The understatement award goes to …

January 10, 2013 § 8 Comments

The Social Pathologist:

I’m moderately up to date with basic neurobiology. Here’s a hint, we basically know jack shit with regard to how the brain works. Simplistic understandings based upon glucose metabolism, testosterone, oxytocin are just that…….simplistic.

It is part of the modern condition that we hate to admit how little we know, even to ourselves.  Actually it seems to be more than that: there appears to be such a deeply rooted need for comfort in knowledge that we find it impossible to concede the depth of our ignorance.  So people do what people have always done: create just-so stories consistent with known facts (er, well, mostly consistent) and treat those (wildly underdeterminedjust-so stories as if they were established fact.

Folks sometimes wonder why I think evolutionary psychology is just myth-making dressed up in modern scientific language to make it sound credible to the gullible.  The reason why is because a great deal (though not all) of what falls under “evolution” and “psychology” is already in itself just myth-making dressed up in modern scientific language.

§ 8 Responses to The understatement award goes to …

  • Proph says:

    Heh, I made a similar observation a while ago on my now-defunct “Collapse: The Blog.” The relevant post is here: http://collapsetheblog.typepad.com/blog/2011/11/the-modern-mind-and-knowledge-management.html

    I argued that leftists, being crippled by a kind of spiritual autism, experience the world as a terrifying blur of knowledge and information which they are hopelessly unable to sort out and discriminate between precisely because they lack any transcendental orientation. Their response is much like the developmental autist’s when confronted with overwhelming sensory stimuli — a kind of intellectual turtling and angry lashing-out.

  • NobleHipsterSlayerOfDeath says:

    I won’t argue whether evolutionary psychology is credible or even internally coherent but frankly there is work being done that is long overdue in looking at certain aspects of ourselves with a critical eye. Just as an example, if a study, whose methods fit their hypothesis and whose conclusions follow from the data, finds that men prefer women with a waist-hip ratio of 0.8 then that is likely the case whether or not I think the explanation offered is reductive or not.

    Also there is little relation except hostility between evolutionary psychology and (a lot of mostly ideological) psychology as far as I’m aware. It will remain outside the public consciousness for a little longer I think.

    What do you actually accept of evolutionary theory anyway Zippy? Is it a total rejection, or do you believe in some kind of guided evolution or is it some further synthesis? You seem to accept the postulated mechanisms; natural selection and mutation.

  • Zippy says:

    @NHSOD:
    frankly there is work being done that is long overdue in looking at certain aspects of ourselves with a critical eye

    Agreed. I would argue that the work in discovering objective truths about human nature, while valuable, has no non-metaphysical connection to discovery of actual known facts about historical origins of various traits though.

    What do you actually accept of evolutionary theory anyway Zippy?

    I think (along with e.g. Michael Behe) that descent with modification is the best inference from available evidence, mostly as a placeholder. I think the assumption that homology implies phylogeny is not merely unfounded but contrary to evidence. I think that phylogeny is almost entirely irrelevant to the actual practice of day to day biological research: it is a more-or-less religious assumption which supervenes over homology, that is, phylogeny sits in a place in theorizing where what is required by theory is merely homology. Some people might find their inspiration in it; but an individual’s muse is distinct from what the data demonstrates. For example, keeping in mind that I am speaking off the top of my head and it has been literally years since I’ve so much as thought about this stuff, doing multiple sequence alignments to statistically guesstimate protein structure and function from databases of known sequences and proteins rests entirely on statistical analysis of homologues. That homologues are connected phylogenically is an entirely unnecessary assumption, and one for which nature provides ample counterexamples.

    Note that the evo-psych example you give doesn’t have any “evo” in it: that men prefer a certain waste to hip ratio, and that this has a connection to the telos of sex, tells us literally nothing about the historical origins of the preference. Any inferences about historical origins are imported from one’s metaphysics, and the data underdetermines the choice of metaphysics.

  • Zippy says:

    Oh, and as a Catholic I have no religious objection to (non-positivistic) theories of evolution, as long as they don’t pretend to be Theories of Everything explaining consciousness, love, etc. My objections to evolutionary theory in a nutshell are that in its more vehement forms it is religion dressed in scientific language; and in its more circumscribed form it is bad science, because good science is fully forthright about where it is ignorant.

  • NobleHipsterSlayerOfDeath says:

    “Note that the evo-psych example you give doesn’t have any “evo” in it: that men prefer a certain waste to hip ratio, and that this has a connection to the telos of sex, tells us literally nothing about the historical origins of the preference.”

    I realize this, I used it specifically to illustrate that work like this is being done in evo psych. That we should be wary about disregarding the actual true knowledge gained by the people working in this field. Like a Marxist historian who uncovers something new about the ancient past but then describes it in class struggle terms.

  • Zippy says:

    NHSOD:
    Absolutely. The truth is no less the truth simply because it is being stated by a ritually impure source.

  • Dystopia Max says:

    Just-so story of the day: Women are fundamentally evolutionary creatures, while men generally handle the intelligent design.

  • […] the previous post I suggested that generally speaking we are much more ignorant about reality than we are willing to […]

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