David E. Over
School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Sunderland, UK
Many prominent evolutionary cognitive psychologists (Buss, 1999; Pinker, 1997; Tooby & Cosmides, 1992) have had a view of the mind that has been aptly termed the “Massive Modularity Hypothesis” (Samuels, 1998; Sperber, 1994). They have used tools as vivid metaphors to characterize the mind according to this hypothesis. The mind is like a Swiss army knife, with many blades dedicated to solving particular adaptive problems but no general-purpose blade (Cosmides & Tooby, 1994). Or it is like an adaptive toolbox, with many special tools, but no general one that could be applied to many jobs (Gigerenzer, Todd, & the ABC Research Group, 1999). The dedicated blades, or specialist tools, are modules that some evolutionary psychologists still call instincts (Pinker, 1994). These instinctive modules will not usually be fully fixed at birth but will be the result of a high degree of biological preparedness to learn some things, for example, a fear of snakes, much more easily and quickly than others, for example, a fear of flowers (Cummins & Cummins, 1999). The modules will apply only to representations with a specific content about a particular “domain” in the environment, like snakes. Thus we may feel fear if the content of our perception is that of a snake, but not if it is that of a flower. Even if we know that a module is unreliable in some way, as when we realize that some particular snake is harmless, the module may be relatively unaffected, as when we continue to fear the snake. In other words, the modules are to some degree encapsulated, in the sense of Fodor (1983, 2000).
Evolutionary psychology, broadly defined, is not necessarily committed to