I think advertisers are increasingly realizing that it pays to let people know what they catch of something is or give a reason why they have an incentive to act in your interest. I just saw some cash advance commercial (don’t want to name company to help them advertise) and the guy says “it’s a little expensive, but there’s no credit check and it’s cheaper than XXX.” This is somewhat related to the comment I made in my blog about Avatar – without seeing any major negative aspects of the Navi’s culture, I’m not left thinking “oh, how Idyllic” but rather “oh, there’s something evil lurking.”
When looking at decent with modification over time, we often see structures that began serving one purpose being changed to serve another purpose (as well, or instead; the important thing is the structure can outlive it’s original purpose) In this way, highly complex structures can evolve that simply could not have, were nature more single-minded. An examples of this is how the jaw of primitive synapsids slowly was repurposed into the inner ear bone, giving mammals much more sophisticated hearing than any other vertebrate . Evolutionary psychology is a field that looks at the evolutionary/adaptive significance of behaviors. I would say that there is a weakness in this science as it doesn’t consider the aspects of evolution that are random, or side effects to other evolutionary change. Here, I present an example of how evolutionary psychology can be extended into looking at the mechanisms of mental evolution, by seeing behaviors as structures.
Let’s analyze grieving over the dead as an example. Evolutionary psychology as it stands today will tell us (correctly) that there is clear adaptive significance in having a painful emotion associated with a loved one dying. Those who feel sorrow at the loss of a loved one will go through much greater ends to prevent said loss, passing on their gene through kin selection. But wait, how did such a complex behavior come to be in the first place? The disservice evolutionary psychology does is in often stopping here, which is almost understandable since most psychologists aren’t biologists and vice versa (and I’m neither, just a biologist-in-study and a fake psychologist). It’s also understandable, sadly, because the mind doesn’t fossilize. Harking back to the days of structural psychology, evolutionary psychologists could (and should) investigate what this emotion is exactly made up of. Which structures exactly were extended or repurposed.
Humans are paedmorphic due to neoteny , which is to say that our species differentiated from our ape-like ancestors in large part through retarded development. Many of what were once juvenile characteristics in our tree-climbing ancestors (and still are in our tree-climbing relatives), are retained into adulthood in our species. This is generally speaking, naturally. I won’t go into the different theories about how humans became paedomorphic. All we need to know is that some selective pressure made our species increasingly paedomorphic by slowing down development. So, some childhood behavioral characteristics also carry over to adulthood, such as play behavior, something that doesn’t tend to last to adulthood in non-human animals, at least not with the strength it does in our species. As Desmond Morris points out , much of what we think of as “work” is really play. Think about the hilarity of this sentence: “I work in the entertainment industry.”
The instinct of an infant towards attachment to the parent is the precursor to attachments to others that lasts to adulthood in our species. This behavior was selected for obvious reasons – for a child, to lose contact is to lose safety. Through the random process side-effect evolution, childhood attachments lasts until adulthood. Whatever the initial reason for structural neoteny (some say it was actually to get larger brains in the first place ), the side-effects of delayed maturation remains. If these attachments were maladaptive, they would be selected out. Random evolution isn’t like “the restaurant decided I’m going to have the soup of the day.” It is more like, “I might have the soup of the day. It’s the first thing on my mind because the waiter mentioned it.” So, something else not only kept adulthood attachments, but something strengthened it further. A behavior was repurposed (since the parent is no longer important in an adult’s life for survival). That thing was the selective pressures for grieving I just talked about above. The attachments that go into the pair bond, something that has become even more important since human infancy and adolescence lasts so long, also owe their origin to this same structure
So, evolutionary psychology shouldn’t be limited to looking at adaptive significance of behavior, but can also, drawing from the more mad-scientist aspect of nature, look at the randomness and how existing emotions can be repurposed in much the same way physical structures are in change over time. This would mean that symbolic looks at psychology like Freud may have some truth to them. The problem is that they are often 1% of the story since it is absurd to think introspection can truly reveal the workings of the subconscious (that would require Freud’s preposterous theory that civilization pushed our conscience below the surface – a notion that evolutionary psychology handily rejects – to be true).
Anyway, just an idea. What do y’all think?
1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synapsid#Characteristics yes, I cite Wikipedia. Gotta problem w/ that, bitch?
2: Ontogeny and Phylogeny, by Stephen Jay Gould See particularly the last chapter, though early chapters are rife with examples of people overdoing analogies to [largely incorrect] biological theories, such as Haeckle’s recapitulation
3: The Naked Female, by Desmond Morris
Okay, transferrence isn’t the right word, but I don’t know what is. So, on MySpace, they have these ads for this datings site (dating site: places where you can find desperate fat chicks to be your virtual “girlfriend” and it amounting only to cyber-sex and imaginary things) but the actual appearance of the ads suggest porn site (porn site: place for desperate fat guys to have cyber-sex w/ themselves).
I see this and wonder how the ads even work? Guys must look at that and think “no, there is no girl on that site that looks like that“. All I can think is they must also be thinking “I need to find a girl to screw while thinking of that girl”. Oh yeah, observe: