In any case, your alternative explanation is testable; the authors invited further study. As such, this example too refutes a blanket claim of EP’s unfalsifiability.

    Greg –

    Arguing issues without a bias to offense and/or defense is, by definition, not argument. Though I do understand your point that the psychology of the participants influences the discourse. I operate under the assumption that scientists are biased to relish challenge and appreciate candor. I think of it as an error management theory (EMT) compatible heuristic to save time in a world of a billion bloggers, and apparently some call it being a dick. But hey, EMT predicts that cost in some cases, so I’ll probably be okay with it.

    My mountain bike and the dwindling number of sunny fall days momentarily require my attention elsewhere.

  40. #40 Mr Z
    October 16, 2010

    @DuWayne (and anyone that wants to comment)

    sociopaths are not just high functioning humans, they excel at many important occupations in this world. The ‘something’ you say is missing has not yet been identified and could simply be an under production or over production of some protein or chemical mixture. It’s still quite important in my book as sociopaths stand out as that not quite human example of how we can all be at a given time. We see this difference played out in dramatic movies and such. Self preservation over cooperative behaviors is important to understand. I think (IMO) self preservation is primal while cooperative behavior is an addition to that.

    If you like, it’s what makes us what we commonly call human rather than animal, or rather part of. Whether it is genetic, chemically based, or some other mechanism, it’s more prevalent than anyone likes to admit so is part of the wide spectrum of human experience. For me, it is important because it represents the human intelligence sans need for cooperative behaviors which include personal risk… if that makes sense. I think it fits the profile of hunter gatherer in my mind, rather than the farmer.

    Well, just my thinking

  41. #41 DuWayne
    October 16, 2010

    Andrew –

    The study used evolutionary theory to hypothesize about, then measured whether a memory bias exists in humans relating to survival-domain-specific words.

    Which is all fine and dandy, except that there are equally likely reasons for that memory bias that don’t involve evolution. All that is falsifiable here is whether or not that memory bias exists. The notion that evolution is responsible is not – at least not with the tools we currently have at our disposal.

    We can continue to study this, but doing so would require looking for this phenom in other social structures and cultural contexts. Does this phenom exist in more egalitarian, inherently cooperative social structures? Does it happen and as strongly in high context cultures? Would we see it in functional welfare states, such as the UK?

    Mind you, even then we are still looking at a phenom that cannot be incontrovertibly explained by evolution. The same alternatives that exist in Western, low context, low socialist social structures, also exist across cultures.

    Unless natural selection is falsified, we can reliably assume a general and powerful survival bias in the behavior of any and every species.

    Evolutionary biology isn’t that simple. There have been a lot of animals that existed and survived for a time, some for very long periods, merely by accident. The perfect set of environmental variables existed, wherein they could thrive. A very good modern example of this would be Lemurs, which still thrive and in great variety. Put them into any number of other environments and it is unlikely they would survive, precisely because they don’t have a strong enough survival instinct.

    Thus, we can test the hypothesis in any species that has both memory and language.

    And many behavioural experiments have been done that would indicate that survival memory can be easily overcome in a variety of species. These are imperfect experiments, because we don’t have the common language to communicate abstract ideas with any other species. But a number of behavioural studies have indicated that survival memory can be easily supplanted for other variables.

    It’s possible, but in light of the study, not “just as likely”. Nairne & Pandeirada (the study referenced therein) controls for this by the “updated” Battig and Montigue norms.

    Umm…You do realize that while useful, the updated B&M norms are reliable only for a specific cultural context and social structure, do you not? As such, they are virtually useless as a control, in the context of evopsych research. They only take into account the cultural context and social structure of the United States.

    In any case, your alternative explanation is testable; the authors invited further study. As such, this example too refutes a blanket claim of EP’s unfalsifiability.

    No more so than the assumption that evolution made it happen. We can test for this phenom under conditions that might indicate that it is an environmental variable, rather than a evolutionary one, but we would be left with the same uncertainty. While we may be able to sort this out with more certainty in the future (I am actually fairly confident we will – neurobiology and genetics are fields that are producing breakthroughs at a fairly rapid clip), the tools just don’t currently exist.

    The problem I have with your statements is the problem I have with a great deal of evopsych – it makes assumptions about phenom that can just as easily and with just as much likelihood be explained through shaping and the environment. The changes that happen to contextual memory over time and on a neurobiological level would indicate that environment has a profound effect on our most basic levels of thought. Merely learning a new language can cause significant changes in our abstract reasoning.

    Given our understanding of how our brains adjust based on our environment, it is entirely reasonable to assume that the phenom evo psych attributes to evolution is caused by environmental factors.

    Mr Z –

    First:
    I think it fits the profile of hunter gatherer in my mind, rather than the farmer.

    Indeed and only the profile of the hunter/gatherer in your mind. Actual hunter gatherers are almost entirely in polar opposition to what you are describing. Hunter/gatherer social structures are very nearly entirely cooperative. It’s the only way one can survive in a nearly perfectly egalitarian social structure.

    Ironically, it is the farmer who can actually afford to start acting with “selfish” self interest. Urban structure offers some complications to this schema, but not really. While all of us depend on others, any of us could logistically cut ourselves out of the cooperative loop of social function. There are a hell of a lot of millionaires and billionaires who do just that – not to mention lower income level trust funders.

    As for your notions of self-preservation and cooperation, you really fail to understand the functions of both and assume there is some utility to putting them at odds. Let me assure you that cooperation is far more primal than self-preservation at odds with cooperation. Let me further assure you that these are not mutually exclusive and in point of fact, are critically important as complimentary phenomena.

    Our protohuman ancestors lived in cooperative groups, much like many successful species do today. It was only by living in such groups that such strange creatures as ourselves could survive. Individually we are (in terms of naked animals) really rather weak and indefensible. It is only in groups that we can thrive – whether we’re talking modern humans or our protohuman ancestors.

    I am quite curious how you think that putting self-preservation at odds with cooperation provides an advantage. I am very curious why you believe a society made up entirely of such people could survive. Eliminating cooperative behaviours that entail risk means that we have no police, no fire control, no interest in rescuing anyone from dangerous situations – including children, our own or otherwise. This also means no one willing to group up to fight off invaders. Presumably this would also mean no engaging in any profession that creates some factor of significant personal risk – which means no new construction, no mining and a serious curtailment, if not the complete breakdown of manufacturing.

    Not all sociopaths are evil, most aren’t. But most also understand that following a given set of social norms (to some degree) is in their best self-interest.

    Oi – and:
    The ‘something’ you say is missing has not yet been identified and could simply be an under production or over production of some protein or chemical mixture.

    Whatever causes the lack, it is most certainly a lack and we know in general terms what is missing. The whole of our thought processes, including emotions, are made up of neural pathways. While we don’t understand all that much about the brain, in relative terms, we do understand where many specific connections are probably made. We also have a pretty good idea that some pattern for morality is very likely universal and we know what region of the brain is active when we are forced to make moral/ethical/values judgements. For most sociopaths, that region stays dark when they are forced to consider such judgements.

    I am not saying that it is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. There is all too much we really don’t understand about it. But I can say with an extremely high degree of certainty that socipathy is a lack of certain neural pathways that seem to be otherwise universal to humans.

    Please keep in mind that I’m not making a values judgement here. I am not saying this is an inherently bad thing.

  42. #42 Greg Laden
    October 16, 2010

    A comment worthy of expansion (someday soon?) into a post but I’ll make here: Evol. Psych is an educationists program. That would kill it for some people, but not for me. I’m an adaptationist, accepting Pagel’s Wager. But consider this: What are all those VERY COSTLY adaptations for that relate to human growth and development … extreme (for a primate) altriciality, an extra five years of required high level parental investment, delayed post natal brain development, etc. etc. … if not for maintaining a highly local-adaptive complex behavioral system?

    We already knew this existed in primates, and we know that apes without ape culture are not behavioral apes (most people have never seen the apes they WON’T show you at the zoo, but it is quite astonishing). Humans are “more so” in this regard.

    Bottom line (my hypothesis, not a firm conclusion): Human behavioral systems (modules) should be selected to be less specified, not more specified, by genetically canalized developmental processes, to the extent that they should be NOT built in, but rather, very reconstructible/reniventable on an individual case by case basis. That is my model for the Darwinian mind.

  43. #43 Chris Crawford
    October 16, 2010

    Greg, there are some serious logical flaws in your argument arising from a mixing of the arithmetic with the boolean. For example, you present your basic thesis as:

    There is not a good argument to be found in the realm of behavioral biology for why American Women shop while their husbands sit on the bench in the mall outside the women’s fashion store fantasizing about a larger TV on which to watch the game.

    Just what do you mean by “good”? Likely to be correct? Highly likely to be correct? Absolutely, totally correct? You start with this fuzzy notion of correctness and then leap to the conclusion that, because is not a “good” argument, all such arguments are flat-out wrong. While your basic argument has many solid points, your conclusion is logically flawed. Your evidence demonstrates that some conclusions regarding the role of genetic factors in behavior are weak; your evidence does not contradict the basic notion that genetic factors exert influences on human behavior.

    You repeat the basic mistake in your discussion of Pleistocene environmental variability. You correctly observe that there was some variability in Pleistocene environments. But again, you fail to recognize that variability is an arithmetic concept, not a boolean one. For any two Pleistocene environments A and B, there were some similarities and some differences. But you conclude that, because there were some differences, there could not possibly be any selective pressures on the human genome. That’s an invalidly boolean conclusion from non-boolean evidence.

