On Evolutionary Psychology I: Determinism

    Evolutionary psychology is a truly awesome field of study, with many serious thinkers. Unfortunately, there's been a trend of misusing its concepts to try to justify determinism - usually by people with a very shallow understanding of the subject.

    It usually goes something like "It's only natural that men cheat more than women - they're hardwired to do so". When questioned about the deterministic nature of their ideas, the answer is usually "this is a statement about the group, but it doesn't say anything about the individual". That is a blunt form of evasion.

    Every single collective phenomena has its roots in individual action. Any attempt at conceptualizing collective phenomena that does not start with the individual, and explains the mechanism through which the individual phenomena leads to the collective is bound to fail.

    It is true that many man have the instinct to procreate with multiple partners. Our conceptual faculty coexists with our instincts, and going after multiple partners was a useful procreation strategy for thousands of years. Any serious theory of evolutionary psychology, however, deals with the development of the ego, and Man's ability to control his instincts, and reshape his behaviour volitionally.

    Many people get hungry. It's not natural to punch someone in the face and steal their sandwich. Only children are unable to give more complex outlets for their instincts, or delay gratification. The essential, in the context of immoral behavior with instinctive roots, is not the instinct, but the failure to act like an adult, and choose a proper course of action. The natural thing for a human being to do is to act volitionally - to develop the ability to control its instincts, both directly and indirectly. Anything else is just an attempt to justify acting like a child.

  -  January 23rd, 2020

On Evolutionary Psychology II: The "Machine" Fallacy

    A few days ago I talked about the misuse of evolutionary psychology to justify determinism. To finish that thought, I need to address the other side of that coin - Objectivist thinkers who reject psychology because they think it threatens their views.

    The reasoning is usually something along the lines of "Man's mind must be thought of as a computer-like machine, that perfectly obeys his conscious commands. Anything other than that threatens the idea of free-will”. From Peikoff's gross misunderstanding of psychoanalysis to Binswanger's course in psychoepistemology, this is a very common mistake.

    The first thing to keep in mind is that reality is what it is. Whatever his field of study, a scientist must be willing to adjust his theory to reality, not the other way around. He must also be able to fully understand any theory in order to criticize it. If you wish to argue against Marxism, the least you can do is read and understand Marx. If you wish to argue against psychoanalysis, the least you can do is read and understand Freud.

    The second thing to keep in mind is that free will is axiomatic - we can directly perceive it, and it can't be denied. Consciousness has identity, and the study of its nature can never contradict free will, but only explain it.
    To assume that the subconscious is some sort of machine that merely obeys conscious thought is to willfully overlook the complexity of Man's psychological development, the subtleties of his behaviour, and the very nature of mental illness. To reduce psychological problems to neurological issues and chemical imbalances is primitive, and wrong. The integration of one's personality, emotions and ideas is an active process that requires honesty and introspection, not something automatic.

  -  January 24th, 2020