View Full Version : "The Seven Sins of Evolutionary Psychology"

03-26-13, 02:07 PM

Modern evolutionary psychology is demonstrating, once again,

that an uncritical enthusiasm for the gene’s-eye point of view can easily lead to conceptual excesses that go far beyond the available evidence.

Seven major flaws in the evolutionary psychology agenda are outlined. With its enthusiasm for human inclusive-fitness issues,

this variant of sociobiology has expressed little interest in what we already know about the brains and behaviors of non-human animals-

-facts that should be of foundational importance for thinking about many human abilities.

To create a lasting understanding of ‘human nature’,

we must incorporate the lessons from the past half-century of research on subcortical emotional and motivational systems that all mammals share.

Seven examples of how a study of these systems can highlight some of the core problems of evolutionary psychology are outlined.

From this perspective, the developmental interactions among ancient special purpose circuits and more recent general-purpose brain mechanisms
can generate many of the ‘modularized’ human abilities that evolutionary psychology has entertained.

By simply accepting the remarkable degree of neocortical plasticity within the human brain, especially during development,

genetically-dictated, sociobiological ‘modules’ begin to resemble products of dubious human ambition rather than of sound scientific reasoning.

Key Words

Sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, brain, modularity, emotional systems, epigenetic landscapes, inclusive fitness, human nature


03-26-13, 03:28 PM
The only massive cortical modules we should be convinced of at the present time are our vast linguistically based foresight and hindsight abilities, which mediate our compulsion to tell tales to each other. Incidentally, the basic urge to speak to each other may be closely linked to anterior cingulate and adjacent frontal lobe tissue.


Clearly, something very interesting is happening to the social-emotional realm in these brain tissues that are of great importance in controlling our motivation to communicate with each other.

So the Panksepps are suggesting that it's good to talk. :)
About what ?
As far as I can see - the only useful communication is in collaborative effort to work out "what on earth we're meant to be doing here ?"

There's only 1 answer to that question.

Have fun :p

However - we need to know that everybody's on the same page ... ... before the fun can commence.
For if we're not - it's just not gonna' be much fun.

03-26-13, 03:37 PM
So let the jollity commence.


'cos I just want to sit in the sun someplace quiet.

Apparently it's the done thing.

Tyler Durden
03-26-13, 04:39 PM
The title has religious undertones, i assume the irony was on purpose...

03-26-13, 05:25 PM
When I was conceived, I was given a black toy box.

Full of fun things to PLAY and build.


03-26-13, 07:51 PM
Haven't had time to read the journal article yet, but will because evolutionary psychology tends to be fun to read about.

My sense of the field, though, has typically been that a lot of it amounts to saying "why might this psychological phenomenon have been adaptive in a state of nature?" and then just throwing out ideas, often without more to go on, and often regarding things that would be awfully hard to test or demonstrate, whether true or not.

The upshot of this is that when I read an expert pronouncement on a new theoretical explanation of a phenomenon drawn from evolutionary psychology from an expert, I feel like I can read it and think "yeah, but it could also be this..." and my theory will be pretty much equally likely to that of the experts...not many field where that's true, and can well imagine there would be criticism.....people wanting to take the fun out of it.

03-27-13, 04:12 AM

"why might this psychological phenomenon have been adaptive in a state of nature?"

Why might language have been adaptive ?


However - to be adaptive - other people need to understand one another.

Now here's the part which is important - why do two 'conflicting' ideas cause actual conflict ?

Why do human beings become emotional (in a bad way) when their ideas are countered ?

Solve the conflict- and the individual will find that his/her mind has become 'better' - and so why do people react so badly to conflict ?

I think that in this current world - a certain worldview is tagged onto the addictive reward mechanism, that is - that do task X brings in money (reward) - challenge the utility of task X (using logical argument) - results in the equivalent of taking alcohol (X) from an alcoholic.

I'm suggesting that the inability to consider an idea without emotion is a sign that the individual is trapped in an addictive, incorrect world-view which reacts defensively/aggressively towards ideas.

And therein lies the problem of 'the expert'.

The one 'type' whose view is confounded by the addictive mechanism.

The good news is though - that the addictive mechanism can be broken.

03-27-13, 04:21 AM
The idea is simply that communication fails until the addictive propensity is broken - occurring at what we call the acquisition of wisdom.
At this point - we sever subjectivity's association to the addictive mechanism via violent emotions ... and ... objectivity takes its place.

The interesting thing about the subjective and the objective mind - is that the objective mind is just a small subset of the subjective mind.

That is - that the subjective mind can be shaped into the objective mind - but the objective mind cannot be forced into certain subjective conformations - since they don't make objective sense.

03-27-13, 04:45 AM
The title has religious undertones, i assume the irony was on purpose...

A strong message coming through from Panksepp is why do human beings react irrationally emotionally so often.