    Here’s a third example of the mistake you’re making: your use of anecdotal evidence (your relatives who demonstrate behaviors contrary to predictions that one might make from genetic factors). Such evidence serves to refute boolean statements regarding the role of genetic factors in human behavior. It does not in the slightest refute arithmetic statements regarding the role of genetic factors in human behavior. The statement that “all men are promiscuous” is a boolean statement easily refuted. But the statement “men tend to be more promiscuous than women” is an arithmetic statement that can be supported or undermined only by statistical evidence.

    My core point here concerns a common error I observe in a great many arguments: the confusion between the arithmetic and the boolean. Some truths are boolean: black-or-white, yes-or-no, one-or-zero. Other truths are arithmetic: matters of degree, likelihood, or intensity. If you want to draw boolean conclusions, you need boolean evidence and reasoning. If you have arithmetic evidence, then you can only draw arithmetic conclusions, not boolean ones. That’s the mistake you’re making here: drawing boolean conclusions from arithmetic evidence. The evidence we have regarding genetic factors in human behavior is arithmetic; the conclusions we can draw from this evidence are arithmetic in nature. The very notion of “genetic determinism” is a boolean absurdity; “genetic influence” is a more appropriate term. The evidence of genetic influence on a great many human behaviors is overwhelming. The range and degree of such influences is subject to debate, but the existence of such influences has been common knowledge for millennia.

  44. #44 DuWayne
    October 16, 2010

    Chris Crawford –

    The evidence of genetic influence on a great many human behaviors is overwhelming. The range and degree of such influences is subject to debate, but the existence of such influences has been common knowledge for millennia.

    I find it terribly amusing that you go through such great lengths to explain to Greg how he is wrong (and mistaking the Greg in your head for the one who wrote this post). You tear into the logic of his argument with claims that he is making factual claims (which he is not. He did not, for example, claim that the Pleistocene had no effect on the human genome), that he is inappropriately using anecdote for evidence (actually that appeared to be an illustration to me) then take him to task for making a boolean claim (when he did not in fact claim that there were no evolutionary pressures on our behaviors).

    Then you turn around and make a commonsensical claim that isn’t even remotely accurate. You use a vague metric (the sort you damn Greg for) with your claim that genetic influences have been “common” knowledge for millennia, when such influences haven’t been common knowledge in any meaningful sense of the word for more than a hundred years, I would argue considerably less. Even as rather uncommon knowledge, such influences weren’t really seriously considered until about two hundred fifty years ago and then the assumption was traits were passed on directly from the parents (i.e. characteristics developed in their lifetime). At that, there is little evidence that behaviour was taken into consideration even then.

    You might argue that early naturalistic history might have made this assumption, but that is a weak argument indeed and again, was very uncommon knowledge even in it’s time and certainly through the centuries. Only a fraction of the elites throughout history would have read works that discussed naturalistic philosophy and no small number of them would have thought much of it absurd.

    Finally, even when we come to a time when the assumption that behaviour might be heritable to some degree, it was the subject of heated debate – even among so called scientists. Unfortunately it is still something of a debate (in much the same way “design” versus evolution is a debate) even today, though few scientists actually take it seriously.

    So after all that erroneous ranting about Greg’s “mistakes,” you then make a fallacious statement using a unbelievably vague metric and actually engage in the very worst you accuse Greg of doing.

    Good job Bob…

  45. #45 Chris Crawford
    October 16, 2010

    DuWayne, you assert that Greg is making no factual claims. If so, then what kind of claims is he making: fantasy claims? Is he merely making random statements with no claim that they have any truth in them? As I read his post, he seems to be making some very strong assertions.

    You take me to task for claiming that “the existence of such influences has been common knowledge for millennia.” You deny that such common knowledge has existed for millennia. Perhaps you have forgotten the fact that poets and writers have been commenting on something called “human nature” for a long time. They don’t refer to it as “human nurture”, they call it “human nature”. We see comments about fundamental human behavioral proclivities in Homer, Gilgamesh, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Bible, the Koran, Confucius, the Vedas, Boethius, Shakespeare, Erasmus — it’s quite a long list. The belief in genetically conferred behavioral traits underlies all notions of aristocracy and hereditary monarchy. In many cases, of course, such beliefs were incorrect, but the belief in human nature is simply too deeply imbedded in human knowledge to be denied.

    But you knew that.

  46. #46 DuWayne
    October 16, 2010

    Well Chris, you’re welcome to point out where Greg is making factual claims, all I see is someone doing exactly what you accused him of not doing.

    As for the rest, forgive me for assuming that this discussion about specific individual, inherited behaviours was about specific individual, inherited behaviours, rather than very generalised and non-specific societal behaviours. Also forgive me for assuming we were actually talking science, rather than commonsensical bullshit. That same common knowledge you are describing also assumed that the earth is flat and that most natural phenomena were the purview of the gods or ancestors.

    In the context this conversation is taking place, behaviour and heritability have very specific meanings. The commonsensical understanding you are describing has absolutely nothing to do with those definitions.

    But then, you probably knew that too.

  47. #47 Chris Crawford
    October 16, 2010

    all I see is someone doing exactly what you accused him of not doing.< .i>

    Your language here is confused. Is “someone” a person other than those referred to as “you” or “him”? Please clarify your statement.

    forgive me for assuming that this discussion about specific individual, inherited behaviours was about specific individual, inherited behaviours

    Actually, neither you nor Greg have discussed at length any specific individual inherited behaviors. There have been vague and oblique references to male promiscuity, hunting, gathering, shopping, and sports, but none of these have been analyzed specifically. This has been a very high-level theoretical discussion. I think it would be improved if we discussed some specifics, so I’ll start off with what should be an easy one: would you agree (as Greg apparently does) that the relatively greater degree of male promiscuity is an inherited trait?

    Also forgive me for assuming we were actually talking science, rather than commonsensical bullshit.
    Ah yes, the young scientist’s dismissal of the arts and humanities as bullshit. This is a common trait but one that usually evaporates with continuing education. I felt much the same way when I was young — it was just a matter of ignorance. Suffice it to say that your low opinion of the arts and humanities is not shared by mature scientists. While it’s true that the knowledge accumulated in the arts and humanities is of a different nature than the knowledge accumulated by the sciences — it lacks rigor and strict consistency — that knowledge nevertheless commands the respect of more broadly educated people. Shakespeare didn’t have a shred of scientific evidence to support his claim that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” — but his assertion nevertheless comports well with what we have learned by rigorous methods. You can reject it or you can learn from it.

  48. #48 DuWayne
    October 16, 2010

    I only have a moment, so I will clarify two things quick.

    First, “someone” = you.

    Second, I do not have the least bit of scorn for the humanities you patronising shit, where would you get the idea that I do? I’m more writer/poet/musician than I am scientist, the scientist bit being a very recent addition to my life and my only being an undergrad at that.

    There is however, a significant difference between commonsensical, bullshit definitions and operational definitions. Behaviour and heritability, in the context of what is being discussed here, have specific definitions that are not interchangeable with the vagaries of artistic license. That doesn’t make the humanities useless, even in the context of science. It does however, make it less than useful in the context of a discussion about specific science.

  49. #49 Chris Crawford
    October 16, 2010

    you patronising shit
    It would seem that your behavior refutes your argument. After all, if you have not inherited the aggressive emotional constitution of Pleistocene males, why in the world you inject such strong emotion into a purely intellectual discussion? ;-)

    I’m more writer/poet/musician than I am scientist, the scientist bit being a very recent addition to my life and my only being an undergrad at that.

    I am honestly surprised that a self-declared writer/poet would characterize the works of Homer, Gilgamesh, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Bible, the Koran, Confucius, the Vedas, Boethius, Shakespeare, and Erasmus” as “bullshit”. You must be a very good writer indeed to be able to look down on these people! ;-)

    Behaviour and heritability, in the context of what is being discussed here, have specific definitions that are not interchangeable with the vagaries of artistic license.

    Really? The human behavior that artists address is beyond the ken of science or has no connection with the issues discussed here? I suspect that you’re struggling to articulate a reasonable point, but botching the effort. Let me try to make your point for you: you seem to be trying to say that evidence from the arts and humanities cannot be applied to scientific research into specific human behaviors. For example, Shakespeare’s “Hell hath no fury” quote has zero evidentiary value in analyzing the behavioral response of human females to male rejection. I agree with this assessment. However, this true statement is inappropriate as a rejoinder to the point I made, which is that the existence of human nature — a set of behaviors so immune to cultural variation as to be most likely due to “nature” rather than “nurture” — has been acknowledged for millennia. To state my point more briefly: human nature really does exist, and people have known that for millennia. As I pointed out in my original statement, the range and magnitude of human nature is subject to debate, but its existence is beyond denial.

    Does that sort things out for you?

  50. #50 daedalus2u
    October 16, 2010

    Greg #42, your hypothesis is exactly right.

    Quite interesting that you said it in #42.

  51. #51 daedalus2u
    October 16, 2010

    Sailor, I think that honor killing could be the maladaptive extreme of an adaptive trait, that of violence against women while they are pregnant. (not that that excuses it, it doesn’t)

    A leading cause of female death is death during childbirth due to cephalopelvic disproportion. In the absence of medical C-section that is about 1% per pregnancy. Beating the crap out of your mate while she is pregnant does cause a smaller fetus and might save her life (women who are victims of domestic violence while pregnant do give birth to smaller infants (meta analysis, 95% CI = 1.1- 1.8 ). The risk of cephalopelvic disproportion is largest for a first pregnancy and declines with each one.

    Saving a woman’s life by preventing her death due to cephalopelvic disproportion also saves the lives of her as yet unborn children. We might expect violence against women to be more severe when by her relatives who share genes with all her offspring than by her current mate who is only the father of the fetus she is currently carrying. Honor killings are usually by a woman’s male relatives, either her father or male siblings.

