By NIALL FIRTH, Last updated at 10:45 AM on 1st December 2010
…this is not the first time that evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa has stirred up controversy with his outspoken declarations.
Usually perfectly timed to coincide with his latest book, The London School of Economics researcher has come out with a raft of startling claims about what makes us human.
Already this year he has claimed that men who cheat on their girlfriends or wives are less intelligent.
And he claimed that most suicide bombers are Muslim because they do not have enough sex.
He even gave psychological reasons why liberals are more intelligent than those with more conservative viewpoints.
A few yellow flags.
First, this strikes me as our era's version of phrenology. In Victorian times, it was titillating to inspect a friend's head, perhaps surreptitiously, and conjecture what it meant about his character or destiny. Now we like to superimpose a skein of evolutionary impulses onto others and conjecture the same.
Second, to take one example, what does Kanazawa mean by "physically attractive" women? Conceptions of feminine beauty can shift in just a few generations and already varies widely across cultures/regions. Is there a single evolutionary mechanism here that produces such scattered results, or are there really numerous 'occult' mechanisms working diversely in us as subspecies? Either answer is a bit harebrained.
As another example, it's hard to say just how high Kanzawa's analysis of Arab terrorists should extend. What if Arab guys just did a lot of prostitutes, would they still be inclined to terrorism? If the claim is that the motor of Arab terrorism (!) is the fact that most Arab men are competing for a mate, what does it mean to "have a partner"? To have access to a vagina on a regular basis? To have a shoulder to cry on? Or to have someone with whom you can produce offspring so you can transmit your genes? If the latter––and I think that's the only respectable answer a "real Darwinist" would want––, then shouldn't more gay people be terrorists?
Third, these claims are only as good as their statistical corroboration. In other words, as statistical claims, they can't be said directly to cause the behavior b of a particular man m at time t, otherwise the mechanism could be discerned 'straight off' m's actions at t, and then what would be the point of evolutionary psychology versus good old fashioned psychiatry? Laws are generalizations about the dispositions of concrete existents; but those dispositions are not wholly reducible to the laws, since they are merely dispositions dependent for their expression on a convergence of different factors. If the dispositions just were mechanistic laws, then laws could be violated with simple counterfactual adjustments, and that's an insult to the term "law". As always, evolutionary psychology is reifying a collective subconsciousness and ascribing it to "us", as if each of us were a real specimen of the real species Homo sapiens sapiens. Essence pervades the theory or its general claims don't hold for particular speci(e)mens. Since, however, essence is de jure anathema to modern evolutionary reasoning, the theory's general claims don't hold in particular cases.