The 'seven sins of EP' sounds a lot like he's looking at our incapacity to transcend evolutionarily imbued 'negative' (at least in a social species) emotional control over behaviour - and that this results in poor outcomes.

The quote above of the anterior cingulate vs. frontal cortex is a kinda' battle for control of behaviour by through emotions by the selfish (FC) versus social considerations (ACC).

When the individual gains objective perspective (wisdom) - the ACC wins control over emotional control (and behaviour).

The individual's behaviour isn't objective objective from the perspective of an impartial observer - but instead - the perspective from 'species'.

So - the FC controls behaviour (reward -> emotion -> behaviour) 'selfishly' whereas the ACC controls behaviour (reward -> emotion -> behaviour) 'socially'.

However - the terms 'selfishly' and 'socially' need to be heavily qualified - as the formation of a social community is actually what's in the individual's selfish self-interests.

Words!! Words!!

There's nothing wrong with the selfish and social reward systems; what's important is that we make a transition between them - and as discussed in a previous thread - becoming arrested in the selfish (primitive) reward system through addiction is a very, very bad thing.

In terms of the selfish ->- to ->- social reward system transition
(which runs in parallel with the primitive to higher mating strategy - that is from physical act to actual pair-bond completion, respectively)
- that we're looking at reward systems which operate, in the case of 'selfish' - upon direct activation / stimulation ... ... and in the case of the 'social' reward mechanism - upon indirect activation which doesn't appear to result in the feeling of stimulation (blood glucose elevation).

03-27-13, 05:15 AM
So summarising

We literally do get to separate ourselves off from the desires of the animal kingdom, unless we arrest (through addiction) in the precursor (primitive reward system) state.
Addiction is not limited to nicotine,heroin but also operates through money,status seeking,the quest for power and other known addictive pursuits.
The transition from primitve to higher reward system occurs through development of the moral/logical mind - developing a sense of reward from 'giving' (ACC) and cumulates with actual pair-bond formation completion to partner - occurring in synchrony with the female menopause
- at which point reward system activation merely through pair-bondedness (exactly as seen in the prairie vole).

To re-iterate - there's nothing wrong with the primitive reward system - it's a state that we're meant to pass through - just as the first trimester of pregnancy is a developmental stage of the newborn.

The problem - harking back to all of Panksepp's work - is when we become arrested in the primitive reward mechanism - where the major reason for this - is that the stress-relief response and it are one and the same.
So - arrested (tolerance) in the primitive reward system through stress of existence of a social species in an anti-social environment.

Human beings are 'good to go' - in a different (non-hierarchical) societal infrastructure.

03-27-13, 05:35 AM
How do we know when we've a mind which is wise ?

Simply - there's no emotional reaction / attachment to any idea.

We're free to examine any idea without secretly desiring one particular outcome.

It's liberating - because I think that all people (particularly the army of experts who're addicted (through power and money) into a subjective viewpoint)

- that there's something (particularly as they extend themselves out of their field of expertise) wrong with their own mind.


Illogical subjectivity (addiction) - as it opens its eyes - results in feelings not dissimilar to insanity - as the ordinarily self-righteous (state pre-wisdom) perspective begins to see that s/he's not quite as 'right' as his/her own mind would make him/her feel.

The tendency to blame and not to want to take the blame is a key delineator of incomplete mind; upon completeness - one gains the eyes to see one's own contribution to any given problem
- a sight which nobody is pleased to see.

03-27-13, 05:47 AM
Just to be clear - I'm suggesting that the social reward system (reward through giving) - is the system which needs to be developed in order to make the transition to pair-bond formation completion (that same reward circuitry is employed - I'm guessing).

Where - the evolutionary (evolutionary psychology) nature of this argument can be found in the higher primates where the social reward system (to give produces 'reward') developed
... ... and in animals such as the prairie vole - where pair-bonding actually results in 'reward' through pair-bond formation completion.

So ... ... it's a sort of evolutionary psychology argument - though where language (what we do) is unprecedented and so isn't really amenable to evolutionary analysis ... ... unless we suggest it's just our version of a mechanism for keeping a social species together
- mechanisms for which are out there in the animal kingdom.

03-27-13, 05:55 AM
Incidentally, the basic urge to speak to each other may be closely linked to anterior cingulate and adjacent frontal lobe tissue.
FC -> competitive communication -> reward through victory -> 'selfish' -<- particularly when pushed to extremes through addiction
ACC -> collaborative communication -> reward through coming up with ideas which'll make life more fun for the species -> 'social'

It's not hard to see these two types of communication types in evidence.

FC - 'me me me' communication geared to put others lower in some hierarchy.
Look at my new car.
Look at my holiday pictures.
Ooo - I've just received a pay rise.ACC - a more generally uplifting form of communication - which seeks to elevate others towards a better place.
You won't be sick if you adhere to the following regimeFC mind/communication enjoys Scadenfreude (it's somebody else who's suffering) - ACC mind/communication gains no such thrill - and sees that an optimal world for it (if a selfish/social motivation is required) - will arise when nobody else suffers.