    It turns out that the MAO A1 gene is on the X chromosome and has been associated with violent behaviors. A woman has her father’s X chromosome, and has a 50% chance of sharing one with each of her male siblings.

    Violence against females while pregnant also epigenetically programs the fetus to have a different phenotype. Behavioral differences can be measured in experimental animals due to exposure to stress in utero. In humans there is what is called the “cycle of violence”. If your fetus is going to be born into a violent world, better to epigenetically program him/her to be violent first.

    There are some other things that seem to fit violence against women being a “feature”. I have looked in the literature for any other examples of males being violent toward a female while that female is pregnant with that male’s fetus and could not find any. However, humans are unique in having a high incidence of death in childbirth and cephalopelvic disproportion due to the gigantic brain that infants are born with.

  52. #52 J. L.
    October 17, 2010

    I have no intelligent nor clever comments to contribute with, I just wanted to say that for me who is “only” genetically and biologically female – yet not transgender, this is like balm. Since a very young age, society has constantly implied and sometimes outright told me that I am not a girl, yet I’ve never felt like a guy either. Not belonging to the center area of the bell curve sucks sometimes, though mainly only when you get social repercussions for not fitting neatly in the stereotype of what your sex’s gender is supposed to be like.
    The ability to generalize – one of homo sapiens’s greatest survival strengths as well as one of its greatest weaknesses… Bah.

  53. #53 J. L.
    October 17, 2010

    ( I probably should clarify – by “biologically” I mean big tits, vagina, regular periods and all that crap. I suspect my brain would be abnormal biologically, especially since I am likely to have been doused with an above average amount of testosterone for a female fetus in the uterus, because of the mother suffering from chronic stress among other things. Yet I clearly have a high amount of estrogen in my body (as well as higher amounts of testosterone than average). )

  54. #54 DuWayne
    October 17, 2010

    Chris -

    You’re being a patronising shit, which would be why I said you were. That you happened to be being a patronising shit in an intellectual conversation is neither fresh nor relevant to whether or not you’re being an unmitigated asshole.

    I am honestly surprised that a self-declared writer/poet would characterize the works of Homer, Gilgamesh, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Bible, the Koran, Confucius, the Vedas, Boethius, Shakespeare, and Erasmus” as “bullshit”.

    And please, prey tell, explain where I call those works and thinkers bullshit. Though throwing religious texts in there is rather a drag on your implied assertion they are not, I said no such thing. If you had the reading comprehension that my eight year old possesses, you might have noted that I was and still am, talking about the validity of definitions, not the works in question or any other.

    However, this true statement is inappropriate as a rejoinder to the point I made, which is that the existence of human nature — a set of behaviors so immune to cultural variation as to be most likely due to “nature” rather than “nurture” — has been acknowledged for millennia.

    Bullshit. The point I am making here is that this is bullshit.

    You are trying to apply U.S. American(/Western) ideals, cultural context and definitions to an idea that has seen a great deal of variance throughout history, social structures, cultural contexts and co-cultural contexts. You want to interject Shakespeare and that particularly famous quote as though it means something where it certainly does not. While for quite a while that did in fact stand the test of time in the context of Western culture, it is not universal across cultures.

    What you are throwing under this ill defined “human nature,” includes a great deal of behaviour that doesn’t span cultural divides. You’re failing to account for the greatest flaw in most Western world psych experiments – especially in the U.S. – they mostly tell us about the behaviours of Western undergraduates, mostly white Western undergrads. You can’t reasonably even generalise results to our entire culture, much less a completely different culture.

    With that understood, lets explore this “human nature” you keep going on about. For a good bit of history, the same “heritability” that translated “human nature” also translated a person’s station in life and generally their profession. This is not even close to universal, but it was a common theme in many cultures – including that of Shakespeare. The same archetype model that drove the “Divine Right of Kings,” also fostered the transition of station and profession generationally through the parents. In other words, people commonly accepted this as the will of the gods or a given god.

    We aren’t talking about the same thing, which is why definitions are important and using bullshit definitions is useless. It is most certainly not possible to use them interchangeably. Words have different meanings, when used in different cultural contexts, even different intracultural contexts.

    As I pointed out in my original statement, the range and magnitude of human nature is subject to debate, but its existence is beyond denial.

    And as I have pointed out, both Greg and I agree with you on that. I have just been responding to your sloppy, slapdash critique of Greg and the ironic twist of the same sort of slop you erroneously accused Greg of. It is more than a little obvious you aren’t actually reading what either Greg or I have written.

    Take Greg’s “agreement” with you, that promiscuity in men is hardwired. It’s rather amusing, given that he has actually illustrated that promiscuity and sexual behaviours aren’t universal across cultures. While in Western culture women may be less promiscuous than men, that is changing as it both becomes more culturally acceptable for them to fuck around and as they are able to better and better control their odds of getting pregnantAs I pointed out in my original statement, the range and magnitude of human nature is subject to debate, but its existence is beyond denial (there are, of course, cultures wherein the concerns about pregnancy don’t apply to the equation).

    Neither is male promiscuity universal. In cultural contexts where there is a particularly strong taboo against promiscuity in males, there may well be a very strong compulsion for monogamy.

    Greg makes a very important point @42. While there is obviously a evolutionary impact on how we think, by necessity it needs to be extremely adaptable and it is. Culture is largely defined by our environment. Who we are is defined largely by our culture – or our environment defines who we are and we define culture (these are entirely the same, which is why I mention it). Homo sapeiens exists today because not only our protohuman ancestors were adaptable, but because we’re adaptable too.

    JL –

    That is something that I understand quite well. When it comes to gender surveys, I tend to score quite fem, in spite of some rather protypical alpha male characteristics (being bipolar does impact this some, but atypically for bipolar). I am who I am and comfortably so. This includes both loving to hunt and being a better nurturer to my children than their mother and the equal of many mothers in that regard.

    When you come down to it, people cross gender norms a lot more than they usually assume. As I pointed out in my original statement, the range and magnitude of human nature is subject to debate, but its existence is beyond denial. There are certainly some very strict gender norms that are exceedingly pervasive and even dangerous, but they are intracultural gender norms that generally don’t translate across social structures and cultural contexts – at least not very well.

    Take for example, masculine gender norms in Mexico and contrast them with U.S. American masculine gender norms. In the U.S., masculine gender norms aren’t nearly as dependent on machismo as they are in Mexico. Mexican males (throughout most, not all of Mexico) are expected to be hyper-alpha male. U.S. American males, on the other hand, while expected to strictly adhere to certain gender norms, tend to actually look down on such extreme masculinity.

    Yet when it comes to trans-women, Mexican males (depending on geography), uber-masculine as they are, don’t think twice about a male born woman (vestidas – which doesn’t translate quite perfectly to our conception of trans-women). Yet when we take a gander at U.S. American males and their attitudes about male born women, we see a very different response. Often a very violent one.

  55. #55 daedalus2u
    October 17, 2010

    JL, all behaviors are products of a brain, which is a product of neurodevelopment which produces a phenotype. Behaviors are not products of a genotype, they are products of a phenotype. A genotype must be able to support the physiology that leads to the development of each and every phenotype that the genotype can support, but the number of phenotypes that a particular genotype can support is quite large but mostly unknown.

    The development that happens in the utero environment is the most important environmental influence on the development of the adult phenotype, where the phenotype goes from a single cell (the fertilized egg) to ~ 10^12 cells at birth. The change from the infant at birth to the adult is tiny in comparison. It is only because we are ignorant of what those changes are that the changes in utero are discounted.

    The infant brain at birth may or may not be a “blank slate” (what ever that means). The fertilized egg is certainly a lot “blanker” than the infant brain at birth. The fetus in utero is certainly not being filled with cultural information, there isn’t a pathway for that to happen. Until the brain forms and can decode language, environmental sounds can’t convey meaning. There can be signaling due to stress reactions, blood pressure, hormones, cytokines, and my favorite nitric oxide. But the data transfer rate of these signaling pathways is very small. They can’t convey enough information to specify complex behaviors. What they can do is trigger the production of a complex structure with enough plasticity that later development can tune that structure to produce anything.

    It is analogous to how the immune system can produce 10^12 to 10^16 different antibodies. There isn’t a gene for each antibody, there are genes that do essentially random stuff, and then the products of that random stuff are sorted into the ones that do what the immune system needs them to do.

    That is probably what happens in the brain, the genes specify for sufficiently complex random stuff that later neurodevelopment can sort out into what is useful and what is not. Stress in utero tends to produce a larger brain, and tends to shift the developing fetus more on a autism-like phenotype. Testosterone in utero does that too. There is Simon Baron-Cohen’s “extreme male brain” hypothesis of autism (which I think is not correct, it is more an “extreme low nitric oxide brain”, which male brains happen to overlap with).

    In the context of behaviors, there is an overwhelming tendency to pathologize what ever one is not familiar with, to consider such things as “abnormal”. This is bad and the wrong way to consider development. Development is a process. A normal “process” may produce results that are not good, for example anaphylaxis is a “normal” process, but it can kill you. Because an anaphylactic reaction can kill you, is an individual that has an anaphylactic reaction “abnormal”? No, organisms have immune systems that can support anaphylaxis because an immune system that can support anaphylaxis is superior to an immune system that cannot. Organisms evolved to minimize deaths due to infection (from too “weak” an immune system) and from anaphylaxis (from too “strong” an immune system). It is the sum that is minimized, so there have to be instances where either one can be fatal.

