Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Content Analysis of an Anomalous Experience Collection: Evaluating Evolutionary Perspectives

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Content Analysis of an Anomalous Experience Collection: Evaluating Evolutionary Perspectives

Article excerpt

Darwin's theory of evolution argues that species originate through natural selection. For example, genes that allow an organism to perceive and escape predators will be passed on to future generations more frequently. If genes permitting psi help certain animals survive and produce more offspring, these genes would become more prevalent. If these genes exist yet provide few benefits, a theory is required to explain their continued existence.

Much evidence implies that the frequency of genotypes (genes governing a specific parameter) affecting normal psychological traits are determined by natural selection (Dawkins, 1999; Dennett, 1995). Studies of twins indicate that even traits such as hypnotizability (Morgan, 1973; Morgan, Hilgard, & Davert 1970) and religiosity (Waller, Kojetin, Bouchard, Lykken, & Tellegen, 1990), although shaped by socialization, have a genetic basis. Consequently, if a human propensity for psi exists, its physiological basis has been shaped by evolutionary processes.

Dawkins (1999) provided a metaphor illustrating the evolutionary paradigm. He described genes as like oarsmen in a boat race. The boats, representing people's bodies, compete for reproductive opportunities. After a race, the oarsmen/genes in the winning boat are cloned and, after a number of races, winning oarsmen-clones are randomly assigned to new boats for future competitions. Although winning teams often contain incompetent members, effective oarsmen have the greatest rate of success and increase in frequency the fastest. Oarsmen working as teams are more often successful, and over time, winning boats contain many such teams (genotypes). Every team contains members who are ineffective, and some teams have members who bring about harmful effects. For example, people who have a partial set of the genes associated with schizophrenia may be more creative than those lacking these genes (Gaulin & McBurney, 2001). Genes associated with sickle-cell anemia provide protection against malaria; as a result, sickle-cell anemia is more prevalent in malaria-prone regions because those suffering from this disease often pass on their genes to their children before dying from it.

Genotypes generating human emotions evolved within an environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA) involving small, seminomadic groups. Gaulin and McBurney (2001) noted, "Evolution has built us to find things that contribute to our fitness pleasurable (Dawkins, 1989).... An organism that found sex, nutritious food, and tending its offspring unpleasant would leave fewer offspring than those that enjoyed such activities" (p. 257). Genotypes allowing both pleasant and negative emotions became prevalent because they help motivate actions that contributed to survival. Emotions could not have developed otherwise. Gaulin and McBurney (2001) argued the logic of this theory:

   [I]magine an emotion, let's call it jyn, that has no impact whatever 
   on the people who experience it. Feeling jyn does not make 
   you more or less likely to do anything. Others cannot tell when 
   you feel jyn, so it does not influence their behavior towards you 
   in any way. An emotion like jyn would be completely invisible to 
   natural selection because it would have no effect on fitness. For 
   this reason, emotions like jyn are not expected to evolve. Emotions 
   and other psychological traits have been shaped by selection 
   to produce adaptive behavioral output. (p. 26) 

Because jyn oarsmen do not provide benefits, boats containing them would be at a disadvantage compared with boats with oarsmen providing useful emotions. Only emotions motivating evolutionary-valuable behavior would tend to survive.

Much evidence supports the evolutionary model of emotions. Humans are genetically predisposed to avoid threats existing in the EEA, such as snakes and heights, rather than more deadly modern phenomena, such as automobiles and firearms. …

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