William Deresiewicz illuminates the hermetic cul-de-sac inhabited by academic literary studies (and, daresay, much of the humanities) and their theoretical "abstrusiosities, [which have] cut the field off from society...the common reader and common sense." He also spotlights the sins committed by some practitioners of evolutionary psychology. But, unfortunately, so does he.
First, evolutionary psychology (EP) merely posits that nature helped prime culture, which upsets the folks that prefer humans to be a breed apart--at least from the neck up. It also violates sacred academic silos in hybridizing the natural and social sciences and the humanities--a mating that Deresiewicz sentences to hybrid sterility, all because some of its "stories" are just-so and lack direct evidence. As the philosopher of science, David Hull, has shown, no new interdisciplinary science matures instantly, ex nihilo. EP will evolve hybrid vigor and testable evidence from the initial maelstrom of gases. The evolution of the science is itself Darwinian, beset with much mutation and many blind alleys, i.e., variation (in ideas, hypotheses) weaned by natural selection (testable evidence). Ultimately, to stretch the metaphor, the fittest ideas about nature having primed culture will survive to spawn in the next intellectual generation.
Second, the Pleistocene might be a world imperfectly preserved--as is all of history--but Deresiewicz needs to read up on it. Paleobiologists, geologists, archaeologists, climatologists and others would be extremely surprised to learn that "(1) we don't actually know what the Pleistocene environment looked like; (2) we don't know how our Pleistocene ancestors lived."
Finally, consider the critique that Deresiewicz might have written about Darwin in 1859. Substituting "the Origin" for "EP" in one of Deresiewicz statements, "There are other problems with the stories that [the Origin] likes to make up about how we got to be the way we are. They still have no support in genetics. If something's not genetic, it's not evolved."
Well, the Origin is devoid of genetics. Darwin knew nothing about genes, not having read about Gregor Mendel's peas. In fact, genetics did not "support" evolution for another seventy-five years. And the Origin tells many stories that Darwin "made up."
Jul 10 2009 - 3:10pm