    It is the same with behaviors. Normal physiology supports normal development that can produce a whole range of human behavioral phenotypes. They are all “normal”, in that they are products of normal human development. Certain individuals pathologize those phenotypes of normal human development solely to give themselves justification for xenophobia, homophobia, bigotry and bullying behaviors. They are “normal” human behaviors too, I think that Stockholm Syndrome is a human behavior that develops in response to severe bullying in an attempt to prevent it from becoming lethal. I think preventing the bullying is a better approach, but bullies don’t see it that way, hence obnoxious comments on blogs like this.

  56. #56 Chris Crawford
    October 17, 2010

    DuWayne, you offer a variety of opinions; I’ll respond to a few before getting to my main point.

    You’d like me to identify the place where you dismissed all those writings as bullshit. Please re-read the second paragraph in my #45, where I listed those writings as evidence against an earlier claim of yours. Note that in message #45, I offered no evidence other than those writings. Yet in your #46 you responded with this statement:

    “Also forgive me for assuming we were actually talking science, rather than commonsensical bullshit.”

    The most important point is that you agree with me on my original point that the existence of human nature is beyond question. Thus, this entire argument has been without issue; you agree with my core point while violently and abusively disagreeing with my arguments in its favor.

    But now I’d like to turn to my new point, guaranteed to amplify your anger into white-hot rage. You accuse me of being a patronizing shit. I cannot speak to the question of whether I am fecal matter, as my nose adapts to strong odors and so I would not be aware of it if I were. However, I can certainly confirm your statement that I am patronizing, because in fact I am certainly “patron” in the Latin sense. That is to say, I am your educational and intellectual superior and so I am teaching you rather than stooping to argue with you. I do not base my confidence in my intellectual and educational superiority on anything I was born with; rather, I attribute them to the decades of additional time I have had to acquire knowledge and refine my thinking. You are still early in your education; you have had only a few years to study serious topics. I’m in my sixties; I’ve had decades to build my intellectuum. With that kind of background, the only way I could fail to be your intellectual superior would be for me to be a drooling idiot, and since I observe no drool on my keyboard, I conclude that all those years of study have given me a huge advantage over you. When I was your age, I was just as ignorant as you are now; I expect that, with the passage of time, you’ll learn and improve, just as I did. Sometimes, as an exercise in humility, I peruse some of my old writings from my twenties; it serves to remind me that my skills are the product of decades of labor, not any natural genius on my part.

    Your verbal violence reminds me of a great scene from the book “Jurassic Park”. The lawyer confronts a young tyrannosaurus and attempts to save himself by waving his arms and yelling ferociously. The small tyrannosaurus regards him silently for a moment, then eats him. All that verbal violence was without any significance, a mere posturing. Your attempt to enlarge your appearance through verbal fireworks is similarly impotent.

    My reason for dispensing these humiliating observations — a sinfully cruel act, I confess — is to combat the assumption of intellectual egalitarianism that underlies so many discussions on the Internet. The blogosphere reeks with young testosterone-poisoned studs slinging their featherweight ideas around, secure in the knowledge that their zits and their ignorance can be hidden from view. It’s a ploy to wrap oneself in the robes of adulthood. Like little girls wearing their mother’s clothing as part of their play, these Internet studs drape their meager educations around themselves like Oxford dons in their doctoral robes. For the most part, I humor them, recalling how I did much the same thing at that age. However, I am today inspired to remind you and the world that we tyrannosaurs still have big teeth, and might just use them if it seems appropriate to your education.

    Your best defense is to adhere strictly to the facts. The true egalitarianism of the world of ideas is that anybody armed with facts and logic can participate, regardless of age or education. Facts, evidence, and logic are like steel armor against the teeth of the tyrannosaurus. In a contest of opinions, my big teeth will rip through your soft flesh. But my true and valid facts, evidence, and logic are in no wise superior to anybody else’s true and valid facts, evidence and logic. Confine yourself to true and valid facts, evidence, and logic, and you really can stand up to me.

    Good luck, kid, from a patronizing old tyrannosaurus.

  57. #57 daedalus2u
    October 17, 2010

    Chris, your comments are among those I was referring to in #55. I agree with you that there is such a thing as “human nature”. Greg and DuWayne agree with that too. There is such a thing as “human nature”. “Human nature” is what human beings exhibit. If a human exhibits a “nature”, then by definition that “nature” is “human nature”.

    “Human nature” so defined does not mean what you want it to mean; “behaviors that you and individuals that you consider to be ‘normal humans’ exhibit”.

    Greg, DuWayne, and I, do not agree that there are “human natures” that are devoid of cultural influence. There is no data that supports that there are such things either. Virtually all of what some individuals have claimed to be “human natures devoid of cultural influence” are simply their personal ideas and preferences they are trying to impose on others and to use to denigrate others into “the other” so the different behaviors they exhibit can be characterized as “non-human”, so that the individuals exhibiting those behaviors can be characterized as “non-human”, so the human niceties of respect and fair treatment can be dispensed with and such people can be maltreated, and in the limit enslaved and killed.

    You don’t have facts and logic on your side, you have bullying, obnoxious bullying based on xenophobia. Exhibiting xenophobia is a “human nature” too, a rather obnoxious, petty, mean spirited human nature based on ignorance.

    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2010/03/physiology-behind-xenophobia.html

    The reason people like you consider people with different behaviors to be non-human is because you are stunted. You are unable to appreciate that actual human beings can be different than you, can have different thinking processes, can have different ideas, can look differently and yet still be human. Your inability to perceive the behaviors of some humans as “human behaviors” is about your stunted ability to perceive things. Your inability to perceive them does not mean they are not there, only that you are so blind that you cannot see them.

  58. #58 Chris Crawford
    October 17, 2010

    Wow, daedalus2u, I don’t know where you got the impressions you describe, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with either my statements or my beliefs. I am in complete agreement with the notion that human nature is subject to cultural influence. I have elsewhere summarized my own belief as follows: genetic factors establish the foundation for human behavior, and cultural factors build on that foundation to produce actual behavior. I strongly suspect that this is a statement that all of us would agree with. Thus, this discussion strikes me as having lots of loud disagreement over vapors, and a great deal of wild supposition. Why then don’t we start from the italicized statement above and see where we might agree or disagree?

  59. #59 daedalus2u
    October 17, 2010

    I don’t agree that genetic factors establish the foundation for human behaviors other than in producing a brain that is “human enough” to support human behaviors.

    There is no data to support this “genetic foundation” of human behaviors that you talk about. Lots of people want to believe it, and lots of people write as if it was true, and lots of people claim that there is data, and that the data supports their beliefs, but they are not correct.

  60. #60 Chris Crawford
    October 17, 2010

    OK, now we’re talking about something substantial! Your position is ill-defined: you accede only that genetic factors produce a brain that is human enough to support human behaviors. What does this mean? For example, it has previously been acknowledged that genetic factors induce human males to promiscuity. Do you accept this statement? If so, then “a brain that is human enough to support human behaviors” means “a brain that is genetically included toward promiscuity”. If that be so, then how can you draw a line between behaviors such as male promiscuity and any other behavior?

    You argue that there is no data to support a genetic foundation for human behaviors. Do you deny the data regarding male promiscuity? Or is male promiscuity some sort of special exception? I think some further explication on your part would greatly clarify matters.

  61. #61 daedalus2u
    October 17, 2010

    Chris, not all males are promiscuous. Promiscuity is a trait that some male brains have, some male brains do not have it. Promiscuity cannot be a “genetic” trait of a male brain if some genetically male brains do not have it.

    Whether a particular male brain exhibits promiscuous behavior or not depends on the social environment that male brain was brought up in. There is no “default” behavior in the absence of a social environment.

    Humans brought up in the absence of a social environment (i.e. feral children) exhibit pretty dysfunctional social behaviors. Are dysfunctional social behaviors the “default”? What does that even mean? The number of feral children is very small over human evolution. They are not significant in human evolutionary terms, only humans brought up in a social environment are.

  62. #62 DuWayne
    October 17, 2010

    However, I can certainly confirm your statement that I am patronizing, because in fact I am certainly “patron” in the Latin sense. That is to say, I am your educational and intellectual superior and so I am teaching you rather than stooping to argue with you.

    If it makes you feel better to believe that, then by all means believe it. That I am in my mid-thirties and you are in your sixties doesn’t make it true. You know virtually nothing about me and my experience in life and I know virtually nothing about you – it is impossible to say.

    I will clarify a couple of things though, so as to make a little clearer where I am coming from. While I am new to formal education (second year of college, since dropping out of high school 18 years ago), I am most certainly not at the beginning of my education. I have been an avid reader since the age of two and have always been precocious enough to find people capable of clarifying things I don’t understand. While I spent much of my early adulthood dealing with substance abuse problems and other mental illness, I was also spending time on college campuses the country over – finding people who could help me understand problems with psychology, philosophy (heavy on logic), sociology and a host of other interests.

    Starting with professors I knew locally, I got letters of reference for my travels and hitched all over the U.S. I also read voraciously. While certainly not on a level with the professors I talked to, I was and am rather more knowledgeable than the average laymen. Philosophy, sociology, psychology and rather obscure aspects of music theory were my main focuses and I know my shit. My knowing my shit is illustrated by my managing 4.0s in all my psych classes, without doing a lick of studying and writing papers my instructors would expect from grad students.

    Having managed to get on top of my substance abuse issues and my mental illness, I am thriving in the college environment. I am sucking everything I can out of my classes and my instructors, loving most every minute (though the stress can be a bit much on occasion, but that is because I am fulltime and a half). I was accepted without hesitation, to UofT, Knoxville – in spite of not meeting all of the qualifications (math is my downfall). Things have changed in my personal life and I will not be going, instead transferring locally and taking custody of my kids. The psych department I will be going into is excited to have me, as is the language department.

