Sunday, 18 September 2011

Let's Hear it for EP

The last three evolutionary psychology-themed books that I had read are:
Demonic Males by Richard Wrangham
The Murderer Next Door by David Buss
Naturally Selected by Mark van Vugt & Anjana Ahuja

Evolutionary psychology has often been dominantly been associated with the mating stuff, and while that is an important aspect of evolutionary psychology (one hugely important layer of the foundational bedrock, in fact, because reproduction is vital to the spreading of genes), it has taken a form of its own and its less credible and less cautious adherents may take it to extremes and give the entire field of evolutionary psychology a bad name. To quote what a rather vocal school mate of mine once remarked on Facebook when he heard that evolutionary psychology was finally being offered as a module in SMU, he said, "Serious? But what is evolutionary psychology besides the American pick up artist crap?"

But evolutionary psychology's scope, once we extend beyond the basic tenets of sexual selection and mate preferences (i.e. due to the different value bestowed upon males and females' resources and the amount of parental investment in offspring), delves into why the human mind accomodates the capacity for aggression, coalitions, cooperation, reciprocity, morality, fairness, guilt, sadness, friendships, food taste preferences, loss aversion, attachment styles, jealousy, insecurity, fear, maternal feelings, love, hypocrisy, leadership, dominance, hierarchies, in-group/out-group bias and - I should stop here because the list will continue for quite a bit more - murder.

After four years of undergraduate studies in psychology, I'm personally certain that an evolutionary perspective holds the promise for the ultimate question of "why". We may know everything we know so far in disparate fields ranging from cognitive psychology to cultural psychology to neuroscience, but without understanding the adaptive nature of how our mind is designed, nothing really makes sense. It's like knowing that the human body is made up of stuff like kidneys and brains and hearts but not knowing what any of these things have got to do with each other and how a human being works. This is not to say that other psychological disciplines are unimportant. We need other specific psychological perspectives to give us greater texture on the mental adaptations that evolutionary psychology seeks to uncover. Every field is now increasingly working together to push the boundaries of understanding our mind. But I feel that it is important to clarify the promise that evolutionary psychology holds for the entire field of psychology as a whole.

The more I read too, the more I'm convinced that discovering our evolutionary and ancestral heritage holds the key to nipping our monkey instincts in the bud. The more adaptive and instinctive behaviours we can uncover, the more we can come up with creative solutions to deal with the undesirable ones. As a reknown analyst on terrorism once wonderfully put it, when posed with the question of how to deal with terrorists, he said, "don't hate the enemy." Because as long as you hate the enemy, you will never seek to understand it, and if you don't seek to understand it, you will never get the better of it. For much of the past century, many scholars have tried to deal with human evils by condemning them to the academic hallows of being aberrations, figments of violent western culture, or psychopathy (to name a few notorious red herrings). Refusing to believe that humans have adaptations for atrocities like violence and war just won't cut it anymore.

I'd acknowledge the ape in me, because that takes me out of the dark.

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