Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Pop Psychology

Ever since hearing about Freud in high school, I’ve had a poor opinion of psychology as a serious intellectual discipline. My opinion was not changed by the mandatory Introduction to Psychology course I took in college nor by the troves of self-help books that promote pop psychology myths (humans are basically good, we all lack self-esteem, you shouldn't judge anyone). So it was a bit discomfiting to find that my Omnilore course on “The Evolutionary Origins of Religion” is based on the “science” of Evolutionary Psychology (Ev Psych).

For the first class on Sept. 14, I volunteered (out of self-defense) to investigate and critique the foundations of Ev Psych. As usual, I first went to Wikipedia and found that Ev Psych is “a theoretical approach to psychology that attempts to explain ‘useful’ mental traits—such as memory, perception, or language—as
adaptations, i.e. as the functional products of natural selection (disambiguation).” Evolutionary psychology has roots in cognitive psychology and evolutionary biology and draws heavily on behavioral ecology, artificial intelligence, genetics, ethology,… and is closely linked to sociobiology. Whew! But what about it?

Ev Psych is the antithesis of the so-called Standard Social Science Model (SSSM). The SSSM is generally held to entail that culture is a kind of
superorganism, which is absorbed upon the blank slate minds of humans, shaping their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

To understand the differences between these two approaches, consider the following question. What determines behavior more, nature (inheritance) or nurture (upbringing)? Although phrased as a binary question, it is thought by most that both factors are important. But on a scale of zero (nature) to one (nurture) where do you fall? An answer of 0.6 would say behavior is 60% determined by nurture and 40% by nature. (This answer favors SSSM over Ev Psych.)

It’s just like intelligence. We all know that there is a scale of intelligence:

Daffodil (0.0) –- Denny Kucinich (0.3) –- Al Franken (0.6) –- any human (1.0)

On the intelligence scale, you might place John Mark Karr (0.1 - based on DNA evidence), Barbara Boxer (0.5 – just listen to her) and Michael Moore (0.7 - and falling fast).

So here are the questions I need your help with.

1. What more determines behavior (of humans) genes (0.0) or culture (1.0)?

2. Is the brain at birth a collection of pre-programmed modules (0.0) or a blank slate (1.0)?

3. Are our brains optimized for the stone age environment (0.0) or for the modern environment (1.0)?

4. Are humans purely physical beings (0.0) or do we have both bodies and souls (1.0) ?

5. Are we genetically predisposed to believe in God? (Yes, it’s in our genes = 1.0)

6. Is it more important that society be free (0.0) or equal (1.0)?

7. Is blood thicker than water? (Yes, definitely = 0.0)

What do you think? Does this Ev Psych make any sense? Are we still psychological hunter/gatherers or are we made in God’s likeness with the gifts of compassion and free will?


Blogger VirtualBeach said...

Greetings from a fellow Palos Verdes conservative and new contributor.
This issue comes up in the 'born-gay' versus 'choose to be gay' debate regarding nature versus nurture. There are political forces for 'nature', which is 'born-gay' as it removes responsibility for one's choices. And politics has invaded the American Psychological Association (APA). Some psychologists are calling on the APA to recognize people have a choice in their life. Kudos to NARTH, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, and to the many religious groups for promoting choice in one's life.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like Virtual Beach has decided to go back in the closet and become one of the "ex-gay". Of course, everyone is entitled to make their own decisions. I just find it sad that many have to suffer needlessly by denying their sexuality. As for NARTH, it's another one those "think-tanks" that the wingnuts love to quote. Here's a little gem about NARTH "Charles Socarides, had

"run into trouble with the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA), of which he is a member. According to a letter from Dr. Ralph Roughton of the APsaA, Socarides misrepresented the position of the APsaA in a published paper and a court affidavit. Socarides attempted to make it appear that the APsaA agrees with his positions on homosexuality. He did this by quoting an APsaA document written in 1968, which supported his views and which he called the "official position" of the APsaA, while ignoring a 1990 revised statement that drastically contradicted his views. The Executive Committee of the APsaA instructed the organization's attorney to write a letter to Socarides asking him to cease this misrepresentation and threatening legal action if he continued. Additionally, the APsaA newsletter decided to stop printing advertisements for NARTH meetings because the organization does not adhere to APsaA's policy of non-discrimination and because their activities are demeaning to our members who are gay and lesbian, according to Roughton."
Sounds just like the right wing think tanks we've come to know and love!

8:14 PM  

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