    I am not saying this to claim I am your intellectual and educational superior. I am saying this because you seem to assume you know a lot more about me than you do. I was cutting my teeth on theology at nine and moved into logic (which I admittedly applied poorly to religion) and critical thinkers when I was eleven. I am not a pup and I am not beneath you in any meaningful sense of the word.

    As for your concerns about “verbal violence,” quit being a sanctimonious fucking prat. People who assume inadequacy, just because another person uses strong language are missing a depth of understanding of what it is to be human right now, here in this culture. You are assuming that I am using such language to be provocative or because I have nothing. This is not the case. I use that kind of language, because that is the language of my cultural context.

    In your presumption of superiority, you seem to have missed understanding what it is I am talking about. That is sad for you. At your age, I have little doubt that in the field of behavioural psychology, you are decades behind the times – if you were ever actually there. I am arguing against your suppositions, because you seem rather keen on assuming that psych studies have something to say about humans in aggregate. That they indicate something about evolutionary components of human behaviour.

    They do not. Mostly they tell us about the behaviour of young, white college students. Other studies – neurobiological studies – indicate that it is entirely possible that everything behavioural could very plausibly be environmental. There are few scientists who take that notion seriously – at least few worth mentioning, but that does call into question everything we assume about evolution/genetics driven behaviour. At some point it is likely that we will have more definite answers to these questions. With so much more to learn, we are constantly learning new and interesting things about the human brain and genetics.

    It’s in there somewhere and someday we will figure a lot more of it out. But making assertions about, say, human sexual behaviour and the influence of evolution on it are just not possible, except in very general terms. Like we can safely say that promiscuity among men and women isn’t something that can be explained in evolutionary terms, because cultural contexts have an obviously profound influence on sexual behaviours. At the same time, it is patently absurd to say that evolution didn’t play a role in human sexual behaviours. We can’t know what that influence is at the moment, but we can know what it is not, because we can and have observed human sexuality across a great many cultures and found few universal behaviours.

    But I suppose you will notice that I said fuck and shit a few times and decide that I have nothing valuable to contribute to the discussion. That’s your loss, because your presumption of superiority aside, I am an exceptionally clever and extremely well read individual. I understand how science works and understand what it cannot tell us, based on the majority of psych studies.

  63. #63 DuWayne
    October 17, 2010

    You argue that there is no data to support a genetic foundation for human behaviors. Do you deny the data regarding male promiscuity? Or is male promiscuity some sort of special exception? I think some further explication on your part would greatly clarify matters.

    Quite simple, oh mighty bright one; the data regarding male promiscuity is woefully incomplete. All that it tells us, is that in a few specific groups, male promiscuity is extremely prevalent compared to promiscuity in women.

    Any more questions?

  64. #64 daedalus2u
    October 17, 2010

    Actually DuWayne, I am not even sure the data actually says that.

    If we count the number of times a man has sex with a woman, and the number of times a woman has sex with a man, the two numbers are exactly equal.

  65. #65 Chris Crawford
    October 17, 2010

    Here we have as perfect an example of the boolean error as I have seen:

    Chris, not all males are promiscuous. Promiscuity is a trait that some male brains have, some male brains do not have it. Promiscuity cannot be a “genetic” trait of a male brain if some genetically male brains do not have it.

    You claim that, since some human male brains do not manifest this behavioral trait, it cannot be genetic in nature. There are some people who have genetic makeups that cannot be characterized as either male or females — therefore, by your reasoning, there cannot be any such thing as males or females.

    The basic mistake you make is the same one that Mr. Laden made earlier: extrapolating a simple boolean fact to contradict an arithmetic one. The fact that some males are not promiscuous does not provide evidence against a genetic proclivity towards male promiscuity. You believe that because something isn’t absolutely, totally, black, it must therefore be white. The truth is that the matter is dark gray: most males are promiscuous, some are not.

    Read again what I wrote:

    genetic factors establish the foundation for human behavior, and cultural factors build on that foundation to produce actual behavior.

    The fact that some males are not promiscuous does not contradict this statement in the slightest. Indeed, the fact that some males are not promiscuous is completely consistent with my statement.

    Stop thinking in terms of absolutes, in terms of black and white, yes-or-no. Think instead in terms of tendencies, likelihoods, inclinations, and probabilities. James Clerk Maxwell wrote “The logic for this world is the calculus of probabilities.” Take that to heart.

    DuWayne, I’m glad that you’ve been learning. Keep at it. And now, if you please, let us return to discussing the issues.

  66. #66 daedalus2u
    October 17, 2010

    Chris, again, you have no data to support your statement. You have no examples of humans exhibiting sexuality when those humans have not grown up in a social context. You are the one who wants to make gender and sexuality solely a genetically determined construct. I know it is more complicated than that.

    Development is neither arithmetic nor boolean. It is chaotic. It is highly non-linear. (speaking of which Mandelbrot just died)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/us/17mandelbrot.html?ref=mathematics

    What do “initial conditions” mean in a highly non-linear coupled chaotic system? Not very much.

    Suppose we accept your premise, what does it add to any understanding? Nothing. You have made a non-falsifiable statement.

    If we look at the genotype of a brain, does it tell us if the person is promiscuous or not? No, it does not. Does it tell us if the person is male or female or not? No, it does not. So why are you so hung up on wanting a “genetic foundation” for human behaviors?

    We know why most people want a genetic foundation for human behaviors, so they can “other” people with a different genetic background and consider them to be inferior. So they can justify the visceral hatred and disdain they already feel towards those people. So they can justify treating those people badly and denying them the human rights that “normal” people deserve.

    I don’t know for sure why you want so badly for there to be a genetic foundation of behavior, but I suspect it is for the same reasons that most racists and bigots do. So you can “other” people with a different genetic background. So you can justify not spending money educating people of ethnic backgrounds that are not your own.

    So why do you so badly want there to be a genetic foundation for human behavior that you make it up? Is there any data that supports a genetic foundation for human behavior? Any data that is of sufficient fidelity to falsify the hypothesis that it is virtually all a product of social development with minimal genetic input?

    I know there isn’t, but you want to assume there is and make that your premise. Sorry, we are a bit more rigorous than that here.

  67. #67 Chris Crawford
    October 17, 2010

    Daedalus2u, you are babbling a great deal of nonsense; I really must insist that you take the time to assemble coherent thoughts if you wish me to take the trouble to respond. For example, you declare:

    You have no examples of humans exhibiting sexuality when those humans have not grown up in a social context.

    Inasmuch as we don’t have any but a few extremely rare cases of humans (wolf children) who have not grown up in a social context, it’s meaningless to discuss what kind of sexuality they exhibit. EVERYBODY grows up in a social context! Could you please confine your comments to something other than absurd fantasies?

    Development is neither arithmetic nor boolean. It is chaotic. It is highly non-linear.

    Again, you present logical absurdity. I never said that development is arithmetic or boolean. Here is what I wrote: “Think instead in terms of tendencies, likelihoods, inclinations, and probabilities.” Again, please connect 2 and 2 to get 4, not Hinduism with citric acid to get horsemanship.

    You write: Suppose we accept your premise, what does it add to any understanding? Nothing. You have made a non-falsifiable statement.

    Really? First you deny the truth of this statement: “genetic factors establish the foundation for human behavior, and cultural factors build on that foundation to produce actual behavior”, then you claim that it adds nothing to our understanding — and then you claim that it is non-falsifiable. Which is it? False, uninformative or non-falsifiable? If it’s false, as you claimed, then it must surely be falsifiable. Please make up your mind!

    I can refute any of those claims singly, but I’d rather not waste my time, so if you could clarify, I’d appreciate it.

    If we look at the genotype of a brain, does it tell us if the person is promiscuous or not?

    That’s not correct; the genotype does indeed specify an inclination or proclivity towards promiscuity. I can predict that the possessor of male genes will likely be more promiscuous than the possessor of female genes. We can then measure promiscuity rates among large groups of such persons and determine whether the prediction is statistically confirmed. Have you the slightest doubt that the outcome of such measurements will bear out the prediction? I expect that you’ll engage in some shabby arm-waving to deny the promiscuity of males. If so, all I can do in response is to shake my head at the lack of intellectual integrity demonstrated by such perversity.

    If we look at the genotype of a brain, does it tell us if the person is promiscuous or not? No, it does not. Does it tell us if the person is male or female or not? No, it does not.

    There are these things called “X chromosomes” and “Y chromosomes” that do indeed tell us the gender of the individual. I suggest that you consult a high-school biology text for confirmation of my claim.

    why are you so hung up on wanting a “genetic foundation” for human behaviors?

    I don’t want a genetic foundation for human behaviors; I don’t impose my personal preferences on truth. I instead observe the truth and follow it wherever it takes me, regardless of whether I find the results distasteful. Indeed, when I find my tastes in conflict with reality, I chide myself that I must be out of syntony with reality. Do you impose your tastes upon your perception of truth?

    We know why most people want a genetic foundation for human behaviors, so they can “other” people with a different genetic background and consider them to be inferior

    Perhaps this is so; I don’t pretend to understand other people’s motivations. I do, however, have a clear understanding of my own motivations, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that none of your speculations about the motivations of other people have any relevance to my own thinking; I suggest that you abandon such speculations as they have zero relevance to my own case.

    Is there any data that supports a genetic foundation for human behavior?

    I suggest that you consult any of the fine books of Mr. Steven Pinker, Leda Cosmides, Sara Blaffer Hrdy, Steven Mithen, Christopher Wills, Terence Deacon, or even Robert Wright or Geoffrey Miller. I can provide titles and ISBN numbers if you wish. The evidence in support of the basic notion that genetic factors play an important role in human behavior has been around for years; you really have to keep your head buried deeply in the ground to lack awareness of it. I would especially recommend Ms. Hrdy’s work “Mother Nature” as a rigorous and thorough presentation of a life’s work on this subject. And guess what: Ms. Hrdy is neither a bigot, a racist, a misogynist, nor a homophobe. She’s a scientist.

