Tag Archives: evolutionary psychology

Distorting Darwin

Poor old Charles Darwin. In this year of celebration, when we mark the 200th year since his birth and the 150th year since the publication of his great work The Origin of Species, he is being subjected to a real deluge of misrepresentation. The ideological opponents of science, particularly evolutionary science, have been working overtime to quote him out of context, to cherry pick quotes, to “prove” he was a horrible person and that the “materialist” heart of science must be ripped out.

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Empathy’s origins

Book Review: The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal

Price: US$17.15
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Harmony (September 22, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307407764
ISBN-13: 978-0307407764

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This book might ruffle the feathers of the biblical literalists. They will find themselves challenged on two grounds:

  1. We can explain human feelings of empathy, sympathy and the like naturally, without resort to divine causes;
  2. Ideas of a special or divinely ordained character for humans, of human exceptionalism, are not supported by the evidence.

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Evolution of human morality

Here’s a short clear article on the science of morality by Dick Swaab published in NRC Handlesbad. Swaab is a professor of neurobiology at the University of Amsterdam and is associated with the Nederlands Institute for Neuroscience. He writes a weekly column for NRC Handelsblad. (See the original at The evolution of human morality).

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The facts of evolution – and jealousy

Craig Venter

Craig Venter

Some time ago (Evolution – a theory or a fact?) I made the observation:

“Our knowledge about evolution includes facts (e.g., fossil records, genetics, molecular biology of DNA), theories (e.g, natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift) and speculation (e.g., much of evolutionary psychology). Just like any other body of scientific knowledge.”

We could add that although many ideas in evolutionary psychology are speculative, some of these are firming up. Steven Pinker does a good job of separating the more reliable ideas from the more speculative (see his books: The Blank SlateHow the Mind Worksand The Stuff of Thought). Similarly, some of the theories, such as natural selection, are now so well supported by factual evidence they are beginning to be accepted as facts in themselves. A bit like the laws of thermodynamics.

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Darwin, art and entanglement

It’s hard to beat a good book. I enjoy books but find reading from a computer monitor difficult. There’s something about words on paper.

Mind you, computers and the internet do provide a beautiful compliment to books. I have often found that after reading a book I can go on line and find other material by the same author. In some cases I can also find video and audio material – lectures given by the author, documentary programmes based on the author or book, and interviews from book tours.

Sometimes I actually find out about new books and authors from web sources and this encourages me to go out and get the book. Podcasts like The Brain Science Podcast have been invaluable sources of new reading material.

Recently I came across two interesting books discussed on the  Blogging Heads podcast site. This usually has two people discussing a subject and is available as both video and audio. I don’t bother with most of them but these two were fascinating.

In The Artistic Animal John Horgan discusses the new book The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution with its author Denis Dutton. One review of this book describes Dutton as an “aesthetic philosopher” who “sets out to do for art what Steven Pinker and others have done for psychology, language, and religion: consider it from a Darwinian standpoint.” Dutton’s contribution to this podcast was certainly fascinating and I look forward to reading his book.

In the other podcast, Entanglement untangled, Lousa Gilder and George Johnson discuss Louisa’s new book. Entitled The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn the book gives the story of quantum mechanics. She comes far closer to the present in her discussion than most histories do and also utilises an unusual creative tool for science histories – “constructed dialogues” between the scientists involved. These dialogues are based on papers, journals and letters.  Sounds fascinating and I will definitely look out for it.

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