Sunday, May 27, 2007

Jerry "Headaches don't have themselves" Fodor on evolutionary psychology

Jerry Fodor, who points out that headaches do not have themselves, also weighs in on the trouble with "psychological Darwinism" (evolutionary psychology), here and why he, as a "new rationalist," does not accept it, in a review of materialist cognitive science books, such as Pinker's and Plotkin's, in the London Review of Books:
Plotkin says 'neo-Darwinian theory [is] the central theorem of all biology, including behavioural biology'; 'if behaviour is adaptive, then it must be the product of evolution.' Likewise Pinker: 'Natural selection is the only explanation we have of how complex life can evolve . . . [so] natural selection is indispensable to understanding the human mind.' One reply to this argument is to say that there is, after all, an alternative to natural selection as the source of adaptive complexity; you could get some by a miracle. But I'm not a Creationist, nor are any of my New Rationalist friends, as far as I know. Nor do we have to be, since there's another way out of the complexity argument. This is a long story, but here's the gist: it's common ground that the evolution of our behaviour was mediated by the evolution of our brains. So, what matters with regard to the question whether the mind is an adaptation is not how complex our behaviour is, but how much change you would have to make in an ape's brain to produce the cognitive structure of a human mind. And about this, exactly nothing is known. That' because nothing is known about how the structure of our minds depends on the structure of our brains. Nobody even knows which brain structures it is that our cognitive capacities depend on. Unlike our minds, our brains are, by any gross measure, very like those of apes. So it looks as though relatively small alterations of brain structure must have produced very large behavioural discontinuities in the transition from the ancestral apes to us. If that's right, then you don't have to assume that cognitive complexity is shaped by the gradual action of Darwinian selection on prehuman behavioural phenotypes.

A friend says, of Fodor, that he is a common-sense doubter of Darwinian materialism, like David Stove. For one thing, he makes quite clear, as Stove did, why one doesn't need to be a creationist of any type in order to dismiss the evo psycho nonsense to its most suitable venue - fluffy magazine articles on why you can't help cheating on your sweetie 'cause it's in your genes.

My other blog is the Post-Darwinist, detailing events of interest in the intelligent design controversy.

Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary ( is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), anoverview of the intelligent design controversy, and of Faith@Science. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).

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