  68. #68 DuWayne
    October 17, 2010

    DuWayne, I’m glad that you’ve been learning. Keep at it. And now, if you please, let us return to discussing the issues.

    Oh, you mean like I did and you ignored? Fucking prat.

  69. #70 Greg Laden
    October 17, 2010

    The basic mistake you make is the same one that Mr. Laden made earlier:

    Sorry, I was out of town. What did I do wrong? I’m sure I’ve not made any boolean errors. The suggestion is preposterous, as a matter of fact.

  70. #71 Chris Crawford
    October 17, 2010

    Greg, how can you dismiss as preposterous a comment that you haven’t read? Please read my comment #43 and then tell me what you think.

  71. #72 Margarethe Brummermann
    October 18, 2010

    Our culture (most cultures?) defines male and female historically by their phaenotype or today by the presence of X and Y chromosomes. There is an abundance of archetypical people whose personality fits well with all the stereotypes developed over time by convenience but also empirically. The big mountain peak of the bell-curve.
    BUT gender expression, or rather personality expression (within a culture that more or less supports or at least tolerates it) seems to cover a much wider, overlapping range – probably controlled by hormone levels/balances, which are probably mainly controlled genetically. So you get spacially-oriented huntresses and male closeted shoe-collectors.

  72. #73 Troll King
    October 18, 2010

    What? I am guessing this post is supposed to be tongue n’ cheek. But are you really trying to compare your self to all of humanity? Populations evolve not individuals. I am sick of this chicken and the egg type argueing.

    Are you really going to tell me that ‘culture’ can or did exist independently of each other? The only arguments that makes sense for are religious pre-deterministic arguments. If you believe that everything you are was created by god before you were even born, then ok. If you believe in evolution, then culture evolved. It’s an adaptive measure that creates group cohesion and probably helped a lot of prehistoric humans to survive. It’s basically mammal herd mentality on steroids. Anyways, not bad for a evo article comparing football and shoes./s

  73. #74 Greg Laden
    October 19, 2010

    Chris, I told you what I think. I’ll rephrase: I think your critique is bizarre. I don’t have an answer for it other than cover up that one paragraph that has made you crazy if you really think it is that hard to take.

  74. #75 Chris Crawford
    October 19, 2010

    Greg, the concept I argue is straightforward and logically substantive. I’ll therefore take your inability to provide a cogent rebuttal to my critique as acquiescence. Although it could conceivably be due to a gaping hole in your comprehension, I rather doubt that, as you’re obviously a bright person. Perhaps you simply don’t want to take the time to provide a rebuttal; that’s understandable (especially since, IMO, it would take you a lot of effort to compose a decent rebuttal). Your task in this blog is not so much as to be right as to command eyeballs, and you can get more eyeballs with less effort by writing new stories.

    Best wishes.

  75. #76 DuWayne
    October 19, 2010

    Greg, the concept I argue is straightforward and logically substantive.

    No, no it isn’t.

  76. #77 Greg Laden
    October 19, 2010

    Or, it’s very logical and straight forward, but in a sophistic kinda way. Such arguments can be very distracting.

  77. #78 Chris Crawford
    October 19, 2010

    Well, DuWayne, I’m sure that you can substantiate your denial with some logic and evidence, all of course laced with a vocabulary of obscenities certain to entertain. Perhaps some “fucking prat” syllogisms? After all, if one obscenity is good, then two must be better, and fifty even better than that. Indeed, why bother with any words other than obscenities? For your purposes, it’s all the same! ;-)

  78. #79 Chris Crawford
    October 19, 2010

    Greg, I didn’t see your comment before posting my response to DuWayne. As to your response: fair enough; the distinction between sophistry and sophistication is a subjective matter. Let’s call it a day.

  79. #80 Greg Laden
    October 19, 2010

    Chris! OK, I decided to directly address your comment.

    Greg, there are some serious logical flaws in your argument arising from a mixing of the arithmetic with the boolean. For example, you present your basic thesis as:

    There is not a good argument to be found in the realm of behavioral biology for why American Women shop while their husbands sit on the bench in the mall outside the women’s fashion store fantasizing about a larger TV on which to watch the game.

    That was not my basic thesis. This post has more than one “basic thesis” including: 1) The pleistocene is not what evolutinoary phsychologists have traditionallyi said it is; 2) When confronted with that backpedaling that is nonproductive happens; 3) modules may well exist but there is no compelling reason to believe that they are hard coded by genes that were subject to selection as EP’s claim; and 4) a couple of other things. The comment that you cite as my “basic thesis” was a literary device and a pretty clear statement, and verged on an absurd joke.

    Therefore, this stuff:

    Just what do you mean by “good”? Likely to be correct? Highly likely to be correct? Absolutely, totally correct? You start with this fuzzy notion of correctness and then leap to the conclusion that, because is not a “good” argument, all such arguments are flat-out wrong.

    Which has virtually nothing to do with what I said in my post, and which I found sufficiently annoying that, I admit, I stopped reading your comment.

    While your basic argument has many solid points, your conclusion is logically flawed. Your evidence demonstrates that some conclusions regarding the role of genetic factors in behavior are weak; your evidence does not contradict the basic notion that genetic factors exert influences on human behavior.

    Here is where you are totally wrong. No one is failing to recognize that genetic factors influence mammalian behavior. Evolutionary psychology does not, however, assert that. It asserts something much more specific and qualitatively different. Their assertion can not be assumed to be a “basic notion” … and I assume by “basic notion” you mean something that we assume to be true until proved untrue. Quite the contrary. The assertions of Evolutionary Psychology are novel and revolutionary, even extraordinary.

    Chris, you are telling me that I’ve got it wrong because I have not disproved the presumption that genes influence behavior. However, I did not address that presumption. So, perhaps we can adjust what you are saying: Perhaps you are telling me that I’ve got it wrong because I have not disproved the assertions of evolutionary psychology, which you take to be “basic notions” .. i.e., assumed to be true.

    This is the problem with this whole discussion. Your typical Western trained person comes to the table “knowing” that certain things are “true” including the existence of races, the detailed genetic coding of behavior, and so on. Like the Victorians coming to the table “knowing” that they deserved to rule the world. Give me a break!

    Then there is this:

    You repeat the basic mistake in your discussion of Pleistocene environmental variability. You correctly observe that there was some variability in Pleistocene environments. But again, you fail to recognize that variability is an arithmetic concept, not a boolean one. For any two Pleistocene environments A and B, there were some similarities and some differences. But you conclude that, because there were some differences, there could not possibly be any selective pressures on the human genome. That’s an invalidly boolean conclusion from non-boolean evidence.

    Huh? During the 12 thousand years of the Holocene in the region where the Ju/’hoansi bushmen lived, they lived there in an environment much like it is today except in one or two spots that may have been a tiny bit dryer or weter. Durin the previous 24,000 years of the terminal Pleistocene, the environment in that region fluctuated fro one in which the Okavango overflowed a lake that does not exist today and formed a new, enormous lake in Central Botswana, and a period of time when the entire region was so dry that no archaeological evidence of any human has ever been found for that time period.

    Your whole Boolean logic thing is something that one might apply to a philosophical question. This, however, is not a philosophical question. This is a question of measurement and data. The evolutionary psychology literature very clearly makes out the Pleistocene as a consistent, unary, long period of time with little variation. This assumption was made by psychologists, who did not know what they were talking about. They were wrong. Boolean? Arithmetic? Bah, humbug!

    Here’s a third example of the mistake you’re making: your use of anecdotal evidence (your relatives who demonstrate behaviors contrary to predictions that one might make from genetic factors). Such evidence serves to refute boolean statements regarding the role of genetic factors in human behavior. It does not in the slightest refute arithmetic statements regarding the role of genetic factors in human behavior. The statement that “all men are promiscuous” is a boolean statement easily refuted. But the statement “men tend to be more promiscuous than women” is an arithmetic statement that can be supported or undermined only by statistical evidence.

    You are correct that my relatives are arithmetic and not Boolean. You are incorrect that this is the evidence for this argument. That’s just me relating the reality that bell curves not only overlap but they sometimes utterly disappear (as has happened with some sex difference measures), occasionally revers, or are often highly suspicious for one reason or another.

    Do you write/edit Wikipedia articles?

    My core point here concerns a common error I observe in a great many arguments: the confusion between the arithmetic and the boolean. Some truths are boolean: black-or-white, yes-or-no, one-or-zero. Other truths are arithmetic: matters of degree, likelihood, or intensity. If you want to draw boolean conclusions, you need boolean evidence and reasoning. If you have arithmetic evidence, then you can only draw arithmetic conclusions, not boolean ones. That’s the mistake you’re making here: drawing boolean conclusions from arithmetic evidence. The evidence we have regarding genetic factors in human behavior is arithmetic; the conclusions we can draw from this evidence are arithmetic in nature. The very notion of “genetic determinism” is a boolean absurdity; “genetic influence” is a more appropriate term. The evidence of genetic influence on a great many human behaviors is overwhelming. The range and degree of such influences is subject to debate, but the existence of such influences has been common knowledge for millennia.

    I’ll keep that mind, but you are making part of this up. The term “genetic determinism” has never been a boolean concept (in the hands of actual behavioral geneticists). Have you read any of the literature? Had you, you would have seen that that is not what is meant by “genetic determinism.” The terms “genetic determinism” and “genetic influence” are roughly interchangeable to behavioral geneticists. You have made the error of thinking of “determinism” as a strong thing, strong enough to be on or off (boolean), and “influence” to be a vaguer thing, something that might run along a spectrum.