The two forms aren't really compatible - you can't both generate and eliminate hierarchy at the same time.


So - how can you suggest that FC mind needs to be passed through in the way to ACC mind ? If they're incompatible.
It's more that addiction forces FC mind into a form which is incompatible with ACC mind
- FC mind dies as ACC mind develops given an optimal societal infrastructure
- they can be compatible ... ... as long as FC mind isn't artificially imbalanced (the consequence of addiction).

It's possible to be the highest in the hierarchy of some social pursuit - the woman who taught more kids to ride a horse than any other, the man who fixed more games consoles for children than any other, the woman who taught more kids archery - than any other.

Hierarchical thinking need not result in species demise; though it must be admitted - that it's a huge weight off one's shoulders when achieving pole position in a hierarchy is lost as determinant of action ... ... because I think we all know - that it's not possible for any of us to achieve this, in even the smallest of realms of endeavour.


We really are chained to the planet by our own minds.

And love (Anterior Cingulate Cortex reward system activation (mirror reward neurones) - the social reward mechanism) really can give you wings.

03-27-13, 07:42 AM
... So ...

Stage 1 conception -> Stage 2 mind ignites (language) [age 3] -> Stage 3 puberty [age - teens] -> Stage 4 menopause [age - 40's]

Stage 1
FC reward (growth begins) - primitive reward system (blood glucose elevation) in control.

Primitive reward system sensitive to derangement in trimester 3, age 0 - 3 yrs - outcome addiction.

Stage 2
Social reward system commences operation

Stage 3
Pair-bond formation initiation

Stage 4
Pair-bond formation completion

Goal of Stages 2 to 4
A. To build a mind of morality (build the ACC social system) (<- this is what we require from knowledge - not simply as much data generated as possible) which supports whole organism transition from growth to maintenance phenotype (that is - from primitive [FC] to social [ACC] reward system as precursor to pair-bond formation and (exactly like the prairie vole) - reward through 'Holy matrimony' alone - no requirement for any other action).

B. A certain type of stress between Stages 1 to 4 results in addiction imbalancing the individual towards primitive reward system
- resulting in addiction which prevents the primitive to social reward transition (and so prevents happiness by virtue of pair bond formation completion).

Result - material world attachment.
The individual cannot be happy.

The Seven Sins of Evolutionary PsychologyChooses his title wisely.

Because - happiness appears to be entirely about severing the primitive reward system (seven sins)(that is - addictive propensity)
- in order to allow us back to a place which we were forced to lose (a happy place) - by virtue of being cast out (necessarily) by the force of evolutionary progression (the sole attribute to creation).

Tyler Durden
03-27-13, 08:17 AM
Once people identify with ideas, they tend to incorporate them into their very purpose and meaning, they become defined by them, so to then have someone challenge those ideas becomes a challenge to their very existence, with resulting aggression and defensive behaviours.

The problem with psychology is it is based in the same context. 'The last thing a fish notices would be the water'...

But humans are in fact in a unique position, for the first time in our history we have the technology to be able to truly determine our own environment, should we wish to change it. But change is seen as risk, and fear is a primal motivator that has been used for centuries to control populations, proliferated by the media and controlling interests, in order that the status quo can be maintained by those in power. Fear of others is a virus that has spread globally, and personal gain is an extremely seductive motive.

Therefore you cannot just decide to "sever the primitive reward system" on a personal level and hope that everyone will follow suit, the environment we live in is not setup like that, people will generally (but not always as is the case with many mental 'disorders') follow the reward system that has the greatest benefit to them, and this reward system has far exceeded critical mass.

For such a society to work the cost of being motivated by personal reward MUST be greater than the cost of being motivated by social reward...

Being socially responsible MUST be a logical choice in ALL circumstances.

People will continue to be primarily selfishly motivated as long as the environment actively promotes this archaic behaviour (as if any promotion is needed)

Behaviour mirrors environment and therefore the environment MUST be one that is primarily supportive of social actions...

People have gone so far as to refer to this socio-economic environment and the behaviour it promotes as a result of "human nature", but it is a self fulfilling prophecy, human nature is determined by environment, a different environment would result in a different nature.

03-27-13, 09:41 AM
- human nature is determined by environment, a different environment would result in a different nature.

And of course - the logic of mind, nerves of brain and genes of body would change in line.

We don't have to change gene expression, nerve cell firing, understanding from the bottom up - we change things from the top down - which naturally kicks those 'things' (previous abstraction layers) which're wonky currently (diseased) back into optimal place.

100% environmental (of our own doing).

- human nature is determined by environment, a different environment would result in a different nature.