Dancing in the Dark: Evolutionary Psychology and the Problem of Design

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Stotz, Karola; Griffiths, Paul E.
preprint description
The current Evolutionary Psychology Movement (EPM) argues that the mind/brain cannot be understood except by conceiving of it as the product of design by natural selection. Cognitive science should proceed by reconstructing the adaptive pressures that shaped the mind and then looking for mental structure predicted by this these reconstructions. It is argued that this is not a practical solution, because our ability to reconstruct the evolutionary pressures that shaped the mind is exactly proportional to our preexisting understanding of mental structure. EPM's criticisms of contemporary cognitive science are strikingly similar to the criticisms of behavioristic psychology made by the founders of ethology, Lorenz and Tinbergen, fifty years ago. But the ethologists drew the conclusion that psychology should investigate the mind's performance on ecologically valid tasks. This is shown to be a more tractable proposal for injecting an evolutionary perspective into cognitive science. In the second part of the paper it is argued that the concept of 'design' central to EPM is not fully naturalistic, in the sense that it envisages a process more like intelligent design than like a realistic model of evolution by natural selection. An enriched model of evolutionary psychology is outlined, modeled on recent 'evolutionary developmental biology' approaches to morphological evolution, and which we call 'evolutionary developmental psychology' (EDP). Like 'evo-devo' more generally, EDP recognizes that selection builds systems that develop in an environment, not phenotypes that are transmitted. The nature of evolutionary dynamics is a function of the nature of development. It is argued that EDP allows a more productive integration of the role of the environment in psychological development into evolutionary psychology than has so far been achieved by EPM.