    You have taken two terms that are similar, both of which refer to arithmetic properties of relationships, and dichotomized them. You have, indeed, booleanized them!!!!11!!1

    Which is obviously some kind of really serious error.

  80. #81 Greg Laden
    October 19, 2010

    Oops, didn’t see your comment while I was posting my comment.

    “the distinction between sophistry and sophistication is a subjective matter”

    actually, it’s a clear boolean distinction. Which you are arithmeticized!

  81. #82 DuWayne
    October 20, 2010

    Chris –

    I did in fact address your comment and with a minimum of swearing even. But rather than actually addressing the comments, you went all in for your bullshit superiority complex. I understand that your understanding of behavioural psychology is woefully out of date, but that is no excuse for being a fucking prat when it is pointed out to you. I also understand that you believe that commonsensical definitions throughout the centuries is relevant to a discussion about the science of behaviour. That is no excuse for being a dismissive, condescending asshat when someone points out that and explains how you’re wrong.

    But I suppose when you’ve got nothing, it is nice to have language that offends your delicate sensibilities, to give you an excuse for ignoring your ignorance.

  82. #83 Chris Crawford
    October 20, 2010

    Greg, thanks for your detailed response to my points in the blog. I have taken some time to think over your points, and written up a long rejoinder.

    You reject my characterization of your basic thesis, offering instead the explanation that what I was objecting to was more light-hearted in style. OK, I can happily say, “Oops, my sense of humor failed me.” However, you then proceed to offer these as your basic points:

    1) The pleistocene is not what evolutinoary phsychologists have traditionallyi said it is; 2) When confronted with that backpedaling that is nonproductive happens; 3) modules may well exist but there is no compelling reason to believe that they are hard coded by genes that were subject to selection as EP’s claim; and 4) a couple of other things.

    I am appalled by these statements: they’re drivel! Let’s go over them one at a time. First: The pleistocene is not what evolutinoary phsychologists have traditionallyi said it is;

    For this to make any sense, you have to specify what it is that you claim evolutionary psychologists have traditionally said it is. This looks for all the world like one of those “some say” statements: “Some say that Greg Laden is an orphan-raping litterbug, but that’s not quite the truth”. Your statement is so devoid of detail that it could really mean almost anything. Yes, it’s absolutely true that the Pleistocene is not what some people have said it was (some people said it was a time of wild orgies and lollipop manufacturing). If you want to make a point, Greg, MAKE IT! Don’t just dump a vague nothingburger statement onto the world. That’s an abuse of electrons.

    Moving on to your next point: 2) When confronted with that backpedaling that is nonproductive happens; Who? What? When? Where? How? What in the world are you talking about? If I’m going to ask my reader to take the time to read what I have to say, I actually SAY something! This statement lacks content.

    3) modules may well exist but there is no compelling reason to believe that they are hard coded by genes that were subject to selection as EP’s claim;

    As written, this concedes that there may be compelling reasons to believe that mental modules are hard coded by genes that were subject to selection in ways other than that “EP” claims. Are there mental modules that are hard coded by genes that were subject to selection in ways consistent with the writings of Sara Blaffer Hrdy? Leda Cosmides? Steven Pinker? Your statement certainly suggests the possibility.

    4) a couple of other things. Only a couple? ;-)

    I’m reminded of a quote by Abraham Lincoln to the effect that he knew a politician who could pack more words into fewer ideas than anybody he’d ever met. Your post and your response both present a roiling ocean of words that, under careful analysis, don’t say anything. In this sense, your case against EP is rather like the creationist’s case against evolution: when all is said and done, they don’t say anything. As much as I hold the global warming deniers in contempt, I have to confess that they’re way ahead of you on one point: they actually have some points to make. Their points are way wrong, usually involving some sort of twisting of the science, but at least there’s a “there” there. I can’t say as much for either your original post or your response.

    No one is failing to recognize that genetic factors influence mammalian behavior.

    You’re not saying that, but several of the commentators here are doing so. Some of my responses are to them. I really should ignore these ignorami.

    Evolutionary psychology does not, however, assert that. It asserts something much more specific and qualitatively different.

    WHAT? You are maddeningly unspecific here. You say that they’re wrong, but you won’t reveal what they’re wrong about.

    Their assertion can not be assumed to be a “basic notion” … and I assume by “basic notion” you mean something that we assume to be true until proved untrue.

    No, that’s not what I mean. Evo Psych is a theory now (a broad collection of related hypotheses) that must stand the test of criticism. But you’re not offering any criticism: you’re just rejecting the theory without explanation.

    The assertions of Evolutionary Psychology are novel and revolutionary, even extraordinary.

    WHAT assertions?!??! Again with the complete lack of specificity! Are you attacking a label or a theory?

    Perhaps you are telling me that I’ve got it wrong because I have not disproved the assertions of evolutionary psychology, which you take to be “basic notions” .. i.e., assumed to be true.

    Nope. My original criticism was specific to the logical error of using arithmetic evidence to arrive at boolean conclusions — but at this point I think we’re arguing more fundamental questions.

    This is the problem with this whole discussion. Your typical Western trained person comes to the table “knowing” that certain things are “true” including the existence of races, the detailed genetic coding of behavior, and so on. Like the Victorians coming to the table “knowing” that they deserved to rule the world. Give me a break!

    Whoa! Talk about prejudice! This is the kind of statement that leads me to suspect that the opponents of Evo Psych are merely intellectual bigots. I’m not a Victorian, nor am I a racist, sexist, homophobe, Nazi, Tea Party Proponent, or any other such person. I am interested in a scientific question, and if your contribution to the question is to dismiss your opponents as racists, then I can safely conclude that you have no useful contribution to make. And, BTW, are you suggesting that Eastern trained persons (or Northern-trained or Southern-trained?) are intellectually pure?

    Huh? During the 12 thousand years… …found for that time period.

    Did you have a point to make?

    Your whole Boolean logic thing is something that one might apply to a philosophical question.

    No, my point is about logic — your argument is logically flawed. That’s not a philosophical argument — that’s a scientific argument.

    This is a question of measurement and data.

    Not quite. It’s a question of measurement and data analyzed by means of logical reasoning — and your logic is flawed.

    The evolutionary psychology literature very clearly makes out the Pleistocene as a consistent, unary, long period of time with little variation.

    Perhaps so. Perhaps the Evo Psych literature is full of idiotic statements. But your observation is without issue. If you want to challenge a claim, then you have to first state what the claim is, then provide evidence and logic against it. Your evidence is that the Pleistocene was not absolutely, positively, 100% stable. I doubt that any period in evolutionary history was absolutely, positively, 100% stable. What you have to show is that the instabilities in the Pleistocene were so great that consistent evolutionary pressures could not exist. This will be rather difficult to establish, given that Homo Sapiens (and a great many other species) did in fact undergo evolutionary change. If those changes were not consequent to evolutionary pressures, what caused them? Bubble gum machines?

    bell curves not only overlap but they sometimes utterly disappear (as has happened with some sex difference measures), occasionally revers, or are often highly suspicious for one reason or another.

    Yes, and bubble gum machines aren’t bell curves. Perhaps you had a point to make with respect to Evo Psych?

    Do you write/edit Wikipedia articles?

    I’ve contributed to only one, in which I had some special expertise to contribute.

    Have you read any of the literature? Had you, you would have seen that that is not what is meant by “genetic determinism.” The terms “genetic determinism” and “genetic influence” are roughly interchangeable to behavioral geneticists.

    Hoo, boy. What does a term mean? We can argue about this all day, because the term “genetic determinism” has been used in many different ways. I deny your claim that its use in scientific discussions is well-defined. It’s true that, the closer you get to laboratory genetics, the narrower the meaning of the term. Unfortunately, its meaning in Evo Psych is nowhere near as clear as you suggest. I sense a semantic drift away from the term “genetic determinism” and towards “genetic influence”. This drift seems to be concomitant with the growing distaste for using the term “nature versus nurture”, for much the same reason: it’s a polarizing term that casts the scientific issues in simplistic black-and-white terms.

    You have made the error of thinking of “determinism” as a strong thing, strong enough to be on or off (boolean), and “influence” to be a vaguer thing, something that might run along a spectrum.

    Uh, gee, perhaps you might want to look up the two terms in a dictionary, Greg.

    Having followed the subject for nearly twenty years now, I’ve been on the lookout for some counterbalancing arguments. It’s a character oddity of mine: I went so far as to read Mr. Behe’s anti-evolution book (yes, it really is tripe) as well as to spend some time following the global warming denier sites of Anthony Watts and Steve McIntyre (yep, they’re tripe, too). In the same way, I’ve been looking for something similar for evo psych — and I have yet to find anything with as much actual substance as I’ve found in Behe, McIntyre, or Watts. There’s lots of emotional denialism, but no sober reasoning. I was hoping that you might be able to provide as much, which is why I poked at you. I think you can do a real service by putting together a solid, well-reasoned critique of evo psych. I looked at one book (whose title escapes my Swiss cheese memory) that purports to critique evo psych, and it did offer some actual arguments, but I found it unsatisfyingly vague. Perhaps you can tackle the problem.

    I hope that you are not personally insulted by the ferocious intellectual arguments I present. I operate on a “render unto Caesar” philosophy with regard to ideas versus people: I am a Tyrannosaurus Rex towards ideas and a teddy bear towards people. I have enjoyed your blog and recommend it to others.

