Some ramblings about Paleofantasy.

I ordered Marlene Zuk’s ”Paleofantasy” just about as soon as I heard about it. I’m not sure who is responsible for the introduction, but I suspect Jason Collins, who provides lots of reading tips. He also linked in a couple of reviews at least (John Hawks, Evolutionary psychology – one more approach, the other more avoidance).
I just finished reading it, and I think it is a terrific read.

What she is using as her foil is possibly a strawman, but a strawman that clearly exists: not necessarily among researchers who take evolution seriously, but certainly outside. The idea, roughly taken, is that there once were this wonderful eden, our natural state of being, to which we had evolved a perfect, harmonious match. And, now, we have deviated from that wonderful time, with our processed food, with our non-exercising, with our city-dwelling, our monogamy, our civilization that keeps us discontent, and if we could just eat, screw, move, and child-rear the way we were meant to be, we could come back to the greatness that was Numenor. This is the mis-match theory (We weren’t evolved to do x).

Her thesis is that there simply is no such time in the past where we were perfectly matched to our environment, or a perfect way we can live that is more natural, because evolution does not work that way. Then, she proceeds to discuss how evolutionists think that evolution works to the best of current knowledge. Evolution tinkers. There has never been a perfect match, because evolution is not teleological and does not aim for perfection. Evolution has not stopped. Evloutionary solutions are always filled with tradeoffs, there is no optimal way of being or behaving, there is no natural state from which we have deviated, and evolution is not always about natural selection and adaptation. And, for each of these ideas (which I just roughly jumble together), she describes a set of interesting research programmes illustrating the point. For example, the male crickets she studied who stopped singing.
I will teach evolutionary psychology beginning this fall. This is my doing. I wanted a course in this, because I think it is needed, so I created one. (I’ve had one at the doctoral level a couple of years ago, and it was great fun).

I have a text book. I have a set of more popular science type books on evolution and humans to accompany it (DS Wilson, Kurzban, Kenrick, Gigerenzer). My concern is always that there are so many misconceptions about evolution, and evolutionary thinking about human psychology can be quite fraught. The ev psych literature deals very well with the blank-slate issue, and I recently came across a few papers dealing with standard sets of misconceptions about genetic determinism etc that are still being considered outside the research community, which I think will help me. But I think this book covers another area of potential questions and assertions – taking the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness way too literally, and considering that there is some correct way of being. (As a heuristic, I would think it quite useful, of course).

I think the critique in the Evolutionary Psychology article is too strong – I don’t think she is throwing out the mismatch theory. She asks that people deal with it with more nuance. But, the strength of the book is not the foils she sets up. It is what follows once she sets them up – how lactose tolerance could have arisen and swept a population, how to think about human mating practices and what kind of research can inform of its evolution, how quickly, or slowly, evolution can happen.


About asehelene

... because if I'm in a room with a second person, I want to be reasonably sure I'm the crazier one.
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