Philosophy of Cognition: Topic10

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A Brief Intro[edit]

Traditionally, evolution is called up for explaining how our body or functions of our body might have evolved. For instance, why we have two ears, opposable thumbs, no grasping feet, etc. Evolutionary psychology posits that evolutionary theory may help us explain the evolution of our body, but also the evolution of our cognitive capacities. For instance, the evolution of specific capacities related to language, how we interpret others' intentions - the so-called "mind reading", how we decide whether to date a person or not, and all other more or less specific cognitive abilities that we usually show in making decision and solving problems.

More specifically, what evolutionary psychologists assume is that our cognition (or mind) is like a smart phone. The smart phone is not smart for a particular feature that it has. But we are used to call it "smart" because of the number of things that it can do. It can be a phone making call, a GPS device, a browser for surfing the net, a map to help you find the way, a book, and so on and so forth. The only difference with the smart phone is that nobody designed our cognition, but each of these "applications" are evolved throughout the millennia as adaptations for solving specific problems. Such applications are commonly called "modules" and - just like any app on a smart phone - they have a specific domain of application. So, in a nutshell, evolutionary psychologists break our cognition into unitary modules and putting forward an adaptive story for each considered separately - that is, why it would be useful for our survival and reproduction to have such a module rather than others or not having anything at all.

For example, evolutionary psychologists claim that we have a specific module for interpreting others’ intentions - mind reading. Such a module provides us with the functionality of inferring what others are going to do or think. And why did we develop that adaptation? Because the ability of reading others’ mind was supposed to enable our ancestors to live in larger group, which, in turn, made their life safer from external threats (i.e., other big animals).

Evolutionary psychology draws sharp criticism among philosophers, anthropologists, and evolutionary biologists. The main line of criticism can be called “The Flintstonization of Prehistory”. As said, once a module has been identified, evolutionary psychologists try to unfold a plausible adaptive story of that module.That strategy might work, if we could know precisely the particular conditions in which our ancestors used to live. However, the information we have at disposal about our ancestors’ past are too fragment and patchy as they span over thousands of years. The Flinstonization of Prehistory is the projection of mere contemporary cultural proclivities into the remote past. Indeed, speculations are part of any scientific enterprise, but in this case they might be easily driven by contemporary stereotypes and cultural and - sometimes even moral - habits or ways of thinking.


Try to find on the Net an example of "Flintstonization" and analyze it.


Describe briefly the main principle of evolutionary psychology

List the main weak points of psychology

Compulsory readings[edit]

Recommended readings[edit]

D. J. Buller, Adapting Minds Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature, MIT Press, 2005. Available at: