Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Evolutionary psychology :Goodbye cruel US - prof claims EP's future is Asia

Recently, someone from Europe (who says he is "very sceptical of intelligent design theory") drew my attention to a "horrible" article he found in the Google cache.*

In it, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, an assistant prof at the University of New Mexico, outlines plans for "The Asian Future of Evolutionary Psychology." in Evolutionary Psychology 2006.4: 107-119 From Miller we learn the reasons why evolutionary psychology (the attempt to derive human behavior from the factors that either (1) helped human ancestors survive or (2) were accidental traits that may or may not have helped them survive) is not thriving in North American and Europe. (You know, the infidelity gene, the violence gene, the God module, the altruism spot, and other such assured results of modern science.).

Briefly, Miller senses that evolutionary psychology is not nearly as popular as it ought to be in the West, but not to worry, Asia is overtaking the West. He paper suggests ways to market it to the East.

Here are some excerpts from his analysis:
Altogether, if we exclude the likely anti-Darwinian cultures of Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, the current and emerging Asian powers include a total of 2.9 billion people – half the world’s population, and about four times as many people as in the U.S. and E.U. combined. These Asians already have high literacy rates, high average IQs, fast-growing economies, and a relative freedom from memetic infection by the Abrahamic religions. Psychology is already becoming hugely more popular at Asian universities (Zhang and Xu, 2006). That is the current state of play, as of 2006.

Noting that if current trends continue, there will be six to eight times as many Asian behavioural scientists as EuroAmerican ones, he explains that the children of newly affluent Asians will

... grow up materially spoiled but emotionally neglected. They will take prosperity for granted. They will rebel against conspicuous consumption, seek alternative paths to status, and adopt the ancien-régime norms of conspicuous leisure and self-actualization. They will start college in economics or genetics, but then they will fall in love, take drugs, read Chuck Palahniuk novels, have existential crises, and end up majoring in psychology. (So it goes.) Their moneyobsessed parents will be appalled at first, but gradually realize there’s a certain cachet in being able to brag about a kid with a Ph.D. The second and third generation of Asian middle-class youth – not the first generation – will drive the Asian dominance in behavioral sciences by mid-century.

Well that's some prospect, all right.

Miller believes that Euro-America is doomed to become a scientific backwater by 2050 (page 8), so even if evolutionary psychology could hop off the breathless pages of the pop science press, it would be wasted on the lands of its birth. He suggests just forgetting Euro-America, noting,
the U.S. is morphing into a fascist-fundamentalist plutocracy that will never seriously support Darwinian research.

Europe is so-so in his view, but the real future is Asia. If his colleagues work "hard, fast, and smart":
We could gain the first-mover advantage in shaping their intellectual outlook for decades to come. We nurture the emotional bonds of collaboration and mentorship. They appreciate our attention and respect. No one else from the Western behavioral sciences is bothering with poor old Asia. Evolutionary psychology becomes the dominant paradigm in all the key psychology departments ... Evolutionary psychology is still misunderstood, mocked, rejected, and reviled in the U.S. and Europe. But we don’t care. We’re playing the science version of the board-game Risk: whoever wins Asia probably wins the game.

He lists the factors that he thinks will help, including such claims as
Buddhist-influenced cultures understand adaptive self-deception; they view human cognitions, emotions, and preferences as self-interested illusory constructs that may serve biological goals, but that do not reflect objective reality

in contrast to sex-negative European monotheism, many Asian cultures are more sex-positive, more urbane, and more sophisticated (consider the Kama Sutra, Tantric Buddhism, Hindu temple carvings, Thai sex tourism, geisha culture, etc.)

Indeed, Miller, imagining himself and his colleagues as intelligent aliens, enthuses,
The U.S. is anti-intellectual and deeply religious, frenzied by consumerist self-indulgence and belligerent nationalism, veers between puritanical hypocrisy and pornographic narcissism, and has no serious national media or science journalism. China, by contrast, has a five-thousand-year tradition of intellectual progress, values education and ideas, is strongly secular, and will soon be the world’s most populous, prosperous, and progressive country. I would land my flying saucer in Zhejiang Province, not New Mexico.

Well, Geoffrey, don't let anyone deter you.

It's significant that the subtext of Miller's paper is that, despite strenuous promotion in the science media, evolutionary psychology has - at least to judge from his account - failed to catch on in the lands of its birth.

As Mario Beauregard and I detail in The Spiritual Brain, there are very good reasons for that. The general uselessness and irrelevance of Darwinian fairy tales is the main one. Granted, if people believe in a Darwinian fairy tale of caves long ago, it may influence them, for good or ill. But the same may be said of stories like The Ugly Duckling or The Lord of the Rings, whose authors never claimed that they were writing science.

All that said, I am puzzled about how to respond to my European correspondent. "Very sceptical" of the intelligent design of the universe, is he? Well, then, the sort of "horrible" enterprise he drew to my attention IS the alternative. He'd better either get used to it or rethink his opposition to ID.

But wait a minute - aren't the evolutionary psychologists being urged to pack themselves off to points East? Perhaps his best plan would be to see them off at the airport, cheering wildly.

EP, don't phone home.

(*Also here as a .pdf, also the citation on his site.)

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