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New discoveries in evolutionary psychology

January 31st, 2004

I just got the latest issue of Scientific American, and noted with interest the Table of Contents, in which the Skeptic column promised an evolutionary explanation of the mutiny on the Bounty. I vaguely expected the usual stuff about alpha and beta males or somesuch, but I found that the ev psych boffins have come up with a startling new discovery. Young men like having sex. At this point the mathematics and biochemistry get a bit complicated for me (oxytocin is in there somewhere), but apparently this has something to do with the survival of the species.

Even more startling, though, is the fact that

Although Bligh preceded Charles Darwin by nearly a century,

he managed to anticipate this discovery. Who would have thought that a former governor of New South Wales (and not a successful one) would share with EO Wilson and Stephen Pinker the honour of founding evolutionary psychology? In Bligh’s words

I can only conjecture that they have Idealy assured themselves of a more happy life among the Otaheitians than they could possibly have in England, which joined to some Female connections has most likely been the leading cause of the whole business.

Delivery times are somewhat strange here in the Antipodes, and I thought perhaps I had an advance copy of the April edition, but the cover says February.

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  1. derrida derider
    January 31st, 2004 at 16:42 | #1

    Yes, its amusing to watch people developing rigorous theories, convert them into sophisticated mathematical models and then try and calibrate these models by pedantic measurement, all in an effort to dress up the bleeding obvious as new wisdom.

    No economist, of course, would ever do that.

  2. January 31st, 2004 at 18:33 | #2

    John, it sounds slightly more specific than that–namely, Young men like sex with Otaheitians more than with English girls. Maybe there were cultural differences in technique…

  3. Jm
    February 1st, 2004 at 00:09 | #3

    Thanks John. When I saw the title I thought it was about some exciting new finding. Instead we learn that young men like sex. What a waste of talent.

  4. John
    February 1st, 2004 at 21:04 | #4

    You’re probably right, Gianna, though it’s important to recall that there were no English girls within about 10 000km at the time.

  5. February 2nd, 2004 at 09:06 | #5

    One would have to admit that Shermer’s semi-facetious article overdid the stating the obvious here.

    But economists are in no position to brag about their special insight into human nature. Economics “solves” the problem of systematic disparities in human behaviour by assuming that everyone always has, and always will be, the same.

    Frank Knight somwewhere refers to the fact that most economic theory consists in an attempt to “proves that water runs down hill”.

    In the same vein, Samuelson responded to Stanislaw Ulam’s challenge

    to “name me one proposition in all of the social sciences which is both true and non-trivial.” Samuelson remarks that years later he thought of the appropriate answer: the Ricardian theory of comparative advantage.

    “That it is logically true need not be argued before a mathematician; that it is not trivial is attested by the thousands of important and intelligent men who have never been able to grasp the doctrine for themselves or to believe it after it was explained to them”

    Socio-bios, such as Wilson and Sailer, would take the opposite tack, and seek to explain the systematic bio-related differences between the behaviour of like-situated groups of people. Clearly much social behaviour is purely socially-conditioned. Less evidently, some of the Old Adam (and Eve) lurks in all of us, and it does no harm for socio-bios to point out this inconvenient fact.

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