  83. #84 Chris Crawford
    October 20, 2010

    Oops! I failed to include in italics a quote from you, thereby rendering my post rather confusing. Here’s the correct rendition of that portion:

    This is the problem with this whole discussion. Your typical Western trained person comes to the table “knowing” that certain things are “true” including the existence of races, the detailed genetic coding of behavior, and so on. Like the Victorians coming to the table “knowing” that they deserved to rule the world. Give me a break!

    Whoa! Talk about prejudice! This is the kind of statement that leads me to suspect that the opponents of Evo Psych are merely intellectual bigots. I’m not a Victorian, nor am I a racist, sexist, homophobe, Nazi, Tea Party Proponent, or any other such person. I am interested in a scientific question, and if your contribution to the question is to dismiss your opponents as racists, then I can safely conclude that you have no useful contribution to make. And, BTW, are you suggesting that Eastern trained persons (or Northern-trained or Southern-trained?) are intellectually pure?

  84. #85 Stephanie Z
    October 20, 2010

    For this to make any sense, you have to specify what it is that you claim evolutionary psychologists have traditionally said it is.

    Chris, you seem to have gotten so caught up in the superiority conferred by your years that you’ve forgotten there’s a blog post here. See paragraph 13 (or thereabouts, if I’ve counted incorrectly).

    In fact, you might want to read the entire post again. Or not, since you really just seem to be trolling rather than engaging with the topic in any specific way yourself.

  85. #86 Chris Crawford
    October 20, 2010

    Stephanie, I have read Greg’s post several times to make certain that I’m on track here, and Greg’s assertions regarding the position of Evo Psych are vague. That’s why I have taken so much time to try to get him to clarify his statements. If you have any constructive comments to offer (aside from accusing me of trollery), I’d be happy to discuss Evo Psych.

  86. #87 Greg Laden
    October 20, 2010

    “I am appalled by these statements: they’re drivel! Let’s go over them one at a time. ”

    I’m a busy man, Chris. Don’t give me an 1800 word comment that starts with a statement like that. It just could not possibly interest me enough to read it. I’ve spent much of the last 25 year studying this issue. Your comments do not really draw my attention, though it is possible that brief clearly worded questions posed in a civil and polite manner would.

    I really did look back at your first comment thinking there might be something there. I gave you that chance. You failed then. I’m not giving you the chance this time.

  87. #88 Stephanie Z
    October 20, 2010

    No, Chris, I don’t think you have read the post very carefully. If you have, you haven’t put the pieces together very well.

    Take your favorite topic of male promiscuity. The evo psych argument Greg is taking on here is that men are genetically predisposed to being more promiscuous than women based on human evolution over a particular period. His argument is not that some men aren’t relatively promiscuous, thus no go. His argument is that if you look at the (actual) people living under the (actual) conditions that evo psych postulates shaped modern human behavior, those specific populations are not where you find the tendency toward male promiscuity. Those conditions don’t select for male promiscuity.

    Is that an argument that no males are genetically predisposed to promiscuity? No. Is it saying that no one doing any kind of evolutionary psychology has a leg to stand on? No.

    It is, however, a falsification of the framework that evo psych is using to argue that male promiscuity must be genetically coded for. The same goes for other standard male/female behavior patterns that evo psych is used to justify. If you don’t find those patterns selected for under those conditions, it’s time to find a new framework.

    This isn’t that hard.

  88. #89 Chris Crawford
    October 20, 2010

    First, a response to Stephanie: I believe that you misstate the relevant issues here. Male promiscuity is not the result of Pleistocene evolutionary pressures, and I don’t recall anybody making that claim. Instead, male promiscuity, as Greg has pointed out, is a trait arising from the different metabolic investments of males and females in procreation, a difference that can be traced back far earlier than the Pleistocene. Greg himself made this point. Your confusion over this matter illustrates the problem we have: you folks (as a group) are so intent on making grand generalizations that you just can’t be bothered to nail down with any precision what it is that you’re arguing. These last 88 comments are studded with mismatches between arguments and evidence and a complete absence of clear definition. The entire discussion has been a mishmosh, and my efforts to get some sort of precision have been met with obscenity, denial, or just plain “I’m too busy to get specific.”

    Greg, I understand your desire not to get involved in a long discussion of the actual science; that’s a lot of work, and you’ve got eyeballs to attract and ads to sell. So I’m willing to walk away from this. But I think you deserve to hear my hidden agenda. I’m a fierce advocate for the intellectual independence of science, and a ferocious opponent of the tendency to inject non-scientific ideologies into scientific inquiry.

    For example, I am very much opposed to the intrusion of religion into science. Creationists attempt to impose their spiritual beliefs upon science. I find that heinous, and I oppose it at every opportunity. In the same way, global warming deniers are not really arguing science; their agenda is political, not scientific, and they subordinate scientific honesty to political ideology. I oppose that just as fiercely.

    This discussion is no different: you and several other people have been reluctant to get into the science itself. While you (as a group) have occasionally brought up a few scientifically worthy points, the great bulk of this discussion has been ideological rather than scientific in nature. You (the group) have made lots of grand statements without bothering to provide even a precise wording of your meaning. It is especially telling that several persons, yourself (Greg) included, have raised matters of social policy (to wit, racism) that have no bearing on the science itself. I believe that you are no different from the creationists and AGW deniers in subordinating science to your political ideology. You don’t like racism — an admirable sentiment that I share — but the difference between us is that you reject open, honest scientific inquiry because of your concerns about racism. I subordinate my personal tastes to objective truth; if science were to discover that left-handers tend to be sexual perverts, that blue-eyed people tend to have difficulties with math, or that purple-skinned people score lower on tests of social cognitive performance, I won’t scream bloody murder — I’ll shrug my shoulders and accept those tentative results. What we do about those scientific results is an entirely different matter. If society chooses to discriminate against left-handers, idolize blue-eyed people, or send purple-skinned people to death camps, that’s a political matter, not a scientific one. We shouldn’t mix science with religion, and we shouldn’t mix science with politics. Science can inform our political deliberations, but political preferences should never, ever intrude upon scientific inquiry.

    I acknowledge again that there have been some attempts at scientific arguments here, but they have been brief, elliptical, secondary, or overly vague. I very much hope that someday I’ll find somebody who can offer a robust case against some specific claims of Evo Psych. But after many attempts, I am abandoning hope that I’ll find such a person here. Like Diogenes, I’ll just have to take my search elsewhere.

    Best wishes, and adieu to you all.

  89. #90 Henk Paladin
    October 20, 2010

    Chris, wow. You are one fucked up dude. Do you know that you are not making any sense at all? Time for an adjustment in the meds, old boy.

  90. #91 Ellen
    October 20, 2010

    Could someone please kill this troll? This was an interesting discussion until he hijacked it.

  91. #92 Kristina
    October 20, 2010

    I heard the show and loved both parts of it! I’ve read the Adapted Mind and I think this is a fair critique of the ideas in it. Modules have some traction as entities, but not so much as evolved structures, any more than cultural traditions do, really.

  92. #93 Kristina
    October 20, 2010

    “Your confusion over this matter illustrates the problem we have: you folks (as a group) are so intent on making grand generalizations…..”

    sometimes words just speak for themselves.

  93. Chris, you are an insulting, stupid twit. You claim that one blog post that summarizes an entire field of study should have all of the details that your tiny little brain seems to think are important. You claim that everyone else lacks the ability to think logically, yet your ranting is almost aphasic in it’s rambling. You have insulted several people on this thread, and now you are ranting about the “group” of us who all have it wrong.

    You need to go back to your computer games and your self-written and self-aggrandizing wikipedia bio. You say good bye in your last comment, but I have enough experience with obsessive neurotics such as yourself to know that you’ll be back because you can’t control yourself. And if you do post another comment, unless it is a) very very brief and b) a very sincere apology, I’ll delete it, because I really and truly want to help you keep your promise.

    It might have been possible for you to actually contribute to this conversation. But you are a paranoid obsessive megalomaniac. You can get help for that, but until you do, you are too annoying to be tolerated. Until you get help for your condition, you are of no use in this conversation or anything like it.

  94. #95 Chris Crawford
    October 20, 2010

    Greg, this statement is for your consumption only; I expect that you won’t publish it, which is fine with me. By treating this as a fight rather than a discussion, you set yourself up for failure. And the fact that you refuse to publish my post demonstrates that you have decided that you lost that fight. If I were rude, calling people “fucking prats”, I could understand your refusal, but we already know that you have no problems with people being that rude. And you’re the one who’s been calling names (“insulting, stupid twit”, “tiny little brain”, “aphasic”, “obsessive neurotic”, “paranoid obsessive megalomaniac”, etc), not me. Until you can figure out the distinction between disagreeing over ideas and personal confrontation, you will continue to experience the disappointments that have already marked your career. Some Eastern philosophy would serve you well: the sinner hurts himself most. Your anger is killing you.

    I sent that previous post to your email address so as to keep this out of public view, but your contact address is broken.

    Oh, and I had nothing to do with that Wikipedia bio. My contribution was on Erasmus.

  95. #96 Greg Laden
    October 20, 2010

    As I said, you can not stay away. You are obsessed. I think maybe you have fallen in love with me and are now stalking me.

    Chris, my email address works. Emailing should not be hard. If you find it to be hard, something may be wrong with you. Again, adjust the meds.

    My career and my life in general has been nothing like a disappointment, but thank you very much for your concern. And, all of my insults were sincere. Well, toned down a bit, but accurate and heart felt.

    I know the difference between disagreeing on an issue and a personal attack. I have not disagreed with you on a substantive issue because you did not present substantive claims. You came to the table with insulting babbling gibberish. That is why no one has responded to you positively or respectfully. It is not going to get any better.

    The Chris Crawford breakdown is now part of the Googlosphere. I wonder how long it will take before it is added to your Wikipedia bio?

    That is all, Chris. No more blog for you.