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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Toddlers as Neanderthals? Evolutionary psychology's bargain basement sale - no refunds

I just got done posting on a fun sendup of evolutionary psychology, when the next item was a friend's note about Tara Parker-Pope's article, "Coping with the Caveman in the Crib" (New York Times, February 5, 2008), about a pediatrician who knows how to quiet crying babies. He is, I gather, an overnite evolutionary psychology bestseller:
Dr. Karp notes that in terms of brain development, a toddler is primitive, an emotion-driven, instinctive creature that has yet to develop the thinking skills that define modern humans. Logic and persuasion, common tools of modern parenting, “are meaningless to a Neanderthal,” Dr. Karp says.

Right. So an immature modern Homo sapiens is equivalent to a mature Neanderthal?

Why not to an immature Neanderthal? And then, what's the difference? What point are you trying to make?

Anyway, while Dr. Harvey Karp's advice sounds like it could possibly work ...
Dr. Karp adopts a soothing, childlike voice to demonstrate how to respond to the toddler’s cookie demands.

“You want. You want. You want cookie. You say, ‘Cookie, now. Cookie now.’ ”

it certainly isn't revolutionary. Actually, with toddlers, nothing works consistently. We and they just have to get through it.

Toddlers are not Neanderthals, they are immature modern humans, who must be taught exquisitely complex social behaviour by a variety of methods. It takes sixteen to twenty years, and toddlers start about Year 1. It is very frustrating for them.

Dr. Karp's methods aren’t bad, but there is nothing especially new about them. Decades ago, I was told that the best way to control a small child’s temper tantrum is by whispering.

The explanation was that, if everyone whispers, the child must stop screaming in order to find out if he is getting what he wants. Once he stops, he may not start again. But if the adults are also screaming, the child can get the information without stopping.

Note: What have Neanderthals to do with it anyway? Aren't toddlers just immature, period?

Actually, the Neanderthals, while persistently more clumsy than ourselves, were probably not much different from us. They even buried their dead, in the hope of rising again (= with tools).

UPDATE: Update: Here is a much more reasonable way of looking at it, courtesy editor Jonah Goldberg:

Political theorist Hannah Arendt once said that, every generation, Western civilization is invaded by barbarians - we call them "children." Today's babies aren't meaningfully different from those born 1,000 or 5,000 years ago. A Viking baby magically transported to 21st-century America might grow up to be an accountant or a bus driver. A baby born today and sent back in time might become a Hun, Visigoth or Aztec warrior, whatever his parents expected of him.

Families are civilization factories. They take children and install the necessary software, from what to expect from life to how to treat others. One hears a lot of platitudes about how children are "taught to hate." This is nonsense. Hating comes naturally to humans, and children are perfectly capable of learning to hate on their own. Indeed, everyone hates. The differences between good people and bad resides in what they hate, and why. And although schools and society can teach that, parents imprint it on their kids.

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Fun sendup and straight talk about evolutionary psychology - why does anyone take it seriously?

Columnist Mike Adams, whose spoofs regularly outrage odd, tax-funded people at universities, was last seen fronting the "Journal of Genetic Rationalization", whose research projects include the following:
The Tardy Gene. Attention seeking has been a common explanation for chronic lateness. Television star and psychologist Dr. Phil has advised – to Brittany Spears and others he is unqualified to counsel – that such strategies often backfire. A person will often make late appearances at social gatherings in order to draw attention without realizing that the attention she draws is significantly more negative than she had expected. Since it is assumed that people are not likely to make choices that bring about adverse consequences – even when those adverse consequences were unforeseen – the existence of a tardiness gene is assumed. Researchers are encouraged to begin the search for evidence of a tardiness gene before it is too late.

Seriously, the basic problem with evolutionary (= gene-driven) psychology (EP), as I explained in a recent piece in Salvo 4, is that EP must locate the causes of human behaviour in genes inherited from prehuman ancestors - genes that want to replicate themselves - rather than in decisions made by conscious minds today. So what you do is driven by your genes, not by your current perceptions of your environment.

That entails an amazing number of silly ideas. For example,
A recent article in Psychology Today (July/August 2007) avers that men prefer women with big breasts because the man can see whether the woman’s breasts sag, which indicates reduced fertility.

Really? Isn't the general human preference for the anticipated pleasure of abundance over scarcity a better explanation - and a wee bit simpler too? But to think that way is to be out of step with the whole point of evolutionary psychology, which derives from a materialist view of human nature. To say that men prefer abundance to scarcity is to say that they have minds and that - to their minds - abundance seems better than scarcity.

But to an evolutionary psychologist, framing the preference that way is simply not acceptable. Evolutionary psychology looks for a program in the genes that governs what men like. Its practitioners are entirely convinced that such a program exists. The program must exist because the mind does not cause anything to happen. Men do not know what they like until their selfish genes act on their neurons, creating the appropriate buzz. The man himself has no preferences, but his genes do.

Believe it or not, the central dogma of neuroscience today is that the mind is an illusion, but Mario Beauregard and I dispatch that doctrine handily in The Spiritual Brain.

Actually, evolutionary psychology contains within itself the seed of its own downfall. Taken seriously, it means that precisely nothing has changed since the days of our prehuman ancestors. In that case, no evolution occurred. That is strange, considering the wonders Darwinists attribute to natural selection. And if nothing has changed between our prehuman ancestors and ourselves, has anything changed between the amoeba and ourselves?

Either Darwinian evolution can induce real change (in which case, the evolutionary psychologists' pursuit is highly doubtful) or it can't, in which case it is futile because evolution did not happen by Darwinian means.

Essentially, evolutionary psychology, in an effort to prop up Darwinism, is stabbing it through the heart by trying to show that no evolution in human behaviour has actually occurred. In all that time, no evolution occurred ... Well, then, ... you shouldn't have even asked.


The real reason why Darwinism is overwhelmingly confirmed - a tale for our times

Recently, I posted an interview with Expelled producer Mark Mathis at The Design of Life blog, in which we discussed the claim that the film misrepresented the Darwinists:
DESIGN OF LIFE: You interviewed 150 scientists for your film. I wonder if that's a record. I gather an effort has been made to discredit the film on the grounds that the anti-ID folk were misrepresented, basically that you tricked them into taking part.

MATHIS: It's not surprising. When you're used to a situation where everything that is talked about in books and films fits your dogmatic view - and that's what they've had - and then a film comes along that applies some actual skepticism, naturally they're unhappy.
They had the list of questions we were going to be examining. A controversy takes at least two sides. But they've become very used to only one side.
Apparently they didn't understand that we were really going to do just what we said we were going to do.

Well, I just had a similar experience to Mark's. Get this:

I had been asked to contribute to a book that represented both sides, that is, both Darwinists and ID sympathizers. I picked an author to respond to. A bit of preliminary work demonstrated that this Darwinist simply did not understand the evidence-based problems with his position (which he probably regards as "overwhelmingly confirmed").

Well, easy work for me, then: Explain what he left out. I was just trying to schedule time to write up my comments when I got mail from the project ...

HE wanted the book to be titled "Science vs. intelligent design". Yes! That's right. Him.

And isn't THAT convenient! Whatever evidence doesn't suit his tidy theory is not science, so it doesn't matter what I bring up.

No one has ever accused me of being a silent woman, so I allowed the project bosses to know what I thought of that in no uncertain terms. And - surprise, surprise - I am no longer on the project. But I bet he is.

I have only two things to say about the whole episode:

1. These people are just kidding themselves if they think that what they are doing is science.

2. If you see a book out there in a year or so called "Science vs. intelligent design", it might be this one. On the other hand, search Amazon before you decide. There might be SIX books called "Science vs. intelligent design", all competing with each other to front nonsense about evolution to an increasingly wary public.

Well, one good thing is that, unlike an election, book marketing is a situation in which they CAN all just lose.

Note: The interview with Mathis starts here.

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